Blogs > The Grapevine

Wine recommendations and comments from Dean and Lisa Foster, Vintage Connections Wine Educators and Consultants. Most wines are available in Southeastern Pennsylvania and are priced between $10 and $20. Up-coming "wine events" available in the Pottstown Tri-county area are listed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Wine Tips - Part 2 Wine Appreciation Basics: Red and White

Cheers from Vintage Connections 

Welcome to Part 2 of the preview of our wine seminar, Wine Appreciation Basics: Red and White.  We're offering this seminar on both Thursday, May 12 in the evening and on Friday, May 13 in the afternoon at Pinnacle Ridge Winery, north of Kutztown.  On May 26 and 27 we're offering Wine Appreciation Basics: What's in a Name?  Each class is two and one-half hours and is $35 per person.  For more information on these classes or to register, email us at, call us at 610.469.6164, or see our Vintage Connections Wine Blog.  You can also register at the winery.

Back to the Basics

Scroll down to last week's Grapevine posting for information about the wine tasting process.  These simple steps will help you enjoy and appreciation wine even more than you already might.  Last week we also discussed the variable characteristics and tasting of Chardonnay.  May I also note that NO ONE commented on my clever use of the Pinnacle Ridge's Naked Chardonnay label to complement the Back to the Basics title of the posting!  I'm so disappointed.

More Whites

Last week we noted that it's best to taste your way from light to bold and dry to sweet(er) wines.  If you are tasting both reds and whites, this means beginning with the dry whites.  We started with Chardonnay, but sometimes it's a toss-up whether to begin with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc.  Chardonnay gets everyone's attention and is the most popular white wine in the world, so we started there.  However, when pairing wine and food, often we'll start with Sauvignon Blanc because it pairs so well with salad and Chardonnay pairs well with a lighter main course (chicken, fish, pork, as well as others).  

For extensive information about our favorite Sauvignon Blancs, those from Marlborough New Zealand, scroll down to the April 13 posting in this blog.  For a short primer on Sauvignon Blanc in general, read on!

Sauvignon Blanc is another one of the most popular white wines in the world.  It is one of the two major grapes used to make White Bordeaux and is the grape in the famous Sancerre and Pouilly Fume wines of the Loire Valley (France).  Sauvignon Blanc is now grown almost world-wide, but sadly we rarely find it on the East Coast.  Sid Butler, who owned Slate Quarry Winery near Nazareth, PA, used to grow and produce an exceptional Sauvignon Blanc, but he retired years ago and this treasure was lost. 

Because it is so sensitive to soil and climate, Sauvignon Blanc takes on different flavors and characteristics depending on where it is grown and on individual wine maker styles.  In Bordeaux, it is blended with Semillon and sometimes Muscadelle (and several other minor grapes).  In Sancerre and Pouilly Fume, it's has a hint of mineral (chalk, limestone) because of the soil in this part of France.  In New Zealand, it often has herbal and grapefruit aromas and flavors.  In California, it's more floral and fruity.  When aged in oak (mostly just in California where it's called Fume Blanc, thanks to Robert Mondavi) it takes on an oaky, smoky aroma and flavor imparted by the oak.  

We've seen a triangle symbolizing the flavors of Sauvignon Blanc, with Fruit in one corner, Vegetable in another corner, and Mineral in the third corner.  Depending on the source of the grapes and winemaker style, any one of these flavors and aromas can predominate, or the wine can reflect a combination of these flavors and styles.  

We love Sauvignon Blanc because it can vary so much from region to region and winemaker to winemaker.  Tasting Sauvignon Blanc is an adventure, and it is one of the few wines that pairs well with salads and other high acid foods.  If you don't like the grassy, grapefruity aroma and flavor from Marlborough, try the softer, more floral White Bordeaux blend, or a more minerally version from the Loire Valley.  If you like higher alcohol and some oak, try a Fume Blanc from California.  We'd love to hold a Sauvignon Blanc tasting or class and taste our way through six very different Sauvignon Blancs.


Riesling, oh Riesling, how you have been mistreated.  Just last week we heard someone say "I don't like Riesling."  Like with most wines, that's because she hasn't tasted the right one.  Riesling varies in style, from very dry to very sweet, and pairs exceptionally well with spicy (Thai, Chinese, Indian) food.  It's most universal characteristic is its floral aroma and flavor, which is enhanced, or somewhat subdued, by its sugar, acid, and alcohol content.  A well-balanced, even slightly sweet Riesling can be wonderfully refreshing, like a perfect lemonade can be both sweet and tangy at the same time.

Riesling originated in Germany and for years was known as a poorly made, overly sweet, white wine (Black Tower, Blue Nun, etc.).  Germany passed wine laws to improve and classify its Rieslings so now you can find exceptionally fine German Riesling, ranging from very dry to very sweet.  There is, literally, a Riesling for everyone.  Germany's wine laws and naming system is complicated and we're not going to try to explain it here.  If you really care, Google German Riesling and read, read, read.

In short, Riesling can range from very dry to off dry to semi-dry to semi sweet to very sweet as in ice wines and dessert wines.  Riesling can also greatly vary in alcohol content, from as low as 7% to has high as 12%.  Often, you'll find Rieslings at about 11% alcohol by volume.  We often taste (and use in classes) a semi-dry Riesling.  All have that floral aroma and flavor, but the variation among different wines is amazing.  

Riesling is the famous grape (and wine) of the Finger Lakes in New York.  The climate is cool, like Germany and Northern France (Alsace Rieslings are usually drier than German ones) and some of the world's best Riesling is from the Finger Lakes.   But, many PA wine makers produce wonderful Rieslings in dry, semi-dry, semi-sweet, and in late harvest, dessert, and ice wine styles.    Usually, one winery will only produce Riesling in one style.  Galen Glen has begun making Riesling in two styles, along with several other white wines with German and Austrian  influences.

That's it for this week.  Next week, we launch into a couple of reds.

Upcoming Events

In addition to our classes at Pinnacle Ridge, please note the following:

Blair Vinyard is hosting Unleashed on Saturday May 14th & Sunday May 15th at their location at 99 Dietrich Valley Road, Kutztown.  This event, which supports the Berks Humane Society, will have vendors on site, the Pet Adoption Vehicle from the Humane Society, food, music and wine.  This event is a pet friendly event, but dogs must be leashed (despite the title of the event).  Blair's event calendar is full of fun, wine activities.

Calvaresi Winery 's  SPRING WINE FESTIVAL is Sunday - May 15, 2011
1:00 - 5:00 pm, Rain or Shine.  Enjoy award winning wines, along with the "Fabulous Tom Miller" singing the songs of 'Elvis' and other great oldies!

Fun Fact (from Wikipedia)

The most expensive wines made from Riesling are late harvest dessert wines, produced by letting the grapes hang on the vines well past normal picking time. Through evaporation caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea ("noble rot") or by freezing, as in the case of ice wine (in German, Eiswein), water is removed and the resulting wine offers richer layers on the palate. These concentrated wines have more sugar (in extreme cases hundreds of grams per litre), more acid (to give balance to all the sugar), more flavour, and more complexity.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wine Tips - Wine Appreciation Basics: Red and White

Cheers from Vintage Connections 

 Thanks to Brad and Christy at Pinnacle Ridge Winery for hosting our wine seminars at Pinnacle Ridge Winery.  On  May 12 and 13 we're offering Wine Appreciation Basics: Red and White, and on May 26 and 27 we're offering Wine Appreciation Basics: What's in a Name?  Each class is two and one-half hours and is $35 per person.

For more information on these classes or to register, email us at, call us at 610.469.6164, or see our
Vintage Connections Wine Blog.

Back to the Basics 

Several of our readers and friends have asked that we go "back to the basics."  We suspect, and they confirmed, that we've taken our Wine Tips and our classes too far down a narrow road, too often writing and teaching about wines that appeal to too few of our readers.  So, for the next few weeks we're going back to the basics and writing (and teaching) about basic reds and whites.  

This week, and for the next few weeks, our newsletter and Grapevine blog will provide the very basic basics about the most popular reds and whites.  Our up-coming classes at Pinnacle Ridge Winery will follow the same theme, expanding on and providing tasting examples to illustrate (and enjoy) what we're teaching. 

Basic Wine Tasting and Appreciation

The following are samples of what we will be discussing and tasting in the "Red and White" class. 

Before we get into the wines, we want to review a few wine tasting and appreciation basics.   

It's best to taste your way from light to bold and dry to sweet(er) wines.  If you are tasting both reds and whites, this means beginning with the dry whites (see below).

We suggest pouring about two ounces of each wine.  This will provide three sips of each wine and leave room in your glass for swirling and smelling (see below).  Most people will be able to taste 5 or 6 wines without consuming too much alcohol (not just too much to drive, but too much to really taste the final few wines).  Better Wine Glasses

Begin by "looking" at the wine.  Examine the color and clarity of the wine in the glass, ideally against a white background (napkin or piece of paper).  The wine should be clear, except sometimes for some sediment from unfiltered wines.   

Most importantly, smell the wine. "Taste" is actually about 80% smell so it's extremely important to smell, appreciate and enjoy the aroma before taking your first sip, and then again in between each sip.   

Many experienced wine tasters swirl their wine and stick their noses right down into the glass.   

Finally, taste the wine.  Take a small sip and move it around all areas of your tongue and mouth.  Swallow (or spit).  Unless you ate some bread and drank some water immediately before tasting, most likely you had residual flavors in your mouth from you last meal, drink, smoke, or whatever.  Don't judge a wine, or decide if you like or dislike a wine, based on the first sip. 

Swirl and smell again.  Take a second sip and keep it in your mouth.  Don't swallow (yet).  Swish the wine around inside your mouth.  This provides provides even more aroma and taste.   

Now, you can either spit or swallow.  Wine judges spit so they stay 100% sober as they taste many, many wines at one sitting.     

We encourage a third "swirl and sip" to confirm your impression of the wine.

What did you like and not like about each wine? 

Bread and water clean the tongue, palate, and other surfaces inside the mouth.  But food, especially cheese and other fatty foods, and salads and other foods high in acid, will greatly affect the taste of the wine.

Basic Whites - Part I 

The most common and popular whites include chardonnay (white Burgundy if from Burgundy France), sauvignon blanc, and riesling. 

Chardonnay is sometimes fermented and/or aged in oak, sometimes it comes "naked" without any oak influence by fermenting and aging only in stainless steel.  Many people who think they don't like chardonnay actually don't like the oak, which in some chardonnays can be overdone (we think) and result in an offensive "woody" wine.  Even light oak is unappealing to some, while a light, moderate oak influence imparts a vanilla, buttery taste to the wine.  We suggest smelling and tasting a naked chardonnay, followed by a lightly or moderately oaked one, and concentrating on the differences and the aspects of each that you like and dislike.   
barrel room 
Alcohol content can also influence your enjoyment of the wine and chardonnays are often made with 14% or more alcohol by volume.  We prefer our chardonnays, usually, around 12% ABV.  But, there are always exceptions if the higher alcohol is balanced with enough fruit (and oak influence).  Taste both a lower (12%) and higher (14%) chardonnay, both either oaked or naked, and see if you can taste the difference.  Which do you like better?

Next week, a little bit about sauvignon blanc and riesling, and maybe one red. 

Fun Fact

Chardonnay is planted in more wine regions across the world than any other wine grape.  It is relatively easy to grow, has good yields, and its taste varies greatly based on soil and winemaker style (oak or not, alcohol content). Chablis is chardonnay grown and produced in Chablis, France.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Wine Tip - Marlborough New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs

Wine Tip of the Week

We're "on the road again" so missed posting our blog and newsletter last week.  Sorry about that.

And, no, we're not in New Zealand.  If we were, we doubt we'd return because most Marlborough, New Zealand wines we have tasted are good values.  They are affordable in the USA and even in PA!  And, there is a great variety and price range, even in PA.

This week's wine tips are for Marlborough, New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs.  In the past, we've recommended quite a few Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough.  Some of those included Geisen, Cupcake,  Framingham, Brancott, Brancott Reserve, and Monkey Bay.

 Several weeks ago the Indian Valley Chapter of the American Wine Society blind tasted six Sauvignon Blancs, each from a different country.  The point was to see how well we could distinguish among, and learn more about, the different styles and characters of these wines, all made from the same grape but from different countries (therefore from different soils and climates) and made in the different styles characteristic of those countries.  

Before revealing the wines, everyone voted for their favorite.  Of the 17 members participating, eight voted for Cloudy Bay, the Marlborough NZ wine.  Seven preferred Four Sisters from Australia, and one voted for the French wine, Sauvion Sancerre.  The USA, Chile, and South African Sauvignon Blancs received no votes. What was surprising to most of us was that the Marlborough wine didn't receive even more votes, that the Australian wine did so well, and that the French didn't do any better than one vote. 

We have tasted about a dozen different Marlborough, NZ Sauvignon Blancs over the past few years and based on that sampling, we have to recommend them altogether as a "class" of wine.  Some are clearly better than others, but all are good values and none have disappointed us, considering what we expected based on cost.  Cupcake may be at the bottom of the range, but we've bought it over and over again when we want a good, inexpensive everyday wine and are not in the mood to experiment with (risk) something we have not tasted before.  There are several Cupcake vintages and options listed on the PLCB site, including a Chairman's Select for $7.99 that is available in only one store (Phila).  The common, everyday, "get-it-anywhere" Cupcake is $11.99 (PLCB code 3003).  The common, everyday, Brancott is on sale for $10.99.  Monkey Bay, the first Marlborough SB we tried a few years ago, is widely available for $11.99.  

By the way, the Cloudy Bay we loved at the AWS tasting is $27 in PA.  The PLCB even offers a Cloudy Bay for $41.39, but we haven't tried it.  Cloudy Bay is for special occasions, while most Marlborough SB's are priced for everyday enjoyment and are good values.  

A WORD OF CAUTION - The less expensive Sauvignon Blanc's, even those from Marlborough, are very sensitive to temperature.  The more expensive ones are temperature-sensitive too, but not as much as the bargain wines.  Too cold, and they taste too strongly of grapefruit.  Too warm, and they start to taste sour (green).  This is because of the high acid content of SB's.  This high acid provides the crispness and refreshing "zing" we expect from a SB.  Because of this high acid content, SB's are about the only wine that pairs well with high acid food like salads, especially salads with vinargarette dressing.  But this acid needs to be in balance with the fruit (and sometimes a very slight, undetectable sugar content).  A cool, but not too cold temperature helps control the acid while allowing the fruit flavor to emerge. We recommend refrigerating SB's and then removing them to room temperature about 20 minutes before serving, then serving the wine in small quantities and refilling glasses often, to keep the temperature in the "good zone."   

Many of these wines are inexpensive enough to experiment with, so we ENCOURAGE you to go ahead and experiment with temperature. Refrigerate an inexpensive bottle (Brancott, Cupcake, Monkey Bay, or any inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough New Zealand), open and taste it cold, and continue to taste it as it warms up.  We think you'll discover a temperature zone that is "just right."   The grapefruit aroma and taste is strong when cold, but will soften as the wine warms.  The grassy aroma and flavor we expect, with the crispness from the acid, will start to emerge as the wine warms, and for a time you'll have a great balance of grapefruit, grass, and maybe a touch of flowery aroma more common in French Sauvignon Blancs (Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume).  Then, as the wine warms too much it will start to taste sour (green) on the sides of your tongue because the acid will start to dominate.  Try this experiment and let us know what you find!!!

By the way, make sure NOT to grab a Cupcake Chardonnay instead of a Sauvignon Blanc.  Their labels are almost identical, but we don't like the Chardonnay.  In fact, the Cupcake Chardonnay is from California, so it isn't even a Marlborough wine.  No wonder we don't like it.  

Our Other Blog - Vintage Connections Wine Info
For even MORE blogging about wine, wine tasting, and the world of wine, see our other blog at Vintage Connections Wine Info.

Upcoming Events!

Saturday and Sunday, April 16-17,  A Taste of Berks at all of the wineries on the Berks County Wine Trail!

Saturday, April 16, Vineyard Tours at Vynecrest. From their newsletter:

This weekend kicks off the 2011 vineyard tour season. This year we have decided to break up the tours according to the time of year the tour is given. This Saturday, April 16, come out to find out how the vines have weathered the winter and what we have done to prepare them for the 2011 growing season. In the months to come, look for tours about bud break, cluster thinning, veraison and harvest.  Tours are $5.00 per person and begin at 1pm. Reservations are suggested as they fill up quickly.
Wine Classes
Please see our other blog, Vintage Connections Wine Info, for information on our May Wine Appreciation classes to be offered at Pinnacle Ridge Winery in May.

Fun Fact
White Bordeaux is a blend of two or more grapes.  We have found the more expensive blends are predominantly Sémillon with some Sauvignon Blanc. The less expensive blends are often predominated by Sauvignon Blanc with some Semillon.  Other permitted grape varieties are Muscadelle, Ugni Blanc, Colombard, Merlot Blanc, Ondenc and Mauzac.  (source - Wikipedia)