Thursday, August 31, 2023

A Tale of Two Wine Programs

I noticed an emerging wine trend in some of the snazzy new restaurants. I am talking about the kind of restaurants that will more likely snag a James Beard than a Wine Spectator Award. You will probably not find Bordeaux First Growths, big Champagne houses, or Napa’s Screaming Eagle on their wine lists. But that is the point. Their wine offerings are meant to pair with their food and not with Robert Parker’s scores. Let’s explore further.

Food and wine by Lee Myungseong on Unsplash

Two Restaurants, Two Wine Programs

If you live in Seattle, you have heard of Canlis. Perched on the edge of Queen Anne Hill with a spectacular view of Lake Union, Canlis has been awarded multiple James Beard and Wine Spectator Awards. In fact, it has won Wine Spectator’s highest level Grand Awards consecutively for over 20 years.

Iconic Seattle restaurant, Canlis from

Canlis’s line of wine directors hailed from the International Sommelier Guild and/or the Court of Master Sommeliers. Two years ago, the restaurant welcomed its first woman wine director. Linda Milagros Violago carries comparable credentials as her predecessors. The wine list is a book of over 100 pages with 2,600 wine selections, ranging from sparkling to still wines of red, white, and pink.

In 2019, Brady Ishiwata Williams at Canlis cinched the James Beard Award for the Best Chef in the Northwest. Two years later, Williams left Canlis to start his own restaurant, Tomo. Located next to an adult video store in a lower- to middle-income, admittedly grungy White Center, Tomo serves well-executed innovative upscale fare, which is a  juxtaposition to its neighborhood.

Tomo next to Taboo Video by Google Maps

At almost 20 pages, Tomo’s wine list is a fraction of Canlis’s. Nonetheless, it boasts of over 900 wines, curated from small production wineries to complement their dishes. Tomo’s current wine director, Rebar Niemi, came from a background of technology and education. Rebar may not share the credentials of his Canlis counterparts. However, in my few interactions with him, Rebar is very much a wine geek with a pulse on the palate of the Millennials and Zoomers.

Let’s delve into their wine lists.

The Sparkling

Both Canlis and Tomo have separate lists for Champagnes and other sparklers. Canlis showcases about 100 Champagnes, neatly catalogued by growers versus négociants, subregions, and vintages or non-vintages. In addition, there are 35 other bubblies from six countries with a good mix of French crémants, Spanish cavas, and mostly sparklers made in the Champagne style or traditional method. There are also a handful of Italian Moscato d’Astis and European Pet-Nats.

Dom Pérignon in Canlis but not in Tomo

Tomo’s Champagne list is not too shabby with about 30 selections, favoring grower Champagnes. You will not find the big négociants such as Billecart-Salmon, Dom Pérignon, and such. More interesting though is the list of 50 non-Champagne sparklers. There is one crémant and a Pet-Nat, intermixed with sparkling ciders and other non-classified sparkling wines.

The Still

Canlis’s impressive list of 2,000 reds and whites come from almost 20 countries. They are methodically organized by country, sub-region, winery, grape variety, and vintage. Canlis also has about 25 rosés. Each producer is respectable, and each wine is of a high quality. With a multi-year award-winning cellar, Canlis caters to a knowledgeable wine clientele who expect to find almost any special bottle to mark an occasion.

Tomo’s Seasonal Wine Selections, May 2023

Tomo holds its own with 400 selections from about 15 countries. You will be hard pressed to find a bottle of Bordeaux (compared to nearly 100 offered at Canlis). What you will find in Tomo, but not at Canlis, are the occasional Japanese wines as well as close to 80 orange wines. Listed under “Skin Contact” with 50 pink wines, that is the most orange wines I have seen in any restaurant wine list. Unlike Canlis, Tomo is catering to a younger and more adventurous wine clientele, who are willing to go off the beaten Robert Parker path to try something different.

About Skin Contact

While I love the incredible list of orange wines at Tomo, I am perplexed by the use of Skin Contact as a category. For those new to orange wine, it is made using white wine grapes with extended skin contact. White wine is typically made by separating the juice from the skin prior to fermentation. When making orange wine, these white wine grapes are fermented in the skin which leads to the orange hue in the wine; hence the term “skin contact.”

Orange wine at Tomo

Skin contact is, however, not an accurate descriptor for pink wine. Pink wine is technically the opposite of orange wine. Rosé, in essence, is made the same way as a white wine except that it uses red grapes. There are different ways to make rosé; separating the juice from the skin immediately after harvest or siphoning a portion of the juice from the red grape must into a different vat for fermentation. Regardless of the method, the goal is to minimize skin contact, not prolong it. Otherwise you will be making a red wine. 

My Verdict: I am excited about the new wine trend I see in hip innovative restaurants, like Tomo. It introduces a myriad of wines that are not constrained by traditional winemaking methods or Old World classification systems. This may just be up the Millennials’ and Zoomers’ alley. That said, I also don’t want to lose the tried and true wine styles - the Bordeaux, the Barolos, and similar styles in the New World. So let’s encourage innovation but continue to celebrate tradition - in wine.

Monday, July 31, 2023

Fourteen Wine Hacks or a Wack? Part Two

This is Part Two of my review of the 14 Practical Wine Hacks that Are Here to Save the Day, published by CNN. As mentioned in my last post, I only counted thirteen hacks in the article so I will cover the remaining six. Unlike last month, I am happy to report that many of these are truly hacks or at least semi-hacks, focused on what to do with leftover wine. There is one that feels like a Martha Stewart wannabe moment gone complicated. Check them out!

8. Whip Up a Slushy

SEMI-HACK. This is technically a frosé hack. Frosé is a wine cocktail that originated from Bar Primi in New York City. Since its inception less than a decade ago, frosé has grown in popularity. Today, you can find frosé in many restaurants and even ballparks during summertime. The original recipe calls for freezing rosé, some vermouth, and muddled strawberries. Because of the alcohol content in rosé, it may take up to six hours to freeze. Several shortcuts have since emerged, which skip the step of freezing rosé. Instead, you freeze the berries and blend them with the rosé.

Frosé by John Rodriguez on Unsplash

9. Make a Wine Cocktail

HACK. Not a particularly new idea, but yes, you can make sangria from leftover wine. Sangria is a wine cocktail that came from Spain and Portugal. The standard sangria recipe calls for wine with chopped or sliced fruit, some sweetener, and a liquor. The author’s shortcut recipe skips the liquor and uses a splash of soda water.

10. Make 2-Ingredient Red Wine Vinegar

SEMI-HACK. I once tried making my own vinegar from a batch of homemade wine that had gone acetic. As it turned out, it is harder to make good vinegar than good wine. My vinegar got moldy. Maybe it is because I haven’t mastered the science behind vinegar making the way I have with winemaking. So yes, theoretically, you can make vinegar out of oxidized wine. But it is harder than you think!

Acetic acid by CA Creative on Unsplash
11. Make Wine Syrup

HACK. This is really a wine reduction with sugar in a 3:1 wine to sugar ratio. I haven’t tried this since we don’t do much dessert at home. But it is worth a shot if you’d like some wine syrup over ice cream, fruit slices, or pancakes.

12. Reduce Oxygen Contact to Make Wine Last Longer

HACK. While minimizing air contact by putting leftover wine in a smaller container is a wine hack, the explanation offered by the author is kind of wack. The suggestion that screwcap wines taste fresh for longer than bottles with cork closures is only true so long as the bottle has not been opened. Even then, the difference is minuscule given that oxygen ingress via natural cork is only about 1 mg a year. Wine experts would also argue that micro oxygenation offered by a cork, as opposed to an anaerobic environment from a screwcap, helps the wine develop its complexity.

Opened bottles by Ibrahim Boran on Unsplash
Once the bottle is opened, it is no longer about the closures nor the surface area. It is all about the headspace or the amount of oxygen in the bottle. When you transfer leftover wine into a smaller jar, depending on the width of the jar, you are not necessarily reducing the surface area of the wine that will be in contact with oxygen. But you will be reducing the headspace. 

13. Chill Wine with DIY Frozen Wine Holder

SEMI-WACK. I confess that I am no Martha Stewart. The instructions to create this frozen wine holder may be for someone with more time, DIY flair, and freezer space than I do. The steps include freezing a see-through container with some water and an empty wine bottle, taping the bottle in place, filling the container with more water and whatever floral and fruit combo, refreezing them all, and finally transferring wine into the bottle.

Ice mold wine chiller from C&B
This DIY idea is likely inspired by Crate and Barrel’s Ice Mold Wine Bottle Chiller. My friend owns one of these, and I thought it was really cool. Plus, the use of the store bought version requires a fifth of the DIY steps and half the freezer space. For $45 a pop, I’d rather get the Crate and Barrel chiller or order a knock-off from Amazon for a few bucks less.

This completes my review of the wine hacks published by CNN. Do you know of any other cool wine hacks to share? Or maybe a wack?

Friday, June 30, 2023

Fourteen Wine Hacks or a Wack? Part One

Every now and then, I come across new wine hacks. Some are great ideas that I’ve added to my wine bag of tricks. Others may raise an eyebrow or even inspire a groan. Recently, CNN published an article about 14 Practical Wine Hacks that Are Here to Save the Day. (I counted only thirteen by the way.) Apparently, these hacks were tested to work. Here is my review on the first seven “hacks,” and I will cover the rest in my next post.

1. Chill a bottle on the fly by wrapping it in wet paper towel and popping it in the freezer for 10 minutes

SEMI-HACK. Sticking a bottle of wine in the freezer for a quick chill is nothing new. Wrapping the bottle with a wet paper towel before popping it in the freezer? That seemed like an easy experiment so I decided to give it a try. The outcome? It chilled, but not any better than without the wet paper towel.

Freezer chilled with wet paper towel
With or without the wet paper towel, the more important note is that white wine and red wine are best served at different temperatures. The general rule of thumb is to serve whites at 45-50°F and reds at 55-65°F. For a fast chill, I would pop the whites in the freezer for about 15 minutes and the reds for about 5. Also, do not forget to take the wine out of the freezer. Water content in the wine will expand when it freezes and can cause breakage to the unopened bottle.

2. DIY a wine opener using a long screw, a screwdriver, and a hammer

WACK. I don’t know in what situation you will have a long screw, a screwdriver, and a hammer, but not a corkscrew. Enough said.
Not a Cockscrew by Julie Molliver on Unsplash

3. Save leftover wine for weeks by freezing it into iced wine cubes

HACK. According to the article, you can pop out an iced wine cube for cooking or making a chilled wine cocktail. I do keep leftover wine in the fridge for cooking, but I never freeze it. To make a chilled wine cocktail, it may be fun to use an iced wine cube. However, if I have an open bottle of good wine and need to leave town for a period of time, I would freeze the leftover bottle (forget the cubes) and thaw it to enjoy when I return. It will be as good as when you left it. 

4. Use frozen grapes instead of ice cubes to chill a glass of wine

SEMI-WACK. This hack comes with a plea to sommeliers to cover their ears so that says a lot. I would not use frozen grapes or ice cubes to chill a glass of good wine. Sticking the bottle in the freezer for 5-15 minutes is plenty good. But if you like the aesthetics of frozen grapes in your Two Buck Chuck, then sure, whatever floats in your wine.

Frozen grapes by Chris Reyem on Unsplash
5. Press salt generously into wine stain for two hours and pour boiling water over it

SEMI-WACK. I haven’t tried this method, but Good Housekeeping seems to think that salt and hot water will set the stain permanently so try this at your own risk. My go-to is Wine Away Stain Remover and cold water. Check out this Good Housekeeping article on How to Remove Red Wine Stains.

6. Use a blender to aerate wine

SEMI-WACK. Made popular (again) by the HBO series Succession, this extreme way of aerating wine is known as hyper decanting. The term was coined in 2011 by Nathan Myhrvold, author of Modernist Cuisine. Myhrvold claimed that hyper decanting works even for a 1982 Château Margaux. I wonder if anyone would experiment with the said wine or something equivalent.

Succession’s Connor Roy hyper-decanting wine
Aerating or introducing oxygen to wine brings out its aromatics and softens its tannins. This benefits young wine that tends to be tightly wound. Wine that has been aged for several years in the bottle is likely to have interacted with a very small amount of oxygen in the cork or through the cork. Over time, this micro-oxygenation allows the wine to develop complexity and elegance. For such older vintages, a sudden influx of oxygen will tip the balance of the wine chemistry and destroy the wine. Most sommeliers will not even use a Vinturi aerator for old wines, let alone a blender. Check out the experiment of hyper decanting by The Chicago Wine School before trying this on your own.

7. Use a coffee filter to catch bits from a broken cork

HACK. Broken corks happen when the stoppers become dried out and brittle. This is not uncommon with older bottles of wine or when wine bottles are stored upright in a dry condition. While I often use a fine mesh strainer to catch bits from a broken cork, a coffee filter will work as well, albeit more slowly. However, prevention is better than cure. To avoid broken corks, store wine bottles on the side or even upside down in a case. That way, the cork is in constant contact with the wine and will not dry out.

A note on corked wine - Be assured that corked wine is not caused by bits of cork floating in your wine. A screwcapped wine may be corked too. Corked wine is also not the same as oxidized wine. (The latter is wine that has been over-exposed to oxygen and is on the way to becoming vinegar.) Cork taint, which smells like wet cardboard, is caused by a compound called TCA. If you’d like to learn more, check out my blog post on Cork Taint in a Screwcap?

Join me next month for my review on the rest of the hacks!

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Vintage, Non-Vintage, and Solera

When I first got interested in wine, one of the terms I learned was “vintage.” I realized quickly that a vintage wine was nothing like a vintage car. For one, almost every still (vs. sparkling) wine you see in a regular grocery store is a vintage wine. Not true about cars in a regular car dealership.

Vintage Car by Cayton Heath on Unsplash

Vintage refers to the year grapes were harvested to make a wine. Let’s delve into why vintage matters and also explore two other terms: non-vintage and solera.


Most traditional wine regions are located between the latitudes of 30° to 50°, both north and south of the equator. The climate is generally classified as temperate, with sub-categories of continental, maritime, and Mediterranean. These vineyards go through a one-year cycle from bud break, flowering, fruit set, veraison or ripening, and finally harvest before returning to winter dormancy. Because grapes are only harvested once a year, identifying wine by its vintage makes sense. It gives you an idea of the age of the wine. Some wines are meant to be enjoyed young, and others require cellaring.

Harvest by Andrea Cairone on Unsplash

Each wine vintage reflects a culmination of factors during the growing season. The weather pattern for a particular year may affect the flavor, acidity, and sugar of the grapes. Unseasonably hot or cold weather may cause grapes to ripen prematurely without developing full flavors, or not ripen at all. A dry or rainy harvest season may concentrate or dilute the grape juice. Other numerous factors include an untimely windstorm or proximity to forest fires; all of which affect the quality of the finished wine.

The bottom line is that grapes are an agricultural product. As such, they are grown at the mercy of their environment. While modern science and technology has allowed wineries to do vineyard damage control due to force majeure, good wine still starts with good grapes. When the stars are aligned in the vineyards to produce high quality grapes in a particular year, that year is then considered a good vintage.


Non-vintage wines are made with grapes that are not harvested in the same year. The most common non-vintage wine is house-style Champagne, often indicated by “NV” on the label. Champagne houses generally make two types of sparklers - vintage and non-vintage. Vintage Champagnes are only made if the growing condition for that year produces outstanding grapes. Over 90% of the Champagnes produced are non-vintage.

Moët & Chandon NV Champagne

NV Champagnes usually consist of a blend of 50-80% base vintage with reserves from other vintages. They are often less expensive than their vintage counterparts and provide a consistent style that you may expect from a particular house. It is important to note that NV Champagnes do not taste identical from year to year. House style simply refers to consistent characteristics such as yeastiness vs. fruit forwardness or crisper vs. rounder mouthfeel.

Grapes are harvested up to 3 times a year in Bali

More recently, a different flavor of non-vintage has emerged from non-conventional wine regions, such as Tahiti and Indonesia. In these tropical wine regions, vineyards do not experience winter dormancy, and harvests can take place two to three times a year. This new phenomenon challenges the traditional concept of “vintage.” You will find that the wine labels from these regions do not indicate a vintage.


Solera is a method of aging wines or spirits that originated with aging sherry over multiple vintages. To institute a solera system, you start with the oldest vintage at the bottommost row of barrels, known as the solera (see diagram below). The row of barrels above the solera is called the first criadera, and it contains the next oldest vintage. The next row up is called second criadera, and it contains the third oldest vintage, and so forth. The topmost row of barrels are always filled with the newest vintage.

Solera Method by Denkhenk via Wikimedia Commons
As a fraction of the wine in the solera is extracted to be bottled, the headspace left will be replenished by a fraction of the wine from the first criadera. The new headspace in the first criadera will also be replenished by a fraction of the wine from the second criadera and so forth. Over time, the solera method results in consistent aroma, taste, and quality in the final bottles.

Paul Prieur et Fils Sancerre Rosé Perpétuel

Solera is one of the ways used to produce NV Champagnes. More recently, I came across an NV Sancerre rosé that was made using the solera method. Sancerre is mostly known for its white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc. I also have had Sancerre Rouge that is made with Pinot Noir. Blanc or Rouge, I had only had vintage Sancerre until then. This Paul Prieur et Fils Rosé Perpétuel was a triple first for me (Sancerre rosé, non-vintage, made using solera method), and it was delicious.

Final Thoughts: Vintage wine makes up most of the still wine volume. Non-vintage wine makes up most of the sparkling wine volume, and some of these are made in the solera method. I wonder if the ratios will change in the coming years - perhaps due to climate change or maybe a new generation of more experimental winemakers. Here’s to toasting to a future of surprises.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Côte Rôtie - The Brunette, the Blonde, and the La Las

While doing a bit of spring cleaning in my cellar, I unearthed a bottle of 2014 Vignobles Levet Côte Rôtie Les Journaries. Medium garnet in color, the wine was floral and full of black fruits on the nose. Acidity was very high, and body was medium plus. On the palate, it was elegant with well-integrated tannins, a savory note, and an incredibly long finish. While savoring this gem, I decided to dig into what makes Côte Rôtie so special.

2014  Vignobles Levet Côte Rôtie Les Journaries

Roasted Slope and Racy Grapes

Located on the northernmost end of the Rhône Valley wine region in France, Côte Rôtie is often translated to the Roasted Slope. This is attributed to the steep slopes or hillsides that rise up to 1,150 feet (over 330 meters) off the banks of the Rhône River, allowing for maximum sun exposure on the vineyards. 

In some areas, the sharp incline gets up to 60 degrees. That with the constant risk of erosion bring unique challenges to vine growing. Vineyards are planted in terraces. Since there is no way to use tractors and other machinery on the slopes, tending to the vines and grape harvesting have to be done by hand.

Côte Rôtie by Olivier Lemoine via Wikimedia Commons

The grapes grown in the region are mostly Syrah and a small amount of Viognier. With 224 hectares (or 550 acres) of vineyards, Côte Rôtie is one of the smallest appellations in the Rhône Valley. It is about a third the size of Walla Walla Valley and only about 1.2% the size of Napa Valley.

To qualify as Côte Rôtie AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée), the wine needs to be made with predominantly Syrah and up to 20% of Viognier. The rules also require that the grapes be co-fermented rather than fermented separately and blending afterwards. It is believed that the co-fermentation with Viognier, a white grape, stabilizes the color of Syrah and also adds a floral note to the savory wine.

The Brunette or the Blonde

There are two main hills in Côte Rôtie where some of the best wines are made. According to folklore, a feudal landlord gifted his two daughters each a hill. The hill that went to the dark-haired daughter is known as Côte Brune while the hill that went to the light-haired daughter is called Côte Blonde.

Brunette and Blonde by Mārtiņš Zemlickis on Unsplash

The soil of Côte Brune is mostly reddish-brown mica schist and is rich in iron. Côte Brune is often made with 100% Syrah. The wine tends to be tannic, structured, and powerful with good aging potential. Côte Blonde has pale yellow gneiss soil that is similar to granite. It is more likely to be co-fermented with Viognier. The wine is lighter, fruitier, and more approachable when enjoyed young.

But why pick a Blonde or a Brune when you can have the best of both worlds? Renowned Rhône winery and négociant, Guigal, has you covered with its Brune et Blonde that retails for around US$70 a bottle. Feeling spendy? For about twice the price, you can get Guigal’s higher-end Château d'Ampuis, that is made with grapes from seven select terroirs on both hills. Château d'Ampuis is known to be incredibly perfume-y and combines muscle (from Brune) and elegance (from Blonde) beautifully.

The La Las

Next, let’s zoom into three famous vineyards in Côte Rôtie known as the La Las. They stand for La Mouline, La Landonne, and La Turque, the vineyards behind Guigal’s single-vineyard wines. The La Las rose to fame when they started receiving multiple 100 points from Robert Parker in the 1980’s. Today, Guigal’s La La wines run north of US$300 a bottle.

La Mouline, located in Côte Blonde, is the oldest vineyard with a history that goes back 2,400 years. It is also the first of Guigal’s single-vineyard wines with the inaugural vintage of 1966. La Mouline is a monopole, which means that Guigal is the sole wine producer for that vineyard. About 10% of Viognier is typically used in La Mouline, making the wine floral and elegant with complex aromatics.

Guigal vineyard in Côte Blonde
La Landonne is the second single-vineyard wine released by Guigal. Located in Côte Brune, it is made with 100% Syrah and is the most powerful and structured of the La Las. It also has the longest aging potential. La Landonne was planted by the namesake winery founder Etienne Guigal in 1975 to honor the birth of his grandson, Philippe. Unlike La Mouline, La Landonne is not a monopole. You will see La Landonne wine by other producers, such as Rene Rostaing and Bernard Levet. In fact Levet’s Les Journaries is made predominantly from La Landonne grapes.

La Turque, Guigal’s third single-vineyard wine, is located north of Côte Blonde and into Côte Brune. It was re-planted in 1980 and 1981 with mostly Syrah and a small amount of Viognier. In terms of style, it marries the power of La Landonne with the elegance of La Mouline. Like La Mouline, La Turque is also a monopole.

Guigal’s La La wines
In November 2021, Guigal announced the addition of a fourth La to the collection - La Reynarde in Côte Brune. Just as La Landonne was a tribute to Philippe Guigal, La Reynarde will be dedicated to his twin sons, Charles and Etienne. The vineyard went into construction in 2010, the birth year of the boys. Syrah vines were planted in 2015, and the first vintage is expected to be from 2022. 

My Verdict: For a very small appellation, there is certainly a lot to discover in Côte Rôtie. The Les Journaries has given me a flavor of the power of a Côte Brune. It will be fun to do a horizontal tasting of Côte Brune and a Côte Blonde, or better still, a horizontal tasting of the La La wines! Do you have a favorite Côte Rôtie? I’d love to hear what you think.

Friday, March 31, 2023

Tuscany Tasting: Chianti Classico

My niece and I are planning to go to Tuscany next year. It will be my first trip to Europe since the pandemic and my first time in Italy. Tuscany conjures in my mind images of sunshine and sunflowers, culture and cuisine, and wondrous wines. I can’t wait!

Tuscany by Johny Goerend on Unsplash

In the meantime, I will have to settle for experiencing Tuscany with my palate. Lucky for me, I happened to have two bottles of San Felice Chianti Classico Gran Selezione of different vintages in my cellar: 2013 and 2016. Both of them are made with 100% Sangiovese.

There is Chianti, and There is Chianti

The area known as Chianti today was a wine growing region demarcated in the 1700s by Cosimo III de’ Medici, the Grand Duke of Tuscany. It has since expanded in size and production. In 1967, shortly after the launch of the Italian wine classification, Chianti was designated as a Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). Sangiovese was and remains the primary grape variety allowed by the designation.

A couple of decades later in 1984, the Italian government added an even higher level of classification known as Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) and designated the area as Chianti DOCG. Then in 1996, Chianti Classico separated from Chianti DOCG to become its own DOCG.

Today, Chianti is the largest wine region in Tuscany with two DOCGs. 

Chianti DOCG has seven sub zones
    • Chianti Colli Aretini
    • Chianti Colli Fiorentini
    • Chianti Colli Senesi
    • Chianti Colline Pisane
    • Chianti Montalbano
    • Chianti Montespertoli
    • Chianti Rufina
There are also two quality categories: Superiore, for wines made from vineyards with lower yields, and Riserva, for wines aged at least two years before release.

Chianti Classico DOCG, on the other hand, is marked with the black rooster (gallo nero) seal and has nine communes:
    • Barberino Val d’Elsa
    • Castellina in Chianti
    • Castelnuovo Berardenga
    • Gaiole in Chianti 
    • Greve in Chianti
    • Poggibonsi
    • Radda in Chianti
    • San Casciano Val di Pesa
    • Tavernelle Val di Pesa
The DOCG has three different quality levels based on aging requirements prior to release: Annata (12 months), Riserva (24 months), and Grand Selezione (30 months).

San Felice Chianti Classico Gran Selezione

Agricola San Felice owns estates in two famous Tuscan territories - Chianti Classico and Montalcino. The Chianti Classico estate is within the commune of Castelnuovo Berardenga. With 140 hectares of vineyards, San Felice is recognized as a top producer in the region with a strong commitment to viticultural research. In the 1970s, the estate developed Poggio Rosso as a Chianti Classico ‘cru.’

Vertical Tasing of Poggio Rosso

This later earned the designation Gran Selezione in 2011, which required the wine to come from a single vineyard and be aged for at least 30 months.

2013 Poggio Rosso

Gran Selezione is only released during outstanding vintages. In fact, the 2013 Poggio Rosso was only the second vintage of the Gran Selezione. The year started cooler with an abundance of rainfall that led to delayed flowerings among the vines. This recovered quickly with above average temperatures in early July and gradual maturation in August and September. By harvest, the grapes had plenty of aromatic substances and polyphenols.

Medium ruby with a tinge of garnet in the glass, a swirl of the wine brings an opulent aroma of cherries and herbs. The palate is delicate and pleasant with tart cherries. It is medium-bodied with high acidity. The tannins are fine and integrated, and the finish is very long.

2016 Poggio Rosso

2016 is the fourth vintage of the Gran Selezione. That year, the winter was mild and rainy. Unlike 2013, high temperatures in April of 2016 caused the vines to flower a couple of weeks early. A regular May followed by unseasonably hot summer months with periodic rains allow the vines to fruit without water distress.

Possessing the classic Sangiovese medium ruby color, the wine gives off a yeasty, earthy aroma. On the palate, the funk eases into a vibrant burst of tart cherries. The wine is light to medium-bodied with high acidity and hairy tannins. The finish remains very long.

My Verdict: While both vintages differ in the finer flavor profiles, the underlying structure of the wine is typical of a Chianti Classico - the ruby color, the tart cherries, high acidity, and long finish. The older vintage has an elegance to it, while the younger vintage is livelier and has more character and complexity. I look forward to enjoying a glass of Chianti Classico next year in Tuscany itself.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Alphabet Soup of Wine

You may have noticed that some wineries provide technical sheets for their wines. These sheets often contain a bunch of acronyms - pH, TA, RS, and ABV. Ever wonder what they mean and whether you should care? Let’s demystify this alphabet soup of wine.

Alphabet Soup by Sigmund on Unsplash

pH stands for potential of hydrogen or power of hydrogen. It measures the acidity or alkilinity of an aqueous solution. The pH scale ranges from 1 to 14, with 7 being neutral. Wine is acidic, and its pH usually runs in the 3’s. White wines pH is typically in the 3.0 to 3.6 range, and red wines in the 3.4 to 3.9 range. Wines with lower pH tend to be more puckering on the palate, while wines with higher pH tend to be rounder. Think lemon juice versus tomato juice.

pH Scale by Alvy16 on WiKimedia Commons
In the vineyard, pH is used in conjunction with TA (or Titratable Acidity), sugar, and flavor to determine the optimal time for harvest. pH in grapes increases as they ripen and further rises incrementally during the fermentation process. If pH is lower than 3.0, it may be an indication that the grapes have been harvested before they are fully ripened. The resulting wine flavor may not be well developed. The reverse is true if pH is more than 4, suggesting a flabby wine with little acidity to liven it. 

Fun Fact: Acidity acts as a buffer to preserve wine. Wine collectors often favor a vintage with a lower pH for cellaring.


TA is often used to refer to Total Acidity and Titratable Acidity interchangeably. The truth is that Total Acidity is the measure of both titratable and non-titratable acids. However, because Titratable Acidity is easier to derive, it is often used as an approximation of Total Acidity. In this blog post, TA refers to Titratable Acidity. A good TA range for white wines is 7-9 g/L and that for red wines is 6-8 g/L. 

While pH measures the intensity of acids, TA measures the concentration of acids. To illustrate the difference between pH and TA, let’s make a Bloody Mary.
Bloody Mary by Toni Osmundson on Unsplash

1. Mix 0.5 oz of lemon juice to 2 oz of vodka and taste it. It will likely pucker you up! 

2. To that, add 4 oz of tomato juice, mix, and taste again. It will taste less sour. 

Both lemon juice and tomato juice are acidic ingredients. However, lemon juice contains citric acid which has a low pH of 2, while tomato juice contains a blend of citric, malic, and ascorbic acids with a combined pH of 4.1 to 4.4. So even though the concentration of acids (or TA) in the drink has increased with the addition of the tomato juice, the intensity of the combined acids has decreased.

 3. Now add your Worcestershire sauce, Tobasco sauce, horseradish, celery salt, and all the other good stuff and enjoy!

Fun Fact: While some wine collectors use pH as an indication of good acidity and therefore aging potential, others use TA as a measure. A vintage with a higher TA is definitely preferred for aging to a vintage with lower TA. 


RS stands for residual sugar, the leftover grape sugar after alcoholic fermentation is completed. RS is measured using g/L or %. (10 g/L is 1% residual sugar.) Most dry wines will have close to zero residual sugar so you don’t typically see RS listed in the tech sheet. Sweet wine starts at about 35 g/L or 3.5% RS and can go up to over 200 g/L or 20% RS. 

Sauternes by Jeff Burrows on Unsplash
Some of the best sweet wines are produced as a result of botrytis, also known as Noble Rot. Botrytis is a type of fungus that causes grapes to shrivel. As water content evaporates from the grapes, the sugar level increases and intensifies. This causes alcoholic fermentation to complete with excess sugar remaining. Famous botrytized wines include French Sauternes, Hungarian Tokaji, and German Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese.

Fun Fact: The most expensive botrytized wine is the Royal Tokaji Essencia that at one point cost $40,000 a bottle. The last I checked, you can get a half bottle for about $1,000.


Last but not least, ABV stands for Alcohol by Volume. It measures how much alcohol is in 100 mL of wine and uses % as the unit of measure. ABV of a wine is dependent on the grape sugar pre-fermentation. During alcoholic fermentation, wine yeast converts grape sugar into ethanol. Wine grapes or vitis vinifera often reach 22 to 26 degrees Brix (symbol °Bx) by harvest. 1 °Bx is 1 g of sugar in 100 g of crushed grape juice and will yield about 0.55% in alcohol content. 22 to 26 °Bx will yield about 12.1 to 14.3% ABV.

Measuring Brix
While most new world wines tend to run high in ABV, some European wines have less than 10% ABV. Moscato d’Asti runs around 5-6% ABV, and German Riesling runs around 7-8% ABV. By law, these old world wines are required to stop fermentation before all the sugars are converted to alcohol to create the respective styles of sweet wines.

Fun Fact: In the United States, the alcohol excise tax for wine above 16% ABV is about 50% higher than that for wine at 16% ABV and below. For that reason, you will not see many bottles of wine (if any!) with ABV above 16%.

I hope you enjoy the demystifying of the alphabet soup of wine and gain some confidence in reading wine technical sheets. And if you are hoping to start a wine cellar, you are now armed with a bit more knowledge on how to pick wines with aging potential. Salud!