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When I was pregnant with my son the first thing my husband wanted to do was name him (go technology! We knew we were having a boy), and so not a week later did we settle on a beautiful name we both loved. What joy! What fun! But little did I know this was all to a selfish end that my lovely other half had failed to mention. He wanted to work on a logo for our little guy — yes a logo, and it didn’t end there. He registered for an iCloud email address and settled on a witty Twitter handle. Oh darling, what the F? Eye roll.
Much to my dismay, I realized he is just like most new parents in that we want to embroider our new baby’s name on everything (beer koozies, really?), or, in extreme cases, create logos. We’re searching to find that identity so early. We think maybe we’ll try such-and-such brand to be like the skinny pretty-smelling lady with strangely awesome hair, or we only watch Pixar animated movies with our children because they’re funny and intelligent.
We’re brand-driven in so many everyday aspects of our life. Take the Guess jeans upside down triangle with the question mark in the center. Whoa. That was the sign of cool in the mid-'80s, right? I begged my parents for a pair of jeans with that stupid triangle. A triangle on my a**? Didn’t I know it was just going to make it look bigger?!
My point: we’re brainwashed by logos. We believe in the brand. We’re sheeple!
And so, if we buy sneakers with a swoosh and jeans with triangles, then why don’t we buy wine this way? Why is that? We shop by country, or grape, or what our sister had at her sister-in-law’s wedding. We avoid the obvious. We refuse to believe that if we turn that bottle over we’ll see the mark of a brand, or a logo even (damn logo), that will indicate to us that some person or some duo have worked hard to research, taste, choose, and organize a fine selection of wines on our behalf. They’re our saving grace so we don’t need to navigate these tricky waters — they’ve done the work. What we have to do is see if we enjoy what they’ve whittled down and if we do we can follow them to the ends of wine terroir. If we find an importer we jive with it can be like a well-paid-attention-to Pandora radio station. We can go back again and again to an endless well of tasty drink. Thumbs up.
Guess put that awesome forward-thinking outside label on the back of its jeans, so think of Guess jeans (it’s sort of creepy sounding, but do it!) when you shop for wine — look on the back pocket, so to speak, and get to know your wine importers. In the meantime, I’ve got several tried-and-true importers that I find choose quality wines that suit my taste and my ideals. These guys avoid the bad things and promote all the good. The bad things: wood chips, sugar, acidification, de-acidification, and stabilizers. The good things: we like hand-harvesting, wild yeasts, low yield, natural viticulture, and unique wines.
A few of my favorite national importers:
De Maison Selections focuses on mostly Spanish and some French producers. They are easy to recognize with both the name De Maison Selections on the back label, but more prominent is their logo of a porron — which is a vessel from the Basque region for drinking a very delicious wine called Txakoli. These guys are very clear that their mission is to find unique, high-quality wines made with integrity. They lay out clearly what constitutes integrity and have a set of guidelines they want to meet. These guys are my go-to on Spanish wines and well, French, too.
Dalla Terra Winery Direct focuses on Italian wine only. Slightly different than a traditional importer, these guys broker wine — they cut out the middle man and save us all money, and by us I mean the producer, you and me. These guys and one of their producers — Alois Lageder — are the single reason I love wines from the Alto Adige today. They broker other reputable, small, and delicious wines such as Adami, Selvapiana, Vietti, and Inama. They’re overall theme is conscientious — they deliver conscientious wines from kind and hard-working families.
Louis/Dressner: Joe Dressner was, to me, the first hippie of wine. He, unfortunately, is no longer with us, but his wife Denyse and their protegé and now partner, Kevin McKenna, keep Joe’s dream alive — to bring small producers with some crazy ideas (at the time) to America. They have strict principles they’d like producers to follow regarding the winemaking process — almost all natural. I like a lot of their French wines and their funky Friulian stuff.
Circo Vino: This is my Austrian importer of choice right now. They are also direct importers. The producers are top-notch and they bring us wines from winemakers who care about the land, the environment and grow/make wine that fits that list of "good" we care about. They’re relatively new, but man they’ve got me hooked on Rotgipfler.
SelectioNaturel + Zev Rovine: I’m going to try to throw in a hard-core natural wine importer here — these guys are just SF + NY/MA right now — almost national. They work together, but it’s hard to tell so for now they will be listed as their own entity. These are your almost fanatical importers of fine wines by really small producers, with some serious small production and some very stringent requirements on the natural process. They’re working hard though and the wines are quite unique. I like their French and Italian stuff so far.
Now, remember, there are small local importers too and each state may have some really excellent small importers you shouldn’t overlook. In my home state of Massachusetts we’re lucky to have more than half-dozen amazing small importers, so keep turning your bottles around, investigate back labels on wines you enjoy and ask your retailer to tell you more about them.
Liz Vilardi is the owner and wine director at the Blue Room, Belly Wine Bar, and Central Bottle Wine + Provisions.
KERMIT LYNCH WINE MERCHANT
The story of Villa Diamante begins far away from the vine-covered rolling hills of Irpinia, east of Naples: late founder and winemaker Antoine Gaita grew up in Belgium, where his father had immigrated to work in the coal mines. After developing a passion for wine at a young age, Antoine felt the need to return to his roots so he settled back in the Campania town of Montefredane, along with his New Jersey-born wife Diamante, also a returning migrant. In 1996 they established Villa Diamante, and began to bottle organically grown Fiano di Avellino from the hillside surrounding their home. Unlike most vineyards in the area, their meager 3 hectares of Fiano face north, favoring a slow and steady ripening marked by hot days and cool nights. Antoine's primary goal was to allow the high-altitude limestone terroir of Montefredane to express itself by avoiding the use of chemicals in the vineyard while maintaining a non-interventionist approach in the cellar. Antoine experimented constantly, with his background in chemistry driving his methods as his perennial desire for improvement provided a quasi-academic thrill.
Antoine tragically and unexpectedly passed away after an illness in early 2015. With the help of a consulting enologist, Diamante remains committed to ensuring his legacy lives on as a true pioneer of artisanal, terroir-driven Fiano di Avellino. Respecting the methods he championed in the vines and cellar, Antoine's family continues to craft top-quality wines that remain among the most soulful and long-lived whites of southern Italy.
After whole-cluster pressing, the juice is either inoculated from a wild yeast starter culture (pied de cuve) or with cultured yeasts selected from the vineyard, depending on the vintage. Nothing is hurried in the winemaking, as the wine completes its malolactic fermentation and ages extensively sur lie to acquire stunning mouthfeel and glorious complexity. After a year-long élevage in stainless steel, during which a natural clarification takes place, the “Vigna della Congregazione” is bottled unfined and unfiltered, with only a small dose of sulfur. The wine is an exercise in finesse, showcasing Fiano’s potential for purity and longevity along with its striking, ever-evolving aromatics. Villa Diamante’s Fiano is a unique wine, from its delicate floral perfume and mineral character in youth to the pristine texture and smoky, nutty notes it develops with bottle age.
Podere Sante Marie
Luisa and Marino Colleoni’s native village of Bergamo is famous for its proud ramparts and medieval palaces, but to them it just couldn’t compare to the legendary natural beauty of Tuscany. The couple purchased an old property outside Montalcino known to the locals as Le Sante Marie and moved there in 1993. The following year during an evening walk in the glow of the setting sun, they spotted a bunch of grapes peeking out through the uppermost leaves of an old tree. The undergrowth was so thick that they couldn’t get to the vine, but their interest was piqued, and the next summer they got to work clearing away the scrub. When they finally finished, a neatly planted vineyard lay before them. Though many of the neglected vines had dried out, several were still intact, so they summoned the local inspector and had the vineyard certified to grow grapes for Brunello. Willingly plunging down the path that had unexpectedly opened before them, they replanted the vineyard in 1998 and produced their first wine from the 2000 harvest.
Although the discovery of the vines was entirely coincidental, it seems today that the Colleonis were born to work the land. Luisa and Marino embraced organic viticulture from the start, and they are constantly searching for even more natural methods. For instance, introducing a natural predator of yellow spider mites proved just as effective against the pest as the organic insecticide used by their neighbors during a recent infestation and they are researching the introduction of a certain spider that eats the roots of oidium in order to reduce (and eventually eliminate) the use of sulfur to protect the vines.
The northern exposure, high altitude, and marl soil (that is littered with huge seashell fossils) that characterize this property all combine to give an extremely elegant and fine Brunello that really sets itself apart from the majority of Brunellos in Montalcino. For all their seductive characteristics, these wines do not lack the characteristic muscle and concentration of Sangiovese from this part of the world. All of Marino's wines are capable of long aging, but can be enjoyed upon release especially by giving them several hours to breathe in bottle or in a decanter.
Not far from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a tourist town known for Roman ruins and as the place where Van Gogh painted “The Starry Night,” you’ll find Domaine Hauvette. Nestled among the foothills of Les Alpilles, the vines are surrounded by a rocky and wild landscape—the clay and limestone soil retains moisture for the arid summer months, the Mistral blows half the year, and garrigue is seemingly everywhere. It is here that in the early 1980s Dominique Hauvette, seeking more sunshine, left her job as a lawyer in the Savoie, re-discovered her passion for raising horses, and began studying oenology. Thirty-some years later and Dominique now has 17 hectares of vines and an international reputation for making benchmark natural wines.
When striving to make wine as naturally as possible, a focus on growing the healthiest and most perfect grapes is an absolute necessity. Dominique’s conversion to biodynamics starting in 2000 added rigor to her intuitive organic practices, and coupled with her magical terroir she has found an exciting recipe for success. In the cellar, she takes a decisively non-interventionist stance and is very low-tech, yet she is not afraid to experiment as is evidenced by her being one of the first winemakers to use concrete fermentation eggs. Like Didier Barral and Catherine and Pierre Breton, Dominique is a trailblazer in the natural wine movement, each year pushing the quality of her wines higher and higher with uncompromising standards. Her range of wines provides much to be excited about: the “Petra” rosé completes its malolactic fermentation in concrete eggs, the “Jaspe” Roussanne is probably the most delicious pure varietal Roussanne you’ll ever taste, the “Cornaline” Rouge is like a blend of Trévallon, Tempier, and Vieux Télégraphe, and the “Amethyste” Cinsault has finesse to rival many Burgundies. Bienvenue Dominique.
The Carso district of southeastern Friuli, just outside of Trieste, is a unique micro-climate sandwiched between the Adriatic Sea to the south, the Alps to the north, the low hills of Collio to the west, and the Balkan peninsula to the east. The temperatures are cool at night and the grey limestone is everywhere and in abundance. In this near-perfect combination of climate and terreno, Edi Kante produces wines that are poised, solid, fresh, and brimming with the character of both the chosen grape and the stark limestone soil of Carso. The Kante style is born not only of his incredibly energetic, passionate, mad-scientist like personality, but also of the inherent characteristics of Carso and his deliberate decision to allow these characteristics to shine through rather than be dominated by wine-making technique.
Kante was born a contadino in this rugged area of northeastern Italy, at the crossroads of Italian, Slovenian, and Croatian culture today and historically at the crossroads of the Venetian and Austro-Hungarian cultures. Taking over from his father, Edi began to bottle the family estate's wines separately by varietal in the late 1980s. After experimenting with various styles, including being a pioneer of the orange wine movement, he settled on the direction he has followed for almost two decades: making pure, consistent wines that reflect their region, stand the test of time, and above all, provide a lot of pleasure at table. Kante ages his white wines for a year in older barrels, then six months or more in stainless steel on the lees, then bottles them unfiltered. All takes place in an incredible three-story cellar carved out of solid stone beneath his house. The ability of his wines to age and improve consistently is uncommon for Italian white wine, and he always has plenty of older magnums on hand to prove this point. Kante’s limited red wine production is mostly focused on Terrano, a local Friulian grape related to Refosco that he ages in large older casks, and Pinot Nero only in select years when conditions are truly favorable. Kante is also dedicated to sparkling wine production in the Champagne Method or Metodo Classico, and has been refining this skill for several decades. He produces a spumante bianco based on Chardonnay and Malvasia, and a rosato from Pinot Nero, both with zero dosage. The most exciting part of Kante’s production are his selezione wines. Released in small quantities from select vintages, these are small lots that Kante has selected in the cellar and aged extensively in bottle before release. They typically have between 8 and 10 years of age upon release and can be drunk upon release or aged further.
Domaine de Reuilly
Domaine du Salvard
Growing up, Didier Meuzard, like many in Burgundy, didn’t drink much ratafia. He may have been born and raised in a rural, forgotten corner of the region once celebrated near and far for the beverage, and he may today be the most acclaimed producer of it, but for a long time it wasn’t something that he gave much consideration to. The art of artisanal ratafia-making was on the verge of disappearing, along with the art of craft distillation.
Didier left the region as a young man for better opportunities and soon found himself climbing the corporate ladder far from home. After several years of climbing, Didier “burned out,” as he calls it, and his doctor told him that, if he wanted to live much longer, he’d better change career paths and do it quick. The doctor probably did not have in mind becoming a master distiller, but that’s just what Didier did.
One day back in 1996, shortly after leaving his job and returning to Burgundy, while out for a walk, Didier stumbled upon an old man working a still in a town square. It was shortly after harvest, and vignerons were bringing their lees and grape pomace to the still for the distiller to make spirits. They began talking and tasting and soon hit it off. Didier was captivated by the smells, the mystique, and the mechanics of the nineteenth-century machine. The old man, sensing Didier’s interest, invited him to come back the next day, and the next before long, the distiller had found his successor and Didier had found his calling.
He brought the still to his village at Saint-Pierre-en-Vaux, to an old family farmhouse his uncle had been watching over. The barn was in awful shape, with large cracks in the stone walls and holes dotted all over the tiled roof. His uncle, outraged at the pigeons nesting in the barn, would often take his shotgun and shoot at them, from the inside. “He was a bit unusual,” Didier says with a grin. All this, though, was perfect for his project. He had retained as much information as he could from the old man, including the fact that you need to give your distilled spirits a good dose of cold in the winter, to settle and clarify the spirit, and a good dose of heat in the summer, to blow off all the harsh, alcoholic volatile notes from the bouquet. He had dutifully noted to keep only the finest lees from the best, most naturally working domaines, to distill into fine, and to keep only the best, organically grown grape pomace to distill into marc. He learned to keep only the heart—or the middle part—of the distilled liquid, as it’s the purest, cleanest part of the process. With this and countless other details in mind, Didier was soon making some of the best and most reputable fine de Bourgogne and marc de Bourgogne in the region.
Once he had that worked out, he set out to re-think and re-master ratafia from the start. Most ratafia was (and still is) made with white juice, muted with marc de Bourgogne. For starters, Didier wanted his ratafia to be red, and muted with the softer, smoother fine de Bourgogne. The goal was to change the perception of ratafia from rustic to elegant, harsh to gentle. Working with some top growers in the Côte de Nuits, Didier takes freshly harvested Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes and puts them in tank, exactly as if he were going to make a red wine. The trick is to prevent the juice from beginning to ferment (otherwise the taste of the juice will be negatively altered, with less fresh grape flavor) and to do this without adding any sulfur (which can effectively kill yeast, but will also harm the purity of flavors in the juice). So the tanks are set outside, where the cold keeps the yeasts from acting up right away. Didier pushes the maceration as far as he can go before the yeasts finally get to work, which can be anywhere from four to ten days, allowing maximum color, tannins, and aromatics from the grape skins to seep into the juice. As soon as Didier tastes fermentation on the horizon, he presses off the juice from the skins and then cuts it with one-year-old fine (of his own production, of course), following the traditional ratio of two-thirds grape must, one-third spirit. The spirit kills off the yeast and the ratafia is born. Didier puts it in old enameled tanks for several months, constantly tasting. When all is harmonious, he bottles his tank, by hand, one bottle at a time.
The result? Aromas of earth, red Burgundy, and fresh fruit, with only the slightest hint of the fine, which stays in the background and lets the fruit do the talking. The palate is soft and velvety, and the sweetness is tamed and enhanced by the fine, with all coming together seamlessly. You can drink it with dessert, certainly, but you can also do as Didier suggests and just drink it on its own. Didier does recommend drinking it at cellar temperature, with just the slightest chill. There’s no need to finish the bottle with any great haste. It will keep several months once opened, much like a great port.
You may wonder why the label has an eel on it, of all things. Didier’s first still, the one he got back in 1996, was handmade back in 1860, and the maker’s mark was that small eel engraved on the swan neck of the still. About ten years ago, Didier had to retire that old still and got a much more modern version . . . from 1902! As an homage to his first still, its maker, and the old man who left him the keys, Didier had a copper eel spout made for his current still and added the image to his label.
When Nicole Chanrion began her career in the 1970s, convention relegated women to the enology labs and kept them out of the cellars—even her mother thought winemaking was man’s work—but she would not be deterred from her dream of becoming a vigneronne. With six generations of family tradition preceding her, she grew up helping her father in both the vineyards and the cellar in the Côte-de-Brouilly, one of the southernmost crus of the northern Beaujolais. Though she is mild-mannered and slight of build, her determination and conviction have consistently defied all doubts. Ever since taking over the family domaine in 1988, she works all 6.5 hectares entirely by herself, from pruning the vineyards and driving the tractors to winemaking and bottling, all without bravado or fanfare. In 2000 she became president of the Côte-de-Brouilly appellation, a position of respect and importance among peers. It’s small wonder then that she is affectionately referred to as “La Patronne de la Côte,” or the Boss of la Côte.
The Côte-de-Brouilly appellation sits on the hillsides of Mont Brouilly, a prehistoric volcano that left blue schist stones and volcanic rock along its slopes. These stones yield structured wines with pronounced minerality and great aging potential. After her formal training at the viticultural school in Beaune Nicole began working at a her family’s domaine and gained a deeper appreciation of the traditional winemaking techniques of the Beaujolais: hand harvesting, whole cluster fermentation, aging the wines in large oak foudres for at least nine months, and bottling unfiltered. The resulting wines are powerful, with loads of pure fruit character and floral aromas.
Domaine de la Prébende
Domaine de la Prébende produces a deeply mineral Beaujolais from a predominantly clay and limestone terroir, a rarity in a region dominated by granite soils. “Une prébende” essentially means “a tax,” and the domaine sits on the location where monks used to collect taxes from the villagers. As Ghislaine Dupeuble puts it, “Monks didn't like to own low end vineyards!”
The Prébende Beaujolais cuvée, “Anna Asmaquer,” is named for Ghislaine's great grandmother, who married Jules Dupeuble in 1919. The family wanted to add her name to the label because it was Anna who managed the vineyards and winemaking—she is the true source of inspiration for what has become Domaine de la Prébende today.
The Anna Asmaquer Beaujolais is an old vines blend with profound minerality, a bright wild berry nose, and possesses typique Beaujolais finesse. The grapes are harvested manually and vinified completely without SO2. The wines are not chaptalized, filtered, or degassed and only natural yeasts are used for the fermentation. La Prébende crafts one of the best Beaujolais AOC values available today.
Finding good wine and then socking away a case of it (typically 12 bottles) saves money, as many wine shops offer case discounts of around 10 to 15 percent. It also saves trips to the store. »
More and more excellent wines are being sealed with screw caps to prevent corkiness (a problem with natural corks that produces a wet cardboard–like smell in a small percentage of wines). Screw-capped wines are especially handy for large parties, because they’re easy to open quickly. »
The Best Wines to Buy at Aldi for Under $15
Let us reiterate, wine should not be fussy, and most importantly it does not need to break the bank in order to coined a “great” wine. After countless requests on whether finding really good wine at Aldi is possible, the beloved German-owned discount supermarket chain, we’re happy to report a resounding yes. For some folks, super low wine prices (especially for bubbles and reds) can cloud judgement when it comes to pulling the trigger. A bottle of Champagnetual Champagne made in Champagne, France𠅏or $15? A drinkable bottle of red for under $10? It’s possible, and thanks to a little education (ahem, how to read wine labels to get what you want) you can stock up on stellar bottles while simultaneously buying all the goods at Aldi.
William Davis, Advanced Sommelier and Director of Education at Wilson Daniels, a family-owned marketing and sales company, is a fan of wine at all price levels. 𠇊lthough I love to buy wines from the Wilson Daniels portfolio, as the producers are friends and family that I stay with on travels across Europe, there are some really fun selections [Aldi],” Davis says. 𠇊ldi can be fun to go to as they offer special one-offs from time to time from established producers, but their everyday brands are better than most wines I can find for twice the price,” he adds.
Before you hit Aldi, bookmark our list of all the wines you should seek out for Sunday supper and beyond.
Pinot Noir Vetted by an Advanced Sommelier
Davis, also an Advanced Sommelier, turns to Broken Clouds Pinot Noir at $14 a pop. “I often say that there are wines that suck for the price—this one doesn’t,” says Davis. “Ripe strawberry and raspberry notes with enough structure to work with a variety of foods,” he adds, noting the wine pairs well with vegan dishes like mushrooms and beets—or “go decadent with maple glazed pork belly.” Additionally, this wine was ranked #22 on Wine Enthusiast’s list of Top 100 Best Buy Wines for 2016.
$15 Weeknight Champagne
Christy Graham, an attorney and biscuit-making Instagram friend, recently dropped into my DMs with a beautiful bottle of Veuve Monsigny Champagne Brut she𠆝 scored at Aldi for $15, questioning if it was a true Champagne. After a little investigating, it turns out Aldi teamed up with well-known Champagne house, Philizot & Fils, to produce this award-winning, affordable bubbly—some even say it rivals one of my longtime favorites, Laurent-Perrier. I saw the word Champagne on a bottle in Aldi so of course I had to get it,” she adds. “I always keep it in the fridge now—I have my mom friends over a lot and we can drink Champagne for no particular reason on a weeknight.”
A Red That&rsquos Like Dessert On Its Own
Best way to end a delicious meal? A sweet, but not too sweet, red wine that takes the cake (or in this instance, takes the place of cake). “I was attracted to Moiselle Sweet Red by the cute packaging, low price point, and a screw-top (who has time to find the wine opener?),” says Holly Allen, Office Manager at Hibernian Hospitality Group. At $5 a bottle, it might actually be more affordable than making a box of brownies. “I love that it is smooth, easy to drink, and is the perfect substitute for dessert,” Allen adds. Insider tip: for summer, she suggests drinking it chilled on the back porch.
Sunshine In a Bottle Kind of Wine
If you see Grande Alberone Bianco, stock up while you can. Exclusive to Aldi, and just $8 a pop, you don’t want to miss out on this Sicilian white blend𠅎specially during warmer weather months. It’s essentially sunshine in a bottle and perfect for sipping slightly chilled on its own on the patio or with all the beautiful salads and grilled vegetables you plan on eating. I like to suggest this bottle to friends who are burnt out on Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio as it’s lighter and softer𠅊nd also something new to bring to the table.
Sweatpants and Pizza Wine
Yep, pizza wine. And I don’t care if it’s Domino’s or fancy pizza, red wine is always a good idea. Corte Bella Rosso is a not-too-boozy, semi-sweet, $7 red that you should stock up for a super casual dinner in. Serve it slightly chilled, sit by the fire in sweatpants and devour an entire pizza straight from the box or a basic, out-of-the-jar sauced plate of spaghetti. Note: Rosso is also enjoyable on its own.
Backyard Barbecue Wine
California Zinfandel is always a good idea when it comes to a solid food friendly wine𠅎specially when it comes to picking out a perfect backyard barbecue kind of bottle. Grill up some ribs, open a few bottles, and let the spicy black pepper notes and smoky finish work magic. Reds, as we’ve previously noted, are typically more spendy due to the aging process but Scarlet Path Lodi Zinfandel comes in at $9 a bottle so it’s easy to stock up for gatherings. Plus, the velvet label makes for a great party aesthetic.
It’s obvious that I&aposm all about the bubbles, all the time, so it should be no surprise to find Belletti Prosecco on my frequent buy list. And at $9, that means you can score around 5 bottles for the same price as one bottle of Champagne. A fun fruity, zesty bubbly for brunch, as it pairs well with virtually everything (Thai food included!). And if seeking mimosas, this is a solid bet as you don’t want to spend too much on wine if you’re mixing it into cocktail form.
How to Read A Wine Label to Get What You Actually Want
Learn the terminology, find awesome new wines you&rsquoll love.
Wine aisles can be a chaotic storm, often confusing happy shoppers and clouding their thoughts with flashy labels and an overload of bottles in one place. A great wine shop, like Edmund’s Oast Exchange in Charleston, South Carolina, makes a world of a difference when it comes to education, as wines are grouped together by region and also by grape varietals.
However, when shopping in supermarkets and larger retail stores where organization and education isn’t top of mind, knowing how to read a label can drastically help you find a wine that’s right for you.𠇊 good back label design can hold a lot of valuable information on the grape(s), blend, fermentation practices, cellaring and chemistry of a wines the (cork dorks) geeks who love data,” says Adam Sager, Co-President of Winesellers, Ltd. “Producers shouldn’t hide behind the notion that vineyard information is proprietary,” he adds. “Unless a winery is making vast quantities of wine from dozens of growers, stating the vineyard the grapes came from can be a fantastic tool for wine lovers looking to learn more.”
Beyond seeking a red wine, white wine, rosé and bubbles, you can really start to pick and choose bottles based on preferred characteristics. A dry Riesling from Germany a juicy, meaty Cab from Napa a plush red, fruity Rioja from Spain𠅊nd from there, start relationships with individual winemakers. It’s easy to stick to the tried and true favorites, but there are so many fun bottles out there so… study up with notes from a couple of our knowledgeable wine experts below, have fun, and explore!
What A Wine Label Can Tell You
I always love trying new wines but it can be challenging taking a risk on a new bottle. I totally get it, but thankfully the front and back label hold a bevy of helpful information when it comes to choosing something your palate will enjoy. “Thek label will often show sensory characteristics (aroma, taste, and color), winery background information, and sometimes food pairings,” says Sager. “The back labels of the wineottle are the most effective ways to influence consumer choice besides with the packaging,” he adds. “The producer name is either obvious in large font or in small text at the top or the bottom of the label — it depends on the region and origin of the wine.”
Old World vs. New World
This isn’t just a fancy term that sommeliers toss around but more so a geographic term. Old world wines are wines produced in countries such as France, Spain, Austria, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Hungary, and Germany𠅌ountries where winemaking originated from. Old world wines typically have a lengthy history and strict guidelines of how the wine is made. Some of the most standout old world wines are Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, Rioja, and Chianti.
New world wines stem from new world regions like the U.S., New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Chile, and Argentinasically everything that’s not considered old world. These include wines like big and bold Napa Cabs, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Zinfandel and Pinot Noir. Tip: new world wines are often fuller bodied and contain higher alcohol content.
This refers to the American Viticultural Area and, in a nutshell, tells you where grapes come from. 𠇊 wine from a larger region is typically a value wine whereas a wine from a specific vineyard site often indicates a higher quality regional designation (i.e. California vs. Santa Lucia Highlands AVA),” says Sager—noting that the more specific the AVA gets the more expensive the bottle. 𠇏or example, Zuccardi Valle de Uco Parage Altamira—that’s the Altamira vineyard within the the Uco Valley appellation within Mendoza, Argentina.”
The Trio of Letters on a Label
Stickers or labels with a trio of letters like PDO, DOC, AOP and so on are quality contol restrictions. Each country has its own version. “These can be an indicator of quality but do not guarantee it,” says Chris Tanghe, Master Sommelier and Chief Instructor at GuildSomm.com. In other words don’t get too caught up on these markers. “Recent trends are also bottling under a very generic and loose category for creative freedom in the production process such as Vin de France”𠅊 designation for French table wine.
A Vintage Means a Year&mdashBut Each Vintage is Completely Different
You’ll hear winemakers, sommeliers and fancy wine drinkers drop the term vintage often. This is referring to the year the grapes were harvested for said bottle. h vintage is truly a different bottle of wine,” notes Sager. 𠇍on’t expect the 2015 Tortoise Creek Merlot to taste the same as the 2016 Tortoise Creek Merlot,” he says, noting that non vinttage (NV) wines or multi-vintage wines are lower in value due pulling from multiple vintages to control the flavor. You probably won’t galavante around your household talking about what vintage you’re drinking to your friends, but it’s beneficial to look for the year on the bottle when seeking a more quality wine.
𠇊reas that struggle with moisture, pressure, and/or cold are ones to watch out for in terms of shifts in quality from vintage to vintage such as Bordeaux, Loire, and Burgundy,” stays Tanghe. “Warmer areas are typically more reliable, but any good producer can still make good wine in a tough vintage.”
When You Know What a Vintage is, Try a Vertical Tasting
This is a fun term to drop and a fun activity to do with friends. A vertical is when you line up several different vintages of the same wine and taste side by side. It’s a great way to truly see how unique each year can be in terms of grapes and how different one year can taste from another. From there you can start to learn about good years and bad years for wine in specific regions—solely based on wines you’re into.
ABV (Alchol by Volume) is a Key Factor When Buying Wine
When buying wine defintely keep the ABV (Alcohol by Volume) in mind. “In America, ABVs can be quite high (up to 17% on some wines) and the alcohol level is an indication of how rich/big the wine may taste,” says Sager. “Many higher alcohol wines are made from riper grapes and tend to have more fruit forward flavors,” he adds. But there are certain exceptions like Grenache, Zinfandel and Amarone, which Tanghe notes having different growing cycles and are naturally higher in ABV. “You won&apost be even thinking about alcohol when you drink them though because they carry it so well and it gives them great texture,” he adds. If seeking something lighter and easier to drink, you now know to seek a wine with a lower AVB. “One great time to look at the ABV is when you&aposre buying German Riesling and are unsure if it will have residual sugar or not% and below will definitely have a slight sweetness to it,” Tanghe notes.
Don&rsquot Get Caught Up on Sulfites
“This is another buzz word in the wine media these days and is way overblown,” says Tanghe. There’s lots of banter on avoiding sulfites when it comes to wine, but Tanghe notes the amount of sulphur used in winemaking is minimal but crucial in protecting it from spoiling, oxidizing, and much more. “It ensures that the wine is in top form when you open it, and keeps it brighter and fresher for longer,” he adds. “Remember that wine is an agricultural product that needs to be treated like other delicate produce.” And while many people claim sulfites give them headaches, well, that’s just the alcohol in general—so don’t blame the sulfites after consuming an entire bottle of wine!
"Brut" Basically Means Sugar
Many think brut means a type of bubbly but the term is actually just referring to the amount of sugar added to sparkling wine, which helps balance acid. “The wine will still taste dry because the acid diminishes the perception of sugar and vice versa,” says Tanghe. “The amount of sugar is tiny and is really necessary to create a delicious balance on the palate, so don&apost let a little sugar scare you,” he adds. When shopping for bubbles, a Brut Champagne simply means it’s a drier style wine with A LITTLE SUGAR. 𠇊nything labeled Demi-sec or doux will be sweet, however.” And as stated in our sparkling wines that aren’t Champagne guide, low or no dosage equals wines containing 3 grams or less of sugar per liter. On labels, skim for Brut Nature, Brut Zero, and Low -or No-dosage.
Reserve Wines = Aged Wines
“The wine will have seen more aging before the producer released it, and will show more savory and exotic character on the nose and palate,” says Tanghe. “Younger wines show more fruit while older wines offer a much broader spectrum of organoleptic diversity.” Most winemakers hold on to reserve bottles vs. seling immediately, therefore holding a higher price tag. Some producers use the term as label trickery but for reputable winemakers and wineries reserve wines are a way to showcase their best product.
Document Your Wine Labels
Keep track of what you drink and always snap a pic of labels for future reference. “Take pictures of labels of wines that you like so that you can use those while talking to a sommelier to help them find a new wine that you&aposll like,” says Tenghe. This will help you step outside the box and try new producers and even new wines you’ve never experienced.
Know Shipping Policies and Laws Before Buying
The first thing to know is that some states do not qualify for wine delivery. After the repeal of Prohibition, each state was left to create its own system of alcohol regulations. As a result, some states do not allow out-of-state wineries to ship directly to consumers.
If your intended address qualifies for wine shipments, there are still a couple other challenges to consider. Because it's alcohol, a signature of someone 21 and over is required. If you work during the day and have your wine shipped to your residence, you'll need someone of age there to sign and accept it.
Hot temperatures are the death of fine wines, as they can turn to vinegar if left on a delivery truck or outside too long. If you belong to wine clubs, you probably already know this as many clubs won't ship during the summer months just to avoid the risk.
Sometimes retailers don't necessarily stock all the wines they list for sale they wait for orders and get the bottles from the fulfillment houses. This can create delays, or finding out the wine you want is not actually available. By picking one of the best online wine retailers, this issue of phantom inventory is far less of a risk.
The Morning-After Review:
I’m surprised I hated this one so much. I was seven glasses in, you’d think I’d be forgiving. This wine is the best deal at $2.99, but apparently there was a coffee flavor in it, which I did not like. Full disclosure: I do not drink coffee. So you might like this one more than I did. But maybe wait until you’re a bottle deep to try.
Exemptions to the VI-1
There are some instances where you do not need a VI-1 to:
You do not need a VI-1 for wines that are:
- in labelled containers up to 10 litres with a single use stopper, where the total quantity of the shipment (which can be in separate consignments) is less than 100 litres
- your personal property if you’re moving to the UK
- in the personal luggage of travellers, up to a maximum of 30 litres
- sent in non-commercial consignments from one private individual to another, up to a maximum of 30 litres per consignment
- for trade fairs if the wine is in labelled containers of up to 2 litres with a single use stopper
- imported for the purpose of scientific and technical experiments up to a maximum of 100 litres
- held in stores on board ships and airplanes operating in international transport
- originating from and bottled in the UK, exported and then returned to the UK to be sold
- originating from and bottled in the EU, exported and then returned to the EU to be sold
- traded for diplomatic purposes in accordance with the Vienna Convention or the New York Convention
You’re still able to use the simplified VI-1 for importing wines from Australia and Chile. Wines from the United States of America (USA ) can use a simplified VI-1 and US wineries can continue to self-certify their VI-1s.
Four burgundies to bliss out on
Domaine des Valanges Saint-Véran 2018
One of the more affordable names in Burgundy, but it’s not always this good. Well done, the Co-op.
Jean Chartron Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Beaune Vieilles VignesBlanc 2018
Opulently, creamy white burgundy that punches well above its weight price-wise.
Joseph Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune 2017
Fine, silky, delicate biodynamic red. Really good value (for burgundy).
Benjamin Leroux Côte d’Or Pinot Noir 2017
Very smart, basic burgundy from this incredibly pretty vintage. Tempting to drink it straight away, but tuck some away, too.
For more by Fiona Beckett, go to matchingfoodandwine.com
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Sheela received her master's degree from the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy, holds Level 2 and Level 3 Awards in Wines from the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET), graduated from New York University's Department of Nutrition and Food Studies, and is also a Registered Dietitian. Sheela Prakash is a food and wine writer, recipe developer, and the author of Mediterranean Every Day. Her writing and recipes can be found in numerous online and print publications, including Kitchn, Epicurious, Food52, Better Homes and Gardens, Serious Eats, Tasting Table, The Splendid Table, Culture Cheese Magazine, Clean Plates, and Slow Food USA
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