Monday, January 22, 2024

Champagne's Unusual Way of Pricing Grapes

                                 Champagne's grape pricing system began in the early 1900's

Did you know that the cost of grapes in the Champagne district is totally dependent upon a quality rating system based upon the village in which they are grown?  Let me explain this fascinating system used in the Champagne appellation to determine how much certain grapes are worth.

Overview of Champagne Region

The Champagne region actually begins about 75 miles east of Paris.  It is quite a large geographic area (90 miles north - south, by 70 miles east - west).  Moreover, the Champagne appellation has 318 different villages that grow grapes for the world’s most coveted bubbly.  Each village has been given a quality rating and the price of the village’s grapes are dependent upon this.

           The mountain of Reims has several villages classified as either Grand Cru or Premier Cru

Quality $ystem

Think of the Champagne vineyard rating like a ladder with 3 rungs.   The top rung composes grapes from the 17 Grand Cru designated villages.   The middle rung includes grapes from the 44 Premier Cru villages.  On the bottom rung are the grapes of the remaining 257 villages.  

Each year the price of grapes is determined by the CIVC (Comite Interprofessioanl de Vins de Champagne), a joint trade association representing both the grape growers and Champagne makers.  Once the annual price is established here’s how the three parts of the ladder are paid:

~  Grand Cru villages are paid 100% of the price

~ Premier Cru villages are paid 90-99% of the price

~ The remaining villages are paid 80-89% of the price

                          Wine-Knows' Champagne, Burgundy & the Rhone trip is sold out

If you’re one of the fortunate participants of this September’s trip, you will actually be hosted by the CIVC trade organization for a private seminar and tasting.  Additionally, you will be visiting Champagne makers with Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards.

Toasting all a healthy 2024! 


Friday, January 12, 2024

What is GSM?

                      France's Rhone River Valley is ground zero for the GSM blend

Over the past twenty years the phrase GSM has become quite popular among serious wine lovers.  Sommeliers are using the term to discuss their wine list, and tasting room personnel in California’s Central Coast wineries toss it to and fro like it was commonplace.  For those of you who are coming on our September trip to the Rhone Valley and don’t know the term, you need to know it.  GSM is code for the immensely popular Rhone blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre.  

                          GSM appears in both the north & south Rhone but in differing proportions 

The Rhone Valley is the second largest wine growing region in France.  GSM is dominant throughout both of its two sub regions, the northern & southern Rhone. Here’s a recap of these three varieties that comprise GSM.


One of the most versatile red grapes in the world, Grenache thrives in hot, dry climates such as the Rhone Valley, Spain (where it is named Garnacha), and California.  Grenache produces wines that can range from light to full-bodied; from simple inexpensive wines that offer immediate satisfaction to complex ones that are cellar worthy and do not come cheaply.  Grenache is all about fruit…strawberries, blackberries, raspberries.  That being said, the variety’s earth notes can include an interesting layering of spices such as allspice, cinnamon or pepper, as well as subtle nuances of floral notes. 

Grenache is the superstar grape in the wines of the southern Rhone.  Chateauneuf du Pape, for example, is typically a blend of 75% Grenache.  In second and third place in the south’s blend are Sryah and Mourvedre, respectively.  

                  Wine-Knows visit the famous hill of  Hermitage in the Northern Rhone


Unlike the southern Rhone where Grenache rules, Syrah is King in the Northern Rhone dominating the blend in famous wines such as Hermitage and Cote-Rotie.  In fact, DNA testing shows the Syrah grape is indigenous to the Rhone Valley.

Syrah, in contrast to Grenache, contributes not only firm tannins that make for powerfully flavored and full bodied wines, but Syrah’s very dark inky color adds  deep hues to these northern Rhones.    Similar to Grenache, on the other hand, the Syrah grape yields rich fruit flavors in the form of black cherry, blackberry and plum.  Syrah also provides a beguiling spice profile of cloves, licorice, white or black pepper, and even chocolate.  

Wine-Knows will visit the town of Chateauneuf du Pape & its famous wineries


The “M” part of GSM tends to produce deeply-colored and tannic wines that can be high in alcohol.   Mourvedre is mainly used for blending in both the northern & southern Rhone and is rarely vinified as a varietal except in the appellation of Bandol (on the Mediterranean) where the cooling maritime influence can change it into a rockstar.  Mourvedre offers earth flavors such as leather, as well as dark fruit flavors.  There is often even a patina of chocolate.

If you’re joining the Wine-Knows' harvest tour this September in France you’ll have several opportunities to sample GSM in the famous southern Rhone appellation of Chateauneuf du Pape, as well as Hermitage and Cote Rotie of the northern Rhone.  We have remaining 1-2 spaces still available for a lucky GSM lover.  But, since we’ll also be visiting Burgundy and Champagne on this same trip, Pinot Noir & bubble lovers are also welcomed!

Burgundy & Champagne – Wine-Knows Travel (



Monday, January 1, 2024

3 California Wines To Consider

     A built-in-the-round wine cellar was one of our first projects when we moved to San Diego

In 2009 when we moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to San Diego County we moved >2,000 bottles of wine down in a large, refrigerated truck.  Today our cellar has about 50% of what we transported to San Diego, and our wine purchases have slowed to a drip as we add more birthdays.  Five years ago my husband and I went on a moratorium for wine buying….my husband thought this meant “more” wine, however, after a serious talk regarding our ages we agreed that our serious wine buying days were over.   Today we rarely buy cases of wine, however, this article discusses three stellar case exceptions that were added to our cellar in 2023.

      Santa Rita Hills are the only east to west hills in Cali, thus allow the cooling influence of the sea


Santa Barbara County is making some great wines, however, Brewer Clifton (BC) produces some phenomenal wines.  Two of our three cases from 2023 came from BC.  Greg Brewer, named Winemaker of the Year in 2021, is the owner & winemaker and we were fortunate to have him meet us for a tasting.   The first case we purchased was the stunning Perilune Chardonnay sourced from fruit in the coveted Perilune vineyard of the Santa Rita Hills.   This is a limited production wine, but I can say that my love for it was limitless.  $80 bucks a bottle and worth every penny in my opinion, it’s only available at the winery (however, they ship).

The second of our year’s few cases purchased was Brewer Clifton’s Machado Vineyard Pinot Noir.  Our cellar has an enormous amount of Pinot Noir from Burgundy and California so the fact that we walked out with 12 more bottles of this variety is testimony to the quality of this wine.  After the tasting I discovered it had been given a score of 97 by a serious wine critic.  Personally, I would even rate it higher:  $90 per bottle of pure hedonistic pleasure.

       Beringer Winery, one of Napa Valley's architectural masterpieces, also makes masterful wines

Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2021

The last wine we purchased recently we learned of at a private autumn several-course dinner at a restaurant in San Diego where each course was paired with a different wine.   The wine distributor for the portfolio of terrific wines was present and discussed each wine.  Beringer’s Private Reserve Char was the first out of the gate and was paired with crab cakes.  Our table was the first poured of the 50 persons present, so we were able to enjoy the Char both as an aperitif and a small refill with the crab cakes.  There were 4 other great wines presented that evening but I couldn’t keep thinking about the first.  The next day I ordered a case.  I wasn’t surprised to learn that the Wine Spectator’s James Suckling had given it score of 98.  This Char has a great QP/R at $37 per bottle and is available at Total Wine.

Cheers to a healthy 2024 filled with some memorable wines!