Tag Archives: Wine 101

A Study in Wine – Riesling

Today I wanted to focus on a gravely misrepresented grape; Riesling. Riesling is one of the worlds greatest white wines and often gets pushed aside as a beginner grape, or just for the ladies. Well, hopefully this blog will open your eyes to how diverse and expressive Riesling really can be!

What is it?

Riesling – A cold climate white wine grape who’s name’s origin is a little foggy but most believe comes from the German word Russ meaning dark wood. Riesling vines are dark and strong, and for many years the grape was called Ruessling, so this makes sense.

Where does it grow?

The very best Rieslings come from their homeland of Germany. Rieslings first account of being bought was in 1435 in the town of Ruesselsheim, Germany. Plantings of the grape are speculated to date back to 1232 in Austria, however, there is no clear documentation. Riesling grows all over Germany, most notable in the Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Pfalz, and Nahe. Many people get Riesling confused with Piesporter. Piesporter is a town in the Mosel where many good quality Rieslings are made however, if a label simply states Piesporter, or Piesporter Michelsberg, it means that this wine is a blend of many white wine grapes from the area. Each of these regions have a unique style to their Riesling, some are more slate and mineral driven, where as some are more full and fruity.

Besides Germany, Riesling grows all over the world. In Australia, look for Rieslings from the Clare or Eden Valley. Classically, these Riesling are some of the driest world round. In France, Alsace is the only region allowed by law to produce Riesling. Their Rieslings tend to be dry, clean and elegant. Austria, though better known for Gruner Veltleiner, also produces many good quality Rieslings.

In North America, the states that are most focused on Riesling are Washington, New York, Oregon and Michigan. Washington’s Rieslings are a normally quite affordable and very good; Chateau St. Michele is the top producer of Riesling world wide. The Riesling grape, with its strong and frost resistant vines, grow very well in these northern states, producing fruity, fun wines. Chateau Grand Traverse and Black Star Farms are some of the main vineyards in Michigan that are really showing the world what terrific wines we can make.

What does it taste like?

Dry Riesling tastes of apple blossom, lemon, and lime, whereas the sweeter Rieslings lean toward peach, honeysuckle, and apricot. They take on the character of their surroundings, so many will taste of slate or wet stone, which are commonly found in Germany. Rieslings have wonderful aging potential and the older they get the more honeyed and spiced they taste.

What do I pair it with?

The saying goes: drink wine with what is found where it’s grown. Fresh ceviche with Spanish Albarino, Argentine Malbec with beef, Champagne with Brie; and though the racy acidity of German Riesling does go with the rich foods of Germany, Asian cuisine is always a terrific pairing. Spicy foods are cooled by the sweetness of Riesling and the drier wines create perfect balance with light and delicate sushi. It is so versatile that it is a great pick for elaborate meals like Thanksgiving. Riesling cleanses and refreshes the palate after a bite of gravy soaked turkey or creamy green bean casserole.

Cheeses that pair nice are generally creamy and smooth in texture with nutty or floral notes, like Raclette, Gouda, and Gruyere. I could go on and on about food pairing with the different levels of sweetness of Riesling, like, Beerenauslese and Icewine, but I think I will leave that for another blog.

What are your favorites?

Jacob’s Creek Dry Riesling, South Eastern Australia 2011 $6.99 –
Notes of grapefruit candy and lime on the nose, this extreme value is refreshing, clean, and makes an amazing turkey brine!

Chateau Chantal Late Harvest Riesling, Michigan 2011 $16.99 –
Honeysuckle, apricot, pear and peach are all prevalent through out this delicious sipper. Terrific with spicy Asian cuisine or on its own, this one is definitely sweeter but still balanced with acidity.

Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbach Rheingau Riesling 2009 Hohenrain – Old Vines $18.99 –
Peach and lime zest on the nose with white peach and apricot on the palate, this Riesling does an outstanding job of balancing sweetness and acidity. This is by far my favorite, it is complex, mouthwatering, and delicious.

Throughout my career I have noticed many trends. Merlot is a gateway to Cabernet Sauvignon, Moscato is the new White Zin, and wine lovers drink Riesling at the beginning of their wine journey, and always come back to it after they have acquired the knowledge and respect for an this outstanding grape. I hope my blog has given you the extra nudge you needed to try Riesling again.


– Jennifer Laurie

Wine Study– Merlot

In my first wine study, we explored the king of wine, Cabernet Sauvignon.  Well if Cab is king, then Merlot is his queen.  It is soft, lush and many times feminine. Sounds tasty, right? Over the past couple of years, though, it has gotten a bad rap, just as Chardonnay did in the 1980s (many restaurant goers were touting the line ABC – Anything But Chardonnay). It is coming back though. To me, it seems as though winemakers are rallying against the bad press and the lingering effects of the movie Sideways.  This 2004 Oscar winner skyrocketed Pinot Noir and left Merlot rotting on the vine when the main character, Miles–a wine snob to the tenth degree, states, “I am not drink any f***ing Merlot!” This wine study will focus on dispelling any lingering thoughts that Merlot is a lesser wine and promoting it to her place upon a throne.

What Is it?

Merlot–A red wine grape that’s name is thought to come from the French word merle, which means young blackbird. Whether it was named this because of its blue/black coloring on the vine or because the blackbirds loved it so, the name stuck.

Where Does It Grow?

As the root of its name suggests, Merlot is most prominent in France, where it is revered, and the main grape in some of the world’s most expensive and elusive Bordeauxs, namely Chateau Petrus. Because of its soft qualities, it is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. Merlot grows in pretty much every wine-making region, most notably Washington, California, Chile, Italy and Hungary.  It ripens early and is more adapted to the cold than Cabernet Sauvignon, making it a favorite of the Eastern European countries. They make many wines from this grape, again blending it often to make sweeter, fruitier reds.

In the colder-weather wine regions, like Washington, the wines end up a little more structured and robust. In Italy, it is the 5th most widely grown grape and is blended often with the light-bodied and acidic Sagniovese, giving the wines more body and a rounded finish. In California, with its long, warm growing season, the wines are lush and fruit forward. This became a blessing and a curse since the ease of California Merlot made it very drinkable and popular but turned off wine connoisseurs that thought these wines were flabby and nondescript. Chilean Merlot also had a sordid tale since for decades it had been picked and blended with the long lost, late ripening grape Carmenere. The wines were unbalanced and tasted of green pepper. Owners of Chilean winery Domaine Paul Bruno brought in experts to decipher if they were dealing with more than one grape. When it was revealed that many wineries were growing Carmenere instead of Merlot, it greatly helped the image of Chilean Merlot.

What Does It Taste Like?

The primary fruit flavors of Merlot are plum, black cherry, and red currant–non-fruits being chocolate, tobacco, and licorice that are enhanced by oak aging. California Merlot is often a low-tannin wine, leaving a smooth, soft finish. With French Merlots, the tannin levels can be ramped up, leaving a drier finish; whereas with Chile, the finish is a bit peppery.  Overall, Merlot is fruity and appealing.

What Do I Pair It With?

Since Merlot is low in tannin, it can be enjoyed with anything from roast chicken to prime rib. I don’t recommend it with fish, but if you must, salmon would be a good bet. Hearty vegetarian meals, pork, and wild game work too. Cheeses that pair well are milder and creamier, such as Gouda, Gruyere, and mild Blue Cheese.

Now, one of my mentors has a strong belief that wine and food should always go together, inseparable, like the letters Q and U. So when I say that Merlot is one of those wines you can drink on its own, sans food, I hope he never finds out!

What Are My Favorites?

Ancient Peaks Merlot, Paso Robles, California 2010 $16.99 –

Red plum and vanilla are on the nose with a hint of cherry, medium in body with red currant, cherry and notes of stewed tomato, with cedar and mocha on the finish. This Merlot is well balanced and has nice tannins, a knockout for the price!

Chateau Couronneau Cuvee Pierre de Cartier, Bordeaux Superieur, France 2008 $24.99 –

If you have a nonbeliever of Merlot in your family, take him or her this beauty.  The Chateau Couronneau is rustic and chewy, with intense blackberry and cassis, sure to fool any wine drinker into thinking it’s Cab. Coffee and raspberry on the finish, with tannins that beg for creamy, decadent cheese.

Pedestal Merlot, Columbia Valley, Washington 2006 $64.99 –

Iconic winemaker Michel Rolland is a believer in letting Merlot ripen longer, letting it become fuller and more lush. But he’s smart; he only does it in Bordeaux and Washington, where the wines will become mouth-filling and elegant–not in California, where late picking can lead to flabbiness. The Pedestal is everything that is good about Merlot–soft, ripe, rich, and round, with black cherry, forest fruits, cocoa and spice; a silky mouth feel and polish; integrated tannins on the finish.

My dad’s favorite wine is Merlot. Much like my mother, it is adaptable and likable but can also be elegant and complex. I can see why he loves them both.


– Jennifer Laurie

Wine Storage 101

If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “I have a bottle of Champagne we got for our wedding 20 years ago; is it still good?,” I’d have a very fat piggy bank! In general, my answer to this is “Maybe, but you will never know until you try it!” Although most wines are made to be consumed within three to five years of their release date, many will age gracefully if stored properly. In general, wines that are light and fruity, such as Beaujolais and Zinfandel, should be consumed young while wines that have heavy tannins (Cabernet Sauvignon) and high acidity (French Chardonnay) can be aged. But I digress. Which wines to store will be a later blog; this is about how to store them.

When it comes to wine, storage is very important. Heat and light are the primary enemies of wine. In a recent post, I talked about laying bottles down, stating that if a wine has a screw cap closure, the chances of it going bad decrease. Though this is true, there are other things that can ruin a bottle of wine. In fact, just the other day a friend of mine texted me with a picture of a South African white blend and asked if it was supposed to taste like Salami. Having tried it before, I replied, “No, it should taste like peaches!” I told her it must be bad, and she responded “How? It has a screw cap!” When a wine has been exposed to too much heat or light, it can turn, producing a vinegary or overly raisiny flavor.


Key steps to protect your wine

If you are looking to store your wine long term, there are a few key steps to take to protect your wine:

  1. Keep your wine cool; 55 degrees is ideal. However, anywhere from 45 to 65 is okay. Anything above 75 degrees for an extended period of time will hinder the quality of the wine. This is why the basement is a good storage area. Make sure the wine is in a dark corner and far away from appliances, such as the washing machine and dryer. These appliances give off heat and vibrations that will not let the wine rest properly. When wine becomes too warm, it expands and tries to push out the cork. When the temperature goes back down, it contracts and compromises the cork, so keeping a consistent temperature is ideal. Sometimes you will see that some wine has seeped out of the bottle. This is not a sure sign that the wine has gone bad. However, you may want to reevaluate where you are storing it.
  2. The darker, the better. Though many consumers like being able to see the color of the wine in the bottle, a darker bottle is best. When UV rays come into contact with the wine over an extended period of time, the wine will mature at a faster rate. Winemakers use darker bottles, and sometimes even wrap the bottles in paper, to ensure the least amount of light is getting in. Fluorescent and sunlight are the worst while light from a halogen bulb is kindest.
  3. Protect the cork. Like I stated in my Ask the Sommelier article, laying bottles down ensures that no air will get into the wine. When you lay the bottle down, the wine is pressed up against the cork, securing it. However, I must note that storing your wine in a relatively humid area helps keep the cork plump, preventing it from drying out and crumbling.

If you follow these basic wine storage rules, your wines will taste better longer. But always remember that wine is no good unless it is enjoyed! So next Tuesday night when you and your hubby are home watching TV, open up that old bottle and drink to each other.