How Marsala Wine is Making a Comeback Beyond Deglazing Dishes

White wine

Marsala hails from the town of the same name on Italy’s island of Sicily. Over the last few decades, it hit a low few ever thought it could recover from. While it’s often used in cooking with the famed dish of Chicken Marsala stealing hearts everywhere, to drink a bottle of Marsala wine was often seen as a joke.

This fortified wine that would join the ranks of Sherry, Port, and Madeira was made to travel well. The high alcohol content made it appealing for long voyages in the 1770’s. Thanks to a British wine merchant named John Woodhouse, when he found this area ripe for growing grapes, complete with Mediterranean climate and hot, windy summers, it was a match made in heaven.

With all that going for it though, Marsala still fell into a downward spiral. Over 100 cantinas popped open in the early 1900’s and with them, experiments with advanced oxidation techniques and adding artificial colors or flavorings sullied the wine’s esteemed reputation. It took ages to shed this notoriety. Up until now, it was relegated to the status of cheap cooking wine. A bottle of it might in fact be in your pantry now, waiting to deglaze a pan for your next homecooked dinner.

Marsala is now coming back into its well-deserved glory. It’s not the same as what you would only dare to reduce down into your sauces anymore though plenty of those bottles are still in your local supermarket. Should you pour a glass of those to sip over dinner, your palate might never forgive you.

If you look beyond that though, you will find exceptional bottles elegant enough to wow you alongside any meal. Save the supermarket stuff for your dishes. The good Marsala is awaiting your approval.

Marsala has DOC regulations and aging categories, levels of sweetness, and all sorts of complexities to it which can make it intimidating. Especially if you’ve ever sampled that old stuff that made it the joke of the wine world. Marsala DOC has to be made with Catarratto, Grillo, or Inzolia white grapes or Nerello Mascalese, Pignatello, Damaschino and Nero d’Avola red grapes. It’s further categorized by how long it has aged, ‘fine’ being the distinction for a minimum of one year aging, ‘superiore’ for 2 years, ‘superiore riserva’ after 4 years, ‘vergine solera’ after 5 years, and the ultimate ‘vergine solera stravecchio’ which has to be aged for no less than 10 years.

Beyond aging, there are terms to describe the colors and whether it’s dry, semi-sweet, or sweet. The range is incredible and utterly unique. You may catch notes of vanilla, spices, dried figs, balsamic, or bitter almonds. But what you will most certainly notice is it’s not that undrinkable mishmash of that it turned into decades ago.

Marsala is trending again and the only way to experience it is to seek out quality producers. From the classic realm, Cantine Florio and Cantine Pellegrino are notable though newer additions like Marco De Bartoli are worth finding too. Typically, you will find Marsala goes beautifully with desserts and chocolates, particularly of the dark variety, but go bold and try it with aged cheeses or smoked fish to be pleasantly surprised. As it shakes off the rumors now with DOC status to help it climb back into the hearts of wine lovers everywhere, it just might find a place in your heart too.

Levant Wines: A Brief Overview of Ancient Treasures Becoming Modern Pleasures

Four glasses of champagne in a toast

Winemaking has been a tradition across the world since BCE times, thousands upon thousands of years ago. Quite likely, it was probably produced even before then, but this is as much as archaeological digs have granted us in the way of learning of our wine ancestors. Perhaps one of the most mystical of these wine regions is that of the Levant.

The Levant is merely a historical term for the geography of ancient areas that are now known as Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, parts of Jordan, and parts of Syria, all along the eastern Mediterranean Sea. Wine is said to have originally come from the Levant and though this region is small, understanding the terroir and its history is to understand how wine as we know it has come to grace our glasses. It should be noted that since, we have come to learn that wine predates even this region going all the way to the Caucuses and Mesopotamian basin.

Today, the primary focus comes from Lebanon and Israel. Likely, they’re the last places one might think of for wine, though the Levant is where it was close to when it all begun and more importantly a strategic place where it was traded to other regions. Italy and France often get all the credit. They certainly get all the fame, but the ancient Romans built the temple to Bacchus, their god of wine, in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.

That fact surprises most people, for the recent turmoil in the region often overshadows the wine industry. Make no mistake about it though as Lebanese wine has been on an impressive growth spurt. Just 19 years ago, it had only 14 vineyards while today, it boasts 50 of them.

Serge Hochar played a vital role in bringing more attention to the wines of Lebanon. His 1967 vintage garnered all the attention at the Bristol Wine Fair in 1979, claiming the Best Find at the time. His family winery, Château Musar, was among the key players in the world of Lebanese wine. While stunning, the wines will indeed set you back. The oldest winery (not to mention the largest) is Château Ksara which was founded in 1857 by Jesuit priests and now prices delicious wines more approachably.

Another portion of the Levant comes from Israel, though some of the sites for viticulture are among the West Bank, the best regions in the country are in the north part in the Galilee and  Golan Heights. Much tension mounts in this area with the Palestinian Authority and Syria too, though wine collaborations seem to be coming into fruition with Marawi, an ancient native variety.

But these are modern times where wine even in the smallest corners of the world is now becoming more visible, much thanks to globalization and precise marketing. Wine culture continues to thrive. We’d be making the ancients proud.

Deeper into the Levant

With the people in the Levant region domesticating grapes (olives too) somewhere around 6,000 years ago, these fruits began to grow into larger and tastier varieties. So much so that the Phoenicians began spreading them about during trades all across the Mediterranean.

As much as has been discovered to this point, archaeologists seem to concur that winemaking in its most primitive form began around these parts. They can’t seem to pinpoint it entirely as it was about 7,000 years ago that they surmise, however, there was a discovery of an ancient site dating 6,000 years tucked into an Armenian cave and in Georgia several sites have shown winemaking dating back 8,000 years. The Egyptians and the Hittites were largely credited with fermentation, the very same that finally reached France in 500 BCE.

But in some portions of the Levant, like Lebanon and Israel, the older winemaking ways endured long after they’d gone the way of the dinosaur in other parts. In other words, the local traditions in a particular portion of the Levant trumped the technology at hand. Some favored using these older ways of winemaking. After all, why mess with a good thing?

Even in a country as small in size as Israel, each region had a method of winemaking it favored over the other. In some cases, it was from one village to the next. It might be hard to imagine, but back in those days, career choices were staunchly limited. Most people farmed and did it as part of the art and culture of the world they knew.

And thus, winemaking really didn’t change very much in this region, not until later on in the 1800’s. Baron Edmond de Rothschild of France brought along new ideas and techniques for the Israelis to use in winemaking. Yet despite this, the old ways were still largely favored, keeping up with traditions by using the ancient troughs they used from the olden days even in the 1990’s.

Even the winemakers in the Levant today draw inspiration from the ancients. It only makes sense given the terroir. The soil is rich with mineral clay here, while the climate is rather arid. Along the coast, that temperate Mediterranean climate is what allows the varietals to thrive. Rain is seasonal and falls in favor for the vintages here.

As mentioned before, while Lebanon has experienced a boom in wine popularity in recent years despite a past of winemaking that extends further into time than that of France, Israel is also on the up and up. There are over 300 wineries with an impressive variety. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Carignan, and Shiraz are among the most commonly planted varietals in Israel.

With the Levant, the Mediterranean Sea gives its hearty blessing on the lands in the way of climate. Drip irrigation systems help keep the soil moist in times of intense heat, allowing the ancient traditions of the Levant to be discovered by modern wine lovers.

Under the Surface of the Left Bank: A Detailed Soil Composition Comparison

Clean potting soil for cultivation.

The Left Bank as wine lovers know it didn’t gain notoriety for being one of the world’s best locales for wine until the beginning of the 18th century. Once it did though, it established the benchmark for some of the finest wines in the world today. One of the key reasons that wine from the Left Bank, the home for all 1855 official Classified Bordeaux wines, is so highly regarded has much to do with the unique soil types and grape varieties.

By location alone, the Left Bank has the more ideal positioning closer to the ocean. And while that gives the vineyards in the region more of a maritime influence with more rainfall and cooler days in the growing season, it goes so much deeper under the surface.

The soil from which these famed vines grow holds clues in how wine from each of the major appellations of the Left Bank will taste. Discovering the many subtle as well as vast differences between each holds the key for tasting the best that Bordeaux has to offer.


Stretching from the south in Blanquefort and beyond St-Estèphe in the north, this appellation is nothing short of huge. Haut-Médoc appellation is not the same as Médoc, which can make things a bit confusing. While there is much to know, our focus here is strictly upon the soils in this region. That being said, most of Medoc’s soil is inferior to what you’ll find in the Haut-Médoc.

But since it’s so vast, the differences in the soils and terroir certainly play a major role in the style and quality of the wines from this appellation. Here, you find most of the soils composed from thick layers of gravel which were once swept away down the river. Over time, they built up on top of a heavy clay base. With warm and well-drained gravel terraces, it is the perfect environment for Cabernet Sauvignon to ripen with absolute efficiency.

Move further inland in the appellation though and the soils become more of a deep clay deposit composition. And then, you’ll find portions that have patches of limestone with sandier soil that bring more diversity to this primarily gravel-driven area.

Because of this sprawling size and the differences in each pocket for the soil, it’s a bit difficult to pinpoint a specific flavor, character, or style from the Haut-Médoc wines. They vary from estate to estate, and perhaps the most fun you’ll have is sampling them to discover the different nuances each soil characteristic brings.

When it comes down to it, the soil of the wines in this appellation contain deposits of Garonne gravel along with sand, clay, and limestone in varying degrees. The best vineyards all have those deep gravel soils though, ideal for flat or only slightly sloped elevations to drain the water away.

The vastness of this land gives way to much diversity in terroir, soil, and micro-climates. In the north, there’s more gravel, clay, and limestone along with cooler soil and temperatures to match. Harvesting here usually occurs a day or so later than in the south.

In the west though, there is usually more clay. Head south, and the soils are finer and flatter with gravel. And then there are the elevations which range from a mere 3 meters on up to 44 meters, the highest in the entire Left Bank.

In the west of the appellation, the soils often have a higher clay content and as you travel further south, you find finer soils and flatter terroir with gravel, but with more sand in slightly warmer temperatures as well.

All told, the Haut-Médoc has 21 different communes and with the often overlooked smaller inland Moulis and Listrac going off the radar. Moulis is the smallest in Médoc yet is filled with Cru Bourgeois. The location is inland, further from the Gironde, which means the terroir is a bit cooler than the rest of the main appellation.

In addition to being a bit cooler, Moulis’ soil consists of gravel for the most part with a little clay and limestone mixed in for good measure. Thanks to the natural drainage, wines from Moulis tend to be more elegant, especially when compared to those of Listrac.

Listrac wasn’t an appellation until 1957. Here, the soil is also mostly gravel and clay with limestone and sand. Some of the highest elevations in Medoc are in Listrac. It’s inland, nestled into a heavily wooded area far from the Gironde. This keeps it slightly cooler so you get grapes that are a bit less ripe. The difference this makes is that the impact on the natural drainage along with the temperatures create a bit of a rustic character in Listrac wines. Both of these small appellations are a good place to start when entering the world of wine as although a little harder to find, they are far more approachable from a monetary perspective, good value before entering the truly expensive appellations.


Margaux wines get their distinctive textures and flavors from the soil. With a high gravel content, it creates an outstanding drainage situation that’s different from nearby Pauillac and St-Estèphe, both of which feature more clay. Because of the gravel composition in the soil, the vines must seek deep into the land to find nourishment and water, making them stronger as well as more fascinating with the characteristics of deeper soils coming through.

In Margaux, it is said to be one of the most diverse of any of Bordeaux’s major appellations. The size means that the terroir will vary as you move along from one chateau to the next. As a whole though, the lack of clay and the persistent gravel make it ideal for grapes to thrive.

This composition is precisely why the wines of Margaux are so esteemed. They provide natural drainage, retain heat while reflecting sunlight, and by nature, force the vines to root deep down into the soils. While some estates do have more clay in their terroir, it is the exception to the rule. Those that do often take advantage of more Merlot in theory blend to counter the predominance of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Comparatively to other appellations, the lack of depth for Margaux’s soils allows them to heat up much more quickly resulting in grapes maturing before the other appellations. On the Left Bank, Margaux is usually the first to be picked during the harvest. One taste of Margaux wine and you’ll see how the mostly gravel-based composition reflects in the elegant, intense, and stunning floral charms. Like violets, it is a treasured flavor, resplendent in the lengths the vines will go to deep down in the soil. Cabernet Sauvignon is the king of this appellation and it boasts the most amount of First Growth Chateaux.


Pauillac earned its stellar reputation no doubt through the terroir and soil in the appellation. It’s incredibly varied, distinctive from surrounding St-Julien on the south and St-Estèphe to the north. Some say it has the perfect soil for Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, making for Bordeaux’s finest wines.

To understand Pauillac best, it helps to view it as two large areas rather than one mass. In the northern portion, the land sits at slightly higher elevations. The soils here tend to be deep with gravel sitting atop a bed of sand, limestone, and marl. On the southern end, the larger, gravel rocks and stones persist with more clay further down in the sub-soils.

Thanks to the Gironde estuary, the vineyards here have better access to water. In the soils, the iron and clay composition lend a reddish-brown hue but the further north you go, it gives way to that limestone and marl.

These vineyards have more access to water from the Gironde estuary. You can further subdivide the terroir of Pauillac along the lines of a compass. At the lower southern end of the appellation, the soils in Pauillac feature gravel, rocks and stones of various size and sand with deposits of iron in the clay.

Head west toward the inland and there’s less gravel to be found. Instead, smaller stones and rocks are mixed with the sand in the soil. Generally though, these rocky soils are ideal for growing grapes. The vines must stretch deep into the soil, a rite of passage to thrive so well. The soils of Pauillac wouldn’t work for any other type of agriculture, but for grapes, they are the key to the success of this appellation.


The variety of styles from St-Estèphe are noted as being true terroir wine. In particular, the influence of the soil with gravel and a bit more clay than Médoc can be tasted with each sip. Nearby Pauillac, the contrast between St-Estèphe is fascinating given that the distance between them is minute.

You wouldn’t need to be completely astute to notice the rich mixture in the soils here, composed of rocks, clay, gravel, and limestone atop the surface. What lies beneath though is a complex blend that creates the distinction of this appellation.

St-Estèphe features slopes and elevations, and due to its proximity to the river has a bit of a micro-climate itself. Divergent terroirs reign across the appellation, adding more complexity to the Bordeaux in these lands. On the lower terraces, the soil features more gravel, but head east and marine limestone becomes a major player. What’s more, in the south portion of this area, the sub-soils are filled with loam. The biggest difference in the wines here is that the large clay deposits help the appellation create amazing wine even in hot and dry years, making it a prime choice during any vintage.


Of all the major Bordeaux appellations in the Left Bank, St-Julien is the smallest. Yet in that small stature, it packs a powerful punch in the way of soil composition. This is evident in the different styles where you’ll find powerful, tannic, and rather masculine creations alongside more traditional styles.

For some wines, they may be mistaken for wines from Pauillac which is easy to see. After all, they are neighbors. But the discerning palate will know the difference for St-Julien has an even more elegant and refined style to it.

In almost a rectangle of sorts, the soils are a mix of gravel, clay, sand, and limestone. There are also plenty of diverse rocks and stones in a medley of sizes and shapes. More gravel is found to the north and east but in the west, particularly as you move southward, you will find more sand and smaller gravel stones. It’s this gravel that gives the vines the drainage it needs, creating perfect sunlight and warmth for deep vine growth into the soils. Among the best vineyards are those that slope gently and access the Gironde where the micro-climate brings the best bounty of the land.

Sauternes & Barsac

The most famous botrytis wines thrive in these communes. Often the vineyards here are simply united under ‘Sauternais.’ Here is where you get those syrupy wines, much thanks to the gravel layers that develop in the knolls on the clay sub-soils. The noble rot or botrytis thrives from the climate as yields stay low for phenomenal sweet wines.

Ciron, a little stream, is primarily responsible for creating the captivating morning and night mists in the autumn. It’s almost magical as the heat and moisture combine to form a special bacterium that creates the noble rot. This is the reason why Sauternes is still the reigning champion of mellow wines that are complex, rich, and abundant in sugar.

Just a few small differences can be found between Sauternes and Barsac. Namely, Sauternes is a little hillier which makes those mists more effective while Barsac features flatter lands that are brimming with sand and limestone to craft more elegant and fine flavors.

Each of the major appellations of the Left Bank has its own nuances. But even for those who adore Bordeaux, delving deeper into the soils provides a new perspective and newfound appreciation for the wines that are crafted in the gem of France.

Japanese Wine: Why It’s Outselling Sake

Alcoholic Japanese Sakebombs with Rice Wine

Most people think of Japan’s national drink, sake, when they think of ordering an alcoholic beverage at their favorite Japanese restaurant. Even Asahi or Kirin beers are another likely choice. Few people seem to know about the emerging wine culture that has been slowly capturing the market though.

Japan has long been growing grapes. The Japanese used these cultivations to eat as fresh fruit. In the mid-19th century, when the imperial rule was restored, the idea of drying or fermenting those grapes came about and had a massive impact on Japanese culture.

Because of heavy influences from America and Europe, the Japanese government would import grape varieties from these sources and give them to the farmers. It soon became clear which were ideal for making wine and which were best for a fresh snack. With these foreign grapes, new varieties were bred which now have expanded to 28 varietals for winemaking. Koshu and Muscat Bailey-A are native Japanese varieties that the International Organization of Vine and Wine recognizes.

Since wine harvesting is all relatively new in Japan, particularly when compared to sake, the trend is continuing to grow. Every autumn, they drink sake as part of a tradition. But in the 1980’s, France’s Beaujolais came on the scene. Japan of course created its own version which is bottled early in November right after the harvest. They now have a tradition involving the drinking of wine as well.

Wine consumption in Japan has continued to be on the rise since the beginning of the 21st century. Prior to that time from the 1970’s until around 2000, the wines that the people of Japan drank came from elsewhere, usually France, Italy, Spain, or America. While still in the 20th century, there were big companies that dominated the wine scene in Japan. But in recent years, the emergence of small and independent wineries have taken over.

They’re growing rapidly too, run by families who have often obtained overseas knowledge and experience about wine. Their winemaking techniques are much more advanced than the early winemakers of Japan and thus, the wine coming from Japan today is making the world take notice.

Koshu is a white variety that grows in the Yamanashi Prefecture. It’s light and crisp with a nice fruitiness that feels similar to top-quality sake. Muscat Bailey-A is a red hybrid created in Japan. If you like sweet wines, you will enjoy it though Koshu tends to be easier to pair with the cuisine. With barrel-aging techniques from Suntory, it’s often blended with Western grapes to get a more Bordeaux-style of wine that’s full-bodied and works better with matching to the food.

The next time you indulge in sushi, read over the wine list and choose a Japanese selection. While there are countless guides advising pairings of Japanese cuisine with wines from all over the world, it’s a more extraordinary experience when you fully immerse yourself in the delights of Japan.

Hungary Beyond Tokaji: How the Next Generation of Hungarian Winemakers is Changing Everything

Mant prune grape brunch, work on a family farm

When it comes to Hungarian wines, it’s all too easy to think of Tokaji. After all, it is what the country has been best known for since the late 1400’s. The stuff of royalty, there’s much prestige in Tokaji. Despite being landlocked, the International Organization of Vine and Wine estimates that Hungary produced 3.4 million hectoliters yet it needs to do something drastic to flourish.

Struggle is a story as old as time in Hungary. Once upon a time, the vineyards were neglected or destroyed during the world wars. Following that in the 1950s’, the collectivization that ensued created mass-produced wine in the country’s control. This mechanized the process and left the quality hillside vineyards to suffer. In the 1990’s though, Communism fell and Hungary’s wine industry began to rebuild.

They’re still rebuilding it today though the primary reason it’s not as popular is that there remains much uncertainty about the historical and political nature of the country. As the Hungarians work to bring life back to their vineyards and wineries, they simply don’t have the funds to market themselves outside of the country in the way that other wine-producing countries like France or Italy could.

Tokaji isn’t the only star of the land though. It’s important to focus on these other varietals that are being revived on those hillside parcels. With rapid growth anticipated, the toughest challenges that lie ahead involve getting noticed in other European countries to export and grow the industry.

That’s not all though. Hungary’s vineyards are shrinking due to the financial incentives posed by the EU to convert those vineyards into soy and corn fields. In 2016, the vineyards were just 67,000 hectares while in 2006, they were 78,000 hectares. Very little is being done to promote the small wineries too.

The wines from Hungary are getting better with every vintage. It’s a testament to the hard work and devotion of those smaller wineries that are determined not to give up. The enthusiasm they have for embracing the native varieties, following organic practices, and drumming up international recognition is starting to turn heads around the world.

When shopping for Hungarian wines, dare to explore beyond Tokaji and open up your palate to new possibilities. Each of the flavor profiles of the wines from Eger and Tokaj to Villany and Somlo are all so vastly different yet entirely the same in terms of history. They’re bold and authentic with a persistent spice. Taste them and you’ll wonder why so few people are lavishing attention on this tiny yet distinctive wine region. History and dedication are found within every bottle. With lush reds and ashy whites, you’re missing out on what truly makes Hungarian wine beyond Tokaji so splendid.

Greek Vinification in Modern Times

Red Wine Pouring Into Wine Glass

Greece has long been an enchantingly beautiful country. Blessed with beauty at every turn, the land itself is ripe for vineyards. The stunning Mediterranean climate, strong sunshine and ideal circumstances created by nature for growing native grapes make it the perfect place for crafting epic wines.

Each region has a unique terroir that gives the wines a personality all its own for complex and intriguing tastes. This has been the way for centuries of course, as Greek winemaking has endured continuously since the 7th century at least as far back as records can surmise and from history and archeology back more than three thousand years.

Years of turmoil and unrest would prove devastating to the Greek lands, however they did bounce back. In the 1970’s, bottled Greek wine was incredibly uncommon. Only Kampas, Achaia Claus, Kourtakis, and Boutaris produced. After that came Evangelos Tsantalis. Eventually, Evangelos Averoff, Dimitris Hatzimihalis, Porto Carras, and Thanassis Parparoussis all came along too and would set the landscape for Greek wine popularity.

The 1980’s were probably among the greatest times for Greek wines, carrying on the new era that came from the 70’s. This was when modernly equipped wineries began and the standards for production were firmly etched in place. The VQPRD and the AOC defined the wine’s characteristics as they do today for the wines of Greece.

Single variety wines weren’t popular then, though there were grapes exclusive to Greece that the winemakers lovingly attended to. Roditis, Moschofilero, Agiorgitiko, Xinomavro, and Savatiano were used though Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon from abroad were added. As the decades passed, the blends of both the local Greek varieties and international ones. This blending proved to be a smart move with the creation of unique and distinct wines that are highly sought after today.

When the crisis in Greece happened in 2008, things looked incredibly grim, but there are now more than 1,400 wineries in Greece. That crisis proved to be the catalyst for the wine boom in the country. More people got into wine making and with plentiful tourists, the market for Greek wine took off.

The established producers put more emphasis on exports and the smaller wineries joined force. This created competitive prices and made international consumers more eager to sample Greek wines. Even though the Greek varietals are shining specimens, some of the wines become much more approachable to the western palate when blended with varietals that were known around the world.

Even retsina, the white wine that gave Greece an unsavory reputation for far too long, has experienced a rebirth. Once considered an unpalatable option, the traditional versions have been pushed out and are rare to find. These days, the new retsinas, which are made with Assyrtiko and Roditis instead of Savatiano, has a much better flavor profile that appeals to all palates. Regardless of producer, the wines still have their pine resin as has been the case for thousands of years as originally it acted as a preservative.

For anyone that thinks Greece is all about ouzo, trying the wines of Greece will surely change your mind rather quickly. The segment is growing impressively with no signs of slowing any time soon.

Chianti Classico DOC in Tuscany: What’s Changed Over the Last 30 Years to Make It Memorable

Wine tasting experience

Perhaps your first experience with Chianti was sipping it from a bottle wrapped in straw. If so, it was bound to have sullied your impression of it. A shame too, for Chianti has truly changed over the last few decades. So much so that it’s time you forgave it and give it another chance to earn your affections.

Chianti Classico DOC as you may have tasted several decades ago was granted a ‘G’ for ‘guaranteed’ status, becoming DOCG in 1984. The name wasn’t the only thing that changed. With Sangiovese and Canaiolo still composing the base, white grapes were then required to make up a minimum of 2% on up to a maximum of 5% of the wine.

Originally in the 19th century, just a few drops of white wine were ever added, but that was changed by the DOC in 1975 which then enforced a rule that 30% of white wine grapes had to be added. The reason? Trebbiano and Malvasia were more readily available. It was about using the grapes yielded rather than preserving the quality of the wine, a sad fate for Chianti Classico indeed.

Between 1974 and 1984, the consumption of Chianti Classico dropped off considerably. Once the new DOCG status was enacted in 1990 though, it set off a sea of favorable changes for this wine.

Chianti Classico DOCG is now the shining star in top quality for Chianti, setting the bar for all others. It’s refreshingly acidic, made from grapes that come from higher elevations. You’ll taste hints of violet mixed with spice and a burst of cherries. Tannins prevail but the fruit and terroir exude all the character rather than oak aging. Traditional oak casks are the norm now to allow the wines to speak for themselves.

There are in total now 7 sub-regions of Chianti Classico being Colli Aretini, Colli Fiorentini, Colline Pisane, Colli Senesi, Montalbano, Montespertoli, and Rufina. Chianti Classico became a separate entity as Chianti Classico DOCG and is not considered at sub-region since 1996. There are 9 communes within the Chianti Classico DOCG itself being Barberino Val d’Elsa, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole in Chianti, Castellina in Chianti, Greve in Chianti, Radda in Chianti, Poggibonsi, San Casciano Val di Pesa, and Tavernelle Val di Pes To play by the rules, Chianti Classico must have a minimum of 80% Sangiovese with Colli Senesi the exception at 75%. For the remaining percentage of the wines should a producer not use 100% Sangiovese the grapes can only be composed of other red grapes either of native or international variety. You’ll see Colorino and Canaiolo Nero of the native species and plenty of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot of international varieties too.

And what you won’t see? White grapes. They were banned in 2006.

To further add complexity to the region, the appellation features 3 tiers. Annata is the standard which ages 12 months before being released. Riserva can’t be released until it ages for 24 months, and Gran Selezione must age a minimum of 36 months.

Still not convinced Chianti Classico has changed in more than just its name? Grab a bottle and see for yourself. Volpaia Chianti Classico with a smooth and juicy burst and Castello dei Rampolla Chianti Classico, full-bodied and deep with tannins, are sure to change your mind.

Delving into the Complexities of Burgundy Wines

Bottle of red wine and fresh vine grapes

The pleasure of sipping wines from France’s esteemed Burgundy region knows no bounds. While it isn’t a large region in regards to size, it’s huge in the wine world. Some of the most expensive wines hail from here though not every bottle from Burgundy will cost a pretty penny.

Burgundy is home to five regions where Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the stars of this vineyard show. Other varietals are planted here like Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay, and Aligoté, but as for what the French call the Bourgogne, red (rouge) production mostly involves Pinot Noir while white (blanc) involves Chardonnay.

What makes these grapes so stand-out among the others? Why, it must be that spectacular terroir upon which Burgundy sits. It lends the wines produced here a most elegant feel that is divinely aromatic and intensely complex. Somewhere around 200 million years ago when Burgundy was in the middle of a warm sea, limestone soil was formed. If you have the pleasure to explore the vineyards yourself, you will see large hunks of limestone, sometimes in the form of marl and mixed with clay. A closer inspection will reveal fossilized remains of creatures from the sea.

Burgundy’s 5 Wine Regions

In this east-central location of France, Burgundy features five distinct wine regions – Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Chalonnaise, and Mâconnais.

– Chablis

At the furthest-north point of Burgundy sits Chablis. It’s quite different from all the other wine growing areas in Burgundy. That’s largely due to the Serein River which helps moderate the climate, which is quite similar to Champagne. In fact, it has the same soil of limestone that’s white and chalky, perfect for both absorbing and reflecting the sun’s warmth to keep the vines ripening. These vines that you see growing here have been thriving since the 12th century when the Cistercian monks first planted them.

This region is well-known for producing Chardonnay with an unoaked flavor. Chablis wines feel pure and crisp on the palate and are absolutely phenomenal.

– Côte de Nuits

If you love Pinot Noir, Côte de Nuits is where you must try it. Here, there are 24 grand cru vineyards among what is deemed the most expensive vineyards in the world. You’ll find Côte de Nuits a little south of Dijon. It spans the region to Corgoloin.

This wine area focuses on Pinot Noir for much of the land while a small portion (roughly 20%) uses the land to cultivate Chardonnay or Rosé. For the grand cru vineyards, you’ll find them on the eastern slopes overlooking the valley at the Saône River. It is here where the Pinot Noir ages for decades, making the price even steeper. Some bottles can cost thousands of dollars, though there are more approachable ones in the way of budget.

Make selection from the premier cru when choosing Pinot Noir and you’ll find something lovely for a special occasion that fits your price point. You’ll be treated to a full-bodied wine with hints of cherry, fresh red fruits, and black currant melded with an earthiness and offset by just the right touch of spice.

– Côte de Beaune

With open, rolling valleys, the vineyards of Côte de Beaune are incredibly different from those just to its north. They face southeastern and the rich Chardonnays from here are completely coveted. In fact, seven out of eight of the grand cru vineyards focus on this particular varietal.

Incidentally, Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune are often summed up as one area that means ‘Golden Slope’ or Côte d’Or. This is because they’ve always been the most historically significant in Burgundy. In this ‘Golden Slope,’ the soils were formed from the Jurassic period which were exposed thanks to a fault rupture in the Tertiary era. The different subsoils make it something spectacular. Clay-limestone soils are the legacy of the land and every single plot of land creates unmatched wines with history behind it and impressively unique qualities.

The vines reach deep into the soil, drawing in energy to create wines that have character that runs just as deep. Approachable options for wines from Côte de Beaune include Volnay, Beaune, Pommard, Meursault, and Chassagne-Montratchet, to name a few. Treat yourself to soft floral aromas with hints of fresh apple and pear.

And while the region is revered for whites, don’t sell yourself short by missing out on the reds. You’ll find plummy flavors with that precise minerality Burgundy is so loved for plus good acidity to round it all out.

– Côte Chalonnaise

Continuing further south, Côte Chalonnaise is found between Chagny and Saint-Vallerin. Fascinatingly, this area was regarded by the dukes to be more rural and hence, more for peasants. In the northern portion of Côte Chalonnaise, Bouzeron is devoted to Aligoté varietals which make for lovely and refreshing summer wine drinking. It pairs beautifully with foods of the sea thanks to the floral elements and hints of honeyed citrus. Meanwhile in the center of the region, Rully brings it with Crémant, something it’s been doing since the 19th century in the same fashion as in Champagne.

The villages throughout Côte Chalonnaise are home to varied layers of soil from Jurassic limestone and marl covered with pebbles and clay. In the middle of the region near Givry, there are over 13 different types of soil. It’s no wonder the wines from here are so full of character. They’re also a great value with subtly-oaked Chardonnays and rustic-flavored Pinot Noirs.

– Mâconnais

Furthest south in Burgundy sits Mâconnais. Some dare to call it more ordinary, though it’s really more enduring than anything. When the Great Depression hit and throughout both World Wars, this area suffered deeply. Many growers sold their grapes off just to survive. It was pure necessity. In the 1960’s, tastes began to shift and wine consumption dropped. The vineyards here had to step up their game to compete. With this, the fruit quality standards were set into place as the new wines began to blossom from the area.

Set between Tournus and St. Veran, Mâconnais is the dividing line of the north and south of France. Visually different, you’ll see more Mediterranean styles here and feel the warmer climate. Harvesting starts two weeks earlier in this southern region than Chablis at the north of the realm.

Viré-Clessé is the center of the region, only being declared in 1999 as an appellation despite crafting sublime wines for ages. The warmer climate plays a vital role in the Chardonnays birthed here. They just taste riper with stone fruits, citrus, and wild herbs evoking uplifting feelings in every taste.

Perhaps the most famous is Pouilly-Fuissé which is all the way at the south. Beautiful vineyards surrounded by villages are like something from a centuries-old painting. Many of them border Beaujolais which was once considered a part of the Burgundy region. Soils in this area bring the flavor to wines from limestone and a touch of granite. Soft apple and tropical pineapple melded with peach greet your nose from the Chardonnay while a fresh, crisp taste and full structure please your palate.

Classifications of Burgundy Wines

In Burgundy, there are well over 100 appellations all ranked by levels. Understanding them is the key to finding wines to fall in love with in any price range. This can get a tad confusing though as there’s grand cru, the top of the line from the best climats in Burgundy. There is also the premier cru which are quite exceptional, village wines, and regional wines.

– Regional Wines of Burgundy

On the label it reveals ‘Bourgogne Rouge’ for reds or ‘Bourgogne Blanc’ for whites. Most of these are light and fresh, ideal for enjoying before or after a meal. Sparkling Crément is another regional wine from Burgundy to try too.

– Village Wines of Burgundy

These wines come from the towns nearby the vineyards. They’re fresh and full of fruitiness. If you don’t like an oaky flavor to your Chardonnay, you will enjoy the wines of the villages. Givry, Mercurey, Santenay, and Pouilly Fuisse are ones to seek out for your best enjoyment.

– Communal Appellations of Burgundy

With 44 communal appellations, these wines bear the village name from the area in which it’s produced. Examples include Gevrey-Chambertin, Beaune, Auxey-Duresses, Savigny les Beane, and Saint-Romain.

– Premier Cru of Burgundy

When a special occasion begs for something divine, premier cru from Burgundy is what you can choose without spending a fortune. The climats produce intense wines thanks to the soil and the morning sun. They also age longer in oak for a richer flavor. If you love an oaked taste to your wine, premier cru is the best choice and is some of the most spectacular to pair with food.

– Grand Cru of Burgundy

When money is no object, grand cru is the pinnacle of perfection in Burgundy. They are bold and beautiful, often kept in cellars for just the right time to celebrate with a superb wine. While the grand cru of Burgundy only makes up 1% of the production from the region, it is the most notable, however it isn’t the only splendid option available in the region.

Chablis Stands Alone – The Classification System in the Northernmost Wine Region of Burgundy

As if making sense of the wine regions in Burgundy (much less anywhere) isn’t already a confusing endeavor, Chablis has its very own classification system separate from everything else.

There is Petit Chablis, which is grown from the grapes around the village. These are more acidic and are light and citrusy. You should uncork these straight away for the best appeal. Don’t let these age or buy aged versions. The recent vintages are the absolute best.

Chablis are rounder and have more of a minerality to them. The grapes come off the limestone slopes. Most of the wines of Chablis are in this category and are such a treat for the palate. Premier Cru Chablis is very elegant, much thanks to that Kimmeridgian limestone marl. They are so distinctive and utterly divine. Choose ‘Mont de Milieu,’ ‘Fourchaume,’ or ‘Côte de Léchet.’

Grand Cru Chablis comes from vineyards at the north with very steep and intense slopes that point south to southwest. Technically speaking, there’s just one grand cru but inside of it, there are seven climats. You’ll see them listed on the labels as Les Clos, Valmur, Bougros, Blanchot, Presuses, Vaudésir, and Grenouilles. These all taste very different from the rest of the Chablis wine due to being aged in oak, however these age wonderfully and bring out honeyed floral notes with very flinty and refreshing acidity to balance it all out.

The wines of Burgundy can be enjoyed on many occasions. Some fare best with food while others are stunning alone, perfect for sipping prior to dining. Tasting your way around the region is the best way to get acquainted with these classic wines.

Pierre Chermette: The Finest Example of Beaujolais Moulin-à-Vent

Wine growers tasting wine in vineyard nature

Just between Fleurie and Julienas, Moulin-à-Vent, a hill with a name that translates to ‘windmill’ as a tribute to the very one from the 15th century atop it, may at times represent the pinnacle of the 10 Beaujolais crus. If you’ve sampled Beaujolais crus and have yet to uncork an esteemed bottle from Moulin- à -Vent, you simply must rectify this at once.

The wines here are concentrated with a tannic structure that may sometimes seem echelons above the rest. That’s particularly notable for the entire region of Beaujolais is rather prized. Though here, patience pays since the wines are really at their prime after aging 10 years. If you’ve heard of exemplary bottles of Beaujolais that have aged 50 years or more, it is almost always a Moulin-à-Vent although it is a rarity and it must have just the perfect producer touch and vintage.

The other crus tend to have a granite base as well, but what separates Moulin-à-Vent from them is that the soils here contain manganese. In higher concentrations, it could kill the vines, but here, there’s only enough to keep the grape yield lower. What this does is create more concentrated berries for an extreme flavor.

Coupled with the slopes of the hill and the ample sunshine, the grapes ripen to their fullest potential. It creates a majestic quality in the wines, one that becomes more intense with every sip.

When it comes to choosing the finest of them all, few hold a candle to Pierre Chermette and his Domaine de Vissoux. Years ago, he only made wine in the Beaujolais AC but ever since the 1990’s, he began taking on land in the crus. The standout is Les Trois Roches of Moulin-à-Vent. The name denotes the three unique parcels where the grapes for his wine are born. Rochegres adds what Chermette notes as “finesse” while La Rochelle brings the structure. Roche Noire adds the life to it. All of these grapes are joined together by Chermette for an astounding creation, one that is made the natural way as the original Burgundian ways once were, completely free of sulfur.

As any wine aficionado knows, drinking Beaujolais is akin to standing on top of the world. Yet from Domaine de Vissoux, the practices are sustainable, chemical-free, and steeped in traditional roots which all yield some of the most phenomenal offerings out of Moulin-à-Vent. It’s little surprise that you’ll find it gracing the wine lists of the finest restaurants in France and at the top of Les Meilleurs Vins de France, the French wine guide.

The difference with this producer is quite simple. Hand-harvesting only fully ripe Grenache grapes and reducing the yields makes for the fullest ripeness. It’s impeccable stuff, and the fact that green practices are used really speaks to today’s consumer who wants to make a sustainable and healthful choice that is abundant in spectacular flavor.

Major Alsace Grand Cru Differences of Note for Your Ultimate Tasting Pleasure

Wine expert tasting a glass of wine

Alsace Grand Cru AOC is just 4% of production for Alsace, though it is surely the mightiest of the bunch. While only four official varietals are acknowledged here, known as the ‘Noble Grapes of Alsace,’ the wines they are crafted in are some of the most sublime renditions of grapes on the planet. With Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat, and Gewurztraminer, the Grand Cru wines from Alsace have a higher base alcohol level thanks to riper grapes. It should be noted there is internal turmoil as some of the greatest local producers believe the Grand Cru system is deficient as 51 is way too many and some of them are massive in size, but that is a debate that will have to be resolved by the Alsatians on their own terms.

Riper grapes of course come forth from the low slopes in the southern and southeastern areas where the sun aptly blesses the vines. In general, Alsace Grand Cru wines are rich yet a bit dry, with a honeyed flavoring that is sublime with aging. As they age, they take on a delightful smokiness.

As those that know wine are aware, great wines aren’t just built from good grapes that bask in the glory of the sun. It’s the cooling climate and unique soils that add to the overall terroir. This holy trifecta of elements that truly come together with perfection in Alsace.

Alsace Terroir

All of these vineyards are smattered along a very tiny strip of land, just 75 miles running north and south along the Vosges Mountains in France’s northeastern region. The best parcels – 51 total – are all designated as grand cru. With a complex geology from the Upper Rhine rift, every grand cru produced in Alsace has unique soil from which it thrives.

It was indoctrinated into grand cru back in 1975 with the first, but more sites were added in coming years to expand the grand cru territory. Despite this, these Alsace grand crus only account for 8% of the vineyard surface in the region. These are the wines that have made history, prized for a number of years by those who have had the pleasure to indulge in them.

As one may guess, with 51 grand crus on unique soil compositions, they all have something that makes them distinguished. A few of the most notable are listed below.


Rangen is considered one of the best Grand Crus  sitting on sedimentary volcanic soils. The vines are mesmerizing for they come right up out of bare stones. One of the southernmost of all the other 51 grand crus in Alsace, also happens to be the steepest and highest, a perfect place to catch all the sun even on the most unbearably cold days of winter.

This spectacularly unique terroir is the very reason Rangen should be on your bucket list for Alsace grand cru. They’re dramatic and have outstanding longevity and balance. The residual sweetness, acidity, and alcohol all falls into perfect harmony ending with a slightly salty finish.

Rangen grand crus are best when they age for the full potential of flavor. It’s purely magical stuff and brings new meaning to that age-old saying, “Aged like a fine wine.”


While Geisberg is also on a steep, south-facing terrace way above sea level, it sits in the middle of a smattering of medieval houses. Tucked between Kirchberg on the west and Osterberg on the east, two other divine grand cru wines, they all share a steepness and soil of sandstone, marl, and Triassic limestone.

That’s where the differences end as Geisberg faces due south, a spectacular place for Riesling to thrive. It is here that the wines have a precision about them, one that is truly unwavering. Winemakers thank the winds that make the wines have a perfect tension of acidity. It’s bone-dry so that young wines have a very strict composition and also assist in pathogen protections. Let it age and you get more of a fleshy feel from the bottle. Again, aging it will always bring about the truest complexities of your Geisberg grand crus.


With steep rises, terraces, and rocky outcrops, Vorbourg itself means ‘foothill’ and stands out in that regard. An orientation to the south and southeast with soil of limestone and clay is blessed with daily sunshine. Add to it the warm, windy gusts from the Atlantic that rise across the Vosges Mountains and the varietals here are treated to a natural ventilation of sorts.

Thanks to the unique combination in the terroir of Vorbourg, the wines have a straightness that exudes a fully round and powerful sensation on the palate. The grand crus here are more about texture and are a splendid experience when comparing Alsace grand cru wines.


Perhaps among the most famed Alsace grand cru, Schoenenbourg has been well-known since the 16th century. The middle section of this area is the most desired. Complex in a geological way, the soil of marl with high levels of gypsum mixed with sandstone and limestone in a Triassic formation gives this grand cru a taste that reveals that complexity.

It’s a slight bit bitter like orange peels but with a vibrant and delicate touch. Here, the grand crus ripen later on, picked late in the season. Yet despite this, they age exceptionally. You won’t get the full spectrum if you uncork it while young but with patience, you get some of the most spectacular grand crus in all of Alsace.


By literal translation, Hengst is ‘stallion,’ and it will give your palate quite a ride. The wines here are intensely powerful much thanks to the downward sloping vineyards that face to the southeast. Calcareous marl soil leaves its imprint for generously rich-tasting wines.

In particular, Riesling rises to the occasion, and in every wine, the iron-filled soil and humidity of the warmer months imparts a rather masculine feel to the wines. Expect them to be bold, ripely acidic and full of freshness in the finish.

Of course, that’s merely 5 of the 51 parcels that Alsace grand cru is born from. It should go without saying that sampling them at your leisure will bring about the greatest of pleasures.

Austrian Grüner Veltliner and Food Pairing

Bottles Wine, Food and Cheese

Austria’s two signatures: Grüner Veltliner and Wiener Schnitze

Austria isn’t just proficient in their winemaking abilities, but also in unique and delectable cuisine. Particularly, one of Austria’s national dishes, Wiener Schnitzel, is a specialty that pairs beautifully with one of Austria’s signature wines, Grüner Veltliner.

Wiener Schnitzel

Wiener Schnitzel is traditionally made with veal, which is coated in a bread-crumb crust and pan-fried. Traditionally, the meat is tenderized by pounding it, drenched in egg, flour and breadcrumbs and then shallow fried. This method, including the pounding of the meat, was found to go back to its origins when the recipe was first created.

It was thought that the recipe originated in Italy when evidence of the meal was found in a gastronomy book in 1869. There have been debates whether this was true – or whether it was truly first developed in Austria itself. Regardless, this is now officially one of Austria’s most popular dishes – and with great reason.

Although there are substitutes for the meat – often being pork because of the price difference – the Austrian food committees established a law that only when veal is used in the recipe, is it allowed to be called Wiener Schnitzel.

Grüner Veltliner

Similarly, Grüner Veltliner is also believed to have originated in Italy – dating back to the Roman times, but there is also a great debate regarding that. Before the second world war, the varietal was not an appreciated one – considered just another white wine grape. However, after some vine-training by a winemaker, Lenz, Moser, the grape became widely popular and turned into Austria’s most planted varietal.

It isn’t just a similar, yet debatable origin that this wine and meal share – but also compatibility beyond belief. Grüner Veltliner is crisp, acidic and has intense grapefruit, lime and peach flavors and often has a lovely white pepper aroma to i. It is often referred to as an exotic Sauvignon Blanc – which is exactly what it is.

There are a number of reasons that these characteristics work with the veal dish. Not only does the acidity cut through the oil and crumbs of the veal, but the acidity is perfect for the green salads that are often served with schnitzels.

The different styles in which Grüner Veltliner can be made – from light and crisp to heavy and nutty makes this wine a great option for the Schnitzel. These styles allow any personal spices and herbs to be added to the veal and still being able to find a Grüner Veltliner to match.

The Austrian cuisine, with their hearty, flavorsome and textural aspects has made it the place to be for any foodie. The greatest part is that they also have everything for a wine-lover – which allows for a secret wine-and-food paradise. For anyone who has a love for good food and even better wine – Austria is not a place that should be overlooked.

Chinese Premium Wine? The Sky’s the Limit

Wine concept

The wine trade held its breath as the first premium, estate-bottled Chinese wine was released into the market. The 2013 Shangri-La Ayu Sun, with a staggering $360 price tag, had been building up a hype. It sold out overnight.

The Bordeaux blend, sourced from Yunnan Province grapes, is the work of the Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy conglomerate. The group controls many iconic wine estates around the world, including Chateau d’Yquem, Cheval Blanc, and Dom Perignon. Premium is their standard.

LVMH planted the vines for Ayu Sun in high-altitude plots, at the foothills of the Himalayas. It took four years to find the ideal site, but their objective was explicit: To create a bottle of wine that could contend with the world’s finest.

Ayu Sun means “Flying above the clouds,” and the name not only refers to the vineyards, at over 2,000 meters in elevation but to the high expectations set.

The grapes are hand-picked, from 30 hectares of vineyards. This is a Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc blend, vinified in the true, modern Bordeaux style.

The lucky few that tried the wine backed it with good reviews and high scores. “The appearance and nose were unequivocally 100% Pauillac 1st growth. Only once tasted could you tell right away it was not”, states J. Mortenson, in charge of Information & Administration for the International Sommelier Guild. He further stated “had the wine been at $170.00 this would have been a steal but more importantly this should be a wake up call to the Bordeaux market going forward”.

The wine is not a Bordeaux 1st growth; it’s the Shangri-La. The 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet tasted different from the 1970 Château Mouton-Rothschild at the Judgment of Paris competition; it didn’t taste like a Bordeaux, it was better.

Will Chinese wine share the same fate as the pioneering California winemakers? It appears so, and as wine regions around China develop, and overseas investment continues to flow, the sky is the limit.

China is a dynamic market. The new generation is curious and keen to learn more about wine. Imports and local production are not only rising in quantity but quality.

It’s not a question of if China will produce premium wine, but if there will be enough to go around. How much is the western world prepared to pay for a Ninxia 1st growth or a golden Chinese ice wine?

How safe are foreign investments in a well-known, hot-tempered country? Will trade laws and international agreements be respected? Will Chinese producers cater to the western palate, or will they find their voice? How will winemakers tackle the counterfeit problem in the country?

Many questions remain unanswered, but one thing is for sure. Chinese premium wine is here, and it’s just going to get better.