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While the rest of the world tumbles into a torrent of change, the wine world has always been relatively stable.

Stable to a fault.

For example, most wine snobs still still prefer corks even though screw caps have been proven for over 50 years. Also, did you know? We still value Bordeaux wine based on a 160 year-old ruling?

So, when the Rioja Consejo Regulador (wine commission) announced a new classification system, you can bet it was a big –effing– deal!

The Future of Rioja Wine

The new system moves Rioja wines away from oak-aging as the primary indication of quality. Instead, wineries are encouraged to champion regional microclimates and singular vineyard sites.

For those in the know, the new system has similarities to how they do things in Burgundy. Our opinion? This is going to be a big, positive change for Rioja (and Tempranillo!)

In 2017, 88% of the Rioja harvest red grapes. Tempranillo is the most planted grape. Rioja Wine Quick Facts
  • Rioja can be labeled by its 3 official zones: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa, and Rioja Oriental (aka Eastern Rioja – originally called Rioja Baja.)
  • With the new rules, oak-aging requirements for Gran Reserva were lowered from 3 years to 2 years (and there doesn’t appear to be any rule requiring American oak.) That said, the wines still must age for a minimum of 5 years. We’re likely to see this classification used on top-quality Tempranillo.
  • Rioja wines can now add the name of the village/municipality to the front label. That said, don’t try to memorize all the municipio names – there are 145 in Rioja!
  • Rosé (aka “rosado”) wines are now allowed to be made in a lighter color. It’s about time!
  • There is a now a new sparkling wine designation called Espumosos de Calidad de Rioja (with similarities to Champagne!)
  • Winemakers may now offer single-varietal white wines under the Rioja Blanco label.
The new Rioja aging system introduced in 2017 requires less time in oak barrels. Revised Rioja Aging Classifications Generic Rioja (aka “Joven”)

Generic Rioja wines do not have aging requirements. Expect these wines to use minimal oak-aging and have a fleshy style. In the past, this was Rioja’s lowest quality indication.

Today however, we’re likely to see some exceptional wines (especially Rioja Blanco made with Viura) using this aging regime.

Crianza Rioja

Crianza (“kree-ahn-tha”) was formerly where quality started for Rioja wine. The increased aging allows Tempranillo-based wines to develop more complexity. Expect red fruit flavors and subtle spice.

  • Red wines: Aged for a total of 2 years with at least 1 year in oak barrels.
  • White and rosé wines: Aged for a total of 2 years with at least 6 months in barrels.
Reserva Rioja

Reserva is where things start to get serious with Rioja. We suspect this classification will continue to be the benchmark moving forward because it also includes the new sparkler, Espumosos de Calidad de Rioja.

Red wines in this classification typically have fantastic balance between fruit and structure (e.g. tannin and acidity), with subtle aged flavors of baking spice and dried fruit. This is one of those bottles you must try aging in a cellar to see how it evolves!

  • Red wines: Aged for a total of 3 years with at least 1 year in oak barrels and at least 6 months in bottles.
  • Sparkling wines: Wines must be aged “en tirage” (on the lees) for no less than 24 months. Vintage-dated Espumosos must be hand-harvested.
  • White and rosé wines: Aged for a total of 2 years with at least 6 months in barrels.
Gran Reserva Rioja

For quite some time, winemakers in Rioja made Gran Reserva somewhat begrudgingly. The requirement for 3 years in oak overwhelmed the more elegant Rioja grapes with awkward flavors of coconut and dill.

Fortunately, the Consejo has dialed back the oaking for Gran Reserva and we believe this category will produce some exceptional Tempranillo and Garnacha-based red wines.

  • Red wines: Aged for a total of 5 years with at least 2 years in oak barrels and 2 years in bottles.
  • White and rosé wines: Aged for a total of 5 years with at least 6 months in barrels.
Gran Añada Rioja

What was once a bygone category has new life thanks to the creation of Gran Añada bubbly!

By the numbers, these wines mimic the production methods and aging requirements of vintage Champagne.

We have a sneaking feeling that these wines won’t hit the market until 2020.

  • Sparkling: Wines must be aged “en tirage” (on the lees) for no less than 36 months. Vintage-dated Espumosos must be hand-harvested.
Producers now have the opportunity to create village wines and vineyard-specific wines. New Regional Labeling for Rioja is Finally Here!

The biggest change to Rioja wines, by far, was the addition of a regional labeling regime.

Of course, there’s still quite a bit of discussion about whether or not this was the right thing to do.

Some argue that the best Rioja wines have traditionally been blends of multiple sites so regional specificity won’t help quality. Others say the new regulations are not stringent enough and Rioja should hold itself to higher standards.

Regardless, if you travel through Rioja, you cannot deny that there are a myriad of soils and microclimates. The idea that you can now officially notate a singular vineyard is going to make forward-thinking producers (and wine collectors) very excited.


You can assumed that all wines labeled “Rioja” are a blend of grapes from all over La Rioja.

Zonas (Zones)

The largest Zona is Rioja Oriental, followed by Rioja Alta, and then Rioja Alavesa. Most wine books will tell you that Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa make the best wines, but that’s not always true.

In fact, I’d wager to say that if you’re a fan of richer styles of Tempranillo, you’re going to love a few producers in Rioja Oriental (for example, check out Ontañon and Barón de Ley.) The problem with Rioja Oriental is that a sizable proportion of its production is bulk wine.

Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa tend to have more minerality and elegance. Many of these wines are built to age 20 or more years.

The eastern portion of Rioja is now called “Rioja Oriental.” Municipios (Municipalities)

Rioja can now label wines after the village or municipal area where they’re grown. If a vineyard straddles two municipalities, it’s allowed to blend up to 15% of the neighboring village’s grapes into the wine.

The only problem with this new regulation is we have yet to see which villages will come out as standouts. In Rioja, there are 145 municipalities (77 in Rioja Alta, 50 in Rioja Oriental, and 18 in Rioja Alavesa.) That’s a lot to remember!

Old vines at Bodegas Castillo de Sajazarra in Rioja Alta. photo by Justin Hammack Viñedo Singular (Unique Vineyards)

Viñedo Singular reminds us of lieu-dits (named vineyard sites) of Burgundy. For this classification, the producer must appeal to the Consejo Regulador to recognize a vineyard and allow it to be listed on the label.

On the one hand, Viñedo Singular is really cool because we’ll finally get to learn the names of places where special vines are grown. With Viñedo Singular, wineries are encouraged to make single-vineyard wines (something that’s still quite rare in Rioja.)

On the other hand, if you know Burgundy, you know there are well over one thousand lieu-dits. Thousands of Viñedo Singular will make this region more complex and difficult to understand.

Regardless, Rioja’s move towards site-specificity has inspired positive change to a slow-moving industry.

Rioja Wine Classification (pdf – in Spanish)
Production statistics from Riojawine.com (pdf – in Spanish)

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Cabernet Franc may call France its home, but can we make great wines elsewhere? Let’s dig into the dirt on Cabernet Franc and find out where it grows best.

Cabernet Franc is a very different animal.

Though, if you were the parent of such star-studded children as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, you’d be a bit eccentric too. After all, you learned how to survive – and thrive – just about anywhere.

In 6 minutes Madeline compares New with Old World Cabernet Franc and fails to pick a favorite.

The thing about Cabernet Franc that makes it unique is that it can’t hide its nature. It’s always been a bit more peppery and lean compared to its pedigree children. And for this reason, most winemakers use it sparingly in blends (like with Merlot in right-bank Bordeaux or with Malbec in Argentina.)

In a blend, Cab Franc is like MSG. It transforms what might have been a boring fruit-bomb wine into something that makes us go,

“Ooooo! Magic!”

So, let’s dive into this grape, why it’s worth your time, and figure out where you should be looking for your favorite Francs.

Cabernet Franc is the parent grape of many important varieties. Why Is Cabernet Franc So Awesome?

First, it’s a classic. It’s the “papa bear” grape of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carménère (and thus, it’s older than all three).

Second, it’s cellar-worthy. Well-made Cabernet Franc wines have been noted to age well for 30+ years.

Finally, there’s something for everyone. Because Cabernet Franc grows just about anywhere, it’s capable of making wines that appeal to crowds and geeks alike.

New World vs. Old World Cabernet Franc

There are two distinct styles of Cabernet Franc that have emerged based on the climate, soil, and winemaking tradition. We call them “New World” and “Old World” for simplicity’s sake, but you’ll find that some wines don’t fit the mold.

Gibbs from Napa Valley – a “New World” style Cabernet Franc. “New World Style”

Bold, Fruit-Forward Cabernet Franc

In warmer places, Cabernet Franc produces a much richer wine. It’s not just the heat and sunlight hours that produce full-bodied, higher alcohol wines. Many of the most popular warm-climate Cabernet Franc regions have clay-based soils, which result in grapes with increased tannin.

With higher intensity, warm climate Cab Franc wines are often aged in oak. The oak adds baking spice and cedar flavors, with smokiness on the finish.

Overall, this style is a crowd-pleaser that appeals to *nearly* all wine drinkers.

Where To Look
  • California
  • Chile
  • Argentina
  • Washington
  • Villany (Hungary)
  • Virginia
  • Danube Plains (Bulgaria)
  • Tuscany
Domaine du Petit Clocher “Old World Style”

Lean, Herb-Driven Cabernet Franc

In cooler climates, Cabernet Franc produces a much leaner, more savory wine. In the Loire Valley where this style is prevalent, the lightest and most aromatic styles (with the least color) are grown in sandy soils.

It’s rare to find heavy-handed oak in these cooler climates because it overwhelms the wine.

Where To Look
  • Loire Valley (Anjou, Saumur-Champigny, Chinon, Bourgueil, and other Loire Valley appellations)
  • Friuli (Italy)
  • Finger Lakes, NY
  • Ontario (Canada)
What’s Your Preferred Style?

So, have you tried both styles? What is your favorite style of Cabernet Franc?

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Because Thanksgiving is the perfect wine holiday.

Why? Well, it’s the only holiday with a savory feast that happens right after the grape harvest. Not to mention the fall flavors pair perfectly with many great wines. So, let’s find out which Thanksgiving wines to add to the table this year.

In This Article
  • Break the ice with something refreshing and celebratory like sparkling rosé.
  • Bring out the medium-bodied reds because they pair the best with turkey.
  • Bask in the glory of at least one special occasion wine (dessert wine or something stranger).

Sparkling Rosé

There’s nothing better than arriving to a party and being handed a glass of something sparkly. It even works on little kids (but perhaps a shiny tumbler of Martinelli’s instead?).

Sparkling rosé pays tribute to the changing seasons with its pinkish hue and the red fruit core that forecasts incoming cranberries for the holidays.

Here are a few sparkling rosé wine styles you deserve to taste at least once in your life:

Lambrusco Rosé – This wine is often made with Lambrusco di Sorbara – the most delicate of the Lambrusco varieties. Expect delightful, fruit-forward aromas of pink grapefruit, watermelon, and rose candy.

Carafoli “Sensazioni Rosa” Lambrusco Rosé Extra Dry (~$10)
Cava Rosé – A lean and dry style from Spain that usually includes varieties like Garnacha, Monastrell, Pinot Noir, and the rare Trepat. On the nose, expect forest berries, raspberry bramble, and wet stones. Bottles labeled “Reserva” will have been aged on the lees for a longer amount of time.

Llopart “Reserva” 2014 Brut Rosé (~$20)
Italian Metodo Classico – Two regions in Italy rival Champagne: Franciacorta in Lombardy, and Trento in Trentino-Alto Adige. These wines are quite fine (and priced accordingly). Expect tiny, creamy bubbles and cherry driven aromas.

Ca’ del Bosco “Cuvée Prestige” Franciacorta Rosé (~$65)
Ferrari “Perle” Trento Rosé 2008 (~$65)
Bugey Cerdon Rosé – One for the wine geeks! A richer, darker rosé from the foothills of the French Alps and made using a very ancient sparkling wine method. You’ll find the local varieties of Poulsard and Gamay are often used and deliver aromas of peonies and forest berries.

Patrick Bottex “La Cueille” Bugey Cerdon Rosé (~$20)
Tasmanian Rosé – The rare and exciting sparkling wines of Tasmania are finding their way into US stores. The producer we found (Jansz) had super compelling aromas of bitter-sweet red fruits and subtle smoky, yeasty notes. Easy on the palate.

Jansz “Premium” Brut Rosé Tasmania (~$20)

FUN FACT:Wine sales for Thanksgiving are the highest of any single holiday.

Medium-Bodied Reds

If you’re looking to pair wine with poultry, it’s important to think about intensity. Sure, you could blow down the house with a big, bold-faced Bordeaux, but it’s not going to do your beautiful bird any justice.

Fortunately, there’s a segment of red wines with more juicy fruit and brown spice subtleties. The following medium-bodied reds pair really well with turkey, gravy, and roasted winter vegetables:

Carignan – Loaded with cherry fruit and spiced tobacco flavors, Carignan is meant for turkey. Seek out old vine wines from places like California, Chile, and Languedoc-Roussillon France.

Ridge Vineyards “Dutcher Creek Vineyard” 2015 Carignane (~$35)

Zinfandel – With tasting notes akin to cranberry sauce (e.g. “spiced red fruits”), Zinfandel will moisten even the driest slice of turkey. We’re really delighted by the subtle white pepper, sage, and volcanic subtleties that Zin delivers from Napa Valley. (It might be Napa’s best value!)

D-Cubed Cellars Napa Valley Zinfandel (~$30)
Lagier Meredith Mount Veeder 2014 Tribidrag (~$45)

Garnacha – So juicy and pure, Garnacha from Spain delivers sweet red fruit and citrus notes on top of dusty minerality. The best part is that you’ll find many of the buying options to be shockingly affordable. If you want to bump it up a notch (and taste some serious versions), look for Garnacha from the Vinos de Madrid area.

Marañones “30,000 Maravedies” Vinos de Madrid 2015 Garnacha (~$17)
Comando G “Rozas 1er Cru” Vinos De Madrid 2016 Garnacha (~$32)

Pinot Noir – The classic go-to red for Thanksgiving. Honestly, it’s hard not to have a bottle or two of these lying around. No pressure, but you might want to stock up on value 2015 Bourgogne Rouge before they sell out!

Frederic Magnien 2015 Bourgogne Rouge (~$20)

Blaufränkisch – It’s hard to stumble upon greatness for under $20 if you’re perusing the usual suspects. Instead, look for something like the lesser known Blaufränkisch. The Austrians obsess over this red because it delivers rich, black fruit flavors, spice, and food-friendly acidity. This is a great choice for dark meat and wild rice stuffing.

Markowitsch Carnuntum 2016 Blaufränkisch ($18)

Beaujolais – We’re sure to be roasted on a spit if we forget to mention the classic Francophile-Thanksgiving favorite: Beaujolais. Long ago, the Beaujolais grape (Gamay) was banned in Burgundy, but that didn’t stop it from existing – and thriving – in neighboring Beaujolais. Wines are beautifully floral (think violets and peonies) with soft, luscious, berry-driven fruit, and a subtle bitter note on the finish. Look for a Beaujolais Cru for superior quality.

Michel Guignier “Vieilles Vignes” Morgon 2017 Beaujolais (~$17)

Mencía – When people finally figure out how exceptional Mencía wine is, we’ll no longer be able to get is so cheap! Imagine a wine with the dark fruit of Malbec paired with the delicacy and complexity of high-end (high tannin) Pinot Noir.

Losada 2016 Bierzo (~$20)
Castro Candaz “A Boca do Demo” 2016 Ribeira Sacra (~$49)

Special Occasion Wines

There’s no better time to share something rare and unique than during the holidays. Some wines are just too much a delicacy to hoard alone. Here are a few special wines to consider:

Sercial Madeira – This very rare single-varietal Madeira wine can be served chilled and makes for an amazing match with pumpkin pie. It’s not too sweet and exudes toasted walnut, burnt caramel, and peach notes.

Blandy’s 10 Year Old Sercial Madeira (~$28)

Pedro Ximinez – Forget dessert when you can drink something so sweet and rare as a 90-year old Solera dessert wine from the Montilla-Moriles region in southern Spain. This very sweet wine offers fig, molasses, and nutty-coffee notes. We’re honestly shocked that it’s so nicely priced.

Alvear “Solera 1927” Pedro Ximenez (~$30)

Vin Jaune – Truly golden-yellow in color, you’ve never had anything like Vin Jaune before. Vin Jaune is a true geek wine with arresting flavors of linseed oil, pear, and preserved lemon. Despite its bizarre aromatic structure and saline taste, it pairs fantastically well with pumpkin pie.

Domaine Baud Còtes du Jura 2010 Vin Jaune (~$35)

Tokaji Aszú – Hummingbird elixir.

Kiralyudvar Tokaji Aszú 6 Puttonyos 2007 (~$85)

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Have a joyous holiday! -Madeline


Thanksgiving brought $837 million in wine sales in the US (2017). www.nielsen.com
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We tested five of the world’s best wine glasses to figure out what separates a $5 glass from a $50 one.

If you’re skeptical of those articles that claim to have the “Best Wine Glasses for 2018,” then this deep dive is for you. You’re right to suspect there’s more to glassware than good Amazon reviews.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What are the best wine glasses and why? (And, how much should you expect to spend?)
  • What aspects should you pay attention to when buying wine glasses, regardless of price?
  • If you prefer red (or white) wines, what glass traits should you look for?
We Tested the World’s Best Wine Glasses

… and here’s what you need to know

Madeline Puckette goes deep into the topic of wine glasses (19 minute video podcast). Grab a glass and watch! Wine Glass Selection

We held off on making this video for several years because of the selection process. Why? Learning how to assess glasses takes a lot of experience. Over the years I’ve tested close to a hundred wine glasses and have about a dozen or so favorites.

I chose these glasses because they represent the best of the best. Additionally, they are universal glasses, as in, they can be used for any style of wine (red, white, rosé, or sparkling). Finally, despite their fragile appearance, they are all dependable and should hold up to everyday use.

Shown in no particular order.

We tested:

  1. Gabriel-Glas “Stand’art” Universal Glass ($29.99 on winefolly.com)
  2. Zwiesel 1872 Select “Riesling Grand Cru” (~$43 on Zwiesel)
  3. JR + RB “1” Universal Glass (~$56 on richardbrendon.com)
  4. Zalto “Denk’art” Universal Glass ($59 on wineenthusiast.com)
  5. Gabriel-Glas “Gold Edition” Universal Glass ($62 on gabriel-glas.com)

While collecting glasses we were delighted to get our hands on the newly launched Jancis Robinson + Richard Brendon “1” collaboration. If you don’t know her, Jancis Robinson is one of the world’s foremost wine critics. So, this particular glass comes with a lot of built-in street credit!

Which Glass Won?

Naturally, it was impossible to pick just one. We chose two!

  • Zalto “Denk’art” Universal Glass ($59)
  • Gabriel-Glas “Stand’art” Universal Glass ($29.99)
We were surprised to see Zalto stands up to the hype. Zalto “Denk’art” Universal Glass ($59)

Stands up to the hype.

When you watch the video, you’ll note I was very skeptical of this glass because it comes with so much hype. That said, I was truly impressed with Zalto, especially for what it does with red wines.

Why: I felt compelled to choose Zalto because it delivered the sauciest fruit flavors, while still maintaining a balanced palate. Since so many wine connoisseurs prefer red wines, I think the fruit-focus in this glass is highly desirable.

If you’re looking for value, Gabriel-Glas over performs for the price. Gabriel-Glas “Stand’art” Universal Glass (~$29)

Over performs for the price.

I was shocked at how well this machine made glass did alongside glasses that sell for over two times the price. Besides the taste test, I’ve personally watched a tasting room attendant drop one on the floor and it didn’t break–it bounced!

Why: What I liked about this glass was how it delivers flavors in a sequential manner. This trait makes Gabriel-Glas glass fantastic for blind tasting and for improving your palate. The fruit delivery was equal to Zalto, but more fresh in style.

Wine Folly’s microfiber polishing cloth imprinted with wine glass compendium (22 x 28) – Buy One What to Pay Attention to When Assessing Glassware

In the video I mention a few key things to pay attention to:

  • Crystal vs Glass: I’ve seen wine glasses available in glass, crystal glass, and borosilicate glass. Unless you’re buying affordable glasses (under $9 a stem), then you’re best bet is crystal (mineralized glass). Crystal glass comes in variable quality levels and types.
  • Opening Diameter: This trait really affects the aroma presence of wine. In the video I had some quips about smaller diameter openings for red wines because of how much it shoveled the aromas into my nose (the burn!). 2.25 inches was tight for reds but ideal for whites. 2.5 inches was about right (both Zalto and Gabriel-Glass were around 2.5). Finally, my “old standby” restaurant series Riedel Vinum Extreme Cabernets have a diameter of 2.75.
  • Glass Shape and Size: Most importantly, you need enough volume in the glass to collect aromas. Read more about glass shapes and why they matter.
  • Rim Thickness: Less material is generally considered better. Some value manufacturers just cut the lip and file it smooth. Avoid these. We’ve been very impressed with the quality Riedel puts out and use it as a good baseline.
  • Multi-Piece: Most glasses are made with multiple pieces. The high end models are not, which is why they are so much more durable despite how fragile they look and feel. Still, there’s nothing wrong with being multi-piece, just make sure they get the seams off. (You can feel the seam on the stem.)
  • Bowl Clarity: One thing I noticed on all the hand blown models was the amazing clarity. Many machine made glasses will have slight ribbing on the bowl and it distorts light. It doesn’t affect the taste, but it’s one of those things you notice when looking at quality.
From left to right: Gabriel-Glas Stand-Art, Gabriel-Glas Gold Edition, Zwiesel 1873 Select Riesling Grand Cru, Zalto Denk’Art Universal, JR + RB 1 What to Expect to Spend

It’s hard to find exceptional glassware for under $20 a stem.

Under $20 a stem, you’ll do best with larger glass manufacturers such as Stolzle or Schott Zweisel. You’ll notice these glasses are all multi-piece, with beaded lips, ribbing, and seams on the stem, but they do have the right shape!

NOTE: If you want to know more about glass shape, read this great article about what shape to choose based on your taste preferences.

Higher end glasses go for $20 and up.

I’ve been consistently impressed with Riedel. In fact, the Veritas “New World Pinot Noir” (~$23 a stem) are fantastic. The downside is these glasses aren’t universal.

This was why I was so tickled pink with the Gabriel-Glass “Stand’Art” Edition glasses (~$29 a stem). These glasses offer great value and would work well as a universal glass.

Then, at the top-end of wine glasses there are many options. We loved Zalto and Gabriel-Glas, as we mentioned above, but could come up with reasons to love each of the glasses we tested.

NOTE: When speaking to glass manufacturers I was surprised to learn that hand blown glasses take substantially longer to produce. A production facility can whip out 30,000 machine made glasses in a week compared to just 5,000 hand blown glasses.

Have any burning, unanswered glassware questions? Put them in the comments below!

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Wine Folly by Madeline Puckette - 1M ago

Orange wine is a bit of a misnomer. It is not wine made with oranges, nor is it a Mimosa cocktail (a blend of 1 part orange juice to 2 parts sparkling wine.) Orange wine is something entirely different.

What is an Orange Wine? Orange wine is a type of white wine made by leaving the grape skins and seeds in contact with the juice, creating a deep orange-hued finished product.
What is Orange Wine?

To make an orange wine, you first take

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Why do it wrong when you can do it right? Here are the basics to wine service, along with tips on how to store wine. Change the way you drink (for the better!).

Wine Folly: Open, Serve, Decant, & Store Wine! - YouTube

First things first, lets pop a bottle!

Opening a Wine Bottle

There are many different types of wine openers out there. So, you’ll want to choose one that best suits your needs. If you want to know what all the pros use, well, we use a wine opener called a :Waiter’s Friend.”

Chefs have an affliction for knives and somms have an “unhealthy” obsession for corkscrews. This is my Coutale – the world’s most pragmatic corkscrew.

Waiter’s Friends can be as little as $2 (cheap as a cup of coffee, and just as rage-fueled) or upwards of $700. If you’re on the market for a decent but not-too-expensive model, I advise looking into what we carry in the store.

I have another video that obsessively details opening a bottle of wine, and if you want to know the exact secrets, I highly recommend watching it!

A Proper Serving

I’ve been cited for saying a proper serving is 150 ml, or 5 ounces.

The actual truth is, a proper serving is quite variable. It depends on the how much alcohol is in the wine and how much alcohol you can physically tolerate. Some human lineage lines are more sensitive to alcohol than others. (I know, sucks right?)

The serving size depends on the alcohol level.

The one thing that’s helped me become more cognizant of over-drinking is making the serving size smaller. Try pouring yourself small 3 oz pours. It works!

Decanting Wine

Everyone who drinks affordable value-wines on a regular basis should own a decanter (or aerator). It’s the one simple thing you can do to improve the taste of almost any wine.

  1. Wine tasting too sharp? Pour it into a decanter.
  2. Wine stinks like sweaty socks? Pour it into a decanter.
  3. Tannins too harsh? Pour it into a decanter!

If you are on the hunt for a quality decanter, you need to read this.

Storing Open Wine

Each wine is a bit different.

For example, my grandmother has had a bottle of Australian Tawny (a fortified sweet wine) sitting open (but corked) in her cellar for over 20 years. Believe me when I tell you that I was completely shocked to discover it tasted fine…actually, quite good!

For the rest of the world, as soon as you open a bottle of wine it starts an invisible timer. Oxygen exposure and temperature variations very quickly start to chemically react with the wine inside your bottle.

When wines go “bad,” they develop high levels of acetic acid, which technically won’t kill you, but it tastes horrible. Of course, that process takes a month or more to happen.

What happens in the meantime is that your wine starts to lose its luster. Then, it just starts to taste nasty. So, the infographic above shows some best practices for drinking windows on the common types of wine.

On Cellaring Wine

If you don’t have a cellar or proper temperature controlled wine chiller (with humidity control), don’t bother. Sure, you can buy wines to hold for a year or so, but they’re not going to last the long term in your closet. This is especially true if your storage area routinely goes above 75 ºF (23 ºC).

If you want to see the research study I mention in the video, check out the full details in this article.

Get The Book

The companion to this series is the new Wine Folly Guide – completely redesigned and rebuilt from the ground up. This one has over two times the content of the first, bestselling book.

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Surprising facts about wine sweetness you don’t want to miss!

Wine Folly: Sweetness in Wine (Ep. 5) - YouTube

This week, Madeline Puckette jumps into one of the most misunderstood topics in wine.

Wine Sweetness

What is wine sweetness and where does it come from?

Most sweetness in wine comes from natural grape sugars leftover after the fermentation has stopped. Wine people refer to it as “residual sugar,” or RS for short. Wines without sweetness are called “dry” wines.

Common knowledge is that sweetness is determined by the type of grape (Moscato, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, etc). However, in most cases, sweetness is actually controlled by the winemaker!

The winemaker is the one who chooses to stop the fermentation before all the grape sugars have been eaten by the yeast. Pow! Sweet wine!

Of course, the market also dictates which varietal wines have sweetness. For example, in the US, most wine buyers think of Riesling as a sweet wine. Thus, winemakers tend to make Riesling sweet because that’s what the market wants.

That said, if you go over to Germany (the Riesling capital of the world!) and pick up a decent German VDP Riesling, you’ll discover they’re actually quite dry!

The common measurements of wine sweetness are in grams per liter or percentage. What Are the Sweetness Levels in Wine?

This is where things start to get fuzzy. There’s actually a huge range of sweetness levels in wine.

In the Wine Folly book, we split sweetness up into 5 categories:

  1. Bone Dry Wines
    Wines with less than 1 g/L of residual sugar (RS) or 0.1% sweetness.
  2. Dry Wines
    Wines with 1–17 g/L of RS or up to 1.7% sweetness.
  3. Off-Dry Wines (aka “semi-sweet”)
    Wines with 17–35 g/L of RS or up to 3.5% sweetness.
  4. Sweet Wines
    Wines with 35–120 g/L of RS or up to 12% sweetness. (These are sweet like Coca-Cola, which has 113 g/L sweetness).
  5. Very Sweet Wines
    Wines with over 120 g/L of RS or over 12% sweetness.

Here are a few example wines using a slightly different scale:

We Humans Are Actually Pretty Bad at Tasting Sweetness

It’s true. Our palates have over 26 different receptors tuned to sense bitterness but only one dedicated to sweetness! The common wine drinker can barely distinguish sweetness below 2% or 20 g/L of RS.

So a lot of wines that we think of as “dry” actually have a gram (or three) of residual sugar! At these low levels, sweetness adds body and a more oily texture to wine, which is highly desirable to most wine drinkers.

A Few Examples

Here are a few examples, including wines at all quality levels:

Amarone della Valpolicella is one of Italy’s most coveted red wines. High quality examples of Amarone will easily age over 50 years (when stored properly)!

Surprisingly (for most), many Amarone della Valpolicella range from about 4–11 g/L of residual sugar. They do this to help balance the taste and help the fruity flavors of cherries and chocolate come to the forefront.

New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc wines commonly have over a few grams per liter of residual sugar. Why? Well, this region produces Sauvignon Blanc with such high acidity that a little residual sugar helps counterbalance the tartness of the wine.

The range we’ve seen goes from about 4–20 g/L of RS (so the example above is pretty nominal and dry!). Residual sugar in New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc turns sour flavors of lime peel into lush, tasty notes of passion fruit and gooseberry.

Bulk-made wines are one of the largest users of residual sugar in wines (of all types)! If you look at most value wines in the US market, you’ll see quite a lot of them use residual sugar to make wines taste fruitier and bolder.

This is where the controversy about sweetness in wines really comes from.

Many bulk wines use over 10 g/L of RS, which a trained sommelier can easily identify. Thus, you’ll hear a lot of wine enthusiasts and experts poo-poo RS because they think of it as cheating.

And, in a lot of cases, they’re not wrong!

Is RS the Devil?

If you ask me, residual sugar isn’t the devil. It’s just a tool in the winemaker’s toolkit to make great tasting wines.

Some wines really shine with a few grams of residual sugar. Of course, as with all things: moderation is key!

What’s more important is that we wine drinkers know about residual sugar in wine and fearlessly experiment tasting different wines so that we understand how it works on our own taste buds.

Some will love it, others will hate it. The choice is up to you!

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The companion to this series is the new Wine Folly Guide – completely redesigned and rebuilt from the ground up. This one has over two times the content of the first, bestselling book.

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