Showing posts from March, 2020


Yesterday, on our way to Uruguay, our pilot took a wrong term and drifted off to the "heel of Italy." While our Spanish skills weren't helpful there, maybe they will be today as we get off the plane in Montevideo.

We're here to explore the national grape of Uruguay, Tannat. Although it is prized in the little country that sits near the south end of coastal Brazil, Tannat was not born there. It's believed to be indigenous to both the Basque region of Spain and the Madiran area of France, south of Bordeaux where it is blended with les deux cabernets (sauvignon et franc) as well as fer servadou.

Tannat's name may come from the fact that the grape tends to be extremely high in tannins (for casual drinkers, tannins are the devious little chemical compounds found in seeds, skins, and stems that produce the bite (if you don't like it) or mouthfeel (if you do like it) common in many bigger, bolder red wines.

Returning to the topic at hand, in Uruguay, Tannat is a…


We've taken a slight detour today to accomodate a request. While we expected a southwesterly flight across the Atlantic, instead we take a quick jaunt to the southeastern part of Italy ("the heel") on the Adriatic Sea, a long but narrow region known as Puglia. Today's grape of the day is Primitivo. While it's an Italian varietal, through the wonders of DNA testing (I have no idea how DNA testing is done on grapes, but there are plenty of things I have absolutely no idea about), we know that it is genetically the same grape as the American one known as Zinfandel and that both are actually the Croatian grape Crjenak Kastelanski (doesn't that just roll off the tip of your tongue).

As compared to its identical twin in the US, Primitivo suffers from being embedded in Italian DOC law. In its home of Manduria, wines must be at least 14% alcohol by volume (ABV). This puts significant restrictions on vineyard masters and winemakers to control both their crop and ferme…


Today we are off to the southwest part of France to a little grouping of five communities that in combination is called Sauternes -- the legendary home of a grape known as Semillon. While we can also find Semillon in other areas, particularly the Hunter Valley region of Australia (north of Sydney) where it is often produced as a single varietal, for most collectors, when they think of Semillon, they think of Sauternes and the neighboring appelation of Barsac.

Semillon is a hearty golden grape that has shown incredibly disease resistant. That said, it is remarkably suceptible to botrytis also known as grey mold or noble rot (curious how botrytis sounds trendy, grey mold disgusting, and noble rot ... well, noble). Botrytis allows Semillon to be blended with Sauvignon Blanc, usually four parts Semillon to one part Sauvignon Blanc to make the incomparable sweet wines of Sauternes (Chateau D'Yquem being the most legendary of them all).

When produced as a single varietal, Semillon produ…


We're making a long trip today to the Stellenbosch region of South Africa to check out our Pinotage plantings. Never heard of pinotage? Now is the time.

Pinotage is a relatively new grape -- a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Cinsault. I know, you get where the pinot part of Pinotage comes from, but how about the last three letters? Well, around 100 years ago, the grape that is known particularly in the Languedoc region of France as Cinsault was called Hermitage in South Africa. Now you get it.

Pinotage is a vineyard master's dream. It's hardy, harvests relatively early, is brightly colored, and has medium acidity. The problem with pinotage from a winemaker's standpoint is that as a species, it is very high in esters. And, esters in wine tend to impart the smell of nail polish. Don't worry, though, both cold fermentation and extremely hot fermentation tend to cause the esters to react out of the process.

For the most part, Pinotage is bottled as a single-varietal wine afte…

Grape Request

If you'd like to request a grape for a write-up in the near future, comment in the comment section below (honest requests only please). If your request is for something that everyone who owns a wine glass already knows about, that's no fun.

Vidal Blanc

Today we travel north to the Finger Lakes region of New York, continue to the Niagara Falls area and cross the border into Canada to check on our Vidal Blanc plantings. Our wine geneticist friends tell us that this little gem is a hybrid of Ugni Blanc (commonly used in Cognac production and also known as Trebbiano in Italy) and Seyval Blanc, so it has mixed genes from vinifera and non-vinifera grapes.

Why do you care about this? Well, these combinations have produced a particularly hearty thick-skinned white grape. It can withstand tremendous temperature changes during growing season, particularly cold dips, and survive into a freeze. That means that the grapes can be left onto the vine until they ice over and are then picked so that they can be turned into ice wine or eiswein.

What vidal blanc is unable, generally speaking to withstand botrytis, also known as noble rot, the mold that comes when dry conditions follow wet before harvest. Botrytized wines, such as some of the great dess…

Shesh i Zi

Today, we are going to one of the earliest wine growing regions in the world, the little Adriatic bordering country of Albania (as well as some of the Slavic countries, notably Serbia and Macedonia) to learn about its most popular red grape, Shesh i Zi, literally dark wine from the Shesh hills near the capital city of Tirana.

Shesh i Zi is probably not for everybody. It combines, in its most usual form, styles that may not be popular in the traditional "New World" regions such as the US and Australia. Unlike most popular red wines from those areas, Shesh i Zi wines tend to be very low in acidity and alcohol content rarely exceeding 12% alcohol by volume (as compared to many of the bombs being made currently in some of the hottest growing regions of California where some wines have hit nearly 17% ABV). Shesh i Zi tends to be harvested earlier than most red grapes as it is sensitive to the cooling coming to the areas in early fall.

When young, Shesh i Zi is particularly earthy…

Petit Verdot

I'm sticking with the black grapes today in featuring Petit Verdot, one of the five classic grapes used in the famous red wines of Bordeaux. It's exceptionally dark in color and very thick-skinned making it among the latest ripening of all vitus vinifera grapes. Because of that, a number of winemakers in Bordeaux have abandoned it and certainly plant less than they used to.

However, while France has grown and used less petit verdot, California, Australia, and Chile have seen increased production. In Napa, it's typically used as a blending grape with cabernet sauvignon, but many producers have begun bottling smaller batches of 100% petit verdot. The same can be said about the northern regions of Chile and the ultra-hot growing regions in Australia.

When petit verdot is added as a blending grape, usually to cabernet sauvignon, merlot-based blends, or occasionally cabernet franc-based blends, it is thought to add structure and ageworthiness. The dense tannins may make too muc…


Today's grape of the day is blaufrankisch. While it does start with a b, implying that I might be going letter by letterm get those thoughts out of your mind. In Austria, the primary grower of the grape, it's blaufrankisch, but in Germany it's Lemberger and in Hungary, it's Kekfrancos. And continuing on with the variety of names, in the Czech Republic, it's Frankovka, in Itally, Franconia

What is it? It's a black grape and we know from its name -- at least if you know the history of Austrian wines where frankisch wines were considered the superior ones -- that it is considered a particularly noble grape in Austria. In fact, Austrian winemakers typically age it in new oak thinking that it rivals the syrah of the Hermitage area.

Blaufrankisch goes through an early bud break, but is typically harvested late. Because of that, despite being a hardy grape, it is susceptible to frostbite. In the US, you can find it in eastern Washington, the Finger Lakes region of New…


My first grape of the day is albarino, also known in Portugal as alvarinho. Why did I pick that grape first? I just started my brain scrolling through grapes in alphabetical order and it was the first not totally obscure grape that popped into my head. Yes, I could have started with the more alphabetically precise abouriou, but I've never even seen, let alone tasted a wine that I know contained abouriou, so what would be the point?

For starters, we know that the grape is white. Why? I'll give you two good reasons: 1) you can tell by looking at it as it is one of the whitest in color of all grapes and 2) its roots in either Spanish or Portuguese (albar, alvar) imply white.

Albarino wines are produced in a number of parts of the world, but the areas best known for them are the Rias Baixas area in northwestern Spain as well as the Moncao district in the far northern part of Portugal. In addition, you can find albarinos in such distinct areas as California, Uruguay, and Australia.

Introducing the Grape of the Day

As we suffer with forced social distancing, closed bars and restaurants and, for some, an inability to procure their favorite alcoholic beverage, it seemed an appropriate time to educate about mine.

In the US, so many of us stick to the same couple of tried and true grapes from the same tried and true regions. There's the often over-oaked California chardonnay, the alcohol laden cabernet sauvignons from some of the less expensive producers and of course, the ruining of the great American grape, zinfandel, in a pinkish mess referred to in the trade as white zinfandel.

If you won't deviate from those, this is not for you, but if it's time to branch out and explore, here's a bit of assistance.

No, I don't have all the wine credentials. What I have is a decent palate, a very good memory, and a keen interest.

Please enjoy.