Friday, June 24, 2016

Bucket List Wine Destinations

There are hundreds of wine producing regions in the world, but some are far more compelling than others to visit.   Here are my “Top 10” (listed in alphabetical order by country) which I have based on the following two criteria:  quality of wines and natural beauty.   If you've not been, they are serious contenders for any wine lover's bucket list.

Mendoza, Argentina

                Wines from this area have the highest levels of antioxidants of any wine.

Located at the base of the breathtaking Andes, Mendoza is home to the world’s highest vineyards....and some killer value Malbecs and Torrontes.  

Yarra Valley, Australia    
                                   The Yarra is reminiscent of Napa in the early 1970's

What's not to love about a stunning, bucolic valley of boutique family wineries?  Located a few hours drive from Adelaide, the Yarra should definitely pull at the strings of your heart for a grape escape.

 Wachau Valley, Austria
                                 Storybook villages & Gruner Veltliner await you in the Wachau

The Wachau Valley is a UNESCO world heritage wine region along the banks of the stunning Danube River. 

Burgundy, France   
            The Cote d'Or ("golden hills") produce some of the world's priciest Pinot & Chars

Burgundy is mecca for oenophiles.   It's also home to the world's most famous annual wine auction (the Hospice de Beaune), and one of the world's most famous wine societies (Tastevin du Chevaliers).

Champagne, France  
                There are hundreds of miles of limestone cellars---this one is at Veuve Clicquot's

Much of Champagne was a quarry for Paris' magnificent buildings, resulting in a plethora of underground caves...perfect for storing and aging the region's famous bubbly.

The Rhone Valley, France   
                This Hermitage is ground zero for some of the Rhone's most famous wines

The Rhone Valley is composed of some serious wine real-estate:  L'Hermitage, Chateauneuf du Pape and Cote Rotie.  Provence, also part of the Rhone, is another reason to pack you bag!

Queenstown (Otago), New Zealand   
                                  One of the many out-of-this world vistas in the region

They say that the Otago wine district has some of the world's most beautiful landscapes and I agree.  Think majestic alpine lakes, drop-dead gorgeous vistas and some beautifully crafted whites and reds.

Douro Valley, Portugal  
                              The entire Douro wine region is protected by UNESCO

The Douro Valley is a jaw-dropping area of vertical slopes that were terraced by back-breaking work hundreds of years ago.  Formerly known for Port, the Douro is now producing some world-class table wines at a terrific quality price ratio.

Piedmont, Italy
                  Every hilltop in Piedmont boasts a castle & village for as far as the eye can see

It's hard to believe that the home of Barolo and Barbaresco is also the home of such magnificent scenery.  Piedmont has it all, including one of the world's most famous culinary items, the white truffle.

Tuscany, Italy  
                  Tuscany's scenery has been captivating the hearts of wine lovers for centuries

It's hard for the countryside to compete with such formidable tourist sights as the cities of Florence or Pisa; however, Tuscany steps right up to the plate serving up mesmerizing delights for the eyes and soul.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Fizz Ed

There's a plethora of terminology out there related to wines that have fizz which can cause the consumer to scratch their heads.  What the heck does frizzante mean?  How does Prosecco differ from Champagne?  Or does it? Is Cava simply a Spanish version of Champagne?  Does spumante have anything to do with frizzante?  All of these questions are answered below, however, let's start with the basics first.

Sparkling wine is a style of wine which has carbon dioxide bubbles in it.  These bubbles make it fizzy. The most famous example of a sparkling wine is Champagne.  A sparkling wine can be white or rosé, however, there are sparkling wines that are red, such as Italy’s Lambrusco.  Sparkling wine can be dry, or have varying amounts of sugar--- all the way to a dessert wine.  The carbon dioxide fizz is the by-product of fermentation, however, with super inexpensive sparklers carbon dioxide gas can actually be injected into a still wine to make it fizzy.

Only sparkling wine made from grapes in the Champagne wine district of France may be called Champagne.  To protect knock-off sparkling wines, the Champagne Wine Growers Association has a powerful battery of attorneys on staff who carefully watch the use of the closely guarded Champagne name around the globe.   Sparkling wines from grapes grown just a few feet outside the Champagne zone are not allowed to use the name (these wines are called “Cremant.”)  The only exception to the rule is Korbel in California, which was “grandfathered in.”

But, this army of attorneys doesn’t just act regarding wine…any company who uses the name Champagne in any of its products (from hygiene products to car care products) can expect an unpleasant visit from the French lawyers to cease and desist immediately.  Some of those who have had to change their product’s name include well-known perfume-makers, chocolatiers, lingerie designers and soft-drink producers.   Even Apple was paid a visit when word leaked that the company was going to release a "Champagne colored" case for one of its I-phones.  The Champagne name is sacred. 

An Italian sparkling wine made only from a district just outside of Venice, Prosecco is named after the village of Prosecco in which the Prosecco grape may have originated.  Unlike Champagne and Cava, Prosecco does not ferment in the bottle (secondary fermentation), thus it does not have the complexity of Champagne and Cava.  Also, Prosecco is lower in alcohol (11-12%) than many other sparklers.

Frizzante is an Italian wine term that is closely related to Spumante.  Both describe the amount of effervescence (the amount and strength of the bubbles).  Frizzante indicates a gentle effervescence, or a small amount of fizz.  Prosecco is probably the most well-known Frizzante wine style, though Prosecco wines can also be made in the more robust Spumante style.

As discussed above, this term is used in Italy to describe the amount bubbles in a wine.  Think of Spumante as a fully sparkling wine with lots of bubble factor.  The term is often associated with the sweeter wines from the Asti region of Northern Italy, Asti Spumante.

This Spanish sparkling wine used to be called “Spanish Champagne,” however, it is no longer permitted under E.U. laws.   Like Champagne, there are strict laws on Cava such as the geographical area of where the grapes are grown (near Barcelona), what grapes may be used, and how it is vinified (secondary fermentation in the bottle is a requisite).

 May the fizz be with you!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Argentina’s Napa Valley

                                         The breathtaking Andes offer a breathtaking backdrop

Mendoza is the Napa of 30-40 years ago...on the eve of the cusp of change. Like Napa which was once a bucolic, traffic free, agricultural area where a wide variety of crops were grown, Mendoza is now witnessing a plethora of new wineries, and along with them are new foodie restaurants and luxury hotels. During the 1970-80's, Napa's wines were beginning to make their mark on the world by winning prestigious awards around the globe.  This is all transpiring in Mendoza right now.

             Like Napa, there's been a huge influx of capital from around the globe.

Argentina’s version of Napa, Mendoza, is the largest wine region in Latin America.  Located 600 miles west of Buenos Aires, the province is home to >800 wineries.  Wine tourism is growing exponentially as traveling oenophiles discover these great quality/price ratio wines, as well as the charms of this interesting wine area situated at the base of the majestic Andes.

                         Catena Zapata offers a state of the art winery with jaw dropping wines 

Winemakers from the USA, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Australia and Chile are flocking to this special spot in Argentina to work their magic.  Like the Napa Valley, Mendoza is quickly becoming a mecca for quality wine, celebrity-chef restaurants, and mesmerizing five-star hotels with all of the bells and whistles.   It’s rapidly changing and the time to see is now....before it becomes a victim of its own success.

                              Cutting edge chefs tantalize with unforgettable meals               

Wine-Knows will be taking a group of travelers to both Argentina and Chile for next year’s harvest in the southern hemisphere, March 2017 and there are still a few seats available on this trip.  For more information about our visit to Argentina’s Napa Valley, check out

Here’s a list of our top 5 fave producers (listed in alpha order) in Mendoza.  Many of these wineries, along with a terrific lineup of other mover-and-shakers, will be visited on next year’s tour:

  • Archaval Ferrer
  • Catena Zapata
  • Fabre Montmayou
  • Familia Zuccardi
  • Vinalba

Friday, June 3, 2016

The Guggenheim of Wine

                                     Bordeaux's renaissance masterpiece, La Cité  du Vin

It’s impossible not to be impressed with this nearly 20 story architectural wonder of art that opened only a few days ago.  Although not designed by the Guggenheim's Frank Gehry, the grand master of pushing-the-21st-century-architectural-envelope, he must surely be in awe of La Cité du Vin.   The “City of Wine” is a provocative edifice of bold curving glass and dramatic undulating metal. 

With a price tag of $81 million US, “awesome” is the very least one could expect of the world’s finest wine museum.   La Cité offers a cornucopia of compelling multi-sensory exhibits that tell the 9,000 year old story of wine, showcasing 10 different countries.  The tour ends with a wine tasting on the 8th floor viewing platform.

Americans will be happy to know that Bordeaux lovers from their country played a big role in sponsoring the Thomas Jefferson Auditorium.  Considered the centerpiece of this iconic building, the auditorium was built by concerted philanthropic efforts of some of the most serious oenophiles in the US.   Many of the funds raised included auctions of some extraordinary Bordeaux, like a 1945 Lafite-Rothschild.  

There are several venues for wining and dining at La Cité du Vin.  On the ground floor is Latitude 20, a wine bar offering tapas and 50 wines by the glass.  Latitude is also a wine shop offering 14,000 bottles from >80 countries.  The 7th floor restaurant, aptly named “Le 7,” serves up panoramic views and an international menu.  If you’re wanting a more casual venue, the museum also has a café dubbed Le Snack.  All of them are open daily with Latitude and Le 7 serving both lunch and dinner.  Le Snack serves nonstop. 

The cost for entrance to the permanent exhibition of La Cité is about $25 (there are also temporary exhibits that require an extra $10).  Plan to arrive by river shuttle or by Bordeaux’s slick new tram system.   An advance ticket purchase via the museum’s website is strongly recommended if you’re visiting this year.