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  Michael Apstein
  Wayne Belding
  Gerald D. Boyd
  Tina Caputo
  Jim Clarke
  Michael Franz
  W. Blake Gray
  Paul Lukacs
  Ed McCarthy
  Linda Murphy
  Rebecca Murphy
  Marguerite Thomas
  Robert Whitley
  Guest Columns


Columns – Tina Caputo

Q & A: Linda Schwartz, Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery
Tina Caputo
Dec 18, 2012

At first, the story of Fort Ross Vineyard & Winery may sound familiar: City-dwellers buy vineyard land and embark on second careers in the California wine industry. But this story has a twist. The couple behind this Sonoma Coast winery, Linda and Lester Schwartz, didn't exactly take the easy route. In 1976 the South African natives moved to Northern California, where Linda put her music background to use as an arts administrator and Lester worked as a lawyer. In 1988, the couple bought a virgin property in the high coastal ridges overlooking the Pacific Ocean, above the old Russian Settlement of Fort Ross. This is normally the part of the story where the couple hires famous consultants to plan and plant their vineyard. Instead, Linda enrolled in the viticulture program at Santa Rosa Junior College and Lester discovered his affinity for heavy machinery.

Q & A: Mike Martini, Louis M. Martini Winery
Tina Caputo
Nov 20, 2012

Like many wine lovers, I'm always interested in hearing about new producers, especially if they're veering away from the mainstream in terms of grape varieties, blends or styles. But sometimes the classics are just what I'm looking for. Wineries with a sense of place and history, specializing in traditional varieties, can be as welcome and satisfying as a plate of mom's pot roast. Louis M. Martini Winery in the Napa Valley is one of those classic California wineries. Whenever I pop a cork on one of Martini's Cabernets, I know that the wine in the bottle will be well made and a pleasure to drink -- rich, yet expertly balanced.

Q & A: Melissa Stackhouse, J Vineyards & Winery
Tina Caputo
Oct 23, 2012

When the weather turns cool and Thanksgiving approaches, my thoughts turn to festive sparklers and elegant Pinot Noirs -- wines that will pair beautifully with everything from cranberry relish to roasted turkey to sausage stuffing. If I had to choose a single source for elegant holiday wines, I'd turn to J Vineyards & Winery, in the Russian River Valley. Not only does J make terrific sparklers, it makes a range of lovely Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris wines.

Q&A: Gina Gallo, Winemaker
Tina Caputo
Sep 25, 2012

If you think you left Gallo wines behind when you moved on from Hearty Burgundy, you may be in for a surprise. Gallo is behind a slew of premium brands these days, including Frei Brothers, Louis M. Martini, MacMurray Ranch, Rancho Zabaco, William Hill Estate and many others. The 79-year-old company also makes some impressive wines under the Gallo Family Vineyards label, including the Estate, Single Vineyard, Sonoma Reserve, and now, the Signature Series offerings.

Q & A: Sean O'Keefe, Chateau Grand Traverse
Tina Caputo
Aug 28, 2012

As a Michigan native, I've kept an eye on the state's wine scene for many years. During that time, I've gone from being a skeptic, to being pleasantly surprised at the quality of certain wines, to becoming a True Believer in the ability of Northern Michigan vintners to produce fantastic wines. One producer that's been doing this all along is Chateau Grand Traverse. Located near Traverse City on the beautiful Old Mission Peninsula, Chateau Grand Traverse is the oldest and largest winery and vineyard operation in Northern Michigan.

Q & A: Peter Molnar of Obsidian Ridge Vineyard
Tina Caputo
Jul 31, 2012

I've tasted and enjoyed many wines from Lake County over the years, but until recently, I'd never really toured the region's vineyards. There's really no excuse for that, since Lake County is less than a two-hour drive from my house. It's just that it always seemed so… far. I'm embarrassed to admit that it took the promise of aerial transportation to entice me to spend some quality time in Lake County. But boy, am I glad I made the trip.

Q & A: Mark McWilliams of Arista Winery
Tina Caputo
Jul 3, 2012

People who live in other parts of the country often tell me how lucky I am to live in Northern California wine country, with its gorgeous vineyards, fantastic wines and sunny skies. As much as I love it here, I tell them, it has nothing to do luck. I was born and raised in suburban Michigan, but I decided soon after college graduation head West and make my own luck. Such was also the case with the McWilliams family of Texarkana, Texas, owners of Arista Winery in the Russian River Valley. In the mid-1990s, after years of vacationing in Sonoma with his wife Janis and dreaming of a life among the vines, orthodontist Al McWilliams pitched in with his brother-in-law to buy a family vineyard estate in Cloverdale, in northern Sonoma County.

Q & A: Daryl Groom
Tina Caputo
Jun 5, 2012

Daryl Groom is a man with many achievements under his belt. During his 30-plus years as a winemaker in his native Australia and in California, he's racked up multiple 'Winemaker of the Year' awards for his work at Geyser Peak Winery in Sonoma County (1990-2007), and holds the distinction of spending six years making one of Australia's most famous and sought-after red wines, Penfolds Grange. But his most meaningful success to date, he says, is a $13 red blend called Colby Red.

Q & A: Harry Peterson-Nedry of Chehalem Winery
Tina Caputo
May 8, 2012

When talking about the history of Oregon wines, certain names inevitably come up: Myron Redford of Amity Vineyards, David Adelsheim of Adelsheim Vineyard, David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards and Dick Erath of Erath Winery. These pioneering vintners -- among others -- laid the foundation in the late 1960s and `70s for the winemakers who followed. One such winemaker to benefit from the founders' wisdom -- and mistakes -- was Harry Peterson-Nedry, founder of Chehalem winery (pronounced chuh-HAY-lum) in the Willamette Valley. With degrees in chemistry and English, Harry's first career was in high-tech manufacturing. But as many before him have discovered, a wine hobby can have life-altering effects.

Q & A: Ross Cobb
Tina Caputo
Apr 10, 2012

Ross Cobb practically grew up in his family's vineyard, but becoming a winemaker and starting a winery weren't part of his original plan. In 1989, Ross' father David planted the 15-acre Coastlands Vineyard in California's chilly Sonoma Coast region with the idea of selling cool-climate Pinot Noir grapes to a handful of vintners. On weekends and summer breaks from studying biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Ross helped his dad in the vineyard. He grew to love the winegrowing process so much that he changed his major to agroecology and sustainable agriculture.

Q & A: Peter Bell of Fox Run Vineyards
Tina Caputo
Mar 13, 2012

For those of us who live in California, getting our hands on East Coast wines isn't easy. One East Coast producer that's worth the extra effort is Fox Run Vineyards in New York's Finger Lakes region. With 55 acres of vineyards, Fox Run makes a variety of wines -- including Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Franc-Lemberger -- but it's the winery's Rieslings that really stand out. Fox Run is one of three Finger Lakes wineries that combines its efforts to produce Tierce, one of the country's best Rieslings.

Q & A: John Balletto, Balletto Vineyards & Winery
Tina Caputo
Feb 14, 2012

John Balletto has been farming for most of his life -- but he didn't always focus on wine grapes. In 1977, after the untimely death of his father, 17-year-old John started a vegetable farming business with his mother. If it hadn't been for three El Niño storms in 1998 that wiped out three successive Balletto vegetable plantings, and a lack of water for growing vegetables on one of John's properties in western Sonoma County, John might be more famous today for his zucchini than for his Russian River Valley Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Q & A: Jeff Stai, Twisted Oak Winery
Tina Caputo
Jan 17, 2012

I first ran across Twisted Oak Winery several years ago, at one of those giant public wine tastings that draw dozens of vintners and thousands of attendees. In a sea of wine offerings, my attention was drawn to a man brandishing a large rubber chicken. That's right: a rubber chicken. I'd seen people walking around the event earlier that day wearing badges that read "Are You Twisted?," and wondered where they came from. Here, at the Twisted Oak table, was my answer.

Q & A: Sarah Cahn Bennett, Navarro Vineyards
Tina Caputo
Dec 20, 2011

Of all the gorgeous wine regions to visit in California, the Anderson Valley is probably my favorite. You won't find any trendy, high-end restaurants or chic boutiques in towns like Philo -- set in a remote location three hours north of San Francisco -- but you will find acres of majestic redwood trees, beautiful vineyards and some really nice people. Oh, and plenty of delicious Pinot Noir, too. Whenever I find myself winding my way up curvy Highway 128 through Anderson Valley, I always make a stop at Navarro Vineyards to pick up a few bottles.

Q & A: Bernard Portet
Tina Caputo
Nov 22, 2011

Although he was born in France, Bernard Portet is what you might call a Napa Valley legend. He arrived in the Napa Valley as a young man in his late 20s, charged with creating a Bordeaux-style winery from the ground up. That winery was Clos du Val. A ninth-generation winemaker, Bernard was born in the Cognac region of France and grew up in the Bordeaux area, where his father was the technical director at Château Lafite.

Q & A: Kokomo Winery's Erik Miller
Tina Caputo
Oct 25, 2011

After two days of jokes and small talk around the judging table, I learned that not only is Erik a really nice, down-to-earth guy, he also makes some fantastic wines. When the final competition results were tallied, Erik's wines had won a slew of top awards: 'Red Wine of the Year' for the 2008 Pedroni Vineyard Cabernet Franc, 'Best of Class' for the 2007 Mountainview Ranch Sangiovese, and double-gold and gold medals for Kokomo's Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Chardonnay wines.

England: The Next Champagne?
Tina Caputo
Sep 27, 2011

The English are known for many great contributions to the world: Delicious ales, hilarious comedy, the Beatles. Even the local cuisine, the butt of bad-food jokes for decades, has recently become a point of pride for the Brits. But wine? Surely the English should leave that sort of thing to their neighbors across the Channel in France, right? While that may have been true 20 years ago, it appears that the tide is turning.

Q & A: Michael Beaulac, Pine Ridge Vineyards
Tina Caputo
Aug 30, 2011

I first met Michael Beaulac, the personable and funny winemaker for Pine Ridge Vineyards in the Napa Valley, several years ago, when he was the winemaker at St. Supery. I admired his wines then, and I'm even more impressed by what he's doing at Pine Ridge. I followed up with Michael last week to find out more about his journey to Pine Ridge, and to see how the 2011 vintage is coming along.

Q & A: James Hall
Tina Caputo
Aug 2, 2011

For followers of California Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, Patz & Hall is one of the greats. While some vintners say that the key to winemaking success is owning and farming one's own vineyards, Patz & Hall winemaker and co-owner James Hall has been proving otherwise for 20 years. The winery owns no vineyards, opting instead to showcase the distinctive fruit of growers from the Sonoma Coast to the Santa Lucia Highlands through a portfolio of excellent single-vineyard wines.

Q & A: Bill Knuttel
Tina Caputo
Jul 5, 2011

Bill Knuttel is the executive winemaker at Dry Creek Vineyard (DCV) in California's gorgeous Dry Creek Valley. You may know DCV for its terrific Dry Chenin Blanc or Fumé Blanc wines, but the winery is primarily a Zinfandel specialist. Dry Creek Valley is one of the best places on earth for growing Zin, and DCV makes multiple versions -- all sharing a family resemblance of ripe fruit, good acidity and fine balance.

Q & A: Paul Dolan
Tina Caputo
Jun 7, 2011

There are a lot of impressive people involved in the California wine industry, but few are as respected and admired as Paul Dolan of Mendocino Wine Company. Paul is revered not only for his winemaking, but for his decades-long dedication to sustainable winegrowing and business practices. A fourth-generation winemaker, Paul's grandfather Edmund Rossi ran the Italian Swiss Colony winery in Asti, California, and each summer while he was growing up Paul spent the summer with him. But despite the family wine connection, Paul didn't initially set out to become a winemaker.

Q&A: Cathy Corison
Tina Caputo
May 10, 2011

For my inaugural piece I'm featuring Cathy Corison, who for decades has been quietly making some of the best Cabernets in the Napa Valley under the Corison Winery label. The star of her lineup, which consists only of two Napa Valley Cabernets and the occasional Gewürztraminer, is the Kronos Cabernet, made from her 40-year-old estate vineyard right off Highway 29, between Rutherford and St. Helena.

Marimar Estate: Spanish Elegance in Sonoma's Russian River
Tina Caputo
Apr 12, 2011

I first met Marimar Torres, the proprietor of Marimar Estate winery, at a media seminar several years ago. We'd gathered at the winery to learn about Russian River's Green Valley AVA -- located in the foggiest part of the region, 10 miles from the Pacific Ocean -- which was becoming recognized as a prime spot for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. When it was time to break for lunch, Torres didn't whistle for the caterer; instead she whipped up a fabulous paella for 50 in a 3-foot diameter pan, chatting with guests all the while. As I watched her in action I thought: Now here's a woman who can do just about anything.

Sake is for Wine Lovers
Tina Caputo
Mar 15, 2011

I had my first encounter with sake back in college, when I worked at a Japanese restaurant. In those days -- the late `80s -- sushi bars served only one type of sake: the warm, disgusting kind served in little ceramic bottles. I stood by, mystified, as otherwise-sophisticated diners washed down their high-rent sushi platters with tiny cups of steaming swill. What did they see in it? It wasn't until years later that I learned of the existence of premium sakes, meant to be served chilled instead of heated. Could these sakes actually be worth drinking? Oh, yes.

Extreme Cold Also Threatens Wine
Tina Caputo
Feb 15, 2011

What if you live in a cold-climate region and your wine is forced to spend the afternoon in a shipping box on your front porch -- it's not legal for the shipper to leave it there, but it happens -- or in the trunk of your car during a winter storm? And who among us has never popped a bottle into the freezer for a quick chill-down, only to forget about it for a few hours, or even overnight? (Guilty as charged, Your Honor.) I know all too well that wine can turn into a Slushee if left in the freezer too long, but what are the scientific effects on the wine?

Ulises Valdez Crosses Borders
Tina Caputo
Jan 18, 2011

We wine writers hear tons of stories about people who give up successful white-collar careers as doctors, tech gurus and the like to follow their winemaking dreams. "I just felt the need to get back to land," says the retired cardiologist whose closest contact with "the land" before buying a vineyard was telling the gardener where to plant the tomatoes. Ho-hum. While the cardiologist's origins make him no less passionate about winemaking than the lifelong farmer, the story does get old after a while. That's why I love to hear about guys like Ulises Valdez. I interviewed him a few months back for a business story in Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, and was both impressed and fascinated by the path he took to become one of Sonoma County's most successful vineyard managers, growers, and now, winery owners.

Crémant Offers a Champagne Alternative
Tina Caputo
Dec 21, 2010

f there's ever a night during the year to splurge on a great bottle of Champagne, it's New Year's Eve. But this is no ordinary year. I, for one, won't be forking over $150 for a bottle of tete du cuvée Champagne this New Year's Eve -- but I still have every intention of getting my sparkle on.

Hanukkah Wine, California Style
Tina Caputo
Nov 23, 2010

While many of us are contemplating which wines to serve with our Christmas turkey or ham, Jewish wine-lovers are thinking about Hanukkah, which begins this year on December 1st. The wines you'd normally serve with a Butterball just wouldn't cut it with a hearty brisket or a crisp batch of latkes. So which wines pair best with Hanukkah fare? With the variety of foods served at most holiday feasts, it's best to take this one dish at a time.

A Toast to Chile
Tina Caputo
Oct 26, 2010

When 33 Chilean miners were finally rescued in mid-October, after two months of being trapped underground, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. These stories all-too-rarely have happy endings, and let's face it: We could all use some positive news these days. While you could pay tribute to the rescued miners by wearing your favorite Chilean alpaca sweater, it would be a lot more fun -- and less itchy -- to raise a glass of Chilean wine in their honor.

Wine Bottles Lighten Up
Tina Caputo
Sep 28, 2010

Just when I thought the 'heavy bottle' trend had run its course, I received a sample of the 'Barrel 32' Zinfandel from Bella Vineyards in Healdsburg. 'Holy crap!' was all could say as I hoisted the bottle from its shipping box -- this was, without a doubt, the heaviest bottle of wine I'd ever encountered. Just to make sure, I weighed it on my office's postage meter. The verdict: almost 4.5 pounds! Compare that to a standard full bottle of wine, which usually weighs less than 3 pounds.

Wine Competitions: Consumer Helpers or Instruments of Evil?
Tina Caputo
Aug 31, 2010

An article posted on the New York Cork Report website last week took a bold stand on the subject of wine competitions: The website's writers and editors will no longer accept invitations to judge them. After much deliberation, the NYCR crew came to the conclusion that competitions don't provide any real value to the consumer -- and it's calling on other would-be wine judges to join the boycott.

Getting to Know Cirò
Tina Caputo
Aug 3, 2010

Last month, I had the once-in-a-lifetime experience of traveling to Calabria -- in the 'toe' of Italy's boot -- with my dad and sister, to visit the town where my father was born. Our family moved to Michigan in 1956, when my dad was 16 years old, and this was his first trip back to Italy in 54 years. (Does anyone else find it funny that my family left a country shaped like a boot for a state shaped like a mitten?) I'd dreamed about this journey for much of my adult life -- seeing for myself the scene of my dad's childhood stories, meeting my Italian cousins, and gorging myself silly on the region's delicious food and wine.

Landmark Vineyards: An Established Winery Learns New Tricks
Tina Caputo
Jul 6, 2010

With all the focus on what's new and hot in the world of wine, we sometimes forget about the established wineries that paved the way for those up-and-comers. They were the ones that put down roots(tock) in California when the rest of the wine-loving world insisted that good wines could only come from France. While some of these pioneering wineries have stuck to their guns over the years, continuing to concentrate on the wines they built their names on, some of the most successful vintners are exploring new territory.

Keeping it Real in Napa Valley
Tina Caputo
Jun 8, 2010

I'm interested in vintners who carve out their own paths, and Amy Aiken of Meander and Conspire wines is a great example. This driven, down-to-earth Napa Valley winemaker doesn't own a winemaking facility, or even a vineyard. An old barn on the property where she lives serves as her tasting room. Not only does Aiken make her own wines, she does the marketing, too.

Freedom of Choice Isn't Free
Tina Caputo
May 11, 2010

Thanks to a landmark decision made by the Supreme Court in 2005, wine lovers across the United States have unprecedented access to wines made beyond their state borders. But there's also a downside to all this online and mail-order bounty. It usually presents itself just after you've filled your virtual shopping cart with wine, and you arrive at the screen that shows the cost of shipping. Ouch! Sometimes it seems like you're paying more for the box's transportation than you are for the wine inside it -- and in some cases, you are.

Wines for When the Heat is On
Tina Caputo
Apr 13, 2010

With Cinco de Mayo just a couple weeks away, you're probably wondering which wines to pair with your Mexican fiesta feast. Okay, you're probably not doing that. Most likely, you're planning to reach for the nearest cold beer or margarita. When it comes to spicy foods at any time of year -- whether it's Szechuan in September or Jamaican in January -- most people tend to steer clear of wine. And who can blame them? A perfectly delicious wine can end up tasting 'hot' and alcoholic when sharing a table with fiery foods. But that's not necessarily the case. In fact, certain wines not only work with spicy foods, they enhance them.

A Chard is Born
Tina Caputo
Mar 16, 2010

A lot of wine lovers fantasize about someday becoming winemakers, but I can tell you honestly that I'm not one of them. Although I do love to spend time walking amongst the vines, sampling wines, and trying to imagine how they might evolve down the road, there are far too many aspects of the job that would make me crazy.

A Wine Romance
Tina Caputo
Feb 16, 2010

Now that Valentine's Day is over, I thought this would be a good time for a column on wine and romance. I know what you're thinking: 'Why now? I don't have to do anything romantic for another 11 months!' But that's where you're wrong. In fact, I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that February 14 is the worst possible day for romance. The romance is expected, not spontaneous. Wouldn't it mean a lot more to do something nice for your sweetie on a random Tuesday night in, say, March? (Bonus: If you go to a restaurant, you'll get better service and you won't have to eat whatever's on the mandatory 'set menu'!)

Shades of Green
Tina Caputo
Jan 19, 2010

As the world takes an ever more environmentally conscious turn, many wineries are now trumpeting their use of 'sustainable' practices. This had led to a lot of confusion among consumers, and even trade members, about the definition of the term. Most people understand it to have a faintly green tinge, but what does 'sustainable' actually mean?

Wines by the Vat
Tina Caputo
Dec 22, 2009

This may come as a shock to you, so brace yourself: Much of the wine sold in supermarkets is not, in fact, handcrafted by artisan winemakers in small batches and transported to market on the wings of tiny angels. In fact, lots of it is mass-produced in giant winemaking facilities that generate millions of bottles each year.

Wines to Give Thanks For
Tina Caputo
Nov 24, 2009

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite major holidays for one simple reason: It's the only one that's purely food-focused. Yes, there are some fantastic culinary treats associated with Christmas and Easter, but there's also the somewhat distracting matter of Jesus' birth/horrific death/resurrection to contend with. That sort of thing can make a person feel guilty for dwelling on selfish, earthly delights like gingerbread, baked ham and chocolate eggs.

Inside Walla Walla's Booming Wine Scene
Tina Caputo
Oct 27, 2009

When people think of Walla Walla, Washington, the first locally produced product that comes to mind isn't always wine. Often, it's onions. Or, if you're Wile E. Coyote, and a frequent customer of ACME, it could be anvils. That's a shame, since some truly delicious wines are produced in the region.

Three Sticks Blind
Tina Caputo
Sep 29, 2009

I recently participated in an interesting blind tasting at Three Sticks Winery, in Sonoma. The winery was founded in 2002 by Bill Price, who also owns Sonoma's Durell Vineyards -- famous for producing fruit that goes into high-scoring wines made by more than 20 wineries. This same pedigreed vineyard is the basis of the Three Sticks wines.

The Lighter Side of Wine
Tina Caputo
Sep 1, 2009

As much as I'd like to share (and by 'share' I mean finish) a bottle of wine with my husband every night, there are times when I need to restrict my alcohol intake.

Wine Tasting on the Cheap
Tina Caputo
Aug 4, 2009

I know that most people don't think of winery-hopping as a cheap day out, but that depends on your goal. No, you won't be going home with a trunk full of wine, but you can still have a great time sampling wine and enjoying the gorgeous scenery.

Will Write for Perks
Tina Caputo
Jul 7, 2009

The wine industry is full of ethical ambiguities. The truth is, lots -- if not the majority -- of professional wine critics and writers accept free wine samples, attend 'comped' dinners hosted by wineries and importers, and visit far-flung wine regions on someone else's dime. Does that mean that these writers are allowing themselves to be swayed by such freebies?

Chardonnay, Please, and Hold the Oak
Tina Caputo
Jun 9, 2009

Remember when new oak barrels were a badge of honor for vintners? They'd even brag about them on their wine labels: 'We use 100% new French oak barrels every year!' The message was not only that these wineries spared no expense in the winemaking process (new barrels every year!), but that their Chardonnay was absolutely packed with toasty vanilla-oak character. To thousands of wine lovers, this was a major selling point. In fact, I distinctly remember telling a friend in the early `90s that I really liked the 'oaky-buttery' style of Chardonnay. And I wasn't alone.

Gary Pisoni's Powerful Pinot
Tina Caputo
May 12, 2009

Gary Pisoni owns the Pisoni Vineyard in Monterey County's Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, which has become known as one of California's best sites for growing Pinot Noir. Pisoni's parents bought the 280-acre property in the late 1970s as a cattle and horse ranch, and in 1982, at Gary's urging, they planted Pinot Noir vines on the property. Not just any vines would do. A self-proclaimed Burgundy fanatic, Pisoni brought his vineyard cuttings back from France.

Wine with Salty Foods
Tina Caputo
Apr 14, 2009

On one glorious night each year, the Carneros Bistro & Wine Bar hosts its Salt Dinner--a six-course menu devoted to the many incarnations of salt, and the wines that love them. For the restaurant's third-annual Salt Dinner, chef Janine Falvo created an adventurous menu featuring flavored salt accents--she even makes her own infused salts--and salt-cured dishes.

Wine's Health Benefits: Justification for drinking?
Tina Caputo
Mar 17, 2009

In a recent column, Slate.com wine writer Mike Steinberger wonders why Americans seem to have an obsession with the health benefits of wine. The latest wine and health discoveries are regularly trumpeted in the mainstream news, and CBS News show "60 Minutes" recently ran a follow-up report to its famous 1991 "French Paradox" segment. (The 'paradox' was that the French eat all kinds of delicious fatty cheeses and drink gallons of red wine, yet they're healthier than the fatties in the USA.)

Drinking Inside the Box
Tina Caputo
Feb 17, 2009

Over the last five years, the quality of wines being put into bag-in-box packaging--especially in the 3-liter size--has increased dramatically. In fact, 3L boxes represent America's fastest-growing wine category, in terms of packaging (sales increased by 31% in 2008, compared to a 4.4% increase in overall table wine sales). And that wouldn't be the case if all the wine was undrinkable swill.

Pairing Wine & Chocolate: The Agony and the Ecstasy
Tina Caputo
Jan 20, 2009

Though it would seem that some of the more opulent red table wines -- which often taste sweet and contain nearly as much alcohol as some dessert wines -- would pair deliciously with chocolate, the combo is usually a big fat letdown. The wines just aren't sweet enough to get the job done. Instead of enhancing the chocolate-eating experience, table wines usually leave me -- like any bad relationship -- with a bad taste in my mouth.

Artisanal Ciders Offer Wine-Like Pleasures
Tina Caputo
Dec 23, 2008

In search of a new twist on New Year's Eve bubbly for this year's pre-holiday column, I stumbled across some fascinating sparkling ciders in a local wine shop. These ciders were not the mass-produced type that you find in 12-ounce beer bottles, or on tap at Ye Olde English-Style Pub; these were packaged in stylish 750ml Champagne bottles that sold for up to $19 per bottle. Clearly, these ciders were a different animal.

Parkerize or Perish?
Tina Caputo
Nov 25, 2008

From the wine industry's point of view, Robert Parker, Jr. is a love-him-or-hate-him kind of critic. On one hand, his scores have the power to propel an unknown wine to superstardom; on the other, they can cause a winery's sales to plummet overnight. When your wines are getting 90+ scores, Parker is your savior, but when they're scoring in the 80s, he's your nemesis.

Ice Wines Offer Cold Comfort
Tina Caputo
Oct 28, 2008

I look forward to autumn not for the brightly colored leaves or the crisp weather, but for the food. Pumpkin bread, butternut squash risotto, golden delicious apples from our backyard tree--these seasonal treats are what make the end of summer a time of excitement instead of dread. Fall also brings a change in my wine cravings. As temperatures drop, I gravitate toward richer, more aromatic wines. To me, ice wine is the luscious liquid equivalent of my favorite fall treats: sweet, spicy and a little bit tart.

Amazon Wine Sales: Another Information Highway
Tina Caputo
Sep 30, 2008

According to a Reuters report, Amazon will start selling wine on its website in early October. The company will initially sell wine in 26 states, then move into other states in the coming year. Amazon's goal is to offer a massive selection of wines from all U.S. wine regions -- no small goal given the maze of state laws that govern direct-to-consumer wine shipping. But if anyone has the power to pull it off, Amazon does.

Super Sushi Wines
Tina Caputo
Sep 2, 2008

While beer tastes pretty good with sushi, it doesn't really do anything to elevate the experience. What does, however, is wine. It may not be the most 'Japanese' drink, but lots of upscale sushi bars are starting to take their wine lists more seriously. (And I'm not talking about sticky-sweet plum wine here.)

Vineyard-Designated Wines Showcase Growers
Tina Caputo
Aug 5, 2008

Even the world's most famous winemakers are quick to spout that true-but-overused adage: Great wine is made in the vineyard. So what about the growers who lovingly tended the vineyards that produced all that fabulous fruit? Is there such a thing, you may wonder, as a star grape grower? As a matter of fact, there is.

Virtually in the Wine Biz
Tina Caputo
Jul 8, 2008

An article posted earlier this week on Forbes.com offered a sobering reality check for high-tech moguls dreaming of trading in their semi-conductors for Semillon. Author Eric Arnold wrote: 'It's the dream of many entrepreneurs: Get rich, buy a vineyard, kick back on the porch and relax with a glass of your own wine. Keep dreaming. Wine is a tough, competitive and expensive business….' While all of that is certainly true for those looking to enter the wine biz the old fashioned way--buy or build a winery, plant vineyards, wait a few years for the vines to produce a decent crop--there's a simpler, cheaper way to go about it. It's called a 'virtual winery.'

Heat & Wine: A Bad Pairing
Tina Caputo
Jun 10, 2008

Here in Northern California, we suffered through unseasonably hot--as in triple-digit--temperatures for nearly a week in May. Since it's rarely that warm in this part of the world, many houses are not equipped with air conditioning, and few have basements. This normally isn't a problem for wine storage, but on those rare 100-plus-degree days, it can spell doom for innocent wines.

Understanding the 'F' Word
Tina Caputo
May 13, 2008

In the United States, most wines are labeled according to the grape variety from which they're made. Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are just a few examples. There are a few exceptions, however, and perhaps the most confusing one is Fumé Blanc. Though it sounds suspiciously like the name of a grape, there is no such variety--it's just another name for Sauvignon Blanc.

Wente Still Leads in Livermore
Tina Caputo
Apr 15, 2008

While most wine drinkers have heard of California's Wente Vineyards, comparatively few are familiar with the winery's home base of Livermore. About 40 miles east of San Francisco, the Livermore Valley is one of California's oldest wine regions. The first commercial vines were planted there in 1846 by Robert Livermore, and pioneer winemakers C.H. Wente, James Concannon and Charles Wetmore founded wineries in the Livermore Valley in the early 1880s.

New World Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon Blends
Tina Caputo
Mar 18, 2008

When wine lovers think of Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blends, their thoughts usually turn to Bordeaux. After all, that's where the classic blend of white varieties originated. But just as other regions have adopted the famous combination of red Bordeaux varieties--mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc--they've created their own versions of 'white Bordeaux.'

Alsace Varieties Have Their Day
Tina Caputo
Feb 19, 2008

When it comes to wine festivals, it seems that red wines get all the glory. There are events devoted to Zinfandel (ZAP), Pinot Noir (Pinot Days) and Merlot (Merlot in May), but where's the love for white varieties? Luckily, the vintners in Anderson Valley, in California's Mendocino County, aren't hung up on wine color-gender issues. For the last three years, they've hosted an annual event devoted to the white grape varieties of Alsace: mainly Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. Not only does the festival feature all white wines, but some sweet ones, too.

Hawkes Wine Shows Restraint in Alexander Valley
Tina Caputo
Jan 22, 2008

Due to the current fad for ultra-ripe, high-octane California reds, it's become a bit of a challenge to find wines with food-friendly acidity and balance. But the Hawkes wines definitely fit that description--particularly the Cabernet Sauvignon. Although the cooler climate of northern Sonoma County's Alexander Valley, where the winery's grapes are grown, is partly responsible for keeping alcohol and ripeness levels in check, the style is also the result of a conscious effort by winemaker Jacob Hawkes.

Bewitching Bubbly to Ring in the New Year
Tina Caputo
Dec 25, 2007

It was this try-anything-once mentality that led me to the subject of this column: unconventional sparkling wines for New Year's Eve. While you couldn't go wrong with, say, a lovely sparkling wine like Roederer Estate's L'Ermitage, there's a whole other world of bubbles out there to explore. Why not pop the cork on a dry sparkling Gewürztraminer or effervescent mead when the clock strikes midnight? And who says sparkling wines have to be white?