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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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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.

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How To Tell If Riesling is Dry or Sweet

Riesling is one of the most misunderstood and arguably under-appreciated varietals in the modern wine world. And I’m really talking about the perceptions of your general everyday wine buyer. Not the wine geeks.

I heard a quote recently about Riesling that I thought really summed it up right. It went something along the lines of “everybody may not like all Rieslings, but there’s a Riesling for everybody.”

The challenge with Riesling is that many of the regions that produce the varietal in its finest forms, Germany and France’s Alsace in particular, confuse the heck out of wine buyers with complicated classification systems and either too much or too little digestible information on the label.

Furthering complicating matters is that Riesling can run the gamut from super sweet to bone dry and everywhere in between. When you find a selection of German Riesling, all you see are labels that say Dr. so and so, and words like “spätlese,” “auslese” and “kabinett.” So what’s inside? Why would I buy this wine? What can I expect?

The fact is that when I say there is a Riesling for everybody, there really is. If you like white wine then regardless of the body, character, style, or sweetness of the wines you like, there’s likely a Riesling for you. You just need to find it.

And you can either start hunting through the bins for a catchy label, or some notes from a wine critic that may cryptically tell you what’s inside the bottle. Or you can use the easiest trick in the book, which I wish I had known many years ago.

Look at the alcohol percentage.

It’s as easy as that. The alcohol percentage for Rieslings will be all over the place, from 5-6% to 14-15%. The lower the number the sweeter the wine is; and conversely for higher percentage wines. A good breaking point is 11%.

If the wine is less than 11% it is likely more on the sweet side, the degree of which you can gauge by how far the alcohol percentage is from 11. Likewise, wines that are 11% – 14% are going to be on the dry side.

I’m not here to tell you what wines are best. That’s up to you to decide, but I’ve shared with you an easy system, and one that I guarantee you will remember for determining one of the key characteristics about the wine inside. From there, you need to experiment with different regions, different producers and different styles to see what suits your tastes the best.

Bonus tip for German Riesling buyers:sometimes, but not always, German Riesling will use a descriptor to indicate that the wine is dry. The words to look for are “halbtrocken” which means almost dry and “trocken” which means bone dry. If you see a bottle with either of these two descriptors, take a look at the alcohol percentage. You already know what it’s going to be.

That’s all there is to it. Zum wohl!

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How to Open a Bottle of Wine When the Cork Breaks

Breaking a cork inside the neck of a bottle when opening wine can be particularly frustrating, especially if there’s a crowd.  While this doesn’t happen often (primarily on older bottles where the cork has experienced deep seepage or become dried out and brittle), it’s usually not that hard to stage a strong recovery and remove the rest of the cork without further incident.

The first thing I do is find a corkscrew with the sharpest point.  This is because you’re going back in and you want to be able to effectively stab the remaining cork and grab a firm hold without pushing the cork back into the wine (and we’ll cover what to do if that happens too).  A sharp corkscrew can make or break this plight.

As carefully as you can, attempt to insert the point of the screw into the cork, looking for the largest remaining surface area to attack.  One trick to give you further leverage is to come in at an angle so the pressure being applied by the force of the screw is more towards the sides of the bottle neck, versus straight down on the cork which might lend it to falling in. 

If the top of the cork is deep down the neck, it might be harder to come in at an angle, but the more you can use the neck of the bottle to brace the pressure, the higher the likelihood that you’ll get a good grip.

Once you have grip of the cork, screw down until the tip of screw penetrates the bottom of the cork, which you can tell by looking through the sides of the bottle (with all foil removed if you prefer).  This is where it can get tricky. 

Because the cork has already broken, you know that the remaining portion is going to be weak and likely could break further.  So pull it up ever so slightly, twisting gently on the way up to help break it free from the surrounding bottle.  The slower the better here as the extra few seconds you spend may be the difference between getting it out cleanly and breaking the rest back down into the wine.

Let’s say you broke the rest of the cork, or for some reason were unable to remove the cork and had to push the rest of it down into the wine.  This isn’t the end of the world by any means. 

Some handy tools to have at this point are a wine decanter (or pitcher to pour the wine into), a small metal strainer, and a small funnel if you want to pour the wine back into the bottle (although the decanter is preferred).  Ikea is a good place to get all of these items for about $10.

Simply pour the wine slowly through the strainer and into the decanter, being careful not to spill of course.  The strainer should catch all of the loose cork, and anything that makes it past the strainer will be ok.  You can run the wine through twice if you want to be super fancy.

People have used all sorts of different instruments to strain wine like this, but I’ve found a simple metal strainer (and one that’s cleaned very well) is the best route to go.

Follow these tips and you’ll be able to get yourself out of a jam anytime.

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10 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Drinking Wine

There’s no question that the wine world can be intimidating for those early on in their wine journey. I remember a while back when I was at a business dinner and one of the gentleman I was dining with was ordering wine by the producer and year without looking at the wine list. I hoped I might have a clue someday what he was talking about.

It felt so foreign at the time, a vast world of jargon and terms, many of which are in different languages, and knowledge that is only gained from experience, and a lot of it.

I remember thinking, “how could anyone possible know that they like that particular vintage from the southern part of Burgundy, but they don’t like the same vintage from other nearby regions? How does one get to the point where their palate is so well explored and defined that they can actually pick out, and appreciate those nuances?”

Now maybe your goal isn’t to become a wine master to that degree. Wine should be enjoyed and appreciated on whatever level the person drinking it will enjoy it. If you have simple tastes, more power to you. You just saved a lot of money.

But as you grow in your wine journey, new opportunities for exploration arise, new worlds are opened, and new possibilities beg to be properly investigated.

That’s what propelled me forward. Not so much the “James Bond ordering specific vintages at fancy restaurants.” But more of a quest for knowledge. What triggers this interest for me is that wine is the perfect expression of a time and place.

It’s the weather, soil, sunlight, traditions, cuisine and people from a particular place at a particular time. It’s the terroir plus culture, bottled up so that it’s easy to store, transport and enjoy.

The quest for opening up all of what is in these various bottles and tasting them is what ended up creating a passion for me, and now has lead to me creating all of this wine content.

But I thought it would be fun to think back to those early years, to remember how I felt in my wine journey at that time, and lay out a few key pieces of advice I wish I could share with my younger self. So here it goes.

  1. Great wine can come from all corners of the earth. This is so important. We instantly might think Napa Cab when we think of great wine. It’s expensive. People talk about it a lot. Screaming Eagle is a cult wine. But the truth is that great wine is everywhere, and the places you might not think to look at first, are among some of the best places to look. Explore. Explore. Explore.
  2. Pay attention to geography. It took me a while to realize the importance of geography in wine appreciation, but it is vital. Now that we have mini computers in our pocket all the time, always make a point to open Google Earth or whatever mapping app you use, and take note of the location of where each wine you enjoy originates. After a while you will build a strong cache of geographic knowledge that can help you know what different wines will taste like even before you try them.
  3. Don’t pay attention to price or wine ratings. These are subjective terms and can vary widely. Instead, read more about the producer, their history and philosophy for winemaking. Better yet, pay them a visit if you can. Don’t let the hype and noise around certain wines create the narrative for them. Decide for yourself.
  4. It’s important how you serve the wine. You don’t have to go crazy on every detail of wine etiquette, but do remember to: serve wines at a proper temperature (we usually drink reds too warm and whites too cold), use decent stemware (your choice here), give the wine proper time to open up (decanting is a great a idea most of the time), and when switching between different wines, don’t clean the glass with water. You should rinse it with a splash of the wine you are about to drink to prime the glass.
  5. Don’t take your “wine expert” friend’s opinion as gospel. Develop your own palate, your own appreciation. Someone’s favorite bottle ever may not be enjoyable to you. And that’s ok. Your friend might not agree with your “favorite wine.” Doesn’t matter at all. Wine is personal. Decide for yourself. There is no wrong or right.
  6. Vintages are important but don’t get too caught up on them. For most wine and wine drinkers, you can get by without worrying too much on which vintage is better than others. Sure, if you see two bottles sitting side by side, one from a great vintage and one from a poor vintage, you’ll want to grab the former, but winemakers nowadays can make great wine under tough conditions. A lot of time, bad conditions just limit the amount of the wine, not the quality. If you’re early on in your wine journey, pay attention to vintages, but focus more on other factors, such as the wine’s location, wine making style of that region, the varietals and nuances of the region and wine. This will go further for you in the long run than vintages.
  7. Don’t collect wine that isn’t designed to be collected. I remember collecting special bottles of wine in my early years, mostly simple wines that I wanted to age, but the wines were designed to be consumed young. They didn’t turn out great at all. Most wine, 90+% of what you see, is not meant to be aged. You should age wine that is built for the long haul and that which will improve only. And you might not even like the taste of aged wine right now, so think about which wines you’re laying down before you spend $30 on a Napa Cab that is plateauing right now.
  8. Every time you go to the store, buy one bottle from a region/grape/producer you’ve never heard of. I still try to do this today, every time I visit the store.
  9. Follow wineries on social media, listen to podcasts. Most wineries are active on Facebook, Twitter and especially Instagram, posting updates from the vineyards and the wine makers. Simply following along through the course of the year gives you great insight into what’s happening on the front lines. It’s like free wine school being taught by the best of the best. Plus, you can interact with them and ask questions. Podcasts are great too. “I’ll Drink to That” is a personal favorite.
  10. Have fun. Sure, there’s a lot to be learned, but have fun with it. Enjoy your wine with friends and family. Enjoy pairing with different foods. Recognize the fun in the journey, not the destination. Being a wine aficionado is great. But becoming one is the most fun.