14. Problems in Pinot Land

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By , July 29, 2010 6:54 pm

HanzellGrace (30)(1996 Hanzell Pinot Noir from Sonoma County. Notice the color: red – not opaque.

Photo by Randy Peterson)

What’s been happening to California Pinot Noir? In the 1970s and 1980s, Burgundy was the model  - the Holy Grail – of California Pinot Noir producers. Over the years, they got better at making Pinots with good fruit and aroma (real “varietal character”), if not with as much structure and elegance as Burgundy. But in the 2000s, California Pinot Noir has been changing and moving beyond the Burgundian model. It’s gotten more popular, but also darker, heavier, higher in alcohol – with more cassis than strawberry in the nose. There was a scandal: a brand of imported Pinot Noir was found to be Syrah. But many wine lovers believe that the evolution of Pinot Noir to be ever more Syrah-like is the real scandal.

Before listening, take a Pre-Quiz!

While you listen, read the transcript: Problems in Pinot Land
Listen to the Podcast: Problems in Pinot Land

13. Anything special about reserve wines?

By , July 13, 2010 9:39 pm

Simi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve 1985 (photo by Gerald)

Many wineries make a regular bottling as well as a premium product. The regular bottling may be crafted for early release (quicker cash flow!) and younger drinking while the premium wine is for aging and special occasions. “Reserve” (or Riserva, Reserva) is one way to designate the high-end product that has been given extra-special treatment in the winery. “Single-vineyard,” “Premier Cru,” and “Estate” are among the many other terms used for a wine producer’s better or best efforts.

What goes into making a reserve wine? Does the word, “reserve,” carry any legal weight? Is there anything that Reserves in California have in common with the Grand Vins of Bordeaux or the Riservas of Chianti? This is what I discuss in this podcast!

Download the transcript: Transcript: What does reserve mean, anyway?

What does reserve mean anyway?


Enriching Lifestyles 2

By , June 4, 2010 5:16 am

On May 23, we had a group of 11 participate in the second Enriching Lifestyles seminar. I gave a short talk on the choices that winemakers make when they may red wines and white wines. And we tasted seven wines. It was a great evening in that I felt the group members learned some things about wine that they never knew before. Even better, the seven wines we tasted were so delicious and so distinct. It was great to introduce a group of novice wine tasters to several wines that stand apart from each other in terms of color, aroma and flavor.

The video below is the slide show and talk that I gave on how red and white wines are made. In the post below this one, you can see a slide show in which I talk about the wines that we tasted.



Enriching Lifestyles 2

By , June 1, 2010 5:22 am

The Line Up

On May 23, I led a wine tasting for the second Enriching Lifestyles group meeting. Eleven participants gathered at the Berry Bros & Rudd tasting room in Tokyo. They were mostly new to wine tasting, but they are very enthusiastic and interested. Everybody had a lot of fun. I gave a talk on some of the choices that winemakers face when they make white wines and red wines. And then we tasted 7 wines (four whites and three reds) that displayed some of the characteristics that are achieved through winemaking – as well as different terroirs. Two wines, a Sancerre and a Graves were  fascinating to compare and contrast. The Sancerre, 100% Sauvignon Blanc and fermented and aged in stainless steel, tasted lively and fresh, full of citrus fruitiness and a mineral finish. The Graves, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, was aged in wood. It was a heavier wine with more body and it had complex nose of fruit and honey and vanilla. We added yet more contrast to the whites with a low-alcohol German Riesling that gave off characteristic hints of lime and petroleum as well as a Viognier from the Rhone Valley. The latter gave off wonderful apricot aromas but was powerful and dry in the mouth.

The reds included a 2001 Pauillac (Chateau Batailley), a 2007 Vacqueyras and a 2004 Vino Nobile di Montalcino. So we could experience the differences in color and bouquet that result from bottle aging.

In the video below I talk about the wines that we tasted.


12. Beaujolais Nouveau

By , November 11, 2009 10:47 pm
The view from Chiroubles

Beaujolais Vineyards (photo by Karaian on Flickr)

The third Thursday in November is almost upon us. On that date, the Beaujolais Nouveau will arrive – in Lyon, Paris, London, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sidney….. (Will it reach as far as Johannesburg?)

Do you get into the spirit of the day? Enjoy the party and the fun of getting your first taste of the vintage? Or are you down on Beaujolais Nouveau as one more product of HYPE on a global scale? Do you see the light and simple wine as having destroyed what was once a unique and special appellation in France?

Whatever your views, in this podcast I’ll try to give you some perspective on and insight into the wine of the Fall season. You’ll learn where Beaujolais is located, what’s special about the land and where the best wines are made.

Would you like learn what they do to make a red wine with good color but without much tannin? I’ll explain the carbonic maceration. And what is it that makes wine enthusiasts shake their heads when they think about Beaujolais and Beaujolais Nouveau? I’ll try to explain chaptalization – the method of adding sugar to raise alcohol. (Wait?? They add sugar to wine? Indeed, they do… But keep it quiet!)

Download the transcript: Beaujolais Nouveau Transcript

Pre and Post Listening Questions: Beaujolais Nouveau Questions

Beaujolais Nouveau


#11. Color and Aroma

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By , October 29, 2009 3:22 am
White Wines in a Range of Hues (Photo by Gerald)

White Wines in a Range of Hues (Photo by Gerald)

We experience wine through our senses – especially sight, smell and taste. For both native speakers and non-native speakers, using words to describe sensory experiences is very difficult. We all would like to say more than: “Looks very nice!” “Smells interesting!” or “Tastes delicious!” Wine tasters have developed a common vocabulary to describe the colors, aromas and flavors of wine. In this podcast, you will become familiar with a few of these terms.

Let me emphasize the word FEW! The look, smell and taste of wine is a vast subject. Chemists, wine makers, wine writers, connoisseurs, artists and poets have all struggled to find the right words to describe wine. You don’t have to learn the entire vocabulary, but you can learn to use a few words correctly.

In this podcast, you will become familiar some terms we use to describe color (hue, clarity, opacity, viscosity) and  smell: (nose, aroma, bouquet.)

If you have questions about any words or expressions you have encountered in wine magazines or blogs, feel free to post a question. I may answer it in a future post!

Read the transcript: Color and Aroma transcript

Pre and Post Questions: Color and Aroma Questions

Color and Aroma


#10. Wine in Chablis

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By , October 15, 2009 12:10 am
2005 William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru "Bougros" (photo by Gerald - aka "Syr Rah")

2005 William Fevre Chablis Grand Cru "Bougros" (photo by Gerald - aka "Syr Rah")

Chablis can be confusing to people new to wine. Have you been confused by Chablis? Some believe that, as a white wine from Burgundy, it must be terribly expensive. But others, who have seen California jug wine labeled as “Chablis,” think its another cheap white wine style.

Chablis is a white wine from Burgundy – a delicious, dry, zesty Chardonnay with a famous hard mineral character. The best wines of Chablis, the Grands Cru and Premiers Cru, can be expensive. But plenty of Chablis is affordable – and great value if you consider the difficult conditions, small yields and great technique of the Chablisiens (people of Chablis.)

In this podcast, you will learn about the wines of Chablis: vineyards, winemaking, and traditions. As always, I try to make the vocabulary of wine and wine tasting clear to you.

Read the transcript: Wine in Chablis – Transcript

Pre Questions and Comprehension Questions: Wine in Chablis Questions



#9. A Tale of Two Tasting Notes

By , September 30, 2009 6:12 pm

Chablis Vineyard (Photo by Welland)

Carneros in Spring

Vineyard in Carneros (Photo by Naotakem)

Does it seem that many wines from California, Australia, Chile, Argentina – and even France – often taste alike? True, wines are made from the same grapes (Cabernet, Chardonnay, Syrah), and winemakers in one country may wish to emulate (be inspired by) the wine styles of other countries. But if winemakers remain true to their local terroir, the wines should taste different – even if the same grapes are used. In this podcast, we will discuss how consumer demand and competition are driving many winemakers to make wine that conforms to an “international style.” And we will look at how wines in one particular location do NOT follow that style.

Are you confused by tasting notes written in English? In this podcast I will define and help you understand some of the words and expressions that are often used in tasting notes.

Read the transcript and study guide: Tale of Two Tasting Notes – Transcript

NEW!! Pre-Questions and Comprehension Questions: Tale of Two Tasting Notes – Questions

NOTE: If you listened to this podcast before October 14, 2009, it has been re-recorded. I think the sound quality is a little better now.



#8. A Wine from the Northern Rhone

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By , September 23, 2009 7:25 pm

1998 Cuilleron St. Joseph, "Les Serines" (photo by Gerald)

1998 Cuilleron St. Joseph, "Les Serines" (photo by Gerald)

I drank a delicious wine the other night. It really stood out against the cheap junk I’ve been forced to drink lately. (You can call them “Recession Reds!”) It was a 1998 Yves Cuilleron St. Joseph, “Les Serines.” In this podcast I discuss where this wine came from and what I liked about it. You will learn about wines from the Rhone Valley of France and hear me talk about the grapes and vineyards of  the Northern Rhone and the St. Joseph appellation. You will also hear me describe this wine, using some common words and expressions for the colors and smells of wine.

Do you like Syrah – or Shiraz as it is known in Australia? Would you like to learn more about where to look for good-tasting but affordable European Syrah? Then please listen in to this podcast about a Wine form the Northern Rhone.

Read the transcript and study guide while you listen to the podcast: A_Wine_From_the_Northern_Rhone



#7. Old World vs. New World Approaches

By , June 23, 2009 5:49 pm
French Farm and Vineyard (photo by frenchselfcatering.com)

French Farm and Vineyard (photo by frenchselfcatering.com)

Wine producers in the Old World and New World share the same goal: to make delicious wine. But their approach may be quite different. Wine in Europe is always a part of traditional  local cultures of wine and food – even wines that are exported and have an international reputation. More importantly, wine  is always an expression of the area where it is produced. The vineyard “terroir” influences the character of the wine, and appellation labeling laws guarantee consistency of style and quality. In the New World, winemakers have always had more freedom to make wine as they wish. Wine may reflect the personality of the winemaker as much or more than the area of production.

Listen to this podcast to learn more about the different approaches toward wine in the Old World and New World. Here are some key words:

  • Culture: Some wines reflect the culture that produced the wine.
  • Character: Wines with character are distinctive and interesting.
  • Characteristics: The physical characteristics of an area may influence the taste and quality of the wine.
  • Personality: Wine may reflect the personality of the winemaker, or it may reflect the personality of the area that produced it.
  • Business model: The basic business model of wine is different in the Old World and New World. 
  • Agricultural product: In Europe, wine is often considered a local agricultural product. 
  • Terroir: Terroir is the concept that the climate and soil of a vineyard can have a strong influence on the taste and quality of the wine. 
  • Appellation: The name of the district or location where a wine is  produced. To have an appellation on the label, wines may have to be made according to specific rules.

Use the transcript and study guide as you listen to the podcast: Old World vs. New World Approaches


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