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DECODING FRENCH WINE BOOK – AVAILABLE NOW

The wine world is intimidating when you are just starting out. France alone has more than 25,000 wineries and the bottles are labeled with various phrases, regions, vineyards, vintages and classifications, often times with no mention of a grape varietal. How are you possibly to know what to buy, what’s inside the bottle, and if you’re going to like it?

Decoding French Wine: A Beginner’s Guide to Enjoying the Fruits of the French Terroir” is a clear and concise guide written with the singular goal to help early stage wine drinkers navigate and explore the world of French wine.

This new third edition of the book takes readers through France’s prominent wine regions to uncover the geography, history and wine making practices of each region. Along the way, build a list of high quality, value priced producers to start with, and before you know it, you’ll be off exploring and decoding the vast and awesome world of French wine.

Click the cover to learn more.

Decoding French Wine
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New Book – DECODING SPANISH WINE – Available Now

It’s finally here. We’ve been working on this one for a while now and I’m super pumped to finally put it out in the world and be able to share it with you.

Our new book “Decoding Spanish Wine: A Beginner’s Guide to the High Value, World Class Wines of Spain” is now available in print and eBook on Amazon. This is the follow up to our previous book, “Decoding Italian Wine.”

The goal with our wine books is to deliver tons of relevant info in the most easily digestible and fun to read way possible. I think we did it again with “Decoding Spanish Wine.”

The book covers all the main grape varietals and wine regions in Spain along with information on vintages, classifications, top value picks, how to read a Spanish wine label and wine and food pairing recommendations.

Spanish wine deliver some of the best values in the world right now in my opinion and we put all of our effort into creating a book that will help you take your Spanish wine drinking to the next level and find new awesome wines for great prices.

“If you’ve ever been the least bit curious about Spanish wine, then this is the book to have on your shelf. The style is accessible, and the narrative is written with ease. It’s like you’re sitting down with the authors on their porch, sipping on Cava, and having a chat about great Spanish wine region . Great work gents!” – Naushad Huda, Founder and CEO, ILikeThisGrape.com and Editor of DRIVE THROUGH NAPA

“Kudos to Andrew Cullen and Ryan McNally for this accessible deep-dive into Spanish wines. For anyone looking to expand their wine knowledge, DECODING SPANISH WINE is a must buy. Salud!” – Amy E. Reichert, author of THE COINCIDENCE OF COCONUT CAKE and THE OPTIMIST’S GUIDE TO LETTING GO

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Under Appreciated And Under Priced Summer Wines You Need To Drink Now

Summer time is a great time for wine, friends and fun.  But after a few weeks of drinking those California Chardonnay staples or the standard Sauvignon Blancs that everyone loves so much, where should you go next?  What are some other summer options that can quench your thirst while offering a little something new, a little something different to expand your palate?  Here are some of our favorites.

Rose. You can’t go wrong with Rose when the weather cranks up.  But not all Rose is the same.  It’s popular as all get up right now so you can find it from almost anywhere, but is all Rose built the same?  No it is not.

Start with French Rose from Cotes de Provence. Chinon Rose made from Cabernet Franc is excellent too. This is a good bar to set for price to quality.  Next move around Europe, try some new places.  Rioja rose can be delicious.  I’ve had Hungarian rose that I loved.  Then move to the US and see how they stack up.

Regardless, Rose is a constant crowd pleaser and most bottles can be scored under $15. Serve chilled, and pair with just about any summer cuisine.

Muscadet. This is a summer white wine that lands on many wine geeks’ recommended lists because it typically offers surprising quality at a competitive price. 

It’s becoming easier to find too, although even some huge stores like Total Wine near me only carry a handful of choices.  So I’ve sampled them all, and it is indeed hard to beat for the money (mostly under $20).

Muscadet is bright and refreshing, but with some body and strength that makes it interesting all the way through.  Pair with white fish, summer salads, or enjoy on its own.

Riesling.  Forget the super sweet stuff. Riesling is an awesome summer pick.  Look to Austria and Germany for some great wines.  Curious how to tell if Riesling is dry or sweet? 

Check the alcohol (low alcohol = sweet, +12% alcohol = dry).  Good Riesling has depth and body, vibrant fruit.  It is often refreshingly crisp and can pair with almost anything.  We are drinking a lot of Riesling right now.

Pinot Grigio and Arneis.  Specifically, Pinot Grigio from Italy.  Looks for bottles from the areas of Fruili-Venezia Guilia, and Trento Alto Adige.

And see if you can find bottles of Arneis  (Are-Naze) from Italy too.  It’s a grape that is missing the mainstream radar right now, but is absolutely delicious in the summertime.  You will frequently see Arneis from the Roero area which will be listed on the label.

Vinho Verde, Portugal

Looking for ridiculous bargains in the summer months, look no further than Vinho Verde.  You can find most bottles for around $10, and there are few wines in that price range that are as a crisp and refreshing.  You’ll sometimes get a super light touch of effervescence too in these wines which I always like.  One great name to look for is Avelada ($10, pictured above).

Vouvray

Another Loire Valley white.  The Loire is where so many fantastic wine bargains can be found nowadays.  Get out there while it lasts. Vouvray is predominantly made from Chenin Blanc and will have a nice body with distinct notes of honey and apricot.  You’ll find most Vouvray wines priced between $10-$20 at better wine stores.

If you’re interested in further exploring French wine, check out our book, “Decoding French Wine,” on Amazon in paperback and eBook formats. We also have beginner books for wine fans interested in Italian Wine and Spanish Wine.

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Decoding Italian Wine: A Beginner’s Guide to Enjoying the Grapes, Regions, Practices and Culture of the “Land of Wine”

Wine books typically fall into two categories: those that are 1,000 pages and cover every acre of grape growing across a particular country, and those that try to squeeze the same amount of information into a smaller number of pages. While there’s a place for those books, we believe an introductory study of wine can be achieved without committing to an academic, encyclopedic read or bulling through a condensed group of dry facts.

Written by the creators of CostcoWineBlog.com and VivaItalianMovies.com, “Decoding Italian Wine” is a fun, entertaining and easily digestible guide to enjoying Italian wine. Set against a backdrop of fast facts, regional breakdowns with maps, pop culture references and interesting historical tidbits, “Decoding Italian Wine” allows readers to absorb a plethora of Italian wine information without the effort required to study dense text filled with obscure grape varietals and arcane industry lingo.

Our goal is for readers to feel comfortable visiting the Italian wine section at their local wine shop, engaging in dialogue about the wine, and picking out a bottle they’ll enjoy. We want readers to open the wine list at an Italian restaurant, understand what they’re looking at, and have fun picking a wine that will pair best with their meal.

Along the way we’ll show you how to read Italian wine labels, discuss how Italian wines are classified, suggest some amusing Italian phrases to work into your vocabulary, highlight rappers’ passion for Moscato, and even share a little bit about the wine scenes in classic Italian films like “Bicycle Thieves” and “La Dolce Vita.” Salute!

Decoding Italian Wine will be a very helpful and essential instrument for a deeper and wider Italian wine education. A clear guide for anyone approaching the Italian Wine world.” — Giacomo Fani, Frescobaldi Winery

“Despite the confounding nature of the Italian wine world, Decoding Italian Wine manages to tackle the subject in an informative and practical fashion while remaining refreshingly approachable.” — Ryan O’Hara, editor of TheFermentedFruit.com

“A fun and informative read that takes the snobbery and mystery out of Italian wine labels.” — Colleen Oakley, author, Before I Go

Decoding Italian Wine is a totally enjoyable read that will leave you yearning to take a wine tour of the ‘Land of Wine.'” — Doug Pike, author/cartoonist, Gone with the Wine and Dining Out – Way Out!

Check out the book in print and eBook formats on Amazon.com.

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How to Easily Decode a French Wine Label

Reading a French wine label is a little different than reading one from a US winery.  The labels are typically more complex with unfamiliar terms and phrases but with a little practice and geographic research, you’ll soon be listing off your favorite appellations in no time.

There are four key aspects to a French wine label that you will want to note: the vintage, the appellation, the classification and the chateau (or winemaker).

Vintage

The vintage is pretty easy to decipher and it is vitally important.  It tells you the year the grapes were harvested in, and depending on the weather for each year, this can cause prices to swell or cave in.  Don’t be surprised if bottles from stellar years are much more expensive than bottles from years with less desirable conditions.

That said, modern day winemakers are constantly improving the quality of their output in not so good years, so you really want to pay attention to any serious outliers in quality, and not get too taken in with the year to year swings.  Frequently, a bad vintage means that the producers have less crop to work with, not necessarily bad fruit.

The Appellation

The appellation is a huge factor on the label because, although it may seem counter intuitive, in France the Appellation is what ultimately tells you what grapes were used in producing the wine.  France (and many other European countries) segment their wines by appellation rather than saying simply Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.

This is because of long standing rules in those countries about which grapes can grow where.  To understand what you are buying requires a bit of geographic knowledge on behalf of the purchaser. 

For instance, a Bordeaux from St Emilion (right bank) is going to be a Merlot based red blend, compared to one from Margaux (left bank) that is going to be Cabernet Sauvignon based.  Both wines will simply say Bordeaux, but the Appellation is the tell tale sign.

The more you experiment and research these different appellations within France, the more you will know about the wine inside.  Often times a quick Wikipedia search of any appellation is all it takes to learn what grapes are produced there.

The Classification

The classification of the wine means a few different things throughout France.  In some areas, such as Burgundy, you will have Grand Cru wines which typically mean the wine is from the “highest” quality single vineyard, while Premier Cru means a “high” quality single vineyard, and then “Village” wines which may come from multiple vineyards.

In Bordeaux you have the Classifications of 1855 that separate vineyards out into “growths.”  The “First Growth” wines are some of the most prized in the world.  

Becoming familiar with the classifications also takes time, and it may seem daunting at first, but as you continue to shop, research and sample different wines, you’ll begin to understand more about the French classification systems.

The Chateau

The Chateau (or winemaker) is another important aspect.  As you embark on your wine journey, you will begin to encounter and recognize winemakers who make excellent wines, or (perhaps more importantly) wines that you enjoy.

Often times a second bottle (or second label, meaning the lesser wine) from a top winemaker is a better quality than a grand cru from a lesser known winemaker.  I’d recommend digging first into the Appellations to get your footing, and then follow that up with the individual Chateaux.

That’s a quick look at some important factors in decoding a French label and hopefully coming to a better understanding of what’s in the bottle.

If you’re interested in further exploring French wine, check out our book, “Decoding French Wine,” on Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

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8 Tricks To Finding Awesome Wine Values

We all want to find the best wine values we can, but often times we aren’t looking in the right places, or observing the right things.  Are you looking at the label, the ratings, the price discount, or the sign that says “staff picks” next to the wine?

Those can be helpful as part of an overall assessment of the situation, but let’s take a look at a few tricks you can use when visiting a wine shop that might do a better job of helping you find some good value buys, not just what someone else wants to push on you.

1

Find people with tastes that are similar to yours.  This is an easy one, and maybe one that you are doing naturally because it’s more fun to read about someone reviewing wines that you enjoy (and can afford) as opposed to someone writing about fancy wines outside your price range that you likely will never taste.

Nowadays, there are a ton of options with bloggers and people posting on social media all the time.  Think about the last few wines you enjoyed, look them up on Instagram via hashtags, find others who are posting about them, and then look to see what other wines they posted about in the past. 

I’m sure you’ll find some winners, or at the very least, find some good direction on where to go.  And 95% of the time, these are pure, truthful and unbiased reviews.

2

Look at maps.  This one is vital.  Let’s say you have been enjoying some Red Burgundy and Rhone wines from France but the Burgundies are getting too expensive, and you want to try some wines beyond Rhone.

A quick Google search of some other nearby wine regions would turn you on to the fact that Beaujolais is located in between Burgundy and Rhone, and further exploration would reveal that the region produces many amazing and fairly priced, high quality wines using the Gamay grape, far beyond the cheap Thanksgiving bottles that crowd mass market grocery stores.  Geography is everything.  PS: seek out Beaujolais Villages and Superior for great value buys.

3

Buy your favorite varietals from new places in the wine world.  Don’t buy Napa Cabernet all the time, but try South American Cabernet, or inexpensive Bordeaux, or Washington State Cab.  Don’t buy all your Pinot from Burgundy, buy it from Australia and New Zealand, or Oregon. 

You might be surprised how good your favorite grapes taste when they’re grown and proud somewhere else.  If you follow the crowds, you have a tendency to pay more for wine that is often of similar quality.  Plus you might find some of the wine trends the cool kids haven’t discovered yet.

4

Try new varietals that are less in favor at the moment.  Right now Cabernet is in, Merlot is out.  Buy Merlot.  Few people can pronounce Gruner Veltliner (it’s “leener” at the end).  Buy Gruner.  Aussie wines and South African wines got quiet.  Buy those.  Look to new areas too, like Slovenia, Hungary, Georgia, Moldova and Croatia because who’s buying those?  You should be.

5

For sparkling wines, look beyond Champagne.  I love Champagne as much as the next person and I would really drink it everyday if I could.  But that’s just not an economic reality right now, so I look elsewhere.

I think Spanish Cava is a great alternative.  US producers including Gloria Ferrer and Domaine Chandon produce great wine.  Italian prosecco is decent and can be scored for under $10 a bottle.  And if you really want your French Champagne, Costco offers their Kirkland Signature Champagne which is a bargain at only $20.

6

Shop around and stock up when discounts are offered.  Keep an eye on prices everywhere you go.  Sometimes, it’s Costco, other times Whole Foods even, that might have the best price on the wines you’re looking for.  Online is a great way to go too.

Regardless of where you shop, always be ready to pull the trigger on a bulk buy if things really get good.  Sometimes, you’ll see 15% off all case buys.  You need to be ready to buy a case when you see this.  Or online, you may see free shipping deals.  Load up when the getting is good, back off when it’s not.

7

Establish a relationship with your local wine shop.  If there’s a wine shop that you frequent, be sure to establish a relationship with someone there, preferably the owner, or wine buyer.  Start by showing them a bottle you’ve enjoyed before and ask their opinion of other wines that are similar.  And see where it goes from there. 

See if their recommendations match your tastes.  Another good reason for this tactic is that if you get a bottle that isn’t to your liking, you may be able to get it refunded or replaced.  Relationships are key.

8

Don’t’ pay too much attention to mark downs.  Nobody marks down wine that is flying off the shelves. Sometimes, yes, you will score a great deal, but a lot of time prices are marked up only so they can be discounted later to create an incentive to buy them. 

Supermarkets are the worst at this.  They double the price of a wine, and then offer 40% off.  That same wine is likely less expensive in its everyday price at your local wine shop.

Those are a few good tricks to use next time you’re out wine shopping.  Cheers.