On Saturday, February 18 from 1-3pm, we’re hosting a wine tasting focusing on sweet wines. Sometimes sweet wines can get a bad reputation, with most people thinking of mass produced and poorly made products. The truth is that sweet wine have been around for hundreds of years, and for good reason: they’re delicious!

Charles & Charles Riesling

This excellent, single vineyard riesling is everything one can want from a Washington riesling. Its sweetness is held in balance by a taut acidity that accents. The resulting wine is a gorgeous, full-flavored riesling with aromas driven by stone fruit, mineral notes, wet rock, citrus, and floral scents. Its palate has a beautiful focus with lingering notes of honeysuckle and crushed rock. For those looking to try a Washington state or a new world riesling, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better one than this.

Tintero Gramella Moscato

With this wine, the Tintero family provides a rarity among Italian moscatoes, a single vineyard bottling. The Sori vineyard is located on the southern facing slope of a hill named “Gramella” which creates a perfect microclimate for growing moscato. Full of fruit flavors like peach, apricot, and quince, this wine is an ideal pairing for light meals or an afternoon of steady sipping. Its light body and low alcohol level make it an ideal wine for parties and social events.

Le Tertre de Lys Sauternes

Bright golden color with pale gold hue, the nose contains top notes of honeyed apricot followed by some raisin, toffee, and spice. The wine’s rich and luscious palate texture shows excellent concentration with mouth-filling flavors of honey, raisins, apricot and apple. The finish is clean with a long aftertaste of honey, apricot, and raisin. Though only a 375ml bottle, this wine is meant to be sipped and savored. Pair it with an array of sweetbreads or desserts for the end of a meal, or, opt to recreate one of the world’s best wine pairings: foie gras and Sauternes.

Cocchi Asti

Asti Cocchi is a sweet sparkling produced in the hills, just north of the Italian city of Asti. Made from the moscato grape, the wine has a rich and intense aroma with notes of wisteria, acacia and honey on the palate. It features a well-balanced sweetness and a low alcohol content (7% Vol). It’s ideal with desserts and is a must with almond or hazelnut pastries. It also makes a wonderful accompaniment with orange juice in a morning’s mimosa. Out of all the Italian sparkling moscatoes, few achieve this level of balance. Even those who claim to not like sweet wines will be coming back to this one again and again.

Montinore Borealis

Mouthwatering and multi-dimensional, this perennial crowd-pleaser is a blend of our favorite cool-climate whites: gewurztraminer, muller-thurgau, pinot gris and riesling. Intensely aromatic, with a nose of tropical flowers, ripe kiwi and melon, the silky soft palate is brimming with rose petals, pink grapefruit, mango and white nectarine then finishes on a high, clean note of bright key lime.

Rosa Regale

Sparkling wine from the brachetto grape as long been a traditional sign of affection in Italy. Legend has it that both Julius Ceaser and Marc Antony sent it to Cleopatra in hopes to win her heart. Rosa Regale is a wine that fits any occasion and is an ideal match for any palate. The slightly off-dry nature of the wine makes it a perfect pairing with anything from seafood to spicy Asian cuisine. In the glass, it shines a bright and festive pink with striking fruit aromas that are followed by dramatic notes of raspberry and strawberry that dance across the palate.


If you’re anything like me, Thanksgiving can seem like the worst best holiday. Of course, there are so many great things – being surrounded by so many loved ones and tables full of wonderful food (and of course the wine to go with it!) But the holiday, especially if you’re playing host, can also be full of stress.

I may not be able to make sure your turkey comes out right, but I can at least take one stressor off your list: choosing wine.

Choosing wine for a big meal like this is harder than you might imagine. With a big group, everyone will have different tastes. Your Aunt Sue doesn’t like to drink anything other than moscato and your cousin Randy loves a merlot but hates all white wine. What’s a host to do? Well, first, you need to accept that you can’t please everyone. The most you can do it to find a wine (or two, I usually recommend a red and a white) that will be three things: tasty, affordable, and will work well with your food.

So, with those three things in mind, what should you actually get?

Well, first, let’s think about how much to get because that will often impact the wine you choose. I think it’s helpful to remember that there are 4 to 5 glasses in each standard sized bottle of wine (10 glasses if you’re getting magnums). From there, think about how much you anticipate your crowd drinking. Some people will have just one glass, and of course, others will have a bottle all to themselves (I am this person in my family and I will not apologize for it.).

So, now that we know how much we’re shopping for, what are we actually going to get? Well, as always, you have lots of options.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay can seem like the safe choice and that’s because it is. A good chardonnay, especially one with a little bit oak to it will match savory dishes that contain nuts, wild rice or apples. Chardonnay’s natural fruit flavors and spiced vanilla aroma will also go hand in hand with turkey. Alternately, if you’re not a fan of buttery chardonnays, an unoaked one will still fit the bill with its apple and lemon flavors and full-bodied profile.

Beaujolais

Is there a wine more traditionally linked to Thanksgiving than Beaujolais? I don’t think so. The link stated with a marketing gimmick that created “Beaujolais Day” as the third Thursday in November. This is the day that wine shops release the newest vintage of Beaujolais, just weeks after bottling. This weeks-old wine is made from 100% gamay, is called Beaujolais Nouveau, and its quality can vary widely each vintage. It’s not the only wine that carries the Beaujolais name, however. There are many producers in the area whose wines are all of excellent quality and would be the perfect, fruity addition to any Thanksgiving meal.

Pinot Noir

Pinot noir is, for very good reason, one of the world’s most famous varieties. Its flavors range from cherry and chocolate to warm earth and mushroom. For Thanksgiving, it can work with both light and dark meat turkey as well as cream based dishes like green bean casserole. And, of course, it’s the perfect compliment to cranberry sauce!

Riesling/Gewürztraminer

For those looking for something a little less traditional, a dry riesling or gewürztraminer might just do the trick. These two grapes are widely planted in the mountains of France and Germany and both come in dry and sweet styles. The flavors of these wines can range from the sweet apple and peach of riesling to the spicy floral notes of gewürztraminer. The high acidity of these grapes will help cut through the richness of traditional holiday foods.

Champagne

What better way to show your thanks than with a toast of Champagne? But in actuality, Champagne would be a wonderful pairing throughout the entire meal. It’s bold enough to stand up to stalwart dishes like turkey and dressing, and, if your meal is skewing fruit heavy with cranberry sauce and the like, you’d find no better match than with a wonderful rosé Champagne. If true Champagne is out of your budget, no worries! There are plenty of option from all around the world that will work just as well.


Out of all the white grape varietals in the world, none are more widely planted than chardonnay. And if you think about it, it makes sense, right? I feel like the shelves of wine shops all over the world runneth over with chardonnay. Open the fridge of any suburban family and you’re likely to find a bottle of it. Every liquor store in town is going to carry it from at least five producers, and chardonnay always seems to be a wine that people find early in their wine drinking lives.

Often chardonnay gets a bad rap. I think this is because there is just so much of it produced. Unfortunately, with almost 500,000 acres of chardonnay planted around the world, there are more than a few bad bottles floating around.

So what makes chardonnay so awesome?

Well, let me step up on my soapbox…

Climate Matters

As with all grape varieties, place matters, but this is especially evident with chardonnay. The smell and taste of golden apples are present in almost all chardonnays, but the additional notes vary wildly based on local climate. Chardonnay from warmer climates, like Napa Valley in California or Australia can be almost tropical, with notes than can include papaya, mango, and even pineapple.

On the other hand, cooler climate chardonnays skew more towards Granny Smith apples, lemon, lime, and chalk. You’ll find those flavors in chardonnays from Oregon, Washington, and some cooler parts of both California and France. Just like flavor, the acidity of the wine also depends on climate. A higher growing temperature will result in a lower acidity wine, while cooler climates result in higher acidity.The same can be said for alcohol content, as well.

Creamy vs. Crisp

Just as there is a duality in the chardonnays that grow in warm versus cold climates, chardonnays can also be roughly divided by their texture. As we talked about in our post on tasting wine like a sommelier (click here if you missed it!), texture is the way a wine feels in your mouth, and chardonnays are generally either quite light and crisp or rather heavy and creamy. The reason for this in addition to climate is the introduction of oak to the wine. Oak imparts a totally new set of flavors into the wine. We talked a lot more about oak aging in a blog post here, but the tell-tell signs of oak are flavors of butter, toast, dill, and coconut.Primary Shades

It isn’t the oak aging itself that can make the wine feel thick or creamy. This texture is caused by a process called malolactic fermentation, and it can happen in any storage container, from oak barrel to steel tanks. Malolactic fermentation is the process of yeast cells transforming malic acid (the sharp acid in apples and lemons) into the softer and rounder lactic acid (the same kind of acid as in milk). In a side-by-side comparison, the transformation is striking and adds another layer of complexity to many wines. A good “rule of thumb” is that unoaked chardonnays will be lighter in color, more like straw or pale yellow, while oaked chardonnay will take on a deeper yellow, almost golden hue.

You can find excellent examples of these creamy, well-oaked chardonnays from all over the world, but some of the come from places like Napa Valley, Australia, northern Italy, the Burgundy region of France. Unoaked, crisp wines can also come from anywhere, with many notable producers in the French region of Chablis in Burgundy, Oregon, France’s Loire Valley, and New Zealand.

The Other Faces of Chardonnay

As I said before, chardonnay is incredibly versatile, it can be transformed into almost endless expressions through different winemaking techniques and practices. Two of the most common are as a sparkling wine and as a blending grape.

Chardonnay is the workhorse of the three grapes that make Champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. A Champagne made only of chardonnay is referred to as a Blanc de Blanc, or essentially “white of whites.”  A Blanc de Blanc can be made anywhere in the world, and the grapes for these wines are often the first to be harvested so that they don’t get too ripe and lose their natural acidity.These wines are ridiculously good and get even better (think more creamy and nutty) with age.

As a blending grape, chardonnay can take on an entire rainbow of additional flavors. You’ll commonly see it blending with grapes such as sauvignon blanc in France’s Loire Valley, or with viognier in warmer climates. In cooler climates, it often blended with riesling for additional aromatic notes. In California, some winemakers are even experimenting by blending it with semillon or even moscato.

Pairing Chardonnay

If you’re now worried about finding the right food to pair with all of these different styles, don’t be! As with all wine, the key here is to find a food and a wine that you really like and enjoy them together. It shouldn’t be a stressful process, so here are a few ideas to guide you:

  • For cheese, the softer the better, both goat and cow’s milk will be fine.
  • White meat, like chicken and fish are your friends.
  • The more golden the wine, the heavier the food. For a well-oaked California chardonnay, try something heavier like a corn chowder or pasta in an alfredo sauce. For a light chardonnay like those from Chablis, stick to a class pairing like oysters, scallops, or fish.
  • Bubbles help cut through salt, so pair your Blanc de Blanc with french fries, fried chicken, or other guilty pleasures.

‘Sangria’ has become synonymous with ‘wine punch’ for most people, but it actually holds a specific place in beverage history.  Around 200 BC, the Romans swept through the Iberian peninsula, planting vineyards as they went. Historically, wine was added to water to kill any bacteria and make it safe to drink.  2,000 years ago, however, winemaking wasn’t the skilled art that it can be today.  Herbs and spices were added to hide any off-putting flavors in the wine.  Eventually, even after potable water became easier to find, the custom was so popular that it began common for people to make their own blends of red wine and herbs. The Latin root of the word ‘sangria’ is sanguis, or blood.

A version of sangria was first made my Roman settlers in Spain

A version of sangria was first made my Roman settlers in Spain

Wine punches are not limited to Spain. In 1800’s Britain ‘Claret Cup Punch’ was an incredibly popular cocktail.  ‘Claret’ is the name the British gave to the red wines of Bordeaux during this time period. The wine would be mixed with lemon, sugar, carbonated water, and whatever else the creator desired (fruit, bitters, sherry, rum, juice, etc.)

Today, making your own delicious sangria is easy, so long as you follow a few simple steps.  I’m going to cover a white and red sangria, as many people have strong feelings on which is better.

So, red sangria.  The most common question I hear is “What type of wine should I use for sangria?”  The short answer is any wine that you like.  Sangria has no rules.  The long answer is that you should consider what flavors you will be adding and pair accordingly.  Something from Spain- maybe a Rioja, would be a wonderful traditional base for sangria made with brandy, orange slices, honey, and lemon juice.  If you are making something more rich, maybe adding pomegranate, rum, orange liqueur, and blackberries, a cabernet with more tannins would stand up to these strong flavors.  If you are thinking strawberries, raspberries, and rose water, a lovely pinot noir should work nicely.

While it may not be the traditional choice for sangria, white wines create delicious, refreshing drinks for the summertime.  Lighter and more tropical fruits are easier to use in this version as well. If you like sweet wines, moscato makes a great sangria. Peach nectar, raspberries, and strawberry would be a great combination of fruits for this wine. If you like something more crisp, use a sauvignon blanc. I’d use basil to enhance the grassy flavors of the wine alongside pineapple, watermelon, and a touch of elderflower liqueur.

Be sure to remember...

  • You’ll want to use a wine of reasonable quality, but there is no reason to break out the good stuff for a good batch of sangria.
  • Let you sangria sit for a bit after assembling. Preferably overnight- covered and in the fridge.
  • If you add liquor to your sangria, you will be fortifying it. If you want to be able to sip on it for a few days or it will be sitting out for a period of time, this is a good idea.
  • This is a premium idea for when you have lots of random wine to get rid of or someone sends you and over-large fruit bouquet.
  • Taste as you go.  Yes, the flavor will change as it marinates, but in general, this is a trial and error type of creation and you can always add more stuff.
  • In Spain, sangria is often served over ice and topped with soda water.  In the Arkansas heat, this is probably a good idea. Wait until the sangria is in the glass to add the soda water- keeps it fizzy.
  • As far as stemware goes, it will look great on Instagram if you serve in wine glasses with colorful, fresh fruit to garnish.  If you don’t participate in this silliness, anything from fine crystal to solo cups will work.
  • If you don’t have much time to let your sangria sit, choose fruits that are soft and/or porous.  I’ve seen watermelon turn a white wine pink in 10 minutes flat.  Also, in this case, fruit juice is your friend.   

 

And that’s it! You’re ready to create an awesome (and custom!) drink. Be sure to let us know when the party is!


My first ever wine-buying experience wasn’t a great one. In fact, it wasn’t even a good one. Shortly after I turned 21, I went to my local liquor store and began browsing the shelves of wine waiting for something to catch my eye. I was very new to wine, so much so that I still didn’t know how to tell the differences between the grapes aside from the fact that they were either red or white. In the end, I settled on a chilled bottle of white wine that had a map of New Zealand on it. I chose it based solely on the fact that I had liked the Lord of the Rings movies and thought I might like a wine from the same country in which they were filmed.

Once I tried the wine I was almost instantly disgusted.  It smelled and tasted like cat urine, and it made my mouth feel strange and tingly. It was even worse than the anything-but-the-kitchen-sink punch that I was used to drinking at parties. Needless to say, I poured the bottle out and decided to stay away from anything called sauvignon blanc again.

Flash forward almost nine years and my opinions have certainly changed. I’m now at a better place to understand what sauvignon blanc is all about. Granted, there are still a few bottles that have that “cat pee” smell, but I’m now at a better place to know what other aromas and flavors are in the wine. Likewise, I now know that tingly feeling that first bothered me was actually the wine’s natural acidity, and it’s become one of the aspects of the wine that I like most.

So for those of you who have had a problem with sauvignon blanc in the past, or if you’re familiar with the grape, but haven’t tried many styles yet, this post is for you!

A sauvignon blanc vineyard in New Zealand

Whats in a name?

Well, a lot, actually. Literally translated, sauvignon blanc means “savage white,” which, given the wine’s unabashed acidity, is a fitting name. Interestingly enough, sauvignon blanc once crossed with cabernet franc to produce cabernet sauvignon, hence the shared name combination.

Following the French naming tradition, a sauvignon blanc wine from France will be named from the place where it was grown. Sancerre, a village in the Loire valley is probably the most famous French sauvignon blanc, but you’ll also find them labeled as Quincy, Puilly-Fume, or Bordeaux.

In the United States, you might find sauvignon blanc labeled as “Fume Blanc” which became typical in the 1970’s and 80’s when California winemakers were trying to make the grape more attractive to American consumers.

The many faces of sauvignon blanc

More than almost any other grape variety, sauvignon blanc can take on wildly different styles based on where it’s made and grown. Here, we’ll go through the primary growing regions of sauvignon blanc and point out the biggest differences between styles.

France

Sauvignon blanc in France comes from two primary areas: the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. The Loire Valley cuts through central France and is known for its lush white wines. Sauvignon blanc grown here is known for its strong acidity, green apple notes, and minerality. Loire Valley sauvignon blanc is almost always fermented in steel tanks. Sometimes you’ll find a Loire Valley wine that has undergone what’s referred to as “lees aging.” This gives the wine a slightly creamy texture and can add a subtle note of bread or yeast to the wine.

Loire Valley vineyards

Loire Valley vineyards

 

South of the Loire Valley is Bordeaux, where the grape is blended with semillon to produce Bordeaux Blanc, or white Bordeaux. These wines are generally softer than their Loire cousins. This is achieved both through barrel fermentation and the addition of the less acidic semillon. These two factors combine to give the wines a depth and character that sets it apart from the steel tank-fermented Loire wines.

New Zealand

In the 1980’s, sauvignon blanc decided to go on vacation and never really came back. It found a home in New Zealand that allowed it to show its true colors, and the world has been eating it up ever since. These wines retain the classic high levels of acidity but combine it were an array of tropical flavors like grapefruit or kiwi. Like in the  Loire Valley, these wines are fermented in steel tanks and have a unique vegetal note (think asparagus or green beans).

California

Sauvignon blanc in California has historically had to play second fiddle to the wines in France and New Zealand. In large part, this can be traced back to the popularity of California chardonnay, which caused growers to be reluctant to plant the less lucrative sauvignon blanc in their vineyards. A second reason is the lack of a definitive style for sauvignon blanc in California. California winemakers have chosen different paths in their winemaking, using both steel tank and barrel fermentation, barrel aging, blending with semillon, and a number of other tricks to produce markedly different wines.

Pairing sauvignon blanc

Sauvignon blanc’s natural acidity makes it an easy wine to pair with food. It’s ideal for any dish that contains herbs like rosemary, thyme, tarragon, basil, mint, or parsley. It’s also great for foods that are a little bit more rich in fat, such as quiche, a white sauce pizza, or hummus. It’s also great for almost any salad you could make!

From now through the end of July, we’ve got select California sauvignon blancs 25% off! Stop by today and let us find the perfect wine for you.


This is part 2 of a last week’s blog post. If you missed part 1, you can find it here. 

 

As we discussed in Part 1 of this post, sommeliers use a grid-like system to assess wine. This allows them to use a number of key indicators in order to name a wine during a blind tasting. Here we’ll walk you through a tasting guide that we’ve designed for novice tasters to get a basic understanding of the process.

This first step in this entire process is to remember four letters: S N F S.

This stands for Sight, Nose, Flavor, and Structure. Personally, I remember this as “Some Noisey Flautists Smell.”  I was both in band and orchestra in high school, so ‘smelly flautists’ work for me, but whatever helps you remember the steps is fine, so long as it’s an easy mnemonic device that allows me to remember the four steps to the deductive tasting process: Sight, Nose, Flavor, and Structure.

Here I’ll take you through each step of the Tasting Guide using the example of Poggio alla Guardia, an Italian red wine from Tuscany.

Sight

The first part of our tasting guide is in many ways the easiest, or at least the most self-explanatory: Sight. The sight section is broken into 6 different steps:

Clarity: As far as clarity of a wine is concerned, I ask myself if I can read through the wine when holding it over a page of text. In the case of Poggio alla Guardia  the answer is no, but for many wines, especially white wines, you’ll have no problems making out words through the glass. Many wines will develop a slight haziness as they age. This is normal and a clue to the wines age.

Brightness: Brightness is a little bit tricky, and it’s best to have good light while determining it. Look at the way the overhead light reflects in the wine. That’s what you’re judging when you try to discern the brightness. For me, my wine is a very definite ‘dull.’

Color: On the Tasting Guide, there are lines for both red and white wines, but for my Italian red blend, only the red line is needed and it’s a decidedly garnet shade.

Rim variation: This concerns the change in color of the wine from the center of the glass to its outer edge. Some wines, especially older wines, will have a drastic change in color, but most young wines (maybe under 4 years old) will have very little if any change. Here, my wine is 2011 has no rim variation.

Staining: This measures the amount of red stain the wine leaves on the side of the glass. Once you’ve swirled your wine, you’ll notice a faint sheen on the glass. This only pertains to red wines. For my wine, I’ll mark “medium.”

Legs: Legs, sometimes called tears, are the way the wine slides down a glass after being swirled. Sometimes, you’ll notice that the wine begins to fall down the glass immediately, other times you’ll notice that will stay in place for several seconds before it falls. A general rule of thumb is that a wine with shorter legs (one that falls faster) will have either less alcohol and  less sugar than a wine with longer legs. My glass today has medium legs.

Nose

Here we smell the wine. Give it a good swirl and you’ll be ready to go!

Intensity: Right off the bat, as soon as I opened this bottle, I could smell and intense aroma of graphite, violets, and cherries. The farther you can smell a wine from your glass, the more intense it is.

Fruit: This is another field for which we have different lines for red and white wines. Red fruits, especially cherries and black cherries are dominating my glass. In a white wine, I would expect more apple and citrus aromas.

Fruit Character: The cherries here are abundant, but they definitely don’t smell fresh. I’d almost say they smelled just a little bit like the cherry jam I like on my toast in the mornings. Though the difference between under ripe and jammy fruit may seem small, when you smell or taste it in a wine, the difference become immediately noticeable.

Non-fruit Organics: Now this is always a tricky category – everyone’s palate is different and everyone picks up on something different. For my Italian red, I’m getting a very pronounced smell of violets (one of my favorite red wine smells!), and also a nice note of spiciness – some clove a white pepper.

Inorganics: This is where things always get really fun! Just like with our ‘non-fruit organics,’ different people can pick up on different things, and I always enjoy hearing different people’s take on the same wine. Right now, I’m getting a really heavy note of graphite (like a freshly sharpened pencil!)

Flavor

You’re halfway through, and you finally get to taste your wine!

Fruit: Again, flavor is quite self-explanatory, it’s simply the flavors you find in the wine. On the palate I can taste, the black and red cherries are still there and they’re delicious!

Fruit character: Character describes the fruits we taste. Just like with the aroma, the cherries I’m tasting are quite jammy. Typically, wines with  jammy fruit come from hot climates, and this wine came from scorching-hot Central Italy.

Non-fruit Organics: The violets I smelled earlier are really overwhelmed  on the palate by notes of pepper, clove, and a really woodsy cedar note.

Inorganics: Like I said before, I’m getting a definite note of pencil shavings – it’s giving me a flashback to fourth grade!

Structure

You’re in the home stretch!

Sweetness: Wines can be made to varying degrees of sweetness, though most of them tend to fall in the range of Bone Dry (no sugar at all), to Off Dry, which is a barely perceptible amount of sugar. My wine today is a totally dry wine.

Tannin: This is that hard-to-describe aspect of wine that sometimes comes off as bitterness. It’s also what can make your mouth pucker after taking a drink of a wine. I’m rating my wine as High. This is a blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and sangiovese, three grapes with high tannins.

Acid: I tend to feel acid in the back of my mouth, in the part of my mouth that tends to clench itself when I’m tasting something sour. My wine has low acidity. Another way to test acidity is to take a sip and see if it makes your mouth water. High acid wines do this while low acid ones will leave your mouth a bit dry.

Alcohol: I can definitely feel the burn of alcohol when I swallow, which tells me this wine has high alcohol. I check the bottle and it’s confirmed: 14.5%.

Body: An easy way to think about the body of a wine is to compare it to milk. Is the wine I’m drinking closer to whole milk, 2% or skim? Obviously, a skim milk-like wine is lighter bodied than a fuller-bodied, whole milk-like wine. My wine is decidedly full-bodied.

Texture: Texture describes the way the liquid feels in your mouth. Some wines can feel very lean, almost like water, while others, especially those that have been aged in oak often take on a creamy character. My wine tonight doesn’t fit into either of those categories and instead gives off a nice round texture.

Balance: Balance is asking if all aspects of a wine, the nose and palate, work together. Are there any single notes that awkwardly stick out? For my wine, though the aroma and taste of cherries are both strong, they’re held in balance by the rest of the wine’s aromas and flavors.

Length/Finish: I like to think of this as the length it takes for any trace of the wine to disappear from my palate. This will vary depending upon the kind of wine you’re drinking, but my wine today has quite a long finish.

Complexity: Complexity is a catch-all term that describes the wine in its entirety with all its different parts averaged as a whole. A more complex wine will have a wide variety of aromas and flavors that work in tandem with the wine’s acidity and tannins to create a wine that’s vivid in the glass. If you have been filling out the guide you can look back and see how many descriptor you used. I can easily mark my wine tonight as “high.”

Our Tasting Guide is by no mean comprehensive, but it’s a perfect way to broaden your own knowledge base. You can download a printable PDF of our Tasting Guide by clicking the link below.

OLooneys Tasting Guide


If you’re like me, you don’t always finish every bottle of wine that you open- you end up recorking it and sticking it the fridge. More often than not, these bottles end up as ingredients in the next night’s dinner. Adding wine to a dish can add a host of new flavors. Adding wine is the perfect way to turn a simple weeknight meal into something special.

The key when cooking with wine is to only use a bottle of quality wine. This doesn’t mean that you should go out and spend your whole paycheck on bottle of wine just to pour it into your spaghetti sauce, but it does mean that you should get a wine that you’d be happy drinking on its own. Remember, whatever wine you use will end up dramatically affecting the dish, so it’s best to choose something you enjoy. If I don’t have any partial bottles to use, I’ll serve whatever is left over from cooking to pair with the dish.

Wine can be added to many dishes, but knowing when to add the wine can be a little tricky. You should treat wine much like you would any other spice or herb, in that too much of it won’t be noticeable, but too much could ruin a dish. You’ll want to add the wine before or during the actual cooking time. Adding it too late in the process doesn’t allow the alcohol to cook off and can your entire dish a harsh taste. For most recipes, you’ll only want about  ¼ of a cup.

When it comes to choosing which wine to add to a specific dish, the combinations are almost endless. As a rule of thumb, I generally pair red wines with red meat and tomato based dishes, while using white wines for vegetables and seafood. It’s also a safe bet to use wines in dishes that are from the same region. For example, an Italian sangiovese would be excellent in a hearty pasta dish.

Poached Salmon

1 lb of salmon

1 large white onion

2 lemons

Dill

1 bottle of aromatic white wine

Slice the onion and place it on the bottom of a large pan. Rub the salmon with salt and pepper, then place on the onion skin side down, then sprinkle with dill. Slice one of the lemons into wheels and lay over the salmon. Cut the second lemon into halves, and drizzle the juice of one half over the salmon. Fill the pan with 1 bottle of white wine, if the salmon is not covered, top off with water. Turn on the heat until boiling, and then remove from heat. Cover the pan and let rest for 15 minutes. Drizzle the juice of the second lemon half over the fish once it’s plated.

For this recipe, I’ve used a number of white wines. I’ve found that an Italian falanghina, such as the Vesevo Beneventano falanghina tastes best to me, but I think an unoaked chardonnay gives the fish an added zest that I really enjoy. St. Supéry’s unoaked chardonnay is one I use all the time.

Braised fennel and white beans

4-5 fennel bulbs

2 tablespoons of olive oil

Salt to taste

2 tablespoons of honey

1 lemon, cut into wedges

¼ cup dry white wine

2 cups cooked white beans (cannellini, navy, etc)

Dill

Cut the fennel bulbs into wedges and let them cook in the olive oil over medium heat for 2-3 minutes until they begin to caramelize. Stir and let them cook through for another 2-3 minutes. Then add the lemon wedges, salt, honey, and wine*, stirring to combine. Let the wine reduce for 1-2 minutes before adding in the beans. Stir again and let cook for 5 minutes before serving. Add dill and olive oil for garnish.

I think sauvignon blanc works best here. A good French Sancerre will add a racy, tangy element to the honey and fennel, but it might be overpowering for some palates. When I choose to use a Sancerre, I always use one from Daniel Chotard. I’ve found that a well-oaked sauvignon blanc from California, such as Ferrari Carano’s fumé blanc seems to work for my guests. The oak cuts down the wine’s natural acidity and adds a tiny hint of vanilla to the dish’s natural flavor.

Pasta sauce with meatballs

Meatballs (store bought or your own recipe is fine)

Tomato based pasta sauce (store bought or your own recipe is fine)

¼ to 1 cup red wine of choice

This is my favorite way to punch up a pasta dish, especially on a busy weeknight when I haven’t had the time (or energy) to make my own sauce. You can even purchase store-bought meatballs for this so long as they aren’t already cooked. Take your uncooked meatballs and place them into a saucepan and fill it with wine so that the meatballs a quarter to half submerged. The amount of wine needed will vary. Simmer in the wine for about 10 minutes and then add your sauce to the pan to continue simmering until ready, usually about 25-30 minutes.

You can literally use any wine you want for this recipe. I’ve used cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese, and syrah and it’s come out different and delicious each time. I seem to always have a bottle of merlot on hand, especially Markham merlot, so it gets used most often. My personal favorite combination is a chorizo meatball simmered in Wisdom & Water Extra Amontillado sherry along with my own personal sauce recipe, but this recipe is so easy that you can do literally anything to it and come out with an excellent dinner.


As the White House is a center of global power and politics, it should come as no surprise that the wines that are served there are often among the world’s best. Many past presidents have been wine connoisseurs, and having your wine poured at the White House can be a boon for any winery.

The presidential love of wine actually began before the White House was ever built. George Washington was quite the fan of Portuguese wines, especially Madeira, a fortified wine that can be made in a dry or sweet style. Washington regularly had it imported directly to his home of Mount Vernon, and it’s said that every official dinner had Madeira served with at least one course. You can also check out one of Martha Washington’s famous punch recipes here.

Another presidential wine lover, and the first to try his hand at winemaking was Thomas Jefferson. Having been the United States’ first ambassador to France, Jefferson had developed a taste for French wine. He wanted to be able to have wine at home and so he planted several acres of vineyard at his home in northern Virginia. He also convinced a famous Italian winemaker named Filippo Mazzeti to move to Virginia to grow wine. Jefferson even gave Mazzeti almost 200 acres to start his vineyard, and some of this land is still in use by the Jefferson Vineyards Winery. Though Jefferson never had any luck as a winemaker (local pests killed the vines he brought from Europe), he was still an avid wine collector. When Jefferson died in 1826, there was only one wine in his cellar: a sparkling wine from the French city of Limoux. This story has become so popular that Gerard Bertrand, a winemaker from Limoux has since named their sparkling wine the Thomas Jefferson Cuvee.

Jefferson's home of Monticello was home to America's first vineyard

Jefferson’s home of Monticello was home to America’s first vineyard

President John F. Kennedy shared Jefferson’s love of French wines with his own passion for Bordeaux. He’s rumored to once served a $1000 bottle of Bordeaux Blanc to a visiting guest.

United States wines began to take prominence in the White House in the 1980’s with Ronald Reagan. Reagan was known for his love of California wine, especially Beaulieu Vineyard’s cabernet sauvignon which was a staple at state dinners. Likewise, he championed the wines of Iron Horse winery, and legend has it he negotiated the end of the Cold War over a bottle of their sparkling wine.

President Reagan toasts Mikhail Gorbachev with Iron Horse sparkling wine

President Reagan toasts Mikhail Gorbachev with Iron Horse sparkling wine

Iron Horse wines have remained a mainstay at the White House. Their sparkling wines have appeared regularly at dinners hosted by the Clintons and Obamas, and have been enjoyed by guests including Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom, President Xi of China, and the President of India. Interestingly, it was another California sparkling wine, Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc that President Nixon used as a gift during his historic visit to China.

President Xi of China drinking Iron Horse sparkling wines with Secretary of State Clinton and Vine President Joe Biden

 

The Obamas now proudly serve American wines at all State Dinners. Wines that have been on recent menus include Duckhorn Sauvignon Blanc, Cliff Lede Cabernet Sauvignon, and Franciscan Estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

With the presidential election looming large in our collective consciousness, we wonder what the next administration holds for the promotion of United States wines at the White House.


The title of sommelier has meant many things throughout history. The word can be traced to Latin when the word “sauma” referred to the load a pack animal carries. Centuries later, the word “saumalier” was the one who drove pack animals. During the period of the French Revolution  the world “sommelier” came to mean the court official that was in charge of transporting the king’s supplies from palace to palace.

Now, the term sommelier is applied to those who work with wine, either in a restaurant or shop, or also in the industry working as importers, writers, or wholesalers. Typically, the title of sommelier denotes that some form of certification has been earned, and we’ve recently been celebrating the certification of two of our employees.

In the United States, there are several ways to become a certified sommelier. Two of the most popular are the Court of Master Sommeliers (CMS) and the International Sommelier Guild (ISG).

The Court of Master Sommeliers is an international organization that was founded in the 1970’s. The Court has four levels of certification: Introductory, Certified, Advanced, and Master.

The Introductory level covers the basics of wine: common varietals and wine growing regions, along with the winemaking process and wine and food pairings. One of our employees, Seth, passed his Introductory exam in June

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The Certified level involves passing a three-part exam. The first part covers the theory of wine and builds on the topics covered in the Introductory level. It includes multiple-choice and short answer questions. The second component focuses on service, each candidate must decant wine and pour Champagne in a mock restaurant environment. Finally, candidates are given a “blind” tasting of two wines and must recognize the wine based only on its aromas and flavors. Currently, we have three sommeliers at this level on our staff. Susie Long and Spencer English took their Certified Sommelier exam in June and were two of the only three candidates from Little Rock to pass. Another of our staff members, Keegan, passed his certification exam in 2015.

 

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The third level of certification is the Advanced level, in which candidates are tested over an even greater knowledge base. Like the Certified level, the exam is given in three parts. The Court recommends that candidates give themselves 2 years to completely study for the exam. The pass rate for the Advanced level is only 30%.

The final level of certification is the Master level. It’s the pinnacle of certification in the profession and is the hardest level to complete. Only 230 people have ever passed the Master level exam, and they now administer the Introductory exam. The pass rate for this level is less than 10%.

The other major certification body, the International Sommelier Guild, certifies sommeliers by direct instruction, and is licensed by the Boards of Education in each state and country where it conducts education and examinations. This group’s focus is on allowing restaurant staff and hospitality schools students the chance to achieve college level accreditation as well as the professional certification as sommelier.  Their program involves an intensive six months of weekly classes (8 hours each) and passing a six part examination that takes place over two days and encompasses a blind tasting, a written exam, multiple essays, a service exam, and a practicum involving a business plan. Our owner Jonathan Looney possesses the Certified Sommelier (CS) designation, and has completed the Teacher Education Program (TEP)  from the Guild.

ISG-sommelier-Logo

How does one prepare for a sommelier exam? Well, obviously, drinking wine helps. Blind tastings are a key part of exams and it’s important for each candidate to be able to recognize the key distinctions between varieties. Though nebbiolo and cabernet sauvignon might taste similar to the untrained, a well prepared candidate can easily taste the difference.

Tasting isn’t everything, however, and the best way to study is by reading any other excellent wine books that are available. Karen McNiel’s The Wine Bible is one that our staff has found exceptionally helpful.

Having a sommelier on staff is a point of pride for any shop or restaurant, and we’re thrilled to have four working here. We don’t like to brag on them too much, but if you let them give you a recommendation, we don’t think they’d steer you wrong!


If you’ve been to our shop recently, you’ve probably noticed that things are starting to look a little…pink.

 

But what’s so great about all that pink stuff? Well, I’m glad you asked.

 

Allow me to get on my soapbox…

 

Pink wine, as I like to think of it, is its own unique thing. It’s got all the lightness and finesse of a white wine with just a touch of the red fruit flavors that we love in red wine, combined with a texture that’s all it’s own.

The styles of rosé can often be hard to nail down because color and grape variety are very poor indicators for what the wine will taste like. I prefer to group rosés by region to get a better idea of what they will taste like. French rosés tend to be the most tart and have the least pronounced fruity flavors. I often notice a distinct minerality and an herbal aroma, like sage or tarragon, in rosé from the south of France. The best regions for French rosé are from the south of France, specifically Tavel, one of the few places where only rosés are made. In the USA, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris rosés from the Willamette Valley in Oregon combine a nice acidic kick with more fruit forward flavors than their French counterparts. Farther south in California the rosés are more full-bodied, fruity, and round in the mouth. You can also find rosés from around the world with vastly varying flavors. I recommend being adventurous and trying as many as you can.

Rose Regions

How Rosé is Made

The way a rosé is made can influence the taste and style of a rosé just as much as where it’s grown. There are three main ways of making rosé: the blending method, the maceration method and a third method called saignée.

Blended rosés are most common in Champagne and other sparkling wines from around the world. In this method, before it’s made to be sparkling, the still wine is white and a small amount of red wine is added just before the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation that results in the wine’s characteristic bubbles.

The second method, maceration, can be compared to the process of making tea. Grapes only have color in their skin (the inside is clear, you can check this with a table grape). When the grapes come into the winery and are crushed and the whole mess of grapes and skins are left to sit, sometimes just for a few hours, but sometimes for days depending on the desired style of wine. This time of contact between the skins and the freshly pressed wine is called maceration. Shorter time spent on the skin yields paler, though not necessarily lighter wines. Longer macerations create darker wines with more noticeable tannin.

The third way of making rosé is called saignée (sahn-YAY) in which a winemaker will “bleed” off a bit of wine from their red wine to make it more concentrated. The result can be quite intense with body and tannin closer to red wine than white. You’ll often know that a rosé was made in this method due to its bright pink hue and fruit-heavy aromas.

So which rosé is the best? Well, we’ll leave that up to you to decide, but our answer is all of them, of course! Check out the wines below and see which one piques your interests.

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