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Wine Education

A toast – to #Champagneday

Matthew Horbund with some Veuve Clicquot

Matthew Horbund with some Veuve Clicquot

If you aren’t a user of Social Media platforms, such as Twtter, you probably have no idea why the pound sign, #, is in this article title. Likewise, you probably have no idea what #Champagneday is, or why I’m toasting to it. First, that pound sign is called a Hashtag, and allows twitter to aggrigate tweets or posts about a specific topic, in this case #Champagneday. Anyone who tweets with the word #Champagneday will be shown if you search for that hashtag.  More importantly is what Champagneday stands for. It’s sponsored by the Champagne Bureau, the PR firm for the region that produces amazing bubbly, and it’s purpose is to promote Champagne, as well as raise awareness that true Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France.

Now, a good friend in the wine business said “If they spent more time talking about Champagne, instead of worrying about the name and where it comes from, more people would drink it. Then we wouldn’t need a day about it.” That may be true, as Richard Auffrey points out that America’s Champagne consumption lags behind other sparkling wine consumption, The US drinks about 17 million bottles of Champagne, out of about 127 million bottles of sparkling wine in total. I find it hard to argue that perhaps more energy should be spent promoting Champagne as a whole, rather than protecting the name.

The Champagne Region Of France

The Champagne Region Of France

However, it does make sense to note that true Champagne only comes from the Champagne region of France. The soil, or terrior in wine geek speak, as well as the micro-climate of the Champagne region of France produces great conditions for growing the three grapes that go into Champagne. Those grapes are pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier, the last poorly pronounced as pee-no moon-yay. And while some sparkling wine made in other parts of the world have carried the name “Champagne” in the past, I believe agreements on labeling will have that coming to an end.  Branding is big business, and protecting the name “Champagne” has definite business impact.

Enjoying Pol Roger Champagne

Enjoying Pol Roger Champagne

Now, lets get to the business of #Champagneday. On Friday, the 28th of October people around the world, or at least in my house, will be enjoying Champagne and sharing their thoughts on it. We will write blog posts about it, post about it on Facebook, and of course, tweet about it.  You can always follow me on Twitter, to see what I have to say. You can also follow the #Champagneday Hashtag to see what everyone, worldwide, is saying about Champagne.

I’ll be tasting at least 7 different Champagnes with friends on Friday evening, and will do my best to capture notes about them. I’ll share tasting notes, as well as general food pairings for Champagne, along with educational tidbits about Champagne in general. I hope you connect with me via Twitter or Facebook, as I love talking about wine,  and Champagne is indeed wine! I also hope you participate in the event. Champagne is a fun adult beverage that should not be reserved for special days and celebrations. Life is short, celebrate Friday with Champagne. You’ll thank me.

The Great Debate-Cork vs Screw Cap

Corks or Screwcaps for your wine?

Corks or Screwcaps for your wine?

Two weeks ago I visited CBS12 WPEC for a segment on Cork vs Screw Cap with Suzanne Boyd and Eric Roby. I find it interesting that today my good friend Cynthia from Passaggio wines tweets out a post about cork making a comeback as the wine enclosure of choice. I find the data a tad underwhelming, and I think it remains to be seen the true volume of wineries switching back to cork from screw cap. My segment, below, discusses whether or not cork or screw caps are a better seal, and whether cheaper wines use screw caps. Check it out, and let me know your thoughts or questions.

For those without the time or ability to watch the two minute video, I’ll give you my summary below the video.


I don’t think cork is a better enclosure than a screw top, and neither do some very prominent wineries. Tests have shown that in the short term, meaning 10 years and under, Stelvin screw caps were as good of a seal for wine, if not better than cork. Hogue Cellars did 30 months of studies on cork versus screw cap, and Plump Jack has done similar studies, with both showing aging wine with a screw cap for 10 years fresher fruit while still showing the qualities desirable from aging.   More data needs to be done for long term aging, of course, and technology advances in the Stelvin screw caps will help with that.

As far as whether or not cheaper wines use screw top and not cork, I can settle that quite easily. I could list off the dozens, if not hundreds of wineries of high quality, and often high priced wine that are using screw tops. However, I’ll just refer to Plump Jack who has done several rounds of testing with screw cap, and offers their 2008 Cade Cabernet Sauvignon under screw cap for $72. I haven’t visited Plump Jack since 2008, however their wines have been rated in the 95+ point category by critics in recent vintages. So, if a top tier Napa Cab can be under screw cap, why shouldn’t other wines use screw caps as well?

I find it amusing that Treehugger says the wine snobs are the ones pushing wineries to use cork again. There are millions of bottles of wine produced in France alone. Add Italy, Germany, Chile, Argentina, and the United states, and you’re approaching an absurd number of bottles. And there aren’t enough wine snobs in the world to consume them all. So, can a small minority of people really dictate what enclosures the wine industry uses? I find that hard to fathom.

Additionally, much of the red wine released into the market is consumed in a relatively short time span from it’s release and purchase. This makes the need to store those wines long term unnecessary, leaving little to no difference between the cork or screw cap enclosure. So, can it be the romaticisim of the sound of a cork popping that drives people to want cork enclosures.  Maybe. For me, I’m quite happy with my screw caps.


This Week at Total Wine – Sauvignon Blanc

Matthew Horbund talks Sauvignon Blanc at Total Wine

Matthew Horbund talks Sauvignon Blanc at Total Wine

A wine store like Total Wine and More can be intimidating for the uninitiated. With thousands of bottles staring you in the face, picking out the perfect wine for your meal or party may seem daunting. Though it’s really not that difficult, I kick off a new collaboration with Total Wine to help you navigate the aisles easily with a video about sauvignon blanc, a perfect summer wine.

The short video will go through where you’ll find sauvignon blanc, the different flavors this grape offers, and even a few food and wine pairing tips with sauvginon blanc. A delicious, dry, crisp white wine,  you’ll enjoy exploring the different areas producing sauvignon blanc.


Matthew Horbund Talks Sauvignon Blanc at Total Wine

In coming weeks, we’ll talk about other delicious wines for your summer get together. In the mean time, I’d love to hear which sauvignon blanc is your favorite, and if you like sauvignon blanc alone, or with food!

Biodynamic wine and witch doctors

Shona witch doctor Zimbabwe

Shona witch doctor Zimbabwe

When I wrote about wines that were organic, sustainable or biodynamic, I made the mistake of mentioning Voodoo and Witchcraft. After my post was read by Elizabeth Candelario, Marketing Director for Demeter USA, I’ve come to see I’m only perpetuating the wrong image of biodyanmic grape growing. It’s time to change that! Elizabeth took the time to write me a letter that puts the right focus on Biodynamic farming and grape growing. It helps point to not just the astronomical influences on the farming, but also the homeopathic influences.

Read with great interest (and watched too!) your coverage of Biodynamic in a recent post on your website.  I am a really big fan of Montinore so I appreciated your mention of them as well.  For the record, if you don’t mind my making a few comments…

Vooddo!  Witchcraft!!  What the heck!!!  Your description of Biodynamic practices was terrific: no chemicals, view of the farm as a living organism, holistic natural approach, use of the preparations.  Thanks for that!  But I always have a hard time understanding how we can move from sound agronomy to adjectives like voodoo and witchcraft!

Anyway- if you are interested- check out our website where you will find lots of materials, and also the Demeter Farm Standard itself.  The important thing to remember is that the term BIODYNAMIC is held as a certification mark by Demeter in the commercial marketplace relative to agriculturally-based products and farms.  In order for a farm or product to refer to itself as BIODYNAMIC it must meet the Demeter Farm and Processing Standards and be verified though certification.

In a nutshell then the term BIODYNAMIC = The Demeter Standards.   There is mention of astronomical influences as one consideration within an extensive farming system.  The preparations are also an important part- but think homeopathic remedies- and there is some science pointing to increased microbial activity in soils that have been treated with the preps- not to mention a lot of antidotal support.   There is no mention of spiritual forces per se, although many Biodynamic practitioners will share that as part of their own personal observation.   Most importantly of all- the Farm Standard is composed of all of the other practices you described.

And the Farm Standard is historically significant because it dates back to the beginning of the sustainable agriculture movement and captures key agronomic principles not comprehensively addressed within any other agriculture certification system in the world.  It seeks to create a farm system that is minimally dependant on imported materials, instead meeting its needs from the living dynamics of the farm itself.  It is the biodiversity of the farm, organized so that the waste of one part of the farm becomes the energy for another, that results in an increase in the farm’s capacity for self-renewal and ultimately makes the farm sustainable.  Sections of the Farm Standard include soil fertility management, crop protection, greenhouse management, animal welfare, and the use of the preparations.  It’s actually a beautiful document that would align with any sustainable farmer’s understanding of good agriculture.

Anyway- hope you don’t mind my long winded note.  Just trying very hard to get away from the more sensational things being written and spoken about Biodynamic agriculture as I feel it actually isn’t accurate.  Sure do appreciate you and the work you are doing to educate wine drinkers.  Please do consider me a resource.

Warm Regards,

Elizabeth Candelario

Marketing Director, Demeter USA

Board Chair, Stellar Organic Certification Services

My response to this well written, and educational, email was:

Thank you so much for taking the time to write me. I appreciate it, sincerely. I would actually like to take your email and post it on my blog – as I think you covered some very interesting and important points.  I assure you that while my descriptors may have come across as derogatory, there were never intended to be.

During September 2009 I visited two biodynamic vineyards in CA. Both of them were very passionate about what they did, and how they were stewards of the land.  However, both of them used the terms Voodo and Witchcraft, tongue in cheek, when discussing some of the practices. I think it was their way of bridging the gap between their audiences ignorance and their heartfelt beliefs and practices of biodynamic farming.  I also think that they were able to leave a lasting impression when doing so.

While it may not be wholly accurate to use the term Voodoo when discussing Biodynamic preparation 500, it definitely made an impression on us. It was perhaps a bit outlandish, and inaccurate, of course, but it helped me remember what they do, and why they do it. I do agree, however, that we have a responsibility to help educate people accurately, and that is why I’d like to post your letter on my blog. I believe it’ll help people searching for information become more educated in terms of biodynamic farming. I found the subject of biodynamic, as well as sustainable and organic farming quite interesting. However, the average attention span of visitors to our websites lately have declined. I therefore had to take a tremendous amount of information, cut it down, and hope I didn’t leave out the good stuff.  My intention was always to go back, revisit each of the three classifications or methods of farming, and hopefully engage people on them individually. This may be a great way to do so.

Thank you again!

So, as you can see, I posted the letter. The question I have for you, is what questions do you have for me? Let me know your thoughts on Biodynamic farming, grape growing, and wines. How can I help you understand what’s in your glass?

Wine 101 – Introduction to Gamay

Gamay Grapes

Gamay Grapes

The Gamay grape has a history dating back to approximately 1360, and it is thought to have first appeared in the Village of Gamay, it’s namesake. It’s nearly synonymous with Beaujolais, the AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée) in which it is most abundantly produced. What does all that mean? Well, The short two minute video here tries to explain a little bit about the grape, the styles of wine you can expect from Gamay grapes, and the main geography it is produced in.

There are several regions, or appellations, of Beaujolais, and each produces a different style and quality of wine made from Gamay grapes. The Beaujolais AOC is considered the first quality tier, and is likely what you think of when you have Beaujolais Nouveau each November. Beaujolais wines are meant to drink soon after bottling, and are typically fruit forward and easy drinking. They also, perhaps, have a bad reputation of being too simple and barely a step up from sweetened fruit juice. While masterful marketing in the 1980s has made Beaujolais Nouveau a wine people anticipate each year, it has also perhaps hurt the reputation of a grape that could produce great wines.

The next step up in quality is Beaujolais-Villages (Vill-ah-zche). While the wines produced here are also meant to be consumed young, like Beaujolais, they typically have lower yields, or smaller crops, which in turn produce more intense grapes and a smaller amount of more intense wines. There is not, typically, a tremendous price difference between wines from Beaujolais vineyards versus Beaujolais-Villages, and trying wines from each area will help understand the differences and similarities.

Finally, there are the ten Cru Beaujolais regions, each with it’s own characteristics that are imparted upon the wine, and can be broken into three categories. The Cru’s that make the lightest style of wine includes Brouilly, the largest Cru, Regnie, which was upgraded from a Beajolais-Villages are in 1988, and Chiroubles. The Cru Beaujolais producing medium bodied wine, which some experts recommend at least a year of bottle aging before approaching, include Cote de Brouilly, Fleuire, and Saint-Amour. Finally, the four Cru’s that typically produce the fullest bodied wines are Chenas, Juliénas, Morgon, and Moulin-a-Vent.It’s difficult to summarize each of the Cru’s, so I’ll expand on them in future posts.

Now you have an opportunity to add your thoughts! While I mentioned cheeses like Munster, Emmental, and Brie, as well as chicken or turkey, I barely covered foods that pair well with Gamay, or Beaujolais. What are some of your favorite food and Gamay wine pairings? After watching the video and reading the post, leave a comment below. I’m curious your take on Gamay, Beaujolais, and related topics.

A Bit About Torrontes – A White Wine From Argentina

Information about Torrontes white wines

Bunch of Torrontes grapes

Torrontes is a crisp white wine, produced almost exclusively in Argentina. Typically, the bouquet of a Torrontes wine will be aromatic, showing floral notes, often with citrus characteristics. The palate is crisp, ranging in body from light to medium, and is considered to be high in acidity. Citrus and floral characteristics will translate to the palate, though the citrus is not as prominent as say, a Sauvignon Blanc. As with any wine, the bouquet and palate, or scent and taste,  will be different depending on where it is produced, how it is fermented, and how it is aged.  Torrontes wines are meant to be drank young, and are not typically purchased to age. Torrontes is said to be the signature white wine from Argentina. It pairs nicely with seafood, cheeses, Mexican food, Thai food, and chicken.

It’s not known how Torrontes arrived in Argentina, or how long ago. Once thought to be native to Argentina, there is a bit of speculation where the grape originated. Citations on Wikipedia state “the Torrontes grape has been recently linked, genetically, to the Malvasian grapes, which originates in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is speculated to have come from Spain, perhaps by missionaries”.  However, torrontes genetic profiling done in 2003 links it to Muscat of Alexandria, which originated in North Africa,and Criolla chica, or the Mission grape.  While I find it fascinating that the origin of the grape can not be nailed down, and the debate ranges in writings by many wine geeks, I think I’ll instead pop a cork, or unscrew a top, and tell you a little about the wines from first  hand experience.

Speaking of first hand experience, have you had a Torrontes recently? Or ever? If so, let me know what you had, and what you thought of it! Where did it come from, and would you recommend it to others?

Some information about the Syrah grape

Shiraz Grapes

Shiraz Grapes

You may have read some of my recent articles and thought they were amazingly interesting, save one little thing. I have gone into great detail on what the wine taste like, where it came from, and how it was fermented, but I didn’t explain the grape itself. For all you knew I was talking about pickles from Mongolia turned into wine. Therefore, I’ll give you some basic information about the grapes in the wines I talk about, starting with Syrah.

A dark, almost black grape, with a thick skin, Syrah creates a wine that offers many expressions. It’s a grape that takes on the characteristics of the terroir, the earth that the grapes come from, and will be different depending on where it is grown. While more than half of the world’s Syrah vineyards are in France, the grape can be found in “new world” areas such as California, Washington, South Africa, and Australia.

Called Shiraz in Australia, the wine will typically have dark fruit flavors with an intense, peppery component when grown there. In contrast, Syrah you’ll find in California often can be round and fruit focused to jammy. French Syrah, used to make many Rhone wines from appellations such as Cote Rotie (pronounced Coat Row-tee) , Hermitage , and Chateauneuf de Pape, is often considered intense or strong when young, with great potential to age. These are of course generalizations, and the wine can have a very “old world” style while made in California, for example.

Syrah is a great food wine, and is definitely at home around a backyard BBQ. Paired with grilled meats, whether steaks, hamburger, sausage, or lamb, a nice Syrah from Washington will work well. Syrah (or Shiraz) can work well with other foods, such as pizza, game such as venison, boar, or pheasant, cheeses such as cheddar, aged Gouda, or Roquefort, and even duck or chicken if it’s grilled or barbecued.

Please feel free to add some comments below about Syrah or Shiraz!