A Growing Champagne Trend Is Uncorking More Ways To Celebrate


There are two trends NPR readers should know about when it comes to Champagne. First, that French sparkling wine is not just for special occasions anymore. Most people know this, but it’s a worthy and fun reminder that popping some bubbly on a Tuesday night is just as fun as popping it during a wedding celebration. The second, and one I’m a little more excited about, is introducing them to Grower Champagnes (see what I did there with the word “growing” in the headline?).

Grower champagnes are smaller producers who grow their own grapes and produce their own wines, unlike the big Champagne houses (think Dom Perignon, Krug, Veuve Cliquot, etc.) who usually purchase and blend grapes from different vineyards in order to create a consistent product from year to year.

To effectively tell this story, I interviewed  David White (of Terroirist.com fame) about his new book But First, Champagne. The book pairs the history of Champagne, with easy-to-understand explanations of how its made and how to drink it, while profiling important producers in the region. As he told me about the grower champagnes:

“Most of these growers, who only account for about 5 percent of overall Champagne sales, eschew consistency in favor of singularity.”

That 5 percent statistic astounds me. The way the wine community talks about a lot of these producers, it feels like that number should be bigger. Instead it underscores how niche those of us obsessed with wine can be. And all the more reason, a broader audience should learn about these delicious wines.

Read the rest of the interview, perhaps while sipping some bubbly, or perhaps as a friend did while listening to the latest Tiny Desk concert with Joshua Bell (which surprisingly sounds better in this video than it did in person).


Why Clones Matter – And Do they Trump Terroir? | Napa Valley Wine Academy



If you look closely at these bottles of wine, you’ll notice the labels don’t look like the ones you’ll find at a retailer. In fact, these bottles aren’t for sale. They were part of a specialized tasting sponsored by Gloria Ferrer featuring five different wine clones. Each of these Pinot Noirs were made from grapes grown in the vineyards planted near each other, but tasted wildly different. It was a perfect study in the importance of the individual vines.

Curious to know more? Or what I’m even talking about? Take a look at my latest piece for the Napa Valley Wine Academy’s Pouring Points blog.

Read it here: Why Clones Matter – And Do they Trump Terroir? | Napa Valley Wine Academy


The State of Virginia Wine | Napa Valley Wine Academy

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Here’s a little more on Virginia wine. (In case you missed my thoughts from the Virgnia Wine Summit I posted yesterday, it’s right here).

One of the amazing outcomes of the Wine Writers Symposium I attended in February was getting to know fellow talented editors and writers. Among them was Jonathan Cristaldi, the editor in chief of the Napa Valley Wine Academy. He wanted more content for the Academy’s Pouring Points blog and asked me to write a few posts, including this one about Virginia wine in honor of Thomas Jefferson’s birthday.

So go ahead and read the piece here: The State of Virginia Wine | Napa Valley Wine Academy.

Happy Birthday to Thomas Jefferson, who is not only our nation’s third president, but a fellow wine-o who spent 30 years trying to bottle a Virginia-made wine. Cheers!

The (Totally Fun, Not-At-All Stuffy) New Rules of Wine – Bon Appétit

My Addendum To These “New Rules Of Wine”

Either my wine-media consumption behavior has become too trendy or the author of this serious-yet-still-whimsical listical from Bon Appétit has been spying on my wine life! (I’m hoping it’s the latter).

I struggle with wanting to become a cheerleader for what Belle Cushing curated and putting on a cynical hat so I can make some dashingly intelligent comments that show I’m too-cool for mainstream wine media. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m not very cool.

But I can’t just post this story without comment, so here are some extra thoughts on a few of the “rules” contained in this piece. (For a better UX, open the story in a separate window, and read it side-by-side next to this post). I hope it’s helpful!

1. Choose your wine

Can’t dispute this choice at all! And super excited to see Bay Grape mentioned (and here I thought this was my own little discovery back in October). But there’s NEWS hidden here… Delectable, the social media darling of the wine world, is introducing a new app?! Maybe this explains why the app – which had started producing some really fun original content to help recommend new wines – stopped adding new editorial features. Eager to see what’s next for the company.

2. Drop These Names

While it’s a bit controversial at times, I wouldn’t be afraid to add IPOB (In Pursuit of Balance) to that list. The lighter-style Pinots and Chardonnays from California are always a treat.

3. Why Natural Wine Is Important

To get a better sense of who Pascaline Lepeltier is and why I’m happy she was quoted, read Pascaline’s piece that was just published in The World of Fine Wine. But I’d also highly suggest getting your hands on Alice Feiring’s book, Naked Wine, to really understand the Natural Wine movement.

4. Ask for the Loire Valley.

Funny how the author quotes Pascaline (who is known for her love and knowledge of Chenin Blanc), but makes no mention of the grape in this section. That’s OK. I enjoy Chinons, too. But Chenin Blanc is a Loire staple and is worth a taste or three (even if it’s non-Loire bottles like some newer wines made here in the U.S. )

5. Take a Trip to Georgia

For more about the country’s ancient clay barrels used to make their wine, take a look at NPR’s story from June. Or better yet, go sit at the bar at Compass Rose in Washington, D.C.,and taste some of them!

7. Head of the Glass

 I take my sipping vessels seriously, so it was fun to see how glasses have evolved. There’s debate on whether the glass makes a difference (I’m in the camp that it does), but at the very least, it usually adds to the enjoyment. Even if your vessel is a little esoteric.

10. Memorize the New Importers. 

I’m still learning the importers, but already I’m a big fan of Jenny & Francois (they import one of my favorite Rhone wines), as well as Louis/Dressner, who both import natural wines. While not necessarily new, I’d make sure to add Weygandt when seeking out French wines, too.

12. Producer Trumps Vintage

Producer sometimes trumps terroir, too. There I said it. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this twitter exchange about David White’s recent column about introducing Burgundy to his friends. I discovered something similar while tasting my way through some Cru Beaujolais.

13. Less is More

See IPOB recommendation from #2.

15. Collect Wine Like You Mean It.

Just want to stress the fourth principle: buy multiple bottles so you can taste it along the way. What fun is aging wine if you can’t learn and understand how the wine evolves over the years?

17. Read All About It.

So many good blogs and books to suggest. These scratch a good surface, but if you’re just getting into the wine scene, Wine Folly’s new book is another great reference guide.

18. Go Long on Beaujolais.

I certainly can’t argue with this – especially after I spent a Saturday attempting to demystify the crus.

19. Status Worth Seeking

Wine bar owner and sommelier Aldo Sohm is exactly right. Even more so if you don’t live in California or New York. Some of my favorite wines: Dirty & Rowdy, Enfield, Jolie Laide and Sandlands all have very reasonable price points (some a little higher than the $30 he mentions, but still very much worth the money for the quality). But because they make such a limited quantity, allocations are extremely tight.

Read the full story here:
The (Totally Fun, Not-At-All Stuffy) New Rules of Wine – Bon Appétit

From Syria To South Africa, A Passion For Wine Flows Bottle By Bottle

This was the bit of news I alluded to in an earlier post. Writer Cathy Huyghe gave me the opportunity to take a look at her book just as it was being published and my employer let me write about it.

Not only that, the kind editors of The Salt are open to some of my wine ideas, so while there’s nothing official… here’s hoping this will the first of many more wine-related pieces for them! 

And I’m declaring this moment, as yet another turn in my own wine journey.

From Syria To South Africa, A Passion For Wine Flows Bottle By Bottle

Drought Brings Soul Searching to California Winemaking

While it’s fun to watch what winemakers are saying on social media about the state of this year’s harvest, I was happy to stumble on this well-reported story by Eric Asimov of The New York Times. If you’ve become almost as obsessive on this topic as I have, it’s a must read:

The drought may have turned all of California into a pitiless desert in the popular imagination, but a week in July spent visiting fine-wine regions all around the state painted a more nuanced picture.

From the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County, to El Dorado in the Sierra Foothills, to Napa Valley and the Sonoma Coast, the drought, now in its fourth year, has affected every area differently. Some regions have been hard hit, like eastern Paso Robles on the Central Coast and the Central Valley, source of much of the grapes that go into cheap bulk wines. But other regions, like the North Coast, are bearing up well.

While individual estates may feel the pain of the drought keenly, the California wine industry has continued to prosper through it.

Keep reading here

Drought Brings Soul Searching to California Winemaking

International Designation Is Sweet Victory for Burgundy

Dream assignment: Go to Burgundy and write about Aubert de Villaine’s decade-long effort to get his region designated as a World Heritage site by the cultural arm of the United Nations. Oh, and while you’re at it, sip from the barrel that’s storing Romanée-Conti from the 2014 harvest. It would be rude not to accept a taste, right?!

To say I’m swooning may be an understatement, as I’m now very jealous of the reporter. But beyond that, it’s a fun read and a greater understanding of why the designation is important to the to winemakers of Burgundy.

For anyone with even a basic knowledge of wine, it may seem unthinkable that the revered wine sites of Burgundy need more recognition than they already have. But the Unesco designation gives a global imprimatur to the French view that great wine can be produced only through a magical combination of climate, geology and history — that ineffable quality often called “terroir.”

And it is sweet vindication for Mr. de Villaine’s long effort to rouse his fellow Burgundy producers to the threat posed by a global wine industry and, in his view, their failure to keep up with rising standards.

“The climats define the unique character of Burgundy’s wine region,” Mr. de Villaine said. “They are an exceptional representation of human ingenuity that must be preserved. What is most important for me is that the people of Burgundy, especially the vignerons, be inspired by the ancient, precious, unique treasure they hold in their hands.”

Read more here: International Designation Is Sweet Victory for Burgundy

The Rise of Female Sommeliers

Thanks to winewithkristen for posting this story and bringing it to my attention!  

Here’s my favorite paragraph of this story

Given the general public’s recent infatuation with the profession, it’s safe to say we’ve officially transitioned from the age of the stuffy sommelier to that of the casually hip “somm.” An exchange that once involved a highly formalized set of rituals (pour for the man to taste first, never leave the bottle on the table) now takes place amid the blare of rock music in wine-centric restaurants like Manhattan’s Pearl & Ash or Racines NY, where rather than wax poetic about Latour or Lafite, your somm will likely evangelize about the sherry renaissance or recommend some offbeat natural wine from the Loire.

It’s a great summary of the renaissance happening in the wine world. And it’s certainly the energy I’ve been feeding off of in my own discoveries these past few years. But I have to wonder if Zachary Sussman is suggesting that the less “stuffy” and more “casually hip” state of the industry is a reason for the rise in more women entering the field? It’s probably made it easier. But even if being a sommelier was still quite a formal profession – in today’s modern environment – would a lot of woman still be shut out?

I don’t have an answer. Just something to think about. 

The Rise of Female Sommeliers

Chenin Blanc Makes an Audacious U.S. Return

If I don’t have rosé in my glass this summer, and you spy me sipping something white, it’s probably the Sandlands Chenin Blanc. That’s why I was thrilled to see Eric Asimov’s column today and the nice mention and quote from Sandlands owner/winemaker Tegan Passalacqua.

I’m still getting to know the grape and reading Asimov’s story gave me a great introduction while also talking about its resurgence here in the U.S. 

Chenin blanc, the white grape of the central Loire Valley, is one of those grapes achieving new life in the United States. Once widely planted in California, it had largely disappeared from fine wine regions by 2000. In the last few years, though, at least a dozen California producers have started making chenin blancs, joining a handful who never stopped, along with producers in Oregon and New York.

Because of its great acidity, chenin blanc is a grape able to make wines bone dry or unctuously sweet yet fresh, with an entire spectrum in between. It has the ability to transparently display its place of origin, to age for decades and to tantalize not just with complex aromas and flavors but with a seemingly paradoxical texture that can be thick yet delicate, rich yet light.

Most of what I’ve learned in the past year has come from the advocacy of Pascaline Lepeltier, the wine director at Rouge Tomate in New York, who gets a nice shout-out at the end of the column. It’s exciting to see that she’s working on her own project:

She has her own chenin blanc project: a plan to plant a few vines in the Finger Lakes of New York in partnership with Bloomer Creek Vineyard.

Chenin Blanc Makes an Audacious U.S. Return

#NPRReads: Considering The Language Of Wine And What’s In A Toddler’s Mouth

A little bit of self-promotion. I recently sent out this tweet from my verified work account:

…and the NPR Two Way blog editors liked it so much, they included it in the weekly round-up of what NPR staffers are reading.

When I took WSET claseses late last year, one of my goals was to finally learn how to communicate more effectively about wine. And while I certainly advanced my knowledge, I realized I still had a long way to go. So, it’s a nice validation to see The New Yorker tackle this topic.

Click on the link at the top of this post (or just click here) to read what I wrote to our NPR readers about the piece.

I really enjoy introducing more people to wine-related ideas and information, so I’m a wee-bit giddy I expanded my reach this afternoon.

Read it here:  #NPRReads: Considering The Language Of Wine And What’s In A Toddler’s Mouth