Thursday, December 28, 2017

New Year Wine Class

Books & Books Logo

Winter Wine Class: January 15 – February 19, 2017

At Books & Books, we think the more you understand the world of wine - the more you will enjoy drinking and sharing it. That’s why for the past several years, The Café at Books & Books in Coral Gables has been offering a series of six-week classes, every Monday between 6-8pm, during which time a group of 16 students sample 24 different wines and learn everything about the magic grape – from terroir and varietal, to taste and history.

There is a class maximum of 16 people
so reserve your place now – classes sell out fast!

The Booklovers' Guide to Wine: An Introduction to the History,
Mysteries and Literary Pleasures of Drinking Wine

by Patrick Alexander
(B&B Press, $19.95)
Learn More

A labor of love by Books & Books’ very own resident wine instructor, The Booklovers' Guide To Wine is based on Patrick’s very successful wine class and blends his passion for the culture and the history of wine with his love of literature and the world's great writers. A literary twist on traditional food and wine pairings, this book explores how great wines and great writers can be combined to enhance the enjoyment of both.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Editorial Reviews for Booklovers' Guide

 Here is a selection of some recent reviews:

“Guides to the wide world of wine are many but this is the first book on the market to pair books with wine by an author who is a preeminent expert on both.”

“Patrick Alexander seems to be the perfect guide for booklovers who want to enjoy wine even more through story-telling…… I have read dozens of wine guides over the years and I can’t think of one that is so much fun. Simply irresistible!. …….. Alexander’s literary references are the second distinctive factor. His abundant quotes from famous authors are clever and really made me think. And the chapter on wine grape varieties ― where grapes are compared to famous authors ― is both fun and informative.” 
-Mike Veseth, editor of the Wine Economist and author of many wine books, including Wine Wars.

“From the preface through to the epilogue readers will learn everything from why the author has a dislike for wine critic Robert Parker that is completely logical yet surprising, basics on how to taste wine, read labels, naming different varietals, how to make wine, why sweet wines are popular, the connection between religion and wine, the difference between an American’s understanding of wine and that of a European’s in relation to terroir, what the 100 year war did to the wine industry, why the opinions on wine are so subjective and finally, why Alexander is “never happier than with a glass of wine in one hand and a good book in the other.” 
-Eve Bushman: Wine writer and consultant. Member of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), and the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), author of “Wine Etiquette for Everyone”

“Listen up, lovers of cheap wine (aka everybody who reads this column): Wine expert Patrick Alexander says we’re drinking the right thing. …. Alexander knows a lot about wine, and he enjoys pairing wines with some of his favorite writers (Shakespeare with sherry, J.R.R. Tolkien with Albariño, Jane Austen with Chardonnay)."
- Connie Ogle: Book editor and wine columnist for the Miami Herald

“Amazingly comprehensive. It was a good read for me as a wine enthusiast but for a novice it would be a heck of a resource. I really like the structure of the chapters. .... Overall, a solid wine book and the compilation of information must have taken a heck of a long time to put together. The history and context is awesome. The details on varieties and wine regions is amazing.”
-Chris O’Shea: Editor/ Writer. The Unfussy Wine Enthusiasts

"This is the book I wish I had years ago. Who knew that soil and climate has so much to do with how a glass of wine ends up tasting? Patrick Alexander knows all that and more in the spectacular book. I love learning about writers and their favorite vintages, simply fascinating!"
- Nina Lesowitz, author of "The Party Girl Cookbook"

"What a delightful and singular book- the pairings of wine and books is every oenophile's dream. Now I know exactly what to imbibe when rereading Tolkien."
- Susannah Seton, author of "Simple Pleasures"

"Patrick Alexander opens the door to his world of wine for the reader, and lets his passion shine through. 
I know pairing wine with books is a lifestyle choice that Patrick generously loves to share."
-Alan Susser, author of "New World Cuisine"

"If anyone defined the phrase Renaissance Man, Patrick is just that person. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone with such a rich intellect, having such diverse interests, and able to pair his love of history, geography, economics, and alcohol with so much humor. I am proud that my bookstore inspired this book, and I am happy that my friendship made it possible."
- MItchell Kaplan, owner Books & Books

"Patrick Alexander, author of “The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine” and host of Books & Books’ wine appreciation course, says which glass you use doesn’t make much difference.The important thing is that the bowl should narrow at the top to focus and concentrate the aromas,” he says. “Personally I like big glasses with stems. . . . Also glass should be plain and clear, not colored or engraved.” -Miami Herald

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

New Literary Pairings

In this year’s surprise hit, ‘The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine’, author Patrick Alexander pairs various famous writers with some of his favorite wines. We asked him to pair some of this year’s most popular Indie publications with their most appropriate wines and this is the perfect-pairing list that he offered.

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neal deGrasse Tyson
Paired with Dom Pérignon Champagne
In his latest book, Neal deGrasse Tyson’s sparkling wit and celebrity stature help bring all the cosmic mysteries down to earth for us mere mortals to understand. What wine therefore could be more appropriate than the sparkling wine of Champagne, immortalized by a celebrated 17th Century Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon, who, on first discovering champagne, declared “I am drinking stars.”

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Paired with Gewürztraminer from Alsace.
Lilac Girls tells the story of three individual women from France, Poland and Germany, who are enmeshed in the heartbreaking outcome of Germany’s all devouring hunger in World War II. The three women’s stories move across the theatre of tragic mid-century history. But like the Gewürztraminer grape which first grew in the Tyrol region of Italy, was transplanted to the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and then to Germany, it found its fullest and most perfumed glory in the Alsace  region of France. A taste of  Gewürztraminer, like the heartbreaking themes of this novel, leaves us standing alone in ecstasy, inhaling through the rain, the lingering scent of invisible lilacs.

Leonardo da Vinci- Walter Isaacson.
Paired with a Chenin Blanc from Amboise in the Loire Valley.
The obvious pairing with a book about Leonardo da Vinci would be the Sangiovese grape - a Chianti Classico from Florence, the city where he spent much of his life. But a more perfect pairing would be a Chenin Blanc grape from Amboise in the Loire Valley where he spent his final years. Da Vinci could be anything he chose to be and his areas of interest included invention, painting, sculpting, architecture, science, music, mathematics, engineering, literature, anatomy, geology, astronomy, botany, writing, history, and cartography. In the same way, the Chenin Blanc grapes of the Loire Valley can be dry, sweet or even sparkling. These unique wines of Amboise reflect the wide ranging genius of this Renaissance polymath like no other grape and no other wine ever before or since.

In the Midst of Winter- Isabella Allende
Paired with a Carménère from Chile
Like many of Isabella Allende’s other novels, In The Midst of Winter, explores the themes of lost love and lost opportunities. The novel begins, accidentally in Brooklyn but moves eventually to Allende’s inescapable Chile where it examines the fates of immigrants in the New World. The Carménère grape, lost by accident in 19th century Europe was eventually rediscovered in mid-20th century Chile. Like Allende’s themes of lost and late discovered love, Carménère has since become a symbol of hope and regeneration for the resurgent Chilean wine culture.

The Winelover's Daughter by Anne Fadiman.
Paired with a Chateau Lafitte 1904
This loving biography of the author’s father begins, like Isabella Allende’s novel, in Brooklyn where Clifton Fadiman was born, determined to escape a life of working class ignominy. To demonstrate his later success in life as a sophisticated literary critic with a plummy upper-crust accent, expensive suits, and an encyclopedic knowledge of Western literature he became an obsessive wine connoisseur. To celebrate his 80th birthday in 1984, he drank a 1904 bottle of Chateau Lafitte. How could we ever pair him with anything less?

Beren and Luthien by JRR Tolkien.
Paired with an Albariño from Galicia in N.W. Spain
The Albarino grapes were first planted in this desolate corner of N.W. Spain by German monks in the twelfth century. Spurred by the quest to reach the tomb of St Jacques at Compostella, the hooded monks, carrying their precious vines, had left the homely comforts of the Rhine valley and crossed the Black Forest into the land of the Franks. They had traversed the Massif Central and then the Pyrenees before the long trek across Asturias and Galicia to Cape Finisterre - the ‘End of the World’. Like the hooded travelers of Tolkien’s tales, Albariño wines are fresh and energetic, representing a call to adventure with a floral perfume suggesting the distant magic of wizards, elvish princesses, ancient runes, dragon’s gold, and faery lands forlorn.

Or, as Patrick Alexander describes it in The Booklover’s Guide to Wine:

Albariño/Alvarinho (J.R.R. Tolkien): Albariño is a variety of white wine grape grown in Galicia (Northwest Spain) and across the border in Northern Portugal, where it is used to make varietal white wines and Vinho Verde. It is believed to have been brought to Iberia by German Cistercian monks during the twelfth century as they participated in the pilgrimage to St. Jacques de Compostela. Its name Alba-Riño means "the white [wine] from the Rhine," and was probably a Riesling clone originating from the Alsace region of France. The highly floral aroma of the best Albariños recall the Gewurztraminer and Riesling grapes, also from Alsace.

The literary pairing of Albariño with Tolkien is irresistible. Consider the image of hooded monks setting off from their walled monastery on the banks of the Rhine, and crossing the Black Forest to the land of the Franks. There would be perilous days crossing the bleak mountain passes of the Massif-Central before reaching the Spanish border near San Sebastien, and then the long, winding journey along the rocky shoreline of Asturias and Galicia. All the while, they would be carrying their precious offering, the root stock of their delicate vine to be planted, like the body of Saint James, at the end of the Camino de Santiago, near Cape Finistere, the end of the world.

In The Hobbit as well as in The Lord of the Rings, there are several versions of Bilbo Baggins’ walking song:
Roads go ever, ever on,
Over rock and under tree,
By caves where never sun has shone,
By streams that never find the sea;
Over snow by winter sown,
And through the merry flowers of June,
Over grass and over stone,
And under mountains in the moon.

Albariño wines are fresh and energetic, representing a call to adventure with a floral perfume suggesting the distant magic of wizards, elvish princesses, ancient runes, dragon’s gold, and faery lands forlorn.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017


WHEN:   Saturday, November 18 at 1:00PM  (Sorry. You missed it!)

WHERE:  Kitchen Stadium, 300 NE 2nd Avenue

LIZ THORPE will discuss her new book, The Book of Cheese and will then serve the following four favorite cheeses:

A Triple Creme. A rich French cheese made from cow’s milk

A Vermont Creamery Coupole. A US cheese made from goat’s milk

An Ossau iraty. A Basque cheese made from sheep’s milk

A Cambozola Black. A German blue cheese made from cow’s milk

PATRICK ALEXANDER will then discuss his new book, The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine and will pair the following wines with Liz’s selection of cheeses:

With the Triple Crème he will offer a Spanish Cava Brut.

With the Vermont Creamery Coupole - a Sancerre from the Loire.

With the Ossau Iraty – a Malbec from Cahors in SW  France.

With the Cambozola  - A Port wine from Portugal.

This is a FREE event, but space is limited so be sure to arrive in plenty of time

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Wine Economist Review

Mike Veseth, the highly respected editor of the Wine Economist and author of many wine books, including Wine Wars, published the following generous review  of my new book.
Irresistible: Wine is for Booklovers
The second new book is Patrick Alexander’s The Booklovers’ Guide to Wine: A Celebration of the History, Mysteries, and the Literary Pleasures of Drinking Wine. Every glass of wine tells a  story and so it is no surprise that people who love books and stories are drawn to wine. Patrick Alexander seems to be the perfect guide for booklovers who want to enjoy wine even more through story-telling.
Alexander is a literary guy (he has also written a book on Proust) who developed the wine appreciation curriculum at the University of Miami and eventually took his signature course to a local bookstore, where it has been a hit (and where Proust book sales coincidentally zoomed). Now his course is available to the rest of us through this book.
Two things set Booklovers’ Guide apart. The first, of course,  is the emphasis on story-telling. While the topics and organization are fairly conventional, the choice of stories to illustrate different points plus the wonderful writing really bring familiar topics to life. I have read dozens of wine guides over the years and I can’t think of one that is so much fun. Simply irresistible!
Alexander’s literary references are the second distinctive factor. His abundant quotes from famous authors are clever and really made me think. And the chapter on wine grape varieties — where grapes are compared to famous authors — is both fun and informative.
The full review can be read at  

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Miami Herald

All serious wine drinkers should be encouraged to read this very sober and thoughtful profile in today's Miami Herald. It was written by Connie Ogle, a long time and highly respected columnist, whose serious and almost reverential approach to wine is most greatly to be admired if not emulated.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Mark your calendar

Click here for details and to reserve a place

Date: Tuesday October 17
Time: 7:00 - 8:00 PM
Books & Books, 265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables, FL 33134

Wines generously provided by Cerdá, Llanos y Cía.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Books & Books

I am happy to say that Books & Books has now restocked my Booklovers' Guide to Wine and, as you can see, they have enough copies to fill the store window behind that proud and happy young fellow!

Thursday, September 21, 2017


My new book 'The Booklovers' Guide to Wine' was only released on Tuesday and already Books & Books in Coral Gables has sold out! Copies just flew off the shelves.

I have been assured that lots of new copies have been ordered.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

My new book!!

My new book is scheduled for release next week on September 19th.
Order your copy now and be the envy of your friends with an early copy of The Booklovers' Guide to Wine!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Wine & Cheese at the Miami Book Fair

Saturday, November 18 at 1 p.m.

Patrick Alexander & Liz Thorpe invite you to a wine and cheese tasting at the Miami Book Fair.

Patrick will discuss his new book: The Booklovers' Guide to Wine  and Liz will discuss her new book: The Book of Cheese.

Together they will conduct a wine and cheese tasting with four of Liz's favorite cheeses paired with the four wines that Patrick thinks will best enhance and compliment their taste.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Hurricane Irma

Books & Books Fall Wine Appreciation program was scheduled to begin on Monday, September 11 at 6:00PM. There was already a certain apprehension about the date - wondering if that was somehow bad karma - and then hurricane Irma arrived.

The next wine class has therefore been rescheduled, and will begin on Monday, September 18 at 6:00PM.

In the meantime, professor Alexander is hunkered down in his wine cellar for the duration of the storm. Fortunately, he had already purchased all the wine required for the program. Whether there will be any left by September 18 is another matter entirely.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Wine & Cheese

Saturday, November 18 at 1 p.m.

Patrick Alexander & Liz Thorpe invite you to a wine and cheese tasting at the Miami Book Fair.

Patrick will discuss his new book: The Booklovers' Guide to Wine  and Liz will discuss her new book: The Book of Cheese.

Together they will conduct a wine and cheese tasting with four of Liz's favorite cheeses paired with the four wines that Patrick thinks will best enhance and compliment their taste.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Review Copies

If you are a professional media reviewer, please contact Hannah at Mango publishing for a review copy, or contact Lisa Palley at the Miami Book Fair.

Thursday, August 24, 2017


Oz Clarke, in his wonderfully entertaining The History of Wine in 100 Bottles, tells the heartbreaking story behind the history of  Mateus Rosé, which is a medium-sweet, slightly-fizzy pink wine, similar to White Zinfandel, and especially popular with certain young women and elderly aunts. 

It was created in 1942 during a dark period of World War II as a way of marketing Portugal’s embarrassing surplus of wine. In addition to its unusual bottle shape, and perhaps to distract from the quality of the wine, its makers decided to create an attractive label featuring a picture of Palácio de Mateus, an elegant 18th century Portuguese chateau with baroque architectural features.

They approached the owners of the chateau and explained that they wanted to feature the building on the label of every bottle sold and wanted to call the wine Mateus Rosé. In return, they offered  the owners the choice between a one-time, lump-sum payment of a few thousand dollars - or a royalty of fifty cents for every bottle sold. 

In return for the use of the name and image of the château in perpetuity, the owners chose to receive the lump-sum payment in cash. A few thousand dollars seemed like a pretty good deal in 1942.

Over the past seventy-five years since the deal was struck, sales of Mateus Rosé have averaged more than three-million cases per year and account for over forty percent of Portuguese wine sales. Even at fifty cents per bottle, royalties to date would have exceeded a billion dollars.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Miami Book Fair

My book, The Booklovers' Guide to Wine is still scheduled for release next month, on September 19, 2017.

The book will be featured at the Miami Book Fair on the weekend of November 18 and 19. The final format has not yet been finalized but could include a wine tasting as well as a panel discussion.

Monday, August 14, 2017


What sort of food?   The very first and most important step is to decide whether your food is going to be delicate and mild tasting or hearty and flavorful. Is it going to be fatty or lean? Will it be rich, buttery and creamy or will it be thin, sharp and acidic? The wine and the food must balance each other so that a hearty dish will match a hearty wine while a mild flavored food will require a delicate wine. What is important is that neither the wine nor the food should overwhelm the other.

So a delicate Dover Sole for example would go well with a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio but not with a Chardonnay; while a hearty steak-and-kidney pie would complement a Malbec but probably overwhelm a Beaujolais. However, the Beaujolais would go well with a light lunch such as cold ham, charcuterie and salad while the Chardonnay would be the perfect match for a rich chicken in cream sauce.

Traditional Red /meat: White /fish rule:   Some fish, such as cod, haddock and mackerel as well as all shellfish, are high in iodine, which is why red wines don’t do well with them. The iodine content reacts with the tannins in red wine and makes both the fish and the wine taste metallic and nasty. However, red wines like Pinot Noir, Beaujolais or even certain Chiantis that are not high in tannins go very well with fish such as salmon or sea bass. Meats like chicken or pork go very well with full bodied white wines like Chardonnay, Riesling or even Gewürztraminer and rich patés like foie-gras in Perigord are traditionally enjoyed with a late harvest white wine like Monbazillac.

Tannins and Acids:  Tannins not only enhance the complexity of the wine itself but are also very useful for cleansing the palette of fatty foods. Lamb chops for example or a grilled beef steak will both be improved with a Cabernet Sauvignon from Bordeaux or Napa whose astringent tannins will strip away the fatty coating inside your mouth.

Acids perform the same function as tannins in cutting through fat and so a fried chicken or smoked salmon, which would be overwhelmed by the tannins of a Cabernet would respond well to the cleansing acids of a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Acids in wine should also match the acid in food. Pasta with a tomato sauce or indeed any food over which you squeeze lime or lemon juice should be paired with a light acidic wine such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or even Alvarinho. Cream sauces on the other hand will react badly to acid and so should be paired with richer more full bodied whites such as Chardonnay and Viognier.

National pairings and wine:  When in doubt, just match the wine with the nationality of the food. The two have evolved together over generations and – within the obvious rules listed above – will always complement each other. For example a pasta dish will almost always do well with Chianti and a Boeuf Bourguignon will always improve with Pinot Noir from Burgundy.

In my book, the section “Forty wines to try before you die” lists twenty-four different varietals in order of lightness with the more full bodied and heavier wines listed last. However, bear in mind that varietals often vary depending on their origin. For example, a Chardonnay from Chablis which is fairly flinty and austere would go well with snails or a fish simply grilled with butter and garlic but not with a chicken in cream sauce.  Chicken and cream sauce requires a more full bodied Chardonnay from California or Australia.

The following websites have excellent food and wine pairing tables and suggestions:

Saturday, August 5, 2017


Marketing: While many European vineyards, especially in Burgundy, remain small family-owned affairs, many of the New World vineyards are owned by large corporations. The recent international increase in wine consumption leading to the dramatic globalization of the wine industry has led to vast economies of scale. In order to secure a contract with Costco or Tesco—who will need to stock the shelves of hundreds of their retailers—the wine producer needs to guarantee the delivery of thousands of bottles of consistently identical and dependable wine. This means that small independent wineries cannot compete with giant corporations. Consequently, especially in the New World, there has been rapid consolidation in the industry, with large international conglomerates owning lots of different brands in many different countries. Constellation Brands, for example, owns ninety-one different wine  brands, including Mondavi in California, Kim Crawford in New Zealand, and Ruffino in Italy. The quintessential French company Pernod owns the quintessential Australian Shiraz producer, Jacob’s Creek, and the quintessential Australian beer producer, Fosters (through its Treasury Estates subsidiary) owns that jewel of Napa Valley wineries, Beringer. The consumer may believe that he is getting a cute bottle of French artisanal wine from the Languedoc when he buys a bottle of Red Bicyclette, but the winery is actually owned, controlled, and marketed by E&J Gallo, California’s largest producer of jug-wines.

In his fascinating book Wine Politics, Tyler Colman quotes a senior French wine industry official in 2000, saying, “We don’t make wine to please consumers. We make wines that are typical of their terroirs. Fortunately for us, consumers like them.” Unfortunately for that arrogant official, the times are a-changing, and consumers are no longer dependent on the dictates of French bureaucrats. The Aussies have joined the game. While the winemakers of Burgundy fine tune their Appellation laws and wine labels to differentiate one side of a hill from another, and German winemakers create consumer confusion with labels mixing Grosslage with Einzellagen, the Australians cut straight to the chase with pictures of sweet, cuddly animals.

In 2005, the Old World conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey) sold six hundred thousand cases of wine at an average price of $44, making $26 million. However, in the same year, the New World newcomer, Yellowtail, sold seven million cases of wine at an average cost of $6, making $42 million.

Yellowtail is a family owned Australian wine company that only began exporting to the United States in 2000, and which branded itself with brightly colored images of a cute Wallaby. In 2001, it sold 112,000 cases, a number that jumped to 7.5 million in 2005, helped by distribution through Costco. Yellow Tail has enjoyed similar success in the UK, which, in 2000, began importing more wine from Australia than from France. And in 2005, Yellowtail sold more wine to the US than all the French producers combined. Both research and experience demonstrates that most consumers today, especially when buying New World wines, want to buy wine by grape variety and brand name. Young consumers in particular tend to avoid what they consider to be confusing and pretentious wine labels, characteristic of some Old World wine bottles. Terroir and provenance have been surpassed by cute and cuddly.

Thursday, August 3, 2017


Most of the vineyards in the New World are in hotter climates than their European homeland; consequently, with more dependable sunshine, the grapes are riper, resulting in wines which have a higher alcohol level and which are more full-bodied and fruitier. It has been argued, not without a certain level of Eurocentric snobbery as well as a certain level of truth, that New World wines reflect their culture—being more “loud” and “brash” than their more subtle and discreet European counterparts. In some ways, this has been exacerbated by Robert Parker, the American wine critic who has encouraged more full-bodied and fruit-forward wines in the New World.

Fruit Bombs: As discussed elsewhere, I have mixed feelings concerning Robert Parker. Initially, many Californian winemakers were striving to reproduce French wines and to recreate the same tastes. It was Parker who told them to be true to their terroir and to make wines which reflected the local conditions. “If you want to make French wines,” he said, “go to France.” This is most clearly shown in the difference between Chardonnay wines from Burgundy and California. The Californian Chardonnays are much more oaky, alcoholic, fruitier, and full-bodied. The Burgundies are far more subtle and lighter-bodied, exhibiting more herb, earth, mineral, and floral components. Parker is correct in encouraging the Californians to be themselves and not slavishly copy the French; it is just that his opinion is so influential that the pendulum has now swung the other way, and all Chardonnays are becoming the “hedonistic fruit bombs” that Parker so enjoys. The average alcohol content for European reds is about 12.5 percent while in the New World, 14 percent is more common.

Many Europeans argue that New World fruit-bombs overwhelm food, and that the lack of acidity and tannins fails to cleanse the palette while eating. However, while Europeans have always associated wine with food, a 2011 survey by Wine Opinions (, found that most of the wine consumed by Americans is not drunk as part of a meal but rather alone as a cocktail, before or after a meal. So the harmonious balance of acid, tannins, and fruit, which pairs so well with food, is less important when the wines are to be enjoyed by themselves and the soft-rounded pleasures of the fruit can stand alone.

Annual variations and vintages: One of the big differences between annual vintages in Europe is rainfall. Lack of rain or too much rain, or rain falling at the wrong time, can destroy a whole year’s crop. This is why the quality of the wine from major European regions varies from year to year, and why the vintage of a European wine is of such importance. This is much less of a problem in the New World, where seasons are much more predictable and consistent. Much of Europe’s wine country is in the Mediterranean climate zone, with unpredictable rainfall and climate fluctuations. Much of California, however, like Australia and Chile, is desert. As early as 1962, Professor Albert J. Winkler at UC Berkeley had analyzed the temperature and climate of California’s grape-producing regions, and divided them into what are still referred to as the five Winkler Zones. Within those five zones, the annual rainfall and temperatures are fairly consistent, and thus predictable, by the winegrower. Rain does not usually fall during the growing season, and so water is provided, through irrigation, by the farmers. This means that the farmer has much more control over the growth and development of the vine, and it also means that his wines can be consistent from year to year. The only potential downside to this is drought. As this book is being written, California is introducing drastic laws to restrict car washing and lawn watering in order to adjust to the fourth year of severe drought; but so far, in mid 2017, Californian winegrowers have not yet been affected.

Varietals: With over two thousand years of experimentation and experience, Europeans had learned which grape varietals grew best in which region, and thus the concept of terroir and regional styles developed, most especially in France. Consumers were aware of the difference between Burgundy and Bordeaux, for example, or Champagne and Chablis. New World winegrowers, however, had to learn by trial and error, and so would plant a wide variety of different vines in the same geographic area. There was no concept of terroir, and the difference between a Napa and Sonoma red wine was a meaningless concept. Nobody had heard of either place; there was no tradition or reputation behind either name. Winegrowers, therefore, referred back to the French classics, and would label their red wines “Burgundy” and their white wines “Chablis,” for example. Initially, most New World wines were simply imitations of Old World wines, and so in addition to Californian Burgundy and Chablis, there was Australian Sherry and South African Port.

The formation of the European Union in the 1970s gave increased legal power to European winemakers who objected to the indiscriminate use of regional names like Champagne and Burgundy. At the same time, wine writers like Frank Schoonmaker and winemakers like Robert Mondavi encouraged the Alsace tradition of classifying and labeling the wines by their constituent grape. Consequently, for the past forty years, all New World wines have been identified by their grape varietal rather than their terroir. Today, even some French wines are identifying the varietal on the label in order to compete in the US market.

Monday, July 31, 2017


“Nothing makes the future look so rosy as to contemplate it through a glass of Gevrey Chambertin.”―  Napoleon Bonaparte

The Vitis vinifera vine finally expanded beyond the bounds of Europe in 1492 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Two peoples are primarily responsible for the spread of wine production in the New World: the Spanish, who needed an abundant supply of wine to celebrate the Catholic Mass in all the lands they conquered, and the English, who needed wine to assuage the thirst of their sailors and soldiers in the Empire on which the sun never set.

The Spanish took vines, probably from the locality of Cadiz from which they set sail across the Atlantic, and which themselves were the vines first planted by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC. They were known as “Mission Vines,” and planted all over the New World in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The first vineyards were planted on Hispaniola, and later in Mexico (1549) and Peru (possibly as early as 1540).

Spanish colonization of the Americas occurred primarily on the West Coast, first in South America moving south from Peru to Chile, and eventually north from Mexico into what is today California, where each new Mission along the Pacific Coast planted its own vineyard. In all cases, the motivation was to supply wine for the Eucharist during the celebration of the Catholic Mass. At the same time, there was a continuing but often ignored prohibition from the Spanish authorities, who wanted to export Spanish wine and did not want the colonies to be self-sufficient. The problems were that wine from Spain had usually oxidized by the time it had crossed the ocean, it was expensive, and the locally produced wine simply tasted better.

While the Spanish controlled the west coast of both North and South America, the English and French struggled to control the East and Center of North America. Part of the English desire for a colony in North America was to have an independent source of wine so they would not be dependent on other European suppliers. Unfortunately, neither the French nor the English realized that because of the vine disease Phylloxera, vines would not grow, either on the English controlled East Coast or in the French colonies of Louisiana and New France.

Moving in the other direction, however, both the English and the Dutch realized that the Cape Colony of South Africa was the perfect base to grow wine and resupply their navies sailing to their Empires in the Far East. Very soon, by 1685, the South African wines of Constantia were actually being shipped back to Europe for consumption by Frederick the Great in Prussia and Catherine the Great in Russia.

From South Africa, the English started to transplant South African vines to the new colonies in Australia as early as 1788, and the exercise was so successful that by 1822, Australia, referred to as England’s vineyard, was exporting its wines to Europe, and by the 1880s was winning international prizes.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Cure for a disappointed heart

With its Mediterranean climate, well-drained soils of clay, shale, and limestone, proximity to the waters of the Atlantic and Indian Oceans, and warm growing climate, South Africa is the ideal place to grow top-quality wines. Hugh Johnson wrote, “The most dramatically beautiful wine country in the world is surely South Africa.” Geographically, it was ideally located for the Dutch and English fleets to restock with fresh wine en route to their empires and colonies further to the east.

The first vineyards were planted by the Dutch in 1654, initially just to supply the Dutch sailors heading to the Orient, but by the end of the seventeenth century, the sweet white wines of Constantia were so highly-regarded that they were being shipped back to Europe for the Royal courts. Both Frederick the Great of Prussia and Catherine the Great of Russia praised the dessert wines of Constantia, and Napoleon Bonaparte had as much as 1,126 liters (297 gallons) of Constantia wine shipped in wooden casks each year to Longwood House, his home in exile on St. Helena, from 1815 until his death in 1821. The Count de las Cases reported that, on his deathbed, after consuming thirty bottles each month, Napoleon refused everything offered to him but a glass of Constantia wine. Even Jane Austen recommended Constantia wine’s healing powers for a disappointed heart, and other writers, from Charles Dickens to Charles Baudelaire, spoke glowingly of its charms and pleasures.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Champagne bottles

Champagne (which used to be part of the Duchy of Burgundy and which is therefore made of the Burgundian grapes of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay) uses a Burgundy-style bottle. However, because the pressure inside the bottle can be 90 psi (three times the pressure of a normal car tire), the glass needs to be extra thick. Also, the punt is more pronounced, enabling the riddler to turn the bottle in the rack. Most Champagne is bottled in green glass, but pink or rose Champagne is bottled in clear glass to show off the color.

In addition to the standard 750 ml bottle, Champagne also comes in larger bottles—though I suspect the benefits are more visual than gustatory:

  • Magnum – 1.5 liters (two regular bottles)
  • Jeroboam (a.k.a. Double Magnum) – 3 liters (four bottles)
  • Rehoboam - 4.5 liters (six bottles)
  • Methuselah – 6 liters (eight bottles)
  • Salmanazar – 9 liters (twelve bottles)
  • Balthazar – 12 liters (sixteen bottles)
  • Nebuchadnezzar – 15 liters (twenty bottles)
  • Solomon – 18 liters (twenty-four bottles)
  • Goliath – 27 liters (thirty-six bottles)
  • Melchizedek or Midas – 30 liters (forty regular bottles)

Winegrowers in Burgundy and Bordeaux also produce large format bottles with similarly Biblical names—but not to the extent found in Champagne.

Monday, July 17, 2017


Joel Fleischman of Vanity Fair describes Pinot Noir as "the most romantic of wines, with so voluptuous a perfume, so sweet an edge, and so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic." Master Sommelier, Madeline Triffon, calls Pinot Noir "sex in a glass," while Peter Richardsson of OenoStyle christened it "a seductive yet fickle mistress!" Robert Parker has said of Pinot Noir “When it's great, Pinot Noir produces the most complex, hedonistic, and remarkably thrilling red wine in the world.” The children’s author, Roald Dahl, once wrote that "to drink a Romanée-Conti [Pinot Noir] is like having an orgasm in the mouth and nose at the same time."

A grape which can inspire such passions can be paired only with a writer of sublime and sensuous sensitivity, such as King Solomon and his Song of Songs:  
"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine … How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. … You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches. Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth. I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.  Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love."

Obviously inspired by the Song of Songs, and possibly a glass, or two, of Pinot Noir as well, the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote in his “Ode to Wine:

    "My darling, suddenly
     the line of your hip
     becomes the brimming curve
     of the wine goblet,
     your breast is the grape cluster,
     your nipples are the grapes,
     the gleam of spirits lights your hair,
     and your navel is a chaste seal
     stamped on the vessel of your belly,
     your love an inexhaustible

     cascade of wine."

Saturday, July 15, 2017


According to Vinpair, the online magazine devoted to 'wine, beer and spirits', the best way to pair a wine with a romp in the hay is with a bottle of red, as explained in the following article:

If you ask Leon Phelps – aka the “Ladies Man” – about the most essential ingredient for love, Courvoisier will be his answer every time. As he so famously said in his trademark lisp, “usually it only takes me a bottle of Courvoisier and some Lou Rawls to get excited, you know?” Booze, and red wine in particular, is listed as one of the top ten aphrodisiacs for love, but have a bit too much, and alcohol can turn from being good for your sex drive to being bad very quickly – don’t pretend you’re the only one who hasn’t had a few too many and then had a not-so-fun romp in the sheets. So what’s the ideal dosage for love? Let us prescribe it to you.

When we first take a sip of booze, alcohol’s initial effects as one of the world’s greatest social lubricants begins to take hold. We feel looser, more open and often, much more relaxed. This is the liquid courage we hear so much about, and it’s why so many of us seem to have the most success when meeting someone out at a bar. At this initial stage, we feel more confident to take a risk – which includes talking to that attractive person across the room.

It’s at the level of about one to two drinks, when most people report feeling the most pleasure. Alcohol stimulates the receptors in our brain, and at one or two drinks in, that slight buzz and warm feeling aren’t being overwhelmed by the feelings of dizziness, nausea and even depression, which can set in after consuming a good bit. It’s also at this light level of alcohol intake when we’re most likely to perform our best – drinking and driving is not the only thing you should avoid when drunk.

And while all alcohol in moderation helps a bit when it comes to sexual pleasure and desire, none has more benefits than red wine, both for males and females. For the ladies, red wine causes the sex drive to be even more pronounced than with other drinks, at least according to a group of Italian researchers who discovered that the compounds in the wine actually enhance levels of sexual desire in the fairer sex. What the researchers uncovered was that the red wine specifically increased blood flow to women’s erogenous areas, which in turn led to increased levels of desire. The researchers were quick to point out, however, that after more than a drink or two the other effects of alcohol began to take hold, which led to a less pleasurable experience. Moderation, it seems, is key.

For men, not only does a drink or two loosen things up and increase blood flow to essential areas, but red wine also seems to increase levels of testosterone in the blood, a necessary hormone when it comes to male sexual arousal and “appetite.” Normally a male’s body rids itself of testosterone when an enzyme called UGT2B17 attaches specific molecules to testosterone, enabling the body to identify it and get rid of it through the urine. But when consuming a glass of red, a compound inside the wine called quercetin effectively blocks UGT2B17, preventing the body from excreting it, and thereby raising levels of testosterone in the blood. However, just as with women, a few too many drinks and all alcohol, including red wine, can have the reverse effect, lowering testosterone and decreasing the sex drive.

So when it comes to alcohol and sex, the best prescription is opening and splitting a bottle of red with your partner. It’s the perfect amount for you to each have two glasses and experience the positive effects the combination of wine and sex can deliver, with a smaller chance of the negatives.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Old Wine (Really Old Wine).

Three cases of Madeira wine were discovered at a New Jersey university.
Everyone’s basement has been known to get cluttered at some point. That’s what it’s there for, right? Your own private hoarder’s paradise that no one ever has to know about. Even if the space doubles as a wine cellar, sure, maybe some boxes get moved around and you forget about a few bottles until the next spring cleaning. Or in the case of the Kean family, maybe you forget about a few cases… for 221 years.

During a recent restoration project at Liberty Hall Museum on what is now New Jersey’s Kean University, staff discovered nearly three cases of Madeira wine from 1796, as well as around 42 demijohns from the 1820s, according to Even more amazingly, much of the Madeira – which is a resilient fortified wine similar to port – is believed to still be in good, drinkable condition. In the 18th century, Madeira – which comes from the islands of the same name located in the Atlantic Ocean southwest of Portugal – was popular in the states because it was able to cross the Atlantic without losing its quality. That same steadfastness is why it’s likely been able to hold up over two centuries later. “So you could open some of these bottles, and it might be perfect," said Bill Schroh Jr, Liberty Hall’s director of operations. Liberty Hall President John Kean even tried a bit, comparing it favorably to a sweet sherry.

Of course, how any alcohol gets lost in a wine cellar for over 200 years is another story entirely. Liberty Hall was first built in 1760 as a getaway for a rich New York lawyer. In 1811, the Kean family moved in, where multiple generations lived until 1973. Now a museum, every year, the staff has chosen a different room to renovate, according to Kean University’s The Tower. 2016 was the year of the cellar – a room that hadn’t been properly cleaned in 50 years – which is what lead to the recent wine discovery. “There were bottles on top of bottles,” said Schroh; “some were bad, some were good, some were popped and emptied, some were broken; but there were just so many. There were at least 200 years’ worth of bottles in there.”

Even Kean wasn’t entirely aware of what was in the basement. “We knew there was a lot of liquor down here, but we had no idea as to the age of it,” he said. Perhaps what they should have done is let some of the university students loose in there on a Saturday night: If there’s alcohol to be found, they’d have found it.

The museum is now believed to have the largest known collection of Madeira in the United States, though the value of all that wine isn’t being disclosed. At this point, the bottles are simply being put on display as part of the museum; however, it’s worth noting that, technically, the wine is still property of John Kean and the Kean family. Schroh even pointed out that, if he wanted to, Kean could come by and grab a bottle at any time.

As reported in Food&Wine Magazine.