Monday, April 29, 2019

Reading a label, Important information you can get before making a purchase

It’s time to talk a bit about labels, besides being a great marketing tool to attract your attention to bottle A instead of B, labels provide a lot information and details that can help you decide and make a wise choice when buying wines.

Let’s analyze some of the terms used on labels and what they mean.

The first item in all labels will be the Brand or Producer’s name, these will be very important when you are familiar with a specific winery, but these days we can also find some wineries that produce all sorts of wines, meaning, inexpensive, middle level and super premium. What I’m trying to say is that the name should be the first item we should check but we must continue our investigation for more info before making a purchase decision. For example Trapiche (Argentinian producer) makes Trapiche Oak Cask, (inexpensive everyday wine) and also Trapiche Single Vineyard (Super Premium wine and $$$).

The Vintage, in another words, the year the grapes in our wine were harvested, is important to know and to find out how old our wine is, i.e. its age. For whites and rosés, you will buy the youngest vintages available (be careful with the bottles offered in those sales bins), since fruit disappears as a wine ages, white and rosés are made to be drunk young, when the fruit is fresh in your bottles.   Vintages are important because the weather varies year to year, so some years have great vintages, with enough sun to mature the grapes to perfection and in other years we have plenty of rain or frost, or cool weather, so grapes don’t get the same maturation. Wines from vintage A will be different to vintage B. Though producers try to keep consistency, is not always possible.

Grape variety and origin: here is the most valuable information for any wine buyer. Remember what I taught you in my Old world vs New world wines post, and I told you that in the Old World (most of Europe, for example France, Spain) they put the regions on the labels but not the grape varieties, this require all Winos to learn about grapes allowed in each appellation. In the New World, producers put the grape varieties on labels, though these days, they may also put some information about the origin (state or province, or an AVA for example in the case of domestic wine: California or Napa). But I also told you that in the Old World everything is regulated (specially viticulture and vinification) and wines are classified by quality, the best wines are usually AOC (France) DOC or DO (Spain) DOC or DOCG (Italy), all of these mean quality has been checked from the vineyards to the final product. IGT (Italy), Vin de Pays (France) are quality wise in the middle (not the best wine, yet not the simplest, actually I’d like to think that this category are the future DOC or AOC) and then Vino Da Tavola and Vin de Table (the lowest category of all) meaning regulations become less strict as you go down the different levels and with it their quality.

There’s in the Old World a category that I called “in between” this is found very often in Italy, where sometimes we will find the grape and also the region on the same label. Barbera (grape) d’Asti (region). See sample of this label at the end.  Another example of this, can be found in the wines of Alsace, Riesling and AOC Alsace. In the New World, the grapes are always listed. When the wine is a blend, instead of putting 3 or 4 grape names on the label, producers create a fantasy or proprietary name like Joseph Phelps “Insignia” which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Merlot.

A note about origin, the smaller the area, the better the wine, for example, a Bourgogne Rouge, is the simplest generic burgundy and could be made with grapes from all over burgundy, but if we find a Puligny Montrachet AOC (that means a smaller enclave within Burgundy, so this means this wine was made with grapes grown there and only there). If the label says Puligny Montrachet “Champ Gains”, this means and even more specific piece of land within Puligny Montrachet region. The reason why this happens, is because Europeans value terroir or  the marriage between grape, soil and weather patterns of any specific region, and so a wine made in Puligny Montrachet “Champ Gains” is even better, since conditions in this specific vineyard are so special, they were identified and put on the label.

In the New World, a wine labelled California, will be made with grapes from the whole state, but if the wine says Russian River (AVA), that is an specific appellation/ region inside California, known to have great conditions for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay and a step up in quality.

Other terms that can appear and can shed more light about the style of wine inside the bottle, terms as aged in wood, aged in new oak, fermented in oak,these will alert you of tannins in wine i.e. structure, and about the presence of flavors that only oak can provide: vanilla, coconut, chocolate, caramel, spices, etc. If you like those in wine, this could be good or bad. New oak aging means more quality and $$$$, because barrels are expensive to make and no wine producer will age in oak inexpensive wines, most producers will age in oak their good to best wines.

 Without filtering is another term, is this good or bad? According to the experts, this is good, since experts complain that filtration though necessary to make the wine stable chemically, also takes away elements, compounds of wine that give the wines their personality and uniqueness. So no filtering will mean more flavor, but when serving these wines be careful, because it also means deposits, (don’t be afraid of them) just decant the bottle before you drink it.  Deposits are harmless, yet producers are sacrificing beauty to flavor/personality.

Organic, another important term, this could refer that the grapes were grown organically (without  any use of chemicals) or the wine was made without sulfites (something necessary to prevent oxidation and to give wine stability). Most wines have sulfites but in small amounts that our human bodies can tolerate. If sulfites give you headaches, stir away from sweet wines, since they have more sulfites than any of the rest.

Terms as sec, demisec, seco, trocken, those mean dry in different languages and another hint/ detail about style, depending on the amount of residual sugar a wine can have. This is important especially for sparkling wines, where brut nature is probably the driest of all styles for example.

Terms such as Reserve, Riserva, Reserva, are important if the wines come from Portugal, Spain or Italy, where these terms mean minimum aging in oak or oak and bottle. Outside these nations, this term doesn’t have any value, it could be considered similar to cuvee or special blend, in other words it is more a marketing tool than an indicator of quality.

The words n
égociant or cooperative, also have a different connotation, négociant is someone who buys grapes from growers, not all négociants are created equal, some are better than others, meaning they may or may not be personally involved in the  growth of the vineyards whose fruit they buy. Cooperative means that a bunch of producers have come together and made a wine. I have tasted great wines from cooperatives, though most wine experts tend to dismiss them, in favor of wines made from grapes/vines owned by the winery/chateau. So winery owned vineyards, mean quality too.

Single vineyard,1st growth, Great Growth or GG, Vinos de Pago,Premier Cru, Grand Cru all mean quality, (grapes from a special plot). But know that some of these can be very expensive $$$.

Old vines, sometimes producers will even add the age of the vines, 100 year old vines, 50 year old vines, etc. Also mean quality, the older the vine, the better and the more concentrated fruit it will provide. So old vines usually mean more quality and fruit concentration.

Alcohol levels are also found on labels, this is important too, not only if you want to get drunk or not, but mostly because alcohol affects the weight/ body of the wine. Low alcohol equals light wine and so forth. Light wines will be between 8 and 11.5%, medium bodied wines 12 to 12, 5 %. 13% and up are considered big bodied wines. Also according to US law, the label can lie as much as 1%, so for example a California Zinfandel said to have 13%,  could have that or it could have as much as 14%.

When reading a label, always look also at the back labels, some wineries add tasting notes,  with aromas descriptors which will provide more info about the flavor and style of the wine. They even add food matches, like “best with barbecue and hard cheeses”, etc. 

See below some samples of labels and the info they can provide.

This label belongs to a very good quality and expensive wine, first the words Grand Cru, second the name of this appellation Bienvenues Batard Montrachet. Following the French system no grape is listed here, for those who want to know the grape is chardonnay.

Here is a sample of the in between system, because it mentions both the grape (Barbera) and the region (Asti), it also include the fantasy name of the wine (Ante).

Typical label from the new world, in this case from Australia, it mentions the name of the grape (Shiraz) and the brand Rosemount.


Finally, May is the month of Mother’s Day, graduations and weddings. So, here a few recommendations under $20.


Piper Sonoma NV, CA $16
Gruet Brut Blanc de Noirs, NV, NM $15

Light Whites:

Gini Soave 2016, Soave Italy $15
Susana Balbo Crios Torrontes 2016, Mendoza Argentina $14

Medium Reds:
Protos Crianza 2014, D.O. Ribera Del Duero $ 20
Concha y Toro Serie Riberas Gran Reserva Carmenere 2016. Chile $17

See you next time, in the meantime, you know what to do... keep on drinking! Cheers, Silvina

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Wine Trends for 2019 and forward!

So what wine trends can we expect for 2019 and moving forward?. I attended a conference about this topic during Vinexpo NY and here some of their findings:

The TTB (US organization that approves wine labels) approved 125,000 labels in 2018, this means that right now in the US market we have that many amounts of wines which include domestic and imported. There’s no way for any of us to know/ taste all of these wines! But, I guess one thing is for sure we will never be bored, there will be plenty of wine to try and enjoy! Now, competition for your $$$ is fierce, so what are these people doing to get your attention? One thing panelists agreed was investments on E commerce and wine education, let’s face it, millennials do everything online, and wine should be one of these things, but things aren’t that easy.

After prohibition ended in the US in 1933, instead of regulating the commercialization of wines federally, the government gave each state the power to legislate the selling of alcohol, this created what is called the 3 tier system. Importer buys from winery, sells to the distributor, who sells to the restaurant owner and/or retailer who then sells to you. In the case of domestic producers, wineries sell to distributor, who sells to the restaurant and/ or retailer, who then sells to you. And of course every tier includes a mark up/ profit that it is included in the price you pay for each bottle of wine. This is why wine is more expensive in the US than in Europe for example, but I will talk about this in another post.  The thing is that each state of the union regulates things their way and so there are states where is possible and legal to buy wines directly from a winery or out of state retailer since direct shipping is allowed, and there are others where it is not possible.

Here is a map that explains everything better. 

In the case of NJ where La Wina lives, we need to get a permit that will allow me to receive up to 12 cases per wine per year, in other states, like Kentucky it’s prohibited. By the way, Winos in NY will also need a permit but they can receive more wine, up to 36 cases of wine per person per year. If you want to find out more about the legislation in your state and how this affects you, do so here.

So, it may take some time to change things i.e legislation, I’m sure people at Amazon will love to sell wines as they sell any other stuff to you! honestly I would love to pay less. But until the law is changed we are limited by it.

Still the panel said that this is coming, since it’s very convenient for the consumer and things are moving very fast these days.  There is a case at the Supreme Court that may change this soon, (July/ August) if the Supreme Court votes in favor of direct shipping, most states will follow suit. I will follow up on this important matter on another post.

As far as buying online, I must confess that I do it from my favorite retailer in NJ, not only because the store is on my way home from work, but whenever I order online my wine costs less, like $1 or $2 less per bottle, so I just do it, I choose my wines online, the store prepares my order and send me an email when it’s ready to be picked up. Super easy!

Wineries and retailers should continue to invest in modernizing their webpages, in creating apps to generate loyalty, in sending newsletters to advertise their products, etc. to attract more of your business.

Regarding wine styles, three trends are here to stay, and these are: Prosecco or any inexpensive sparkling wine that is not Champagne. Sales of Prosecco are increasing and let’s face it, this is not happening only in the holiday months but all year around, people are in love with bubbles! and are consuming Prosecco even in winter.  

Rosé wines are also another favorite of the masses, especially from California, France and Spain. By the way, Rosé is no longer a lady’s wine, with men accounting for 47% of all Rosé sales worldwide. 

And my favorite, since I do love this wine, and I can definitely drink it every night: New Zealand (Marlborough) Sauvignon Blanc. Sales continue to raise and will continue to do so for my favorite white.

Another good trend in consumption, is that consumers are finally trading up, meaning they are not always buying the cheapest wines out there and are looking forward to spending a little more. With a serious increase in the $20-$30 category. Men spend more money than women on wine (59%) and they also drink more of it and more frequently. Though both genres consume wine at least once a month, equally 50/50, consumption rises to 58% for the male category with ages between 21-34. By the way almost 90,000,000 people consume wine in the US.*

Regarding what Americans drink, according to the Impact Databank statistics, 75.3% of all wine drunk is domestic and only 24.7 is imported. On the top of the list is Italy, France, Australia, Chile, Argentina, New Zealand, Spain, Germany and Portugal.

Now that Spring is here some recommendations based on these wines trends:


La Marca Extra Dry Prosecco NV $12
Mionetto Extra Dry Prosecco NV, $15

New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs:

Oyster Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2017,$14
Tuatea Sauvignon Blanc 2018, $8
Kono Sauvignon Blanc 2017, $14

Rosé Wines

Bodegas Muga Rosado 2017 $14
Jolivet Attitude Rosé 2017 $16
Mulderbosch Rosé 2017 $10
Miraval Rosé 2017 $ 20

Cheers! Silvina.

*Numbers provided by Wine Intelligence
® and Impact Databank®.