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Wine Craft: Wine Education Made Easy (Riesling Edition)

Wine Craft: Wine Education Made Easy (Riesling Edition)

by Wine GeoApril 8, 2016


I got into wine education because it pained me (still does) to watch wine experts swoop in to “teach” people about wine and not realize that the only thing they’re leaving behind is a big fat question mark. So many wine educators, sommeliers, and winemakers romanticize details like Brix measurements and the exact rainfall in La Salta in 1996 and in the process forget how to just sit and talk to people about wine in a straightforward, easily understandable way. For that, I am sorry. The biggest hurdle I had to overcome as a sommelier  was ditching those complicated descriptions in favor of concepts even the most novice of wine consumers can understand. In this edition of Wine Craft, I was able to use one word to describe the signature characteristic for each of four different Rieslings from regions from around the world. It doesn’t get much easier than that! Hopefully now you’ll be able to better understand how Riesling changes from region to region so you can zero in on the bottle you (and your taste buds) like the most.

Do you have a favorite Riesling? Let us know in the comments and Mario will help you pair it with something equally delicious!




Mario’s Picks:


  • Hugel Riesling from Alsace, France 2013 $19.99 BUY ME!
  • Dr. Loosen Erderner Treppchen Kabinett from Mosel, Germany 2014 $25.99 BUY ME!
  • Murphy’s Law Riesling from Columbia Valley, Washington 2012 $10.99 BUY ME!
  • Forrest Estate Riesling from Marlborough, New Zealand 2010 $17.99  BUY ME!




Mario Luna sommelier

Mario Luna is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company dedicated to “Developing the Sommelier in You” through online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content. He lives in Las Vegas where, in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario at his website or check out his courses, including the top-selling Wine for Beginners, here.

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The Wine Geographic Top 100 Wines of 2016

The Wine Geographic Top 100 Wines of 2016

by Wine GeoJanuary 27, 2017

Welcome to the Wine Geographic Top 100 Wines of 2016!

Our intrepid – and ever-thirsty – band of sommeliers has compiled a list of the 100 best wines they sip, slurped, and slugged back over the past year. We aimed to include a variety of price points, regions, varietals, and styles, and almost every entry is available for purchase online.

Think we missed one? Tell us in the comments! 



Trivento Malbec Reserve, 2015 – $11 (Mendoza, Argentina) Buy Here

Maybe I’m in an inexpensive Malbec phase of my life, but WOW these wines are good. Drinking this wine is like licking a chocolate and black pepper-coated black cherry with just a hint of lavender dust. That might not sound great to you, but with big powerful foods, it’s perfect, and an incredible everyday wine. – GM

Ritual Casablanca Valley Sauvignon Blanc, 2014 – $14.99 (Casablanca Valley, Chile) Buy Here

Chile is producing some interesting versions of Sauvignon Blanc, this bottle of Ritual included. There’s plenty of tropical fruit and a bright herbaceousness plus a nice balance between body and acidity. The screwtop makes this a convenient pick for a mid-summer picnic, which is exactly when and how I had it. – AM

Bodega Norton Malbec Mendoza Reserva, 2014 – $19 (Mendoza, Argentina) Buy Here

People’s reaction to good Malbec is funny. Most want to compare it to Cabernet and look for smooth development and power. To me, great Malbec is a bit rude and blows smoke in your face – like this one from Norton. It’s rich, deep and dark, smells and tastes of tobacco, and is just a little dirty and scary – just like good Malbec should be. This is a good steak’s best friend. – GM

Casarena Jamilla’s Vineyard Malbec, 2012 – $45 (Mendoza, Argentina) Buy Here

Michel Rolland and the team at Casarena focus on limited production to produce rich, concentrated, downright inky wines. Rather than promptly release its aroma of luxury and complexity the minute it’s uncorked, the Jamilla Vineyard needs to be romanced a bit – a little air, a little time – before it sheds its stony, austere exterior to reveal layers of blackberry, licorice, and a subtle thread of delicate floral notes. It’s beautiful with a steak or fatty duck with a blackberry gastrique. – AM 

Domus Aurea Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 – $53 (Maipo Valley, Chile) Buy Here

Cabernet from Chile can wander into green pepper territory far too often, which is why winemakers like the Peña family chose to plant on the difficult but well-suited Chilean hillsides. The Clos Quebrada De Macúl vineyard dates back to 1970, when planting Cabernet in Chile was a laughable offense, but the payoff is evident in this mint-tinged, fruit-driven wine that practically bounces with acidity. The wine is anchored by chunky tannins and smoke, two things that cry out for barbecued ribs slathered in a stick-savory balsamic and herb reduction. – AM

Sena, 2012 – $130 (Aconcagua Valley, Chile)  Buy Here

In 1995, Vina Errazuriz’s winemaker Eduardo Chadwick and Napa Valley’s Robert Mondavi searched for the perfect terroir in Aconcagua Valley, Chile to create a world-class red wine. In 2004, Sena reached international fame during the Berlin Tasting in which its 2001 vintage was rated higher than Chateau Margaux, Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour, Tignanello, and Solaia. I would pair this rich, bold, cherried, and mineral Bordeaux blend with New York strip steak or pot roast. – ML



Bodegas y Vinedos Ilurce Rio Madre Tempranillo, 2014 – $9.99 (Rioja, Spain) Buy Here

I’ll never forget first pouring this wine for a Spanish wine class that I was teaching, blown away that it smelled like honey and green tea with flavors of marmalade and black tea! From then on, the muscatels of Navarra have always piqued my interest. It’s the perfect drink for a peach cobbler or fruit tart. – JY

Bodegas Juan Gil “Monastrell”, 2014 – $14 (Jumilla, Spain) Buy Here

Set up your pairing first: a rich melted goat cheese and grilled tomatoes on pesto-smeared bruschetta. Now let those flavors fly: Smokey black cherries with breathtaking citrus building layers for rhubarb and rosemary. This bottle of sunshine is melds high acid, mild forest fruit, and earth with finesse. – JY

Marques de Riscal Rioja Riserva, 2009 – $17 (Rioja, Spain) Buy Here

Leading the Spanish architectural renaissance with one of Frank Gehry’s titanium tides and calcareous caves, this winery has a history of updating Rioja since its birth in 1858. Abounding hot cigar embers and cool dry dust built on a tangy spice from underripe cherries and blackberries. Drying in the glass will percolate the incense, raisins, cloves and nutmeg – a perfect finish for curried potatoes and a pan-seared bone-in ribeye. – JY

 Raventos i Blanc Blanc de Nit Cava Rosé, 2014 – $23 (Penedes, Spain) Buy Here

This “first family of Cava” from Penedes, Spain, designed traditional method sparkling wines that are produced just like Champagne, but because of the warmer weather, Cavas tend to have more citrus, melon, and minerality and a warmer finish than their sparkling counterparts in Northern France. In 2006, the Raventos family decided to expand the creative direction of their winery and they became the first to leave Cava as a DO (Denominacion Origine). One of those newer creations is the Raventos Rosé, a sparkling rose that contains red wine (Monastrell), which imparts even more fruit and fuller-bodied finish. This would pair beautifully with almost anything! – ML

Casa Castillo Las Gravas, 2012 – $30 (Jumilla, Spain) Buy Here

Rhone Valley blends from Southern Spain need to get more attention. Sure, Rioja gets all the press – and for good reason – but there are great wines in Jumilla. This is a “Southern Rhone” blend of Monastrell, Garnacha and Syrah, fermented in stone containers. It’s smooth and fruity, with soft stone and tannin, and is so easy to drink it should be a crime. – GM

Quinta do Crasto Douro Red Reserva Old Vines, 2013 – $39.99 (Douro Valley, Portugal) Buy Here

Leonor and Jorge Roquette are carrying on a tradition at Quinta do Crasto that dates back more than a century. There’s a reason that the couple is so dedicated to wines that are pure Douro, through and through and this wine will lay it all it in delicious detail. First, drink in the wine’s deep ruby hue, then take a deep, intoxicating whiff of the wild and brambly blackberry and plum aromas. Finally, there’s the flavor – it’s still a little tight and could easily age for a few more years, but even now there’s a gamey leather undertone and grippy tannins. It’s ideal for sipping slowly so you can experience it as it opens up. Do so with a platter of smoked meats and hard, salty cheese. – AM

Leirana Luisa Lazaro Albarino, 2005 – $48 (Rias Baixas, Spain) Buy Here

If you are able to find this precious Albarino, you’re lucky – this is the rarest of wine creations by Spanish winemaker Raul Perez. Normally, this grape is very aromatic with lemon, honeysuckle, mineral, and peach with a long, light-bodied, and dry finish, but Raul wanted to do something different. He set aside only one barrel called “Luisa Lazaro” and aged the wine for nine years. Once a year, Raul would sample the Albarino until he decided it was ready to be bottled in 2014. It tastes more like Chardonnay than Albarino, so I would pair it accordingly. – ML

Blandy’s Madeira Colheita Malmsey Single Harvest, 1996 – $55.99 (Madeira, Portugal) Buy Here

I’ve made a bit of a tradition out of picking a post-Christmas dinner something-something to sip on and this year’s addition was this tasty Colheita. Grapes are planted on skillfully terraced cliffs, harvested by hand, then slowly heated at a steady temp. The result is a snifter-worthy tipple redolent with caramel, honey, milk chocolate, dried fruit, and chestnuts – otherwise known as all the things on your holiday dessert table. Coincidence? I think not. – AM

Senorio de San Vicente Rioja, 2012 – $60 (Rioja, Spain) Buy Here

Most Rioja wines from 2012 are just now mellowing out enough to become really drinkable because of the heavy oak usage. The Senorio de San Vicente is no different, but is coming out and showing some amazing qualities of dark berries, cherries, smoke, dust, and a little ash. It’s really interesting now, and will be a rock star in another few years, so buy it and hold on to some. – GM

Toro Albala 1986 Gran Reserva Pedro Ximenez Montilla-Moreles, 1986 – $62 (Montilla-Moreles, Spain) Buy Here

Just north of Jerez in Southern Spain is a place called Montilla-Moreles. There, Toro Albala uses Pedro Ximenez grapes to create the most syrupy, sweet, chocolatey, raisinated wine in the world. The wine is barrel-aged for a minimum of 25 years with limited exposure to oxygen (the rancio method). Although this Pedro Ximenez pairs perfect with vanilla ice cream and any type of chocolate, you can also have it just by itself. This is the true “dessert in the glass”! – ML

 Conde de Hervias Tempranillo, 2008 – $63 (Rioja, Spain) Buy Here

This project headed by Inigo Manso de Zuniga Ugartechea in Rioja Alta is only made in great vintages. The vines used are 80-140 years old, which gives this Tempranillo a much rounder and juicier feel. The vineyard only allows one bunch of grapes per vine, which results in the deeper fruit and mineral flavor along with a softer finish. Enjoy this wine with trout (trucha) with tomato and jamon and paella. – ML



Sella & Mosca Terre Rare Riserva Carignano, 2010 – $13.99 (Sardinia, Italy) Buy Here

 In the scenic corner of northwest Sardinia, Sella & Mosca’s sprawling I Piani vineyard holds court just miles from the blue-tinged waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The Terre Rare Riserva is juicy, rich mess of jumbled berries and herbs, so silky smooth but with a hint of wild earth to keep things interesting. Easy drinking (but not too much), this saucy little Carignan would be lovey with a Ras El Hanout-dusted roast chicken or charred vegetables topped with aged parmesan and a fresh herb vinaigrette. – AM

Masseria Supreno Primitivo, 2015 – $15 (Salento, Italy)

Drinking a good Primitivo should make you feel like you’re drinking the blood, sweat, and tears of the Southern Italian land. It should be fruity, chewy, powerful, and just a little dirty. For generations, Primitivo has been a peasant wine made for the masses. I’d like to thank them for that. Great wine doesn’t have to be expensive. – GM

 Mionetto Valdobbiadene Prosecco Luxury Superiore DOCG, NV – $19 (Veneto, Italy) Buy Here

When it comes to Prosecco, there is a rather wide range of styles and quality levels that you’ll find on restaurant menus and retail shelves.  Mionetto is a historic Prosecco producer known to balance both tradition and innovation.  Their Luxury Superiore presents fresh perfumes of green apple, lime zest and jasmine flower.  On the palate, it has an effervescent grip softened by a creamy texture and nice weight.  The lively acidity is met with flavors of apples, pears and even a hint of marmite on the finish.  This bubbly is full of ripe fruit and complexity to be readily enjoyable on its own. – JA

 Castello di Monsanto Chianti Classico Riserva, 2013 – $25 (Tuscany, Italy) Buy Here

2013 was an okay year in Chianti, with production qualities varying. However, if you find a good wine, chances are it’s really good – like this one. This Reserva Chianti is almost light-bodied enough to be confused with a Pinot Noir – at least visually. It’s subtle, spicy, dry and acidic, just like a great Chianti should be. – GM

 Tenuta di Nozzole Chianti Classico Riserva, 2013 – $25 (Tuscany, Italy) Buy Here

Winemaking since the 18th century and currently led by father-and-son duo Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari, Tenuta di Nozzole has a wonderful reputation of reinventing themselves to accommodate for any trend. With their Chianti Classico Riserva the attack from the fruit lunges with tart black currants and the earth of an iron gate wet from the rain, opening into ripe cranberry-black cherry skins and strawberry compote. A puckering finish of framboise, topsoil and parmigiano that, when allowed to decant, will unleash its innate basil and rich prunes. This will be ideal for dark chocolate, porterhouse steak, or a rich Chinese pork stir fry. – JY

Sella & Mosca Tanca Farrá Alghero DOC, 2011 – $27 (Sardinia, Italy) Buy Here

A 50/50 blend of Cannonau (aka Grenache) and Cabernet Sauvignon, after tank fermentation the wine is blended and then aged for three years – one year in barrique followed by two years in Slavonian oak casks.  The result is wonderful intensity with scents of red cherry, blackcurrant, sage, saddle leather and dark chocolate.  The tannins are still youthful and a bit chewy, but the wine’s brawny structure and bright acidity play well with its saline undertones and licorice finish.  This pairs well with virtually anything tomato based as well any form of braised meat.  – JA     

Pieropan Soave Classico La Rocca, 2014 – $35 (Veneto, Italy) Buy Here

La Rocca simply makes great wines, and this is a perfect example. It’s floral and minerally, with heavy stone fruit and just the right amount of acid. It would go great with a spit-roasted chicken, but as your registered vegetarian of the group, we prefer serving this with a Caesar salad made with fire-roasted romaine and lots of garlic. – GM

 La Spinetta Pin Monferrato Rosso, 2011 – $59 (Piedmont, Italy) Buy Here

I love the raspberry, cranberry, mushrooms, rose petals, leather aromas, and rugged tannins of Barolos, but not all my friends and family feel the same. To best satisfy all parties, I look for classic Piedmont Nebbiolo/Barbera blends. These wines are softer, with similar aromas, flavors, and dryness but tamed. This and nuggets of parmesan cheese would be great for your next get-together. – ML

San Filippo Brunello di Montalcino, 2010 – $60 (Tuscany, Italy) Buy Here

The Sangiovese that grows around Montalcino is unmistakable in its quality and complexity. A good Brunello is able to blend the musty dirt and rock of the hills with powerful fruit and spice and make it all mellow into one complete wine, not allowing one to overtake another. They can be overwhelming, at times, but the 2010 San Filippo. Does it perfectly. This wine pairs best with sitting at a café and overlooking the Tuscan hillside. – GM

Marengo Barolo Bricco delle Viole, 2012 – $60 (Piedmont, Italy) Buy Here

This is simply the best wine I had this year. It’s perfect – well, for me at least. It’s like listening to the greatest hits of your favorite band. Ripe cherries and strawberries, anise seed and healthy minerality. Medium body with elegantly soft tannins and a bright finish. It’s balanced, polished, and was gone way too soon. – GM

 Casanova di Neri Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Nuova, 2010 – $200  (Tuscany, Italy) Buy Here

Casanova di Neri wines are different from any other Sangiovese I’ve tasted. Normally, I get cherries with a touch of sage, thyme, and white flowers and a long, mouth-watering finish, but not here. Everything is more intense, more elegant, more pronounced. What makes this winery different is their unique production method: they do not use pumps to transfer wine, which helps retain the impressive amount of fruit and floral aromas. – ML



Chateau d’Esclans Cotes de Provence Whispering Angel Rosé, 2015 – $12 (Provence, France) Buy Here

For me, the lighter the Rosé, the better, and this one the best one I had this year. Given, that could have been because I drank it on a hot day in the South of France, but whatever. There is no reason to overpay for Rosé. Whispering Angel is delightfully strawberry-y and peachy, dry and acidic, and paired perfectly with another bottle of it. – GM

Barton & Guestier Vouvray Chenin Blanc, 2014 – $14 (Loire Valley, France) Buy Here

When I blind taste this wine, I get aromas of white flowers, peach, pear, and Skittles! This soft, inviting Chenin Blanc from Vouvray is from a winery celebrating their 300th anniversary. This inexpensive wine is one of the few that can pair nicely with tangy salad dressing, barbecue, or any white fish dishes. – ML

La Cuvee Mythique, 2014 – $15 (Languedoc, France) Buy Here

One of my favorite wines year-round, this wine is a conglomeration of fellow Languedoc winemakers exploiting some of the finest GSM blends. Dedicated to the Owl of Minerva, who taught man about nature, this wonderful wine has a wealth of earth and fruit, best decanted and sipped upon every hour or two as it changes. Unravelling like a campsite, it begins light and floral, balanced raspberries, blueberries, jam and cranberries; the next movement unveiling the smoky oak and charred savory meat thus finishing with a sweet ash, damp mulch and charred mushroom. After many hours of decanting, synthesize this with a charred lamb and mushroom risotto. – JY

Domaine Laroche Chablis Saint Martin, 2015 – $20 (Chablis, France) Buy Here

From the historic Domaine Laroche comes this iconic cuvée, a blend of Chardonnay sourced from the domaine’s very best sites throughout the Chablis appellation.  It has an approachable austerity to it that highlights the blend of brisk acidity and full body while offering concentrated notes of pear, lime blossom and flinty minerality.  If you need a delicious white wine to serve at your next dinner party, this one is total crowd pleaser and will pair well with a wide range of dishes.  – JA

Cave de Rasteau “Ortas Prestige”, 2011 – $24 (Rasteau, France) Buy Here

This winery got its start in 1925, but with their humble new tasting room and trend-setting wines, they are part of the new face of Rhone and received a much-deserved status elevation in 2010. With amazing earth and basil, iron and luscious plums, rendered blueberries and gravel-like tannins, this bold wine fooled me for a Brunello with a respectable price! Like a cross between Rioja and Tuscany, Rasteau is producing eye-opening wines ideal for a rustic stewed beef sauce with carrots, potatoes, and thyme. – JY

Camille Braun Crémant D’Alsace Brut Rosé, NV – $26 (Alsace, France) Buy Here

It’s no secret that there are some fantastic Alsatian sparkling wines and this limited production crémant from the Braun family sets the bar high.  Made of 100% Pinot Noir from their organically-farmed vineyards, it is directly pressed then produced in the traditional method and spends a total of 12 months on the lees.  Undoubtedly charismatic, its tiny beads and zippy acidity unveil hints of creamy raspberry, strawberry and honeysuckle.  Sip a glass of this as an aperitif, have it with your meal, enjoy it with dessert, or sip it just because. – JA

 Château de Chamirey “Grand Vin de Bourgogne”, 2013 – $29 (Mercurey/Burgundy, France) Buy Here

First tasted during a long night of blind tasting and palate training, Chamirey shone like Antares in the midnight sky: bold, fiery, crimson rim to its scorching amber center. Mercurey never tasted better with its intrinsic smoky aura, emboldened piquant fruit, and velvet tannins like the softest looms of a fresh carpet. Enjoy it with sliced Speck, melted provolone and a lathering of garlicky mushrooms tucked into a toasty baguette. – JY

Guigal Gigondas Rouge, 2011 – $30 (Rhone, France) Buy Here

Guigal is one of the great producers in the Rhone Valley. They do old-school blends, not just for the traditional blend of Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah, but for the finished products as well. This one drinks older than it is, with a perfect balance of earth and fruit. It is easily one of the best bargains around and simply goes with just about anything. – GM

Chateau La Croix Lartigue Rouge, 2010 – $32 (Bordeaux, France) Buy Here

From the underrated, yet overperforming, Côtes de Castillon appellation, this blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc certainly delivers with an aromatic medley of pomegranate, black plum, rose, cocoa nibs and a mix of the vineyard’s limestone and gravel minerality.  With a seamless balance of elegance and heartiness, its juicy fruit characters are supplemented by flavors of mint leaf, bay laurel and green pepper.  It has a muscular tannic structure that’s softened by its polished texture.  This one still has many years to go, but is drinking brilliantly right now.  Enjoy it with your hearty holiday dishes. – JA

Domaine d’E Croce (Yves Leccia) Patrimonio Rouge, 2013 – $36 (Corsica, France) Buy Here

From the northeast tip of Corsica comes this red blend of 90% Nielluccio (Sangiovese) and 10% Grenache that are farmed lutte raisonnée.  With an extensive family history in winemaking, Yves broke off in 2004 to launch his own project that focused on what he considered to be the finest single terroir in Patrimonio. ‘E Croce’ is comprised of a layer of chalk soils over a sturdy bedrock of schist.  And the proof is in the pudding, as scents of black cherry, bramble, bay laurel and gamey qualities unfold over a backbone of minerality.  Its tannins are big, yet supple, as the wine proves it can have both precision and a wild side with a long smoky finish.  This is the perfect match for your meaty entrée.  – JA

Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Altenbourg, 2013 – $40 (Alsace, France) Buy Here

One of the most treasured estates in all of France, Domaine Weinbach is nestled at the foot of the majestic Schlossberg hill in Alsace.  The Altenbourg Gewurztraminer exemplifies a luscious purity with its voluptuous body, zesty acidity and creamy feel.  As far as the flavor profile, this wine is like a dream with intense yet refined notes of kumquat, candied ginger, pink rose, tarragon and smoky minerality.  Enjoy this one as a charming aperitif or pair with either rich or spicy foods, foie gras, or soft cheeses like Comté and Époisses. But don’t be surprised if you end up sipping this bottle all by its lonesome – this one is well worth the guilt. – JA   

Albert Boxler Pinot Blanc Reserve, 2014 – $40 (Alsace, France) Buy Here

A small family domaine that dates back to 1673, Albert Boxler is currently under the regime of Jean Boxler and utilizes organic farming.  And while Pinot Blanc is often overshadowed by the more aromatic Alsatian varietals, this underdog certainly proves itself once you give it a taste.  On the nose, it is pleasingly fragrant with hints of tart pear, lemon squeeze, sweet pea and stony minerality from the vineyard’s granitic soils.  Furthermore, it masters the balance of being dry, round bodied and simply pristine.  Pair this one with fish, poultry or any egg-based dish. – JA

 Duval-Leroy Brut, NV – $40 (Champagne, France) Buy Here

Madame Carol Duval-Leroy, chairwoman and matriarch, guides her three sons (the sixth generation her) who stem from a marriage between vignerons Duval and negociants Leroy in 1859. Tangling the salient brightness of Chardonnay and floral sensuousness of Pinot Noir, this wine is full of almonds and bread knots, star fruit and Fuji apples. Finish off your first sip with a warm welcomed bite of fresh-baked pastry with lemon curd or blueberry jam. – JY

 Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve, NV – $45 (Champagne, France)  Buy Here

I always hear fond comments about the Salmon Rosé, but never have I been so surprised as I was to encounter the Brut Reserve. The Reserve opens like nutty toast and a meringue-like mousse, distinctively refined and beautifully expressing its age. The decadence of sun-soaked yellow pears, racy Meyer lemons and a bouquet of acacias and honeysuckle allows for great replay value. This is the type of Champagne you save for your favorite people. Serve it with a roasted butternut squash with tomato, walnut and jasmine rice stuffing. – JY

 Alfred Gratien Brut Classique, NV – $46 (Champagne, France) Buy Here

This is an incredible Champagne with rich apricots, lemon, pear, brioche, and hazelnuts and a long, creamy finish. It’s also the only other barrel-fermented Champagne besides Krug and it’s just $46. You could easily spend hundreds or thousands of dollars trying to mimic this quality, but why would you? Now that you have more money, pair this Alfred Gratien with shucked oysters, aged jamon bellota, or fried egg and caviar on toast to create a mind-blowing pairing. – ML

Founded in 1864, these folks produce exclusively tête de cuvée Champagnes – or “head of cuvée” –meaning they are sourced from their finest Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards and only use the first juice off the press.   The Brut Classique is a blend of 46% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier.  It is crisp and aromatic with fruity characters of tart apple, quince, and apricot followed by notes of pink rose, salted biscuit, and minerals.  Start the night off with this or pair it with oysters and any other seafood. – JA

Margain Brut Rosé, NV – $49 (Champagne, France) Buy Here

A blend of 72% Chardonnay and 28% Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims region, its beautiful salmon color preludes the multifaceted nature of this brut rosé.  While having gamey qualities and rusticity, it also shows graceful fragrances of ripe strawberry, raspberry and violet.  Its mineral foundation on the palate plays nicely with its fine mousse, brisk acidity, hints of toasted brioche and lime squeeze finish.  This bottle of bubbles can go to use as an aperitif or as a food-friendly pairing with just about everything. – JA  

Domaine Marc Morey Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru “En Virondot”, 2013 – $60 (Burgundy, France) Buy Here

The En Virondot is racy and bold, with a laser-focused acidity that zooms across the palate leaving waves of butter, white flowers, and oily lemon pith in its wake. It’s a beautiful expression of the chalky, Burgundian soil in which its grown. Serve with a pan-seared arctic char finished with grape tomatoes, a splash of the wine, a handful of herbs (thyme and tarragon work beautifully), and a generous knob (or three) of butter. – AM

 Ruinart Brut Rose, NV – $75 (Champagne, France) Buy Here

Whenever I think of Ruinart, I think of the standards that they have set. For one, they were the first Champagne house established way back in 1729. They also host the annual The Ruinart Challenge in partnership with The Court of Master Sommeliers, which helps future sommeliers learn more about the traditions of Champagne, While I am currently studying to one day qualify for that program, for now I’ll settle for ripe cherries, tart strawberries, floral, and a touch of spice with a creamy bubbly finish. – ML

Domaine Christian Moreau Père & Fils Grand Cru “Les Clos – Clos des Hospices”, 2014 – $110 (Chablis, France) Buy Here

From the family’s one-acre monopole at the foot of the illustrious Grand Cru Les Clos vineyard, their ‘Clos des Hospices’ is one of the best examples of top tier Chablis you’ll ever have the pleasure of tasting.  The average vine age is over 30 years old and they are sustainably grown in the Kimmeridgian marl-calcium carbonate soils unique to the region.  This wine exudes sheer depth with its intensity, richness and finesse.  Elements of golden apple, nectarine, white flowers and minerality embrace the palate as acidity keeps its lively with a long bergamot finish.  Enjoy this with seafood, white meats and truffle. – JA

 Joseph Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin Cazetiers, 2014 – $140 (Burgundy, France) Buy Here

A Pinot Noir with tannins? Yup! What intrigues me about this wine is the anticipation. I know the dryness is coming following the ripe cherry, strawberry, apple, smoke, and baking spice aromas and flavors, but I am never prepared for it. That dryness also alters the food pairings that normally go with Pinot Noir. For example, filet mignon wouldn’t pair with this wine, but New York strips will. – ML

Guigal “La Turque” Côte-Rôtie, 2012 – $300 (Northern Rhone, France) Buy Here

One of the most prestigious wines on the market, it comes from one hectare of vines in the Côte Brune, or “brown slope”, which is noted for its iron-rich schist soils.  A blend of 93% Syrah and 7% Viognier, the average vine age is 25 years and after fermentation the wine spends 42 months in new oak.  One of the most dynamic wines you’ll ever taste, its expressive nature is met with big velvety tannins, vibrant acidity and an undeniable sense of terroir.  Morello cherry, black plum, sage, anise and earthy undertones are among the many flavor characteristics of this wine with lingering traces of dark chocolate on the finish.  Sip this with short ribs, steak, or even French onion soup.  – JA      

Domaine Perrot-Minot Mazoyeres-Chambertin Grand Cru, 2011 – $300 (Burgundy, France) Buy Here

One of my Rock Star wines from this year, and definitely something I’ll remember. 2011 Gevrey-Chambertin Grand Crus are some of the best to come along in a decade, so splurge once in a while. This wine is subtle, seductive and sweet, floral and peppery. No matter how many wines you drink, you’ll remember this one – especially if you accompany it with some traditional Boeuf Bourguignon. – GM

Domaine Bruno Clair Bonnes Mares Grand Cru, 2014 – $344 (Burgundy, France) Buy Here

From one of the most revered grand cru vineyard sites in the Côte de Nuits, this Bonnes Mares will make a Pinot Noir lover out of you and anyone who tastes it.  Bruno Clair is renowned for his rigorous vineyard selection process using minimal treatments and without the use of chemical fertilizers.  His immaculate attention to detail shines through in this magnificent wine. It’s sophisticated, complex and has some muscle to the tannic structure while elements of red berries, rose and cinnamon offer further poise.  Enjoy this with pork roast or grilled salmon with shiitake mushrooms. – JA

Domaine Méo-Camuzet Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru, 2014 – $358 (Burgundy, France) Buy Here

Located in the heart of the highly esteemed Vosne-Romanée, Méo-Camuzet is easily one of Burgundy’s most celebrated domaines.  This rendition of Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru is comprised of Pinot Noir vines that were planted as far back as 1920.  Layers of depth showcase the wine’s precision, powdery tannins and overall charm as it expresses aromas of black raspberry, rose, white mushroom and toasted almonds.  On the palate, refreshing acidity keeps this regal wine going with lingering flavors of pine and redcurrant.  This is a perfect pairing for mushroom dishes. – JA  

Olivier Leflaive Bâtard-Montrachet Grand Cru, 2011 – $365 (Burgundy, France) Buy Here

Produced from vines located within the villages of Puligny and Chassagne, this grand cru wine comes from Olivier Leflaive of the widely respected Leflaive family.  When you take an average vine age of 45 years and combine that with calcareous soils and 12 months aging in oak, you get this grandiose wine that will continue to age marvelously.  Multifaceted with its lush texture and bright acidity, essences of tangerine, kiwi and white pepper unravel on the palate over a distinct mineral base.  Pair this with duck, white meats or any creamed based pasta. – JA

Chateau Angelus St. Emilion, 2006 – $370 (Bordeaux, France) Buy Here

What I don’t like about most Bordeaux wines is that these wines are beautifully elegant but the finish can be too soft or too short for my taste. It’s almost like I am missing something! I prefer a Bordeaux blend that finishes full, dense, elegant, and silky all in one. This is why Chateau Angelus, a Premiere Grand Cru Classe “A” right-bank Merlot and Cabernet Franc dominant blend, is perfect for my palate. This with lamb, rich stews, and game dishes will make me a very happy man. – ML

 Domaine Jamet Côte Rôtie, 1999 – $385 (Northern Rhone, France) Buy Here

As one of Rhone Valley’s most beloved vignerons, the Jamet family is recognized for their emphasis on accentuating terroir and vintage, having some of the most reputable lieux-dits on the hilltops overlooking the village of Ampuis.  This vintage has such an attractive rusticity along with classic grace as both the satiny tannins and acidity are still holding strong.  At this stage, it still displays notes of black cherry, lavender, spearmint and licorice with meaty components – almost bloody – and a long finish of black pepper.  Enjoy this with lamb, venison, or just sit there and relish its beauty by itself. – JA    




Dr. Loosen Sparkling Riesling, NV – $13.99 (Germany) Buy Here

Champagne is delicious, but bubbly from outside the go-to region for sparkling wine can be interesting, too. Enter this bottle from one of – if not the – premier Riesling producers in Germany. Dr. Loosen is known for acid-driven wine that delivers a sense of place and a luscious, obsession-making mouthfeel, and this delivers on all counts. Crisp yet luscious, fruity yet ringed with a stony undertow that grounds the peach and honey top notes. Drink with everything from New Year’s pork and sauerkraut to summer grilled peach and mascarpone pizzas. – AM

 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling, 2014 – $34 (Mosel, Germany) Buy Here

Every time I dine in my favorite Thai restaurant in Las Vegas, this is my “go-to” wine to pair with every dish, including dessert. The grapefruit, lime, orange, pear, slate, and petrol aromas and slightly sweet flavors balance the Thai food’s varying spice levels and inherent tanginess to keep you yearning for more. In order to understand the wine pairing, you have to go to Mosel’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr hillsides where J.J. Prum wines are grown. This hill offers intense sunlight and increased levels of slate in the soil to make this Riesling perfect. – ML

 St. Urbans-Hof Zickelgarten Spatlese, 2011 – $61.99 (Mosel, Germany) Buy Here

 I’m a sucker for wines that play with hard and soft and winemaker Nik Weis, who took over his grandfather’s estate in 1997, is a master at that kind of intricate dance of aroma and flavor. Weiss has the responsibility of carrying on family tradition while also honoring his own passion for innovation and a hefty respect for the Mosel terroir. There’s the intoxicating perfume of lilac and elderflower folded into smoke and dusty, a sprinkling of tropical fruit and slate on top. Snag yourself a double order of Thai curry and jasmine rice and lock yourself inside for a day or two. It’ll be worth it. – AM

Weingut Robert Weil Kiedricher Gräfenberg Spätlese, 2015 – $70 (Rheingau, Germany) Buy Here

A historic estate that dates all the way back to 1875, it is still considered one of the region’s youngest by Rheingau standards.  The vineyard’s stony loess and loam soils shine through this ripe and juicy Riesling with pleasant perfumes of orange blossom, papaya and spearmint.  Offering a zesty dryness with just a touch of sweetness, its vibrant acidity balances the baby fat on the palate and shows its flavor intensity by way of mango, lemon drop and a long finish of acacia.  Whether you drink it as an aperitif, pair it with duck confit, or sip it after dinner, you’ll instantly fall in love with this one. – JA



Tranche Cellars “Slice of Pape” Blanc, 2012 – $33.99 (Columbia Valley, Washington) Buy Here

 Rhone Valley varietals are popping up in some pretty unexpected places these days, including on Tranche Cellars, where winemaking is an exercise in exploration. “Slice of Pape” isn’t about recreating a Rhone white, so don’t expect a duplicate. Instead, let the whiffs of gardenia and honeysuckle wash over you and revel in the zippy kiwi and softly sweet flavor of white peach. The long, minerally finish cries out for briny seafood – try oysters tossed on the grill and topped with a mango salsa. – AM

 Domaine Drouhin Oregon Pinot Noir 2014 – $45 (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Buy Here

Drouhin has done it with this one. Finally, an Oregon Pinot Noir that blends the intrigue and character of Oregon with the depth, earthiness, and rusticness of Burgundy. Fitting, as they call both places home. That makes this, quite possibly, the best Pinot Noir of the year. – GM

 Canvasback Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 – $50 (Columbia Valley, Washington) Buy Here

Anybody who thinks world-class Cabernet has to come from France or Napa has got some drinking to do. Washington is killing it lately, which is probably why Napa Valley Cabernet legend, Duckhorn, set up shop there. Red Mountain is home to great Cabernet grapes, making this wine complex, balanced, and drinkable now, and probably incredible in a couple years. – GM

 L’Ecole No. 41 Seven Hills Vineyard “Perigree”, 2013 – $54.99 (Walla Walla/Columbia Valley, Washington) Buy Here

The family-run L’Ecole may only date back to 1983 (practically an eon in Washington wine years) but their winemaking team has the same philosophy as the French in terms of the importance of tradition and terroir. This Bordeaux blend is still young but you can drink it now – the rough-hewn tannins already play nicely with notes of dark chocolate, anise, and juicy black fruit, and there’s an intriguing salinity there, too. It’ll only get better with time and decanting. Drink with oven-roasted mushrooms tossed with fresh herbs and sun-dried tomatoes and piled on a load of buttery, crusty bread. – AM

Domaine Serene Chardonnay Dundee Hills Evenstad Reserve, 2014 – $55 (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Buy Here

This is the wine that sets, and often exceeds, the standard for Oregon Chardonnay, and lets the world know that excellent White Burgundy doesn’t have to come from France. This is definitely a full-bodied Chardonnay, rich and buttery, and went so perfectly with our Butternut and Roasted Apple soup. – GM

Domaine Drouhin Laurene Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, 2012 – $63 (Willamette Valley, Oregon) Buy Here

“Laurene” is named after Veronique Drouhin’s daughter and is considered Domaine Drouhin’s flagship wine. After each Pinot Noir grape is handpicked, fermented, and then aged in old French oak, individual barrels will be set aside, deemed best of the vintage, and labeled “Laurene”. When I taste the red and black fruit, touch of oak, smoke, and subtle spice in the wine, all I want is to pair this with a tub of brie cheese and crackers while thanking Laurene for being such an inspiration. – ML

Quilceda Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, 2006 – $229 (Columbia Valley, Washington) Buy Here

 You can have your California cult wines. I’ll always reach for the undeniably sexy Quilceda Creek Cab as one of my favorite budget-busting wines. The expense is justified the second you sip and discover one of the best balanced wines you’ve ever tasted. It’s a Pandora’s Box of beauty, with black cherries and currants, five spice, Sambuca, sandalwood, and the warm, teasing scent of a tobacco-infused cigar box. Pour some alongside spice lamb or shanks braised with red wine and prunes. – AM



Pine Ridge “Chenin Blanc-Viognier”, 2015 – $13 (California) Buy Here

Winemaker Gary Andrus devised this wine by balancing early harvest citrus with soft floral sugars, uncharacteristic of his typical Bordelais style. Supple honey coats the canvas while white flowers, ripe starfruit and tanned peaches splash around like a Pollock painting. The gentle viscosity will surely match any baked cod or boiled buttery lobster for your perfect Cape Cod style brunch. – JY

Byron Chardonnay, 2013 – $15 (Santa Barbara, California) Buy Here

There are a couple of “firsts” when it comes to this tropical fruit, coconut, baking spice, and apple aromas and flavor with a round yet soft finish. 1. Byron’s Nielson Vineyard is the first commercial vineyard in Santa Barbara over 80 years ago. 2. This is the first white wine that I liked (way back in the day), so drinking it always makes me nostalgic. It’s beautiful with an Oscar-style filet mignon Filet Mignon (crab, hollandaise, and asparagus on top of the steak). – ML

Silver Palm “Pinot Noir”, 2014 – $16 (Monterey & Santa Maria Valley, California) Buy Here

Through innovation due to the Californian drought, these Central Coast Pinots are gaining more rustic character from the paltry rain and moderate temperatures. Lavishly dark fruit curls the tongue alongside cranberries and cherries, raspberries and baking spices. Cater your next meal with this delight: dry rubbed pork brisket and coleslaw sandwiches or a tuna tartare with aioli and avocados. – JY

Four Vines Biker Paso Robles Zinfandel, 2012 – $18 (Paso Robles, California) Buy Here

This has always been a bit of a cult-wine, and for good reason. Four Vines has a few really good Zinfandels, but this one is the best for the year. It’s big and bold, the way Central Coast California Zin should be. Powerful fruit and spice are all over it, but it is amazingly drinkable, and perfect with fresh pasta. – GM

Klinker Brick “Old Vine Zinfandel”, 2013 – $19 ((Lodi, California) Buy Here or Buy Here

Designed by Craftsmen architects in the 1920’s, “Klinker Bricks” are a Lodi phenomenon named for the particular sound when they strike each other. First encountered at a fetching little bistro in Boulder City, Nevada, this wine was a powerhouse of flavors that was an ideal winter warmer: bramble berries and sun baked plums rush the palate with heat and zeal before saturated fruit quench your thirst as the earth and dust settle on the finish. Take the biggest beef patty, add pungent bleu cheese and sweet grilled onions, and ride off into the sunset happily. – JY

Groundwork Syrah, 2014 – $20 (Santa Barbara, California) Buy Here

We’re in the beginning stages of a total Rhone revolution in California. The Syrah and Grenache vines that were planted in the Central Coast and north over the last 20 years or so are starting to produce some seriously good wines – by some seriously good winemakers. This limited production wine is an exploration of the senses, with everything from raspberry and strawberry, to mocha, tobacco, and cola. Every glass is a bit different as it opens up and your tastes develop. Pour a witness wine and find out. – GM

Eberle Winery “Full Boar Red” – $22 (Paso Robles, California) Buy Here

Eberle, meaning “small boar”, is not only the winery’s emblem but the epitome of the spirit of Paso Robles. This amazing winery is a Beach Boys-esque, dog friendly, cultural icon that not only is sanctuary for adventurous wine lovers but also for consumers of luscious red blends. Like the finest rubies in a crown, this wine glimmers in concentration, percolating with cranberries, apples, and cherries; wafting of moist forest floor and grilled meat. Bundling of juicy plums, blueberries, cherries and boysenberries, pair this with Gary Eberle’s famous tri-tip sandwiches, a cape cod sun chair, bright sunshine with a live band. – JY

Lieu Dit Winery Chenin Blanc, 2014 – $27 (Santa Ynez Valley, CA) Buy Here

A wine partnership of longtime friends Eric Railsback and Justin Willett, the Lieu Dit Chenin Blanc is nothing short of delightful.  Tank fermented and aged in neutral oak, the vineyard’s sandy soils show through in the wine’s round structure.  This wine is fruity, savory, and refreshing while expressing hints of Asian pear, almond, celery salt and an underlying hint of umami.  It’s no surprise that Chenin Blanc is a favorite around the world and this California take on it performs beautifully on its own or with dishes like persimmon salad. – JA

Sans Liege “Long Way Home” Syrah, 2013 – $29 (Santa Barbara County, CA) Buy Here

Part of their Journeyman Edition, this opulent Syrah is sourced from some of Santa Barbara County’s premium sites – including Bien Nacido, Larner, White Hawk and Watch Hill Vineyards.   This wine is far from shy with its intense aromas of blackberry, black fig, lavender, clove, fennel and chocolatey undertones.  The fruit is a bit more subtle on the palate with notes of tobacco leaf and black pepper taking the stage alongside supple tannins and a long smoky finish.  It is full of personality and would pair well with any savory dish you’re enjoying this winter season. – JA

Seghesio Cortina Zinfandel, 2013 – $30 (Sonoma, California) Buy Here

Seghesio is a staple on many of these lists, simply because they simply make exquisite California Zinfandel. The 2013 Cortina is no different, except maybe better. This wine comes from grapes that struggle, is full-bodied and smoky, fruity and spicy. If there is a perfect Zinfandel, this might just be it, and at a price that merits purchase by the case. – GM

J Lohr “Gesture Mourvedre”, 2014 – $30 (Paso Robles, California) Buy Here

Greeted by the seven oak trees in the vista as you roll up to this quaint tasting room, you feel the same sense of ease and relaxation Jerry Lohr found when he came to Paso Robles. With its incredible use of sustainability and solar power, J Lohr maintains incredible tenacity for each wine. Their Gesture Mourvedre exudes mild meat and leather, chunky berry juice with hot plums, cassis and blueberries, lingering tannins and chalk. Accompany this adventure with rosemary roasted chicken or your friend’s neighborhood barbeque. – JY

Tablas Creek “Cotes de Tablas”, 2012 – $35 (Paso Robles, California) Buy Here

Tablas Creek is located far in the picturesque, winding woods of west Paso, where it’s watched over by the commanding presence of their tasting room pooch. With its robust aromatics, concentrated violet purple hue, brisk pepper notes, and rich Counoise driven spiced juiciness this wine demands similar attention. Pair this wine with a juicy roast and a sidekick of braised potatoes with rosemary and turmeric. – JY

Ramey Chardonnay, 2013 – $35 (Sonoma Coast, California) Buy Here

I love and hate this wine at the same time. It’s a Chardonnay that I always fail in a blind tasting. Sure, this wine offers ripe pear, lime, green apple, minerals, and baking spice while finishing medium to full-bodied – everything you expect from a California Chard, really. But thanks to David Ramey’s tendency to create a balance of terroir and ripest fruit possible, I tend to get lost in the incredible flavors and trip up on the country of origin every time. – ML

Lone Madrone “Points West Red”, 2012 – $35 (Paso Robles, California) Buy Here

Regional pioneer Neil Collins (winemaker for Tablas Creek) and sister Jackie Meisinger nestled their down-to-earth winery in the deep west of Paso’s enchanted forest. Truly the earthiest intensity of fruit one can experience from Paso Robles, this wine is teaming with bramble fruit and sweet tree bark, leather and confectioners’ sugar, raspberries, cassis and blackberries, all topped with a chalky calcareous finish. During a holiday party, this star paired amazingly with the rustic meatballs in marinara, prosciutto, and dill havarti. – JY

Oak Mountain Winery “Oak Mountain” Pinotage, 2013 – $45 (Paso Robles, California) Buy Here

Located on the edge of the Temecula Hills with a brand new cellar room buried in the hillside, this quaint village-like winery has helped some wonderful varietals flourish in Temeculan landscape. Out of Pinotage, Mourvedre, sparkling Sauvignon Blanc and Cinsault, their most captivating wine for me was their Pinotage. Earthy moist topsoil lathered in funky macerated cherries and tart cranberries makes this probably the most intriguing Pinot product I’ve had from California. Pair this with a rhubarb, pecan or cherry pie and good friends. – JY

Robert Craig Cellars “Affinity” Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012 – $60 (Napa Valley, California) Buy Here

This is the best wine that owner Bob Craig has to offer. The La Londe “Affinity” vineyard is just south of Stag’s Leap District in Napa Valley, which has given the deep concentration (thanks to 30-year-old vines) to Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals since 1993. The winery’s philosophy is to produce less to create better quality. After tasting the blueberry, blackberry, cherry, mint, mocha, and a touch of minerality in the Affinity, I totally understand Bob Craig’s vision. – ML

Leoness Cellars “VS Merlot”, 2011 – $60 (Temecula, California) Buy Here

Farmers first, Gary Winder and Mike Rennie honed in their 80 collective years of citrus and avocado agriculture to help create Leoness, “village of dreams”. This earthy animal is a well-crafted composition of deep herbal star anise, voluptuous raspberries and plums, tangy cranberries and sweet charred oak. Indicative of a cozy day spent in the woods, this merlot finishes with cigar smoke and sweet tannic tree bark – charismatic enough to pair with smoked salmon and braised brussel sprouts in almond cream. – JY

Kosta Browne Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, 2014 – $125 (Sonoma Coast, California) Buy Here

Dan Kosta and Michael Browne first teamed up in 1997 while working in a restaurant in Santa Rosa, California. Dan was the general manager while Michael ran the wine program as the sommelier. They shared a vision to create a Pinot Noir that no one had ever seen or tasted before. With only $1400 combined, they bought their first half-ton of grapes and the rest became history. With bold cherry, raspberry, barnyard, and spiced aromas and a juicy, soft, and smooth finish, this Pinot Noir is not only one of the best in the world, it’s also one of the best “rags-to-riches” story in wine. – ML

Lakoya Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 – $380 (Napa Valley, California) Buy Here

Howell Mountain remains to me the class-act AVA of Napa Valley. I enjoy the deep, bold, cooked dark fruit that Cabernet Sauvignons from the area offer and the round, dry finish makes me salivate for ages after each sip. The winery that best express this style is Lakoya. This incredible wine pairs best with bone-in ribeyes as well as cheese-based pasta dishes. – ML



Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling, 2014 – $21.99 (Seneca Lake/Finger Lakes, New York) Buy Here

Hermann Wiemer was born in the Mosel Valley, where his family has been making wine for more than three centuries. He came to the United States in 1968 and brought both Old World winemaking techniques and vinifera vines with him. This, his signature Riesling, is a revelation. No flabby New World wine here – only crisp acidity, bright citrus, a touch of amber honey, and a truckload of Mosel-esque minerality. This should be your entry point to the Finger Lakes – you’ll like what you find. – AM

Forge Cellars “Les Alliers” Riesling, 2013 – $25.99 (Finger Lakes, New York) Buy Here

The trio behind Forge Cellars takes the winery’s “artisanal” label seriously. The vineyards are carefully chosen, the grapes harvested, sorted, and pressed by hand. Fermentation is done in tiny batches so the character of a particular lot of vintage is never lost. As for the wine itself, its fantastically quirky. There’s spicy ginger and nutty almonds, stone fruit and clove, acacia and a cool saline-edged minerality that speaks to the Finger Lakes terroir. Try it with a fennel-rubbed pork tenderloin and rustic homemade applesauce with cinnamon. – AM

The Grapes of Roth Merlot, 2012 – $44 (Long Island, New York) Buy Here

Roman Roth’s goal was to create wine with impeccable character. He sought guidance and built relationships with other winemakers in the Long Island area and learned how to picked grapes at their ripest point for wines that feel robust yet elegant at the same time. Roman wanted the best wine possible and he achieved it. When I tasted this wine back in May at a wine tasting event, the rich cherry, blueberry, vanilla, mocha, and cassis flavor with a velvety yet dry finish made it clear (even then) that this would be one of the best of 2016. – ML

Gruet Grand Rosé, 2010 – $49.99 (New Mexico) Buy Here

Yeah, I know – New Mexico, right? But this wine is far from a novelty addition to the Top 100. Gruet is the namesake winery of a French-born innovator who believed he could make something special on the land 170 miles south of Albuquerque. He was right. This rosé is mostly Chardonnay, with the round, supple, marzipan notes to prove it, but the 10% Pinot Noir is surprisingly prominent with lots of cherry and much-needed structure. This is a wine for celebrating, in more ways than one. – AM



Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling, 2015 – $15 (Barossa, Australia) Buy Here

Australia is making some really good Rieslings – and other wines too – and at really good prices. This one is a lemon-lime explosion, showing a lot of citrus, limestone, and herb. It’s more acidic and refreshing than many other inexpensive Rieslings and could easily be stored a few years to develop, but was perfect with a roasted corn and chipotle chowder (sorry – ChowDah). – GM

The Chook Sparkling Shiraz, NV – $19 (South Australia, Australia) Buy Here

If you’ve never tasted a sparking Shiraz, don’t be alarmed by how “Shiraz” it really is.  This non-vintage wine is sourced from vineyards in McLaren Vale and Langhorne Creek and after fermentation it is aged in old French oak barrels for up to five years before undergoing its second fermentation in bottle.  The resulting wine has a striking magenta color and lovely perfumes of black cherry, loganberry, violet and coriander.  The palate is balanced with juicy acidity, silky tannins, creamy froth and notes of almond and clove on the finish.  Having both the girth of a red wine and crisp bubbly structure, this wine is easily paired with most savory dishes. – JA

Seresin Sauvignon Blanc, 2014 – $21.99 (Marlborough, New Zealand) Buy Here

Michael Seresin is a noted cinematographer who used the proceeds from movies like Angeles Ashes and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to buy up land in Marlborough in 1992. The winery is organic and biodynamic which is in line with Seresin’s devotion to natural, fuss-free winemaking. The wine is sophisticated and well-structured (that’s partly thanks to the splash of Semillon in the mix), with dried flowers, bright citrus, and a fine dusting of chalk. Halve a bunch of crab legs, throw them on the grill, brush them with tarragon/lemon butter, and smile. – AM

Jim Barry McRae Wood Shiraz, 2013 – $40 (Clare Valley, Australia) Buy Here

I like just about everything Jim Barry does, so consider this my futures bet. It’s got a ton of dark fruit and heavy tannic quality to it. This is already great Clare Valley Shiraz, but will be incredible in about 5 years. They say beef and lamb are the best with these wines, but pair it with a BBQ potato, roasted corn, red onion and cilantro pizza with cheddar and gouda and I’m in heaven. – GM

Giesen “Clayvin” Single Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2012 – $69.99 (Marlborough, New Zealand) Buy Here

New Zealand is full of microterroirs, which is why single vineyard wines are so important. This offering from Giesin must use grapes from a pretty stellar piece of land, because the bottle is bursting with succulent cherries and juicy, sun-soaked strawberries with lashings of oak and orange peel bringing up the rear. It’s what Pinot tastes like when someone’s smart enough to plant it in a special place and then let it do its thing. Drink it with fresh pappardelle tossed with wild mushrooms, baby arugula, and burrata cheese. – AM

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay, 2013 – $74.99 (Margaret River, Australia) Buy Here

Few wines are as consistent in quality year-to-year as Leeuwin Chardonnay. It’s hard not to be impressed by the vibrant, zesty splash of lemon merengue pie and Bartlett pear, but it’s the warmth of toasted spices, sultry cedar, and fatty hazelnuts that arouses curiosity and sears this wine into memory. I served mine alongside chicken piccata with an extra sprinkling of capers and finely chopped parsley. – AM


Neethlingshof Pinotage, 2015 – $15 (Stellenbosch, South Africa) Buy Here or http://shop.wine.co.za/wine?WINEID=37521

The brainchild of Abraham Izak Perold in 1925, Pinotage is a funky cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault. Derived from one of the oldest wineries in Stellenbosch and reacquired in 1788, this charismatic wine is like a fox in a hole – gracefully musty and ready to surprise with indulgently rich plums, mulchy bananas, and dashes of smoky cinnamon and clove. Grace your next batch of pork chops or baked ham with this festive winter pairing. – JY

Raats Cabernet Franc, 2013 – $39.99 (Stellenbosch, South Africa) Buy Here

The Raats brothers only produce Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, a narrow focus that has led to some stellar wines and earned them a hefty and loyal following in the process. There is all the dark cherry, red berries, and dried herbs you’d expect from a good Cab Franc, plus subtle notes of black peppers and tobacco that reveal themselves more and more as the wine opens in the glass. Pair it with lamb meatballs topped with crumbled feta and green olives. The second bottle will be fine all on its own. – AM



Sigalas “Aa” Assyrtiko-Athiri, 2015 – $18.99 (Santorini, Greece) Buy Here

Some wines are just made for summer. This is one of them. Bright, buoyant, the same shade of pale yellow as the sun that streams through your kitchen curtains in the morning, the wine is smile-inducing and it responds to warmth, but the slowly spreading fingers of acidity keep it from getting too fat and flabby. It’d be delicious with a calamari salad or just a good book and a hammock. – AM

Loimer Kamptal Gruner Veltliner, 2014 – $19.99 (Kamptal, Austria) Buy Here

Fred Loimer seems like the kind of guy you’d want to hang out with. His wine is just approachable and has just has much personality. Tart apple, peppery spice, and so much acidity the first sip is like snapping your tongue with a rubber band. I love it. Gruner is a versatile wine but I keep finding myself using it to wash down sandwiches – a tabbouleh and chickpea wrap with mint and parsley one time and a grilled vegetable and ciabatta stack the next. – AM



AM – Alana Mussleman

ML – Mario Luna

JA – Julie Albin

JY – Jon Yu

GM – Greg Masinton


 Think we missed one? Tell us in the comments! 


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Wine Craft: High-Alcohol Wines to Keep You Warm This Winter

Wine Craft: High-Alcohol Wines to Keep You Warm This Winter

by Wine GeoDecember 3, 2016



Not Mario…


I am such a wimp. I live in Las Vegas, Nevada and I’m already struggling with winter weather and it’s only in the mid-40s! Just last night, while creating this week’s Wine Craft, I had to put on two sweatshirts, sweatpants, and two pairs of socks, wrap myself in a blanket, and pour myself glass of Red Zinfandel just to keep going. If you were to see a picture of me, it would be one of the saddest and funniest sights that you would ever lay eyes on. Anyways, after 30 minutes of so, I was warmed enough to start taking off the multiple layers of clothing and took a look at the back of the bottle. I started thinking…

What is it About High-Alcohol Wines?

When someone talks about alcohol in a wine, they refer to how warm or “hot” it feels in the mouth and near the throat. (If you go to a blind tasting, you’ll often hear sommeliers and other wine pros calling a wine “hot” – that usually means they’re feeling the burn, literally.) On a wine’s label, you can clearly see the percentage of alcohol that is in the bottle (while keep in mind that there is a slight variance). It’ll usually be listed as “ABV” (alcohol by volume) and a number between 9% and 16%.

Here’s an idea of what the range of alcohol in wine looks like:

Low Alcohol Warmth

  • Less than 12% ABV
  • Found in wines like: Rieslings and Beaujolais
  • What you feel when you taste: A screwdriver (vodka and orange juice) or another alcohol drink where the warmth is mostly covered up


Medium Alcohol Warmth

  • Between 12-13.5% ABV
  • Found in wines like: Bordeaux, Cava, and Pinot Grigio
  • What you feel when you taste: a Cosmopolitan (vodka, cranberry juice, lime, and Cointreau) or another cocktail where you feel a touch of warmth, especially at the end


High Alcohol Warmth

  • 14% ABV or above
  • Found in wines like: Petite Sirah, Amarone, Red Zinfandel
  • What you feel when you taste: a shot of whiskey! Feel the burn!


Mario’s Picks for the Best High-Alcohol Wines:


14.9% ABV from Russian River Valley, California

  • Try: Foppiano Estate Petite Sirah 2012 $18: BUY ME


15.0% ABV from the Veneto, Italy

  • Try: Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 2011 $53: BUY ME


15.8% ABV from Lodi, California

  • Try: Klinker Brick Old Vine Zinfandel 2013 $19: BUY ME


20% ABV from Porto, Portugal

  • Try: Graham’s Vintage Port 2000 $53: BUY ME


Enjoy!  Stay warm everyone and happy holidays!


P.S. If you’re interested in learning more about alcohol in wine (and lots of other things like oak, acid, and the basics of the six most popular varietals), check out my Wine for Beginners course!


Mario Luna sommelierMario Luna is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company dedicated to “Developing the Sommelier in You” through online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content. He lives in Las Vegas where, in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario through mariolunasomm.com or check out his online wine courses.

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Late-Harvest Wines: The Desserts of the Wine World!

Late-Harvest Wines: The Desserts of the Wine World!

by Wine GeoSeptember 30, 2016


Some of you may have an idea when grapes are harvested in areas like Europe, United States, and other countries in the Northern Hemisphere, but others new to wine may not. To clear that up, here’s the answer: late August to early September. It’s that time of year when the wine world celebrates the end of the long growing season which began back in March. Meanwhile, in the Southern Hemisphere, wine-producing countries like South Africa, Argentina, and Australia are actually begin their wine creation six months ahead of the Northern Hemisphere. Do you think that once these grapes are harvested, that’s it for the year? Not so fast… There is one more opportunity for certain areas of the world to create, and it’s called late-harvest wine!

What is Late-Harvest Wine?

If you have never tried a late-harvest wine, it tastes sweeter and more honeyed than most still wines, and the acidity’s brightness that you feel along the gumlines is also diminished. To give you an idea, the winery monitors the ratio of sugar and acidity along with ideal weather pattern during the growing season. When the correct balance of that sugar and acidity in early September is achieved, it is picked and produced into wine. If the winery decides to make grapes late-harvest, the grapes are left on the vine, which adds more nutrients, increases sugars in the grape, and the acidity level softens. Even the wine body weight increases into a more syrupy feel.

Here are Mario’s Picks!

In this week’s Wine Craft (see the video above!), Mario talks about four different styles of late-harvest wines from around the world. Each style are actually created in different times of the year after September (one is even made right after the first frost in the winter time!):


Picked at First Frost in Niagara Falls

  • Wine: Inniskillin Vidal Blanc (375 mL) 2014 $50: BUY ME


Botrytis Affected in Bordeaux, France

  • Wine: Chateau Guirand Sauternes (375 mL) $40: BUY ME


Tokaji’s Finest in Hungary

  • Wine: The Royal Tokaji The Oddity Furmint $17: BUY ME


Germany’s Icewine is called “Eiswein”!

  • Wine: Dr. Loosen Eiswein Riesling (187 mL) 2012 $47: BUY ME




Mario LunaMario Luna sommelier is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company that produces online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content full of information perfect for the everyday wine drinker. He lives in Las Vegas, where in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario at his website or check out his courses here.

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Wine Craft: The Top 6 Chinese Food Wine Pairings

Wine Craft: The Top 6 Chinese Food Wine Pairings

by Wine GeoSeptember 17, 2016

Hey everyone. Are you as crazy busy as I am??

Lately it seems like everyone I know is juggling about 800 things at once. As for me, I’m currently in the middle of revamping (and soon relaunching) my website, I’m finalizing two eBooks (you’re going to love ’em!), and on top of all that, I’m trying to balance my personal life while also keeping up with all my studying as I continue on towards my goal of becoming a Master Sommelier. I know for sure that my life is a little hectic, but I wouldn’t change a thing.

Except maybe dinner.

Wine Pairings for Busy People

I love to cook, but when I suddenly turn around and it’s somehow 9pm and I haven’t eaten yet, I’m not getting out pots and pans, I’m reaching for the take-out menus, and my go-to vice is Chinese food.

Honestly, I would eat Chinese take out everyday if I could. The best part? I don’t even have to give up wine just because I’m having some kung pao.

Whether you share my love of chow mein and egg rolls or just want to sip and snack on some fun new pairings, you’ll want to check out this list of my six favorite Chinese food and wine pairings ideas. They’re seriously good eats.


Best Chinese Food Wine Pairings


  • #1 Peking Duck paired with Pinot Noir

          The crispy skin and 5-spice/molasses duck pairs with a wine that’s soft, earthy, and light finish!

Wine: Eden Road The Long Road Pinot Noir 2012 $30:  BUY ME


  • #2 Salt and Pepper Shrimp with Torrontes

           The salt, pepper, oil, and shrimp requires a wine that can handle seasonings and rich seafood

Wine: Anko Torrontes Salta, Argentina 2013 $14: BUY ME


  • #3: Beef with Broccoli with Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon

           The savory of beef and cooked vegetables pairs with a big, bold, and tannin red wine

Wine: Sterling Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 $26: BUY ME


  • #4: Orange Chicken with Prosecco

          The pan-fried skin with orange sauce needs to be cut by the sparkling wine’s slight sweet and sharp acidity

Wine: Cantine Maschio Prosecco Brut $12: BUY ME


  • #5: Kung Pao Chicken with Mosel Riesling

          Spicy and tangy chicken needs a sweet and bright white wine to tame the cuisine

Wine: St. Urbans-hoff Estate Riesling QbA 2014 $16: BUY ME


  • #6: Seafood Fried Rice with Central Coast Chardonnay

          The burnt rice in oil along with rich seafood like shrimp, crab, and lobster needs a medium-bodied white that             can handle such richness

Wine: Calera Central Coast Chardonnay 2014 $19: BUY ME



Mario LunaMario Luna sommelier is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company that produces online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content full of information perfect for the everyday wine drinker. He lives in Las Vegas, where in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario at his website or check out his courses here.

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Wine Craft: A Look at Wine from New York State

Wine Craft: A Look at Wine from New York State

by Wine GeoSeptember 10, 2016

A Little iWine in the Morning

What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning? Do you get up and go straight to your job? Do you check your email? Do you get on social media and find out what other people got up to night before and then send out a few texts asking, “What is your damage?” What’s the percentage of people who get out of bed within one hour? How about two hours? I can’t tell you the actual number but I bet there are a lot of people who lounge around a bit before facing the real world.

Myself included.

I always start my day by catching up on everything I missed while working the night before, but today I took my lie-in time to the extreme. I had no plans today other than creating this week’s Wine Craft post in the afternoon, so I chose to stay in bed for over two hours to just go through my iPhone looking at pictures. This is something I haven’t done in a good while so I had plenty of time (and plenty of pictures). After an hour, I came across this photo:


A Great Wine from New York State

I took that photo at the 2016 Wine Spectator Grand Tasting last April 30th at the Mirage Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas. I poured wine at the event as a representative for a Tempranillo from Toro, Spain. Prior to the event starting, I had the chance to taste plenty of wines. This wine, The Grapes of Roth by Wolffer Estates in Long Island, New York, was hands down the best structured and most fruit-forward wine there. I was thoroughly shocked because there were thousand-dollar bottles of wine that have received higher ratings that “should” be better. But it wasn’t even close.

This wine is a Merlot-dominated blend with Cabernet Sauvignon – a tremendous amount of cooked cherries, blackberry, and blueberry, and the structure and body weight necessary for a wonderful full-bodied wine. The price? Only $44. There were 200 wines at the event and I bet almost all of them cost more than this surprising wine from Long Island, New York.

Thinking about it though, that picture reminded me on how many wines that I have tried from New York in my years in the industry: six. That’s not enough for a region that produces some pretty delicious wine, and that’s why this week’s Wine Craft is all about 5 different wines from the state of New York.


The Three Main Growing Areas of New York Wine

While studying this styles, I noticed three major growing areas:
Finger Lakes

  • Cool-Climate Rieslings

          Wine: Boundary Breaks No. 239 Riesling 2014 $20: BUY ME


  • Fruity and Full Gewurztraminer

          Wine: Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Gewurztraminer 2013 $25: BUY ME


  • Sticky-Sweet Dessert Wines

          Wine: Boundary Breaks Late Harvest No. 90 Riesling (375 mL) 2012 $34: BUY ME



  • Native American Hybrid Wine

          Wine: A Gust of Sun Concord 2014 $13: BUY ME


Long Island

  • The Grapes of Roth by Wolffer Estates from the tasting event

          Wine: The Grapes of Roth Merlot 2012 $44: BUY ME


All I need now is a plane ticket and I could enjoy these wines in New York…. but I’ve got to get out of bed first.





Mario LunaMario Luna sommelier is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company that produces online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content full of information perfect for the everyday wine drinker. He lives in Las Vegas, where in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario at his website or check out his courses here.

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Wine Education Made Easy: Cabernet Sauvignon Edition

Wine Education Made Easy: Cabernet Sauvignon Edition

by Wine GeoAugust 6, 2016

How to Make People Hate Wine

Let me be perfectly honest with you: Learning wine can be a very painful process. Sommeliers (who are the perceived wine experts) spend a lot of time learning how each wine is made, who made it, how long it was aged in oak, what the great vintages are – you get the idea. Basically, it’s all the information you have zero interest in learning. You want to know if the wine tastes great, not whether the grapes were picked by hand or what the brix level is.

The problem is that when you sit down in a restaurant looking for a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and the sommelier appears, they can’t wait to share the laundry list of technical attributes for whatever bottles they have in their cellar. It’s mind numbing, it’s not much fun, and in most cases it’s not going to make you want to learn me.

I hate that.

Wine Education for Everyday Life

I’m all about wine education for everyday life – that means teaching people to love wine in a way that works for them. If you want to memorize vinification techniques and vintages that’s absolutely fine – I spend hours and hours every week doing exactly that, and you’re welcome to join me or check out one of my courses! – but if you just want to drink a great wine, then stop listening to the sommelier’s narrative and create your own guide to learn about Cabernet Sauvignon with this week’s Wine Craft.

(P.S. – This post is a continuation of a previous post I have done called, “Don’t Make Learning Wine So Difficult (Riesling Edition)” Check it out: WATCH ME)

Wine 101 – Cabernet Sauvignon From Region to Region

In the video above, I use two words to describe the signature characteristics of Cabernet Sauvignon from each of the six popular growing areas this varietal comes from. Hopefully this info will help you learn a little more about the connection between region and how a wine tastes, but more importantly I hope you’ll be better able to zero in on the bottle you (and your taste buds) like the most! Once you know that, picking out a bottle in a restaurant – no sommelier necessary! – will feel a lot easier.

Do you have a favorite Cabernet Sauvignon? Let me know in the comments and I’ll help you pair it with something equally delicious!


Top Six Cabernet Sauvignon By Region


  • Bordeaux, France
    • Wine: Chateau Monfort Bellevue Medoc 2013 $17: BUY ME


  • Central Valley, Chile
    • Wine: Domas Aura Cabernet Sauvignon 2011: $52: BUY ME


  • Paso Robles, California
    • Wine: Broadside Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon $15: BUY ME


  • Sonoma, California
    • Wine: Sebastiani Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 $20: BUY ME


  • Napa Valley, California
    • Wine: Freemark Abbey Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 $42: BUY ME


  • South Australia
    • Wine: Clarendon Hills Brookman Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 $35: BUY ME





Mario LMario Luna sommelieruna is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company dedicated to “Developing the Sommelier in You” through online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content. He lives in Las Vegas where, in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario at his website or check out his courses here.

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Like That? Try This! 9 Wine Swaps You’re Sure to Love

Like That? Try This! 9 Wine Swaps You’re Sure to Love

by Wine GeoJuly 8, 2016

Behind the Scenes: Restaurant Wine Lists

For the last seven years, I’ve worked in European-themed restaurants on the Las Vegas Strip as a food server and/or a sommelier. The majority of wine lists in these restaurants are designed to feature wines that are indigenous to the country or area the cuisine in that particular restaurant focuses on, meaning they grow there and probably not anywhere else. Any enthusiast, educator, or prominent figure in my industry will tell you how much they enjoy trying these weird varietals from around the world – they’re as delicious as they are ambitious and we get a kick out of sharing them with guests who might not otherwise dare to deviate from their standard Merlot or Malbec.

But that’s also the real challenge: guest perception. When you’re about to spend $30 or $40 on a bottle of wine (or 5-10 times that in a Vegas restaurant, easily), you want to be confident in the bottle you’ve chosen. That’s not easy for a guest who opens up a Italian, French, or Spanish wine list that ends up looking at a blur of scattered letters thrown up all across the page. No bueno.

Expanding Your Horizons with New Wine Recommendations

Instead of becoming frantic and wildly looking around while muttering, “Where’s my Pinot Noir?” or “No Chardonnay?!” or even worse, “I think I’ll order a cocktail instead!” give something else a try – or should I say someONE else.

Your friendly neighborhood sommelier is there to help. That’s our job, to help you find something delicious to drink. If your favorite white or red wine is not on the menu, don’t panic. Let your somm – or in the case,  your weekly Wine Craft – take a few ideas of what you might normally drink and suggest a little wine swap. You never know, you just might discover something you like…

  1. If you like Champagnes, try Althe’a Prosecco Brut – $20: BUY ME


  1. If you like Rieslings, try Patient Cottat Le Grand Caillou Chenin Blanc 2013 – $14: BUY ME


  1. If you like Sauvignon Blancs, try a Do Ferreiro Albarino 2014 – $26: BUY ME


  1. If you like Chardonnays, try a Hugel Gewurtztraminer 2012 – $24: BUY ME


  1. If you like Pinot Noirs, try a Aldo Contorno Barbera d’Alba – $32: BUY ME


  1. If you like Syrahs, try a Caprazo Brunello di Montalcino 2011 – $35: BUY ME


  1. If you like Merlots, try an Artadi Tempranillo 2014 – $22: BUY ME


  1. If you like Petit Sirahs, try a Luca Malbec 2013 – $29: BUY ME


  1. If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, then try a Paolo Scavino Langhe Nebbiolo 2013 – $28: BUY ME




Mario LunaMario Luna sommelier is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company that produces online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content full of information perfect for the everyday wine drinker. He lives in Las Vegas where, in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario at his website or check out his courses here.

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The Top 10 Ways You Can Enjoy Mexican Food and Wine Pairings

The Top 10 Ways You Can Enjoy Mexican Food and Wine Pairings

by Wine GeoJune 25, 2016

I looooove eating in Mexican restaurants. Whenever I manage to talk a bunch of friends and family into going (whether they’re craving Mexican food or not), I can feel myself get this big smirk on my face. I know I’m about to eat as much as possible and probably embarrass everyone – most of all myself – in the process. Remember when you were a kid and got excited about something and started jumping around like you won the lottery? Well I do that when I eat great food, except I do it in my mind because there’s nothing attractive of a 6”1” 245 lb. guy jumping around like a hyper toddler.

Every time I go to a Mexican restaurant, I generally do the same five things:

  1. Eat as much chips and salsa as humanly possible. (Don’t feel bad for me.)
  2. Order Pollo al Ajillo Mole. (Garlic Grilled Chicken with Mole Sauce)
  3. Get a glass of wine. (if possible, otherwise I’ll settle for a margarita)
  4. Sample other people’s plates. (I’m just making sure everyone’s food quality is up to par. No, really. It’s not because I’m trying to hide my own vice or anything!)
  5. Pay the bill. (At this point, it’s the least I can do!)

For this week’s Wine Craft, I created a food and wine pairing guide matching the most popular Mexican dishes with some really fantastic wines. Not only are these pairings delicious, they’re also a great example of the kind of things a sommelier has to know in order to pass the difficult Court of Master Sommelier exams – in fact, I have it on good authority that during the Advanced Exam (the level I’m currently studying for), the Master Somms giving the test are known to ask questions specifically about Mexican food and wine pairings. Now you’re in the know!

Here are ten pairings that will elevate both your dining experience (whether at home or in a restaurant) and your knowledge level, too:


  • Chips and Salsa: Maximin Grunhauser Abtsberg Riesling Kabinett 2011 $35:  BUY ME


  • Chips and Guacamole: Trefethenn Dry Riesling 2015 $20: BUY ME


  • Fish Tacos: Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer 2013 $26: BUY ME


  • Ceviche: Bodegas Naveran Brut Cava 2014 $18: BUY ME


  • Chicken Enchiladas: Graham Beck Game Reserve Chenin Blanc 2014 $17: BUY ME


  • Pollo al Ajillo con Mole: Mira Winery Hyde Vineyard Syrah 2009 $44: BUY ME


  • Chili con Carne: Joseph Jewell Grist Vineyard Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel 2012 $34: BUY ME


  • Carne Asada: Mendel Malbec 2013 $24: BUY ME


  • Tamales: Mayacamas Chardonnay 2014 $50: BUY ME


Mario LunaMario Luna sommelier is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company that produces online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content full of information perfect for the everyday wine drinker. He lives in Las Vegas where, in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario at his website or check out his courses here.

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Wine Craft – Flower Power: The Art of Smelling Flowers in Wine

Wine Craft – Flower Power: The Art of Smelling Flowers in Wine

by Wine GeoMay 28, 2016


Flower Power: The Art of Smelling Flowers in Wine

Being an 80’s baby, I spent a good chunk of my childhood playing Super Mario Brothers on Nintendo. I loved seeing how fast and how far I could jump between obstacles while avoiding the many enemies trying to end my game. But my very favorite part was when I was able to obtain the “flower” power-up and start crushing everyone and everything in front of me with bouncing fireballs. I could fight and defend myself from a distance while progressing through the game.

In my limited, childish point of view, if I were to obtain the flower power-up, it was a sign that I was the best that I could be at any point of the game. These days, I play a lot less Nintendo, but I get that same feeling of invincibility and achievement when I nail the floral notes while tasting wine.

For many people, identifying the floral aromas in wine can be pretty tricky, but once you figure it out, you’re well on your way to acing a blind tasting. When you swirl the wineglass and begin smelling the wine, it’s very simple to gather what fruit aromas there are. That’s like being a smaller or normal size Mario and playing an average game. If you were able to smell any non-fruit component and flowers in your wineglass, that is the most information that you can obtain while enjoying the wine – it’s your “power up,” so to speak.

How to Taste Wine: The Sniff Test

So what’s the best way to identify the floral notes in wine?

  1. Pour the wine into your glass and begin to swirl. You could also cover the top of the glass or coat the inner wall of the glass and then swirl for maximum effect.
  2. Smell the wine with your nose near the glass, like you normally do. You’ll smell the fruit aromas and/or any dirt, vanilla, and mineral elements from the oak aging or the terroir.
  3. Now swirl your wineglass again and then hold it about four or five inches under your nose and smell. That distance is the key to smelling any floral notes without them being masked by more dominant – and more easily recognizable – fruit, earth, and alcohol notes.

Try These Wines

Here are six wines with distinct floral notes that define each featured varietal. Learning these will help you train your nose to sniff out similar aromas and identify the wine when blind tasting in the future.


  • Flower: Bouquet of White Flowers
  • Wine: Moet & Chandon Festive So Bubbly Imperial Brut, NV – $50 BUY ME


  • Flower: White Roses
  • Wine: Alta Vista Classic Torrontes 2013 – $11  BUY ME


  • Flower: Apple Blossoms
  • Wine: Grosset Alea Riesling 2015 – $37  BUY ME


  • Flower: Honeysuckle
  • Wine: Cristom Viognier 2014 – $34  BUY ME


  • Flower: Red Rose Petals
  • Wine: Elvio Cogno Cascina Nuova Barolo 2010 – $60  BUY ME


  • Flower: Violets
  • Wine: Catena Alta Malbec 2012 – $49  BUY ME


super mario jumping





Mario Mario Luna sommelierLuna is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company that produces online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content that makes wine education simple, accessible, and above all, entertaining! He lives in Las Vegas where, in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario through mariolunasomm.com or kick of your wine education with one of his online wine courses.



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Wine Craft: Gimme Shelter (A Song of Weather and Wine)

Wine Craft: Gimme Shelter (A Song of Weather and Wine)

by Wine GeoMay 13, 2016



Gimme Shelter – A Story of Weather and Wine

The song “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones was about the growing tension in the United States during the height of the Vietnam War. The longer the war went on, the more popular the song became while support for the conflict decreased. It felt like Mick Jagger was almost pleading for someone or something to stop the fighting. Today, it seems as if the song is used as the soundtrack for anything and everything in advertising, games, shows, movies, or even news stories that is (or is just perceived to be) apocalyptic.

It’s a favorite song of mine, and while listening to it recently during a particularly long study session it struck me that without the shelters provided by Mother Nature and ingeniously used by savvy winemakers, we would have no wine in those regions at all. Though a lack of wine is hardly as serious as war or devastating as, oh, an apocalypse for example, it would still be a pretty sad affair for wine lovers and bummer for the economy in those now vineyard-less areas.

Shelters such as mountains, forests, and even fog are integral parts of the wine-growing process, each working to protect or prevent inclement weather from damaging grapes. Where the wine is situated is just as important as the actual production or recipe from the wine-making team. If something were to happen to these shelters, the grapes in that location would be severely damaged or even obliterated, to the point that the winery must either replant, relocate, or shut up shop for good.

Check out the video above for an in-depth look at how natural shelters protect some of the world’s yummiest wine.

Try These Weather-Resistant Wines

Here are the five wines, paired with the geographical elements that save them from storm after storm.


The Vosge Mountains - Alsace, France

The Vosge Mountains – Alsace, France

Shelter: Vosges Mountains, Alsace, France         

Trimbach Riesling, 2013 – $23   BUY ME


Shelter: Landes Forest, Bordeaux, France

Chateau Palmer Alter Ego, 2014 – $58   BUY ME


The Andes, Chile

The Andes, Chile

Shelter: The Andes Mountains, Chile

Los Vascos Le Dix, 2012 – $56   BUY ME


Shelter: Te Ara Mountains, New Zealand

Craggy Range Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc, 2015 – $25   BUY ME


Shelter: Petaluma Gap, Sonoma, United States

Keller Estate La Cruz Pinot Noir, 2013 – $43   BUY ME


Last but not least, The Rolling Stones performance of “Gimme Shelter” Enjoy!



Mario Luna sommelierMario Luna is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company that produces online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content that makes wine education simple, accessible, and above all, entertaining! He lives in Las Vegas where, in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario through mariolunasomm.com or kick of your wine education with one of his online wine courses.

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Wine Craft: Mario Debunks Wine Pairing Myths

Wine Craft: Mario Debunks Wine Pairing Myths

by Wine GeoApril 15, 2016

The Truth About Wine Pairing Myths

The internet always tells the truth.

Yeah, right.

We’ve all had the dubious joy of scouring the internet in search of interesting wine pairings only to find eight different websites listing the same couple answers that we already know – and the pairings aren’t all that delicious anyways. The real questions is why do these so-called classic pairings keep letting us down? And why, as wine experts, do we keep perpetuating these tired old myths instead of challenging the status NO (so to speak)?!

In this edition of Wine Craft, I’m demystifying four classic pairings, ditching the wine you think is right and replacing it with a better option (or several better options, in some cases). This is one time you can actually believe what you see on the internet!


Mario’s Picks:


  • Ribeye with Catena Alta Malbec, 2012 – $49: BUY ME
  • Filet Mignon and Bearnaise with Hess Select Chardonnay, 2014 – $11: BUY ME
  • Filet Mignon and Steak Sauce with Michael David Winery 6th Sense Syrah, 2013 – $16: BUY ME
  • Filet Mignon and Cajun Seasoning with Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel, 2014 – $23: BUY ME
  • Level 1 (mild) Pad Thai with Robert Weil Estate Riesling Kabinett, 2013 – $27: BUY ME
  • Level 3 (medium) Pad Thai with Buehler White Zinfandel, 2015 – $10: BUY ME
  • Level 5 (burning) Pad Thai and Desserts with Saracco Moscato, 2015 – $16 BUY ME


What’s your favorite classic food and wine pairing? Let us know in the comments.



– Mario

Mario Luna sommelier

Mario Luna is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company dedicated to “Developing the Sommelier in You” through online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content. He lives in Las Vegas where, in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario through mariolunasomm.com or check out his online wine courses.


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Wine Craft: 6 Major League Hot Dog and Wine Pairings

Wine Craft: 6 Major League Hot Dog and Wine Pairings

by Wine GeoApril 1, 2016

Hot dog and wine pairings? It may sound weird, but this really is a case of tasting is believing. We’re not expecting you to chug a bottle of vino at the ballpark (disclaimer: we may have smuggled a Riesling or two into Jacob’s Field back in the day…), but for those nights when you’re catching a game on TV and want to serve your guest (or just yourself) something a little more exciting than nachos and Schlitz, well, we’ve got you covered!

Check out the six hot dog and wine pairings below and let us know what you think!

Do you have a favorite hot dog? If you put it in the comments, Mario will give you some wine pairing ideas.

What a way to celebrate opening day!


Cincinnati Reds

Cincy residents know a thing or two about chili. This version is sadly lacking the popular Skyline stuff, but our chili is still pretty tasty, and once we added chopped onions and cheddar cheese, we had a home run on our hands!

Wine Pairing: Syrah

Try it: Robert Hall Syrah, 2013 – $19

Los Angeles Dodgers

At Dodger Stadium, this bad boy is a foot long. We’d like to believe that size isn’t everything… In any case, we tucked our frankfurter into a steamed bun, threw on some classic toppings, and called it a day.

Wine Pairing: Prosecco

Try it: Gramona Grand Cuvee Cava, 2009 – $20

Chicago Cubs

The Chicago dog is pretty famous. Ours varies slightly from the classic: we skipped the poppy-seed bun and swapped out the sport peppers for pepperoncini (we couldn’t find sport peppers locally, but you can snag some on Amazon if you plan ahead), but there was no way we were missing out on the sauteed onions, diced tomatoes, kosher pickle spears, yellow mustard, pickled relish, and a sprinkle of celery salt to finish it all off.

Wine Pairing: Cava

Try it: Valdo Prosecco – $9

NY Mets

This dog honors two NY institutions, one old (the Mets) and one new (restaurateur Danny Meyer’s Shake Shack). Baseball fans eating at Citi Field’s Shake Shack will likely get this sage and apple sausage dog that’s been butterflied and seared on a flat-top grill. Toppings are up to you, but the meat is flavorful enough without the need for excess ornamentation.

Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir

Try it: Husch Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, 2013 – $23

Atlanta Braves

In Atlanta, they give their all-beef hot dog a Southern twist with pulled pork tossed in a mustard-based BBQ sauce, cole slaw, and slice pickles.

Wine Pairings: Chardonnay

Try it: Robert Oatley Signature Chardonnay, 2014 – $15

The Signature Mario Luna Somm Dog!

There just couldn’t be a Wine Craft all about hot dogs without creating a signature Mario Luna Somm version! This dog takes a little spice from Mario’s part-Mexican background with some carnitas, chipotle aioli, and cucumber pico de gallo.

Wine Pairing: Riesling

Try it: Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling, 2014 – $10



Mario Luna sommelier

Mario Luna is a Certified Sommelier and owner of Mario Luna Somm, a company dedicated to “Developing the Sommelier in You” through online wine courses, blogs, and other user-friendly content. He lives in Las Vegas where, in addition to working on the famous Las Vegas Strip, he serves as a consultant for large-scale wine events, specialty shops, and all kinds of wine tastings. You can contact Mario at his website or check out his courses, including the top-selling Wine for Beginners, here.


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Discover The Sierra Foothills Wine Country

Discover The Sierra Foothills Wine Country

by Julie AlbinFebruary 11, 2015

Like stepping out a time capsule from the Gold Rush of the 1850s, many of the very best things about the Sierra Foothills have stayed just the way they are.

Charming little 19th century towns still line the mountainous roads, Highway 49 still remains one of the most scenic drives of California, and wine is still a plenty. With copious amounts of adventure at every corner, these mountains are a haven for lovers of the outdoors. Whatever it is you fancy, visiting the Sierra Foothills is a promise of a grand ole hoot of a time!

What to Do In Gold Country

During the hot and sunny days of summer, locals and visitors make their way to the crystal clear waters of the South Yuba River. Like an aquatic playground, an entire day of fun can be had with the natural waterslides and underwater tunnels formed by the smooth granite boulders.   For those who’d prefer to stay on land, the majestic sight of the Sierra Buttes along the north end of Highway 49 is certainly

Rough and Ready California - Historic Gold Mining Town in the Sierra Nevada region

Rough and Ready California

one for the books. During the winter, its snowcapped craggy peaks gorgeously reflect over the glacially formed lake beneath it. Several hiking trails and serene waterfalls can be found surrounding the mountain. For the folks that want a little taste of the Gold Rush, a visit to the iconic town of Rough and Ready can offer the perfect fix. Honored as a California Historic Landmark, Rough and Ready visitors can explore some of the original structures like the blacksmith shop or the old toll house. And for even more cultural learning, visitors can experience the Cornish heritage of Grass Valley. For those that are in the area during December can also enjoy the Cornish Christmas Celebration every Friday night.

Also along the historic Hwy 49 between Auburn and Placerville is Colma, a piece of California Gold Rush history. Here a very fortunate sawmill employee named James Marshall first discovered this precious metal in the river’s silt. Visit the  Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park where you will find an interesting Gold Discovery Museum, and you can even try your hand at gold-panning.

Sierra Foothills Terrior

And to make this area even more exciting, there is wine! Not long after the California Gold Rush began, the locals realized that the miners needed something they could drink and wine grapes were introduced to the foothills. Now there are over 100 wineries here that continue to make utterly delicious wine!

Sierra Foothills Wine Regions of California map

Sierra Foothills Wine Regions of California

The designated wine AVAs are primarily divided throughout four counties. El Dorado County supplies the majority of the region’s wines. With vineyard sites up to 3,000 feet in altitude, international varieties take the reigns here including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Amador County is home to the prestigious AVAs of Shenandoah and Fiddletown which has some of California’s oldest plantings of Zinfandel. Some smaller productions of wine also take place in Nevada County to the north and Calaveras County to the south.

It is a well-known fact that when it comes to wines of the Sierras, the true king is Zinfandel. What many may not know is that this region is also nicknamed the “Piedmont” of California due to its great successes with Italian varietals such as Nebbiolo, Barbera, and even some Sangiovese. Some winemakers have also produced spectacular wines with northern and southern Rhone grape varietals such as Syrah, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, and Grenache.

The land is layered with soils of sandy clay loam and decomposed granite and receives an extremely low amount of rainfall. With incredibly wide diurnal temperate variations, sunny days can be as hot as the mid-90s and then drop down to as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit at night-time. The long ripening days that are cooled by the chilly night air result in wines that are ripe and tannic while retaining much of the grapes’ natural acidity. Hence why this area produces some of the most complex Zinfandel that can be found anywhere in the US!

Top Tasting Rooms: Gold Country

Renwood Winery –   12225 Steiner Road, Plymouth, California 95669
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Stop by and visit this quaint tasting room in the heart of Amador County. Open seven days a week from 11:00am to 6:00pm, the tasting room offers several different flights of their wines to taste. While Zinfandel is Renwood’s flagship, the winery also features delicious white wines, Italian varietals, and dessert wines.

Solune Winery –   16303 Jewett Lane, Grass Valley, CA 95945

Located in the backyard of the charming and historic town of Grass Valley, Solune Winery is a perfect place for a sunny weekend. Open Saturday and Sunday from 12:00-5:00pm, the property has a peaceful picnic area for you to bring your lunch and enjoy some tasty wines!

Andis Wines –   11000 Shenandoah Road, Plymouth, CA 95669

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For a bit more of a glamorous wine experience, visit this 17,000 square foot state-of-the-art winery with a tasting room of large windows overlooking the vineyards. Visit this gorgeous facility any day of the week from 11:00am to 4:30pm.

Jodar Winery –   3405 Carson Court, Placerville, CA 95667

Amidst a breathtaking scene of pine trees and oak trees, Jodar offers tastings of their delightful wines including Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Italian reds, and much more! Stop by Tuesday through Sunday from 11:00am to 5:00pm.

Top Wine Picks: Sierra Foothills

Renwood Winery – 2011 Premier Old Vine Zinfandel   – Amador County –   $19.99

Winner of Gold at the 2015 SF Chronicle Tasting, it’s not hard to see why with this delicious bottle of wine. Dark berries pair well with the essences of mocha in a seamlessly bold Zin with a rich texture and hints of dusty minerality.

Sierra Vista Winery – 2013 Estate Viognier – El Dorado County –   $27.50
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A very pretty yet hearty white wine. Blossoms of honeysuckle and rose rise from the glass while bright notes of apricots and orange blossoms decorate the palate alongside the wine’s round structure and vibrant acidity.

 Mountain View Winery – 2011 Clockspring Vineyard Zinfandel –   Amador County – $13

A perfect pairing for red meat, this single-vineyard Zinfandel exposes ripe aromas of plum and raspberry while the palate is firmed up with sturdy tannins and hints of baking spices, tobacco, and smoke.

 Avanguardia Wines – 2010 Premiato – Nevada County – $24

An elegant red blend of two Italian varietals, the Barbera gives the wine its plump red berries, soft texture, and lively acidity while the Dolcetto beefs up the tannins and offers notes of darker fruit. Avanguardia wines can be enjoyed at their tasting room in Grass Valley.

Where To Stay in Gold Country

 Outside Inn – 575 East Broad Street, Nevada City, CA 95959

A charming boutique hotel in a quiet neighborhood of Nevada City that features uniquely themed guestrooms.

Cary House Historic Hotel – 300 Main Street, Placerville, CA 95667

Centered in downtown Placerville, this mid-19th century hotel has hosted famous guests such as Mark Twain and Elvis Presley.

Shenandoah Inn –   17674 Village Drive, Plymouth, California, CA 95669

Offering luxurious rooms, swimming pool, and beautiful views of the soft rolling hills of the Sierra Foothills.

The Holbrooke Hotel –   212 West Main Street, Grass Valley, CA 95945

This landmark hotel was built in 1851 to accommodate eager gold miners and even hosted several US presidents such as Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, James A. Garfield, and Grover Cleveland.

Where to Eat In Gold Country


 Three Forks Bakery & Brewing Co –   211 Commercial Street, Nevada City, CA 95959
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A perfect brunch spot serving craft beer from their on-site brewhouse, local wines, artisan breads, and freshly prepared bites.

Cirino’s at Main Street –   213 West Main Street, Grass Valley, CA 95945

Enjoy a lovely dinner featuring Mediterranean fare made from fresh local ingredients.

The Independent – 629 Main Street, Placerville, CA 95667

A delicious dining destination featuring American fusion and handcrafted specialty cocktails.

Taste Restaurant –   9402 Main Street, Plymouth, CA 95669

Offering fine dining that features a seasonal menu and an exquisite list of both domestic and international wines.

Cafe Mahjaic – 1006 Lotus Rd, Lotus, CA 95651

A local favorite with all food, sauces and breads are made from scratch using naturally raised organic meats and grains. They also feature some local wineries. Highly rated…

No matter if you chose our “top picks” or you find some of your own, the Sierra Nevada Foothills and Gold Country will fill you full of fresh air, please the palate and tantalize your wine taste buds.

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5 Questions You Should Ask Your Sommelier

5 Questions You Should Ask Your Sommelier

by Alana LunaMarch 28, 2017

Too often these days, dining out comes with a ridiculous amount of pressure. Either you’re grabbing lunch at a new fusion eatery and you’re afraid to look silly asking what exactly nato is or you’re treating your sweetheart to a 4-star meal and dreading that moment when you’re faced with a 20-page wine menu and given a massive decision to make.

The wine list dilemma is the worst. You don’t want to cheap out but neither are you always in a position to spend the equivalent of a car payment on some highly lauded French red. You want something that’ll go with your dry-aged beef but if you get the béarnaise will that screw everything up? What if I’m tired of Cabernet – is there something else you can get that you’ll actually like?

Such good wine questions – especially if you’re asking them of the right person. See, sommeliers shouldn’t be that snobby suited-up dude or dudette in the corner with a fancy pin on their lapel and a superior smile on their lips. No no no. Your sommelier is your ambassador into the wonderful world of wine and asking questions is the best way to start your travel.


1. What Would You Drink?

My favorite sommeliers are the one who visibly brighten when I ask them what new or special bottle they have tucked away. Not what’s “best” or priciest or the rarest. I’m looking for the Lebanese nugget I never would’ve known about or the relatively obscure white I would’ve skipped over if left to my own devices. That’s how I first discovered Arneis back in the day – a somm was simply shocked that I didn’t want Riesling and he challenged be with this acidic, peppery, uber-refreshing alternative. I loved it.


2. Does the Vintage Really Matter?

A lot of times you’ll settle on a wine only to be told something like, “We’re out of the ’13 but we have the ’14. Will that suffice?” Cue the panicked look on your face and the irresistible desire to blurt out “YES” because really, what else are you going to say? First of all, that’s not that way I’d pose the question in the first place. If a selection is changing vintage – and it happens all the time, even in great restaurants – then I’d offer the alternate bottle along with something like, “Instead of the ’13 we’re now serving the ’14, which is slightly more fruit-forward and it’ll still pair beautifully with your blackberry-glazed duck.” See? Informative. But if your sommelier doesn’t do that, don’t be afraid to ask what the difference; many wines are consistent enough that the switch won’t matter but if it’s from a region that’s had some off years (’08 Rhone, for example) might not be the same value.


3. I Really Love Napa Cabs. Is There Something Similar You’d Recommend?

If you want a great recommendation you have to give a little information first. There is no wine that’s exactly like a Napa Cab except a Napa Cab, but by doling out that little tidbit you’ve given your somm a thread to follow. They may ask you what you like about Napa Cabs or they may just start suggesting bold, full-bodied wines that have some parallel characteristics (hint: you’ll probably love a really juicy Syrah or the harder-to-find Nero D’Avola). You can also talk about the last bottle of wine you really loved. If you want something similar, you’ve given your sommelier a pretty clear direction to go in.


4. What Would Pair Well with the Ribeye?

Again, give a little to get a lot. Picking your entrée before settling on a wine gives you a great starting point and helps ensure that whatever you end up drinking will enhance rather than do dire battle with your grub. You can also pick a wine first and craft your meal around that bottle, in which case you’d ask your somm, “What on the menu would pair best with this wine?” Wine might be a somm’s milieu, but it’s 100% part of their job to know their restaurant menu inside and out, too, and that means having dozens if not hundreds of pairing ideas at the ready.


5. What’s Your Favorite Bottle Around <Insert Dollar Amount Here>?

Knowing what you want to spend on wine doesn’t make you cheap, it makes you smart. It also makes you the guy who won’t leave the restaurant crying tears of regret into his doggy bag. Don’t worry, you don’t have to blurt out your max price in front of all your guests. Follow the advice of Las Vegas-based sommelier Mario Luna: “Slide your right index finger to the number you are comfortable with and say, ‘I want to stay around here.’ (while pointing to the price.) This method is great because you don’t have to shout out the price and potentially look cheap and it also gives the sommelier an idea of when to work with to give you the best wine. This works every time!”

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Catalonia – Tradition Meets Avante Garde

Catalonia – Tradition Meets Avante Garde

by Hilarie LarsonDecember 18, 2014

Catalonia is a land of contrasts; mountain foothills and golden beach resorts, tradition and the avant-garde, modern Spain and ancient Occitane Catalan.

The same can be said for its wines.

While the region was the first in Spain to modernize production, many growers are cultivating ancient, almost forgotten native varieties and going back to biodynamic and organic viticulture.  Here, the mystery of matching the soil and the grape make for wines that offer quality, value and excitement, as well as something a little different.

Catalonia Overview

Catalonia is situated along Spain’s northern Mediterranean coast and bordered on the north by the Pyrenees . At its heart is the famous cultural city of Barcelona.  Grapes have been cultivated here for over 2,300 years dating back to the time of the Greek and Roman occupations. During the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church and monastic orders oversaw the vineyards, as they did in most of Europe, and planted many of the grape varieties still grown today.


It’s said that Catalonia is now enjoying one of its best times. Cava, the popular and outstanding sparkling wine, continues to increase in popularity while the diverse terrain allows Catalan to produce a wide variety of wine styles to please the ever-increasing wine drinking public.



There are a total of twelve “DO” (Designation of Origin) in Catalonia. These delineated geographical areas have strict rules of production that guarantee a level of quality. Each of the DO is different in its geography, climate, soils and other elements of ‘terroir’. Each has its own story.

The largest is called simply DO Catalunya and covers most of the region. The majority of the wines are white; dry, fruity and floral, perfect for enjoying with simple seafood dishes. Rosés are delicious, too, many made from a local variety called Listàn Negro. An assortment of red grapes are grown, including familiar names such as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Nor, Garnacha (Grenache), Merlot and many more.

One of the oldest, and largest, DO, created in 1933, is Tarragona. The namesake city at the heart of the region is about 55 miles south of Barcelona on the Costa Dorado (Gold Coast) and boasts some of the finest Roman and Medieval ruins in Catalan.  You’ll discover aromatic whites and cheery rosés, earthy aged red wines made from Carinena (Carignan) Garnacha and Cabernet Sauvignon. The regional specialty is ‘Tarragona Clàsico’, a Port style wine that is wonderful with tapas or dessert.

In the hilly region outside Barcelona, is DO Priorat. Although only about 18 miles from the sea, the area is sheltered by mountains, ensuring a temperate climate for the vineyards, many of which are planted on a distinctive soil known as ‘licorella’. This red and black slate lends a mineral character to the powerful and deep reds of the region, made from Mazuela, Garnacha and Carinena among others. You’ll also find a smattering of whites and rosés.

The vineyards that surround Priorat make up the DO Montsant, which was formed in 2001. The grapes grow alongside olive trees and forests, predominantly on limestone and granite soils. The reds are full-bodied and deep, almost as much as in Priorat and develop a velvety mouth-feel after several years of aging. Many of the vineyards are older and planted to varieties such as Garnacha, Carinena, Ull de Llebre (aka Tempranillo), Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

On The Rise

One of the ‘up-and-coming’ regions is DO Costers Del Segre, which is comprised of seven separate sub-zones, each with its own character, climate, landscape and soils. The most outstanding feature that binds these sub-zones together, and has driven the dramatic improvement in wine quality, is the influx of younger, more technically educated winemakers who respect the tradition of the region and express it through more modern and innovative winemaking techniques.

There are over a dozen international and indigenous grapes grown here which are often blended to produce well-structured reds, fresh rosés and refreshing whites.


One of the most well known DO’s and the one credited with starting the ‘modernization revolution’ back in the 1970’s, is Penedés. Located between Barcelona and Tarragona, Penedés winemakers were the first in Spain to use things like stainless steel tanks and temperature controlled fermentation – very innovative for their time.

Unlike most of the other DO’s, the Penedés region focuses on white wines, mostly crafted from the indigenous grapes Xarel-lo, Macabeo and Parellada, although well known varieties such as Chardonnay, Riesling and Muscat are making appearances.

These are fresh wines, full of floral and citrus notes that pair perfectly with local cuisine. You’ll find some reds and rosés, which are traditionally a blend of Garnacha, Carinena, and Pinot Noir, producing elegant, complex wines.


But the biggest claim to fame of this region is Spain’s wonderful sparkling wine, Cava.  Although this bubbly may be legally produced anywhere in the country, 95% is made in Penedés.

Cava is created in the same fashion as Champagne, known in the rest of the wine world as the ‘Traditional Method’. The second fermentation is done in the bottle and the bottles must be cellared for at least 9 months. Most are made from a blend of three varieties: Macabeo (subtle aromas and balanced acidity), Xarel-lo (full bodied with fresh, lush aromas) and Parellada  (smooth and subtle but with backbone). Chardonnay is now allowed but many producers stay with the tried and true grapes.

The wines can range from dry to sweet, although producers are trending more and more to very dry, or ‘brut nature’ styles which people find more food compatible.

And Cava is a fantastic food wine, especially with some of the most famous local fare such as ‘Tortilla’ – a potato omelet, ‘Suquets de Peix’ – a fish casserole from Costa Brava, ‘Calçots’ – flame roasted green onions from Tarragona, ‘Pa amb tomáquet’ – crusty bread with crushed tomatoes, and Crema Catalan – a delicious dessert crème used to stuff pastries or served like Crème Caramel!

Catalonia, where life is a unique blend of food, art, music and wine!

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The Rhone Rangers – 22 Grapes, One Dedicated Mission

The Rhone Rangers – 22 Grapes, One Dedicated Mission

by Alana LunaOctober 2, 2014
Whether real or perceived, wine comes with a lot of allegiances. People find themselves with an affinity for a certain varietal, style, appellation, winemaker, or producer and it’s hard to shake those loyalties; they’re deep seated and strong.

While many people clamor for First Growth Bordeaux or won’t drink anything but Mosel Riesling, there exists a group of people whose obsession takes on a very unique shape. This group of talented winemakers has dedicated themselves to promoting American-made wines featuring Rhone varietals and in a stroke of laughter-tinged genius, they’re called the The Rhone Rangers.

Rhone is Where the Heart Is

Way back in the 1980s, when legwarmers were de rigueur and California wine was still establishing its own personal style, a group of pioneering winemakers bonded over their love for some distinctly old world varietals.

While much of the country (and producers in California in particular) was clamoring for oaky Chardonnay and tannin-tastic Cabernet Sauvignon, these visionaries craved the distinctive flavor of grapes like Grenache, Syrah, Viognier, and Mourvedre.

Winemakers like Bob Lindquist (Qupe Wine Cellars), Randall Grahm (Bonny Doon Vineyard), Joseph Phelps (Joseph Phelps Winery), Fred Cline (Cline Cellars Winery), Bill Crawford (McDowell Valley Vineyards), John McCready (Sierra Vista Winery), and Steve Edmunds (Edmunds St. John) joined forces to promote Rhone-style wines in an effort to prevent the already depleted local plantings from disappearing altogether.

The group’s marketing efforts made some headway, and by 1990 there was enough public demand for these “New World Rhone” wines to justify investing in some long-term plans. In one noteworthy instance Robert Haas, an American wine importer, joined forces with renowned Rhone producer Château de Beaucastel to bring over cuttings from the Rhone Valley to be planted in the United States. They established their new vineyard in Paso Robles and called it Tablas Creek. The Tablas Creek Vineyard centered on producing wines in the style of classic Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and so clones of Counoise, Grenache Blanc, and Picpoul Blanc made their first foray into California.

Far from hoarding their new stash of transplanted vines, the vintners were eager to share their passion with their colleagues. Alban Vineyards, Unti Vineyards, and Domaine de la Terre Rouge, among others, were eager try their hand at this “new” style and soon started importing their very own clones.

There’s No Place Like Rhone

The Rhone Valley is, as one might suspect, situated on either side of the Rhone River in the southern part of France. The region is divided into two sections, North and South. Northern Rhone reds are almost always monovarietal Syrahs (in fact, Syrah is the only red grape allowed by law) and whites including Marsanne, Rousanne, and Viognier. Wines from Southern Rhone are the epitome of masterful blending, taking full advantage of the 13 approved grapes of Châteauneuf-du-Pape to create a finished product that is addictive in its succulent complexity.

In total, there are 22 grapes recognized by the French government for use in Rhone wines. Principal red Rhone varietals include Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan, Petite Sirah, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul Noir, Terret Noir, and Vaccarese. White varietals approved in the Rhone Valley include Viognier, Roussane, Marsanne, Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanc, Picardin, Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains, Pocpoul Blanc, and Ugni Blanc. To be an official Rhone Ranger selection, these 22 grapes must make up at least 75% of a wine’s composition.

Given the wide range of grapes available for use, it’s no surprise the resulting wines can range quite dramatically in both flavor and body, especially in blend wines from the south, however some tell-tale characteristics remain, tipping off tasters as to the Rhone varietals in their glass. Syrah itself is boldly fruity with a significantly peppery and savory bottom end. When blended with other Rhone reds like Mourvedre and Grenache, smoky and salty notes, not unlike the kind you would find in barbecued meats or jerky, often result. When it comes to whites, the increasingly common California Viognier present with the delicately perfumed and generously honeyed flavors the grape is known for world over and several American producers are crafting white blends that seek to combine the best of French vines with all American terroir has to offer.

There’s No Place Like Rhone – Except, Maybe, California

Today the Rhone Rangers have evolved from a loosely knit group of like-minded friends into a non-profit organization that, according to its mission statement, is dedicated to “advancing the knowledge and enjoyment of Rhone wines produced in America.” The merry band of vintners is headquartered in Albion, California but holds events across the country, including tastings, lectures, and dinners, for industry insiders and consumers alike.

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The Rhone Rangers website (http://www.rhonerangers.org/) includes a wealth of information on both Rhone varietals as well as links to regional chapters of the organization which currently include Paso Robles, North Coast California, El Dorado, and Santa Barbara. There is also a full list of members, giving interested parties a way to find a tasting, tour, producer, or retailer that shares the Rhone Ranger mission.

Several Rhone Ranger-funded research projects are n the works, including a study on canopy management and one on how marine extracts affects berry set, proving that these notable winemakers are not content to sit on their well-deserved laurels. In addition to changing the landscape of California wine and introducing a thirsty nation to a whole host of varietals they may never have discovered otherwise, the Rhone Rangers are also involving a whole new generation of chef and sommelier innovators through their Travel Study Grant, presented in partnership with the James Beard Foundation.


With such balanced and beautifully complex wines being produced from Rhone varietals,

it's no wonder they're ever increasingly finding a home in the heart of American producers and wine drinkers alike, and thanks to pros like the Rhone Rangers rallying the wine community around their very worthy cause, it's safe to say that the state of California wine will continue to be a very exciting (and mouthwateringly delicious) one.