Recently in Wine Drinking Category

The Holidays: Wine Pairing Suggestions

Whitehall Lane Winery has several suggestions for keeping holiday meal planning and wine selection stress free!

whitehall-lane-winery-wine-bottle-medley.jpg(1) Don't Interfere
Select wines with low tannins that won't make the mouth pucker (like biting a banana peel) and overpower the meal. Avoid big, buttery chardonnays and young cabernet, syrah and petite sirah that can have a lot of bite. Light-to-medium reds, such as pinot noir, Beaujolais, Burgundy and tempranillo, rosés, and steel-casked whites mix well with abundant holiday meals.

Select a wine that complements the sauce.
The darker the sauce, the darker the wine. Giblet gravy is great with a savory white while a well-aged red brings out the flavor in red-wine and red meat sauces.

(2) Consider Audience
Is the table full of foodies who love to experiment or Aunt Opal who has an opinion on everything? Always consider whether or not your guests like to stick to the tried and true or if they're willing to experiment with something new.

(3) Don't Break the Bank
Both quality and quantity are important. Keep in mind that there are many high-quality, reasonably priced wines out there and the professionals at your local wine store or favorite winery online shop can help you stay on budget while also helping you find everything you need to impress your guests.

(4) Go Big!
Big bottles, such as magnums, three-liter and six-liter bottles, are ideal for holiday meals. Many people are intimidated by big bottles but they're great for budget-conscious consumers looking to save time and money while at the wine store or favorite winery. It will leave your guests feeling impressed and you feeling like you hit a home-run.

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Chandon for New Year's Eve Toast!

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chandon_NewYearsEve.jpgIf you can't attend Domaine Chandon's Sparkling Gala this year for New Year's Eve, not to fret; check out their recommendations for hosting a Chandon-style soiree at home!

1. Start the night a Chandon Sidecar: Begin with this brandy-based, citrus-infused cocktail classic, made distinctive with some sparkling flourishes and sure to please your guests. Click here for recipe.

2. Every good party needs a soundtrack, so try creating a playlist of your favorite songs from the past year. It'll infuse the celebration with your unique personality and is a nostalgic, toe-tapping way to send off the year.

3. Make it a magnum: Always a popular option to keep the bubbles flowing on New Year's Eve, a magnum of Chandon Brut Classic is both economically and conversationally effective. One magnum equals two regular-sized (750ml) bottles of wine.

CLICK HERE for more creative pointers for hosting a successful New Year's Eve party!

Don't forget to relax and enjoy your guests, look forward to what the new year may hold and don't forget the midnight kiss!

Summer Wine and the Living is Easy

We're already a full week into summer and what better way to enjoy the weather then with a glass of "light, crisp, and refreshing" wine. Winemaker Cameron Parry from Chateau Montelena Winery makes some recommendations on his favorites and possible wine and food pairings.

chMontelena_Blog_SummerWine.jpgExcerpt from Blog Post:
So what is a "summer wine?"  Well, the snarky (but accurate) answer is that a "summer wine" is whatever happens to be in your glass from June 20th to September 21st.  However, most of the time we're talking about anything that is light, crisp, and refreshing - a wine that can benefit from a bit of time in the refrigerator (or even - *gasp* - the occasional ice-cube in the glass). For me, most often that means Sauvignon Blanc nice and frosty right out of the 'fridge . . . Close runners-up for summer time R&R are Riesling and Rosie . . .

Try the Riesling with some Memphis style ribs - you'll be pleasantly surprised; the Sauv Blanc, on the other hand, is a great match for barbequed oysters.   As far as the Rosie goes, it is a small production Rosé of Zinfandel that is great with grilled pork chops. 

Now, don't worry, I'm not leaving out the Chardonnay, and no it is not 4th place on my summer (or any other) list, but it is far too versatile to be pigeon-holed as a "summer wine."

CLICK HERE to read entire post.

Tasting Value


winetoast.jpgA master sommelier offers tips for picking out delicious Napa Valley wines at bargain prices.

by Kathryn Jessup

Napa Valley's reputation for monster Cabs, at equally monstrous prices, can be disheartening for wine lovers. Where's the zest of the winemaker and the joy of the drinker amid the market pressures of Screaming Eagle and Scarecrow? An alternative can be found at Meadowood, where master sommelier Gilles de Chambure offers Napa Valley's Hidden Values, a one-hour lecture and wine tasting. De Chambure agreed to share his cheat sheet, usually only available to guests..

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World Series Wines Part II: Player/Pairing Mashup!

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By Courtney Cochran

We simply couldn't help ourselves in pulling together wine pairings around our fav Giants players.  And why shouldn't we?  We know that you're almost as into watching our local team in the World Series as you are into quaffing the good stuff.  So with no further ado: The original San Francisco Giants Player/Wine Pairing Mashup!  

(Shout out: Thanks to my friends on Facebook whose tips helped make this piece possible!)

Tim Lincecum: Oregon Pinot Noir
Unless you're a hard-core ball fan, you don't often hear the phrase "perfect pitch" outside of a musical reference.  But thanks to Lincecum's near-perfect form on the mound, we're beginning to hear a lot more buzz about the phenomenon.  Still, the guy's known almost as well for being undersized as he is accomplished, which is why we've selected Oregon Pinot as his pairing.  Fiercely talented but often overlooked and underappreciated, Oregon Pinot is making news these days as pros (critics) and fans (consumers) alike catch on to its talents.  To wit, look for silky tannins that recall - if we may - the waves in Tim's famously long locks.

Buster Posey: Beaujolais Nouveau
As one of the youngest Giants, catcher Posey charms audiences with his youthful (dare we say "baby faced"??) visage, which means we're looking to seriously young wines to pair with this player.  With the annual release of France's Beaujolais Nouveau less than a month away, it seems only natural to pair the 2010 vintage of this popular wine with the youthful athlete.  Released every year on the third Thursday in November just weeks after it's been harvested and fermented, Beaujolais Nouveau is the definition of a "young" wine.    

World Series Wines

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What to Quaff With What to Eat While Tuning In
By Courtney Cochran

drinkingWine.jpgAT&T Park - home to SF's National-League-topping Giants - is renowned for its fancy game fare (Gilroy garlic fries, anyone?), though beer usually trumps wine as game-viewing-beverage-of-choice at the LEED-certified park.  Still, we know that vinous-inclined ball fans watching from home will no doubt reach for the corkscrew come this evening's World Series kickoff game.  Accordingly, we've put together a few suggested food and wine pairings for those of you who prefer the likes of Zin while taking in our team's next win.

Where would a true ball fan be without this classic game viewing staple?  When tucking into 'nuts, there's nothing more fitting with which to pair them than a crisp sparkling wine.  Why? Its acidity will deftly offset all the salt in this treat, while its bubbly profile and creamy mousse recall beer (though we know bubbly is better!).

*Make 'em gourmet: Upgrade your traditional basic nut to fancy Virginia versions.

Hot Dogs
We can't imagine a ball game without 'dogs.  Accordingly, uncork a fruity, medium-bodied red like Pinot Noir or Cru Beaujolais (for the latter, we like versions from Morgon and Brouilly) when tucking into this meaty treat.  These wines' mellow tannins will stand up to dogs' chewy texture, while their fruity flavor profiles make great foils to the savory taste of this choice game fare.

*Make 'em gourmet: Opt for Polish sausage franks for a richer, beefier taste.

Wine Sampling's Small (Read: Big) Idea

home_hero_2.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

It seems obvious to eco-conscious winos that wine packaging should be shrinking, but until lately that idea has been little more than just a soupçon of wishful thinking.  But Nor Cal's is turning that hunch into reality, thanks to the company's innovative new line of 50mL bottles (compare to a standard wine bottle's 750mL) that allows consumers to taste tiny amounts of wines from a growing roster of winery partners.

Yountville Tasting Itinerary

By Courtney Cochran

bubbly.jpgYountville has never been hotter, and - fittingly - visitors to this popular Wine Country hamlet have never had better options when it comes to things to do. In this spirit, read on for a wine tasting itinerary starring four of the town's top vinous haunts; we're sure you'll find plenty more reasons to call this a hot spot once you've tasted its best in red, white and bubbly.

Tasting Tours & Barrel Blending

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winetheif.jpgSUISUN VALLEY, CA - The Vezer Family is one of the originators and only one of a few wineries in California that specialize in Barrel tours that actually take you through a hands on Blending experience. This Barrel room tour starts with a base wine right from the barrel, at the same time your host is giving you a wonderful history lesson in the art of wine making, the use of barrels, the origination of aromas and bouquets, the structure of the wine grape itself, and how to balance and give you a well rounded tasting experience.

"Secret" Spring Whites

By Courtney Cochran

Surprise pals with your vinous prowess as you uncork these lesser-known whites this spring.

Famously made in northwestern Spain's ocean side Galicia region, Albariño is also grown stateside by a handful of adventurous growers including central coast white wine powerhouse Tangent.  A crowd pleaser thanks to its medium body, food friendliness and fruit basket aromatic profile, Albariño works as well with fish tacos as it does with fruit salad and lighter meat dishes - though it may shine brightest of all when sipped on its own. 

Wonderfully full-bodied, this aromatic variety from northwestern Italy has surprising heft for a white wine, making it an excellent choice for food pairings where you might otherwise look to red.  But take note: Arneis' eclectic flavor profile - think blossoms, pears and herbs, punctuated by an almond finish - make it tricky for food pairings, though it may just be tailor-made for chicken salad tossed with dill, almond slivers, pear slices and a kiss of dried cranberry.
Note: look for versions from Roero DOC.

Top 10 DIY Wine Tasting Themes

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 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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New Year In Wine: 10 Predictions for 2010

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newyear2.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

With 2009 behind us, let's all breathe a collective sigh of relief and turn our sights - not to mention our vinous radar - on the New Year.  If you're like us, a fresh start means you're looking forward to good things like pay raises, thinner waistlines and general prosperity like we haven't seen in some time.  And while that's all good and well, we'd like to remind you that there's more - much more, in turns out - in store for you in the world of wine in the New Year.  

Read on for our predictions on what'll be hot - as well as what'll 2010.

Clef du Vin: Best Wine Gadget Ever, Or Just Another Expensive One?

clefduvin.jpgBy Deirdre Bourdet

The Clef du Vin purportedly allows a collector to identify when his or her wines will be at their prime by mimicking the aging process.  For each second the copper-looking alloy is submerged in the wine, the wine supposedly "ages" one year.  If true, this has got to be the best gadget ever invented!!  Imagine taking the guesswork out of when to drink your precious bottles, and even out of which bottles to buy for the collection.  Imagine being able to buy only cheap, young wine and having it taste like pricy, aged collectors' items in a matter of seconds.

Holiday Sparklers

Tis' the season to be sparkly! Our present to you? A perfect sparkling and festive accessory- for your glass that is! After all, what could be more beautiful and festive than the red, white and sparkling wine swirling in your hand? To receive this gift, simply click to our friends below and get ready to choose that perfect holiday accessory to sparkle your glass!

Champagne & Sparkling Wine

Deals on Champagne & Sparklers

champagne2.jpgAccording to Paul Gregutt in a recent article for the Seattle Times, prices for Champagne and sparkling wine have decreased. In fact, worldwide demand has fallen by at least 10% which can only mean one thing for you and me - it's time to buy and stock up! And for those gearing up for the holidays, it couldn't be more perfect timing.

The articles suggests a few tips in what to buy:

(1) Be adventurous. Try something new instead of sticking to the brand you always buy.

(2) Buy a vintage Champagne rather than a brut

(3) Look on the bottle to see if the grapes are grand cru. Apparently grand cru vineyards are considered to be the best and well worth if it, even if a few more extra dollars..

(4) Splurge without breaking the bank. Purchase a half bottle

Paul also recommends asking the wine seller what is on sale. One deal out there right now is from Duval-Leroy where they have half bottles of brut at $18 and a full bottle of Cuvee Paris at $35.

Other articles on picking out sparklers for the holiday season:
Bubble, Bubble Everywhere

Must-Have Glasses For Holiday Party Season

Fusion-Infinity-placesetting.jpgby Deirdre Bourdet

Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away, and while most people have started planning their menus, most people haven't given much thought to rustling up stemware for the hordes of celebrants about to descend.  Big gatherings tend to bring out those back-of-the-cupboard wine "goblets," or the ever-festive plastic glasses--both because of necessity (few people have 14 Spiegelau glasses on hand), and because no tears will be shed when the inevitable shattering occurs.

Having recently broken two Riedels at home myself, I decided it was time to check out the purportedly "break-resistant" wine glasses Wine Enthusiast stocks.  Fusion stemware is made of lead-free European crystal fused with magnesium, and is backed with a 10-year warranty.  If the glasses shatter from normal klutziness, Wine Enthusiast will replace it for free.  (See full details at  Now obviously this is still crystal, so if you hurl it to the sidewalk in a fury, it will almost certainly break--and not be covered by the warranty.  But Fusion is apparently immune to those everyday backhands that bring down your glass and its contents in a cascade of splintered pain.  

What Wines to Serve for Thanksgiving

Are you at a loss when deciding on which wine to serve for Thanksgiving? Rest assured, you're not alone! Surprisingly (or not), trying to pair the perfect wine to accompany the wide variety of food we encounter with this wonderful meal is a common dilemma.  The good news is, we can help! Watch the videos below and get expert tips from those who know best. Now, what to do with eccentric family members?  We'll leave that to you!

Nouveau Sips: Wines to Savor in 2010

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By Courtney Cochran

Let's face it: the recession taught us many of things, perhaps the most important: you've got to appreciate the small things in life. And with 2009 drawing to a close, we can all look forward a renewed perspective (not to mention uptrending economic indicators, whew!) in the new year. To go along with this reinvigorated view of things, we offer the following ten wines that are destined to be hot in 2010. Because if another thing is altogether clear as we head out of this strange era: wine is and always will be a hallmark of the good times. And, it's time for each and every one of us to start living the good life again.

So go on: The little things in life are beckoning - and go down swell with a swill of some excellent vino

If the Glass Fits

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A Sommelier's Take on the Supposedly Perfect Glass

by Courtney Cochran

As a little girl I believed that, really truly, Cinderella's glass slipper was made just for her. Not only had she gone through all that heartache and pain before finally getting her chance with the prince, she had such a perfectly tiny foot it seemed like destiny that she'd wind up not only wearing the shoe, but wed to the dashing guy.

Fast forward about 20-some years to last night, when I found myself seated in a comfy conference room at the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco, thinking not so much of fairy tale princesses as fairy tale stemware. I was assembled there with more than a dozen wine journalists, all gazing skeptically at a very dapper Austrian dude at the front of the room.

Although not exactly a prince, Georg Riedel is most definitely cut of an elegant mold. The current head of his family's renowned Austrian glassmaking firm, Riedel was there in his fancy suit and clipped accent to tell us all how, really truly, wine tastes better when it's served in his Sommelier series glasses. Only this time he had a much tougher audience than Cinderella's impressionable four-year-olds!

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.

Burn, Baby, Burn: Best Wines for BBQ

A Sommelier Sheds Light on the Best Wines for BBQ
by Courtney Cochran

Firing, roasting, and grilling are decidedly du rigueur during the summer months, but finding wines that work well with this tricky fare can be a challenge. Just as shining a spotlight on an actor onstage brings her features into focus for an audience, these cooking methods serve to concentrate the flavors of whatever's being cooked, necessitating a wine with both strength and personality to stand up to the food.

Read on for the low-down on some of the more common characteristics of flame-cooked fare and how to track down the perfect wines to pair with these traits.

pinot.jpgIf you love Pinot (and all it's variations), then is the site for you.

Discover the "sensuality" of Pinot Noir  . . .

Plan to attend upcoming Pinot wine events around the country....

Pair some of your favorite dishes with Pinot...

Read recommendations on what Pinots to buy and drink...

Remember...there can "Pinot" no others!

Wine Tasting Etiquette

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wineEtiquette.jpgApparently there is a certain etiquette to wine tasting. If so, I should enroll some of my friends who seem to think it is impolite to not drink all the wine offered and after two wineries are tipsy. Then, of course there is always the one guy in the group who wants to showcase that he just read wine basics 101 online. Hint: No one cares. Let us enjoy the wine in peace or at least hear from the expert behind the wine tasting counter.

Columnist Nathaniel Bauer knows who you are and he has compiled together 10 etiquette tips for wine tasting.

Some you might know, others may be new, either way, it's always good to review!  Read full article here.

Opening Silver Oak

silveroak.jpgBy Robert Farmer

Sitting as it was without bothering anybody in my wine cellar, the bottle of 1999 Silver Oak had been resisted long enough. So on Christmas last year, I decided the time was right to open 'er up. Frankly, I have not been the rabid advocate for Silver Oak as are many folks among the legion of fans the winery can proudly claim. I've been impressed, but also under whelmed by some vintages. And while I know the oak notes are the wines' signature, my experience has occasionally been akin to running headlong into an oak barrel.

Bubble, Bubble Everywhere

Sifting through the sparkling wine clutter this holiday season

by Courtney Cochran

It never fails: the holidays arrive yet again and you still have no idea how to tell your Prosecco from your Cava. When to serve vintage versus non-vintage Champagne? You're clueless.

With all the stress that comes with the holidays, worrying about your sparkling wine selection seems like an unnecessary burden. Happily, help is here when it comes to the sparkling wine thing. Read on for the low-down on some of the most popular styles of sparkling wine, so that this holiday you can really mean it when you insist that - ahem - you're quite certain a sparkling Chenin Blanc is just the thing to pair with your honey-baked ham.

Winter Wines

Enjoy robust Italian Nebbiolo Barolo and luscious Canadian ice wine paired with your hearty winter meals.

by Courtney Cochran

There are all sorts of things that are wonderful about winter time. Snow, comfort food and roaring fires are just a few of them. But one of the best things about brisk weather and the winter months is the opportunity they afford to switch up your wine routine.

Colder temperatures and heartier fare are important reasons to look to new wines at this time of year. But another, in all likelihood less obvious reason, is quite simple: state of mind. The arrival of winter signals a change in our routines and activities.

Don't Forget the Wine for the Holidays!

christmaswine.jpgBy Angela Lytle

Good company, good food, and of course, good wine. What better way to celebrate the holidays than with a bottle of one of the magnificent wines available today. Enjoy the distinctive tastes of merlot and cabernet, sip the cold and flavorful white wines, like Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, and for dessert, try a nice sweet wine served ice cold.

There are literally hundreds and hundreds of varieties of wine, as remarkably different as the artful bottles that hold the wine. It is said, however, that there are eight major varieties of wine, including: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Shiraz, Pinot Noir, for the reds, and Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc for the whites.

Turkey Wines

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turkeyWines.jpgby Courtney Cochran

It's that time of year again, and you have no idea which wines to pair with your turkey feast during the Holidays. Do you stick with your usual favorites, Pinot and Cab, and throw in a nice Chardonnay for contrast? Or do you try something you've never had before, like a Gruner Veltliner, to make a big statement?

The answer lies somewhere in between. On upcoming Turkey Days you ought to offer a blend of whites and reds, but you also ought to seek out specific wines whose flavor profiles and weight complement heavier foods, which are often laced with a combination of sweet, savory and spicy notes. Some of these wines are exotic-sounding and can add an exciting contrast to your otherwise traditional table - never a bad thing!

Wine-based cocktails

By Robert Farmer

There are those among us for whom the thought of a wine-based cocktail is tantamount to heresy. Yes, I am firmly in that camp. Not since I sipped a peach-flavored Bartles & James wine cooler through a straw (only once, I swear!) have I even considered the relative merits of the wine cocktail. Sangria shot to the mouth from the spout of a bota bag notwithstanding, my current stance is that if somebody's making wine-based cocktails, it's probably because the establishment in which they are making them has not yet received its liquor license.

Crazy Over Corkage

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winerestaurant.jpgBy Robert Farmer

Recently my wife and I ventured out for an increasingly rare night on the town for dinner without our new baby. To us, such an occasion is special, so we set out for one of our favorite special occasion restaurants in San Francisco.

Though the place isn't one of the high-voltage restaurants that most people in SF correlate with a special occasion, it is a local favorite, which consistently earns high marks with critics and area foodies alike. Also, they have an exceptional wine list to match their gorgeous menu.

Wine List Anxiety

winelist.jpgBy Robert Farmer

With only one or two exceptions among my decent-sized group of regular dining-out companions, I am always first to grab the wine list. And once I get it, I rarely let it go. Not to say others don't take a look, but instead I tend to keep hold of the list throughout the meal - occasionally prying it open to peruse depending on which stage of the meal we happen to be in.

I love looking at wine lists--the imagination of the sommelier or wine-steward is in full view in these lists, which can range in size and scope from a single-sided sheet of paper, to a handsome, leather-bound book that looks more like an Encyclopedia Britannica. This I know is not the norm. Many people shy away from a wine list like the waiter was waving a plate of liver and onions beneath their nose.

Stellar Sangiovese By the Glass, Guaranteed (Well, Almost)

bg_drinks.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Restaurant ratings giant Zagat - which provides user-generated reviews of restaurants across the US and in some well-traveled international cities - recently announced the debut of drinkwellTM (, the first online guide to restaurants dedicated to serving the highest quality drinks and drink service - and that includes wine. The new ratings system is a boon for anyone who's ever wondered how an eatery fares not just in terms of what comes out of the kitchen, but also in terms of what comes across the bar.

This Mother's Day, Go Pink or Go Home

rosewine.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

With rosé wine enjoying an unprecedented level of popularity stateside - The Nielson Company recently revealed that sales of premium pink wine rose an astounding 53.2% this year - there's never been a better excuse to drink pink on Mother's Day.  Indeed, from supermarkets to Costco to the nation's most tony wine merchants, bottles of pink are appearing on store shelves in greater numbers than ever before, leaving you no excuse not to go pink this Sunday.

Press Club Debut in SF

By Robert Farmer
winerytastingroom.jpgFor a time -before I saw the light - I was somewhat opposed to the multi-winery tasting room. My preference had been for a tasting room to be not only to focus on a single winery's vintages, but also to be attached to that winery. It makes sense, you have to agree. But as I'm sure you'll also agree, I am right in tossing aside that narrow-minded attitude and embracing the new-style tasting room, the likes of which are proliferating these days in unexpected places. And so you can understand that recently, the opening of the Press Club in San Francisco was happy new for me. Not just because I happen to live in San Francisco, but also because this is an exceptionally fine example of the concept.

Motown Merlot

By Courtney Cochran

bottle_merlot.gifWhen former Motown Records CEO Kedar Massenburg launched K'orus Wine ( in late 2007, he did so with a splashy launch party in Beverly Hills attended by the likes of Stevie Wonder and Vivica Fox.  And while not the only wine launched with a celeb-studded fête in recent months , Massenburg's offering differs in a notable way - it's intended for African Americans.

The Sipping Point

millennials.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

Ever since a 2005 Gallup Poll showed that - gasp! - twentysomethings were drinking wine in notable quantities, marketers have been atwitter about "what to do" with these radical new (read: young) enthusiasts.  And now, with the latest news that Millennials (those who've turned 21 after the new Millennium) prefer wine to beer, pundits seem unable to stop marveling at the revolutionary behavior of America's youth when it comes to their drinking habits.

Pink Out, Indeed


roseWine1.jpgBy Courtney Cochran

AC Nielsen news keeps on confounding, now with reports that sales of rosé wine in the US rose an astounding 53.2% during the 52-week period recently surveyed.  These gains - which apply to bottles of rosé priced $8 and up - represent more than 17 times the increase in table wine sales observed during the same period.

Sipping Pretty: Winning Wines for the Spring Season

by Courtney Cochran

When the weather turns warm many of us feel inclined to pursue decidedly spring-like activities. Our short list of favorites includes spending time outdoors, foraging for fresh produce at farmer's markets and seeking out new wines to pair with the season's exuberant flavors and favorable forecast. Read on for some of our favorite selections for spring, along with - naturally - advice on food pairings and occasions for sipping. Santé!

Think Inside the Wine Box

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By Robert Farmer


Years ago, before I began actually appreciating wine, I attended parties that featured wine that poured from a box. Granted, I was college-age or just a bit older, and the demographic of these parties was such that box wine was to be expected--indeed it was typically appreciated by the very few in attendance not drinking beer. But it also had the stigma of being, well, cheap. And in my more recent years, which have brought a personal wine-drinking evolution, little has changed my perception of that stigma.  

Big Wine, Big Booze


By Robert Farmer


An ongoing debate among my wine-drinking friends and me is centered on the nature of so-called "big" red wines. Those who know me know that I like Big. Not saying I prefer big wines exclusively, but given the opportunity, I will call up something chewy, something that packs a punch, something with a more than a little heft. Typically that means I go for a substantial California Cabernet. But increasingly, big wines are being bottled in a number of varietals, and the phenomenon -- like so many other trends in wine - is causing it's fair share of controversy.

Wine as Art, Er, Fashion Statement, Er, Drink

By Courtney Cochran

Fresh back from Miami, I have to say that the sunny spot is without a doubt a city that knows how to party. And so I wasn't surprised to learn today that charismatic designer Christian Audigier - who shot to fame in the '90s as the man behind the eponymous Von Dutch brand, a favorite among celebrities and musicians, and who now oversees Ed Hardy clothing - chose Miami as the spot to debut his new wine brand, The Cool Wine (, at a star-studded affair late last year.

With juice coming from vineyards in Audigier's native France and distribution taken care of by Southern Wine & Spirits, The Cool Wine seems to have all the pieces in place for success as a traditional wine brand. But with packaging comprised of screw cap-topped bottles and boxes covered with colorful tattoo-inspired artwork, The Cool Wine is as much eye candy as beverage, as much fashion statement as libation - hardly traditional attributes in this long-staid industry. Watch for versions of the trendsetting stuff made from Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay and also a Rosé on store shelves and (naturally) bottle lists in nightclubs soon.

V-logs & Vino: A Winning Combination

By Courtney Cochran

In what strikes me as a very smart move, San Francisco-based technology company BuzzLogic ( ) recently launched a video blog (that's "v-log" for you techies) dubbed "The BuzzLogic Vino Diaries" in which a company staffer interviews guests while sipping wine. Shot in wine bars in San Francisco's tech-centric SoMa district, episodes explore social media topics such as blogging and online communities against the backdrop of a wine tasting.

And while some may dismiss BuzzLogic's use of wine tasting in its videos as a gimmick to make tech talk seem sexier, I see it as a clever move to differentiate the company's v-logs from the many other tech-themed videos that hit the Web each day. You can judge for yourself any time by perusing completed episodes online, or wait just a couple of weeks and check out an interview/tasting with yours truly. That's right, I'll be a guest on an upcoming episode that's being shot this week, and you can check back here for a link to watch it when it's live. And in a move befitting the social networking bent of BuzzLogic, their editor found me - but of course - on Facebook.

Georgia on My Mind

By Robert Farmer


Okay first things first. In light of recent news about books being published by authors who simply make things up and claim them as real, I'll admit: I've never been wine tasting in Georgia. But I'll also admit, the Wine Highway Weekend they've got scheduled for March 29 and 30 sounds like something I need to do. Yes, wine tasting in Georgia. And what better way to discover the wines of the Peach State than during an official event designed to garner awareness for the region's burgeoning wine industry?

Like California's, Georgia's wine industry has its roots in the 1800s, before being crushed by Prohibition. But its favorable grape-growing climate, with steep, well-drained hillsides, excellent soil qualities, and warm summers, remained. It wasn't long before grape growers returned and got vines in the ground and by the 1980s, the industry began to blossom again. Today, the Winegrowers Association of Georgia counts ten member wineries, located along the Wine Highway, north and west of Atlanta. During the special event weekend, member wineries and affiliate members will each feature open houses, including barrel tastings, food pairings, and live music.

It may be time to start thinking about heading south for Spring. For information, visit

LeAnn Rimes & Estancia: Right on Key

By Courtney Cochran


As further evidence of wine's inexorable march to the fore of America's pop culture consciousness, Estancia today announced its official sponsorship of the new LeAnn Rimes video, Good Friends and a Glass of Wine. The video - which features the famed country chanteuse and a bevy of her real-life friends relaxing while sipping Estancia Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - celebrates the role of wine in creating an atmosphere of reflection and rejuvenation after a hard day's work.

The announcement marks another high note for wine as it continues to grow in popularity among Americans of all (legally appropriate) ages and socioeconomic backgrounds. It also comes across as a well-timed strategic move by Estancia - a long-established brand seeking to update its image by way of a staring role in a chart-topping song by one of today's most popular young musicians. Sounds right on key to me.

Zin Fest in Paso

By Robert Farmer

What is it about Zinfandel that makes people nuts? The feverish following the grape enjoys is bordering on obsessive. I'm willing to dismiss the argument that it's because zins typically have a higher alcohol content than other varietals, in favor of the more logical approach that the wine simply speaks to its advocates on a visceral level. Zins are not shy. They are not given to nuance. They tend to be bold and matter-of-fact, and that transparency, I think, is why so many people count the grape as their favorite. Hence, Zin Fests, held throughout the world in various zin-producing regions, are eagerly anticipated and widely (and wildly) attended.

The 16th annual event in Paso Robles is no exception. The weekend-long celebration of Paso Zins, held March 14-16, features nearly 100 wineries hosting themed-events and activities and of course, spotlighting their signature zins. Among the attractions are winemaker dinners, live and silent auctions, zinfandel seminars, and winery open houses allowing guests to discuss their passion with those who create it. The anchor event for the weekend is the Festival on the 15th, a one-stop shop at the Paso Robles Event Center during which the intrepid zin fan can sample wine and food in copious quantity and variety. It's a popular event that typically sells out, so get your tickets soon and start brushing up on your Zinspeak.

Does the World Need Wine Blog Awards?

By Robert Farmer

From the Shameless Self Promotion Department I offer the following: the American Wine Blog Awards are accepting nominations until February 27th. That means, you have by the time of this reading, probably already missed your opportunity to nominate Yours Truly for one of eight categories accepted for the awards acknowledging achievement in self-administered wine opinionating.

Forgive me if I appear cynical, but I came upon the news of these awards at first with some excitement. But that quickly gave way to disillusion as I realized my chances of winning anything - or even being acknowledged - were slim to nil. Because wine opinions are like noses (both the wine variety and the face variety): Every bottle's got one. And these days it seems everybody's willing to broadcast those opinions on the Internet in the form of a blog. The irony of me noting this phenomenon in the form of a wine blog is noted, by the way. But with nearly a thousand online wine-themed blogs to choose from, how does one even get close to recognize an exceptional effort? Well, I feel compelled to offer with a wink, you could just stop with this one. Still, I consider the wine blog phenomenon to be a good thing - an ever-current and contemporary means for wine discovery among those who care to explore; and a means for those who care to write about it for anyone who cares to read. And so perhaps it is all worth it, and perhaps next year, Yours Truly will take the stage to accept his Best Wine Blog award, placing me firmly among the bright shining stars of the blogosphere.

To know more about the awards, and their creator, visit (another blog) at

Experience Paso Robles in San Diego

By Robert Farmer

Ever find yourself in that weird spot where you can't make it to Paso Robles but you can make it to San Diego but you'd rather be in Paso Robles on a wine tasting tour? Me too! And happily for people like us, you can get the full experience wines from "Paso"--as the locals like to call it--during the Southern California stop of the Grand Tasting Tour, scheduled for February 27th at the San Diego Wine & Culinary Center (

The Grand Tour, which also has stop later this year in Houston (April 10), St. Louis (April 15), and Kansas City (April 17), is the Paso way of bringing their wine show on the road. I think the idea is brilliant, because frankly it's not always top on my radar when it comes to wine-related destinations. That's mostly because it takes a bit of doing to get there, situated as it is on some 26,000 acres  about midway between LA and San Francisco and their respective major airports. But it's worth discovering--as the Grand Tour promises to prove. The event features the wines of more than 35 Paso Robles vineyards (a sampling from the more than 170 in the region). The Tour also presents an opportunity to meet with and talk to the wine makers and winery operators from Paso, who will no doubt make it clear that soon you'll be coming to visit them, rather than the other way around. For more info on the Grand Tour, check out

"No Merlot" No More

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By Robert Farmer

BlackStone_merlot.jpgYou've heard me argue for the defense in the case of the Public vs. No Merlot before - though I thought the movie Sideways was excellent, it was also a bit missinterpreted and way off point with the character's virulent opposition to merlot. Well, as with most things that are incorrect, time took its course and righted the wrong. And so it is in this spirit that I was happy to see the report released this week that sales of merlot in the United States rose by some 6 percent in 2007.

It took awhile for the public to set aside their fear of being un-trendy and their proclivity to bypass the merlot section in their grocery store wine aisle, but it does appear that merlot is again taking its rightful place among grape greats. Merlot still ranks high with U.S. wine consumers, as some 45 percent of total wine sales in the States is comprised of merlot, chardonnay, and cabernet sauvignon. Anecdotal evidence of the trend reversal is offered by Constellation Wines, the largest wine company in America, which claims among its many brands Blackstone Winery. For the same 2007 period, Blackstone's benchmark merlot enjoyed a sales increase of more than 11 and a half percent.

I guess Blackstone fans never saw Sideways...

Ceja Vineyards Wine Tasting Salon

By Robert Farmer

cejafamily.jpgIn the ongoing development of downtown Napa into a thriving, walkable destination district befitting the valley that bears its name, many wineries have lately been angling to have a presence among the charming, historic streets - an extension, if you will, of their vineyard experience for the downtown set. One recent example could be found earlier this month when Ceja Vineyards opened the doors to its new Tasting Salon in the heart of town at 1248 First Street (; 707-226-6445).

Ceja (pronounced SAY-ha), is an excellent local story to begin with -  a Latino family-owned winery founded by Amelia, Pedro, Armando and Martha Ceja, who are first generation Mexican-American winegrowers in the Napa and Sonoma valleys. Today, the winery produces more than 10,000 cases of premium-quality wines that include Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, as well as such individual specialties as Vino de Casa Blanco, Vino de Casa Tinto, Dulce Beso Late Harvest White Wine, and a soon-to-be-released Bella Rosa dry Rosé .

The Ceja family of wines can now be enjoyed with the familiar Ceja Family hospitality at their new downtown tasting room, which places guests within arm's reach of their great library of wines, and within an easy walk to the growing list of area attractions that already includes Copia, the beautifully restored Opera House, the River Walk, and the recently opened Oxbow Public Market. There are also several great restaurants and hotels downtown, making Ceja's decision to open a tasting room here as close to a sure bet for success as one can get.

Of Billionaires, Ambiguous Bottles & the Big Screen


By Courtney Cochran

oldwinebottle.jpgWhen oil magnate William Koch bought four bottles of wine purported to once belong to Thomas Jefferson - and found in a bricked-up cellar in Paris, no less, where the ex-President spent time as an ambassador to France - he thought he was buying a piece of history.  Not long after the purchase, however, the charismatic billionaire launched into an exhaustive self-funded investigation into the authenticity of the bottles, which he had become convinced were fakes.  The lawsuit Koch eventually filed (and which was recently thrown out of court) made headlines worldwide and grabbed the attention of history buffs, wine collectors and consumers alike with its scintillating story of deception, huge sums of money and larger-than-life players.

Now, it looks as though Koch's story may be told on the big screen, too.  Decanter reports that two Hollywood outfits have separately purchased rights to the tale as it's told in a soon-to-be-released book about the affair, The Billionaire's Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace, and in a recent New Yorker article about the scandal.  Whether either party will eventually make a film from the rights they've purchased is unknown, but the undeniable appeal of the story coupled with the recent success of other wine-related films (think Sideways, Mondovino) certainly bodes well. 

Wine Law Woes

By Courtney Cochran

liquorstore.jpgNew York Times wine critic Eric Asimov’s latest column, “A Befuddlement of Liquor Laws” (Wednesday, January 30), is one of the best commentaries I’ve read on the current crisis state of the American alcohol distribution system.  The influential critic comes out of the box swinging when he asserts - just 100 or so words into his column - that “the laws governing direct interstate shipments from wine retailers to consumers are confusing, arcane, inconsistent, often ignored and rarely discussed.”     

The Beginnings of Progress
Ka-boom!  And just like that, Asimov brings to the front and center a controversy that has been simmering for many years and which is finally reaching a boiling point thanks to a number of recent events.  To wit, in 2005 the Supreme Court ruled that states could no longer ban out-of-state wineries from shipping wine directly to in-state consumers if in-state wineries were allowed to do so.  This was good news for consumers in states like New York, where the changes that grew out of the ruling mean that folks can finally order mailing-list-only and other hard-to-find wines from wineries in, say, California, and also for wineries themselves, which now have a broader customer base nationwide and take home a bigger piece of the profit pie thanks to their ability to sell direct.

And while there are still holdout states clinging to the archaic system of three-tiered liquor distribution established in the wake of Prohibition (which necessitates that alcohol pass from a producer to a wholesaler/distributor before it reaches retailers, thereby making direct sales illegal), the ruling at least signals progress for wineries and consumers in a number of states.   

Wine Merchants: Left Out In the Cold
But pretty much total confusion still reigns when it comes to wine sales made by non-winery retailers, who in recent years have been treading in murky waters when it comes to shipping wine across state borders (as have wineries).  But, sadly, retailers were not awarded the same new shipping freedoms that wineries were granted after the court’s ruling.  And while shipping across state lines is not exactly impossible for retailers, doing so legally requires that they navigate a complex web of dos and don’ts, permit filings and a strange mandate necessitating the establishment of brick and mortar outposts in certain states in order to do so.  These hurdles mean that only the most organized and well-funded retailers are able to make a go of inter-state selling; as for the rest, they either do it illegally or they don’t do it at all.

Long Way To Go
The sum of all of these regulatory and shipping hang-ups is a system woefully in need of an overhaul.  The shocking number of constituents who are financially impacted by the hang-ups - not only the wineries and retailers who are leaving money on the table due to an inability to make sales to customers in holdout states, but also the retailers who spend time and money slogging through the same hang-ups so that they can make inter-state sales - is just as disturbing as the paucity of consumer choice that accompanies them.  It’s inexcusable that in a country that prides itself on free trade there are still barriers within our own borders prohibiting us from purchasing goods we’ve made domestically.

The advent of eCommerce and the accompanying debate about inter-state shipping has only drawn into sharper relief problems that have been inherent in our liquor laws for far too long.  It’s time that we considered methods to level the playing field for everyone involved, so that businesses may realize their full potential and consumers may get their hands on the wines that they want.  This need for consumer choice, after all, is a mandate for something even more important than profits:  It’s a call for the best quality of life this country has to offer. 

Zinfandel: The New Budweiser?

By Courtney Cochran

zap.JPGThe first time I attended the ZAP festival ( ) – the annual tasting hosted by the trade group Zinfandel Advocates and Producers each January at San Francisco’s Fort Mason – I couldn’t get over the sheer enormity of the gathering.  Press materials peg attendance at the multi-day festival somewhere around 10,000, an astounding figure for a wine event.  And while the size of the event is itself noteworthy, what I find still more interesting is the makeup of the tasting’s attendees (and I’m talking demographics - not cosmetics - here).

The Everyman Tasting
The beer and burger crowd is at ZAP.  The barely-old-enough-to-drink crowd is at ZAP. The fashionistas are at ZAP.  The gays are at ZAP.  The hippies and the yuppies are at ZAP.  It’s the most eclectic gathering of wine drinkers I’ve ever seen in one place, and it’s also the only major wine event I’ve attended where casual may just be the best word to describe the guests.  This diversity, in and of itself, is exciting and worth checking out, particularly in light of the Wine Market Council’s recent announcement that 2007 was “a tipping point” for wine consumption in America, a phenomenon triggered in part by a shift among many wine drinkers from marginal to regular wine consumption, as well as a dramatic increase in the number of twenty somethings (holla!) drinking wine.  

Many of these so-called marginal drinkers are folks who used to choose a beer or a cocktail over wine, but whom statistics show are increasingly opting for a glass of wine when selecting a drink.  And, to lots of these newbie wine enthusiasts, Zinfandel is a fruity, easy-to-like wine that doesn’t intimidate.  After all, Zin is the wine most often associated with casual foods like pizza, burgers and ribs, and its low acidity when compared with other popular varietals (think Pinot Noir & Sauvignon Blanc) makes it a palate-friendly option for someone who may not be accustomed to wine’s signature strong acidity.  

A Gateway Wine
This weekend’s ZAP festival is the perfect occasion to check out these casual drinkers in action, not to mention a great opportunity to knock back some seriously good Zin.  And, I would be remiss as a sommelier if I didn’t note that, in spite of Zin’s casual reputation that I’ve emphasized here, it can also be a serious wine, one worthy of connoisseurship and all the other hallmarks of a “fine wine” tossed about in the stuffy-wine-speak lexicon.    

But really, at the end of the day, what’s most important about Zin is its accessibility to the legions of new drinkers we’re seeing leap, many in jeans and t-shirts, onto the wine bandwagon.   And what a merry bandwagon it is.    

It Only Tastes Expensive

By Robert Farmer

wineglass.jpegThe report tore through wine circles recently that a study that shows people think the more expensive wine is the better it tastes. The study, produced by the Stanford Graduate School of Business and the California Institute of Technology, showed that because people expect wines that cost more to be better, they convinced themselves that indeed those wines were more pleasurable to drink. Now this might be easily categorized in the “no kidding!” file, but I don’t think it should be so easily dismissed. This information is actually more beneficial to wine makers - actually, to wine marketers - than it is to wine consumers.

This news is, in my view, an insult to wine drinkers.  It demonstrates in no uncertain terms the gullibility and the overall herd-mentality of the wine drinking public (indeed, this phenomenon isn’t limited to the wine business). Is it true that wine drinkers are so eager to have a positive wine-drinking experience that they can be so easily hoodwinked into thinking that because the wine in their glass costs a lot it must taste good? Please, let’s hope not. In the meantime, it should be every serous wine drinker’s mission to sniff out the you-know-what and to let their taste buds make the decisions - not their wallets.

Label Overexposure

By Robert Farmer

bonny_doon_label.jpgOn the other side of the label - the wine label argument, that is - is California's trend-setting winery, Bonny Doon Vineyards, in Santa Cruz. Long known for its avant-garde approach to the wine biz, and for its rather whimsical takes on wine label, Bonny Doon announced recently that it would begin offering wine labels that list all the ingredients in its wines, as well as what ingredients were used to create those ingredients. Though it might be a case of TMI (too much information), and perhaps even a case of Who Asked For It, the winery hopes it will be a precedent-setting example of transparency that will help the consumer make better choices'certainly more "informed" choices, at the very least.

This is interesting to me, especially in light of the recently proposed Oregon legislation (see above) that hopes to mandate such transparency. But what this means, and what consumers will begin seeing on the labels of Bonny Doon’s, Demeter certified Biodynamic 2007 Ca' del Solo Albarino and the 2007 Ca' del Solo Muscat, is an esoteric catalog of such things as tartaric acid, yeast nutrients, bentonite, enzymes and sulfur dioxide. Many of these ingredients are benign and indeed no longer remain in the completely fermented and bottled wine. But, trailblazer though they are, Bonny Doon wants to expose it all. I’ve always like the Bonny Doon labels - typically fun, eclectic, and colorful. But I'm not sure I like this idea and I'm not sure it makes a difference.

Label me undecided.

Wine Label Larceny

By Robert Farmer

labels2.jpgIf your New Year's Resolution included being more conscientious about what you eat and drink, then the addition of nutritional information to wine labels might strike you as a good thing. For those in the wine industry, however, the proposal is something less helpful.

As has been much in the wine-industry news lately, the Oregon State Alcohol Tax and Trade  Bureau (TTB) has proposed a requirement that winemakers there list nutritional information on their wine bottle labels. Now, you may be saying to yourself… What!? Because, like many people I know and with whom I have discussed this notion, the idea seems superfluous at best, idiotic at worst. And as we know when it comes to all things state-related, one state’s law can soon impact the nation. So it's not surprising the Oregon winemakers have been digging in their heels in opposition to this. You should be too.

The proposal presents a number of problems, both logistical and philosophical. From the former, it's not easy for winemakers to list the ingredients that go into their wines - it's an ever-changing array of components added with the temperament and nuance of an individual and generally with little consequence to the wine drinker other than a resulting product that they enjoy. Nutritionally? If you're that worried about what nutrition you're getting from your wine, I'm afraid you’ve got bigger problems than can be solved on a wine label.

And, speaking of the label, the ones that already have government-mandated copy publicizing alcohol content and the dangers thereof (which I agree isn't a bad idea), it's also the space that the winemaker relies on for telling the particular wine story - not to mention for grabbing the attention of the wine-buying public from its position on store shelves.

So, in other words, there are many reasons why this is a bad idea. For Oregon's sake and for overall wine-drinking sanity, let’s hope this particular label idea doesn't stick.

Stop la presse!

By Courtney Cochran

In a move that can only signal the further withering of France's reputation as the homeland of the bon vivant, a Paris-area court recently ruled that newspaper articles promoting wine should include the same terse health warnings that appear on alcohol advertisements.  This comes on the heels of strict new laws in France that levy severe penalties on drivers who've been drinking.  

For many years, getting behind the wheel after a couple  - or more - glasses of good wine was commonplace for many French.  And while I've heard lots of grumblings from folks over there about these changes (which in spite of their inconvenience are a good thing for public safety), the government's more recent interference in beverage reporting is truly shocking.  At the center of the controversy is a 2005 article in Le Parisien that the court claims was 'intended to promote sales of alcoholic beverages in exercising a psychological effect on the reader that incited him or her to buy alcohol.'  Le Parisien countered that its piece was 'purely editorial'. 

As a journalist, Francophile and wine lover, I'm utterly disgusted by the ruling.  What’s next - outlawing French Fries?!  Woops, guess that bad move's already been made.

Resolve to Drink Wine Pt 2

By Robert Farmer
With 304 million cases consumed in 2007, the United States is now ahead of Italy in per-capita wine drinking. And, more telling, we are behind only the French. Among the many factors contributing to this welcome trend are the same factors that play into my resolution: increasing evidence that (red) wine is actually good for you; and the availability of better wines in more places throughout the country. Of course, more people are coming of wine-drinking-age now, which does not include me, but we won't get into that. But, like me, more Americans are interested in getting quality for a good price. And, we're more aware of what quality in a wine actually tastes like. As tastes become more sophisticated, wine producers work harder to reach those tastes and to market to pocketbooks. So as more US producers get into the mix along with better bottles from places like Australia, South Africa, and Argentina, we the wine-lovers of the world stand to benefit. As I continue on this resolute journey, I will happily share my finds with you. By all means return the favor if you like!

Resolve to Drink Wine

By Robert Farmer

wine_2.jpg'Tis the season for making and for breaking new year resolutions. Myself, I for the past six or seven years have not been so foolhardy as to give in to the temptation to make resolutions at the new year or any time of year, knowing that not only are they wishful thinking, they tend to be equally unrealistic and unattainable. But that's not to say that the changing of the calendar from one year to the next does not give me pause to reflect on things I might do better, or differently, in the coming 365 days and beyond. There is a certain undeniable tabula rasa effect that comes in along with January 1st. So this year, I will put my mind to seeking out and drinking better wine. That's not to say that, to-date, I'd been a dedicated "Two Buck Chuck" drinker. Rather, it means that I am going to re-focus my mission to find those great wines that are suitable for everyday enjoyment (i.e., they don't break the bank, but also don't insult the palate). There's strong evidence that this resolution will be one I can achieve and, according to the 2007 wine market report by Impact Databank, I will not be alone. The study indicates that Americans are drinking more and better wine than ever, and they are seeking out and relying upon dependable well-priced bottles.

Cradle of Love - Wine Gift Ideas


by Courtney Cochran

Gifting for the wine lover in your life seems easy enough until you realize that the best gifts have already been given:  fancy Rabbit-style corkscrew (check), embellished pewter bottle coaster (check), elaborate duck-shaped decanter (sigh, check). 

But wait!  Just when you’ve decided that finding the perfect gift for your wine lover is about as likely as White Zin making a comeback, I’m here with the scoop on something the wine lover in your life almost certainly doesn’t have:  a wine cradle. 

Made from a variety of materials and available at a variety of price points, a wine cradle is – essentially – a holster designed for serving old and rare wines.  Because older bottles often contain sediment – a natural by-product of wine’s aging process – serving them from a wine cradle ensures that the sediment stays where it ought to be – in the bottom of the bottle – and out of your glass.  Sleek, minimalist cradles may suit New Age drinkers, while more classic, Italian-made pewter versions will win points with traditionalists.

Either way, your gift-giving savvy may just net you a taste of one of said old bottles – a fitting reward for your efforts, if I do say so.

Classic SF Restaurant Returns with Welcoming Wine List


By Robert Farmer

A San Francisco icon has reemerged like the butterfly from the chrysalis. Only in this case the butterfly is a Moose. For decades the anchor of Washington Square and the hideout for local politicos and socialistas, Moose's (415-989-7800; recently reopened following a major redesign and refurbishment.

The good news is, it appears that it will still be a great place to grab a glass of wine and discuss the events of the day. Under the watchful eye of wine director Glen Standish, Moose's has unveiled a world-spanning list of wines that showcase artisan producers with an emphasis on organic and biodynamically produced wines. What's more, care was taken to offer value and selection. Great prices will make it tough to choose from among 15 by-the-glass wines and from more than 150 bottle and half-bottle selections. The wines will pair nicely with a new menu from chef Travis Flood, who honed his skills at SF's Fifth Floor, among other haute spots.

It's good to see the return of a classic to the City by the Bay--a place where a local neighborhood restaurant welcomes people from all neighborhoods.

Shop Online With a Million Friends


By Robert Farmer


You’ve heard me rant about the benefits of buying wine online – hello, front-door delivery! But sometimes it can be tough to make decision is the vast cold void of cyberspace when confronted with a gazillion choices. That is, unless you know exactly what you want.

But let’s say you’re not Robert Parker and you’re just interested in exploring. Enter Snooth (, a New York City-based (yes, New York City!) online presence that leverages the much-hyped Web 2.0 technology for its wine recommendations and overall functionality. Flush with a recent one million dollar financing deal, Snooth is poised to make big waves in the online wine shopping and searching world. Using so-called “social” recommending, the site offers info and detail on more than 300,000 kinds of wine.

It also claims 1.9 million users, each of whom add to and help build the site—for instance, you can see what your site friends are liking at the moment, what they’ve bought, and what they’ve steered clear of.  It’s like Facebook for wine snobs! The best part is the search capabilities. The site seems to know wine terminology—for instance, it can find recommendations for based on your love of “buttery” chardonnay.

Check it out and see if you give a Snooth.

Frequent Winer

By Courtney Cochran

Most of the time, a delayed flight is a major headache.  

When frequent flier Doug Tomlinson found himself delayed one too many times with nary a drop of decent wine in sight to stave his frustration, he knew just what to do.    

Enter Vino Volo (Italian for “wine flight”), Tomlinson’s airport wine bar concept that allows stranded travelers to enjoy a flight before their, well, flight.  The ex-consultant started the chain in 2003, when the first Vino Volo opened at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.  The company is now five stores strong (other locations include Sacramento International Airport and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport), with plans to open dozens more in major airports in coming years.   

The formula is simple:  Customers order wine by the taste, glass or tasting flight to enjoy in the sleekly designed lounge-like space, where gourmet nosh in the form of small plates is also on the menu.  All wines are available by the bottle, too, and can be carried away, or - for those who’d rather not schlep their booty – shipped.

How’s that for a headache-free send-off?

Gone, Bubble, Gone

By Courtney Cochran

Used to be, if you popped the cork on some bubbly and didn’t finish the bottle, you’d be greeted with lifeless pseudo fizz the next day.

Now, thanks to the ingenious bubble saving system from French company Atelier du Vin (at-el-YAY doo van), you can enjoy the rest of your bottle with fizz aplenty, even several days after you open it.  

It’s easy:  Just affix the company’s Bubble Indicator ® capsule to the top of the bottle, and place the whole thing in the fridge.  The airtight system traps pressure inside the bottle – so your bubbles stay lively – and a colorful ring around the top lets you know when your fizz is running out of gas.  The ring sinks slowly into the capsule as bottle pressure diminishes; when the ring’s gone, you know your bubbles are gone, too.  

Just don’t say you didn’t have fair warning.

Kisses (and Vino) from Rio


By Courtney Cochran

The dating life is tough. Take, for example, an unfortunate coincidence that came up between two good friends of mine not long ago. Both ladies were living in Manhattan, working hard by day and - unbeknownst to each other - enjoying romantic dates with same dashing bachelor by night.

Both believed her relationship was "getting more serious," when in reality the guy was more interested in dating most of Manhattan than moving closer to any sort of commitment. It wasn't until said gentleman went on vacation to Brazil and sent both women flirtatious text messages signed, "Kisses from Rio" that they made the connection.

As you might imagine, they then promptly made a disconnection from the guy who became known infamously in our circle as "Kisses from Rio."

When Drinking Pink, Don’t Think


contributed by: Courtney Cochran

Too hard, that is. Every spring I marvel at the countless articles about rosé (AKA pink) wine that pop up under the headline “Think Pink.” When the fact of the matter is that this curious step child of the wine world really shouldn’t be thought of too much at all.

case in point
The other day I enthusiastically poured a glass of a pink wine I’d just picked out for a friend. Its festive red flower-strewn label reminded me of Cabaret posters and its bright pink juice was just as lively. It was, in short, the quintessential bottle of rosé. When I asked my friend what he thought of it he reflected for a moment and just said, “It’s fun.”

That’s it!? “Fun”?!

The wine writer in me recoiled at the insult his brief response implied. For someone who regularly constructs lengthy (don’t you dare call them “flowery”!) write-ups of the good stuff, I was taken aback at his limited description. After all, the guy knows I must have selected the bottle with more than just a moment’s consideration.

when brief is okay
When I pressed him for more information my friend stood by his “fun” descriptor. Upon noting my crestfallen look he went on to explain that it might – sort of – remind him of watermelon. Or sweet tarts. But really, he wrapped up reassuringly, that all had nothing to do with the fact that the wine was, without a doubt, quite good.

As I knocked back another swallow of the pink stuff I had to agree that it was, indeed, a good wine. But more importantly, it was undeniably fun.

tasting notes
2005 Mas de Bazan Rosado, DO Utiel-Requena, Spain
Fun, with a sprinkling of watermelon and an afterthought of sweet tarts. (No further thinking required.)

Wine & Prejudice


contributed by: Courtney Cochran

Like Elizabeth Bennet, I sometimes misjudge characters based on false notions I have of their true nature. But where Elizabeth erred in judging men, I sometimes make my mistakes in appraising wine. And while this may sound like a trivial comparison – certainly Ms. Bennet has been called one of English literature’s great heroines, and I’m just a newbie wine critic still shy of my two-year anniversary as a certified sommelier – I’m hoping you’ll find it refreshingly tongue-in-cheek and perhaps even a little enlightening.

You see, it’s my opinion that our relationship to wine is a lot like our relationship to the opposite sex. As with potential mates, we sometimes incorrectly conclude that a wine isn’t meant for us based on external factors like labels, prices, and point scores. But these factors don’t always account for what really counts – the more subtle things lingering inside the bottle. Read on for a short list of common pitfalls when it comes to appraising a wine’s character and how to avoid stumbling into them.

The most frequently misjudged things when it comes to wine, labels tell us very little about the quality of what’s inside the bottle. I’m always surprised at how some of the worst wines I sample have the most appealing labels, while some of the most amazing wines I’ve stumbled upon often come in the most anonymous-looking packages. My point: The Wickhams of the wine world are plentiful. These are wines that trick you into believing they’re something special simply by wooing you with their flashy exteriors. The moral: don’t judge a wine by its label.

Another common prejudice pitfall! In the wine world especially, price and quality simply aren’t always on par. I’ve had just as many amazing $15 wines as $50 wines, although the best versions on the lower end have taken a little more work to find, I’ll admit. At the same time, there are a handful of wines out there that are extremely expensive and totally out of this world – in other words, absolutely worth it! These are the Darcys of the wine world, and when you find one, be sure to savor it.

In the same way that a handful of snobby aristocrats dictated who was popular in Jane Austen’s 19th Century England, a few influential wine critics tell today’s consumers which wines are worth buying. But, just as the aristocrats of Ms. Bennet’s time represented a singular – albeit influential – take on popular society, today’s wine critics aren’t the ONLY arbiters of taste when it comes to what’s in your glass. At the end of the day, what really matters in your perception of a wine is if it resonates with you personally, whether that be because it’s been well received by a certain critic or because it just blew your mind. In the latter instance, be sure to buy a case.

Now That’s MY Kind of Wine Party


As someone who hosts wine parties for a living, people often ask me what goes into throwing a really fantastic tasting.

the question
“What’s the secret?” they ask, looking for the key to taking usually stodgy wine appreciation into the realm of the hip, the fabulous and the entertaining.

the answer

Before, I would have said that I couldn’t quite put my finger on any particular recipe for success when it comes to extraordinary wine events. But after attending the Wine Enthusiast Toast of the Town tasting in San Francisco last month, I can now say that the secret to hosting the most fabulous parties lies in just a few critical ingredients:

- first, provide LOTS of wine
- add to that unlimited amounts of delicious food
- invite around a thousand guests
- finally, host said event in a gorgeous, theatrical spot

the Studio 54 of wine parties
Held inside San Francisco’s wonderfully glam War Memorial Opera House, the Wine Enthusiast event added to these ingredients live jazz and a terrific crowd. The result was a swanky nightclub-like vibe, especially as the evening progressed and the wine continued to flow. I was so caught up in the revelry, in fact, that I forgot my VIP goodie bag at the end of the night (but at least I left in a taxi!).

While there, I met and mingled with dozens of guests, sampled bite-sized hors d’oeuvres from a long list of high-end eateries, and – naturally! – tried close to 100 wines. It was like being in a wine and food fantasy land along with 999 new friends. Even the exhibitors seemed to have a fabulous time: Folks from wineries were seen buzzing around to other vendors, checking out who was there and sampling their goods.

there’s always next year

If you’re looking for a little extra excitement in a wine tasting, I highly recommend checking out Toast of the Town next year. In the mean time, there are plenty of consumer wine events held throughout the year where you can warm up for Toast. I can’t guarantee that any of them will manage to pull off the nightclub vibe, but then again that special mix of ingredients - 1,000 guests, dramatic setting, unlimited wine & amazing food - can be a little tough to pull together.

contributed by: Courtney Cochran

American Wine Bars that Offer Selection with Style

Dedicated wine bars and wine-oriented eateries know that storing and protecting the stock is top priority, but what about restaurants where wine is secondary? Here's what to look out for when wining at non-wine establishments:

Sparkling Toasts to Tip off the Season!


By Jamie Rushing

Well it is officially December and if you are like me, you are getting geared up for holiday parties and guests. There are a number of hip things you can do this year to spruce up your typical party motif. Many of my hostess tricks were learned from numerous wine tasting events and special occasions out in Wine Country. And when it comes to wine for the season, I have three words: never enough sparkling!

It’s true, there is something about this season that transforms your big red drinkers and beer devotees into champagne toasting fiends. I know this from personal experience at my holiday party last year. And my ratio of bubbly beverages was quite a bit off. My cabs took a back seat and my zins got zero attention. The minute I popped the first cork, the reaction was infectious:
“Oh that looks good! I’ll take a glass of champagne.”

I zipped through my first case of sparkling in about 1 hour (again "sparkling" not champagne- as it was not from the specified region in France.) And I have to believe my signature champagne cocktail concoction further swayed guests to venture from their usual glass of chardonnay.

I had always wanted to impress guests with a little creative bar tending…and now was my chance- seeing as it involved my favorite beverage of!
My “Afternoon Delight” was a delightful blend of first raspberry liquor- enough to fill a thimble in the bottom of the glass, topped off with sparkling wine, a dash of bitters and a large meyer lemon slice floating on top. The idea was to bring a ray of sunshine into the winter season.

Well, plain or mixed in unique drinks, the bubbly goes over well this time of year. And it pairs quite well with any of the usual suspects on a seasonal party platter. Especially mild cheeses, classic shrimp cocktail, honey roasted ham and sugary vanilla cookies.

From my past experience, one little party appetizer that always disappears quickly is the famous finger sandwiches.... but all decked out in a much cooler way. Pile up slices of nice delicatessen roast beef or smoked turkey, some quality balsamic mustard, a shaving of gruyere and colorful arugula (also adds a little peppery kick) on pre-packaged pastry dough. Bake up in oven at 375 for 15 minutes and serve! They actually come out pretty as wrapped packages and are easy to manage with wine in one hand.

The secret to my holiday wine gatherings is in the savory condiments and the sparkling cocktails. So stock up on plenty of both.
In fact, quite a few unique sauces and spreads can be found here on

Happy Holiday Entertaining!



Okay, quick show of hands.

How many of you have more than one corkscrew? Almost everyone.

How many of you have more than one kind of corkscrew? Two kinds? Three kinds? Funny how they gather in the back of the drawer, isn’t it?

How many of you have a corkscrew on your pocket knife? (This is how we identify the real hard-core wine-drinkers.)

How many of you have a decanter? A few people. Not many, but more than a few years ago.

How many of you have a gadget for preserving the freshness of the wine in an unfinished bottle? Not as many hands as there should be, my friends.

Okay, how many of you have a triple-pronged neodymium-magnet instant wine aging tool?

Hmmm, no hands for that last one.

To tell you the truth, I never saw one of these before last night, when a friend showed me one that she had been given. At first I thought it was a joke, but the package goes on at some length about how you can age anything from a bottle of wine to a glass of whisky in seconds due to some mysterious forces in the magnets. I’ve got the thing at home now and will test it soon. It's probably a total hoax, but what the heck: better I warn you than you spend your hard-earned money on a.... gadget.

But while we're on the subject, let’s talk about wine gadgets. It seems to me that one of the surest ways to measure the democratization of wine in America is to measure the lengths connoisseurs have to go to in order to differentiate themselves from everyone else. The more gadgets and gizmos there are in wine shops and wine catalogs, the more ways there are for hard-core fans to separate themselves from fringe fans.

So we all have corkscrews now. I bet there was a time when you didn’t. Some of us have a plain old headwaiter’s corkscrew, a “Rabbit” knock-off, and an “Ah-So” for good measure.

I admit I have a corkscrew on my pocket knife, but it’s not because I drink at the drop of a hat. It’s because the Victorinox “Climber” model has a really a tight screw, much narrower than conventional corkscrews. This has saved my butt on some incredible old bottles, whose corks were crumbling while eager crowds awaited their sip of some majestic old elixir.

The only other wine gadget that ranks with my pocket knife, at least so far (remember I haven’t tried the magic magnets yet), is the simple vacuum pump that pulls air out through a one-way plastic plug that you put into the wine bottle you haven’t finished. No air left in the bottle, no oxidization. Only one moving part, lightweight, and cheap. No kitchen is complete without it.

So if you want to know where you stand relative to the rest of the population, count your wine gadgets. If you have more than five, you’re serious. If you have more than ten, you’re out there. If you’re in the low single digits, don’t feel bad: the entire wine business loves you and depends on you.