The sun is out. How long has it been? It’s still cold, but the heavy boots can finally hit the back of the closet. This morning it was two-sweater-weather, but now it’s warm and sunny. The future looks very bright.

Spring is a weird time of year. Our bank accounts have recovered from the holiday season, but there’s still no need to splurge. Buying a case of thoughtfully selected wines to get you through this turbulent weather is really the only logical option.

Making a Case of Spring Wines

Our mixed case is very much inspired by the weather. It’s totally unpredictable… One moment it’s “rosé all day” and the next, “where’s my big ol’ bear-hug of a red?” We also wanted to pick things that you could get for under $20 (and preferably less).

So, here are 12 of some of the best wines possible to fit this undulating, two-faced season that pair perfectly with spring’s verdant cuisine.

The Shortlist
  1. Grüner Veltliner – an herb-crusted white from Lower Austria
  2. Vinho Branco – a citrusy white blend from Portugal
  3. Lambrusco di Sorbara – the lightest red of the Lambrusco family
  4. PNW Rosé – a group of zesty, fruit-forward rosé wines from the Pacific Northwest
  5. Gewürztraminer – a rosy, aromatic white that’s best consumed fresh
  6. Gamay – a light-bodied red that smells like flowers and berries
  7. Cool-Climate Pinot Noir – the classic springy red wine choice – elegant
  8. Primitivo – like drinking fruit wine on an Italian leather sofa
  9. Nerello Mascalese – the un-Pinot all the somms are talking about from Sicily
  10. Languedoc-Roussillon GSM Blends – giving Côtes du Rhône a run for its money
  11. Bonarda – the Argentinean grape (not Malbec!) that no one’s ever heard of
  12. Right Bank Bordeaux – when you’re in need of a big old bear hug

PNW Rosé

A group of zesty, fruit-forward rosé wines from the Pacific Northwest.

Rosé is a spring and summer staple, heck, even for winter…don’t judge.

Besides the obvious ethereal Provençal rosé, Pacific Northwest wines offer ample acidity, making them a perfect match for spring harvest veggies. Washington features blends, Oregon specializes in Pinot Noir rosé, and British Columbia shows potential with Merlot and Cabernet Franc.

  • What to Expect: Ranging from sultry and rich to light and bright, rosés tend to the red fruit side of the spectrum. Wines can be light and mineral driven, or full and lushly fruit-forward.
  • Pair it With: Mid-weight rosé is perfect with salmon, or a Niçoise salad. Think strawberry salad or sashimi with lighter styles of rosé. For fuller expressions (even those with a hint of sweet), go for BBQ fare.
  • Geeky Alt: Rosé is one of the most versatile wines for pairing, but check out orange wine for an earthier, funkier alternative.


It’s like drinking fruit wine on an Italian leather sofa.

The genetic twin of Zinfandel, this Puglian grape produces wines both high in alcohol and full in body, but with higher acidity than its North American brethren.

  • What to Expect: A deeply colored wine, with flavors of juicy plum, black cherry, blackberry, and spice.
  • Pair it With: Primitivo (or Zin) is fantastic when paired with hamburgers, eggplant Parmesan, pizza, or aged cheeses.
  • Geeky Alt: Do a side-by-side with a California Zin for perspective.

Languedoc-Roussillon Reds

Giving Côtes du Rhône a run for its money.

Historically known for bulk-production, there’s been a massive shift toward quality with Languedoc-Roussillon red wines. The regions of Pic St. Loup, Faugères, Collioure, Maury, and Terrasses du Larzac are now becoming known for wines with serious character and virtue. You can also find great values labeled Coteaux du Languedoc. These wines feature Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, and Mourvèdre.

Overall, we’re continually impressed with the quality-to-price ratio of Languedoc and Roussillon!

  • What to Expect: Generally medium plus to full bodied, showing notes of candied red and black fruits, plum, peppery spice, and leather.
  • Pair it With: Try these wines with grilled meats and roasted vegetables for a winning combination.
  • Geeky Alt: Pick up a bottle of Spanish Priorat for a dustier take on Grenache.

Grüner Veltliner

An herb-crusted white from Lower Austria.

Straight outta’ Austria, Grüner Veltliner is a delicious alternative to Sauvignon Blanc that screams green.

  • What to Expect: Brimming with bright citrus, white pepper and a wet-stone sort of minerality, Grüner showcases screaming acidity and textural phenolics.
  • Pair it With: This wine plays nicely with a host of fresh spring dishes, from bitter greens to citrus dressings.
  • Geeky Alt: Look for the high-acid Greek grape, Assyrtiko, for a slightly more aromatic option.

Nerello Mascalese

The “un-Pinot” all the somms are talking about from Sicily.

The cool-climate, high altitude Mount Etna is located on the eastern side of the warm island of Sicily. This is where we find the Etna DOC. These wines are made from Nerello Mascalese, and a smaller portion of Nerello Cappuccio.

  • What to Expect: Medium to light body, tart red and black fruits, herbal undertones, and a distinct slate-like, volcanic minerality.
  • Pair it With: Use the age-old “grows together, goes together” rule here, and try cooking up some Sicilian fare. Think oily fish and tomato sauces, or even rustic vegetable dishes.
  • Geeky Alt: Check out Austrian Zweigelt. It’s deliciously different and falls somewhere between a Pinot Noir and a Syrah.


A light-bodied red that smells like flowers and berries.

Gamay Noir is at home in Beaujolais. At its most basic level, this wine is light, refreshing, and full of juicy fruit. So, level up to any of Beaujolais’ ten crus and see how these provide a wine with more substance and strength.

  • What to Expect: These tend to showcase refreshing red fruit, sometimes with a hint of pepper and an underlying earthy note.
  • Pair it With: Gamay is stellar with anything picnic related (think cured meats, pâté, cheeses, spreads) as well as grilled glazed salmon or roasted vegetables.
  • Geeky Alt: Check out the rare and juicy Pelaverga from Piedmont for another interesting light bodied choice.

Vinho Branco

A citrusy white wine blend from Portugal.

Look into those Portugal blends that feature any of these spectacular indigenous white wine varieties: Arinto, Encruzado, and Antão Vaz.

  • What to Expect: Generally dry, ranging from light and spritzy Vinho Verde to rounder, fuller single varietal expressions. Wine from Portugal is an epic value.
  • Pair it With: See what you can find in your local bottle shop and tell us what you’d pair with it – other than a sunny day, of course! But, no one’s judging if that’s the move.
  • Geeky Alt: Look for a Spanish Verdejo for another unique style.

Pinot Noir

The classic springy, elegant red wine choice.

Spring isn’t complete without at least one bottle of Pinot Noir. If you haven’t had one from Oregon or New Zealand, now is the time.

  • What to Expect: Pinot’s flavors range from bright red fruits to darker black cherries, always displaying a hallmark savory note. Try New Zealand or Oregon for outstanding non-Burgundian options.
  • Pair it With: With bright acidity and fine-grained tannins, try Pinot with grilled fish, lighter meats, duck, pork, as well as pâtés or terrines.
  • Geeky Alt: Check out Trousseau from the Jura region, located just east of Burgundy for another light, French option.

Right Bank Bordeaux

When you’re in need of a big bear hug.

The right bank of Bordeaux includes the over-arching Libournais area, which includes the famous appellations of Saint-Émilion and Pomerol. What’s surprising, is that there are still many producers here offering outstanding wines around $30 a bottle. (Surprisingly, this is not the case in Napa Valley!)

  • What to Expect: Merlot-dominant blends from the right bank are an ever so slightly plusher style of Bordeaux. Expect flavors of plum, black cherry, licorice, tobacco, cedar, and smoke.
  • Pair it With: With softer tannins than it’s left bank brother, Merlot-dominant blends play well with grilled meats, as well as smoked or grilled fish, especially those with Mediterranean flavors such as olives or herbs de Provence.
  • Geeky Alt: Look for wines from new world countries labelled as “Meritage” for a riper, richer style made in the Bordeaux model.


A rosy, aromatic white that’s best consumed fresh.

This distinctly aromatic variety originated in either northern Italy or Germany – the debate is on-going. It is also found in Alsace, France, as well as British Columbia, USA, and Australia.

  • What to Expect: A bold nose of lychee and roses, Gewürz at its best is an aromatic explosion. Notorious for high alcohol and low acidity, these wines can become flabby in a warmer climate. Look to cooler regions (Northern Italy, Coastal CA, etc.) for more restrained styles.
  • Pair it With: Wines with residual sugar and aromatics beg for spicy or spiced foods: Thai, Vietnamese, and Sichuan, especially. Or, opt for rich dishes like French onion soup, foie gras, and strong cheeses like Muenster to cut the sweetness.
  • Geeky Alt: The intensely perfumed Torrontés from Argentina is a great alternative, lending slightly higher acidity and less weight.

Lambrusco (di Sorbara)

The lightest red of the Lambrusco family.

Sparkling red wine, baby! At home in Emilia-Romagna, Sorbara is one of the three most popular types in the Lambrusco familia. Grasparossa and Salamino (the grape bunches are shaped like salami) are the two other most commonly seen.

  • What to Expect: These wines are seriously refreshing and lightly sparkling (frizzante.) They show zippy red fruit and high acidity. The key is freshness: drink young.
  • Pair it With: Bright acidity and light tannins cut through richness and complement fatty meats. Or, try with charcuterie when having a picnic in the park…whatever makes you happy
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If you think all German wine is white, this up-and-coming region will have lots of surprises for you. This place is all about German red wines.

Württemberg is the place to discover distinctive, delicious red wines that span the range from earthy and spicy to lively and floral. This in-depth guide to the wines of Württemberg will let you in on all the secrets.

Württemberg Wine Guide

You may know Mosel, Nahe, and Rheingau as the homes of Germany’s legendary vineyards. Surprisingly, Württemberg outproduces all three, but most people have never even heard of it.

The reason? Locals guzzle “all but a small trickle of the wines,” as Frank Schoonmaker wrote in his classic 1956 guide, The Wines of Germany. The region has the country’s highest per-capita wine consumption.

In the past, Württemberg was, in wine writer Jon Bonné’s words, “Germany’s great afterthought” — a place for simple, often thin and sweetish wines. But a new generation of gifted young winemakers is changing the tune.

Now it’s “simply too good to overlook,” says Bonné.

Critic Stephan Reinhardt notes the wines are “much fresher, purer, dryer, more complex and elegant than in former times.” Germans have made Württemberg a happy hunting ground for new red wine discoveries, with a bit of world-class Riesling too.

Wines to Know

The region’s warm days and cool nights allow red grapes to develop full flavors, while preserving characteristic cool-climate freshness from retained acidity. Climate change has been, if anything, a boon to Württemberg’s wine scene. Red grapes routinely reach full ripeness.

The Red Wine Varieties


(Schiava) A light, snappy red wine with flavors of violet, red currants and strawberries.

True to its Alpine roots, Trollinger (the “Swabian national drink”) is as refreshing as a bluebird day in the mountains. It’s vivacious and light-bodied, with snappy acidity and subdued tannins. In the glass, look for flavors and aromas of violet, red currants, strawberries, sweet or sour red cherries, and sometimes a hint of bitter almond at the finish. Some natural versions are closer to the Poulsard of Jura (imagine a tart, earthy Pinot).

Trollinger tastes great with a range of foods. Definitely consider the hearty local fare of Swabian dumplings and roast suckling pig.


(Blaufränkisch) A smooth, medium-bodied red with flavors of black pepper, marionberry and woodland forest.

The dark, handsome prince of German reds, Blaufränkisch can be best summed up in the words of one fan as “Swabian Bojo“: juicy, fresh, and intense, but still only medium bodied, with soft tannins. Loads of black pepper, marionberry, plum, sweet or sour black cherry, and an earthy, woodland character. It can be more savory and herbaceous than fruity. And, it is fast becoming Württemberg’s flagship serious red, with excellent aging potential for the best examples.

First documented in the mid-19th century in its Austrian homeland. At that time, in what was then the Kingdom of Württemberg, a “wine improvement society” advocated replacing high-yielding local varieties with Lemberger.


(Pinot Noir) wines with tart fruit flavors of rhubarb, sour cherry and spicy acidity.

Less of this Burgundian grape is planted in Württemberg than in neighboring Baden. Notable for its radiant red fruit, rhubarb, sour cherry notes, sometimes with baking or pungent spice accents, fine tannins, palpable minerality, freshness, and intensity.


(Pinot Meunier) A variant of Pinot that ripens slightly sooner making elegant and minerally Pinot Noir-like wines.

Unlike Riesling, this red grape, better known as a player in Champagne blends, is a specialty of Württemberg, where it makes great Schillerwein (the local term for a crisp, light rosé). It finds its way into some sparkling Sekt as well.

The White Wine Varieties


Within Württemberg, look to the micro-region: the Remstal. This small side valley, with its higher elevations, cooler temperatures, optimal sunlight hours, and limestone and sandstone soils gives firm, compact, concentrated, deeply expressive Rieslings loaded with stone and citrus fruit, wet rocks, fresh herbs, and often a marked saltiness.

The best of these Rieslings are built to age — in the words of one Württemberg producer — “forever.” As in other parts of Germany, Württemberg Rieslings can be bone dry (Trocken) to sweet (look for words like Feinherb or Kabinett to indicate this).


A true native! First bred in 1969 in Württemberg and named after a local poet, it is a crossing of Trollinger and Riesling (yes, a red and white). Compared with Riesling, Kerner can be grown in less favorable sites and offers higher yields, explaining why it’s the most widely planted modern crossing in Germany. Wines are fresh, racy, and fruity or savory — not unlike Riesling — yet milder in acidity, with subtle notes of apricot and almond.



Germany’s first Sekt winery opened in Esslingen-am-Neckar, Württemberg in 1826. Grapes grown in cooler parts of the region where high levels of acidity are retained are typically the source for these sparkling wines.

Fast Facts About Württemberg Wines
  • Highest red wine production (80% of total) in Germany
  • Highest per capita wine consumption in Germany
  • Fourth-largest of Germany’s 13 wine growing regions (aka Anbaugebiete)
  • Growing climate is cool continental: cold winters, warm, balmy, sun-filled summers, and plentiful rainfall
  • Latitude is roughly 48°N (same as Minnesota and Montana)
  • Total 27,895 acres / 11,289 hectares of vineyards
  • Average vineyard size is > 1.2 acres / 0.6 hectares
  • Most vineyards are on slopes or steep hillsides on some of the highest vineyard land in the country
  • Highest proportion of cooperatively made wine in Germany: 16,500 winegrowers, of which 14,980 belong to co-ops
  • The Neckar River (and its tributaries) moderate temperatures and move air to prevent frost and disease
First in Wine Education

Württemberg pioneered the movement to establish viticultural schools in Germany. Weinsberg was the first, founded in 1860. (Geisenheim, in the Rheingau, now better known internationally, was not founded until 1872.) Weinsberg gave the world the white grape Kerner, a Riesling x Trollinger hybrid.


Winemakers to Watch

Even though the vast majority of Württemberg wines are still made at co-ops, several individual producers are worth noting. The following Weingüter (estates in German) represent some of the best of what’s coming out of Württemberg right now. (Names you’re most likely to encounter outside Germany.)

In no particular order:

How to Find a Great Bottle of Württemberg Wine

Finding good wine from Württemberg can be challenging because only a fistful of producers are being exported. However, there are a few secrets to connecting with a great bottle short of buying a plane ticket:

  1. Check for the grape variety (Trollinger, Lemberger, Spätburgunder, or Riesling)
  2. Search the back label for the region of origin (Württemberg)
  3. Looking for dry red wines? Dry wines are labeled “Trocken.”
  4. Feeling fancy? Look for the VDP symbol on the bottleneck as an indicator of something especially high quality and distinctive.
Where in the World is Württemberg?

From Stuttgart, Germany’s car capital (home to Audi, Mercedes, and Porsche), you’re just a 10-minute drive from Württemberg’s hilly grand cru vineyards. There are thousands of vest pocket vineyards clustered along the region’s many river valleys.

This patch of postcard-perfect Germany is usually lumped together with Baden, since the two form one of Germany’s federal states.

But in wine terms, Württemberg is the cooler and more productive region. While both regions excel in red wines, Baden’s warmer, sunnier climate (much like that of Alsace, which it borders) allows it to specialize in Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).

The visually stunning organic Stettener Mönchberg vineyards at Weingut Karl Haidle. Photo courtesy of Germanwines.de.

Württemberg’s relative coolness and soil types suit it best for Trollinger (21% of all plantings), Lemberger (15% and rising) and Schwarzriesling (14%), and, in some areas, Riesling (18%), and a small amount of Spätburgunder (11%).

Württemberg’s Grand Crus

Most of Germany’s best vineyards are reserved for royalty: Riesling. But in Württemberg, you can find grand cru sites planted with Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Lemberger (Blaufränkisch), and other varieties too. Expect exceptional concentration and finesse from these wines, with price tags to match.

Wine Soils of Württemberg

Most of Württemberg is nestled in the foothills of the so-called “Swabian Alb,” a highland region that rose up out of the Jurassic Sea millions of years ago. Some of the area’s most distinctive soil types are:

  • Muschelkalk (shell limestone): ancient seabeds that are now the chalky preserves of millions of years worth of fossilized sea life.
  • Bunter Mergel (colored marls): a crumbly, multihued mix of limestone and clay.
  • Schilfsandstein (reed sandstone): coarse, compressed sand and silt soil that takes its name from the ancient reeds (Schilf) fossilized within it.

These low-nutrient soils are tough to farm for food crops, but are perfect for vines. They force roots deep into the earth and control vigor, yielding concentrated, expressive wines.

If You Go

Besen are a Württemberg specialty. They are seasonal taverns where you can enjoy the wines of that vineyard and sample local dishes. This is a great way to explore the region. Look for a broom (Besen in German) at the door to point the way.


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One of the few red grapes with red flesh, Alicante Bouschet is an oddity that makes big, juicy red wines.

Guide to Alicante Bouschet Wine

Some grapes evolved through nature. This one was the result of a science experiment. Over its 150-year history, Alicante Bouschet has always been in the background – as a secret ingredient to embolden other red wines, or to make bathtub booze during Prohibition.

Today, Alicante Bouschet is finally bottled on its own. Lovers of rich, fruit-forward reds like Shiraz, Zinfandel, and Cabernet Sauvignon take note: Alicante Bouschet is quite the find!

Oddball Alert: The Reddest of Red Grapes

If you peel back the skin of an Alicante Bouschet grape, you’ll see what separates it from the rest. Unlike other grapes, which have clear flesh, Alicante Bouschet has red flesh. (Be prepared for purple teeth!)

Alicante Bouschet is a teinturier grape. (The name comes from the French word for “dye.”) It’s a bit of a rarity in the wine world.

Alicante Bouschet’s Family Tree

Unlike other varieties, Alicante Bouschet came into existence by careful breeding. The goal was to create a grape that had high color intensity, productivity, and fruitiness. A botanist named Henri Bouschet managed to do this in the mid-1800s by crossing fruity-tasting Grenache (known as Alicante in southern France) with a teinturier grape developed by his dad, called Petit Bouschet.

Then, after the phylloxera blight devastated French vineyards, there was an upsurge of Alicante Bouschet – the vines grow easily and yield bucket loads of grapes.

Of course, France isn’t Alicante Bouschet’s only claim to fame. It was a key wine grape during Prohibition in the US as well.

Back then, a little-publicized loophole allowed families to make a small amount of wine at home. Alicante Bouschet’s thick, tannin-filled skins made it ideal for transport to the East coast.

Essentially, you would order a few Alicante Bouschet “grape bricks,” soak them in water, and Voila! Hello, semi-legal bathtub wine.

Alicante Bouschet Tasting Notes

Big, bold Alicante Bouschet is unquestionably fruit-forward, with flavors ranging from fresh to jammy blackberries, blueberries, black cherries, and more. It has spicy, smoky flavors, along with sweeter tones of dark chocolate, baking spice, and vanilla bean. (Especially when aged in new oak!)

While Alicante Bouschet tends to be higher in body, alcohol, and tannins, its structure varies based on climate. In cooler regions, the acidity can be sharp (like Nebbiolo – and age-worthy too!), but in hotter areas, it’s more like mellow, ready-to-drink black gold.

Where To Find Alicante Bouschet

In the mid-1900s, many French and American producers realized that Alicante Bouschet wasn’t really necessary. Winemakers no longer needed the grape’s rich color, so growth declined.

Don’t worry, little orphan Alicante Bouschet – the Iberian Peninsula was happy to adopt this grape. Both Portugal and Spain have planted more Alicante Bouschet over the last 50 years.

Honestly, it’s probably better-suited to the climates in these two countries anyway. Alicante Bouschet ripens late and loves hot, dry areas with lots of sun.

Still, if you leave Alicante Bouschet untended it becomes a runaway train, yielding tons of deeply-colored fruit, but with tasteless juice. So, producers have to prune vines aggressively to reduce yields and concentrate flavors.


Big, Smoky Reds

Among the country’s many indigenous varieties, Alicante Bouschet is one of southern Portugal’s most important red grapes. It has a long history in the hot, dry Alentejo region. It’s increasingly available as a single-varietal wine or blended with grapes like Aragonez (aka Tempranillo) and Trincadeira.

Definitely take note if you spot a Portuguese Alicante Bouschet, as these offer stupendous value.


Juicy, Fruity Reds

In Spain, Alicante Bouschet is more commonly known as Garnacha Tintorera. The warm, central Almansa region within Castilla-La Mancha is the most important area for Alicante Bouschet. You’ll find both single-varietal wines or blends made with Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) and Tempranillo.


Bold, Earthy Reds

In Alicante Bouschet’s homeland, it is mostly relegated to red blends. You’ll find it in Languedoc-Roussillon, South West, Provence, and even Corsica.

Other Spots

California, Chile, and Africa

Alicante Bouschet grows in Chile, Tuscany, Calabria, Israel, and even Algeria. Just under 1,000 acres of Alicante Bouschet grow in California, particularly in the warm, central valley regions of Lodi and Madera. Perhaps American producers will champion this grape once again!

Check out the Wines of Alentejo

Read more about the world’s wine grapes in this amazing book.

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Wine lovers buy bottles of wine. Wine fanatics buy cases.

Learn how much is in a case of wine, what it should cost, and how to put together a great mixed case.

Ultimate Guide to Buying a Case of Wine

How Many Bottles Are in a Case of Wine?

A standard case in the US contains 12 bottles (750 ml each) of wine. This is nine liters of wine, total. The best part about buying wine by the case is what we call the “Costco Factor.” By buying in bulk, a discount often applies.

  • Special bottle sizes are often sold in different case sizes. (E.g. magnums, splits, etc.)
  • High-end wines are typically offered in cases of six.

Many retailers throw in a 10 to 20 percent discount when you opt for a full case of wine. (Yeah, really!) Online shops may also offer free shipping for case orders as well. This is a huuuuge money saver.

How Much is a Case of Wine?

That depends. Cases are found and assembled across many price points, but you should plan to spend at least $100 for decent quality.

If that sounds like a lot, remember – you’re getting a dozen bottles of wine – that’s less than $10 per bottle!

To get a target case price, multiply the price of your usual bottle by 12. This will get you a case of wine slightly above the quality that you’re used to, since you’ll be getting a case discount. Here’s a general idea of what you’ll get with a 10 to 20 percent discount:

Under $100

Value-driven wines, with an average bottle price of $10. You could put together a decent pack of simple, easy-drinking, party wines for this price.

Around $125

Value-driven wines with a bit more diversity, with an average bottle price of $12. Opt for a few $8 to $10 bottles, and you can add in a few $16 to $18 bottles to explore something new too. For the most part, these are bulk-made wines, but that doesn’t mean they’re low quality.

Around $150

Good-quality wines, with an average bottle price of $15. Get a few Douro red blends around $10 and you could spring for the $20 Willamette Pinot Noir or Etna Rosso. Choose lesser-known regions and more affordable wine countries for the best value.

Around $200

Very good-quality wines, with an average bottle price of $20. You could probably add in some classics, like Chablis or Rioja, and still get excellent bottles from less expensive regions like the Loire Valley, the Finger Lakes, or Washington. This is the sweet spot for great quality wine at a great value.

Around $300

High-quality wines, with an average bottle price of $30. If you’re a fan of big-name regions like Napa or Bordeaux, expect to spend at least this much. This price point should get you the best wines from lesser-known regions and beginner bottles from popular regions.

Around $500

Very high-quality case, with an average bottle price of $50. This is a “treat yo’self” case, filled with Champagne, Burgundy, and Barolo. Get a few Rosso di Montalcinos or Sonoma Chardonnays around $30 and you could probably splurge for an aged wine or vintage Champagne.

Pro-Tip: Get one or two splurge bottles (like that Barbaresco you’ve been eyeing but is just a bit above your usual wine budget). The case discount will help reduce the cost, and the other, less expensive bottles will balance out the total.

How to Build a Great Mixed Case

The perfect mixed case comes in all arrays, depending on the wine drinker, the occasion(s), and the budget.

Why Are You Buying Wine?
  • I need a catch-all case to have on hand for everyday drinkers and dinner pairings.
  • I need a mix of bottles for an upcoming barbecue or other special event.
  • I want to challenge my blind tasting skills with a comparative tasting of classic wines.
  • I want to expand my palate by adding a few quirky, obscure grapes to my usual faves.

For a Great Basic Starter Case:

  • 2 sparkling wines
  • 5 whites (some light, some bold)
  • 5 reds (some light, some bold)

From there, customize your case.

If there are plenty of rosé options available, take away two whites and add in two bottles of rosé instead.

Love sparkling but hate red? Sub a few bottles of bubbly instead of so many red wines.

Hate light reds? Add a few more full-bodied ones – although, it’s always good to try at least one new thing.

And, it never hurts to add in something sweet for dessert. The possibilities are endless!

Last Word

If there’s a wine shop that you trust and you’re up for an adventure, make your retailer’s day by asking her to put together a mixed case for you. Give your budget and wine preferences, and you’ll probably end up with a case filled with happy surprises. (And, you’ll make a friend for life).

Buying wine by the case is a great way to save money, explore new wines, or characterize your household with a designated “house bottle.” Soon you’ll be wondering why you haven’t been buying cases all along – and how they always seem to disappear more quickly than you expected.

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Wine Folly by Madeline Puckette - 1M ago

Any wine – be it Riesling or Cabernet – can be either dry or sweet.

Of course, popular varietal wines and styles tend to share the same sweetness level. Wine sweetness ranges from virtually nothing to upwards of 70% sweetness (like a rare bottle of Spanish PX!).

Here are a couple of simplified charts of popular wines listed from dry to sweet.

Since wine ranges in sweetness, you have to do a little recon to figure out the actual sweetness level of a specific wine. You can use wine tech sheets to find the exact number. (So useful!)

When reading a tech sheet:

  • Wines below 1% sweetness are generally considered dry.
  • Wines above 3% sweetness are considered “off dry,” or semi-sweet.
  • Wines above 5% sweetness are noticeably sweet!
  • Dessert wines start at around 7–9% sweetness.
  • 1% sweetness is equal to 10 g/L residual sugar (RS).
  • 1% sweetness equates to a little less than 2 carbs per 5 oz / 150 ml serving.
  • 1% sweetness equals about 6 calories per 5 oz / 150 ml serving.

By the way, the average wine drinker can’t detect sweetness levels below 1.5%. That said, trained tasters guesstimate sweetness within about 0.2% – this is totally learnable!

Where does the sweetness in wine come from?

Thousands of years ago, winemakers figured out how to stop fermentation (by various means) to keep a little leftover grape sugar in their wines. This is where sweetness in wine comes from.

Wine geeks call these leftover sugars “residual sugar,” because the sugar comes from the sweetness of grapes. There are, of course, some poor quality wines made with added sugar (called chaptalization), but this is generally frowned upon.

In truth, we humans are not particularly adept at sensing sweetness. For example bitterness, or tannins in wine, reduces the perception of sugar. So does acidity.

Unlike still wines, sparkling wines are allowed to add sweetness. This is where the term “Brut” comes from. Find out more about:

Sweetness in Champagne

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We asked Toronto-based somm (and lover of long hairs) to offer up her silliest wine names for cats.

It’s no secret that city-dwelling sommeliers have a penchant for kitty-cats. Maybe it’s because they purr when you stay home to study wine. Or, maybe it’s because they act just as bipolar as you do when you drink. Either way, it’s perfectly fitting to name your cat after something wine-related.

Wine Names for Cats
  1. Pinot “Pee-no”

    Sphynx: Hairless, skinny, curious, and meant to be revered.
    Pinot (Noir): Dignified, fussy, delicious, and meant to be revered.

  2. Champagne “sham-pain”

    Bengal: Like a baby leopard. Rare. Expensive. Unusual.
    Champagne: Like your baby; the best, even if you can’t afford it.

  3. Malo “Mal-oh”

    Orange Tabby Cat: He’s fat and lazy, but loveable, like a lasagne-eating cartoon cat.
    Malo(lactic Fermentation): The process that makes the buttery, round, oaky Chardonnay that is always there for you.

  4. Lees “leez”

    Long-Haired Cat: It could be a small cat, but you can’t tell because of all that hair.
    Lees: Lees is a popular winemaking method that makes white wines richer and creamier.

  5. Peluda “pey-loo-dah”

    Persian Cat: Dignified and ornamental, with a soft musical voice and All. That. Hair.
    Peluda (Garnacha): AKA “Hairy Grenache,” from the French pelut, meaning “furry.” Really.

  6. Brix “Brix”

    Munchkin Cat: Small, sweet, people-pleasers, with larger than life personalities and stubby legs.
    Brix: Sugar metering system, perfect for a sweet, energetic little dude.

  7. Merlot “mur-low”

    Scottish Fold Cat: Fuzzy, poofy and round, with owl-like faces.
    Merlot: In the new world, a lush warm hug of a wine, for your warm hug of a cat.

  8. Magnum “mag-num”

    Ragamuffin Cat: Always friendly, and they have a tendency to overeat.
    Magnum Bottle: What’s better than one bottle of wine? Why, an even bigger bottle, of course.

  9. Amphora “am-forah”

    Siamese Cat: A regal type of cat that does what it likes and wants to be worshipped for it.
    Amphora: An ancient and unique type of vessel that natural winemakers worship.

  10. Vinho “Vin-ho”

    Manx Cat: No tailed charmers that hop like rabbits.
    Vinho (Verde): Spritzy and bright, with aromas that bounce out of the glass.

  11. Solera “So-lair-uh”

    British Shorthair Cat: The round-faced inspiration of the Cheshire cat.
    Solera: The aging method for Sherry wines that makes them gain roundness (and puts a smile on your face).

  12. Refosco “Reh-foh-skoh”

    Lykoi Cat: The werewolf cat…partially hairless, totally weird.
    Refosco: The wines are strong flavored, tannic, and usually show a slight bitterness. Perf.

  13. Gris “Gree”

    Calico: Your multi-colored friend.
    (Pinot) Gris: A grape that’s not really red and not really white. It makes wines that range from white to deep orangey-pink.

  14. Somm “Sohm”

    Tuxedo Cat: The most dapper little kitty you ever did see.
    Somm(elier): “Sohm-mul-yay” After all, your cat already has the outfit.

  15. Nero “Nair-oh”

    Black Cats: One that you’re obviously cool with crossing your path.
    Nero (d’Avola): Nero means “black” in Italian so, this Sicilian wine is great choice!

  16. Pedro “Pay-droh”

    Needy Cats: You can’t leave the house without him weaving between your legs asking what you’re abandoning him for now.
    Pedro (Ximenez): A cloyingly sweet wine for your cloyingly sweet cat.

  17. Eiswein “ice-svine”

    Smart Cats: Like Einstein, but not. Your lil’ buddy better be a smarty.
    Ice Wine: One of the sweetest wines in the world. Made entirely of grapes naturally frozen to the vine.

  18. Honorable Mentions
  19. Dom: “Dom,” after Dom Perignon. When your cat is the closest thing you’ve had to a fatherly figure in your life.
  20. Krug: “Kroooog.” Why not make your mouth water for bubbly every time you call your cat’s name?
  21. Brion: “Bree-on,” after Château Haut Brion, the only winery in Bordeaux with a Premier Cru Classé red and white wine!
  22. Screagle: “Skree-gull,” the pet name for the Napa Valley cult wine, Screaming Eagle.
  23. Möet: “Mo-aye.” The largest Champagne house.
  24. Nebuchadnezzar: A bottle named after a Babylonian king that holds 20 standard bottles of wine. Perfect name for a fat cat.
  25. Unico: “You-nee-ko.” One of Spain’s top Tempranillo producers. They’ve tamed a wild thing (the Tempranillo grape), and you can too.
  26. MosCATo: As if you need a reason.

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When thinking sushi, the first thought is usually sake (saa-kaay), and rightfully so. Colloquially known as Japanese rice wine, sake is actually closer to beer than wine. But, that’s another story.

So, in lieu of the classic, let’s chat (sushi-friendly) grape-based beverages.

In this article, the aim is to simplify some of that “what if,” discerned through tireless (and totally selfless) tasting of wines alongside some of the more interesting styles of sushi.

The Best Wine For Sushi

Sushi is one of the more diverse types of food. There are many regional variants and many North American adaptations. Never before have there been so many flavor options!


Try it with Tempura

Albariño bursts with flavors of lemon, lime, pear, and blossom, with high acidity and a slight bitterness on the finish. Winner winner, prawn tempura dinner: this is phenomenal with the sweetness of the shrimp, the oiliness of the deep fried Panko, and the acidity of the sauce.

Grüner Veltliner

Try it with a Dragon Roll (Cucumber and Avocado)

This Austrian native variety is rarely grown elsewhere. These wines have high acidity and flavors of white pepper, green peas, lime, and lemon. It could play really well with a Dragon Roll (eel, crab, cucumber, avocado, eel sauce). The razor sharp acidity cuts through the richness of the sauce and sticky rice, and the green flavors dance wonderfully well alongside the cucumber and avocado.


Try it with a Chopped Scallop Roll

This northern Italian tank-method sparkler has a bright, peachy, lemony fruit essence, and sometimes a hint of sweetness. Prosecco is an outstanding complement to a chopped scallop roll. Scallops are naturally sweet, soft, and delicate. Sometimes made spicy, a creamy chopped scallop roll just begs for a touch of sweetness and high acidity to slice through the succulence.

Provençal Rosé

Try it with a California Roll

Provençal Rosé has bright acidity and is bone dry, while being seriously red-fruit dominated and mineral driven. Enter strawberries macerated on a hunk of wet slate. Provence is famous for many things, most applicably: seafood and rosé!

New Zealand Pinot Noir

Try it with the North-American Inspired Philadelphia Roll

New Zealand Pinot Noir, or the rare red Sancerre (also Pinot!), which has lighter body and lighter tannin could be just the right match. The tannin in red wine is super important when pairing with fishy foods because tannin is the thing that makes red wine and fish taste metallic. Fortunately, the cream cheese helps a great deal to match red wines with sushi!

Fino or Manzanilla Sherry

Try it with Uni (Sea Urchin)

This entire article would be amiss without a mention of Sherry. Fino or Manzanilla (man-tha-nee-aa) styles, with their light body and briny salinity, are a match made in heaven for seafood choices with a more intense flavor. Uni, or sea urchin, is essentially the foie gras of the ocean: smooth, mildly nutty, and briny without being overtly fishy. The salinity factor is the key here.

Kabinett Riesling

Try it with a Spicy Tuna Roll

A Kabinett level sweetness German Riesling with a spicy tuna roll just says “foodgasm.” It’s widely known that sugar turns the dial down on chili heat (the beloved Sriracha included), and sushi rolls are no exception. Spicy rolls are generally made hot via spicy mayonnaise. So, an aromatic, high-acid wine with some sweetness to it would certainly be the natural direction. Yum.


Try it with an Unagi Roll

“The one with Unagi.” – Thanks, Ross.

Unagi, or freshwater eel, is similar in texture to chicken, while tasting somewhat Swordfish-esque, but with an underlying sweetness. There’s a strong taste to it that begs for a wine with a comparable strength. Look for wines that are from higher altitude regions (such as northern Italy) for examples that won’t fall into sugar-level overkill.

The ginger notes in “Geh-wurtz” will also sing alongside the pickled ginger garnish – not to mention the fact that the residual sugar in this wine quells the quick-burn of wasabi. Make note to be mindful to avoid high acid soy sauce when it comes to lower acid grapes (like Gewürztraminer).

Thank you Totoro for this delicious feast of Sashimi. By Chotda.

Other Wines That Scream for Sushi
  • Gavi: A Piedmontese wine made from Cortese grapes is high in acidity and shows peachy, floral aromatics. Try this with traditional sashimi.
  • Muscadet Sèvre et Maine: The Loire’s answer to Fino Sherry; this is a low alcohol, high acid, seriously minerally and salinity driven (badass) wine. Another perfect choice for sashimi.
  • Assyrtiko: The Greek semi-aromatic grape from Santorini is stellar with seafood, showing notes of citrus rind, white flowers, and beeswax. Yellow-tail comes to mind for a delicious match.
  • Chablis: The northern Burgundian rendition of Chardonnay grows on Kimmeridgian clay soils, which are literally crushed up seashells from the Jurassic period …now, if that isn’t a sign!
  • Amontillado Sherry: Lastly, though this hasn’t been tested as of publishing, a dry, nutty Amontillado style of Sherry somehow screams Aburi sushi. Aburi style sushi is flame seared fish. A hand-held blowtorch over a piece of bamboo charcoal chars the top, resulting in a somewhat smoky, nutty flavor. This is a Vancouver, BC favorite. You should probably attempt this pairing immediately, and report back. (Drooling already.)

Last Word

“If it grows together, it goes together.”

Food and wine are such intertwined entities that have progressed over centuries in absolutely every culture. Generally, there’s a reason that the wines made in any given area pair so well with the local cuisine.

That said, the whole world is a melting pot and it’s time to experiment, in the name of science!


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This in-depth guide will explore the intricacies of Champagne’s Côte des Bar region in the Aube, which has exploded in growth over the past decade. If you’re just dipping your toes into Champagne, check out A Guide to Finding Great Champagne.

Everyone and their mother is drinking Champagne these days, whether it’s paired with pizza or out of plastic cups at a picnic. The Côte des Bar is very much the underdog of Champagne with a tendency to rebel against the system.

Côte des Bar has become a hot spot of untapped potential, particularly for Pinot Noir. Let’s explore the landscape, grapes, quirky specificity, and producers that make this Champagne region so darn awesome.

Côte des Bar Champagne Guide

Most Champagne regions are within in the Marne département (by Reims and Épernay). The Côte des Bar is the only major region in the Aube, southeast of the city of Troyes. It takes less than two hours to drive here (from Reims), but the landscape is nothing like central Champagne. Vineyards are leisurely interspersed with forests, farms, and streams. It’s unlike the densely-planted Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs, and Vallée de la Marne. In fact, most vineyard owners are not full-time wine growers.

While a few Côte des Bar producers were founded in the 19th century, most growers sold their grapes to big Champagne houses. The 21st century saw a few risk takers starting to make their own wines and push towards a culture of artisanal, experimental, terroir-driven Champagne in the Côte des Bar. The vineyard area has grown by nearly 20% since 2000 and now makes up almost a quarter of the entire Champagne region.

Aube or Côte des Bar? If you want to get specific, the Côte des Bar is a region within the Aube.
Pinot Noir FTW

Since the Côte des Bar is part of Champagne, the grapes are easy to remember. The standard trio of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier can be planted, along with the more obscure, supplementary Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Arbanne, and Petit Meslier varieties. But Pinot Noir dominates the landscape, comprising around 86 percent of vines in the Côte des Bar.

Kimmeridgian! Similar soils to the Chablis grands crus. But pinot noir.

A post shared by Peter Liem (@peterliem) on Nov 15, 2014 at 8:23am PST

Chardonnay plantings are growing, but still sit around 10 percent, and Pinot Meunier makes up a tiny 4 percent of vineyards. Interestingly, Pinot Blanc has a long history in the Côte des Bar, and some producers are making single varietal Pinot Blanc Champagne wines!

Climate and Soils

Champagne is known for its distinctive, chalk-limestone soils that spring from the region’s location just outside the center of the Paris Basin. But the Côte des Bar is located just on the edge of this strip of soil, where chalk meets clay. This is called Kimmeridgian soil, and it may sound familiar – it’s the same dirt of Chablis! In fact, the Côte des Bar is about a half-hour’s drive closer to Chablis than to Reims. Some younger Portlandian soil – also found in Chablis – is found in Aube as well.

“So we’re wondering… why aren’t they planting more Chardonnay?”

Since Kimmeridgian soil is a marly blend of limestone and clay, it does two things to the grapes. The chalky soils maintain acidity and the clay-marl encourages round, rich structure, and boisterous fruit flavors. This soil, combined with the slightly warmer temperatures (though make no mistake – this is still a marginal climate), makes Côte des Bar Champagne wines broader and softer than the stuff from the north.

If it’s like Chablis, why isn’t there more Chardonnay? Most producers attribute the prominence of Pinot Noir to the region’s relatively warmer climate. In fact, Cistercian monks planted red grapes (including Pinot Noir ancestor Morillon Noir) in the Côte des Bar in the 1100s.
A Little History

The Côte des Bar has a long history of growing and supplying grapes for Champagne houses up north to purchase, but this region was treated as second class for decades – literally. The large producers in the Marne département pushed to exclude the Aube from the official classification of the Champagne region in 1908, leading Côte des Bar growers to riot!

Though the “powers that be” relented in 1911, regions in the Aube were classified as Champagne deuxième zone, or “second Champagne zone,” until 1927. Perhaps this century-old chip on the shoulder is a reason why Côte des Bar producers are so willing to buck tradition?

The Regions of Côte des Bar

There are 19,870 acres and 63 villages of the Côte des Bar. They aren’t young, exactly, but they are for producing wine, rather than just growing grapes. Thus, the differences between the area’s sub-regions is still up for interpretation. That said, the Côte des Bar has a few distinct regions to know.


Top Producers: Cédric Bouchard (Roses de Jeanne), Vouette et Sorbée, Marie-Courtin, Fleury, Pierre Gerbais

In the southwest portion of the Côte des Bar, the 33 villages of the Barséquanais center around the town of Bar-sur-Seine. This is where the area’s most significant producers are located. Vineyards are primarily Pinot Noir.


Top Producers: Drappier, Nathalie Falmet, Christian Etienne

This northeast area of the Côte des Bar has fewer growers but is home to the region’s long-standing Champagne house, Drappier. Thirty one villages cluster near the central town of Bar-sur-Aube. Pinot Noir dominates here, though a tiny bit of white Arbanne is here too.

Rosé des Riceys

Top Producers: Olivier Horiot

While this area surrounding Barséquanais’ Les Riceys village is small, it has its own AOP – one of only three in the entirety of Champagne. Rosé des Riceys AOP is a rare, still red wine (surprise!) that’s comprised of 100% Pinot Noir. Most are pale, tart, and light-colored. This is not your typical Pinot Noir!


Top Producers: Jacques Lassaigne, Jean Velut

Okay, okay. So, it’s not technically in Côte des Bar, but it shares the energy and innovation of the region and is the only other significant wine region of the Aube. Montgueux is an oddity. It’s a hill of chalk surrounded by flat lands unsuitable for grape growing. Unlike the rest of the Aube, Montgueux specializes in ripe, rich, high-quality Chardonnay grown on south-facing slopes. (Aha! There’s the Chardonnay!)

Winemaking Techniques

Beyond the soil and climate differences of the Côte des Bar, there tends to be a different overall mindset when it comes to the creation of these wines. That mindset boils down to specificity. Côte des Bar winemakers often focus on the singular attributes of their Champagnes, rather than blending them into a whole.

Single Vigneron

While a few Champagne houses set up shop in the Côte des Bar over a century ago, the region’s recent boom has been driven by grower-producers. A single vigneron will produce wine from estate-owned grapes, rather than purchased ones, enacting greater control over fruit quality.

Single Vintage

Many Côte des Bar houses choose to craft their entry-level Champagnes as single vintage cuvées. This is rare in Champagne. Most blend vintages to create consistency. But here, producers embrace the differences from vintage to vintage. Just so you know, wines can’t label by vintage if not aged in bottle for 3 years. So, Côte des Bar producers put the vintage on the back label after the letter “R.”

Producing a Champagne from a single vigneron with a single vintage may not seem like innovation in the rest of the world, but in Champagne it is! Champagne is all about blending vintages, grape varieties, and even wines from different producers.

Why We’re Drinking Côte des Bar Right Now

There’s a reason why Champagne lovers clamor for wines from the Côte des Bar. Once cast aside as second class, only fit for purchased grapes, the producers of the Côte des Bar have cultivated a winemaking culture of experimentation and innovation. While this is happening across Champagne, it is especially concentrated in the Côte des Bar because young, forward-thinking producers can actually afford to purchase land and grapes.

Like all good things, it probably won’t last; it’s only a matter of time before demand and, therefore, land prices rise. For now, there are certainly some pricy Côte des Bar Champagnes, driven by small production and low profit margins, but some excellent, interesting bottles can be found for under $50. Jump into this lesser-known Champagne producing region now and join the excitement.

Peter Liem’s “Champagne” ← Awesome book. check it out.
Comité Champagne
Grandes Marques et Maisons de Champagne
Champagne de Vigneron

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The role of “flying winemaker” is one of the coolest wine jobs out there. What’s a flying winemaker? Well, it’s a winemaker-consultant who has multiple wine projects in multiple regions. Flying winemakers essentially get to travel the world chasing an “endless harvest” and making great wines along the way. I know what you’re thinking (because we definitely are): “where do I sign up?”

We asked consulting winemaker extraordinaire, Julien Fayard, to fill us in on what takes to do his job.

So You Want to Be a Consulting Winemaker?

The first thing you need to know is that patience and multitasking will be your greatest assets, followed by the depth and breadth of your winemaking knowledge and experiences, as well as a keen ability to manage different projects – and your clients’ expectations.

“Patience and multitasking will be your greatest assets.”

Growing up in Provence with a family who has had a winery for several decades certainly gave me a unique introduction to the wine business. However, while I wasn’t interested in making a career in wine at first. With each new seasonal job my experience grew and I got into it. I traveled and worked in different corners of the wine world. Some would call it “vagabond” winemaking, but in truth this is how you learn the craft.

Do a Realistic Self-Examination

While it’s important to draw inspiration from others successful winemakers and follow their examples, you have to write your own story, develop your own style. Be honest with yourself, your identity and your skills. Where do your interests lie? What are your abilities, strengths, and weaknesses?

  1. What are you cut out for?
  2. Do you want to focus your work on a specific wine region or do you want to travel internationally?
  3. Do you prefer to work with a small, select group of boutique brands, a large collection of high-producing labels, or somewhere in between?

This is a very personal journey where you have to rely on you.

There is one common misconception about the role of a consulting winemaker. The job isn’t so much about making wine as it is about managing an orchestra of moving parts. Each vintage there are new uncontrollable factors that make it challenging to meet or exceed your goals with each project.

The graduated cylinder is used create the proportions of a wine blend. A wine glass is the essential tool of every winemaker. Education and Experience

When it comes to learning the craft of winemaking, I value experience over education.

Living and working in another culture is one of the best ways to learn different working styles and new or traditional approaches to winemaking. Being exposed to diversity helps you understand differences. Travel around, dedicate a few years to working with different winemakers you admire. Find people who can teach you how to work in the cellar, participate in harvest, and assist with winemaking.

“Travel around, dedicate a few years to working with different winemakers you admire.”

A formal education will bring you more tools to understand the process and refine your skills. Math, chemistry, and viticulture are fundamental studies for any winemaker. For example, you’ll need to understand all the plant and vegetative cycles of the vine, as well as the various reactions in wine – you’ll use this knowledge daily.

Landing a Job at the “Right” Place

I am frequently asked how I landed a position making wine for Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, one of the world’s most respected producers in Bordeaux.

What most people don’t realize is that by the time I applied for the position, I had already interned their for 5 harvests. I got the internship after many years of academic and practical experience. It took years of effort (and earning a Master’s degree in enology) that gave me actual confidence to ask for the job I wanted… and I succeeded!

Don’t disregard the small, unknown wineries.

Winemaking is a long, cyclical process that requires the same steps performed in the same order each and every vintage, so the work is much of the same no matter where you get your start. If you have the opportunity to start learning at a winery,—any winery— take it! It is all about the hands-on practice and experiences you will take away that prepare you for your next position.

When I applied to Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, my resume did not include any grand winery names, but it did have a list of technical positions, such as working a plate filter, operating a forklift, running a pump, destemmer, and so on. My sole responsibility at one of my first jobs in Pomerol was to empty and press fermented tanks every day, and that was it. It wasn’t glamorous, but it meant I could shovel and run a press. Once you know the equipment, you know its subtle quirks.

Remember that wineries are hiring new talent every year.

Be perseverant. Don’t just apply to a winery because of it’s name and reputation. Strongly consider what you want to learn. Explore other corners of winemaking to confirm what you want to do in the long-term and then identify wineries that will help you gain the experience you need to achieve those goals.

It helps to have a degree and recommendations from peers, but those will get you no where without the right attitude. Be curious. Be receptive to feedback. Be ready to change and question yourself.

Julien Fayard testing a new wine blend using several different lots. The Best Things I Learned From My Mentor, Philippe Melka

I credit much of what I learned about being a consulting winemaker to Philippe Melka. Napa Valley is very complex and competitive, it’s one of the greatest growing regions in the world. My time spent with him afforded me the opportunity to get to know Napa intimately.

The average winemaker in Napa is working with 50-100 lots, but a consulting winemaker can be working with as many as 500 lots in a year! The exposure to these different vineyard sites gave me a depth of knowledge and accelerated my understanding of the nuances in the area. As a result, I have seen and experienced many situations in winemaking that I continually apply to issues I encounter today.

He also taught me about the level of service you deliver to your clients, being reliable, adding value beyond the winemaking, and building a reputation in your backyard.

The Hardest Part of the Job

While Mother Nature is often seen as the biggest challenge for winemakers, she is also predictable. you can prepare for rain, heat, hail, and frost. You just have to be resilient, willing to take risks, and prep well for those events by having solutions readily accessible. In fact, the more experience you have making wine under these circumstances, the better you will become at predicting outcomes (or simply being prepared!). Your most challenging vintages will reveal your true abilities as a winemaker.

“the hardest part of the job is the fact that winemaking is not an exact science.”

Instead, I think the hardest part of the job is the fact that winemaking is not an exact science. You don’t want the wines to taste the same, so you can’t rely on a recipe and need to avoid the cookie-cutter approach. Treat each wine individually, as reflection of its place of origin and vintage. Make them as naturally as possible with a hands-off approach.

You must decide if you want to make wine for hire or wine for conviction.

Making great wines with integrity to the vines and the people I’m making it for is what drives me. You must decide if you want to make wine for hire or wine for conviction. As you are dealing with taste, it can be easy to fall back on personal preference, but keep in mind that your personal preference may not deliver what the client wants or expects. Find a balance between personal preference, the taste of the vineyard and the vision of the owner(s).

What Makes a Good Consulting Winemaker

Be prepared to work a lot and focus on details. Everyone starts at the bottom to learn the basics, then moves onto more complex matters. Don’t skip any steps or rush this process. Embrace it.

Winemaking is a long process from start to finish, so the trajectory for learning can be slow if you don’t find other ways to learn or take advantage of opportunities that allow you to make other wines domestically or internationally. Be patient, sensitive, book smart, and empirically learn the craft.

Surround yourself with good people. A diversity of traits is important. Learn to hire your weaknesses. Train them well and learn to delegate. Accept that you aren’t the answer for everything and be at peace with it. The environment and team you create around yourself is what will make you a better consulting winemaker.

Looking Back

If I could do anything differently, I would have purchased property much earlier in my career, as real estate is so expensive now. Owning a winery and having a consulting business are wonderful privileges, and to an outsider it can portray a glamorous lifestyle. But just like anything else, it has its burdens that you don’t realize until you have it. There’s a reason why it’s called work!

“Sign me up. I like a good challenge!”

Be honest with yourself, and follow the path that feels right for you. Immerse yourself in it. Don’t be afraid to spend the time it takes to build a solid foundation of education, experiences, and sweat equity. There are no shortcuts to success. The longest way is the most reliable way.

Take your time and do it right.

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Tannat, with its roots in Madiran (a tiny village in South West France), might just be the next Malbec. Why? Well, it has more gusto than Cabernet Sauvignon, and Tannat wines from up-and-coming Uruguay are surprisingly affordable! Here’s what you need to know.

Fun Facts About Tannat Wine
  1. Tannat made its first appearance on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the Year in 2017. It listed #41 with Bodega Garzon 2015 “Reserve” Tannat from Uruguay (~$17). (Tried it – delicious!)
  2. Tannat is a great value! A great bottle of Tannat will is priced between $15-$30.
  3. Tannat has been touted as being one of the “healthiest” red wine grapes, thanks to much higher levels of antioxidants (like resveratrol).
  4. Newer Tannat vine clones are improving this wine. They maintain power, structure, and complexity, but roll back the frisky acidity and heavy-handed fruit profile.

What Does Tannat Taste Like?

Tannat tastes range from red to black fruit with a decent dose of black licorice, vanilla, dark chocolate, espresso, and smoke alongside a signature note of cardamom and brown spices. Typically, the more oak-aging, the more spice-driven character the wine will carry. Likewise, the more maceration (time the juice spends swimming in the grape’s skins), the more intense the color pigments and tannins will be in the final wine.

French Tannat vs Uruguay Tannat French Tannat From Madiran

Flavors: French Tannat leans more readily into red fruit flavors, namely raspberry, with tighter, gripping tannins, and unmistakable power.

The Tannat grape is a bit of a chameleon and shines differently depending on where it is grown. Traditionally, Madiran Tannat is a big wine, with full throttle tannins and searing acidity. For this reason, it’s often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc to ease astringency. Still, French law requires a minimum of 60% Tannat on wines labeled “Madiran AOC.” That said, many regional winemakers opt for 100% Tannat because they just love the stuff. In conclusion, expect French Tannat to have feisty tannins, an opaque “black wine” color, elevated alcohol, and cellar-worthiness. Try setting one down for a decade (if you can wait that long!).

Uruguay Tannat

Flavors: In Uruguay, the tannins come across as more pliable and softer on the approach, while the fruit profiles are mostly black fruits, like blackberry, black cherry, and plum. Wines show an enduring elegance.

Yet a quick sip south to Uruguay and you’ll find Tannat sporting a more laid- back, creative style. Intentionally blended with a variety of grapes to soften up its staunch structure, it’s not unusual to find Uruguay’s Tannat married to Pinot Noir, Merlot, or Syrah in the bottle, where soft, synergistic fruit flavors help tame Tannat’s high octane tannins. Thanks to French immigrants bringing their hometown grapes to Uruguay in the late 1800s, Tannat vines were readily cultivated and have since become the country’s dominant grape variety, enthusiastically representing well over a third of the nation’s plantings.

Cassoulet with its rich, meaty flavors will help quell Tannat’s rigorous tannins. by Phillip Capper Tannat Food Pairing Recommendations

Given the tightly-wound tannins, Tannat begs for food that brings the hearty duo of high protein and high fat to the table. Why? The fats and proteins soften the intense gripping quality of high tannins. The happy pairings of beef, sausage, cassoulet, roasted lamb, duck confit, and assorted aged cheese (reach for Roquefort or Chaumes) will gladly serve to soften the tannins and amplify the rich vibe of the food itself.

Tannat has high antioxidants! However, this makes bitter and astringent wines without special skill.

Winemaker Secrets to Tannat Wine

Winemakers love Tannat because its thick skins make it:

  1. relatively easy to grow in a variety of climate conditions (especially dry)
  2. less likely to be attacked by vineyard pests, fungus and mold
  3. less susceptible to cold temperature variations and the dreaded frost

Of course, it can be tricky to manage in the cellar because it’s such a big wine! The grape itself showcases extra thick skins and high seed counts (often 5 seeds per grape instead of the standard 2–3). These attributes contribute to robust polyphenol compounds in the wine.

Here’s what to look for in the winemaker’s notes to find smooth, velvety Tannat wines:

  • Oak barrel aging – while oak introduces wood tannins, it also allows a steady entrance of oxygen to the wine, which helps the wine taste smoother.
  • Micro-oxygenation – (aka “microOX” or and “microbullage” in French) – is the process of
    introducing teeny, tiny amounts of oxygen during the winemaking process to soften the
    overbearing structure and make the wines more approachable at a younger age.
  • Extended aging – one of the perks of aging a wine that is built to age (i.e. carries high tannins and
    high acidity) is that over time, the wine’s tannins will break down and soften on their own.

Tannat – Elevated Polyphenolic Compounds study
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