Back to (Wine) School - "Grapes & Styles"


This week is the first in my series of classes, Lovin’ the Grape: A Course in Wine Appreciation. The class is full, but I’m going to offer everyone a chance to sample some of the wines we’ll be using as course examples. The first class covers basic wine styles and six major grapes, so in this week’s Feature tasting, I’ll have a Chardonnay, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Riesling, a Merlot, a Pinot Noir and a Cabernet Sauvignon. These will be rounded out with the additional styles of: rosé, sparkling wine, and fortified wine. A lot to work through...but I know you’re up to it.  Since I’ll be opening these wines Thursday night for the class, let’s say the tasting will run all day Friday (11-7) and Saturday (10-5).

Talmard Macon Chardonnay (Burgundy, France) Regular Price $18.50/ Feature Price $15.72

Begun in the 17th century, Domaine Talmard is one of the oldest continuously producing family run wine estates in southern Burgundy. It is also the premier domain in the 1,000-year-oldChardonnay, FranceChardonnay, France village of Chardonnay, which is perhaps best known for bestowing its name upon the white grape that has taken over the world. Unoaked and using only indigenous yeasts in the fermentation provides the modern wine-drinker with an authentic, original taste of Chardonnay.

Fournier “Les Belle Vignes” Sancerre (Loire Valley, France) Regular Price $ 27.95/ Feature Price $23.96

The classic Sauvignon Blanc of Europe is Sancerre (sahn-SAIR). Sancerre is high in the Loire, where the chalky soil and cool weather grows Sauvignon Blanc grapes that show their true type, with a characteristic gooseberry and lime aroma. Extraordinary with fresh Chevre!

Pacific Rim Dry Riesling (Yakima and Walla Walla Valleys, Washington) Regular Price $13.75/ Feature Price $11.69

Riesling is one of the “big three” wine grapes in the world, and the folks at Pacific Rim are Riesling fanatics. They make Riesling in all of its stylistic varieties, from the very sweet (18.5% residual sugar) Vin de Glacière (which I’ll be Featuring for the holidays) to this Dry (1.00% residual sugar) version that I think really shows off the characteristics of the Riesling grape. Lucky for Riesling lovers, Pacific Rim prints what I call the “sweet-o-meter” on the back label of every bottle, so you can choose the Riesling that rules for you.

Château Roûmieu-Lacoste Sauternes (Haut Barsac, Bordeaux, France), 375 ml Regular Price $30.00/ Feature Price $25.50

Sauternes, the world’s most classic dessert wine, depends on a Botrytis CinereaBotrytis Cinereamold - Botrytis Cinerea, also known as “noble rot.” The mold forms on the skins of ripening grapes when exposed to humidity alternating with dry heat. Under these conditions, the mold flourishes and perforates the grape skins with the mold’s filaments. Subsequently, the grapes shrivel as their moisture content is reduced. The remaining sugars and acids are concentrated. In addition to this effect, Botrytis also changes the taste with a honeyed, complex and intensely luscious quality that is unique and characteristic in the wine world. At Château Roûmieu-Lacoste, winemaker Hervé Dubourdieu is a perfectionist about his Sauternes. He starts with 100% old-vine Semillon grown on 6 hectares of his clay and limestone soil in the Haut Barsac region. The perfectionism is most evident in his grape-sorting process. Since the Botrytis mold is paramount to making great Sauternes, he employs the best harvesters available, paying them double the average wage to discern between the “noble rot,” necessary to concentrate the sugars for Sauternes, and deleterious rot. Hervé is so fastidious that he will get rid of a whole basket of fruit if a single grape with the harmful rot makes it in with healthy ones to be absolutely sure to avoid even the slightest contamination. Sauternes is best served with a European-style “dessert” of fruit, cheese and nuts.

Saint-Hilaire Brut Blanquette de Limoux (Languedoc, France) Regular Price $17.85/ Feature Price $15.17

Abbey of Saint-HilaireAbbey of Saint-HilaireWhen I needed an example of sparkling wine for the wine class, I of course turned to this perennial favorite. The monks of the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire were the first in France to discover the means of making bubbles in the bottle. It’s still great...and a great value!


Crios Rosé of Malbec (Mendoza, Argentina) Regular Price $14.60/ Feature Price $12.41

One of the styles we cover in the wine class is that of classic, dry rosé. A far cry from the sweet Kool-aid of American blush wines, this one is made by the saignee (“bleeding”) method, wherein the skins of the dark red Malbec grapes are left with the fermenting wine for only a short period of time. The wine, made by Susana Balbo and featuring the logo of the hands of herself and her two children, is full-bodied enough to serve with a meal.  

Excelsior Cabernet Sauvignon (Robertson, South Africa) Everyday Price $11.00

This may not be the “best” Cab we’ve got in the store (there are a number of candidates), but I chose it as an exemplar because it’s just straight-ahead Cabernet Sauvignon, without a lot of extras. And at this everyday price, it’s a perennial best seller.

Four Sisters Merlot (Central Victoria, Australia) Regular Price $14.50/ Feature Price $12.32

I’ve always loved the story of winemaker Trevor Mast and his four daughters. And I’ve always loved the Four Sisters wines - excellent, fruit-forward Aussie juice at a very reasonable price. Lately I’ve read that Trevor has Alzheimer’s and the wine is now being made by the beautiful and historic Tahbilk winery that was established in 1860, long before the sisters (or their father) were born. To my taste, the wines are still the same, and this is Merlot that’s smooth and well-rounded, with a very pleasing finish.

Acrobat Pinot Noir (Oregon) Regular Price $23.75/ Feature Price $20.19

Acrobat is a “second label” of the famous King Estate Winery of Eugene, Oregon. The “second” designation means that in addition to organic grapes grown on the King Estate property, they use grapes from “other sustainably farmed vineyards throughout Western Oregon.” So you get great King Estate winemaking - fermented in stainless steel, with 6 months in French oak - at a very reasonable price.

Ferreira Ruby Port (Porto, Portugal) Regular Price $18.75/ Feature Price $15.94

Ruby port is the classic red fortified wine of the Portuguese coast. Made from red grapes, the fermentation process is stopped early with the addition of distilled grape spirits. This leaves a rich sweetness of residual sugar...and an alcohol level of around 18%. Those two characteristics make port an after-dinner sipping wine. You can try it with a fine cigar, if you’re so inclined; but Chef Yvonne and I like it with a slab of well-aged Stilton cheese.