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Wine Wednesday 101

2013 February 20


Since it’s Wednesday and some of us (ahem, most of us) use the cute alliteration as an (extra) excuse to indulge in a little vino today, I thought I would offer you a bit of informative wine wisdom to nibble on while you sip.

Jessica Kogan is a mom of two and Chief Marketing Officer at Cameron Hughes Wine, based up in San Francisco. You may have seen CHW in your local Costco. What makes it unique is that Cam and Jess do not own or even operate a winery; instead, they curate wine from high-end wineries all over the world – from sourcing grapes all the way to bottling the wine – managing the wine-making process and resulting in palate-pleasing wine for a fraction of the cost – think Gilt Groupe for wine. And hey, if it’s good enough for Gwyneth

So I know we all know what we like to drink. I am a sauvignon blanc and pinot noir kind of girl…and I don’t like rosé (we had an unfortunate rendez vous a few years ago), but I don’t know much beyond that. I don’t know why I like it, or what makes my favorites different, or even what I am missing with other varietals.

So I decided to borrow some of Jess’s wine wisdom and share it with you all. I asked her to give me a rundown on the most popular wines out there and some background and info on each:

Cabernet Sauvignon (red)

Three words to describe it: Big, elegant, intense

In a nutshell: Cabernet is the bestselling varietal in the United States because it pairs with anything. Also, it is really hard to screw up in production – so you can buy Cabs at almost any price point and be fairly satisfied.

Pinot Noir (red)

Three words to describe it: Bright, fruity, balanced

In a nutshell: Ladies: beware! Pinot Noir is a unique varietal and easy to screw up in production. I would do my research before buying a Pinot because there is a lot of overpriced schlock in the market due to the success of the movie Sideways, which elevated Pinot Noir to cult status. (editor’s note: leave it to me to love the overpriced pick).

Merlot (red)

Three words to describe it: Tannin, structured, earthy

In a nutshell: This used to be the bestselling varietal in the United States until said movie trash-talked Merlot. Since losing favor with consumers, quality has shot up and the price has come right down. The best deal in the wine business is Merlot at all price points – the quality over performs.

Syrah/Shiraz (red)

Three words to describe it: Spice, tannin, dark chocolate/leather aromas

In a nutshell: First, what’s the difference? Ok, for the record there is absolutely no difference between Syrah and Shiraz other than the pronunciation – the former American English and the latter Australian English. I personally love Syrah with meat only. Generally the alcohol content is higher in Syrah so a high-fat meal pairs perfectly.

Pinot Grigio (white)

Three words to describe it: Floral, light, easy

In a nutshell: Pinot Grigio is an Italian varietal brought to the United States. I personally like California Pinot Grigios as they have more fruit flavor. I definitely consider this a summer wine, but also great for drinking year-round on its own.

Chardonnay (white)

Three words to describe it: Orange marmalade, fruity, big

In a nutshell: Let’s all be honest here: Chardonnay rocks. Many people (mostly wine geeks) make fun of those who drink Chardonnay because they tend to be made with lots of oak, which delivers that super buttery, butterscotch taste. Apparently we must only enjoy crisp, florally Chardonnay. Well there is room for both and Chardonnay is the number one selling varietal in the United States, far above and beyond any other white wine. At almost any price point you can buy a good Chardonnay. I would say the sweet spot where the wine outperforms is at the $12 price point. Chardonnay goes with absolutely everything!

Sauvignon Blanc (white)

Three words to describe it: Bright, citrus, light

In a nutshell: The best SBs are from New Zealand and California (editor’s note: she is right, my go-to sauvignon blanc is from New Zealand). Most are made in a similar style – heavy grapefruit aromatics. This wine is generally a crowd pleaser and the alternative to Chardonnay, for your non-Chardonnay drinkers. Sauvignon Blanc is ideal with fish, oysters, crab – think seafood, beach, ocean, outdoors with a cool breeze!

Riesling (white)

Three words to describe it: Honey, bright, effervescent

In a nutshell: Riesling is in the middle of a renaissance in the United States. The bright structure and light sweetness appeal to all. You can find awesome Rieslings for about $10 at your local store. My opinion is that Germany makes the best Rieslings, then Washington State. You need a really cool climate to grow this varietal. Pairs with everything!

Don’t you feel like you are sipping smarter already?

And if you’re wondering what Jess is personally drinking these days, here are her favorite picks of the moment:

Cameron Hughes Wine Chardonnay, Lot 350, $13

Cameron Hughes Wine Moscato, Lot 319, $14

Cameron Hughes Wine Pinot Noir, Lot 377, $18

You can follow Cam and Jess on Facebook (along with 100k or so of their biggest fans) to get the latest information on newly released lots and where you can find them near you. But don’t be afraid to explore, too! I once bought a bottle of their wine purely based on the beautiful, deep purple label…and it was a hit. Looks are everything sometimes 😉

Thanks for joining us, Jess! Cheers!

*not a sponsored post – I just truly love the wine…and the wisdom of a fabulous working mom, of course*

One Response
  1. Cooky Oberg permalink
    February 20, 2013

    I disagree about your comments on Sauvignon Blanc. While New Zealand has been a long time leader, you had a WONDERFUL Sauvignon Blanc from Chile (CH 225 from the Leyda Valley)that was on the par with those. My favorite pinot noir of yours was 281 — a California pinot noir from the Santa Maria valley. I’m sorry Merlot took such a beating in “Sideways”, but the fact is, the protagonist’s favorite wine — Cheval Blanc from France — is partly made from Merlot. An inside joke?
    As for Syrah, the French, the American, and the Australians do vinify this wine differently, and there’s a big difference in the “terroir” of that wine from various places in the world. I think Australian Shiraz has a rough edge on it, and it seems to be a heavier wine than the French expression of this wine.
    You forgot to mention Albarino — my new best friend for summer drinking. It goes with everything. And the kick is, I like the American Albarino you had from Clarksburg California (240) better than the Spanish albarino wines I have tried. If people get to know this wine more, it’ll be popular. Whenever I serve it, it seems to be liked by all my friends, both the connoisseurs and the “unwashed”.
    Fun going through all the great wines and wine varieties. I’ve had alot of fun exploring these all through CH Wines.

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