Where are Wine Sales


Where are Wine Sales?

If the early 2020s have shown us anything is that wine sales and consumption is continuing on a downward trajectory, within Europe and also here in North America. The question is why and can something be done?

The answers are both simple and at the same time, complicated. There are things that can be done looking at other alcoholic beverages that had to work very hard on marketing to compete with the wine demographic. As usual, creativity would be indeed the answer.

Once upon a time wine, in the traditional wine and food cultures, they were exactly that, part of eating habits; we sat, we ate and drunk wine both as a source of nutrition and socializing.

Distillates, fortified products and even beers, although their golden era may have been up until the early 20th Century, slowly fell by the wayside. Some of this was due as the latter part of the 20th Century started the movement of better quality wine consumption as opposed to mass wine consumption. With the ever increasing DUI laws that were now starting to be implemented consistently and universally, distillates, fortified and others found themselves on the outside looking in, while wine was somewhat spared and remained on the inside as the only real alcoholic beverage of the masses.

The distillate industry in the late 20th Century needed an answer, and it was not going to be easy and required some outside the box thinking. There was one thread that they could look at the wine industry and realize that it did have a deficiency and if properly targeted, there could be many opportunities. It needed to be a special way or reinventing itself and without the funding of what beers always had from huge multinationals for TV advertising, it needed to be a sort of grassroots approach.

The one tool they could notice with wine patterns was two fold, the older generations who grew up with wine as a staple, were the larger demographics. Generations Y & Z were not following in the path in two major ways. The first was the rather small wine consumption and at the same time their not being brand loyal. For traditional wine producing nations, this posed a serious problem but for new producing wine regions and especially unknown grape varietals, it offered opportunity worthy of these two important generations.

With the way of smart phones in our every day life, these generations are willing to try anything and if they like they continue and if not, in a second will try something else. They are receptive to new products and also are not willing to pay restaurant markups as older generations were; a group of friends get together in one home, each one brings a bottle of wine and a food dish and let’s have a great party between friends at a very affordable cost.

Distillates of any sort, be it grain or fruit based had something to grasp at; if they do not want to pay high, why not make it about alcohol. Why try to sell your traditional Cognacs, Armagnac and so on if it was viewed as passé and overpriced?

Hence allow the invention of the premium cocktails. You want an old fashioned, no more well level cocktails… What kind of Bourbon would you like, from the entry level all the way to the most expensive. Yes, one usually would not want to spend premium distillates prices on a cocktail, but the marketing allure to a younger generation was there. You can now go clubbing on a weekend with friends and order exotic premium cocktails. With the premium approach you can now easily charge $20, $30 and even more per drink; garnish it with exotic garnishes and a wow presentation and the execution was flawless.

From there everyone jumped on the bandwagon. From top end Tequila cocktails, to Cognac, even Pisco and Cachaça based cocktails had an avenue now. What retailer or restaurant ever thought of carrying Pisco in North America, not to belittle our Peruvian and Chilean brethren who live and die for this delicious spirit. And there was your grassroots without a lot of marketing dollars taking off.  Gradually many restaurants started to jump on the bandwagon and offer it to get part of the bar business. Some small amounts of them even cut back on the wine program and expanded on cocktail programs. At the end of the day, four $30 cocktails between a couple not only is it an easy sell since they do not see the initial large sticker price, but also it is visually very pleasant to see on a table and inventory can be manageable.

For now it seems as though the wine industry has not tried to adapt to these two new generations, but rather try a not very successful approach of mixing “wine cocktails”, your hard seltzers by the bottle or can, Sangria and others, (again, this is not taking away a drop from the delicious Spanish beverage).

Wine, to a large extent is still stuck in the mid 20th Century, a beverage of either the classes that could afford the “luxury” or those that consume inexpensive products for the purposes of having wine with their food. Ultimately, this thinking is also lacking inclusivity and diversity, sort of a slap or deficiency that screams against what Generation X & Z stand for.

While the fashion, electronics and other major industries are catering to Generation Z from their early teenage years and less, understanding they can have a lifetime consumers, distillates understood and with creativity started to reach these demographics, while now wines are really on the outside looking in. To a lesser extent even some fortified are making a comeback through interesting food and/or repackaging or reinventing themselves (Sherry and Madeira come to mind).

Are there easy and quick solutions other than throwing boatloads of money into marketing, on the surface perhaps not. But dig a little deeper and see that there are many opportunities.

Why do we see so many Tequila products for examples sponsored by the NFL? Why are so many Whiskeys branded by many NHL teams? Attend these games, if you are not consuming beers, you are having these distillates, in most cases within a cocktail perspective at very high end prices.

Are 20 and 30 year olds willing to spend it, yes of course, just go to your next hockey game and see how long the lineup is to your whisky or tequila bar for a cocktail; and inexpensive it is not (unfortunately neither is the beer) but that is another subject.

There are answers, perhaps not as romantic as these lovely Tequila, Whisky, Pisco and so on cocktails with beautiful exotic ingredients added and visuals that are equally as deliciously pleasant to the eye. Can the wine industry find its equivalence? After all, are we suggesting that we want to start making cocktails out of your first growth Bordeaux or Premium California Cabs? Obviously we cannot, nor could it be made realistically.

However one obvious answer is, the wine industry needs to start speaking to the masses that enjoy alcoholic beverage. And it needs to do this soon otherwise two generations will grow up to view or think of wine as a distant extinct option that only their grandparents drank.

Perhaps large wineries can start marketing their mid range wines in a more accessible fashion, not just the traditional 375mil half bottle but even the 175ml mini. With that, we are not referencing inexpensive products but rather the premium wines and at very good pricing. Is there a sexy bottle shape and/or packaging that can capture sensuality and excitement inside of say a $30 175ml Barolo of a good vintage? When we think of sensual marketing, just look how effective Corona was to the female consumption worldwide.

This may prove to be an expensive start up from the winery side but then, large partnerships are perhaps the way to go, the masses that they can access. Whether at the lounge of an NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL arena, it can also be right next to those lovely tequila cocktails. This is just one idea, it just takes one progressive and exciting team to take it on and before you know it everyone is screaming for some Chianti mini bottles thrown their way at the stands during the third period or fourth quarter of a game. This is just one little idea, but from outside the box, wine needs many of these ideas if it is to survive in a healthy way going forward. Just ask the French how much wine is being used up for ethanol because of a lack of consumption. There is currently one winery that is affiliated with the NFL directly but none on a per team situation.

How would you like to see wine being marketed in the New Year? A very few wines have started to partner with professional sports but not on a grand scale and especially with an idea of premium wines in very great looking packaging. What thoughts do you have? If you were a winery or wine distributor, what ideas do you think could be effective for our younger generations? How would you like to see wines marketed? Give us your feedback, you never know where it may lead us all.

Joseph Miller is the Dean of academics for the International Sommelier Guild and author of three sommelier and enology textbooks, including the 4th edition of  the “Sommelier Compendium”.

International Sommelier Guild is a world wide provider of Sommelier, Wine Business & Beverage Management, and Enology education.

California Fires Drought Impact

California’s Wine Conundrum: How Fires, Droughts, and Other Elements are Affecting Winemakers

Some have said that stressed vines turn out the best wines. Smoky overtones indeed are a pleasure to indulge with that complement grilled meats or smoked flavors. However, there is, of course, too much of a good thing. That is where California’s wildfire predicament comes into play.

As more vines are exposed to destructive wildfires that stress them along with prolonged drought periods, it stands to reason we should be collectively concerned about California’s wine country. So naturally, this makes winemakers in this region, along with everyone else in the world, from vintners to consumers, a bit nervous about the future.

Among the concerns, climate change effects may be making wine regions too warm for the varietals they once were famed for to grow well. Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay both come to mind as the lengthy droughts continue to decrease harvest yields, further exacerbating those dry conditions that fuel massive wildfires. The fires destroy everything in their path, and even for those out of harm’s way, prolonged smoke exposure damages the very fruits of the vintner’s labors.


Smoke Taint Defined

In wood, there is a compound known as lignin, which gives trees their rigidity and strength. However, when this burns, it releases compounds into the air, which are volatile phenols. These can travel great distances where the compounds either degrade or settle onto the ground.

As such, it makes it difficult to determine the impact they have. Many winemakers wonder if they are a certain distance from the fire if they are safe. The distance has less to do with it, though. Some vineyards that were further away had a more significant impact than the ones that were closer.

Therefore, the intensity of the smoke and the length of exposure make the biggest contributions to the grapes. However, the visual presence of smoke is not enough. Neither is the measure of the air quality index as far as it can go with the impact on wine grapes. That is because these impactful compounds are not capable of being measured by particulate counters. After all, they are so small. This adds to the dilemma for winemakers and the wine industry as a whole.


Smoke, Climate Change, and Other Influences

What will winemakers do with these grapes? The whole wine industry stands to suffer from the effects of climate change in viticulture. As such, researchers and winemakers alike are coming together to discover new ways that grape growers can adapt to the increase in temperatures, such as how to deal with smoke-tainted grapes and the chance of rootstocks that can tolerate drought better.

Wildfires have become a yearly occurrence in California. If the grapes are continually exposed to smoke, they take on unwanted flavors. Those flavors then present themselves in the finished product, which has the potential to ruin all that hard work in creating each vintage.

However, the way smoke affects the grapes is not always so easy to discover. It is not detectible by sight, smell, or even flavor if you should pluck the grapes from the vine and sample them. Smoke in the air does not equate to tainted grapes. Those variables become much more complex, which is why chemical analysis can help, though only if it is applied quickly.

As such, working around this has slowed down the wine industry. While waiting for results, many contracts were canceled without proof that the smoke did not ruin the vintages. In addition, the demand for this analysis continues to exceed the supply, making this an even larger-scale problem.

While it is undoubtedly true that winemakers will add subtle smoky hints to make wines unfold in a more complex way, the flavors that come from wildfire smoke render them undrinkable. Wines that are tainted by smoke have discordant aromas that smell like chemical agents and have the flavor of an ashtray that has not been cleaned out since the 1980s.

Since climate change increases the instances of drought and wildfire events in California, these are the biggest threats to the state’s treasured vineyards. Along with the challenges the pandemic created, it is a worrisome problem. Temperatures around the world have steadily risen, which makes the prevalence of drought and heatwave far more common. In addition, the fires in 2020 burned through over 4 million acres of land, the largest on record.

On the plus side, vineyards are a bit resistant to flames. They create fire breaks which can help halt the fire. While that is good, the smoke is still in the air, lending that unpleasant aroma and taste to the varietals.


The Plan for Winemakers

Research continues to abound for smoke taint and its impacts. They are looking at ways to protect the grapes from harmful compounds that come from burning woods. Sensors are another option that may give a better estimate of the risk of smoke taint. Doing so would also aid the labs because grapes would only be tested in a high-risk area.

However, wine professionals need to know that vintages from 2020 are not ruined. If it is out there and bottled, it will be up to the standards you hold high. No winemaker would ever let a bottle reach the shelves without ensuring it upholds that flavor you seek, for you’d surely never rebuy it.

On the horizon, growers are working with researchers to discover rootstocks and clone combinations to help resist drought conditions. Farming practices that can mitigate warmer weather effects are also being sought. They are also considering varietals that thrive at the same latitudes as southern Italy and Greece.

Another option? Shade films can serve to filter out UV light. This would allow the grapes to grow outdoors as usual but stay cooler and expand through that growing season. It is a bit like a greenhouse, except it is more open, allowing the grapes to grow outdoors while staying cooler. It can also expand the growing season, another benefit that could potentially save the California wine industry.


Cabernet Sauvignon on Focus

There is no doubt that California’s most signature grape varietal grown in Napa is Cabernet Sauvignon. It makes up more than half of the grapes grown in the Napa Valley and requires specific conditions to thrive. For example, Cabernet Sauvignon grapes need warmth to ripen. However, too much heat makes the flavors fall flat and retain an unpleasantly boozy taste. There is also the conundrum about lack of water supply which can lower crop yields.

Research teams are working together to find the hardiest rootstocks for this varietal. They are doing so by identifying the biomarkers for water stress and overexposure to heat. Currently, they are evaluating these biomarkers to find the most resilient among them to carry on with the Cabernet Sauvignon production.

It is a wise way to approach a growing problem that seems to have no end. Each year brings another massive wildfire outbreak. Turning a blind eye to it will not make it disappear, though the good news is that winemakers and researchers are intent on winning.

The researchers are busy looking at the individual characteristics of the root cells. This is what helps roots draw in water, even from dry soil. When those genes have been identified, they can look for them across large populations and breed these specific grapes with these genes from Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. It can be something used to help all varietals thrive in any condition in the future too.

Turning to the plants themselves to solve the problems is about capturing the survival of the fittest. Finding the traits that can tolerate stress better than others will help yield hardier vines that thrive during any condition.


How to Buy 2020 Vintages 

Naturally, consumers are a bit wary when it comes to buying California wines produced in 2020. However, if you would like to try them, you should. Winemakers have pulled out all the stops to ensure that nothing subpar would be included in their bottles.

In fact, you may be uncorking some of the best wines of all due to the stringent planning and work that has gone into each bottle. Beyond the 2021 vintages and onward, winemakers will continue to pursue the best practices and how to overcome these obstacles thrown forth by the wildfires, climate changes, and how that affects the soil and grapes.

If you have a favorite California winery, you should continue to buy wine as you normally would. This will help keep the California wine industry going, and if you keep a 2020 vintage in your wine cellar, it may just have even more exciting flavors to open up once you pop that cork.


Euro Travel Coach

Iconic Wines of the Piedmont Region of Italy

Every time we visit the Piedmont region of Italy, I am struck by how many outstanding indigenous grapes they have that are cultivated practically nowhere else in the world. The outstanding wines they produce are one of the reasons we keep returning to this relatively untouristed part of Italy again and again. Here is a primer on some of the wonderful wines you can find there.


Barolo DOCG and Barbaresco DOCG are the undisputed king and queen of the region. Both are made with the Nebbiolo grape which packs cherry flavors, ample tannins and acidity, and a certain earthiness that make these wines perfect for aging for decades. As they get older the clear red color takes on an orange or brown tinge, the tannins smooth down, and wonderful tertiary flavors of leather, licorice, and spice emerge. These wines pair wonderfully with braised meat dishes and rich pasta.

Neighboring these two appellations is the Roero region which makes its own Roero DCOG with the same Nebbiolo grape. One of our favorite things to do when we visit the area is to pop into our favorite enoteca and do a side by side tasting of wines from all three DOCGs.

Other Nebbiolo wines from Piedmont include Nebbiolo d’Alba DOC and Langhe Nebbiolo DOC which are more affordable and a great introduction to the grape. Farther north in Piedmont are Gattinara DOCG and Ghemme DOCG which have their own unique tasting profiles due to their terroir.

Barbera is the “everyday” wine of the region and can often be a great value. Fresh fruity flavors with some spice and minerality make this an easy crowd pleaser. It is one of my favorite wines to bring to a dinner party because its soft tannins and crisp acidity make it pair well with a wide array of dishes. Historically this is the wine the working class drank with their Bagna Cauda, a regional anchovy and garlic dip served with bread and vegetables.

Some of the more popular wines made with this grape include Barbera d’Asti DOCG, Barbera d’Alba DOC, and Barbera del Monferrato DOC.

Completing the trifecta world class grapes in the region is Dolcetto. Meaning “little sweet one,” Dolcetto imbues its wines with soft red and black fruits with low levels of acidity but strong tannins. Because of these tannins the newest releases can seem a bit harsh and are better a year or two after release. The wine pairs well with rich meat dishes, sausage, and pizza.

Dolcetto d’Alba, Dolcetto d’Asti, and Langhe Dolcetto produce worthy exaples but perhaps the best expression of the grape can be found in Dogliani DOCG. Just to the south of Barolo, Dogliani is the true home to this outstanding grape. These wines tend to be fuller bodied with floral notes and hints of chocolate, coffee, and black fruits.

While these are the most well-known wines in the area there are several others that are harder to find outside Piedmont that are worth searching for. Grignolino is a light bodied wine that is often compared to Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. It is meant to be drunk young and its acidity makes it a great food wine. 

Ruché is a red wine from the Monferrato area that has a reputation of being a little wild. It is light-bodied but can be quite tannic and peppery. It is just now gaining some recognition outside the region it is grown.

Freisa is a wine with strong red berry flavors and high levels of acid and tannins. The wine can be so bitter that makers sometimes leave a little residual sugar to balance it. It is also sometimes made in a semi-sparkling style. Grignolino, Ruché, Freisa, and others are gaining popularity as producers embrace and experiment with indigenous grapes.


While Piedmont is often synonymous with the famous red wines mentioned above, the region also produces some notable white wines. Perhaps the most well-known is Gavi DOCG made with the Cortese grape in the southeast part of Piedmont. These are very crisp wines with citrus and green apple flavors with some herbaceous notes.

Roero Arneis DOCG is another fresh white wine that often has flavors of stone fruit and pear, almond or hazelnut, and grassy notes. It is a great summer wine and pairs well with fish, chicken, and lighter pasta dishes.

Favorita is a grape related to Vermentino grown in Liguria. It was sometimes used as a blending grape to combat the harsh tannins found in Nebbiolo but more and more producers are making varietal versions with this native grape.

Nascetta is still a little-known wine even in Piedmont. Grown primarily around the village of Novello, just a handful of producers are currently making wine with this local grape. However, the grape produces wine with intense floral notes and fresh fruit flavors that ages well. This is a wine on the rise.


As with any many important wine producing region, Piedmont has its share of wonderful sparkling wines. While Moscato Bianco (Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains) is widely grown around the world, what they do with it in Asti is something special.  Asti Spumante (fully sparkling) and Moscato d’Asti (frizzante or semi sparkling) are both sweet wines that are highly aromatic with hints of citrus and even tropical fruits. While there are still wines made with this grape, the sparkling offerings are the stars here.

Alta Langa DOCG is a region higher up in the hills to the east of Barolo and Alba. These are Metodo Classico sparkling wines made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in both white and rosé versions. These are serious wines but still hard to find outside the region.

There are other sparkling wines to be found by the intrepid traveler. Gavi makes a sparkling wine with the Cortese grape and I am aware of at least one producer that makes a blanc de noir from Nebbiolo grapes that are pruned from the tips of bunches prior to the Barolo harvest.

For wine lovers Piedmont is wonderland of varietals and terroirs to discover. The food is equally good and the landscape is gorgeous surrounded by the Alps. If you are looking for your next wine vacation, you can’t go wrong in the Piedmont region of Italy.

This article is brought to you by Greg Ball – Greg is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries and counting! He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.

If you are interested in a trip to Piedmont or another great European wine region, consider letting Euro Travel Coach create a custom itinerary for you.

Uruguay: Emerging from Behind the Shadows of Chile and Argentina in the World of Wine

Woman reading a wine label

There are many things the country of Uruguay is known for. Among them, soccer, asado and tango tend to come to mind. However, the tiny South American country excels at something else too, something that is often overshadowed by Argentina and Chile…wine.

It might be a small country, yet that small size doesn’t seem to be deterring it from stepping up into the competition for wine production. In fact, the growth of Brazil’s wine market is really a positive force for Uruguayan wines. Furthermore, Brazil’s tourism to Uruguay is also growing and that spells big growth for this little land brimming with wine.

The majority of Brazilian wine drinkers love to try new styles of wine. Brazilians are very open to newness and for this reason, many of them happily cross the border to sample Uruguay’s wines. In fact, the Uruguayan Chamber of Tourism states that around half a million Brazilians come to Uruguay each year to luxuriate in the resorts and on the sunny beaches as well as partake in cultural activities, part of which includes wine tourism.

Wineries in Uruguay confirm this with the majority of tourists that come through being noted as Brazilian. They come to the wineries and engage in tastings, and Uruguay is quite ready to embrace the barrage of happy wine-loving tourists from all over the globe.

There is one thing though that could further catapult Uruguay into wine-stardom in South America. If it diversifies a little more, it may see even more of a boom in tourism and wine sales. Tannat, the best-known grape variety in Uruguay, is also the one that has the most focus. And for good reason! It’s very full-bodied and tannic, and it boasts the highest level of antioxidants over other red grape varieties. It thrives here from the soil and climate and is capable of making magnificent wine from the grape that in its homeland of France could never thrive.

However, other varieties shouldn’t be overlooked all in the name of Tannat. Merlot and Cabernet from Uruguay are nothing short of spectacular. Albariños are also emerging with full potential. Having more variety translates to having more of a global reach.

Speaking of reaching the rest of the globe though, Uruguay is smartly shifting to engage with consumers in the digital world. In Brazil alone, many wine drinkers buy their bottles online. The UK and China top that list (sent out by the Online Retail and Communications in 2018), though other countries are getting on the trend.

With a versatile and easy interface on websites and apps, wine producers in Uruguay have complete control of surpassing Chile and Argentina simply by being more accessible. On top of that, becoming more visible by education those in the wine trade and consumers is how the tiny country is set to climb to the top.

One sip and you’ll see why Uruguayan wine will be the next big thing. While its been around for a while, by utilizing marketing and avenues of modern exposure, it will reach more palates and become more common on the shelves of your local wine shop and on the menus of your favorite dining establishments.

Will Turkey’s Wine Industry Ever Recover from the Red Tape Tug-of-War?

Wine bottles with glass

The beautiful country of Turkey is a land of fertile terroir. It has a stunning climate that’s hot yet not humid, ideal for making wine. Although it’s had a long winemaking tradition, the current regime is making things difficult for those who have practiced the art of growing vines and turning them into wine as a means to support their families.

Much of the wine in Turkey comes from native grape varieties like Narince, Kalecik, and Karasi for example. However, the growers that haven’t been scared off from their traditions have increasingly turned to European grapes in order to find new markets to keep their business’ alive.

The International Organization of Vine and Wine (OIV) notes that Turkey currently has the 5th largest area of vineyards in use anywhere in the world. Sadly, because of the political state, many of these grapes merely get eaten fresh or are dried for later consumption.

This is all largely due to religious reasoning for the country abides by Muslim beliefs. Winegrowers have continued to step up quality over the last decade while Belgium remains the largest market abroad for these wines, though Turkish wines can also be found in the UK, Germany, and the US.

The high taxes and stricter regulations of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have made it all the more difficult for the world to get a taste of Turkish wines. Restrictions in regards to alcohol in Turkey have been around for ages. In the 17th century during the Ottoman Empire, Sultan Murad IV placed a massive ban on alcohol (coffee and tobacco too). Interestingly, he died from alcoholism.

Still, if you go to Turkey today, you won’t see any form of alcohol advertised there. You’re not even allowed to order it online though you will find it in supermarkets. The ban is unfortunately affecting the expansion of wine culture for the country. To add insult to injury, there may also be a consumption tax added in addition to the already steep 18% VAT tax.

Despite this, that hasn’t stopped winemakers from living their dreams of bringing Turkish wine to the forefront of wine consumer’s minds. After all, the soil and climate are ripe for production. Hanging onto the optimism, many are going forward without letting obstacles stop them. Wine has always been produced in these fertile lands and with international acclaim in the form of gold medals at various competitions, the future has potential.

Even though wine exports have been relatively stagnant for several years, the wine producers still are at work, honing their craft and preparing for the next great renaissance of Turkish wine to wow the world.

Sherry: Spain’s Essence in Need of a Renaissance

Sweet Port Dessert Wine

The fortified wine of Spain known as Sherry is in trouble. Once a popular aperitif, it’s now dwindling in popularity. Many are quick to point to the overabundance of the stuff, making it rather cheap in price. Perhaps if it were harder to come by, people would jump at the chance to drink it.

Perhaps a bottle of it graces the top shelf of your home bar. Gathering dust and looking rustic, you probably grab other spirits in favor of the fortified wine from Andalucía. Maybe you think it’s something grandmas drink when they finally send their grandchildren back home to their parents, yet head to Spain and you’ll see the most macho of men enjoying Sherry with tapas.

Outside of Spain, Sherry is sadly misunderstood and not consumed as often as it should be. One of the biggest misconceptions about this libation is that it’s a spectrum of different styles. You have Fino and Manzanilla, the 2 driest styles. You have Amontillado, a toasty, spicy, medium-dry Sherry. You have Oloroso which is denser and a bit sweet. Then there’s cream Sherry and Pedro Ximénez with the delightfully sweet flavor of raisins.

Perhaps why you’re not enjoying your Sherry is that it needs to be chilled. It also shouldn’t be sitting there gathering dust on your bar. It needs to be tasted while fresh. That being said, when you open a bottle of Sherry, it should spend no more than a few days to a week in your refrigerator or it will be easy to see why you aren’t fond of it.

Knowing this, it makes sense why Sherry isn’t being indulged as much as it should be. It’s different from other wines because it has such severity in styles. The key to bringing it back into a renaissance lies with the emerging popularity of tapas bars. As what’s old is new again reemerges into the mainstream, Sherry just might get the second chance it so dearly deserves.

Although 2018 saw sweet Sherry types composing about 50% of Sherry sales, much of that consumption is from an aging generation. While our elders know a thing or two, as tastes change, the impact could mean a cut of 20 million liters by the time we hit 2025.

What can Spain do to encourage a renaissance? The best strategy is to focus on the younger generation and appeal to their tastes with the other styles. Sweeter wines are on the decline but few people realize that Sherry isn’t always a sweet-style wine. With the growing popularity of these tapas and Sherry bars though, there is much opportunity to create a new following of the younger set.

After all, Sherry is really very flexible in style. Putting the focus on these other styles of the iconic fortified wine will help it to have the right reach in the future.

Argentinian Pinot Noir: Taking a Stand Against Beloved Malbec

Glass of Red Wine and Fire Pit

To say the Malbec of Argentina’s Mendoza region is highly-adored is an understatement. It’s one of the most exported wines from the country, yet it’s surprising to find that Rio Negro only comprises 20% of the vineyards.

As one of the top 5 wine producers in the world, Argentina exports mostly reds. It would be criminal to assume that none of the other reds on the roster are as divine as the much-prized Malbec. In fact, one of the most masterful grapes to thrive in the Rio Negro’s cooler climate is Pinot Noir.

If you’ve found love with Argentinian Malbec, it’s time to take a taste of the Pinot Noir. The key is in choosing bottles that come from Rio Negro. In other parts of the country, this varietal is prone to the elements, rendering a less-than-notable tasting. But from Rio Negro, the dry climate is ideal. With hot summers and cold winters, there is plenty of consistency in cultivating the perfect vines.

Warm days give way to cold nights and thus, a lengthy growing season ensues that gives balance for rich fruit flavor and prime acidity. Alluvial soils of gravel and limestone are well-drained, making it easier for those tending the vineyards to control water. The result breeds some of the most elegant Pinot Noir in the country.

Inspiration seems to have been drawn from New Zealand’s similar Pacific breezes though in Rio Negro, the Atlantic is the defining characteristic. You get a light wine with earthy tones and a firm-footed acidity that surprises in the most pleasant of ways, making one realize that Malbec shouldn’t be getting all the adoration.

Argentina’s Rio Negro Pinot Noir might just be the perfect red. It’s deep in color and rich, a different contrast from what you find with this varietal in other parts of the country. Bold styles and tastes are commanding the attention of Argentinian Malbec lovers. As wine drinkers take notice, more Pinot Noir is being planted to meet the growing demand.

The biggest chance for the growth of Pinot Noir in the region will be from the north in the US. Americans love Malbec from Argentina yet many tend to assume quality with the reds. This will be a pivotal point for Rio Negro’s Pinot Noir to set an example, one akin to that of New Zealand’s Pinot Noir perfection that has taken the world by storm.

Astonishingly, the prices are rather reasonable even for a bottle produced by one of the most popular wineries, Bodega Chacra. Choose a bottle and discover something new to love about Argentina!

Getting to Know Bordeaux’s Right Bank

Man standing in vineyard

For years, the Left Bank was the more famed of the two portions of Bordeaux. That all changed when Robert Parker began lavishing his affections on the ‘garagistes’ or garage wine approach that is popular on the right. Good thing too, for while the Bordeaux of the Left Bank is incredibly esteemed and glorious, patience is in order.

Left Bank Bordeaux is best to tuck into your cellar, awaiting perfection. In the meantime, what shall you drink? Turn your attention to the Right Bank and you’ll find many young wines that consist of primarily Merlot based blends. They’re rich in fruit and are far less tannic and acidic, making them a prime choice for earlier consumption.

These softer, richer New World flavors are most certainly due to the differences in soil and terroir. It’s fascinating to explore that just a short distance away, the composition is so vastly different. Most of the Right Bank sits further inland. Plus, it’s hidden from the Atlantic Ocean. It gets less rainfall and in summer, reaches higher temperatures.

While it has that going for it, the Right Bank tends to be more prone to frost which could spell trouble for the vines and each grower’s yield depending on how tough the season is.

Still, the Right Bank already sounds less complicated than the Left Bank. At a precursory glance, it is. That’s because the soil here is a bit less of a challenge. It’s got limestone closer to the top and there’s less gravel for the vines to struggle through. You might think without these things that the Right Bank lacks character but nothing could be further from the truth. Exploring that unique and New World-style character is a must for anyone that dares to delve into the captivating world of Bordeaux.

Sitting on the right bank of the Dordogne, the soils vary in composition thanks to the erosion of a number of source rocks. These include limestone, sand, clay, and a little gravel. This area encompasses the Libourne, Saint-Émilion, Fronsac, Pomerol, and Cites de Bordeaux, to name a few. The mostly fine textures of these soils are ideal for absorbing water which keeps the vines cool. Because most are atop hills and are rife for good draining, any excess waters seep into the deeper layers which keeps it from upsetting the roots of the vines.

The area that falls between Garonne and Dordogne, which includes Loupiac, Cadillac, and Entre-Deux-Mers among others, has more of a clay to limestone base. This means they are cool yet humid. The soil here features good minerality that transfers easily to the vines.

Within Bordeaux, the radical differences between the soils from bank to bank and within each bank compared amongst itself is sheerly mind-boggling. These extreme variances in organoleptic components is what brings all the magic to the wines here.

Of all the appellations in the Right Bank, Saint-Émilion and Pomerol are undeniably the most important. As part of Le Libournais, they have an exceptional amount of prestige surrounding them. Plus, in the case of Saint-Émilion, it resides upon a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As such, the wines of Saint-Émilion have a classification that is reviewed every decade for a more reliable ranking.

As such, understanding what makes Saint-Émilion and Pomerol have in the way of soil is the key to finding those little nuances when tasting. A more detailed account of the lay of these 2 appellations follows.


Saint-Émilion might just be the most fascinating of the major Bordeaux appellations. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, one with an incredible diversity of soil types.

Here, the soil begins with a thick layer of sandstone, shale, and calcareous shallow marine deposits. But it gets more complex from there. Saint-Émilion has 5 main areas that it is divided into based on soil type. You have Côte Sud, or South; Graves de Figeac; the West coast; the North coast; and the plateau of St-Martin.

Graves de Figeac has more gravel upon which Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon tend to thrive exceptionally well, though the entire appellation is Merlot’s esteemed home, a brilliant place for the craft of the finest red wines.

With the exception of the gravel soils of the Graves de Figeac on which Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon are particularly well adapted. St-Émilion is the home of Merlot, which makes up a dominant portion of the crafted red wines. The Merlot here are less austere than the others in surrounding regions. Aging for 10 to 15 years is the best way to enjoy these powerfully elegant wines with a fruit-driven and velvety richness that nothing comes close to.

Interestingly, this famed Right Bank region contrasts in style with other Bordeaux as well as with itself. In wine terms, it’s almost as old as time hence why it rates as a historical site. Despite this, it was often outranked by nearby Médoc, but that was only because no bridges crossed the Gironde at the time. From the 1820’s on though, it became an important part of Bordeaux’s Right Bank.

Many argue that Côtes-St-Émilion with its slopes and ridges to the south of the town is the most important portion of this appellation. The thin limestone soil atop the limestone rock does bode well for some of the best wines. Then again, the Graves-Saint-Émilion in the west has more gravel and sand has wines that aren’t earth-shattering. The contrast is purely incredible, particularly given the distance between them is nominal.

With its own classification system though, it can get tricky. Look for Premier Grand Crus Classes to experience the most exceptional offerings. They will be charismatic yet graceful, rich and intense, full of tannins as in other areas yet much more approachable prior to aging. It’s incredibly fine with a richness of black fruits, spices and a supple mouthfeel.


Pomerol, to the west of Saint-Émilion, is varied in terroir and slopes, a bounty that helps it create unique expressions in its wines. This uniqueness and divergence in soil and terroir give Pomerol a style all its own.

Pomerol was created in 1936 yet has enjoyed the tradition of winemaking since Roman times. Sure, it’s the smallest wine-producing portion of Bordeaux though that just makes for cozy beginnings. It doesn’t have an official ranking or classification system either but it boasts some of the highest winemaking standards anywhere. The unique soil profile puts it on the map as the world’s best Merlot-based wines. They’re well-balanced with aromatic prowess and a silkiness that feels like a dream.

It helps to look at it in 3 components. There’s the plateau, the slopes on the plateau, and then the flat bits of parcels after the slopes. By and large, the best estates are on the plateau. Here, the soil is a mixture of clay, gravel, and iron oxides, or what they call ‘crasse de fer’ which literally translates to ‘iron filth.’

Thanks to the clay, the wines here are absolutely rich, dense, and fully luxurious. Not surprisingly, they are among the most expensive. Despite the flatness of the plateau, the soils, slopes, and exposures are all different. Thus, you’ve got a mix of clay, gravel, iron oxide, and sand.

While other appellations have clay soils, those in Pomerol are completely unique. This clay is produced out of the degraded limestone. The limestone is rather high in acidity and calcium which all breaks down in time with erosion. Clay soils are also known for a high Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC) which gives the vines more nutrients via the soil.

Of further distinction is the blue clay of Petrus, a famous style that is only found on this high point. It only exists here and nowhere else in the world can lay claim on the abundance of blue clay found here. Estimated to be around 40 million years old, the density makes it intensely difficult for the vines to penetrate, however during wet vintages, that clay becomes much like a sponge creating an absolute perfect environment for thriving vines.

Prior to the 20th century, Pomerol had only been known for creating largely unimpressionable light white wines. As those vines were replaced with red, it lacked the prestige of Saint-Émilion. It merely passed as just a fairly good Bordeaux. But since then, Pomerol has risen to stardom, likely in part due to Petrus.

With the passage of time Pomerol has found its way into the hearts of Bordeaux lovers. These seductive offerings are velvety and rich, far richer than even the best Medoc has to offer and with more substance than Saint-Émilion. With the rise of the garagiste style, it has only further gained success as one of the most important appellations of the Right Bank.

Basically when it comes down to it with the Right Bank, the grapes are plumper and fatter thanks to the rich calcium deposits from the ground below. It often stuns those that love wine to find out that Bordeaux is so much more than ‘Bordeaux.’ Even people who have considered themselves aficionados for years are surprised to discover the differences.

And what differences! Even in each bank, the opportunity to taste and discover what makes each commune’s bounty so esteemed is one that should be looked to with joy. However, it’s high time that the Right Bank started enjoying the limelight too. Luckily it seems there are many more wine drinkers eager to find out what these intricacies in the soil composition mean for the flavors that dance upon their palate and the textures that abound in every bottle.

From North to South: Excellence in the Rhône Valley

a view over a vineyard at Alsace France in autumn light

While Bordeaux certainly holds firm ground at the top echelon of French wine, the Rhône region of France is also considered among the finest. Just south of Lyon and spanning nearly to the Mediterranean Sea, the Rhône is home to appellations named for the communes that dot the river banks.

As Bordeaux has the Left Bank and Right Bank, Rhône has the North and the South. Northern Rhône includes the town of Vienne down to just south of Valence. In Northern Rhone, Syrah, or Shiraz as it is known elsewhere, is the only red grape permitted in the wines though some white grapes may be used with very specific conditions. The whites have more leeway with Viognier, Roussanne, and Marsanne grapes.

Perhaps you’ve sampled Australian Shiraz and wonder what might be different with the wines of Northern Rhone. In short, the cooler conditions, higher elevations, and those intensely rocky soils all play a hand in giving Syrah from the North a drier and more acidic taste. It’s a bit herbal and smoky, often compared to the pleasurable flavor of bacon fat.

A Tale of Two Regions

Size-wise, Northern Rhône is smaller than Southern Rhone. In fact, all of Northern Rhône is smaller than one of the South’s most prized appellations, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Most of the wines (95% of them) come from the South.

In Northern Rhone, temperatures are much cooler and the climate provides more rain. Here, the growing season is also shorter with notable changes throughout the four seasons. With the unrivaled Mediterranean climate, steep hillsides, and rocky soils, the grapes that are permitted to grow here thrive. Add to it the natural moisture that comes via the Rhône river and you’ve got an exceptional microclimate that produces exquisite grapes.

Northern Rhone

All told, there are eight appellations in the Northern Rhône Valley. Côte-Rôtie is where Syrah is vinified with Viognier, a white grape that serves to make it appear even darker. Translating to ‘baked slope,’ it’s named for the terroir. Most of the appellations in the North allow a fixed percentage of white wine grapes to be blended, but in this appellation, some producers won’t just blend. They’ll often co-ferment just a small amount of Viognier.

Côte-Rôtie wines are exotically silky and treasures to behold. It’s not just the flavor but the texture as well. High demand and small size mean these will cost you a pretty penny but they’re well worth the splurge.

Moving southward in the Northern Rhône Valley, Condrieu is next where white wine is produced. Only Viognier is allowed and you’ll know it from the spectacularly floral aromas. Condrieu wines are noted for having some of the most beautiful bouquet of aromas in the world. To the taste, the wine is quite rich and evokes the flavors of lychee.

With Condrieu, most growers use French oak barrels for vinification. Others use both stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. It varies from producer to producer as well as influence from the vintage. Skin contact and malolactic fermentation all go down in the barrels. Aging often varies between 6 to 18 months, though the best results seem to come from 6 to 9 months aging before bottling. You’ll find it in sweet, dry, and even a middle ground between these 2 extremes.

The appellation of Chateau Grillet only has one chateau. It crafts exceptional white wine from Viognier. To try it is to be on top of the world for it’s not easy to come by and is incredibly pricey.

Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, and Hermitage all make reds from Syrah and whites from Marsanne and Roussanne. The notable whites from these Northern Rhône appellations are intense, made only in small amounts. With Saint-Joseph, there has been a shift toward biodynamic farming. The AOC laws permit blending of up to 10% white wine grapes with the red as long as the grapes used are co-fermented. Stainless steel tanks seem to be favored here though aging takes place in oak barrels. After aging, the treat is discovering these feminine wines that can be enjoyed very early on at very reasonable prices.

Crozes-Hermitage wines are typically made with destemmed grapes though traditionalists use whole bunches for vinification, all in concrete tanks. Cooperatives use stainless steel vats though. Depending on the producers, you’ll see pump-overs and cap punching but new and used French oak barrels and demi-muids are put the use.

Cornas focuses on only Syrah reds. In this appellation, vinification uses open-top cement vats of traditional styles but other growers tend to prefer stainless steel tanks. New oak isn’t as popular here, leading to more masculine wines with gritty tannins and a dark berry flavor.

Saint-Peray makes whites from Marsanne and Roussanne. It’s split with 40% sparkling and 60% as dry white wine. As per the AOC, sparkling wines of Saint-Peray must be produced using the same method as Champagne.

Southern Rhone

The appellations in Southern Rhône run from either side of the river and onward to the mountains and valleys. As mentioned, it’s much larger than the North and thus, the terroirs, microclimates, soils, and the wines that come from it are all incredibly varied.

While it’s not entirely fair to generalize, compared to the North, wines of Southern Rhône are often lighter, more open, sweeter, and contain more alcohol. These are the wines to seek out if you enjoy fruitier flavors. It’s ripe, fresh, and often holds hints of those lovely Provencal herbs with just a hit of spice to accentuate it.

Southern Rhône has something for every wine lover including reds, whites, sparkling wines, and rosé. Most of the time, the wines from this region don’t need to age which is ideal for those who can’t wait to uncork a bottle.

Here, the climate is hotter with less rain. Another key difference is that 15 different grapes are permitted to be grown in the South. It does have similar rules as its northernly neighbor for blending red and white grapes but there is more room to express with unique characteristics and styles.

Grenache is the clear darling of Southern Rhone. It’s planted everywhere in this region, though one appellation is the pinnacle of perfection for it, responsible for putting the South on the map, Chateauneuf du Pape.

Key Southern Rhône Appellations

Chateauneuf du Pape became an official appellation in 1936 and holds the title for using 15 different grapes. Some producers even use all 15 of those grape varieties in the wines they create. Plus, the terroir of Chateauneuf du Pape is very diverse with stone, sand, rocks, limestone, and clay. Chateauneuf du Pape also has the mistrals going for it. These are very strong, dry, and cold winds that blow over 60mph. They are outstanding for repelling insects as well as keeping the air and grapes clean.

For a wine to be considered as part of Chateauneuf du Pape, the vines from which the grapes grow must come from one of the 5 communes. Chateauneuf du Pape is by far the largest. The others are Bedarrides, Orange, Sorgues, and Courthezon. When choosing wine from Chateauneuf du Pape, you’ll find a broad range of styles. Some are elegant while others are full-bodied. They’re easy to enjoy, and even easier to fall in love with.

Cotes du Rhône offers outstanding young wines at affordable price points. Character-driven, the reds tend to be fruity and sweet with just enough spice and ripe red berries. They’re quite food-friendly too.

Of distinction are the Cotes du Rhône Villages, a higher level while Cotes du Rhône lacks the same prestige due to its terroir. For either instance, the vineyards need to be in one of the 18 named villages of the Cotes du Rhône appellation. If it sounds large, it is. It’s the second largest in all of France only behind Bordeaux. The incredible variety of terroir and soil from rocky to sandy and everything in between makes for an abundance of unique wines. Like Chateauneuf du Pape, you’ll find red, white, sparkling, and rose, though you’ll also find sweet dessert wines too in Cotes du Rhone. Grenache dominates the reds while Grenache Blanc is the most important grape for the whites.

Another Southern Rhône appellation to note is Gigondas. It was part of Cotes du Rhône until 1971 when it was given AOC status. Gigondas sits just northeast of Chateauneuf du Pape and has three notable terroirs. There are gravel and clay soils that are dominant in the flat areas. On the bottom of the slopes, more gravel and sand persist with less clay. The hillsides are formed with limestone, rocks, and clay. Overall, it’s cooler so you will find wines that taste less ripe and are lower in alcohol content. They’re rustic and slightly less complex though they have green olive characteristics and bode well with aging around 2 years.

Gigondas wines have improved throughout the years with Grenache marking it as the most important grape. Naturally, the AOC has rules for Gigondas that the wines here must be a minimum of 50% Grenache.

Over the years, the wines of Gigondas have gotten better and better. Grenache is the most important grape in the appellation. In fact the AOC rules state to be a wine of Gigondas, all wines must be at least 50% Grenache.

While Rhône might not be Bordeaux, it should never be overlooked. It’s also less mystifying to understand than the Bordeaux region. According to Robert Parker, they have continued to rise in value yet are more affordable than some of the more notable regions, both in France and even in the states.

The quality continues to improve yet the prices aren’t soaring, making for more reason to grab a bottle of Rhône wine to enjoy with dinner or friends. Naturally, the best part of every wine region is discovering the notable appellations within it. Perhaps a tasting is in order with something from the North and the South to round it all out.

Pinot Noir of Oregon: The Rise of Beautiful Wines from the 1980’s Onward

Wine, grape and cheese

In the 1980’s, Oregon was barely a speck on the world wine map. There were a handful of wineries across the state, most of which are no longer around. Today though, Oregon’s vineyards have their cups running over, now with around 800 wineries where Pinot Noir is the absolute star of the show.

Often, California and Burgundy in France get all the love when it comes to Pinot Noir, but a shift has been in the making since those primitive days in the 1980’s. Perhaps that’s due to Robert Drouhin’s hand in 1987. When he purchased Dundee Hills land then, it paved the way for how the world would soon see this emerging Pinot Noir region.

He wasn’t the first French transplant to make a positive mark on American soil. Others came and breathed life into a region that was a virtual desert in terms of garnering affection for its wines. Classically-trained winemakers brought with them the proper cultivation of these vines and bred a respect for the older ones while allowing wine to age in the barrel. They paired these solid Old World techniques with those freedoms of the New World and now we have much to raise our glasses of Pinot Noir to.

Among the original pioneers of Oregon’s wineries, Elk Cove Vineyards, Ponzi Vineyards, Bethel Heights Vineyard, and Sokol-Blosser Winery are still going strong. Then there are ones like Ken Wright Cellars that came about in the mid-1990’s and joined the army of vineyards that has now made the beautiful Oregon landscape thrive.

Wright is largely considered the key to all of this in more recent years for defining the sub-AVAs of the valley and rebirthing Carlton into a winemaking hub of sorts. With expressively potent wines that age well, all small-batch crafted, it has ignited soul into the region bringing consumers to taste what Oregon uncorks from its mighty Pinot Noir selections.

In 2017, the first-ever 100-point wine was awarded for the 2016 Patricia Green Bonshaw Block Pinot Noir by Wine Enthusiast for wine sourced and produced completely in Oregon. Sadly, Patricia Green passed away before these honors were bestowed.

As for Oregon’s constantly-growing roster of vineyards, Pinot Noir lovers have are certainly spoiled for choice. The delightful maritime climate means milder winters and cooler summers than competing Burgundy. The North Willamette Valley’s soils tend to vary greatly with fascinating basaltic lavas and marine sediments. Those marine sediments are composed of sandstone and mudstone but don’t have carbonates. They drain quickly, allowing for stunning quality in the grapes.

The younger vines are truly expressive and spectacular on a different plane than elsewhere. Pinot Noir of Oregon is something special and unique, something that you should make sure you try. Need suggestions? Patricia Green Cellars, Domaine Serene, and Broadley are good ones to start with

The Big Chill: Why Niagara-on-the-Lake Ice Wine Creates Your Perfect Winter Wonderland

Wine tasting even

Have you ever tried freezing grapes to enjoy as a refreshing snack on a hot day? Someone had the brilliant idea to use frozen grapes to make wine and the end result is ice wine, a truly unparalleled wine experience!

Many people think of frolicking through the vineyards, touring the wineries on warm spring and summer days or even in the coolness of fall. But one of the best ways is to set your sites along the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario where you’ll find this sweet dessert wine.

The sugars that are naturally present in the grapes don’t freeze so it creates a stunningly sweet and highly acidic drinking experience. It’s a labor of love to craft such wines, one that yields small amounts due to the difficulty in production. On the surface, you might think ice wine is just a fancy dessert wine, but because of this production, it is much more expensive and comes in smaller bottles.

It all started in this region in 1984 at the Inniskillin winery where Karl Kaiser of Austria crafted the first ice wines in Canada. Inspired by Walter Hainle who created ice wine in 1972 in the Okanagan Valley, the ice wines were intensely difficult to produce. Others that would follow suit would learn immense disappointment from hungry birds devouring their crops. It was Kaiser though that found success in 1984 for using nets to protect the vines and hence, earning the distinction of being the first to create ice wine for Inniskillin.

From there, Canadian ice wine became very popular, particularly in 1991 as the 1989 Inniskillin Vidal ice wine took home the Grand Prix d’Honneur at the Vinexpo. Soon, Canada would become the largest producer for ice wine anywhere in the world. One of the greatest reasons is that ice wine, despite having a high sugar content, isn’t as cloyingly sweet as other dessert wines. It has a refreshing quality due to the high acidity.

It does have an alcohol content that is slightly lower than regular wines. In Canada though, it has an alcohol content between 8% and 13% It has a very intense amber color that evokes a tropical feel. Serving it chilled before a meal or enjoying it afterwards is an ideal choice. Furthermore since its early years when the Hybrid Vidal was the most commonly used grape, today most quality ice wines are done from Vitis vinifera grapes including some great examples from red grapes.

Ice wine from Niagara-on-the-Lake is ideal with rich foods. Serving it with a bold cheese plate that has blue cheese is a luscious pairing. Pâté makes for another sophisticated match. You should notice flavors of baked sweet fruits like pear and apricots with a mineral flourish.

While ice wine seems to be heavily adored by those who get to taste it, the Japanese are particularly enamored with it. In Japanese culture, the gift-giving aspect is a seasonal thing, not to mention the tourism to this area which has created an impressive segment of the market for ice wine.

Napa Cabernet Sauvignon: How it’s Evolved from the 80s, 90s, and Today

Wine glasses with wine bottle on a black background, minimalism, silhouette

The entire Napa Valley wine region was born out of a desire to imitate the success of the French Bordeaux. While wine was made in jugs ages before, it truly wasn’t until the 1970’s when the world was just starting to take notice of what California was doing with Cabernet Sauvignon.

In 1976 during a private wine competition held in Paris, Napa was given a nod of approval when compared to Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. Merely one decade later, Groth Cabernet Sauvignon’s 1985 vintage scored a perfect 100 points by Robert Parker, a renowned wine critic who finally helped give Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon the credibility it needed to thrive.

That was really all it took for Napa to get on the fast-track to wine notoriety. Starting in 1990 and onward through the 2000’s, every vintage produced seemed more stunning than the year prior. The interesting thing was that many winemakers that had been honing this craft for ages and wanted wines that aged well. Others were sure that going for what consumers wanted with riper fruit tastes and softer tannins was the way to go.

In essence, the time between the 1990’s on up through today has been a marvelous period of growth for Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa Valley. It’s hard to find a bad bottle of the stuff when browsing wines to take home and serve for dinner tonight. Granted, a bottle that deserves aging shouldn’t be your immediate choice if you’re planning to drink it now. The boom of wineries in Napa Valley meant new wineries popped up virtually overnight.

There’s no need to pick sides, however there are some things you should understand when trying to choose a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley’s esteemed wineries.

Quality of Fruit

If you want a fruity fresh flavor, choose Cabernet that uses grapes that were precisely ripened at the time of picking. This gives you that ripe taste of plum, black currant, raspberry, black, cherry, blueberry, and blackberry.

Complexity in Flavor

That depth of flavor is like stepping into every layer of the wine. It evolves over your palate, perhaps starting out fruity and then leaving a mineral feel behind before ending on notes of mocha or espresso. The tannins add more texture too for a sublime experience.


Good Napa Cabernet Sauvignon always has a gracefully elegant appeal to it. Those that have good acidity are ideal for aging beautifully.


For any wine, new or old, tannins should be well-integrated to balance out with the flavors, acidity, and alcohol content.

Hint of Oak

The best Cabernet Sauvignons of Napa always have oak. It’s not about the quantity though but how the oak impacts the flavor, much like adding seasoning to steak.

We’d be remiss not to recommend stellar examples of Cabernet Sauvignon that have been quite enduring in Napa Valley. You’ll never go wrong with Caymus, Chateau Montelena (the one that blew away everyone in Paris in 1976 in the Chardonnay category and Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars with their Cabernet in the 1976 tasting as well), or Duckhorn which has aged quite well to thrive in every decade.