Friday, January 31, 2014

Sicily’s Most Iconic Woman of Wine

If you go to your wine store’s Italian wine section chances are you’ll see this woman as she appears on all of the labels of one of Sicily’s most famous wineries.  In fact, the winery is named after her.  Who is this person?  She was the Queen of Naples & Sardinia who in 1805 fled Naples from Napoleon’s invading troops and took refuge in Sicily.  Donnafugata literally means the “woman in flight.” This event inspired the Donnafugata logo, the effigy of a woman’s head with windblown hair.

The fugitive Queen well knew about political unrest and being captured by the enemy.  Her younger sister, Marie Antoinette, had been beheaded.  After the beheading, the Queen led Naples into war with France, joining forces with Great Britain and Austria.  If captured by Napoleon’s army, she would have been in grave danger of the guiollotine. 

The actual estate where the Queen sought asylum in Sicily is now the site of the Donnafugata winery and vineyards.   In the 1980’s this >700 acre property began producing wines.  Today, it is an internationally prestigious company producing 2.5 million bottles annually.  Its high quality wines have received enumerable awards around the globe, as well as top scores from the Wine Spectator and a host of critics such as Robert Parker.

If you’re coming on the 2014 tour to Sicily, you’ll have the opportunity to visit the Donnafugata estate for a private dinner.  If not, the winery has an excellent penetration in the US, so buy a bottle and have a toast to the “woman in flight.”

Saturday, January 25, 2014

World Heritage Wine Regions

UNESCO (United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization) has identified several wine regions in the world as World Heritage Sites.   Having had the opportunity to visit them all, here are my suggestions for the oenophile’s bucket list (alpha order by country):


    The Wachu wine district, steep terraces on the banks of the Danube River, is ground zero to the world’s best Gruner Vetliner grape varietal.  Add jaw-dropping ancient monasteries, abbeys, and castles and you have an area deserving of the UNESCO recognition.

~ Bordeaux:  The 2,000 year old town of Bordeaux, the epicenter of France’s largest fine wine region, has earned its UNESCO status for its role as a cultural center, and for its beautifully preserved classical architecture (much of which has remained unchanged for centuries).

~ St Emilion:  Located in the Bordeaux district, this exquisitely preserved medieval hilltop town was the first wine area to be awarded UNESCO status in 1999.  The entire town is a treasure trove that has survived intact.  Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon vines surround the village.

~ Loire Valley:  The UNESCO area comprises 164 towns, as well as vineyards producing Cabernet Franc & Chenin Blanc.  Enormous chateaux dot the entire valley, offering a stunning architectural testimony to France’s Golden Age.

The Middle Rhine received its UNESCO status for its role as a major trade artery in the evolution of Europe’s history.  The steep-sided river valley is studded with ancient castles, historic towns and Riesling vineyards that require great care and skill (some slopes angle nearly 45 degrees).


    The Tokaj wine appellation was Europe’s first classified wine district.  Its thousand year old wine-making traditions with dessert wines make it a no-brainer for UNESCO designation.


    The Douro Valley wine region, demarcated in 1767,  was honored by UNESCO because of the extreme human influence on its development.   The landscape’s nearly vertical hillsides is rugged and inhospitable, requiring significant grit and back-breaking toll.  This zone is home to Port.

Lavaux is the largest contiguous vineyard region in the country.  Located on the steep banks of Lake Geneva, the area was honored by UNESCO for its daringly constructed  terraces built in the 11th century.  The main varietal is Chasselas.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Most Exciting Wines of the Year

Every year the Wine Spectator chooses the top 100 most exciting from >20,000  that have been blind tasted by the magazine’s writers.  These 100 stars, all of which are available in the US, are chosen based on quality and value.  The list has recently been published for wines tasted during 2013.  Of the nearly 70 wineries located outside of the US, 14 have been featured on Wine Knows tours.  Below is the Wine Spectator ranking, as well as price: 

#2:  Chateau Canon-La Gaffeliere  2010  (Bordeaux, France) $103

#8:  Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2010 (Rhone, France) $120

#28:  Domaine de l’A, Castillon Cotes de Bordeaux 2010 (Bordeaux, France) $34

#38:  Mollydooker, Two Left Feet McLaren Vale 2011 (Austrailia) $25

#45: Chateau Doisy Daene 2010 (Bordeaux, France) $58

#48: Greywackle, Pinot Noir Marlborough 2011 (New Zealand) $39

#50:  COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria 2010 (Sicily, Italy) $35

#58: Avignonesi, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2010 (Tuscany, Italy) $29

#69:  Boutari Naoussa 2009 (Greece) $18

#73:  Archaval Ferrer Malbec Mendoza Finca Mirador 2011 (Argentina)  $125

#87:  Graham Tawny Port 20 Year Old NV (Portugal)  $60

#91:  Mastrobernardino Taurasi Radici Riserva 2006 (Amalfi Coast, Italy)  $75

#96:  Altestino Brunello di Montalcino Monstsoli 2008 (Tuscany, Italy)  $120

#98:  Chateau d’Yquem white 2011 (Bordeaux, France)  $120

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Top 10 Wine Trivia for 2014

These are tidbits that a wine aficionado should know.  They range from terminology used in the vineyard and wine-making process to pests that can destroy wine.  Also included is information such as the health benefits of wine. Let’s start with the most destructive first, and end on a positive note.

    1.   Brettanomyce:  “Brett” is a wine spoiling yeast that causes barnyard 
          smells.  It can destroy an entire winery’s inventory as it’s difficult to 

    2.  TCA:  a chemical compound (often found in flawed corks) that ruins a 
         wine and causes it to be “corked.”

    3.  Green harvest:  to cut off grape clusters from the vine in order to 
         intensify the flavor of those grapes that are left.

    4.  “On the lees”:  the lees are the dead yeast leftover after fermentation.  
        Some wines (usually whites) are left in contact with their lees to increase 
        the complexity of the wine.

    5.  Malolactic fermentation:  commonly referred to as “ML,” this is a 
         chemical process that converts harsh malic acid to a softer lactic acid. 

    6.  “Rack a wine”:  to siphon wine into a new, clean barrel…leaving all the 
         sediment  in the old barrel.

    7.  Cap:  a very hard top that forms during fermentation at the top of the 
         tank (it’s composed of grape skins which are where many flavor                         components and color pigments are located).

    8.  Pump-over:  to pump juice over the hard cap (to break it up) during 
         fermentation to extract color, flavor & tannins.

    9.  Fine:  to clarify or make the wine more clear.

  10.  Heart healthy benefits of wine:  due to dark colored pigments found 
         in red grape skins, thus only red wines are cardiac protective.

Friday, January 3, 2014

I’ll have what she's having !

That’s my New Year’s resolution... a kind of ‘When Harry met Sally’ credo to be more adventurous.  Let me qualify that…to be more adventurous when choosing wines.  Rather than going with what I know, I’m going to do something wild and crazy!   I’m going to try a varietal I don’t know well, choose a wine region that I haven’t visited, select a winery I’ve never heard of.  Or, if I'm in a restaurant I'll ask the sommelier to surprise me with his or her choice of wine that is drinking exceptionally well at the moment.

May your new year, too, be filled with wild and crazy adventures!