Monday, October 25, 2010

Top Ten Wine Pairings for Spicy Food

From Tabasco to Curry, spice comes in a variety of flavors and heat levels. But people often have a love or hate relationship with it. In the land of 10,000 lakes, where I grew up, ketchup is as "spicy" as it gets for most people. For a long time, I thought all cheese came in individually packed slices and a meal was only good if it had a can of Campbell's Cream of Something as an ingredient. After traveling, and tasting, I quickly found that spice can range from a dish that literally makes you sweat, to one that is enhanced by just a touch of heat. Spice is used all around the world spice, and while plenty can take the heat, there are some that prefer to get the heck out of the kitchen. Whether you enjoy eating raw jalapeños or think ketchup is a spice, here are ten wines that are sure to assist you in your spicy pairing adventures. I present to you a list of the top ten wine pairings for spicy food.

1. Trimbach - Gewurztraminer - Alsace, France - 2008 - $23
When it comes to spice you have two options, tame it or enhance it. With sugar you are able to tame it. So if you don't like to sweat, my recommendation to you is add just a touch of sugar to beat the heat. Gewurztraminer is arguably one of the best pairings for spicy food, especially Indian or Thai Curry, and there are few better regions than the Alsace, France.

While many perceive Gewurztraminer as being a grape that produces sweet whites, much of the wines made from the grape in Alsace are dry or off-dry. Trimbach is the latter. This off-dry white is a perfect pairing for South Asian curry spice. It has just enough sugar to reduce the heat, with a wonderful spicy component to enhance the flavor. Gewurztraminer's calling card aroma and flavor descriptor is spice, but more exotic than simply pepper. It usually comes through as cloves or ginger. This wine will help reduce the heat, but if you want tame the spice even more, reach for a sweeter style like a Gewurz from Washington state.

2. Schloss Vollrads - 'QbA' Riesling - Rheingau, Germany - 2008 - $18
This second "top-tenner" follows suit, with taming being the name of the game. The Schloss Vollrads 'QbA' (Germany's second highest quality wine tier) Riesling from the Rheingau has a delightful sweetness sure to reduce the mouth-burning feeling often induced by a heavy hand of spice.

German Riesling is THE definition of elegance and finesse. So while you may not like sweet, this is the wine you will want to reach for when your mouth starts to tingle and you feel your body temperature rise. This style isn't dessert-wine-sweet like Trockenbeerenauslese or even Beerenauslese. It has a well-integrated medium sweetness with nice acidity to hydrate the palate from the saltiness of a dish. Nearly 90% of the Rieslings produced in the Rheingau region of Germany are dry (trocken) or off-dry (halbtrocken). So if you want more sugar reach for a fatter style Riesling from Germany, like one from the Pfalz, or something with a little lighter body, like one from the Mosel.

3. Domaine des Aubuisieres - 'Cuvee de Silex' Vouvray - Loire, France - 2008 - $17
White wines from the Vouvray sub-region of the greater Loire region in France are some of my favorites for spicy foods. The whites from Vouvray are made up of Chenin Blanc, and are produced in a variety of styles ranging from sparkling to still and ultra-sweet to bone-dry. This wine by Domaine des Aubuisieres is produced dry, but just barely. It has just a hint of sugar to slightly tame heat.

What I really like about this wine is the weight or body. This Vouvray has a big enough body to stand up to heartier dishes, especially ones that showcase seafood or chicken. When pairing wine and food there are many components to consider, and one of them is your temperature senses. I love pairing whites with warm dishes because they are served cool. What you get is the the cool wine refreshing the mouth after each warm bite. While this wine won't tame the heat quite like a Riesling or Gewurztraminer, it will make a dynamite pairing for most spicy dishes featuring lighter proteins.

4. Ponzi - Pinot Gris - Willamette Valley, Oregon - 2009 - $17
The fourth wine on this top ten list is a wonderful white wine pairing for people who like to sweat while they eat. Pinot Gris is the same grape as Pinot Grigio, a popular varietal used in the production of white wines in northeastern Italy. But the name Pinot Gris usually indicates a bigger, richer style than the lighter Pinot Grigio produced in Italy. This Pinot Gris by Ponzi is no exception. It's a monster.

When it comes to producing good-quality, full-bodied Pinot Gris, Oregon and Alsace take the cake. The styles produced in these regions are often meatier, and display lush green apple flavors and aromas complimented by a refreshing medium acidity. In addition, the Pinot Gris of Alsace and Oregon often displays a slightly red hue because the grape is actually more pink than green. I love when I can get a good Pinot Gris into a pairing. And this super cool white will allow the heat to shine, cool the palate, and enhance the flavors of the dish.

5. Sokol Blosser - Evolution 9 '14th Edition' - Oregon - NV - $15
Very rarely will you see me showcase the Sokol Blosser Evolution Number Nine in a tasting or on a top ten list for that matter. Not because I'm pretentious or too good to drink it, but because there isn't much of a place for it. As you can see, this bottle does not bear a vintage, which means the grapes are a blend of several years harvest. Speaking of grapes, this wine is a blend of nine: Riesling, Semillion, Muller-Thurgau, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Sylvaner, and Muscat Canelli. Some of these grapes you may recognize, others you may not. From a winemaking stand point, I can only imagine the conversation that took place between the winemaker and the sales department. Winemaker: "Hey, we have all of this extra fruit, what should we do with it?" Sales manager: "Blend it and let's market the S#@% out of it!" Hence the reason this wine has its own website separate from the rest of the Sokol Blosser products.

I often describe this one as a junior high dance: awkward. It has grapes that should never be blended together to make wine. But, it's a remarkable wine with spicy foods. It has just enough sugar to tame heat, a body to stand up to heartier ingredients, and just enough acidity to hydrate the palate. This wine isn't world-class by any means, but it works with something spicy. Pick it up and give it a try. I double dog dare you.

6. Nicolas Feuillatte - Brut Rose - Champagne, France - NV - $48
Nicholas Feuillatte, or Nicky Foo as some affectionately call it, is the fastest growing Champagne producer in the region. The brand is young, starting as recently as 1976. But today they are one of the top five producers in the region, selling more than 9 million bottles a year. Their wines scream innovation and glamor, a direct reflection of the company's marketing efforts.

When it comes to food and wine pairing there are two tricks of the trade for fool-proof pairings. The first: sparkling wine has the acidity, low alcohol, and texture to compliment just about any dish. The second: rosé pairs well with just about anything. Here we have both, and the result is a kick-butt wine to pair with spicy foods.

While this wine is pink, it has no residual sugar which means it's dry, as the term 'Brut' on the label indicates. The pink color is a reflection of blending red and white wine together, one of the two methods used in the production of rosé wines. This bubbly delight displays its own exotic spices which will enhance flavors, but also a cool, refreshing mouth feel to cleanse the palate after each bite. Its style, color, and characteristics make it a sure bet for any spicy dish.

7. Georges Duboeuf - Moulin-a-Vent 'Flower Label' - Beaujolais, France - 2009 - $16
When I say Beaujolais people often think of the bubble-gum-tasting, slightly sweet, pink wine released on the third Thursday of each November, Beaujolais Nouveau. In short, the Beaujolais Nouveau "celebration" is a mass marketing campaign created to sell an ocean of the region's glorified Kool-aid. But Beaujolais is so much more than Beaujolais Nouveau. Specifically, the wines from the Beaujolais Crus (Cru refers to a high-quality area or vineyard in France) are some of the most food-friendly wines around.

This delicious red by Georges Duboeuf is no exception. Like all other wines from the Beaujolais region, Cru Beaujolais is made from the Gamay grape. The name Moulin-a-Vent indicates that this wine comes from the Moulin-a-Vent Cru inside of the greater Beaujolais region. While this isn't my favorite of the 10 Beaujolais Cru's, it is wicked good, and a great partner for many dishes, including spicy ones. It has just enough structure and body to stand up to red meat dishes with a remarkably refreshing acidity.

The 2009 vintage marks a spectacular year for grapes in France. Getting your hands on a 2009 Burgundy or Bordeaux will not be cheap. But a bottle of Cru Beaujolais can age for five or more years, and won't break the bank. Pick one up, and take the Cru Challenge. It's like the Old Spice Challenge, but you don't have to take your shirt off...and you get to drink. So I guess it's not like the Old Spice Challenge at all.

8. d'Arenberg - 'Stump Jump' Shiraz - McLaren Vale, Australia - 2008 - $11
Number eight on this top ten list is the epitome of spice-enhancing wine. Of the two options we have when pairing with spicy foods, beware, this one will make you sweat. Unless, of course, you've already taken the Old Spice Challenge.

Shiraz is the same grape as Syrah, however the style produced under the Shiraz name tends to be juicier and displays loads of black pepper. It's the wine's juicy flavors and textures that make this bottle such a great pairing for spicy food.

A rule to remember when pairing wine with spicy food is to avoid wines that are high in tannin. Tannins create the palate-drying, astringent characteristic found in red wines that make your mouth feel like you just chewed on an aspirin. A wine with too much tannin will assault the dish, resulting in an unbalanced pairing. This wine's juicy and spicy, characteristics are sure to enhance the heat, without clashing with the dish. So if you like a number 6 Pad Thai and you want more out of it, reach for a spicy Shiraz from Australia...and maybe some more Old Spice.

9. Cooper Mountain - 'Cooper Hill' Pinot Noir - Willamette Valley, Oregon - 2008 - $15
I mentioned before that sparkling and rosé wines make great partners to many dishes, and Pinot Noir is in the same boat. Its light body and juicy flavors make it a great wine to pair with a variety of foods. This particular Pinot Noir is made by Cooper Mountain Vineyards, a bio-dynamic wine producer.

Bio-dynamic wines are basically a step beyond organic. They look at the vineyard, winery, and property as one living organism. In addition they take a cosmic approach to winemaking. Whether you believe in it or not, this wine kicks major butt, and the 2008 vintage in Willamette was a great year for growing grapes. It's often difficult to find a Pinot Noir from the region for under $20, but this one sells for just $15, and has a nice touch of pepper to enhance the spice in the dish. Plus, its light body makes it a great choice for the red lover who prefers lighter spicy dishes.

10. Duckhorn - 'Decoy' Zinfandel - Napa, California - 2008 - $25
Last, but certainly not least, is the Decoy Zinfandel by Duckhorn. The 2008 vintage marks the first ever Decoy Zinfandel by Duckhorn. This wine is juicy and supple, and displays loads of spice, a common characteristic found in Zin.

Zinfandel, on the contrary to the boxed wine of the early 1990's, is a dry red wine. The grape for many years was California's calling card red varietal, but has since slipped into second place with the rise of the Cabernet Sauvignon grape. This particular Zin offers a big bang for the buck. I like to pair it with spicy food because it will hold up to the biggest spicy dishes, all while enhancing the heat. If you are thinking Cajun, think Decoy Zin.

Well, there you have it, a list of the top ten wine pairings for spicy food. To learn more about fabulous food and wine pairings, check out Cru Wine Online's NEW Daily Wine and Recipe pairings. We have chefs from across the country sending us recipes, and each day we pair them with delicious wines in an entertaining video short, complete with a brief explanation of the wine, the dish, and the pairing. Subscribe today and receive a FREE wine aerator, a $14.95 value. Life's too short not to enjoy every sip, so drink it up. Entertain your senses with Cru Wine Online's monthly membership. At only $7.99/month you can't afford not to!

As always if there is a wine you think should be on this top ten list feel free to contact me via email, on Facebook, or simply leave a comment here on the blog. Thanks again.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Monday, October 18, 2010

Top Ten Wine Pairings for Pizza

It's estimated that over 5 million pounds of pizza is consumed every day in the United States. Whether it's a family get together, a football game, or a birthday party, we eat a lot of pie. But pizza is a broad term used to describe everything from frozen and delivery to specialty and homemade. To say there is one perfect pizza wine is a bold statement because there are so many ingredients, crusts, and methods of preparation used throughout the country. This post is designed to highlight versatile pizza wines that won't break the bank. So here are my top ten wine pairings for pizza.

1. Taurino - 'Riserva' Salice Salentino, Italy - $14
This is one of my all-time favorite pizza wines. Producer Taurino makes stunning reds from a blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia Nera, two common Italian grape varietals. As a general rule, Italy makes incredibly food-friendly wines, especially the reds. The best show great acidity, balance, structure, and not too much fruit, with a nice earthy component to compliment earthy toppings. This wine is no exception. It's what we like to call a "shut up and drink" wine. All too often in wine circles we want to dissect the wine - talk about its components, flavors, and aromas. This wine just screams "Don't think..DRINK!"

Taurino, as I mentioned, is the producer. The name Salice Salentino on the label indicates the sub-region. Salice Salentino is found in the great Puglia region, located in the heel of Italy's boot. The region produces full-bodied reds and smooth rosés from the two grapes I mentioned before, Malvasia Nera and Negroamaro. This wine's soft fruit flavors and juicy texture make it a great match for many pizzas, especially those with red sauce.

2. Cline - 'Ancient Vine' Zinfandel - California - $16
Fred Cline makes some of my favorite wines from California for the price. He's the grandson of Valeriano Jacuzzi, of the pump and spa fame. Valeriano owned a nice chunk of land in Oakley, California, which Fred inherited and used to make value-packed wines using Zinfandel and Rhone varietals. His award-wining wines from Rhone grapes like Mourvedre, Syrah, Grenache, and others, earned him a spot as one of California's Rhone Rangers.

The Ancient Vines Zin from Cline sources most of its fruit from old vines in Contra Costa County, the original site of Valeriano's property. This wine is super food-friendly, and a real crowd pleaser. It makes a great pairing for pizza with sausage, especially spicy sausage, with the body to hold up to hearty toppings, yet the juicy flavors to compliment and enhance the dish without overpowering. Jammy, juicy, fruity, that's Cline AV Zin's calling card.

3. Cave de Rasteau - 'Ortas' Cotes du Rhone-Village, France - $13
Rasteau is an Appellation d'Origine Controlee (AOC) in the Rhone region of France, best known for their fortified dessert wines. The Cave de Rasteau is an expression of the good quality, value-packed red wines being produced there.

This wine is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre, three very common grapes in the southern Rhone. What makes this wine so pizza friendly is its acidity and subtle characteristics. The French tend to produce a more refined style of wine. It won't hit you over the head with flavors and aromas, you have to dig in a little to see what the wine has to offer. This wine is just that, a subtle display of red currants, raspberry, black currants, and spice. I like to pair this with pizza because it compliments a variety of pies, especially those that are topped with goat cheese and/or mushrooms.

4. Coppo - 'Camp du Rouss' - Barbera d'Asti, Italy - $22
As I mentioned earlier, the Italians make some of the most food-friendly wines in the world, and Barbera tops that list. Barbera is a grape native to the Piedmont region of Italy. It produces wines with wonderful spicy red and black fruit flavors and aromas. But what makes Barbera so incredibly pairing-friendly is its acidity. Pizzas made with tomato sauce are acidic, and any food and wine pairing requires matching acidity. Barbera is able to hold up to even the most acidic sauces.

The Barbera grape grows all over the world, and some stunning examples are coming out of Argentina and California. But in its home, Italy, it makes some ultra food-friendly, value-packed wines. This trend is fairly recent, as in the past the country often used the grape to make insipid, bulk table wine. In the last ten to fifteen years however, Barbera has received the right kind of attention, and now producers are using it to make some really fun wines. Coppo, in particular, makes arguably the finest example from the Asti sub-region. Barberas from Asti tend to be spicy with notes of blueberry and red currant, and Coppo is no exception. This wine will make a wonderful pairing for most red sauce pizzas, even light styles like the Margherita pizza.

5. Crios de Susana Balbo - Malbec - Mendoza, Argentina - $15
Crios is made by one of the finest female winemakers in the world, Susana Balbo. Standing five-foot-nothing, this brilliant winemaker has been putting out high-quality juice for over 25 years. She was the first winemaker to be hired as a consultant, and as a result she has made wine around the world in countries like France, Spain, Italy, South Africa, Australia, and Chile. This wine comes from the Mendoza, a region in Argentina that has great conditions for growing this native-French grape. The elevation from the mountains ensures the grapes ripen well, but don't get ultra-ripe from the hot Argentinian days.

Balbo's Crios line is an expression of her personality. Crios means children or offspring, and shows the softer side of Balbo. Her Malbec is subtle, and approachable, much like her. The wine displays red and black fruit flavors and aromas, with a wonderful jammy characteristic, and of course, a perfectly-balanced acidity. This wine is a great match for almost any pizza, but its display of just a touch of smoke and spice make it ideal for brick oven or grilled pizzas.

6. Pacific Rim - Autumnus Red - Columbia Valley, Washington - $14
Pacific Rim winery is owned and operated by wacky winemaker Randall Grahm. Grahm is well known for his work at Bonny Doon in California. He's considered the original Rhone Ranger, finding great success in planting and making wines from native Rhone grapes. Grahm has an off-the-wall personality, and has pulled shenanigans like having a funeral for the cork in the New York City's Grand Central terminal to promote screw top closures.

His new venture, Pacific Rim winery in Washington state, specializes in unbelievably delicious Rieslings for the price. This wine, his Autumnus Red, is a blend of Sangiovese, Barbera, and Primativo, Zinfandel's Italian brother. This could be THE perfect food wine. You take three Italian grapes like these and put them in to a blend, what you find are the characteristics and structure to hold up to and compliment almost any dish, pizza included. For $14 a bottle this wine is affordable, and goes well with almost any pizza imaginable.

7. Novelty Hill - Syrah - Columbia Valley, Washitngon - $28
Syrah, called Shiraz in Australia, makes a great pairing for hearty pizzas, especially deep dish or Chicago style. There are some stunning examples of French Syrah, but the reason I like Washington Syrah with pizza is its slight vegital characteristic. When you start to pile on the veggies, this wine compliments beautifully.

Novelty Hill makes award-winning wines, and their Syrah is a readily accessible example of both the winery's and Washington's high quality Syrah production. Novelty Hill has received accolades from a number of wine publications, including no less than a 90-point rating by the Wine Spectator in the last four years. This full-bodied red has flavors and aromas of dark fruit, like blackberries and black cherries, along with smoked meat and green pepper characteristics that make it perfect for supreme pizzas.

8. Lobster Reef - Sauvignon Blanc - Marlborough, New Zealand - $14
We've talked a lot about red sauces because they're the most common, but it's important to have a wine in your back pocket that can juggle the cream sauce and olive oil side of the pizza world. Whilea Chardonnay from California or Australia can work well for cream sauce, I decided to go with this Sauvignon Blanc for those non-red pizzas because it has a nice acidity, and a great body to hold up to veggie pizzas where onions and peppers are used.

Lobster Reef is a "new kid on the block" in New Zealand. While their wine comes from the Marlborough region of New Zealand, it's not too Marlobourghy, if you would. What I mean by that is that while it has a nice, crisp, refreshing acidity, it's not too powerful. All too often New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc is overly acidic, with too much citrus fruit on the nose and palate. Lobster Reef has a great balance, but still displays the wonderful citrus fruit typical of New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is a great pairing because its acidity will hydrate the palate after the salty characteristics of some pizza toppings.

9. La Vieille Ferme - Rosé - Cotes du Ventoux, France - $9
Dry rosés can be some of the most food-friendly wines in the world. Their vibrant acidity, texture, and medium body make them great pairing "go-tos." And no top ten list would be complete without La Vieille Ferme. This salmon-colored wine is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache, and Syrah. It's pink because the winemaker let these three red grapes soak with their skins for only 24 hours. The longer skins soak with the juice, the more pigment is absorbed. So while they could make produce a red wine from these grapes, they chose to remove the skins to make a rosé instead.

La Vieille Ferme is cousin to the great Chateau de Beaucastel, the award-winning biodynamic producer from the Chateauneuf du Pape region of France. The grapes used to make this wine come from the Cotes du Ventoux sub-region in the Rhone, found at the foothills of the Ventoux mountain. This area is prime for growing high-quality grapes. Dollar for dollar, I'm not certain there is a better rosé on the market. This refreshing little ditty has a nice body to hold up to pizza, with the flavors and aromas to compliment just about any pie.

10. Barone Ricasoli - Brolio - Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy - $24
This last "top-tenner" could be the greatest red wine ever produced for $24. Barone Ricasoli is one of the oldest wineries in the world. Their vineyards are in the heart of Chianti, specifically the original delimitation, Chianti Classico. All of their wines come from their estate vineyards, which means when you see a wine of theirs that has been declassified to IGT status (lower wine quality tier in Italy), the fruit has been sourced from the greater Chianti Classico region.

This wine is made from primarily Sangiovese, Chianti's principal red varietal, with a dash of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ricaoli's Brolio scored a 96 in the Wine Spectator solidifying its spot in Spectator's Top 100 wines. This is a perfect pairing for any pizza with red sauce, and its body will help it hold up to the heartiest of all toppings and crusts. If you feel like picking up a bottle but don't have time to drink it, don't worry. Set it aside for about a decade, because this puppy has the character to age.

Well, there you have it. Of course with so many variations on this classic dish, there are plenty of wines that work, but these are the standouts. When I pair with pizza, I like to stay under $30 a bottle, and all of these wines not only have a lot to offer for the price, they also work well with a variety of pizzas. I hope you have a chance to pick up one of your favorite pies and let one of these bottles show you what it can do.

As always thanks for reading, and if you think there is a wine that should be on this week's top ten, feel free to email me, look me up on Facebook, or leave a comment here on the blog. If you haven't already, be sure to check out Cru Wine Online for food and wine pairing innovation.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Top Ten World Famous Wines

For every wine lover there is a time, a place, and more importantly a wine that took your breathe away. A wine that you can still taste every time you close your eyes. A wine that we wish we could have as our house pour or "go-to" for daily consumption. But more likely this wine was a treat, a Blue Chip wine perhaps. You know what I'm talking about; the wines that command respect in any conversation. The wines we dream of or make fun of because we hate their sometimes undeserved popularity and price. Some of these famous wines have made a big splash, demanding people pay an obscene amount of money for them, while others are time honored traditions. With millions of SKU's on the wine retail shelf, there are ten known by almost all. Here is the list of the top ten world-famous wines.

1. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti
There are two wines in the world that every collector wants, or at least wants to try. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, often called simply DRC, is one of them. DRC gets its name from its most famous vineyard, Romanee-Conti. Romanee-Conti is a 4.4 acre Grand Cru monopole (winery and land is owned by one person) in the Cote de Nuits sub-region of Burgundy, France. This small site only produces around 450 cases of wine each year, made exclusively from the Pinot Noir grape. The average age of the vines on this small site is over 50-years-old.

Domaine de la Romanee-Conti is THE wine Pinot Noir producers around the world compare themselves to. Oregon winemakers like Domaine Serene spend hundreds of thousands of dollars telling the world how, in a blind tasting, their wines bested those of DRC. But never has their juice bested the specific Romanee-Conti Grand Cru vineyards wines made by DRC. The Pinot Noir made by this producer from this site is the definition of world-class. Wines from this site are so prized that in 1996 eight bottles of the 1990 Romanee-Conti by DRC were sold for $224,900, or $28,112 a bottle, at Sotheby's in London. DRC's 2005 Romanee-Conti was released at around $4000 a bottle retail. Today if you tried to buy their 2005 at auction you would be paying between $8000-$16,000, depending on the condition. Forget investing in gold, the stock market, and your children's future. Invest in DRC!

2. Chateau Margaux
For fear of this top ten list being DRC and nine chateaux from the left bank of Bordeaux, I decided to select just one. While all of the first growths (Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux, and Chateau Haut-Brion) are world-famous and more importantly world-class, Chateau Margaux stands slightly above the rest. I mentioned before that there are two wines almost every collector wants. DRC was one, Chateau Margaux is the other. Margaux was in the original Premier Cru classification of 1855 (along with Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour, Chateau Haut-Brion), and today is still regarded as one of the best Bordeaux houses. The wines from Margaux are often described as an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Chateau Margaux holds the record for most expensive bottle ever broken. In 1989, a New York wine merchant named William Sokolin took a bottle of 1787 Chateau Margaux to a wine dinner at the Four Seasons New York. He brought the wine to the tasting in hopes to sell it for a client that was asking $500,000 for the bottle, a result of the fact that it bore Thomas Jefferson's initials. As he was getting ready to leave, a waiter carrying a coffee tray knocked the bottle over, breaking it. Fortunately, it was insured for $225,000. Still, nobody has since heard from the waiter. Today, a bottle of 2009 Chateau Margaux futures is going for about $1100 a pop.

3. Chateau Petrus
For this next top ten wine, we leave the Medoc on the left bank and jump across the Gironde estuary (often mistakingly called a river) to the Pomerol appellation near Saint Emillion on Bordeaux's right bank. Chateau Petrus is what one would call a micro-chateau (along with other iconic producers from the region including Le Pin and Chateau Ausone). But it's Petrus that is the fan favorite, made up entirely of Merlot (and a dash of Cabernet Franc in off vintages). They produce very limited quantities each year, only 2500 cases, making their wines very rare and therefore, very expensive. A 750 ml bottle (just over 25 US ounces) of 2009 Chateau Petrus futures (meaning the wine is being purchased before it is even released) is selling at auction for over $2500, depending on the house. That is nearly $100 an ounce!

Chateau Petrus' grapes come from a 28-acre vineyard inside of Pomerol. The winery is owned an operated by Christian Moeuix, who's claim to fame, outside of the fact his wines are arguably the most sought after in the world, is that he turned down the producers of the 2004 film Sideways when they requested to use his wine in the movie. Originally, they wanted the main character Miles Raymond's prized collector bottle to be a great vintage of Chateau Petrus. Since Moeuix turned them down, they selected a 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc, no slouch itself. When asked about turning down the film Moeuix was quoted saying, "Quite a few film scripts cross my desk, and I vaguely recall Sideways asking for permission to use Petrus. I am afraid that at that time, I found the script unexciting and declined." Not that he needed the film to sell his wine. Getting your hands on a bottle of Petrus can often prove to be more difficult than breaking in to Fort Knox.

4. Chateau d'Yquem
Number four on our top ten list is Chateau d'Yquem, a sweet white wine producer from the southern Bordeaux sub-region of Sauternes. Chateau d'Yquem was the only winery given the status of Premier Cru Superieur (translated "Superior First Growth") in the 1855 Official Bordeaux Classification, the same classification that granted chateaux like Margaux first growth status. The wines of d'Yquem, made up of Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, are widely prized for their complexity, concentration and honey-like sweetness. In great vintages and when stored properly, the wines of d'Yquem can age for a century or more. In 1996 famed wine critic Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate gave a 100-point rating to a bottle of 1811 Chateau d'Yquem.

The grapes for this wine come from a 250-acre plot, prized for its susceptibility to Botrytis Cinerea, often called "the Noble Rot." Botrytis is a fungus that attacks the grapes resulting in an ultra-rich, ultra-concentrated, ultra-sweet grape. Because Botrytis doesn't happen everywhere, or even every year, the wines made from this fungus are rare and, in turn, expensive. At d'Yquem these infected grapes are picked berry by berry as workers select the perfect grapes with each pass through the vineyard. On average, only 65,000 bottles of Chateau d'Yquem are produced each year. Today the winery is owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, one of the largest business groups in France. A bottle of 2009 Chateau d'Yquem futures is selling for about $550 at auction.

5. Dom Perignon
Selecting the last French wine for my top ten took a lot of consideration. I could have gone with a wine from the Chateauneuf du Pape region in the Rhone and selected a producer like Clos du Pape or Chateau Beaucastel. Or I could have chosen a different Champagne, perhaps Louis Roederer's Cristal, Krug's Grand Cuvee, Tattinger's Comtes de Champagne, or Clicquot's La Grande Dame. But of all the Tetes du Cuvees (best wines of Champagne), I selected Dom Perignon by Moet & Hennessy (yes, the same wine group that owns the infamous Chateau d'Yquem). I chose Dom because I believe it's the ultimate symbol of celebration and class. While it may have been popularized by rap stars and celebrities, the wine is iconic, and displays the very essence of Champagne: glitz and glamor, yet refined elegance. Today the winery's total production is kept secret, but is definitely in the five figure range. A bottle from a great vintage like 1996 (an outstanding year) sells for between $150 and $400, depending on the condition.

Dom Perignon is named after the famous "blind", Benedictine monk. It turns out many of the stories surrounding Dom Perignon are questionable at best. The first was that he was not blind at all, but tasted blind, meaning he would taste his wines without knowing the source of the vineyard. Beyond not being blind he is quoted as saying, "Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!" Which turns out was a late 1800's print advertisement for the wine, not an actual quote. But the biggest misconception about Dom Perignon is that he is recorded by some, specifically Moet & Chandon for marketing purposes, as being the discoverer of how to make wine sparkle. He, in fact, was not the first to make sparkling wines. It was actually discovered by an Englishman in the mid 1600's.

In short, his story, while romantic and quasi-believable, is a long list of misconceptions and falsifications. The wine that bears his name, however, is some of the finest in the world. While a bit overpriced, Dom Perignon is the absolute definition of world-famous. Because no matter where you go in the world, when you order a bottle of Dom Perignon, people know you are looking to celebrate something marvelous, even if it's simply delicious Champagne.

6. Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia
Out of France and into Italy where plenty of world-famous wines are produced. I could have gone with a producer like Altesino and their award winning Brunello di Montalcino, or Antinori's Solaia, or anything by Gaja, or even Tenuta San Guido's second famous Super Tuscan, Ornellaia. But I chose Sassicaia, often called Sass, for its innovation and trend-setting fame. Sassicaia is considered the original "Super Tuscan," but unfortunately it doesn't get a cape.

The Super Tuscan saga begins in Bolgheri, Toscana (Tuscany). In 1948, winemaker Mario Incisa della Rochetta of the Antinori family set out to produce a world-class wine, Sassicaia, using Cabernet Sauvignon vines taken from the Bordeaux first growth, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Sassicaia's success gave birth to a new category of Italian wine where producers use Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Some even blend these Bordeaux varietals in with their Sangiovese, Chianti's principal grape variety.

Today Tenuta San Guido produces about 180,000 bottles of Sassicaia annually from their scattered plots, totaling 190 acres, in Bolgheri. The blend for this world-famous wine is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. While the prices of these wines are not as extreme as those of France, if you wanted to pick up a 750ml bottle of 1998 Sass (stellar vintage) you would still be looking at dropping $180 or more a bottle.

7. Vega Sicilia Unico
For this next top "ten-er" we leave Italy, and head to Spain. Unico, Vega Sicilia's top-of-the-line wine, is a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and sometimes Merlot. It's a reflection of the best years in Spain, and is aged for a minimum of ten years in wood, often longer. For years, Vega Sicilia was Spain's most expensive wine. It comes from the Ribera del Duero, which was recently upgraded to Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa) in 2008, Spain's highest quality tier. Vega Sicilia was, in large part, responsible for this recent upgrade.

The winery was founded in 1864 by Eloy Lecanda, son of Toribio Lecanda - the man who purchased the land in 1848. The winery began receiving international attention in 1929 when their 1917 and 1918 Vega Sicilia wines were awarded medals at the World Fair in Barcelona. Today the winery is still considered one of Spain's finest. Their quality-conscious winemaking practices include plenty of wood and a low yield (grape to vine ratio) in the vineyard. Vega Sicilia as a whole only produces 25,000 cases annually from their 2500-acre estate (only about 600 acres are planted to vines). Each and every grape used in the production their wines is hand-selected by one of their 130 vineyard workers. The high cost of labor and low quantities results in quality-conscious wines that command a pretty penny. A bottle of Vega Sicilia's Unico is usually released for more than $400 a bottle. But don't fret, the wine will likely age for the better part of a century.

8. Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Port
A top ten list is rarely complete without a vintage port, and there are none better than the Vargellas by Taylor Fladgate. While Dow received a perfect 100-point rating from the Wine Spectator for their 2007 vintage port, it's producer Taylor Fladgate who consistently stands above the rest. And by no means was Taylor's 2007 vintage port a bust. Their '07 received a 97 from the Wine Spectator, a 95 from Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate, and a 95 from the Wine Enthusiast. The story of port is long and bitter, so I will make it short and sweet (pun intended).

Basically, a couple of Englishmen traveled to Portugal, looking for a new wine market. They stumbled across the Abbot of Lamego putting brandy in wine. This made the wines more stable for transportation and sweet, because the spirit killed the yeast leaving sugar behind. Meanwhile the British were feuding with the French, so they needed to get their fix elsewhere. Enter Portugal. The British invaded the port wine scene, and quickly monopolized its production, hence the reason most Port houses carry British names (Warres, Taylor Fladgate, Graham's, Croft, Cockburn's, Sandeman, etc).

The traditional method of stomping grapes for the production of port was done by foot in huge troughs, called legares. Today most have abandoned the practice, but not Taylor's. Since they were founded in 1692 they have honored the tradition. Because of labor-intensive practices like these, a bottle of their 2007 vintage port can be picked up at your local retailer or online for around $110. Their higher-end Quinta de Vargelles Vinha Velha (translated: old vines) is closer to $250 a bottle for the '07 vintage. Buy a bottle, and forget about it for a couple of decades.

9. Penfolds Grange
For number nine on the top ten list we leave classic Europe and head Down Under. In an ocean of mediocre to below-average wine being produced in Australia, one bottle stands above the rest, Penfolds Grange (formerly Grange Hermitage). This wine is the gold standard of Australian wine, and is the beacon of light in an otherwise abyss of furry creature wines. Penfolds is a very, very large producer in Australia, making enough wine to feed an army...a big one. They are owned by the larger Southcorp Wine Group, which also has such robot wine making gems as Lindemans, Wynns, and Rosemount Estate.

Penfolds' Grange is considered by many to be Australia's Cult Wine. It's made up primarily of Shiraz (Syrah), with a little Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. The wine is the brainchild of innovative winemaker Max Schubert (1915-1994). Shubert travel around Europe in 1950 learning the winemaking practices and overall culture of the European wine industry. Upon his return to Australia in 1951, he concocted the first vintage. While it was deemed "experimental," the 1951 vintage is often considered a collector's dream bottle. In 2004 one collector made his dream come true, paying nearly $50,000 US for one 750ml bottle of the '51 Grange. While Grange received poor reviews at first, it has since received over 50 gold medals, with the 1971 Grange winning first prize in Shiraz at the Wine Olympics in Paris.

In 1995, Wine Spectator deemed the 1990 Penfolds Grange the 'Red Wine of the Year'. Wine critic Hugh Johnson, co-writer of the esteemed World Atlas of Wine, called the Grange the only first growth of the Southern Hemisphere. Even Robert Parker, a self-proclaimed Bordeaux fanatic, wrote that the Penfolds Grange "has replaced Bordeaux's Petrus as the world's most exotic and concentrated wine." The Wine Spectator gave the 1998 vintage a 99 rating out of a possible 100. If you were to able to get your hands on a bottle of the 1998 at its release (only 9000 cases were made), you would have paid around $200. Today it sells at auctions for over $350, not a bad ROI.

10. Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon
Number ten with a bullet is Screaming Eagle's Cabernet Sauvignon. While many can argue which 'California Cult Wine' is the best, Screaming Eagle tends to be the most well-known. So here is a shout out to producers like Bryant Family, Caymus, Colgin Cellars, Dominus Estate, Grace Family, Harlan Estate, Kistler, Marcassin, Shafer, Sine Qua Non, and Sloan who all make ridiculously-priced, hard-to-find wines, usually, but not always, from Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa, California.

California cult wines took the wine market by storm. Producers with little to no experience set out to create a small production wine, usually under 600 cases, that could be called world-class. These wines are relatively new to the market, creating much of their fame in the last decade. Above all other producers in this category, Screaming Eagle tends to take the cake for the most culty of all the California cult wine producers. I swear, you have to wear the white sneakers and wind pants and drink the kool-aid to get a bottle.

Screaming Eagle is a 57-acre plot in Oakville, California. In 1986 real-estate agent Jean Phillips purchase the vineyard that was mostly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. He hire consultant Richard Peterson, whose daughter Heidi Peterson-Barret later became the head winemaker, to help him produce his wines. The combination of low case production and unusually high ratings (Robert Parker gave the 1992 Screaming Eagle Cab a score of 99 points) resulted in the price skyrocketing.

Screaming Eagle has gone down in the history books as one of the most expensive bottles ever purchased, but the title deserves an astrisk. In 2008 Cisco Systems executive Charles Bailey purchase six magnums (equivalent to 12 bottles or 1 case) of the 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon at Auction Napa Valley for $80,000. But he got a good deal; the lot included a dinner at the winery with the winemakers. That's the equivalent of over $6500 a bottle. The release price for a bottle of Screaming Eagle is around $750, and some people have been on the list for years just waiting to pay that price. I'll tell you what, come over to my house, I'll hit you over the head, and won't charge you a thing. Trust me, it's a better deal.

And there you have it, the top ten world-famous wines. These ten wines are on the bucket list of wine novices and experts alike. Their rarity and price put them in a wine class that is often discussed, but rarely tasted. With these outrageous prices come counterfeit and deception, but when the great wines from great vintages are tasted, the world stops, if only for a minute.

These wines are a symbol of not only wine status, but world status. The greatest wine lists, retail shops, and auctions see these wines as a commodity, but many view them as a life choice. Selecting a case of DRC over paying for a years worth of your child's college perhaps? Whatever your feelings about these wines, one thing is certain, they are the most famous in the world.

As always thanks for reading. And if there is a wine you think should be on this top ten list feel free to send me an email, look me up on Facebook, or leave a comment here on the blog. Make sure to check us out at for wine and food innovation. Until next time.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director
Cru Wine Online

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Top Ten Modern Female Winemakers

From the vine to the bottle, there is a certain level of care, thought, and love that goes in to making wine. But what makes a great winemaker? Is it the person's ability to make great wine from great grapes, or perhaps their ability to make good wine from bad grapes? I believe to be a great winemaker a person must overcome adversity and be innovative and creative in their craft. While much of the wine industry is dominated by men, there are hundreds of outstanding female winemakers around the globe producing world-class wine. Here is the list of the top ten modern female winemakers:

1. Helen Turley
Helen Turley was recently awarded Wine Spectator's 2010 Distinguished Service Award. People who work with her describe her as equally as controversial as she is talented. At one point in her illustrious 30 year career she simultaneously made wine for Bryant, Coglin, Turley, Martinelli, Pahlmeyer, Green & Red, Harrison, La Jota, Landmark, Canepa and her own label, Maracassin. She has worked for industry icons like Peter Michael, Robert Mondavi, Chappellett, Stonegate, Pope Valley Winery, and B.R. Cohn. She has been fired or quit every winemaking job she has had, including leaving Turley Cellars, a joint venture between her and her brother Larry. She currently makes wines under her own label, Maracassin, a California Cult style wine that regularly receives outstanding ratings by wine critics. While she is a wildfire standing 6-foot-2-inches, she is an American wine icon, and arguably the finest winemaker of her time.

2. Merry Edwards
Like Turley, Merry Edwards' career has been full of ups and downs. From bankruptcy to Top 100 Wine Awards, Edwards has bounced back from hard times and today makes world-class Pinot Noir in the Russian River Valley of California. Her career began with a degree from the esteemed U.C. Davis, where she studied oenology. In her 30-year career she has made wine for Villa Mount Eden, Matanzas Creek, Laurier Winery, and now makes award-winning Pinot Noir under her own Merry Edwards label. She is a pioneer in California Pinot Noir, so much so that UCD Pinot Noir Clone 37 is also called "Merry Edwards Selection" for the work she did on it. She has certainly earned her spot as a top ten modern female winemaker.

3. Sally Johnson
Sally Johnson, like Merry Edwards, received a degree in oenology from the University of California, Davis. Her career began in 1999 at St. Francis winery in Sonoma, California. During her time at St. Francis, she had a brief stint in Australia at St. Hallett Winery. It's said that she returned from down under with wine stained hands, a pair of Rossi work boots, and an appreciation for Riesling and Shiraz. Today she makes wine for Pride Mountain Vineyards in Sonoma County where, like the other females on this top ten list, her wines have received international attention from wine critics from the Wine Spectator and the Wine Enthusiast to Wine & Spirits and Stephen Tanzer's International Wine Cellar.

4. Heidi Barret
Heidi Barret grew up in Napa. Her career began in high school, where she would perform tasks form sorting vine cuttings to working the bottling line. Like Edwards and Johnson she too earned a degree from U.C. Davis. Her career includes stints with wineries like Silver Oak, Lindeman's, Rutherford Hill, Bouchaine Vineyards, Buehler Vineyards, Dalla Valle, Paradigm, Grace Family, Screaming Eagle, and the list goes on, and on, and on. Currently she is making wine for eight wineries, including her own, La Sierna. In 2002, Heidi partnered with longtime friend John Schwartz and famed French artist Guy Buffet to create Amuse Bouche, a Pomerol-inspired Merlot from Napa Valley. It has quickly become one of the sought after Cult Wines of California. She has been deemed by Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate as the "First Lady of Wine." Heidi is married to Bo Barret, winemaker at Chateau Montelena (Bottle Shock).

5. Susana Balbo
Susan Balbo began her career as a winemaker in Argentina in 1981. Standing 5-foot nothing, this incredible woman has made wine in Australia, California, Chile, France, Italy, South Africa, and Spain. She was the first winemaker to be hired outside of the country to consult. Each year she spends one month in a different country learning their winemaking practices and techniques. She has started her own line of wines that bear her name on the label, and if you get a chance to try her Crios line ($15 a bottle) I promise you, you will not be disappointed.

6. Cecilia Torres
Jumping across the Andes, Cecilia Torres is the head winemaker for Vina Santa Rita in Chile. She is the woman behind #57 on the 2009 Wine Spectator Top 100 Wines List. Torres has worked around the world for industry giants like Penfold's in Australia and Clos Duval in California. Her innovative winemaking practices and attention to detail landed her a spot on this list's top ten. She, like Balbo, travels around the world training and learning local winemaking techniques.

7. Vanya Cullen
Vanya Cullen is the head winemaker at Cullen Wines in Western Australia. She graduated from Roseworthy Agricultural College with a Graduate Diploma in Wine in 1986. Over her 25-year career she has received numerous awards for her style and innovation, including UK Drinks Magazine Woman of the Year in 2008. Cullen has worked for industry icons like Robert Mondavi in California and Domaine Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy, France. Her wines have received attention from wine critics across the globe including 90+ point ratings from the Wine Spectator.

8. Alexia Luca de Tena
Alexia Luca de Tena is the head winemaker for Bodegas Agnusdei in Spain. She brings a taste of style and innovation to the Spanish wine scene. Bodegas Agnusdei is well known for its refreshing whites from the Rias Baixas region, a project Luca de Tena takes great pride in. Her world-class Albarino has received international attention, and she continues to push the envelope creating high-quality wine for the price. Alexia is a pioneer in the modern Spanish wine scene.

9. Isabelle Baratin-Canet
Isabelle Baratin-Canet manages the production of the infamous Chateau Grillet, the AOC/winery in the northern Rhone region of France. Chateau Grillet is one of only two single-estate appellations in France. They are well known for producing arguably the finest Viognier in the world. Isabelle's family has operated the winery since the 1830's.

10. Pascale Peyronie
Pascale Peyronie is the owner and winemaker at Chateau Fonbadet in Bordeaux, France. Peyronie marks the fourth generation of this family-owned and operated winery. She is one of only a few female winemakers in the Paulliac sub-region of Bordeaux. The winery is surrounded by some of the biggest names in Bordeaux, and Pascale is making sure people know it. She has continued to raise the bar and is producing some amazing juice. Her drive and quality-conscious winemaking techniques helped land her a spot on the top ten.

Well, there you go, the top ten modern female winemakers. While there are plenty that deserve to be in the top ten, I wanted to select a range in strengths from a variety of regions. But it's important to pay homage to revolutionary winemakers like Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot and others that paved the way for woman winemakers everywhere.

If there is a modern or even classic woman winemaker you think should be in the top ten feel free to shoot me an email, drop me a line on facebook, or leave a post right here on the blog.

Make sure to check out Cru Wine Online's new Daily Wine & Recipe Pairings. Each day we post a new wine and food pairing, with recipes from our very own chefs. From quick and easy to gourmet, we have something for chefs of all skill levels. Sign up for a One Month Cru Wine Online Membership ($7.99 a month) and receive a FREE Wine Aerator ($14.95 value) with FREE Shipping. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director