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Wine Folly by Madeline Puckette - 14h ago

What is Residual Sugar in Wine and Where Does it Come From?

Oh, and do people actually add sugar to wine?!

When we first hear about residual sugar it feels a bit off-putting. After all, we’ve been told that wines aren’t sweet. So, let’s define residual sugar in wine and what to expect in different types of wine.

Wines can be generally organized into five different sweetness levels based on their residual sugar content. Residual Sugar Definition

Residual Sugar (or RS) is from natural grape sugars leftover in a wine after the alcoholic fermentation finishes. It’s measured in grams per liter.

So for example, a wine with 10 grams per liter of residual sugar has 1% sweetness or a total of 5.8 carbohydrates per serving (5 ounces / 150 ml).

How Much Residual Sugar is There in Wine?

Residual sugar levels vary in different types of wine. In fact, many grocery store wines labeled as “dry” contain about 10 g/L of residual sugar. Noticeably sweet wines start at around 35 grams per liter of residual sugar and then go up from there.

In case you didn’t already know, the sugar in grapes is a blend of glucose and fructose. During the fermentation process, yeast eats these sugars to make alcohol. That being said, it’s possible to stop the fermentation before all the sugar gets consumed (through chilling or filtration).

This, my friends, is how you make a sweet wine!

Calories (carbs) in wine from residual sugar. Do Wineries Add Sugar?

There are some countries (such as France and Germany) that allow the addition of sugar before or during fermentation. The method is called “Chaptalization” and it’s used to increase the total alcohol level when using underripe grapes. Chaptalization isn’t meant to increase the sweetness of wine.

Chaptalization is practiced in regions with cooler climates, but has readily fallen out of favor with critics who see it as unnecessary manipulation.

A lineup of Martini and Rossi Vermouth. The Rise of Wine-Based Beverages

It’s possible to buy wine-based products that add sugar or other ingredients (flavorings, etc) as well.

Vermouth and Sangria are great examples. In fact, there is even a rare Spanish wine denomination called Vino Naranja del Condado de Huelva, which is a wine infused with orange peels that macerate in barrels for at least two years.

Still, flavored wines are a slippery slope. We’ve seen things like Boone’s “Strawberry Hill,” which are nothing more than wine soda.

We try really hard to hate on Strawberry Hill, but…one sip and it's Strawberry Hill forever! How Come Wine Isn’t Labeled?

Since wine isn’t required to add nutrition fact labeling (no alcoholic beverages are), no one ever adds sugar content on the label. So, if you’re worried about additives you might avoid flavored alcohol products (e.g. put down that Kahlua!) and stick with the pure stuff.

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What are the real differences between a $7 wine and a $75 wine? This cheap vs expensive wine taste test delivers some sweet berry knowledge that’s going to change how you shop.

How is it possible to have two Merlot wines with such different price points? Cheap vs Expensive Wine Taste Test

For this video we busted out the good ol’ credit card and dropped $100 on two bottles of wine. But, not just any two bottles.

Both wines had to be same grape variety.

Did you know that marketplace economics apply to wine grapes too? For example, more people know about (and buy) Cabernet Sauvignon than Petite Sirah. Thus, the popularity of a wine grape can increase the cost of wine.

For this tasting we picked an old standby: Merlot.

Both wines had to be from independent producers.

Call us sappy if you want, but we were dead set on proving that it’s possible to buy good cheap wine from independent estate wineries. So, for this tasting we managed to find two wines on K&L Wine Merchants that were farmed and made into wine by independent producers. Cool beans!

Here’s a rundown on of the wines tested:

The “Cheap” Wine

Villa Poggio Salvi “Lavischio” 2016 – Toscana IGT (~$7)

This is a 100% Merlot wine from a lesser-known producer called Villa Poggio Salvi who is perhaps better known for Brunello di Montalcino. The grapes for this wine were grown in a vineyard owned by the winery that’s north of the famous Montalcino zone in Siena.

This was was produced at the winery and aged for a brief period of time (about 3 months) in large, used Slavonian oak botti. Barrels like these are used year after year and do not impart much oak flavors.

Why is Wine So Expensive?

Is expensive wine better? To figure this out, lets take a look at what it costs to make a bottle of wine – from the…

Tasting Notes and Conclusion

The wine was both fruity and earthy on the nose with aromas of fresh red currants, red cherries, clay bricks, thyme, and raspberry sauce. I didn’t smell any toasty oak.

On the palate it was tart! It tasted well-balanced overall with easy tannins, but was definitely more of a food wine (like something you’d pair with pizza). The tartness in the wine made me think this wine might actually age well for the next 7 or so years. Might be fun (and affordable) wine to cellar and enjoy when it smooths out.

The “Expensive” Wine

Pahlmeyer Merlot 2014 – Napa Valley AVA (~$75)

This wine is a 93% Merlot from the small Atlas Peak AVA within Napa Valley by the famous producer, Pahlmeyer. The vineyard was obsessively created by 4 renowned vineyard consultants including Helen Turley, John Wetlaufer, Erin Green, and David Abreu! The vineyard is well-situated – you can see San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge on a clear day.

Making this wine included the purchase of small, new French oak barriques (225 liter barrels) that impart lots of oak flavors in the wine.

Tasting Notes and Conclusion

Whoa! This wine hit my nose with massive wafting aromas of macerated cherries, blackberries, blackberry jam, vanilla, tobacco, hibiscus and subtle notes of sage and thyme. It was a complex wine. I kept coming up with tasting notes with ease.

On the palate this wine was big. It had a complex taste profile that started out with more fresh fruit notes (on the dark fruit side) that lead into rich vanilla and sweet berry flavors and ended on a toasty, tobacco-and-blackberry note. It was definitely one of those wines you could just sit and sip without anything (but maybe a good view!).

Is it worth the extra cost?

If you love oaky wines you should expect to spend more on a bottle of wine. But how much more? Find out the true cost of oak barrels and regional grape prices and how they affect the cost of wine in the next article!

Why is Wine So Expensive?

Is expensive wine better? To figure this out, lets…

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Wine Folly by Madeline Puckette - 1w ago

If you’ve ever found yourself standing in the wine aisle gawking at the prices, you may have also found yourself wondering,

“Is there really a difference between cheap and expensive wine?”


“Is more expensive wine better?”

To figure this out, let’s take a look at what it costs to make a bottle of wine.

How much the grapes cost in a bottle of wine in California. The Cost of Wine Grapes

Grapes are one of several costs that go into producing a bottle of wine. So, to put real numbers behind this cost, I crunched some data from the 2017 California Grape Crush Report.

Here’s what I learned:

  1. $5 (for the actual wine part) affords one pretty decent quality juice.
  2. There is a substantial price variance between different grape varieties. (Merlot offers superb value!)
  3. Napa Valley is, by far, the most expensive place to buy wine grapes. Napa Cabernet Sauvignon costs $12.34 / bottle (weighted average).
  4. Some California producers spend as little as 49 cents a bottle for grapes from the Inland Valleys.

Of course, grapes aren’t the only costly thing that goes into making wine.

American oak barrels cost about $600, whereas European oak typically starts at $1,200 per barrel. The Cost of Oak

Oak barrels range in price from about $600–$2400 a barrel, depending on the type of oak and quality level.

That means you can expect at least a $2 bump in cost per bottle if the wine uses oak. (BTW, it’s possible to do it cheaper using oak chips).

In case you didn’t already know, oak is most commonly used for red wines, although you’ll find oak ageing used for a few bold white wines too (like Chardonnay, White Rioja, etc).

While oak barrels are used over and over again, the strongest oak flavor compounds of vanilla, clove, and baking spice come from new barrels.

The Cost of Packaging

Presentation is everything!

Next up comes the packaging. Any pragmatist realizes that packaging isn’t important as long as it works. It’s what’s inside the bottle that matters, right?!? Still, it doesn’t stop us from being influenced by the way wine bottles look.

Here are some things you should know about packaging:

  1. The Punt: You know, that thumb-sized divot in the bottom of a wine bottle? It doesn’t really matter. If you find a bottle with a deep punt, it just means the bottle was more expensive.
  2. Screwcaps: We’ve been testing cork alternatives since the 1960s. What we’ve learned is that they work, and in many cases, are more consistent than natural corks.
  3. Low Shoulder vs High Shoulder: Low shoulder bottles (e.g. “Burgundy Bottles”) are the “it” bottle these days but don’t fit in most wine racks or stack on top of each other. To a collector, they’re a bit of a pain in the ass.
  4. Heavy Bottles: Some bottles are so heavy that they make up 60% of the weight of the unit. The weight isn’t bad until you realize it costs extra fuel to transport heavy bottles. That being said, they do feel impressive…
  5. Glass Color: Clear glass doesn’t protect wine from light strike, and green glass doesn’t do that much better. Surprisingly, brown glass is an effective UV protector, but hasn’t quite caught on yet. Brown glass is affordable.

In researching packaging costs, I learned that increased spending on bottles might be better treated like a built-in marketing cost.

It turns out, little things like grape prices, choice of oak, and packaging costs really add up. Adding It Up

As an experiment, I took the average prices for wine grapes from the higher quality growing zones of California and created two examples. Of course, this experiment doesn’t include the cost of winery labor, facilities expenses, and what not, but I still found it illuminating.

Merlot vs. Cabernet Franc

Using Merlot grapes with American oak and value packaging ended up costing around $5 a bottle.

The increased prices for Cabernet Franc grapes, fancy French oak barrels, and prestige packaging bumps the cost up by three times, making it around $16 a bottle.

So, is cheap wine better than expensive wine?

Apparently, it really depends on your desire to drink outside the box.

Here’s to your next glass of Merlot!

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A winemaker has the opportunity to create an amazing flavor profile by blending wines from different barrels, vineyard plots, or grape varieties. We can learn more about modern blends by looking at several classic regions that specialize in wine blending.

How Are Wine Blends Created?

Over the past few centuries we’ve learned that different grape varieties are usually best vinified (i.e. made into wine) separately and then blended later. In ancient times, wine grapes were picked and vinified together – we call this a “field blend.” (In fact, Port is one of the few wines that you can still find made this way!)

After the wine is safely stowed away in barrels (or tanks), then it’s time to create the blend. At this point, it’s hard to use your sense of smell because of the intense yeast aromas. Winemakers tend to rely on taste and texture to create a wine blend.

The Art of Wine Blending

It takes several years (if not a lifetime) to master the art of blending. Great winemakers often use a combination of technical analysis and tasting. Some blends go through an iterative process of 50 or more tries until the perfect “recipe” is created.

Of course, blend recipes can only be used once. Each year the weather creates a new set of conditions that changes the way grapes ripen and make wine.

18×24 poster available in our store Famous Wine Blends & Why They Work

When you look at wine blends in the market today, do you notice the common themes? Cabernet is commonly blended with Merlot. If Syrah is blended, it’s with Grenache and Mourvèdre.

What’s interesting, is you rarely, if ever, find Cabernet with Pinot Noir. Why is this?

  • Tradition: Historic wine producing regions developed wine blends over a long period of time. Classic French blends are today’s benchmarks.
  • Climate: What grows together, goes together. Grape varieties that adapt to the same climate generally make good blending partners. (And this is probably why Cabernet and Pinot make awkward bedfellows).

Bordeaux Blend

“Bordeaux Blends” reference the red blends from Bordeaux, France. (After all, 95% of the grapes planted in the Bordeaux region are red). The top five varieties are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot.

  • Cabernet Sauvignon

    Cabernet Sauvignon adds body, an herbal character, and great mid-palate texture (tannin) that finishes on an oaky-note. Overall, the taste profile is big and long.

  • Merlot

    Merlot at its best is very similar to Cabernet Sauvignon. Still, Merlot’s slightly more cherry fruit flavors and more refined, pin-cushion tannins offset the herbal nature of the Cabernet varieties. (BTW, Libournais, or “right bank” Bordeaux, wines feature a prevalence of Merlot and Cabernet Franc).

  • Cabernet Franc

    Cabernet Franc offers leaner and slightly more savory and red fruit flavors. Still, the taste goes on just as long as Cabernet Sauvignon. Cabernet Franc is often blended alongside Merlot to add complex peppery flavors and a more dynamic finish.

  • Malbec

    Malbec is all about up-front richness and black fruit flavors. The finish is not as long as Merlot or Cabernet, but it’s just as smooth and lush. This is a great variety to seek out if you love blends with a lot of creamy, plummy, fruit flavors.

  • Petit Verdot

    When you see Petit Verdot in blends, expect it to add more floral notes and tannin, as well as gobs of opaque color. Most regions use Petit Verdot sparingly (except for places with hot climates like Spain, Argentina, Washington State, and Australia).

Rhône / GSM Blend

The Southern Rhône of France inspired what most areas call the “GSM” or Grenache-Syrah-Mourvèdre blend. In the Rhône, up to 19 grapes (including white grapes) make this red wine. Still, Grenache is the most important, followed by Syrah and Mourvèdre.

  • Grenache

    For what Grenache lacks in color it makes up for in fruit, alcohol, and finish. Grenache typically offers startling red berry flavors and a juicy mid-palate that ends on a tingly, sometimes herbal-citrus finish.

  • Syrah

    Syrah comes into this blend right up front with bold, black fruit and meaty black pepper flavors, as well as deep color. The softer finish in Syrah helps smooth out some of the tingle in Grenache.

  • Mourvèdre (aka Monastrell)

    The most savory of the bunch with rich, black fruit flavors, game, black pepper, and sometimes tar that builds layers into its longer, thick finish, Mourvèdre adds body.


France isn’t the only place that has created unique and interesting blends. Any place with diverse vine varieties and a unique climate has the opportunity to develop a regional blend. Here are a few we’ve observed:

  • Italy’s Super Tuscan Blend: This blend has many variants, but most feature a combination of Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and/or Cabernet Franc. Sangiovese adds boisterous red fruit and brilliant acidity to this blend, as well as the ability to age gracefully.
  • Washington’s CMS Blend: The blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah (three of Washington’s most important reds) produces a wine with lush fruit flavors and a smooth finish.
  • Greece’s Rapsani Blend: Rare grapes growing on the high elevation slopes below Mount Olympus include Xinomavro, Krasoto, and Stravroto. Xinomavro offers raspberry and sun-dried tomato flavors with high tannin and acidity. Krasoto brings rounder, softer, plummy fruit and a smooth finish. Stravroto is thought to add color.
  • Portugal’s Douro Tinto Blend: A red blend that typically features Touriga Franca, Touriga Nacional, and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo). Wines are black, floral and chocolatey from Touriga Nacional, and gain acidity and complex savory notes with the addition of Tinta Roriz.

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For those of us who are perpetually hunting for the unusual, the wine world is a mecca of delight. There are thousands of wine varieties, most of which exist in only in specific microclimates. Despite how rare these varietal wines are, they are within reach.

Sound like an opportunity for some delicious discoveries? Absolutely!

“If you tasted a new wine variety each week, it would take you 40 years to try them all.”

Here are six rare red wine grapes that you deserve to know about.

Daily Drinkers

These four rare reds will fit right into your daily-drinking rotation because they share similarities with other wines you already know and love.

Refosco grows along the border between Slovenia and Italy. Refosco

Imagine picking blackberries in the forest while drinking coffee from a thermos.

Typical Tasting Notes: Cherry, Dried Blackberry, Resinous-and-Floral Herbs, Espresso, Incense

Why Refosco is Awesome: For one, Refosco (aka Refošk) is actually a family of grapes, so for the sake of this exploration, let’s stick to one Italian variant called “Refosco dal Penduncolo Rosso.” This grape turns out to be the parent of Corvina, which makes one of the top wines of Italy (that’s Amarone della Valpolicella). Refosco manages to be heady and rich and high acid at the same time. Your tongue will tie knots!

Please Don’t Make Me Look For This Alone! Okay, okay. Want some recommendations to start? Give Ronchi di Cialla’s Refosco (~$17) a whirl for a great food wine. The one wine that’s got all the geeks freaking out is Miani’s “Calvari” (good luck sourcing this…I can’t find it online 🙁 ).

Frappato is one of Sicily’s rare red wine varieties. Frappato

Drinking Frappato is like jumping into a giant pool of brightly-colored plastic balls.

Typical Tasting Notes: Pomegranate, Sweet Strawberry, White Pepper, Tobacco, Clove

Why Frappato is Awesome: Frappato is one of the few red wines out there that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Still, its sweet-smelling fruit flavors and pale red color aren’t something to poo poo. Frappato might actually be genetically related to Sangiovese (Italy’s top red wine, mind you). Plus, it’s perfectly at home growing on a live volcano (Mount Etna in Sicily)!

So, if you’re looking for something to lighten your load (or for a salmon-friendly red), Frappato is your girl.

OMG… What Should I Try? We recently sucked down Planeta’s Frappato (~$20) and Occhipinti’s “Il Frappato” (fancy, organic/biodynamic ~$46) and they did not suck. Not in the least!

St. Laurent (aka Sankt Laurent) is starting to catch on in Austria. St. Laurent

Your friends will swear this is Pinot Noir.

Typical Tasting Notes: Raspberry, Blackberry, Mushroom, Baking Spices, Cocoa Powder

Why St. Laurent is awesome: Everything seems a bit more vibrant (if not slightly off the rails) in Eastern Europe. (If you’ve been there, you know exactly what I’m talking about). St. Laurent is like a bolder, sexier, more bodacious Pinot Noir (although, it’s technically not related).

So, if you’re looking for something that’s “close to home” but pushes your ma’s buttons, pick up a bottle of what we’re calling “The Saint.” (P.S. The Czech spell it “Svätovavrinecké” – how would you pronounce that?)

I Hate You Wine Folly, Where Do I Look!? If you ask us, we’re fans of Heinrich’s St. Laurent from Burgenland (~$30) and Rosi Schuster’s Sankt Laurent ($20) makes a lithe and low-alcohol version that’s priced right.

A Spanish red grape that’s found growing in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (off the coast of Africa). Listán Negro

Have you ever had anything from the Canary Islands?

Typical Tasting Notes: Red Cherry, Banana, Strawberry, Pepper Spice, Flowery Herbs

Why Listán Negro is Awesome: Have you ever had ANYTHING from the Canary Islands? I didn’t think so. Enter Listán Negro. This is a wine that is sometimes compared to Grenache, but with slightly less smack-you-in-the-face alcohol.

It’s pretty common to find this grape made with carbonic maceration (thus, the “banana” flavor in some wines), which helps reduce some of the herbaceous-ness. Still, there’s something about this grape (and the island) that’s other-worldly. Flavors seem to balance between overly fruity and seriously earthy. It’s no wonder that this wine pops up in “in the know” NYC wine bars.

I’m Lazy, Tell Me What To Buy. I got you bro. On the more savory, there’s Suertes del Marques, who makes various wines, but the “7 Fuentes” (90% Listán Negro ~$20) is a great place to start. On the fancy, Somms have written epics about Envínate’s Táganan (~$33), which will hit your palate like a ton of bricks (in a good way).

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Collectible Finds


It’s cheap rosé when done wrong, but it’s Portugal’s Amarone when done right.

Typical Tasting Notes: Dried Sour Cherry, Blackberry, Earthy Black Currant, Cocoa, Tar

Why Baga is Awesome: Baga is prolific. This is why Baga is the base grape in one of the world’s most well-distributed, hipster rosés: Matteus. It’s also delicate. This thin-skinned Portuguese variety has recently been taken more seriously by people like Luís Pato and Dirk Niepoort who fight back high yields (and use old vines) to encourage quality. Their work is paying off.

In the glass, fine Baga has all the attributes of the other great collectible red wines of the world. Baga has good phenolic structure (high tannin, anthocyanin, etc), age-worthy acidity (with pH levels around 3.5), and the ability to age gracefully (meaning, it as the volatile acidity and aged compounds like sotolon increase, the wine doesn’t fall on its face).

What Do I Cellar? As much as you should do your own work on cellaring and investment wines, do check out Quinta do Ribeirinho’s “Pé Franco” (~$199) and Neipoort’s Poeirinho (~$52) for inspiration!

Xinomavro (“ksino-mav-roh”)

If Rioja and Barolo made a baby –

Typical Tasting Notes: Raspberry, Plum Sauce, Anise, Allspice, Tobacco Leaf

Why Xinomavro is Awesome: If there’s one thing to learn about collecting wines (to drink), it is that a little effort delving into off-the-beaten-path wine countries like Greece and Portugal will result in truly special finds. Xinomavro is one of these wines.

Don’t let the awkward pronunciation scare you (just say “Casino-Mavro” and you’re practically there!) – this grape means serious business. Xinomavro really reminds us of Barolo when done right, but with a slight savory quality that brings up visions of aged Tempranillo. For now, you really need to sit on it for a while to allow those high acids and tannins to calm the heck down!

So, What to Buy? Sheesh! Again with the shakedown! Well, if you’ve got me cornered, I’d say look into two regions: Naoussa and Amyndeo (aka Amyntaio). There are not many producers in either place, maybe only a few dozen. Two that come to mind include wines by Apostolis Thymiopoulos at Thymiopoulos Vineyards (who is making waves with his biodynamic practice) in Naoussa and Alpha Estate is definitely a flagship in Amyndeo.

Personally, I can drink the crap out of a bottle of Diamantakos so, please don’t buy it all up.

Last Word: Weird is Good

We still don’t know what’s out there. DNA analyses on wine varieties really didn’t get going until the 1990s. Today, ampelographers (vine researchers) like José Vouillamoz continue to release new, amazing discoveries.

Some say there are about 2,000 unique wine grapes in the world while others think there are at least 5,000. Either way you look at it, it’s better to embrace selection than run like children back to the mama bear Cabernet.

Remember, if you tasted a new wine variety each week, it would take you 40 years to try them all.

So, the next time you reach for a bottle of wine, reach for something new! Worst case scenario: if you don’t like it, you can make Sangria. 😉

A compendium of wine aromas on pages 30–31. Want To Learn More?

Are you interested in trying new wines and exploring the world? Check out this incredible visual guide to the wide world of wine. Take a look inside!

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Wine Somm, Madeline Puckette, analyzes grocery store Cabernet under $20. The question is, are these wines actually good, or should we be afraid?

Is There Such Thing as Good Cabernet Under $20?

It’s the ultimate question.

It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor, everyone wants great wine at a great price. So, I put the grocery store selection to the test and picked out three Cabernet Sauvignon wines and analyzed them. Here’s what I learned:

Madeline waves around bottles of Cabernet from the grocery store.

The Wines:

  1. Louis M. Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma County (2015). This wine retails for anywhere from $15–$19. Definitely a decent find if you can find it for $15. It was my favorite of the bunch, but it also gave me red flush (more on that below).
  2. J. Lohr “Seven Oaks Estates” Cabernet Sauvignon Paso Robles (2016). This wine retails for anywhere from $11–$17. Not hate-able, especially if you can find it for $10, but the yeast program was so prevalent in the aromas it made me think I was drinking blackberry yogurt.
  3. Smith & Hook Cabernet Sauvignon Central Coast (2016). This wine retails for anywhere from $17–$21. Smith & Hook was like a weaker shadow of the Louis M. Martini. Plus, it was more expensive! For the price, I’d rather drink the Gallo brand wine (i.e. the Louis M. Martini.)

A Critique on Grocery Store Cabernet Under $20:

They Looked Amazing.

One thing we sommeliers always look at is the color of wine. Color tells you a lot about a wine. It helps one determine the grape varieties used, the vintage, the region where it was grown, and even how the wine was made.

That is, if the color is honest.

When looking at these wines, I was surprised at the level of color extraction. It’s rare to see this level of intensity in value wines. So, it got me wondering. Why are they soooo dark?

Well, one rumor that floats around the industry is the use of grape-based color concentrates like “Mega Purple” and “Ultra Red.”

That being said, I can’t even figure out where to buy these additives online. Is Mega Purple a myth? I did find a few used in the home brew market (see sources). It lead me to believe that there are color additives out there, they’re just hard to find.

What About Color Additives?

No one has ever admitted to using wine grape color concentrates, so I was unable to make a conclusion in this video.

If you’re curious, the irreverent W. Blake Gray has tasted straight grape color concentrate and he said “it is almost flavorless,” but smelled like a “gymnasium floor.”

They Smelled Pretty Good.

The next thing we Somms do to assess wine is to smell it.

Louis M. Martini – This one actually smelled like Cabernet Sauvignon. It had all the right markers in the right places, even if they were a little overripe. There was baked black currant, green peppercorn, black cherry, vanilla cake, and even some herbal notes of mint. Not bad for a 15-dollar Cabernet.

J. Lohr – This one was a bit strange. It smelled more like the winery’s yeast program than a single-varietal wine. It smelled sour and milky, like blackberry yoghurt, with some subtle whiffs of fresh thyme and vanilla. That said, I can see why some wine drinkers might love these aromas – they’re fruity and creamy.

Smith & Hook – This was the only Cabernet leaning more towards the red-fruit spectrum (e.g. less ripe and more balanced). It had aromas of baked raspberry and dried raspberry bramble, along with a healthy wallop of creamy yeast. Still, the aromas were hard to distinguish and the wine was not particularly aromatic.

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They Tasted Crafted.

All three wines had an explosive zing of sweet-sour acidity that tasted like Sweetarts (the candy). As a trained taster, I associate this flavor with acidification.

Let’s be fair: adding acids to wine isn’t a bad thing. In fact, one of the common acids added to wine – tartaric acid – is derived from grapes. You’d be surprised how many wineries acidify. The problem with acidification is when it’s easily identifiable in the taste. It suggests that the flavor isn’t really a realistic reflection of what wine grapes can do naturally.

Another thing I noticed about these wines was the tannin – or lack thereof. Cabernet Sauvignon is a high tannin grape variety, but these wines seemed to drop the tannin out in the mid-palate. Where’d the tannin go?!

There are a lot of wine consumers out there who don’t like high tannin wines. And, it’s understandable because tannin tastes bitter and astringent. Still, it’s a crucial component that makes wines age-worthy (and is the only thing in wine that’s good for you).

The first wine I tasted gave me red flush within a minute or so of tasting it. They Gave Me Red Flush.

As soon as I took a sip of the first wine in the tasting my face started to swell and turn red. (You can actually see it in the video, even with the color correction!)

The truth is, even though I taste wine frequently, I’m pretty sensitive to red wines and flush often. (Or, at least I used to.) Here’s what I’ve learned about myself:

Obviously, these observations are not made in a controlled, scientific environment, so they’re rife with inaccuracy. Still, the flushing thing is a real problem and it happens to a lot of people (especially to those folks of Asian descent.)

Conclusion Time

After tasting these wines, I brought them home to my husband. He proceeded to drink the Louis M. Martini without a quibble.

The next night he drank the Smith & Hook but griped a bit about how I ought to buy better wine. (After all, I am a sommelier – for shame!)

He poured the J. Lohr down the drain.

So, there’s your answer.

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Wine Folly by Madeline Puckette - 1M ago

Let’s forget appellations, residual sugar levels, and the Prädikat system for a minute and talk about something super important: you. Who are you?

What kind of wine drinker are you?

For comparison’s sake (and for a laugh), we’ve simmered down the essential traits of some popular fictional wine drinkers.

Which one of these characters most fits the bill for you?

Do you drink? Do you know things?

Tyrion Lannister – Game of Thrones (The Rogue)

The whole thing is a game anyways… isn’t it? Meet your match: The Imp – the Lannister’s brilliant but debauched intellectual schemer.

You’re the sort of person who always has a plan, a sharp comeback, and several bottles of the good stuff. Your smarts (and your attitude) have gotten you into trouble, but you always start with the best intentions. It’s true, you have a soft spot for the little guy… and, frankly, the opposite sex.

What’s in your glass?

A wine that matches your pizazz and contrarian nature is most likely a blend of three famous grapes: Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre. The “GSM” or Rhône Blend (named after a Southern French wine region) is equal parts fruity and earthy, with the right amount of funk.

You’re passionate and knowledgeable (and had a little too much to drink).

Miles Raymond – Sideways (The Highbrow)

From the New World to the Old, when it comes to knowing wine, it’s hard to stump you. You love this beverage because it reflects the ethereal nature of life. Of course, very few others share your level of understanding and conversations can be a bit –shall we say– tiresome?

Once you get on a rant, it’s hard to stop you. After all, you can only hold out so long before speaking your mind. You carry yourself with as much dignity as possible, even though there are occasional rumors that you’ve been seen drinking from the spit bucket…

What’s in your glass?

Pinot Noir: The only grape just as finicky as you are but fantastic-when-done-right is Pinot Noir. This grape grows nearly everywhere, but you can name the best spots for it (in the world) on your fingers.

Your family may be dysfunctional, but you’re still Queen Bee.

Lucille Bluth – Arrested Development (The Matriarch)

You won’t be argued with, and you can’t be reasoned with. Your plebs – I mean “people”– simply don’t have the capacity to perform at your level.

If a few friends or family members get thrown in jail or lose a hand in the process (as was the case with Lucille Bluth), well, they probably weren’t listening to you, now were they? People might see you as stuck up and overbearing, but you can’t help it if you know what’s right.

What’s in your glass?

Dry Riesling: If there is ever a wine that cuts through the monotony of life (and sometimes the gnawing voices around you) it’s Riesling. Preferably dry and definitely from Germany or Austria. This wine has nerves, baby.

Youth is wasted on the young. Thankfully, there are pills for that.

Eddy & Patsy – Absolutely Fabulous (The Perpetual Dandy)

So what if they say your best years are behind you? You aim to live, and to live fabulously.

You don’t care what other people say: you’ve still got it. And you won’t hear anything to the contrary. For better or for worse.

What’s in your glass?

Prosecco: Technically you would have bought Champagne, but you blew your salary on a new age rejuvenation treatment. Fortunately, there is some fantastic Valdobbiadene Superiore that will do quite nicely.

Your tastes are strange… Oh, so strange.

Hannibal Lecter – Silence of the Lambs (The Outsider)

You accept nothing but the best. Other people just don’t understand your obsession with certain things. They can be charming right up ‘til they’re not. And yes, it has gotten you into some trouble in the past.

Still, as long as you follow a moral code, you’ll be okay. Right?

What’s in your glass?

Natural Wine: If there is one movement that tickles your taste for the strange it’s natural wine. Natural wine is the only wine that embellishes and honors the strange, rotten-but-not, fermentation aromas derived from wild yeasts. If natural wine is the oyster of the wine world, then you are hunting for pearls.

Jay Gatsby – Great Gatsby (The Socialite)

You weren’t born into the wine life: you adopted it with gusto. And while your reasons for getting into it are purely social, no one can deny that you’re the life of the party.

As far as you’re concerned, as long as there’s wine to be had and music to be played, your parties can go as long as they need to. Just try to avoid obsessing over other people’s wives, would you?

What’s in your glass?

Champagne, Barolo, and Sherry: Why would you ever relegate yourself to one wine? Champagne gets the party started, Barolo gets the mental juices flowing, and Sherry for when things get serious. After all, a socialite is prepared for any outcome (as long as it involves people!)

Are we missing a character we all deserve to know? Add yours in the comments below!

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Taste the difference between Champagne and Cava (and other high quality sparkling wines).
You can use these clues to find great quality sparkling wines made from around the world (and for better prices than those exclusively from Champagne!)

For those who love sparkling wines, you’re not going to want to miss this.

In this tasting, I pop a bottle of Champagne and compare it to a Spanish Cava and an Oregon sparkling wine.

In this tasting, Madeline Puckette pops a bottle of Champagne and compares it to Spanish Cava and an Oregon sparkling wine. Not All Sparkling Wines Are Made Equally

Surprise! Surprise!

The major difference that separates quality in sparkling wines (beyond grapes) is the production method.

For top-tier sparkling wines like Champagne, the secondary fermentation (the part that makes the bubbles) happens inside the bottle. By doing this, sparkling wines are able to age on the lees, under pressure for extended periods of time.

Did You Know? Bottle-fermented sparkling wines have about five atmospheres of pressure (~75 ft-lbs) inside a bottle?

Aging “en tirage” (as it’s called) is how you can get all those toasty, brioche flavors in sparkling wine. It is a result of autolysis.

Of course, if you’ve ever bought Champagne then you know how expensive it is! Fortunately, other wines use the same method.

Tips on What To Look For

Here are four big clues on what to look for on the label (or the winery site) for good sparkling wines:

  1. Wines are often labeled “Traditional Method,” “Metodo Classico,” or “Espumoso” to indicate wine is made using the bottle-fermented method.
  2. Wines should be aged in the bottle “en tirage” for at least 15 months to begin to achieve that toasty, autolytic character found in non-vintage Champagne.
  3. Many of these bubbly wines are barrel-fermented and undergo malolactic fermentation to achieve more creaminess.
  4. In Cava, look for “Reserva” and “Gran Reserva,” as indicated by official circular stickers on the label.
We tasted sparkling wines from Champagne Gaston Chiquet, Alta Alella, and Argyle. Champagne

Gaston Chiquet “Tradition Premier Cru” Brut NV

Really classic Champagne; “parmesan cheesy” aromas of fromage lead into toasted almond, baked apple, and citrus zest. On the palate, this wine is very explosive with acidity, leading into baked apple and almond notes. The finish sweetens up with white cherry notes and a long tingling acidic finish.

Reserva Cava

Alta Alella “Mirgin” Reserva Cava 2015

Aromas and flavors of lemon zest, lemon meringue, ginger, lemongrass, and Sichuan peppercorn with a slight beeswax note on the end invite us in. On the palate, very polarizing flavors of lime peel and lime juice that are counteracted with baked apple with a waxy, yellow apple note on the finish.

(Happy to note that this wine is made with organic grapes!)

  • Price: $22
  • Blend: 40% Xarel-lo, 30% Macabeu, 30% Parellada
  • Region:Alella, Spain (very close to Barcelona)
  • Alcohol: 12%
  • Dosage (Sweetness): 0 g/L RS (“Brut Nature” status!)
  • Tirage (Aging): 15 months
Oregon Sparkling

Argyle “Vintage” Brut 2015

Aromas and flavors of peaches, rose pastille candy, white cherry, and mint. On the palate, exploding bubbles lead into a rich red-fruity body on the mid palate and end on a minty, crunchy, bitter note.

  • Price: $28
  • Blend: 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Meunier
  • Region: Willamette Valley AVA (vineyards specifically in Dundee Hills AVA and Eola-Amity Hills AVA)
  • Alcohol: 12.5% ABV
  • Dosage (Sweetness): 6 g/L RS (puts it at “Extra Brut” status)
  • Tirage (Aging): at least 36 months
Who Won?

After finishing this tasting and shutting down the camera for the night, we drank these wines in this order:

  1. Champagne
  2. Cava
  3. Oregon bubbly

It was hard not to deny the delicous-ness of the marzipan notes and tingly acidity in the Champagne. It was a well-crafted wine that hit the mark in so many ways.

That said, for bone-dry bubbly lovers, the Cava came in at a close second. For the price, it really knocked our socks off.

We were really hoping to love the crap out of the Oregon bubbly. Its aromatic profile was definitely on point. Ultimately however, its shorter and flatter finish made it not as fun to drink.

Get The Book!

Want to improve your knowledge and confidence with wine? Wine Folly’s latest book is your guide to wine, whether you’re just getting started or working in the trade. Take a look inside!

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The craft of winemaking has inspired hundreds of thousands of people to leave city life for the country. For many, having a winery is a life-long dream.

On the surface, winemaking looks simple enough: you gather grapes, throw them in a tank, and then wait. After some time has passed, “voila!” You have wine.

But what is winemaking really like?

In truth, winemaking is an arduous process of observations, sanitization, and practices all for the purpose of shepherding billions of microbes through the bewildering process of fermentation.

Video produced by Guildsomm.com

So, let’s walk through the actual process of winemaking from start to finish.

Winemaking From Start to Finish

There is no single recipe for making wine. That said, there are a lot of well-known processes and techniques that produce the major styles of wine.

It all starts with picking grapes.

The crew picks Cabernet Sauvignon in Sonoma, California in the fall.

Unlike avocados or bananas, grapes don’t ripen once they’re picked. So, they’ve got to be picked just at the right moment.

During the harvest season, this means “all hands on deck.” Harvest jobs are plentiful but they are hard work!

  • Some grapes are picked slightly less ripe to produce wines with higher acidity (usually white and sparkling wines).
  • Some grapes are picked slightly more ripe to produce wines with higher sweetness concentration (such as late-harvest dessert wines).
  • Sometimes the weather does not cooperate and fails to ripen grapes properly! (This is why some vintages taste better than others.)

After the grapes are picked, they’re delivered to the winery.

Wineries have specialized tools for handling grapes at the winery.

The winery’s first step is to process the grapes. Wine grapes are never washed. (It would ruin the fruit-quality concentration!) So instead, they are sorted, squeezed, and prodded into submission.

Many types of red wine grapes (like Cabernet Sauvignon) are put on sorting tables to remove “MOG” (materials other than grapes).

Red wine grapes with thinner skins and soft tannins (such as Pinot Noir) are often fermented with their stems to add tannin and phenolics.

Thicker-skinned grapes (like Monastrell) are often destemmed to reduce bitter phenolics and harsh tannins.

White wines are typically not fermented with their skins and seeds attached. Most white wine grapes go directly into a pneumatic wine press which gently squeezes the grapes with an elastic membrane. This is how it works:

The stuff leftover after squeezing the grapes is called pomace. Grape pomace has many potential uses beyond the winery, including cosmetics and food products.

Some white wines soak with the skins and seeds for a short period of time. This adds phenolics (like tannin) but overall, it increases the richness of white wines. (BTW, this is how orange wine is made!)

Juice and grape must is now transferred to fermentation vessels.

There are many different kinds of fermentation tanks. The three most popular types are wood, stainless steel, and concrete. Each has their own unique traits that affect how the wine ferments.

Next comes the most important part: the yeast.

Many winemakers opt to use commercial yeasts to better control the outcome of the fermentation.

Other winemakers develop their own local yeast strains or let nature take its course and allow “wild” yeasts ferment the wine naturally.

Either way, here’s essentially how it works:

Alcohol producing yeast, Saccharomyces consume grape sugars (the white ball) and produce ethanol.

Yeast consumes the sugar in the grape must and then poops out ethanol.

Grape must sweetness is measured in Brix and very basically, 1 Brix results in 0.6% of alcohol by volume.

For example, if you pick grapes at 24º Brix, you’ll get a wine with 14.5% alcohol by volume. (The actual concept is a bit more complicated, but this dirty fast version works!)

Red wines ferment a bit hotter than whites, usually between 80º – 90º F (27º – 32º C). Some winemakers allow fermentations to rise even higher to tweak the flavor.

White wines, on the other hand, need to preserve the delicate floral and fruit aromas, so they’re often fermented a lot cooler, around 50º F (10º C) and up.

This is especially true for the aromatic wine varieties (those with high terpene content), such as Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Muscat Blanc, and Torrontés.

While the wine is fermenting, carbon dioxide is released, which causes grape seeds and skins to rise to the surface.

Some winemakers control this by punching down the “cap” three times a day.

Other winemakers prefer to use “pump overs,” where juice from the bottom is gently poured over the top of the skins and seeds.

The choice of “punch down” vs “pump over” really depends on the type of wine grape and desired taste profile. Generally speaking, lighter wines use punch downs and bolder wines use pump overs. But, as with all things wine, exceptions abound!

When the fermentation is done, it’s time to rack the wine out of the fermentation vessel.

The juice that runs free (without being pressed) is generally considered the purest, highest quality wine. It’s called “free run” wine and is kind of like the “extra virgin” wine.

The rest of the wine is “press wine” and is generally slightly more rustic, with harsher-tasting phenolics.

Press wine is typically blended back into the free run wine. (Remember: the less waste, the better!)

Finally, the wine moves into what the French call “élevage.” Élevage is like a fancy way of saying, “waiting around.”

That said, a lot happens in the winery while we wait for wine to cure into something great.

Wines go into barrels, bottles, or storage tanks. Some wines will wait for five years before being released; others, just a few weeks.

During this time, wines are racked, tested, tasted, stirred (lees stirring), and often blended together to create a final wine.

Also, most red wines (and some white wines – like Chardonnay) go through Malolactic Fermentation (MLF), which is where microbes eat sour acids and produce softer, more buttery acids.

So, next time you look at a bottle, think of all the work that went into making it.

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