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Top Wine Stories of 2010

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By Courtney Cochran

Silly prices for Lafite in China.  A wine ed gone maverick (and getting majorly trashed in the media). A schizophrenic harvest.  Stellar new apps on the market.  Cow horns getting cool...What didn't happen in 2010?  Looking back, it was a year of flux, with major trends and market shares shifting around the globe, consumer attitudes skewing from snobbery to self-orientation, and raucous weather keeping things interesting right here in our own backyard.  Herein, highlights. 

Hectic Harvest
Without a doubt, the happening that generated the most press here in the US was the year's wild grape harvest.  From coast to coast, unnaturally cool weather pushed harvest weeks behind schedule.  Along the way, clusters were blasted by errant heat spikes (resulting in serious sunburn) and late season rains pummeled fruit left on the vine into the fall.  We can't help but point to climate change for the continued wild ride that's become harvest; this year was the wildest in memory.

Hot 10 Under $20: Sonoma Summer Sips

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By Courtney Cochran

Funny things happen to people when the thermometer inches up (according to the FBI, crime rates rise 10% nationally during the summer months).  And this summer - which is tracking to be the nation's hottest on record - will be no cup of tea.  Which is why, amidst all the hoopla about the heat and the stress from the heat itself, there's nothing quite like a glass of chilled white or rosé to take the edge off of it all.

Whether the weather where you are is scorching (hello, much of inland California!), simply warm, or something in between, we've got ten summer-ready Sonoma wine reco's that are guaranteed to cool you down.


Here's to Mom: Our Must-Do Mother's Day List

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by Courtney Cochran

NAPA VALLEY / SONOMA, CA

Once a year (seems it ought to be more often, no?) we pay tribute to that special woman who had the good sense to bring us into the world - and, once we'd arrived, to guide us through life's many travails and triumphs with aplomb. This year, we encourage you to consider our list of Must-Do Mother's Day activities in planning your Sunday celebrations.  Because wine, like mothers, improves with time, we think it's only fitting that you pair these two delights come fête-time.

yogaVineyardsWebsite.jpgYoga In the Vineyard
San Francisco sommelier-turned-yogi Christie Dufault offers delightful Mom-and-me experiences in her buzz-worthy new "Yoga In the Vineyard" retreats. Held amidst the vines in vinous hotspots including Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino and Santa Cruz, Dufault's classes emphasize being in the moment and celebrating the senses - activities made all the easier thanks to inclusive Biodynamic® wines and organic meals. Call for custom retreats; gift certificates available.

St. Supéry Behind the Scenes
Sundays from 11am-12pm Rutherford's St. Supéry offers cellar tours designed to give you the inside scoop on the winemaking process from crushing to bottling. Wrapping with a barrel tasting of estate grown reds, it's a rewarding way to pair a little education with your wine country exploration - something Mom will no doubt appreciate (while noting your grown-up savvy, ahem).  St. Supéry's sweet staff and beautifully appointed tasting room should be icing on the cake.

Top 10 Most Asked Wine Questions (With Answers!)

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By Courtney Cochran

Ask.com, that fount of Internet-based info dedicated to answering every pressing question site visitors can dream up (top searches in '09 included What is Twitter?, What is the meaning of life?  and - not kidding - What is Miley Cyrus' phone number?), kindly shared with us their top ten most frequently asked wine questions.  And since we figure we know a thing or two about that topic, at least, we took a pass at answering these burning vinous questions.  

Miley's number, however, is another story. 

Top 10 DIY Wine Tasting Themes

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Wine glasses

Image by slack12 via Flickr

By Courtney Cochran

As a wine writer and some time hip wine party planner, I'm asked time and again about how to throw a great wine tasting at home. Naturally, I've no shortage of ideas. And given that the recession has inspired ever more tasters to turn to their own homes and devices to explore the vinous world in all its grape glory, I here submit my top recommendations for easy-to-implement wine tastings in your home. As for wrangling the troops, that's entirely up to you.  

The Wine Next Door
With wine now made in all 50 of our great states, it's never been easier to host a tasting highlighting wines raised in your own 'hood. Whether your area specializes in Rhône reds (AZ), crisp Rieslings (NY), Bordeaux reds (CO) or Seyval Blanc (GA), there's bound to be something interesting to get to know.  For a cool twist on this theme (or for those whose local wines may be far from new news), try a tasting that features wines from little-known locales around the US. 

Special Bottle Sunday
Inspired by the national phenomenon that grew out of longtime, Wall Street Journal wine columnists Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher's Open That Special Bottle Night, Special Bottle Sunday is just what it sounds like: an evening to invite over your friends to share special wines you've all been saving for...you can't remember any more.  The theme makes for a wonderfully congenial tasting that focuses on great friends and great wine - and reminds you all that you don't have to have a reason to enjoy the better things in life.
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BIODYNAMIC Dynamos

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collage_over_image_page41_10_1[1].JPGBy Courtney Cochran

A recent San Francisco tasting of some of our nation's top Biodynamic® wines proved revelatory as potential for these much-buzzed-about quaffers goes.  Made from grapes grown in vineyards that are treated with special natural soil additions and farmed according to the lunar calendar (seriously), these wines are beginning to turn heads with their graceful fruit profiles and authentic transmission of terroir.  Read on for some of my favorite producers from the event, along with tasting highlights and recommendations.  

And for more on the practice of Biodynamic® farming - along with historical facts and philosophical considerations, such as the importance of biodiversity on farms - check out this useful site from the Demeter Biodynamic® Trade Association, organizers of the tasting.

Bridge Wines: The Ultimate List

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Red with meat, white with fish?  Not necessarily! 

By Courtney Cochran

For years, the annals of wine drinking 101 have told us that we must drink whites with light dishes like fish and reds with sturdier fare such as steak.  Not so!  Turns out there are many wines that manage to work well with foods on both sides of the intensity spectrum - and they're primed for your food and wine pairing pleasure.  We call them bridge wines, and we've prepared a whole list of our favorites for you below, along with tips - natch - on the best fare with which to pair them.  

Get ready to start drinking outside the proverbial wine box. 

Top 10: Mood-Boosting Wines

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Feeling down?  Let these cheerful wines turn that frown upside down.

By Courtney Cochran

This time of year - and this year in particular (sheesh) - there's a laundry list of things that could be getting you down.  Lost jobs, money worries and holiday stress are just a few of the icky items that could very well be a drag on your otherwise sunny mood.  Happily, we're here with a list of wines known for their mood-boosting powers, all packaged into a convenient list.  So, should you need them, we offer not just a few but 10 reasons to stay cheerful this wintry season.

Top 10 Holiday Wine & Movie Pairings

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miracle.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

When it comes time for the holidays, little sounds as good as a cozy night in with loved ones and a great seasonal film. So read on for our list of top holiday films - each one paired, of course, with a superb vinous partner. Because here at WineCountry, we wouldn't have it any other way.

10: Miracle on 34th Street
This 1947 holiday classic tells the tale of a precocious six-year-old who doesn't believe in Santa Claus - that is, until she meets a Macy's toy department Santa (72-year-old Edmund Gwenn, in an Oscar-winning performance) who insists he's the real St. Nick. Heartwarming and full of nostalgia, it's a can't-lose cinematic selection for the season. Pair the original black and white version of the film (our choice) with Meyer Family California Port ($35), a warm, soulful sticky tailor made for a cozy night in.

Merry Good Gear: Top Wine Gifts of 2009

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By Courtney Cochran

fishnet-wine-tote-two-bottle-R-2[1].jpgWith the holidays already upon us, many of us are wondering: what in the world will I buy for the wine lover on my list this year?  Please, allow us to suggest: At the conclusion of a year that can only be described as tough, let loose with gifts that embrace the adventurous, offbeat side of wine.  Because what we can all use right now is a healthy dose of humor - packaged, of course, in stellar style.  

Bonny Book
Santa Cruz wine scion Randall Graham's zany new book, Been Doon So Long ($23), is being hailed as the best new thing in wine reads since Gary Vaynerchuk's manic wine Tweets first hit the web.  Graham - founder of the trailblazing, troublemaking (in a good way) Boony Doon brand - peppers the pages with hilarious literary parodies, song lyrics ("Born to Rhone", anyone?) and more hilarity, but at the heart of it all are some serious questions about the future of New World wine. Score it here.

Tote Tease
Built NY - which first brought us their stylishly minimalist neoprene wine totes several years ago - has only continued to riff on their original concept since, with great success.  And though their well-crafted line of picnic and computer accessories charms as well, we still love their basic wine tote design - updated for '09, of course, in a very cool new "fishnet" design.  So let your bottles AND your style shine through with this terrific new tote, available in two-bottle style for a rightly reasonable $17.



Oregon Odyssey: Top 10 Willamette Wines

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By Courtney Cochran

Wine hasn't been big in Oregon's bucolic Willamette Valley for long - in fact, it was only in the 60s that the first plantings were made in what is now considered by many to be some of the most hallowed ground for wine production in the world. With a cool, moist climate that favors Pinot Noir in particular, the region just an hour's drive from Portland has fast turned into one of the most exciting places to swirl, sip and savor your way through wine country. Read on for my top ten wines tasted on a recent visit.

Wine Forward: iPhone Wine Applications

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iphone_app.jpegBy Courtney Cochran

Made from scores of regions, hundreds of varieties, thousands of producers and newly released each vintage year, wine is one of the most data-challenged consumer goods we enjoy. But now, thanks to a host of fancy new iPhone and iPod Touch-compatible applications, sorting through the dizzying array of wine selections in stores, restaurants and even in your own cellar is getting a whole lot easier. Read on for our picks for top applications to fuel your Wine Country lifestyle; they make researching, scoring, sharing and even buying wine a snap - and they let you do it all from the palm of your hand.

Wedding Wines

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wedding.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

As every bride-to-be knows, a wedding is about much more than just the ceremony - it's also about the many special occasions (Dress shopping! Shower! Bachelorette!) leading up to "the big event." 

What's more, every oeno-inclined bride-to-be also knows that each and every one of these occasions is destined to be still more memorable when paired with the perfect glass of wine. 

In this spirit, read on for our complete list of wine suggestions for weddings - as well for all of the associated fêtes that come before happily ever after.

Italian Wine

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By Courtney Cochran

Italian wines have long been some of the best buys in imported wine, and even with the dollar's relatively weak position vis à vis the Euro they continue to offer terrific value to domestic shoppers. To get a jump on the trend, read on for a list of some of my top picks in Italian vino, conveniently arranged by region. For purchasing information, visit wine-searcher.com. Salute!

Piedmont
The gorgeously fog-draped vineyards of northwestern Italy's Piedmont turn out some of the world's most sought-after reds, particularly those crafted from the expressive Nebbiolo grape.  Named for the nebbia (fog) so common in the region, the grape reaches its finest expressions in reds from Barolo and Barbaresco, though better value can be found in versions from lesser-known sub-regions.  To wit, the 2007 Elio Grasso "Gavarini" DOC Nebbiolo d'Alba ($25) enchants with much of Barolo's power and finesse, for a fraction of the price.

Wineries to Watch

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By Courtney Cochran

Each year I attend countless wine tasting events where I am inevitably plied with the wines of hundreds if not thousands of producers from our own backyard and the far corners of the globe.  Along the way, I sip, swirl and spit the likes of sparkling wines from Brazil, sweet wines from Sonoma, soulful reds from Lake County and intriguing, sea-scented whites from Galicia.  I also shake hands, take notes, snap pictures and invariably return home with piles upon piles of notes enthusing about the nuances of new wines and their various vintners.

What follows is a list of some of the more memorable wines I've sampled lately.

Second Label Standouts

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goldeneye.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Just because your inner shopper is insisting upon a "save" rather than "splurge" strategy these days doesn't mean you can't still score a little of the good life in your glass.  Thanks to the "waste not, want not" mentality of many a high-end vintner, wine that doesn't make the cut for some of wine country's most sought-after labels is finding a home in cheaper bottlings from the same wineries - often at deep discounts from what you'd pay for the vintners' first-label offerings. 
By Courtney Cochran

Come February 22, many of us - film and wine buffs alike - will find ourselves settling in to enjoy the time-honored tradition of watching Hollywood's annual version of an all-you-can-eat buffet with extra helpings of couture, paparazzi and bawdy political jokes thrown in for good measure.  That's right: it's Oscar time!  And, to further enhance your viewing pleasure, this year we're pleased to present our second-annual Academy Awards tasting lineup, complete with frank and - hopefully - amusing commentary on nominated films and personalities.  

So whether your star picks turn out to be winners or just plain winers, you'll be guaranteed a good laugh along with a good glass as you take it all in - the most winning combination we can think of. 

Recession Edition: Wines to Brood Over

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By Courtney Cochran

With the Dow marching steadily south, unemployment on the up and deflation dangerously near, it's easy to feel there's little source for cheer these days.  Still, if there's anything a trying economic clime coupled with an already frigid winter welcomes, it's uncorking a wine worth brooding over.  Read on for a list of our top picks for wines with which to weather the current season - whether your portfolio is up, down, or you just can't bear to look.  No matter what, we've got you covered.
By Courtney Cochran

As with every new year, 2009 will bring the birth of new wine trends and the departures of others.  Some we'll be sad to see go (so long, cellaring for sport!), while others we'll barely miss (we're talking about you, overly alcoholic wines).  No matter what, we predict you'll find lots of things to relish about the wine scene in '09, and along with them excuses for uncorking many a new bottle.

OUT: Heavy, Oversized Bottles
Heavy wine bottles will continue to come under fire from climate change-conscious critics in 2009, with good reason.  Developments in '08 such as popular British wine critic Jancis Robinson's "name and shame" campaign - which prompted visitors to her subscription-basis website to list wines made by wineries using heavier-than-usual glass bottles, so others could avoid purchasing them - have already led to several large wineries' decisions to begin "lightweighting" their bottles going forward.  It can't happen soon enough. 

Top Wine Stories of 2008

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mondavi_copia.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

From freezes to financial crises, the major events of 2008 will not soon be forgotten.  Read on for our take on the top wine stories of the year, including events from both the domestic and international wines scenes, as well as those that had an immediate impact on our industry, and those whose impact will continue to unfold for years to come.  Buckle up - it's been a rollercoaster of a year.   

California's Best Sparkling Wine Houses

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Golden State Sparklers Give Us Lots to Toast.

by Courtney Cochran

With all the fuss made over Champagne it's easy to overlook California's many outstanding sparkling wines.  That's right - our very own Golden State boasts numerous cool coastal microclimates ideally suited to bubbly production, enabling a handful of producers to make world-class sparklers that rival their French counterparts, right here in our own backyard. 

Read on for the 411 on some of the state's top bubbly producers, so you can enjoy the spoils of fabulous sparklers, without booking a trans-Atlantic flight..

Gift Guide 2008 - Wine Gadgets

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iStock_000003501714XSmall.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

This holiday season, make an impression on the oenophiles on your list with stylish wine gifts of all stripes.  Read on for some of our favorites. 

Vacu Vin Crystal Wine Servers $5
Give the gift of a non-drip pour - non-drip pour spouts, that is.  These special non-drip servers snap easily into the neck of most open wine bottles and add a touch of elegance to a meal or tasting.  Remove for easy cleaning, and re-use.  Particularly handy if you're pouring over carpeting or guests' clothing where spilled wine would be - shall we say - a most unwelcome addition to the party.   

Gift Guide 2008 - Bottle Talk

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peoplePickingWine.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

The Latin phrase "In Vino Veritas" - in wine there is truth - could easily inspire a second maxim:  "in wine gifting, there is always gratitude." When it comes to giving, a well-selected bottle of wine is always welcome and - as important - carries the added bonus of leaving an indelible impression that's likely to last long after its final sips have been swallowed.  Read on for our list of top picks for gifting this holiday season, for every oenophile on your list.  Prices are estimates.

Top 10 Emerging Wine Regions - California

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By Courtney Cochran

With close to 200 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) recognized in the US - more than 100 of which are in California alone - there's no shortage of interesting domestic wine regions for oenophiles to explore.  And, thanks to the bumper crop of AVAs recently added to California's already impressive lineup, there's an exciting bunch of new regions angling for your attention.  Read on for our picks on those to watch.       
marilynwine.jpgby Courtney Cochran

From Major Leaguers to major religious leaders, celebrities of all stripes are catching the wine bug these days, lending their names and likenesses to bottles, participating in the promotion of the wines and sometimes even cuing up the blends themselves.  And while celebrity wines are hardly a new phenomenon, the most recent influx of offerings brings with it a surprisingly diverse mix of celebs, not to mention a fascinating blend of prices, styles and blends to boot.

Mafia Maven
Lorraine Bracco - who played psychiatrist Dr. Melfi to Tony Soprano's brooding mafia head on the hit HBO series, The Sopranos - has released her own line of Italian wines, reportedly inspired by the ten years she spent living in France during her early career as a model. Made possible by a collaboration with importer Maison Jomère, the celeb's lineup of eight wines sell under the Bracco Wines (braccowines.com) label and include a Pinot Grigio, Primitivo, Amarone, Chianti Classico and Brunello di Montalcino.

Top 10 Free Wine Tastings

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winetastingroom.jpgIt's a nice feeling to be welcomed in for a complimentary taste to savor a winery's best. Like fine art or local artists is for art lovers so is wine and the family winemakers for wine lovers. When we find one that resonates with our soul, it is hard not spend the money anyway. Here are some wineries who offer an open door and a free taste: 

Top 10 Girl's Getaway Friendly Wineries

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girlsdrinkingwine2.jpgPlanning a girl's getaway or better yet a bachelorette bash? A surreal escape to wine country is the perfect answer.  Days filled with spa time, fabulous food and of course... wine tasting.  Some wineries fit the bill better for a celebration, either with their bubbly wines, large outdoor terraces or group inviting atmosphere. WineCountry.com recommends the following wine tasting rooms for your celebratory weekend:

Top 10 Hot Wine Tastings for Spring

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mustardfest.jpg

Spring can only mean one thing in wine country, new releases!   The event schedule is heating up and there is no better way to experience most all the wines within a region than through a special tasting.   Mark your calendars and get ready to hit the road for some key tasting adventures throughout wine country this Spring.  

1. Napa Valley Mustard Festival: Celebrate the beautiful mustard season in Napa Valley. Taste artisan made mustards, specialty foods and Napa wines at The Marketplace, the Napa Valley Mustard Festival's Signature Event, at COPIA: The American Center for Wine, Food & the Arts. Get tickets online now for the weekend's events, March 17-18. Need a place to stay for the weekend? Check out the luxurious Exclusive Experience package with Vintage Inn, just down the road in Yountville.

Top 10 Gourmet Winery Experiences

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gourmet.jpgSpringtime weather is sublime, grape buds breaking, gentle breezes blowing and the mild sun shining.  It's time to get outdoors to enjoy this natural setting and an afternoon of gourmet goodies on the grounds of a beautiful winery. Whether for a full picnic or a little cheese and wine, WineCountry.com recommends spending an afternoon at these wineries.  

Top 10 Spring Break Escapes

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springwine.jpgDaydreaming of warmer weather, sunny skies and tasting the new releases of Spring? Wine releases that is! Imagine indulging in the new red and white vintages, touring through budding vineyards, driving over sun drenched hillsides, taking in coastal views and feasting on fresh seasonal menus. WineCountry.com recommends these unique limited-time escapes for your adult Spring Break.

Top Ten Class Acts for Valentine's Day

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romance.jpgby Courtney Cochran

Here at WineCountry.com, we heart wine country romance, no doubt about it. So whether your idea of the perfect recipe for romance among the vines involves whale watching in Mendocino, tucking into a feast of truffles in Healdsburg or taking tango lessons in Temecula, we've got you covered, just in time for Valentine's Day.

Much Ado About Matching

Master of Wine Peter Marks will conduct a tasting of Valentine's-appropriate wines paired with chocolates at San Francisco's swank wine destination, Cellar360 (cellar360.com ), on February 16th. Wines to be tasted include a pink sparkler from Down Under, a Zin and several sweet wines, all of which will be matched up with cocoa-themed nibbles prepared by Cellar360 Culinary Specialist Kasey Passen. Tickets run $45 apiece, and space is limited.


Top Ten Extreme Wine Touring

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by Courtney Cochran

Given the surge of interest in so-called adventure tourism, it's no surprise that extreme activities have finally made their way to wine country. From mellow outings like deep-sea fishing and balloon rides to truly adrenaline-pumping options like skydiving and trapeze training, the options themselves are as varied as the highs they inspire.

Top Wine Stories of 2007

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by Courtney Cochran

As the year winds to a close, many of us find ourselves anticipating what lies ahead in '08: the election of this nation's 44th president, Beijing's hosting of the 29th Olympic Games, and - we hope - the wine world's continued waning of interest in White Zin. But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's take a moment to reflect on the top wine news stories of 2007.

Top Wineries for Extra-Tasting Activities

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These spots serve up unique alternatives to the typical tasting experience.

by Courtney Cochran

Why just sniff and swirl when you can stomp, tour, and take in some art, too? In an effort to offer visitors more than the run-of-the-mill tasting room experience, many wineries are serving up unique alternatives. Read on for the details on how you can take a high-altitude jeep tour, commandeer your very own bocce ball court, or even stomp some grapes during crush.

Because cookie cutter visits are so last year.

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