Articles in Wine

David Dupasquier in the fields. Courtesy of Domaine Dupasquier

It’s probably still premature to break out the Txakoli or Sancerre, or whatever crisp, refreshing white you prefer for summer, but there’s definitely a category of wine that embodies the chameleon-like nature of early spring, especially here in New York, where the weather is a reminder of Robert Frost’s lines.

You know how it is with an April day
When the sun is out and the wind is still,
You’re one month on in the middle of May.
But if you so much as dare to speak,
A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,
A wind comes off a frozen peak,
And you’re two months back in the middle of March.

– From “Two Tramps in Mud Time

I find that France’s little-known and oft-neglected Savoie region — a tiny Alpine growing area perched up in the mountains along the Swiss border — delivers just what I’m looking for this time of year. With its versatile range of whites that run the stylistic gamut from playfully brisk to generously rich, and its light-bodied, elegantly lifted reds, Savoie wines offer the perfect way to pass the time while waiting for the first spring greens to appear at the market.

Whenever I drink wines from this part of the world, I immediately envision myself in a landscape that seems to belong in “The Sound of Music,” complete with herds of grazing cattle, sleepy little cottages and a token babbling brook. Technicolor Hollywood fantasies aside, it can’t be denied that, at their best, the area’s wines communicate an unmistakable sense of place, all mountain air and meadow grass and wildflowers.

Although not a whole lot of the area’s wine makes it to U.S. shores, what does arrive is truly worth seeking out. Producers of note include Franck Peillot, Eugene Carrel, Domaine Labbé and the extremely hard-to-find Domaine Belluard, but I’ve recently developed an obsession with a small vigneron by the name of David Dupasquier, located in the village of Jongieux, who makes a gorgeous lineup of wines from such distinctive regional grapes as Jacquère and Altesse (his whites), as well as the red-skinned Gamay and Mondeuse.

Minimalist Savoie winemaker

A fifth-generation winemaker now at the helm of his family estate, Dupasquier adopts a minimalist approach to his work in the vineyards and the cellar. For one, he harvests entirely by hand, which, given the precariously steep vines he tends, must pose a considerable challenge. Among other praiseworthy practices, he also makes a point of fermenting with indigenous yeasts, which better allows the underlying materials of the wine to shine through. For anyone interested in experiencing the high-altitude clarity possessed by so many wines from Savoie, Dupasquier’s efforts couldn’t be more faithful regional ambassadors.

His unusual level of dedication and care is evident across all of his wines, and his profound expression of the Jacquère grape is no exception. While many examples of the varietal are innocuous affairs, best used to quench the thirst of skiers after a long day on the slopes, his version possesses a bright wash of acidity and a stony mineral core that overturns expectations while remaining utterly true to its place of origin. Despite its deceptively lithe and nimble frame, it manages to deliver a sense of weight without being weighty, gesturing toward richness with a fuller, creamier texture than any other expression of the grape I’ve encountered. In this respect, the wine seems to me like an Alpine version of some of the better Muscadet cuvées that have recently raised that region’s profile.

All in all, the wines offer a refreshing dose of seasonal irony. On the richer side of the spectrum, for those chillier April days when, as Frost writes, you feel like you’re still “back in the middle of March,” Dupasquier’s stellar Rousette de Savoie does the trick. Particularly appealing in the recently released 2010 vintage and based on the late-ripening Altesse grape (known regionally as Rousette), it represents just the sort of comforting, deep-yet-chiseled, viscous-yet-fresh white to be enjoyed with the last of winter’s hearty, bone-warming fare: Think roast pork or trout in cream sauce. When the warmer weather comes in full force, however, I’ll gravitate toward his bright and elegant vins rouges. Plunged in the ice bucket before serving, the 2010 Dupasquier Savoie Gamay drinks like a transparent, mountain-grown Beaujolais, chock full of juicy red berry fruit and a clean mineral finish that sings of the rocky slopes in which it was raised. Cue the first spring chicken.

Top photo: David Dupasquier in the fields. Credit: Courtesy of Domaine Dupasquier

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Feudo Arancio Dalila. Credit: Courtesy of Feudo Arancia

Sunny Sicily is in the throes of a wine revolution. This rich apricot-and-citrus-toned white, 2012 Feudo Arancio Dalila, is an example of just how much has changed since the island turned from producing industrial plonk to quality wine from native grapes. With a 2,000-year wine history, Sicily is now one of Italy’s most exciting, cutting edge regions — and the source of dozens of current bargains. This is one of them.

Dalila is one of the two blends in the Stemmari portfolio, which also includes single varietal reds and whites made from native and international grapes. The Dalila blend is mostly Grillo, a local Sicilian white varietal used traditionally to produce fortified Marsala. Highly fragrant, with exotic notes of mango, Grillo can be exciting on its own, but the addition of some Viognier, a Rhône Valley grape, gives this wine a round, rich texture and contributes aromas of honey and wildflowers. I’m guessing the wine’s name is supposed to evoke the Dalila (of the Bible and the opera), who renders her former lover Samson powerless by cutting off his hair.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2012 Feudo Arancio Dalila

Price: $13

Region: Sicily, Italy

Grape: 80% Grillo, 20% Viognier

Alcohol: 13%

Serve with: Seafood risotto, soft cheeses


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Stemmari is the Sicilian project of Mezzacorona, a company originally founded more than a century ago in northern Italy as a winegrowers’ association. In Sicily, the company sources grapes from its 1,700 acres of vineyards at two large estates on the island’s south coast, near Agrigento and Ragusa, where winds sweep in from the Mediterranean. The winery is built in traditional rustic villa style.

Considering this is a fairly big project, Stemmari’s commitment to “green” ideas and sustainable winegrowing is commendable. Though the vineyards are not organically farmed, the company uses “good” insects as an alternative to chemical treatments, as well as “sexual confusion” — a biological system that fights destructive bugs by limiting their reproduction. Thanks to Sicily’s hot, dry, windy climate, it’s also relatively easy to use few chemicals here. Solar panels generate the winery’s electricity, wastewater is recycled, and Feudo Arancio even desalinates seawater to keep its reservoirs full.

Sicily’s long winegrowing history began even before the Greeks arrived to colonize the island in 750 B.C. On a wine tour a few years ago, I wandered the ruins of magnificent ancient temples just outside Agrigento that they left behind. The group of eight buildings, strung out along a road of big stones, is deservedly one of the island’s most famous archeological attractions.

For most of the 20th century, Sicily was known for industrial-quality bulk wine. The wine renaissance started in the 1990s, as forward-thinking producers planted international grapes such as Chardonnay and focused on quality instead of quantity. The 2000s brought the rediscovery of fascinating native grape varieties such as Grillo. The 2012 Feudo Arancio Dalila is a tasty, food-friendly blend of the two revolutions.

Top photo: 2013 Feudo Arancio Dalila. Credit: Courtesy of Feudo Arancio

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Chianti Classico wine tasting. Credit: Carla Capalbo

Chianti Classico DOCG is one of Tuscany’s most prestigious wine appellations: Any wine bearing that name must be produced within a specified area and adhere to strict regulations about its making. So when the Consortium of Chianti Classico producers announced a change to its categories, wine critics and appassionati took notice.

Chianti Classico’s consortium recently launched a “Gran Selezione” category: a group of wines touted as the pinnacle of the area’s wine pyramid. The Gran Selezione will account for about 10% of Chianti Classico’s annual production of 35 million bottles, for a value of 70 to 100 million euros.

The launch may have taken place, with much ado, in the spectacular frescoed Renaissance hall of Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, but the reaction — in Tuscany and beyond — has been mixed. Although 35 of the area’s top wineries have so far bottled a wine in the new category, many others are giving the “Selezione” a wide berth — for now, at least. To understand the reasons for this, it’s worth taking an overview of Chianti Classico.

The delineated area known as Chianti Classico is located in the Chianti hills between Florence and Siena, and has long been recognized as one of the region’s best for wine production: It was first shaped in 1716 by the Grand Duke of Tuscany. Modern Chianti Classico gained elevated DOCG status (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita, or Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Origin) in 1984 with the “Black Rooster” wines; its consortium now represents more than 600 members.

The overall area for Chianti production is much larger, however. It stretches farther into the provinces of Siena and Firenze, and into those of Pisa, Arezzo and Pistoia. This is confusing for consumers: Although Chianti Classico and appellations such as Chianti Rufina DOCG are recognized for their premium wines, simple, inexpensive — and often not great — “Chianti” wines abound from these other parts of the region.

In Chianti Classico DOCG wines, the primary grape is red Sangiovese. Each wine must contain 80% to 100% Sangiovese, with the remaining percentage made up from other specified red grapes, including “international” varieties, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Until recently, these wines fell into just two groups: Chianti Classico Annata (the “normal” vintage) and Chianti Classico Riserva (aged for at least 24 months), which were considered the appellation’s best wines. (Some producers, however, choose to make their top wines outside of the DOCG rules. These wines are bottled under the IGT appellation, and are the so-called Super Tuscans). Now a third group has been added.

To be admitted into this Gran Selezione, a wine must pass an additional taste test and be aged for a minimum of 30 months, of which three are in the bottle. (Note that “gran” is a shortened version of “grande,” and here means top, not grandmother.) It must also be made from the grapes of a single vineyard or from a selection of an estate’s best grapes. “The idea of this top tier is to help consumers identify an estate’s best wine,” says Sergio Zingarelli, the Chianti Classico Consortium’s president.

There’s the rub. Objectors note that the Riserva system was already in place to do that, and that the new Selezione may increase confusion in the cluttered Tuscan wine map. The Gran Selezione has stimulated a lively debate among the Italian wine world — in Tuscany and beyond — about the pros and cons of the new classification, and about alternative ideas for a change in the appellation’s structure. (Changes must be ratified by law, as the Gran Selezione’s have).

Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi, left, and Filippo Mazzei of Fonterutoli, Chianti producers and joint vice presidents of the Consortium, at the Gran Selezione news conference. Credit: Carla Capalbo

Giovanni Manetti of Fontodi, left, and Filippo Mazzei of Fonterutoli, Chianti producers and joint vice presidents of the Consortium, at the Gran Selezione news conference. Credit: Carla Capalbo

“During the recent economic crisis, the production of Chianti Riserva wines has increased, and they’re competing with Chianti Classico’s higher-level Riservas,” says Leonardo Bellaccini, the winemaker at San Felice, a leading Chianti Classico estate. Its well-known Riserva, Il Grigio, recently passed the tests to become a Gran Selezione. “We hope that once the Gran Selezione branding is recognized, it will stop the confusion between these two types of Riservas.”

Many cutting-edge wines here come from small estates with forward-thinking winemakers at their helm. Paolo De Marchi, of Isole e Olena, is one. His award-winning, pure Sangiovese Super Tuscan, Cepparello, would qualify for the Gran Selezione, but he’s reluctant to change its status.

“I don’t agree with the Consortium’s vision on this,” he says. “For me, great wines are made by their location and vineyards, not by the hands of men. I’d much rather see us differentiate between the sub-zones within Chianti Classico as a way of emphasizing the diversity of our terroirs.”

The concept of “villages” as used in Burgundy — which would allow the wines’ labels to cite the township within which they are made, such as Gaiole, Castellina or Greve in Chianti — is a hot issue among premium estates wanting to differentiate growing areas within Chianti Classico’s 7,000 hectares (about 17,300 acres) of vineyards.

“The Consortium is beginning to take steps in that direction, but it may be several years in the coming,” says Robert Stucchi Prinetti of Badia a Coltibuono. “The diversity of Chianti Classico’s terroirs is one of its strengths.”

Some producers and wine experts believe the Consortium has missed a precious opportunity to requalify Chianti Classico by limiting its grape varieties to Sangiovese and other native Tuscan grapes such as Colorino and Canaiolo.

“A Gran Selezione of just Tuscan grapes would have made sense by emphasizing the link between these varieties and this specific area,” says Bellaccini. That “first tier” would have been clearly understood by everyone.

Will Gran Selezione wines cost more? “That will be up to the individual estates,” says Consortium Vice President Filippo Mazzei. “We have not imposed price hikes for these wines, though they are of course the estates’ top bracket wines.” The Consortium hopes producers of other high-flying Super Tuscans will be encouraged to reclassify them as Gran Selezione wines, and that the word will spread positively about its latest category.

Top photo: Gran Selezione wines sit on a higher podium than the rest of the Chianti Classico wines at the media tasting in Florence. Credit: Carla Capalbo 

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2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Belle Colline Vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Bokisch Vineyards

The snow outside has me longing for the beginning of rosé season. But sampling this bright 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado, with its lively flavors of cassis and pomegranate, at dinner recently reminded me that you don’t have to wait for hot weather to enjoy savory, medium-bodied pink wines. This food-friendly example was perfect with grilled pork chops and sautéed kale and would be delicious with tapas like olives and sharp cheese.

The wine’s origin, Lodi, Calif., surprised me, as did the varietals in the juicy blend. Bokisch Vineyards has made a specialty of growing Spanish varietals and two found their way into this wine. Made mostly from Barbera, it includes percentages of Graciano and white Albariño that add notes of dark cherry, smooth tannin and a nice crispness. Graciano is a very old variety in Spain, supposedly dating back before the Romans arrived. Aging in stainless steel preserves the wine’s acidity and fruit.

Elin McCoy's Wine of the Week


2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Belle Colline Vineyard

Price: $16

Region: Clements Hills, Lodi, Calif.

Grape: 86% Barbera, 8% Albariño, 6% Graciano

Alcohol: 13%

Serve with: Barbecued chicken or pork chops; tapas; paella


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Markus Bokisch, who owns the eponymous winery with his wife Liz, has a deep family connection with Spain, where he spent summers in Catalonia with his mother’s relatives. He started his career at Joseph Phelps in Napa, but spent a few years working in the wine industry in Spain, where he fell in love with Spanish grapes. When the couple returned to the U.S., they bought land in Lodi, planting varietals such as Tempranillo and Garnacha. Now they farm 1,000 acres, selling the grapes to 40 wineries.

I’ve always thought of the Lodi AVA (American Viticultural Area), southeast of Sacramento and west of the Sierra Nevadas, as the place big producers such as Sutter Home and Gallo turn to for grapes for their basic, somewhat boring blends. Few realize it has a 150-year-long vineyard tradition; many families have grown grapes — especially Zinfandel and Tokay, used for brandy — for a century or more.

Although Zinfandel is still the most planted grape, a new generation of adventurous growers is branching out. The Bokisches are at the forefront of the experimentation. Many of their vineyards are organic and others are certified green according to “Lodi Rules.” This complicated system includes using solar and biodiesel energy and monitoring the land ecosystem and water, but also permits some use of synthetic pesticides.

The 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado leans toward the bigger, fruitier Spanish style of rosé, which makes it ideal for drinking at any time of the year. So don’t wait for summer to sample its delights over a long brunch or dinner.

Top photo: 2012 Bokisch Vineyards Rosado Belle Colline Vineyard. Credit: Courtesy of Bokisch Vineyards

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Trimbach vineyards in Ribeauvillé, Alsace

Once upon a time, Alsace wines were relatively simple to understand. Alsace is virtually the only French appellation that allows the mention of a grape variety on the label, and with a couple of easily identifiable exceptions, the wines tended to be dry. But things seem to have changed in recent years. Am I alone in feeling disappointed that a wine I thought would be dry from the label turns out to be rich with a sweet, even cloying, finish? And then matters are complicated further with all the grands crus names. There are 50 altogether, but I can only ever remember a handful. Happily, a recent visit to Maison Trimbach in Ribeauvillé has served to restore my faith in the region.

The first thing you see when you walk into Trimbach’s tasting room is a sign: “Say No to oak. Help put the fruit back in wine.” This augured well, as did the appearance of my guide, Anne Trimbach. There have been Trimbachs in Ribeauvillé since 1626, and she is a member of the 13st generation. Bright and vivacious, she is the daughter of Pierre, the winemaker, and helps her uncle, Jean, on the export market.

Trimbach makes the full range of Alsace grape varieties, with elegantly leafy Pinot Blanc, some rounded Pinot Gris and some deliciously understated Gewürztraminer — we joked about whether a restrained Gewürztraminer really exists. But it is really with Riesling that the Trimbach style comes into its own, emphasizing the slatey minerality of the grape variety.

A full range of Riesling

Trimbach makes seven qualities of Riesling, beginning with the simple Riesling based on grapes purchased from some 30 growers, picked and pressed by hand. The vinification is very simple, usually entailing a malolactic fermentation and certainly no oak. Freshness and minerality are the key characteristics. The wine has a fresh slatey note, with very good acidity, and a firm dry finish — just as Alsace Riesling should be.

Next up the scale is the Riesling Réserve, a selection of grapes, mainly from Trimbach’s own vineyards around Ribeauvillé. The vinification is the same, but the grapes come from vineyards with a higher limestone content. The result is a wine that has citrus notes and is very mineral, with wonderful freshness and great length. There is a certain austerity on the palate, making for a very pure example of Riesling.

The cuvée of Vieilles Vignes comes from vines that are 35 to 40 years old. They first made this cuvée in 2009, from two foudres of particularly good wine. The flavors are rich and intense, but not sweet. The wine may be a little more gourmand than the Réserve, but the fruit is always balanced with steely acidity, making a wine that is dry and honeyed, with an elegant finish.

The Cuvée Frédéric Emile is one of the flagship wines of Trimbach, whose grapes are grown in marl and limestone soil. We tasted the 2007, which Anne described as a miraculous year — full of scares about the next climatic hazard, but everything turned out well in the end. The nose was rich and honeyed, very intense with an underlying austerity.  On the palate, the wine was firm and slatey with very good acidity and razor-sharp clarity. I could almost describe it as the Chablis of Alsace.

The Trimbachs, from left: Jean, Pierre, Anne and Hubert. Credit: Courtesy of Maison Trimbach

The Trimbachs, from left: Jean, Pierre, Anne and Hubert. Credit: Courtesy of Maison Trimbach

The other flagship Riesling is the Clos Ste Hune, from a vineyard the Trimbachs have owned for 200 years. The soil is pure limestone, and the vines are an average of 80 years old. The wine is made the same way as Frédéric Emile, but here you taste the effect of terroir: They are quite different. The Clos Ste Hune is very slatey, very mineral, very powerful, with very good acidity and still very youthful, with wonderful length.

And then we were given a treat: 1985 Clos Ste Hune. The colour was golden, with an elegant nose that was dry and slatey, but with an underlying richness. On the palate, there were lots of nuances, with some very intriguing dry honey and some lovely notes of maturity. It was rich and elegant, but not heavy or sweet, with a lingering finish. A fabulous glass of wine that demonstrated just how beautifully Alsace Riesling ages.

The Vendanges Tardive and Selection de Grains Nobles, traditionally sweeter and richer, are only made in the very best years. The 2002 Vendange Tardive Riesling was light golden in color, and on the nose, rich with a maturing nutty nose. On the palate it was very elegant, with very good acidity — there was a little noble rot in 2002, but that is not essential. The palate was beautifully balanced with rich honeyed fruit, combining fresh acidity with some sweetness. It was subtle and nuanced.

Our tasting finished with 2001 Sélection de Grains Nobles Frédéric Emile. The grapes were picked in mid-November, with some noble rot. The color was golden and the nose maturing beautifully, as only fine Riesling can. On the palate there were nuances of dry but honeyed, nutty fruit, with some slatey characteristics and a touch of minerality, with a smooth rich finish. It was a powerful example of the heights that Riesling can achieve.

Top photo: Trimbach vineyards in Alsace. Credit: Courtesy of Maison Trimbach

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Winemaker Rosemary Cakebread in her vineyard. Credit: Mira Honeycutt

Sometimes, when you taste a wine, it’s so sublime it’s evocative of liquid poetry in a bottle. I came across such an experience on my recent visit to California’s Napa Valley when I discovered Gallica’s lyrical wines.

Before I even tasted the wine, I could tell from winemaker Rosemary Cakebread’s email that I was going to meet an artist. The directions to her house were a graphic, hand-drawn map with winding roads, trees, farmhouses and vineyards.

Winemaker includes an artist’s touch in her work

Under Cakebread’s Gallica label, a minuscule production of 600 cases annually, she handcrafts Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache wines that are elegant and poetic, wines that show restraint and finesse.

“Wine should be seamless,” says the winemaker. “I want the wood to be integrated with wine.” Therefore, these wines can best be described as lyrical and beautifully knit. The artistry in her winemaking is also reflected in the name Gallica, a botanical term for a type of rose used in perfumes.

Cakebread is not new to the valley. She has been crafting wine in Napa for 33 years. However, she claims she got introduced to viticulture by accident. “Stars were in alignment,” she says with a laugh.

During the summer between high school and college, she got a job on the bottling line at Sebastiani Vineyards. “It piqued my interest. I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I was curious,” she remembers.

Rosemary Cakebread with a Cabernet Sauvignon and a wine from her Suzuri Series. Credit: Mira Honeycutt

Rosemary Cakebread with a Cabernet Sauvignon and a wine from her Suzuri Series. Credit: Mira Honeycutt

She enrolled at the University of California, Davis, and received a degree in oenology. Her first job was in the laboratory at Inglenook Winery. From there she went to Cakebread Cellars for a short period and met Bruce Cakebread. The two have been married for more than 25 years.

Soon she moved on to Mumm Napa Valley. “I’ve always separated my career from marriage,” says the veteran winemaker.

Cakebread entered the world of sparkling wine and worked at Mumm when it was first established in Napa, operating out of Sterling Winery. In 1997, she took over as winemaker at Spottswoode Winery, a position she held till 2007. She maintained a consulting winemaker position at Spottswoode till 2012.

We met at Cakebread’s farmhouse in St. Helena (just off the Highway 29), which serves as her office. The recently purchased house just happens to be next door to her residence. The house/office comes with a patch of old Petite Sirah vine, which she plans to pull out and replant.

“Cabernet is what I know and love making,” she acknowledges. It’s this passion that led her to create the Gallica label with a 2007 vintage of Cabernet Sauvignon.

Yet the winemaker is also drawn to Rhône varietals, so she added Grenache to her portfolio in 2010. Napa Valley is not known for growing Rhône varietals, but Cakebread found a good source in the Shake Ridge Ranch vineyard in Amador County, Calif., in the Sierra Foothills.

We taste the 2011 Grenache, which is blended with Syrah, Mourvèdre and a touch of Viognier. This is an exceptionally elegant, well-rounded wine with balanced fruit and soft tannins.

The Rhône red wine production falls under the Suzuri Series, a collection that will feature different blends each vintage. Cakebread chose the name “Suzuri,” which is a stone plate used for calligraphy, because of her love for Japanese art.

Gallica’s Cabernet Sauvignon bottling generally consists of 80% to 85% of this varietal blended with Cabernet Franc — to add an herbaceous quality — and Petit Verdot, which lends notes of fruits and violets. The 2010 Cabernet is superbly balanced and elegant.

There’s no overabundance of fruit here. “That’s what I like to drink,” Cakebread says.

“I tend to pick my fruit earlier. Some people say I pick under-ripe, but late picking adds too much alcohol to the wine,” she explains.

Besides the fruit that comes from the 1-acre vineyard behind the Cakebread residence, she purchases grapes from Oakville Ranch for her Cabernet Sauvignon wines.

“I’ll always make Cabernet — that’s the engine that drives everything.” However, the winemaker will soon be releasing her 2012 and 2013 Syrahs from Pisoni Vineyards in Monterey’s Santa Lucia Highlands.

How about white wine? I ask.

“Not that I don’t like whites, but it’s a big ocean to swim in,” she muses. She doesn’t want to produce yet another Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.

“I am looking for other whites like Chenin Blanc. It’s hard to find old-vine Chenin Blancs, but I’ll keep looking. I’d like to make a Vouvray style,” says the creative winemaker ever in search of a new artistic achievement.

Top photo: Winemaker Rosemary Cakebread in her vineyard. Credit: Mira Honeycutt

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Screen grabs of the Wine with Friends app.

Drinking wine is a social activity, so it’s no surprise that social media-focused wine tasting apps have cropped up to connect wine lovers with one another and their latest discoveries. After all, any time you open a bottle, there is probably someone out there trying the same wine and wanting to talk about it too!

Delectable wine app. Credit: Courtesy of Delectable

Screen shot from Delectable. Credit: Courtesy of Delectable

Delectable has fast become my go-to wine app. Admittedly, it took a few updates for me to come around, but Delectable version 3.3 is quite a useful tool. On the surface, this is a photo sharing app specifically for wine (although the odd beer does show up). What makes this so useful is the label recognition software within the app — it recognizes everything, from an obscure Santa Barbara winery with tiny production of Syrah to a crazy Chilean wine that’s not even imported in the U.S. It recognizes all pertinent information from the label: place of origin, producer, vintage, name of wine and grape variety. So you will never forget that killer wine, wherever you are. You don’t even have to write a tasting note (although you can), as there is a little slide rule with different degrees of happy faces for grading your wine. You can follow sommeliers and winemakers from across the country, like San Francisco-based Raj Parr or the guy who made talking about wine online cool, Gary Vaynerchuk, and see what they’re drinking. Also, if you see a wine you like, you can buy it within the app! There are an impressive 300,000+ members already, so join up and start snapping those pics. Free for iPhone and soon for Android.

Wine with Friends isn’t the most original of names, but the app itself takes an innovative approach to tasting notes. Again, this is a photo sharing app, and once you’ve taken a pic of your latest wine discovery, you’re led to a tasting note page. This is the brilliant bit: Rather than a notepad, you have a wheel on your screen with different flavors you’ll find in wine. It’s divided into general subcategories, like berry and floral. Once you’ve clicked on that you can choose more specific flavors, like raspberry and rose. The next time you find a vino you like, simply whip out your phone, snap a photo and wheel through your tasting notes. There are more than 50 Western flavors and even more Asian flavors that are referenced (a little wine insight — wine experts in Asian countries tend to refer to fruits, spices and teas found in the East, like jasmine, lemongrass and star fruit) and it’s easy enough to switch between the two. You can also forgo the whole tasting note and just rate the wine with stars. Logistically speaking, this app could be a godsend — you can swirl with one hand while spinning through the wheel with the other. The idea behind the app is that you can share these notes with friends (who also have the app, of course), and try the wines your friends suggest. However, for me it’s all about the tasting wheel. Free for iPhone and soon for Android — with in-app $3.99 purchase of 150+ flavors.

These apps are perfect to use when you’re in a restaurant trying something you like, in a shop wanting to remember a recommended wine, or even at home opening a bottle from your own rack. I find it’s good practice to always take a picture with either app and do a quick rating with the happy face or stars. That way, you’ll have some sort of record. Happy tasting and snapping!

Top picture: Screen shots from Wine with Friends. Credit: Courtesy of Wine with Friends

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Égalité sparkling wine. Credit: Kellie Pecoraro Photography

Why save all of your good deeds for the holiday season? Giving back is all about love, so this Valentine’s Day, put together a meal that helps benefit some great causes.

Set the mood with a pretty table: When you purchase these beautiful block-printed placemats by Dolma Fair Trade made in Dharamsala, India, Given Goods Company gives 15% of profits to help support education for women and children in the area. Dolma’s efforts assist women and school-aged girls by funding education and providing steady work opportunities.

Dolma Fair Trade Placemats, $12.

Start the love flowing with a splash of bubbly:  Égalité, is a new sparkling wine that donates a portion of its proceeds to LGBT nonprofit organizations across the country.  Égalité is a smart blend of 45% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 20% Gamay and 5% Aligote, so cheers to all of that.

Égalité, $23.99, is available nationwide at restaurants, fine retail stores and via wine.com.

Comfort food is loving food: Cozy up with a bean soup from the Women’s Bean Project. The organization, which also sells other mixes and spices (as well as handcrafted jewelry), has been dedicated to helping women break the cycle of poverty by giving them transitional jobs in gourmet food preparation and jewelry making. Choose from a selection that includes Toni’s 10 Bean, Sarah’s Spicy Split Pea and Giada De Laurentiis’ Lentil Soup. And let’s not forget, beans are good for the heart.

Women’s Bean Project Soup, $5.75.

Make your drizzle count: Oliovera Olive Oils come in amazing flavors like Piquant Jalapeno and Sweet Orange. Drizzle a little olive oil on your bean soup. And their vinegars, such as Ripe Peach Balsamic, make any salad happy. Best of all? For each bottle ordered, Oliovera donates five meals to a hungry child through its initiative with Feeding America. Delicious.

Oliovera olive oils and vinegars, $15.50-$34.

Chocolate, of course: By now we know that the antioxidants in chocolate are good for us, but when you buy L.A. chocolatier Compartés Chocolates for Darfur, the deed is extra sweet. Proceeds from sales benefit Relief International’s efforts in the nation to help fund a women’s health center and feed malnourished children. This beautiful gift set comes with a colorful bracelet.

Compartés Chocolates for Darfur, $20.

Finish with a cuppa: Whether you prefer tea or coffee, Laughing Man Tea and Coffee’s offerings are a charitable and delicious choice. All proceeds go to causes focusing on community development and education, and their Home Blend 184 and Dukale’s Dream are fair trade, organic and shade grown. (Actor Hugh Jackman is one of the founders of Laughing Man.)

Laughing Man Teas and Coffees, $10 and up.

Top photo: Égalité sparkling wine. Credit: Kellie Pecoraro Photography

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