Saturday, April 29, 2017

What is wine?

Wine is made from the fermented juice of fruit. Any fruit can be used to make wine and some of it is no doubt delicious. However, for the purpose of this book, our discussion of wine is limited to the fermented juice of grapes made from the Vitis vinifera vine which is native to the Eastern Mediterranean but is now planted worldwide.
Fermentation is a naturally occurring process in which the yeast found in the grapes converts the natural sugars into alcohol. The more sugar the grape contains, the higher the level of alcohol.
There are seven basic categories of wine:
  1. Red Wine: Made from dark skinned grapes when the skins remain with the juice during fermentation
  2. White Wine: Made from grapes with the (usually pale) skins removed before fermentation
  3. Rosé Wine: Made from dark skinned grapes when skins have been allowed brief contact with the juice during fermentation. Obviously, the longer the contact, the deeper the color will be
  4. Sparkling Wine: Wines which contain small bubbles of carbon-dioxide, either as a result of a secondary natural fermentation or through post-fermentation injection. The most famous come from the Champagne region of North-East France
  5. Distilled Wine: Brandy is made from fermented wines which have been distilled to 35 -60% alcohol and the name comes from the Dutch word brandewijn —‘burnt wine’. The best known brandies are Cognac and Armagnac, two regions in South-West France
  6. Fortified Wine: Made from fermented wine to which some brandy has been added, raising the alcohol level to about 18-20%. The most famous fortified wines are from Jerez (Sherry) in Southern Spain and Porto (Port) in Northern Portugal.
  7. Raisinated Wine: Rather than fermenting the juice of the freshly picked fruit, the grapes are allowed to dry in the sun, becoming more like raisins before they are crushed and allowed to ferment. This process, which is called appassimento in Italian, concentrates the sugars and thus results in a far higher alcohol level as well as a sweeter wine. Historically all the best and most expensive wines used to be made this way. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Bordeaux's En Primeur

The following is an excerpt from an article on Bordeaux in the Snooth wine website

What exactly is En Primeur? 

The simplest answer is wine futures. Each spring the Grand Cru Classe chateaux produce barrel samples from the previous year’s vintage, in this case 2015. These wines are not ready for market, in fact they won’t be released for 1-3 years. Members of the international wine trade descend upon Bordeaux for a week to taste these samples. Upon conclusion a so called “buzz” is created. Is it a great vintage? Poor vintage? Average? Best in decades? How was the overall en primeur of the vintage received? At this point prices are determined and wine brokers, known as négociants, begin to sell the “futures.” This process is good for the chateaux because their risk of a poor vintage is spread out by the négociant; meaning a poor vintage still equals profit. Furthermore, the chateaux receives cash before the vintage is ready so they do not have to wait for barrel and bottle aging to profit from each vintage. The négociant is in a tough situation because in order to maintain their allocation they must buy their fully allotted amount in good vintages and in bad. If they chose to not take their full allocation in a poor vintage year they risk losing the allocation in a potentially good vintage year.

How does Bordeaux’s En Primeur affect wine consumers?

Interestingly, the average American wine consumer seemingly knows little or nothing about En Primeur. If you are an oenophile who seeks to stock your wine cellar with some of the highest quality Bordeaux from the best vintages with little concern of price, chances are you are well aware of En Primeur and have a wine merchant to supply you Bordeaux futures. If you are a wine consumer who enjoys Bordeaux and is constantly seeking a bargain En Primeurs has little to no effect on your wine buying and consumption. There used to be a discount for buying En Primeurs but it has diminished over the years. European wine press and consumers, especially in the UK, seem to be more attentive to En Primeur than their US counterparts. 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017


Blood clots and strokes:  Polyphenols – antioxidants in wine help protect the lining of blood vessels in the heart and a polyphenol called resveratrol reduces the risk of inflammation and clotting. A Colombia University study found that wine drinkers have 50 percent less probability of suffering a clot-related stroke than non-drinkers. The polyphenols in red wine appear to boost levels of HDL, the "good “cholesterol, and helps prevent artery-clogging LDLs, or “bad” cholesterol, from causing damage to the lining of arteries.

Cancer: According to the American Cancer Society, an active antioxidant in red wine called quercetin works against certain cancer cells, especially those in colon cancer. A Stony Brook University study shows that the consumption of red wine cuts the risk of colon cancer by 45 percent. It turns out that the same phenolic compounds that lower heart disease risk also may slow the growth of breast cancer cells, according to findings reported by scientists at the University of Crete in Greece.  Phenols also were shown to suppress the growth of prostate cancer cells. And French scientists found evidence that an antioxidant in wine called resveratrol can slow the growth of liver cancer cells. Researchers from the University Of Missouri School Of Dentistry discovered that red wine’s antioxidants, resveratrol and quercetin, may inhibit the growth of oral cancer cells.

Cataracts: An Icelandic study published in Nature shows that moderate drinkers are 32 percent less likely to get cataracts than non-drinkers. Wine drinkers are 43 percent less likely to get cataracts than beer drinkers.

Social Graces: Preliminary studies conducted by myself and certain associates have suggested that in addition to being good for your health, wine will improve your witty repartee, your clarity of enunciation and cognitive functionality and also enhance your dancing skills as well as making you sexually irresistible to other people.

Monday, April 24, 2017


Longevity: Wine's anti-aging properties have been recognized for more than a thousand years. Monasteries throughout Europe were convinced that their monks' longer lifespans, compared to the rest of the population, was partly due to their daily consumption of wine. A 29-year long Finnish study shows that wine drinkers have a 34 percent lower mortality rate than beer or vodka drinkers. Again, this is attributed to the antioxidant resveratrol which is found in the skins of red grapes. A study carried out at the University of London found that compounds commonly found in red wine, called procyanidins, keep blood vessels healthy and are one of the factors that contribute towards longer life spans enjoyed by the wine consuming people of the Mediterranean region.

Reduced Infection:  British and Spanish studies have shown that people who drink wine daily reduce their risk of infection by Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes gastritis, ulcers and stomach cancer, by as much as 11 percent.

Ovarian problems: When Australian researchers recently compared women with ovarian cancer to cancer-free women, they found that roughly one glass of wine a day seemed to reduce the risk of the disease by as much as 50 percent. Earlier research at the University of Hawaii produced similar findings.

Stronger bones: Women who drink wine daily have higher bone mass than women who don’t drink wine. The wine appears to boost estrogen levels which slow the body’s destruction of old bones and cut the risk of osteoporosis -- age-related bone thinning related to calcium loss. A report in the American Journal of Epidemiology in April 2000 showed that women who drank the equivalent of one to three glasses of wine -- had greater bone mineral density, measured in the hip region of their thighbones, than nondrinkers or heavy drinkers. Bone mineral density is the measure physicians use to determine bone strength and resilience.

Diabetes: A Harvard Medical School study as well as a study by Amsterdam’s VU University show that premenopausal women who drink one or two glasses of wine daily are 40 percent less likely to develop type-2-diabetes than women who abstain.

Heart-Attack: A Harvard study shows that wine drinkers suffering from high blood pressure are 30 percent less likely to have a heart attack than non-drinkers, while another study conducted by Queen Mary University in London shows that red wine tannins contain procynidins which protect against heart disease. According to the January 2000 issue of European Heart Journal, red wine appears to dilate arteries and increase blood flow, thus lowering the risk of the kind of clots that cut off blood supply and damage heart muscles.

This is part two of a three-part list of wine's health benefits.

Saturday, April 22, 2017


Wine has been used as a medicine for more than four-thousand years. Ancient Sumerian clay tables and Egyptian papyri, as old as 2200 BC, describe a wide variety of wine based medicines. The Greek physician Hippocrates considered wine an essential part of a healthy diet and also as a disinfectant for wounds as well as a cure everything from lethargy to diarrhea. The Ancient Greek poet Eubulus also recommended the daily consumption of wine for good health but only in moderation. For Eubulus, moderation meant three bowls of wine with a meal. The Greek bowl, or kylix, contained about 250 ml of wine so three bowls would be the equivalent of a modern, 750 ml, bottle of wine.
The relationship between wine and health was first brought to Americans’ attention in a 1991 edition of the TV program 60-Minutes when Morley Safer discussed the “French Paradox.” The paradox was that the French who, as a nation, are well-known for enjoying a delicious cuisine high in fats, suffer from a very low incidence of coronary heart disease. The program concluded that although the French diet is indeed high in saturated-fats it also includes a healthy dose of red wine which obviously counteracts the effects of the fat. Following the TV program, sales of red wine in the USA almost doubled as Americans concluded that the increased consumption of Merlot would make them healthy, slim and, hopefully, as elegant as the French.
Even if drinking red wine does not make you look like Catherine Deneuve, recent research has shown that the health benefits are still not inconsiderable.

Memory Protection: Researchers at the University of Arizona tested women in their 70s and found those that drank wine daily scored much better in memory quizzes than those who did not drink wine. The powerful antioxidant resveratrol protects against cell damage and prevents age-related mental decline such as Alzheimer’s. In a study by Loyola University Medical Center, the researchers gathered and analyzed data from academic papers on red wine since 1977. The studies, which spanned 19 nations, showed a statistically significantly lower risk of dementia among regular red wine drinkers in 14 countries. The investigators explained that resveratrol reduces the stickiness of blood platelets, which helps keep the blood vessels open and flexible. This helps maintain a good blood supply to the brain.

This is the first of a three-part list of wine's health benefits.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Best Wine Books

The trouble with doing a 'favorite books' list is that as soon as you've compiled a list, you discover another book that should have been included. The following is the list of favorite wine books which I have listed in my own book.

Campbell, Christy: The Botanist and the Vintner, Algonquin Books
Clarke, Oz: The History of wine in 100 Bottles, Stirling Publishing.
Colman, Tyler: Wine Politics, University of California Press
Dovas, Michel & Guillard, Michel: Bordeaux: Legendary Wines, Assouline
Heskett & Butler: Divine Vintage, Palgrave Macmillan
Johnson, Hugh & Robinson Jancis, World Atlas of Wine, Simon & Schuster
Johnson, Hugh: Pocket Wine Book, Mitchell Beasley
Johnson, Hugh: Vintage – The Story of Wine, Simon & Schuster
Kliman, Todd: The Wild Vine, Clarkson Potter Publishers
Keevil, Susan: Wines of the World, Metro Books, (D. Kindersley)
Lukacs, Paul: Inventing Wine, W.W. Norton & Company
MacNeil, Karen: The Wine Bible, Workman Publishing
Pitte, Jean-Robert: Bordeaux vs. Burgundy, U. of California Press
Potter, Maximillian: Shadows in the Vineyard, Twelve, Hachette Book Group
Robinson, Jancis: Guide to Wine Grapes, Oxford University Press
Robinson, Jancis: [Editor] The Oxford Companion to Wine, OUP
Saporta, Isabelle: VINO Business, The Cloudy World of French Wine, Grove Press
Steinberger, Michael: The Wine Savant, W.W. Norton & Company
Taber, George: Judgment of Paris, Scribner
Veseth, Mike: Wine Wars, Rowman & Littlefield
Wallace, Benjamin: The Billionaire’s Vinegar, Crown Publishers

Too late to make my list, I have just discovered the following wonderful study of the origen of wine:

Patrick E. McGovern: Ancient Wine, The Search for the Origens of Viniculture, Princeton University Press

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Wine Movies

The following is a list of my favorite movies concerning wine
  • Red Obsession (2013 documentary.) Beautiful and splendid study of Bordeaux wines and China
  • SOM (2012 documentary) The training and trials of becoming a certified sommelier.
  • A Year in Burgundy (2013 Documentary). Martine Saunier follows seven Burgundian wine making families through 12 months of work.
  • A Year In Champagne (2015 Documentary) Martine Saunier does the same thing for the wine makers of Champagne.
  • Mondovino (2004 documentary) The globalization of the world’s wine industry
  • Sideways (2004 comedy.) A paean to Pinot Noir and an attack on Merlot
  • Bottleshock (2008 comedy.) Roughly based on ‘The Judgment of Paris’.

Friday, April 14, 2017


I love how wine continues to evolve, how every time I open a bottle it’s going to taste different than if I had opened it on any other day. Because a bottle of wine is actually alive – it’s constantly evolving and gaining complexity. That is, until it peaks – like your ’61 – and begins its steady, inevitable decline. And it tastes so fucking good. 
Virginia Madsen as Maya in the movie Sideways

Monday, April 10, 2017


In the Booklovers' Guide to Wine, I have paired various writers with appropriate varietals of grape. For example  I have paired Chenin Blanc with Rabelais.

Chenin Blanc is a white grape that is commonly grown in the middle Loire Valley of France. It is also cultivated in South Africa and California. It makes white wines that are fragrant and high in acid. Chenin Blanc can make wines that range in style from dry to very sweet depending on decisions made by the individual winemaker, subject to the specific conditions of the season. 

The town of Vouvray, in Touraine on the Loire for example, is famous for sweet, dry and sparkling versions of Chenin Blanc. Because of the high acidity in wines made from Chenin Blanc, they tend to age very well. In Saumur, also on the Loire, Chenin Blanc is used to make sparkling wines of notable quality. 

Between Saumur and Vouvray lies the historic town of Chinon whose wines were immortalized by Rabelais, the 15th century writer, humanist, physician and philosopher. His writings, most notably Gargantua and Pantagruel, are wild, bawdy and drunken fantasies filled with fornicating friars and naughty nuns but all of whom swear by the healing powers of the Chenin Blanc wines from the vineyards of Chinon. Just as the Chenin Blanc wine can be extremely dry or extremely sweet, so too the writings of Rabelais range from the most lewd and vulgar to the most profound, and he is regrded as one of the fathers of modern European literature.

Chenin Blanc is known elsewhere as Pineau de la Loire. It is the most planted grape in South Africa where its local name is Steen. Chenin Blanc is a high volume producer so the wines it produces tend to be fairly inexpensive. Western Australia’s Margaret River produces some of the world’s finest Chenin Blanc but, because of its remoteness, they are hard to find in America.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Summer Wine

Books & Books in Coral Gables has announced the dates of its next Wine Appreciation Program, entitled "Summer Wine".

The program begins on Monday, June 19 and will continue till July 24.

The class, as always, will be hosted by the well-known and much loved, local wino, Patrick Alexander.

Nancy Sinatra will unfortunately not be able to attend, but sends her best wishes with this rendition of Summer Wine

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Joys of Cheap Wine

There is a wonderful article of the science and pleasures of cheap, affordable wine by Ben Panco in the current edition of The Smithsonion.

The article begins with "We live in a golden age of wine, thanks in part to thirsty millennials and Americans seemingly intent on out-drinking the French. Yet for all its popularity, the sommelier's world is largely a mysterious one. Bottles on grocery store shelves come adorned with whimsical images and proudly proclaim their region of origin, but rarely list ingredients other than grapes. Meanwhile, while ordering wine at a restaurant can often mean pretending to understand terms like "mouthfeel," "legs" or "bouquet."

"I liked wine the same way I liked Tibetan hand puppetry or theoretical particle physics," writes journalist Bianca Bosker in the introduction to her new book Cork Dork, "which is to say I had no idea what was going on but was content to smile and nod."

You can read more at the

Sunday, April 2, 2017

English wine experts

The reason I have been silent and ‘blogless’ the past few days is that my wife has gone off to the South of France to visit her sister. So obviously, in her absence, everything has fallen apart; dishes are piling-up in the sink, dogs are peeing (and worse) all over the house and we are rapidly running out of wine.

I had given my wife a draft copy of my new book ‘The Booklover’s Guide to Wine’ to take with her as a present to impress my in-laws However, just this evening when I was hoping for a little sympathy (and advice about doggie hygiene) I learned that my brother-in-law is the son of somebody who has already written all that needs to be said on the subject of wine.

I am distraught.  (And they wonder why I drink!)

Mind you, long before I met my wife or her sister met Roger, George Ordish had already written another book, called "Wine Growing in England" – 1957. In any event, I am proud to be associated in however an oblique and indirect manner with such a visionary. He obviously knew all about Climate Change - and the incipient English wine industry in which the wines of the South Downs would eventually surpass those of Champagne.