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Columns – Michael Apstein

Look to the Rhône for Summertime Drinking
Michael Apstein
Jul 17, 2024

July 17, 2024: My friends say that I hate rosé. I don't. I just think there are many far more interesting alternatives. (Here, we're talking about still wine, not rosé Champagne, which is heavenly.) Most rosé is innocuous. 'I'll have a glass of rosé,' has replaced 'I'll have a glass of Chardonnay' as shorthand for 'I want a glass of wine-I don't need to know anything else about it.' That's its problem for me. When I drink wine, I want complexity. I want a little intrigue or surprise. I want to think about what I'm putting in my mouth. Sure, I want a zippy wine that refreshes, especially in the heat of summer. Chilling light reds and many vibrant whites provide both refreshment and character, something I find lacking in most rosé wines.

Terroir in Barolo: Poderi Gianni Gagliardo
Michael Apstein
Jun 5, 2024

June 5, 2024: There's no question that terroir-the concept that wines reflect the individual and unique site where the grapes grow-exists in Barolo. How could it not? With myriad growing plots differing by soil, exposure, and elevation, the Barolo DOCG produces hundreds of different wines, all from the same grape, Nebbiolo. The problem lies in demonstrating the idea of terroir to the average consumer. Here's the issue. You can open and compare a Barolo made by Vietti from Nebbiolo grown in Serralunga to one made by Mascarello from Nebbiolo in Castiglione Faletto. They will be dramatically different. But is the difference due to the terroir-the difference between the two communes of Serralunga and Castiglione Faletto-or due to the difference in producer's style and technique? The challenge in identifying terroir, then, is finding and comparing wines made from grapes grown in different sites but made by the same producer. It's more difficult to do in Barolo, compared to Burgundy, but it can be done, as shown by Stefano Gagliardo, from Poderi Gianni Gagliardo.

Chianti Classico: A Perennial Favorite
Michael Apstein
Apr 30, 2024

Apr 30, 2024: Tasting through hundreds of Chianti Classico wines from the 2020, 2021, and 2022 vintages over two days reminded me why Chianti Classico is, justifiably, so popular around the world. The setting for the tastings was the venerable - and quite enormous - train station in Florence where every year the Consorzio Vino Chianti Classico (the organization that represents producers) presents some 700-plus samples of Chianti Classico spanning several recent vintages and all quality levels. The three vintages - all currently on the market - or in the case of the 2022s, soon to be - are wonderfully individuated and provide something for everyone. The riper 2020s in general reflect the warmer growing season and are fleshier. The sleek 2021s, a product of a year with cooler summer nights that allowed grapes to hold their acidity, are racy, while the charming 2022s, with their youthful vigor and angularity, fall somewhere in-between.

Do Not Miss the 2019 Brunellos!
Michael Apstein
Mar 19, 2024

March 20, 2024: Let me get straight to the point. The 2019 vintage for Brunello di Montalcino is fabulous! I make this assessment after tasting 35-plus examples of the recently bottled and released wines in New York City in November. There wasn't a loser in the bunch. Sure, I preferred some over others, but overall, the consistency and quality were outstanding. The high stated alcohols, some even up to 16 percent, might make you think the wines would be heavy and hot. Surprisingly, they are not. By and large, the alcohol does not show in these wines. The 2019 Brunellos are a balanced delight of dark fruit and minerals with needed, but unobtrusive, structure. I would rank the vintage on a par with 2010 and 2016, two other spectacular vintages. So, if you missed Brunellos from those years, now is your chance to make up for it.

The Amazing 2022 Burgundies
Michael Apstein
Feb 14, 2024

Feb. 14, 2024: Let me cut directly to the chase, or rather, the bottom line: Buy as much of the 2022 Burgundies-both red and white-as your budget allows. I give this advice after having been astonished by the results of my annual tasting trip to Burgundy in November. My prejudice was that the wines were going to be heavy and flabby because 2022 was another hot, dry year. But my tastings proved my prejudice wrong. (Data usually does that to prejudice.) In general, the wines are concentrated without going overboard and, importantly, and surprisingly given the heat of the vintage, balanced by freshness. The reds display Burgundian charm while the whites display a balance of luscious fruit and minerality. The suaveness of the reds and the lusciousness of the whites reminded me of the 1985 vintage.

Remembering Mike Grgich: The Man Who Put California Wines on the Map
Michael Apstein
Jan 3, 2024

Jan. 3, 2024: The wine world lost a giant last month. Miljenko 'Mike' Grgich, the man who thrust California wine onto the world's stage, died at age 100 at his home in Calistoga in the Napa Valley. Grgich, more than anyone, is responsible for California's reputation as a place that could make great wine when his 1973 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay took first place at a wine competition that pitted France's best white Burgundies against upstarts from California.

Terroir is Alive and Well on Mount Etna
Michael Apstein
Nov 15, 2023

Nov. 15, 2023: I was taught a fascinating lesson in terroir on Sicily's Mount Etna by Valeria Agosta, the principal of Palmento Constanzo. Valeria and her family founded Palmento Constanzo in 2009, joining a host of producers flocking to that mountain. There's no question that Etna, Europe's largest active volcano, is hot, both literally and figuratively, and has been, especially over the last two decades. Marc de Grazia, a former wine broker best known for his stellar portfolio, Marc de Grazia Selection, founded Tenuta delle Terre Nerre on Etna in 2001. Tasca d'Almerita, one the island's driving forces, founded Tascante on the volcano in 2007. Planeta, a leading producer on Sicily with estates all over the island, expanded to Etna the following year. What might have set rumbles through the area-if it weren't so accustomed to them-was Angelo Gaja, whose name is synonymous with greatness in Italian wines, joining forces with Alberto Graci, a top Etna producer, in 2016.

Three Takes on Second Wines
Michael Apstein
Sep 20, 2023

Sept. 20, 2023: No one wants to be second. Nobody strives to come in second. Second place is just not built-in to our DNA. For example, my daughter, a NCAA Gold Medal winner coxswain during college, referred to a Silver Medal winner-2nd place-as 'the first loser.' So, the so-called 'second wines' can have a pejorative connotation. Nevertheless, a recent instance of serendipity reinforced why I maintain that consumers should be embracing second wines, not shunning them. But before describing the serendipitous encounter, let me remind readers about second wines. Regardless of location, labeling or nomenclature, the concept underlying second wines is always the same: categorize the grapes and/or wine from a property based on quality and character, and bottle them separately on two tiers.

Oregon: The Latest French Invasion
Michael Apstein
Aug 16, 2023

August 16, 2023: The French have always played an important role in the American wine industry. Burgundy-born Paul Masson started making wine in California in the late 19th century, followed by Georges de la Tour, founder of Beaulieu Vineyards, in 1900. The second wave started in 1973 when Moët et Chandon established Domaine Chandon in Napa Valley. Other Champagne houses-Taittinger with Domaine Carneros and Champagne Mumm's Mumm Cuvée Napa-soon followed. To me, however, the Burgundy-based Drouhin family started the most fascinating wave when they established Domaine Drouhin Oregon in 1987. Over the succeeding 35 years other Burgundy producers, notably Louis Jadot and Méo-Camuzet, have spread the Burgundian concept of terroir to Oregon's Willamette Valley and the results have been nothing short of sensational.

The Wines of Laudun: Under the Radar Now, but Not for Long
Michael Apstein
Jul 12, 2023

July 12, 2023: The French wine authorities, Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualité (INAO), are notoriously rigid and immoveable. However, they are poised to change the pecking order in the Rhône, putting the wines from Laudun on a level, administratively, at least, with Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas. Why should consumers be concerned with France's Byzantine classification system? Because the prices of wines from villages that get promoted will take a decade to catch up to their quality.

A Greek White Instead of Rosé
Michael Apstein
Jun 14, 2023

June 14, 2023: Memorial Day means summer, which, of course to some people means rosé. But for me it means light to mid-weight white wines with energy, verve, and most of all, character. There are lots of French whites that fit that category, from zippy Muscadet to flinty village Chablis, to simple Bourgogne Blanc, to racy Sancerre. German and Australian Riesling with their bracing acidity are all good choices for summer sipping. From Gavi in Piedmont to Carricante in Sicily, Italy has too many refreshing whites to name. I was just introduced to another one, previously unknown to me. It's embarrassing since its home is less than an hour from a major metropolis where I've vacationed twice with my family recently. I overlooked Savatiano because I was focused on other major Greek wines when we were in Athens. In a sense, that's a great problem for Greece to have-too many intriguing wines to explore.

Tenuta di Capezzana's Ghiaie della Furba
Michael Apstein
May 17, 2023

May 17, 2023: In 1979, Ugo Conti Bonacossi, owner of Tenuta di Capezzana, the leading estate in Carmignano, created a unique Super Tuscan wine, Ghiaie della Furba (literally, pebbles along the Furba stream). It should come as no surprise that a grower in Carmignano should make a Super Tuscan because, after all, Carmignano, not Bolgheri, was the birthplace of the concept. Catherine de Medici brought Cabernet Franc with her from France when she returned to the area in the 16th century. So, Carmignano has a five-century tradition of using Uva Francesca (a.k.a. Cabernet Franc) in the blend with Sangiovese for their DOCG wines. Still, what Bonacossi did was unique.

Don't Miss Maison Latour's 2020 Burgundies
Michael Apstein
Mar 29, 2023

March 29, 2023: Founded in 1797 and still family owned and operated, Maison Louis Latour is one of Burgundy's top producers. In addition to their own 120 acres of vineyards (over half of which are Grand Cru, making them the largest owner of Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy) they are one of Burgundy's best négociants as well. Latour's style of winemaking, firm rather than flamboyant, is a perfect fit for the fleshy wines the hot 2020 vintage produced. Latour has always favored well-structured wines that take time to open and reveal themselves. Their winemaking style changed when the 11th generation of the family, Louis-Fabrice Latour, took over in 1999. He extended the maceration just slightly to achieve a touch more intensity. Even with the change, Latour's reds, while a bit deeper, are still not flashy and voluptuous, but rather restrained and elegant. So, the extra ripeness of the 2020 vintage is a perfect fit for their winemaking philosophy.

Clamoring for Chianti Classico
Michael Apstein
Mar 1, 2023

March 1, 2023: Daniel Posner, owner of Grapes, The Wine Company, a top wine retailer in Westchester County, just north of New York City, loves Chianti Classico. Four years ago, he told me that he carried about 20, up from just two or three two decades earlier. He remains enthusiastic about the category, 'I'm happy to buy more, the quality is so high.' Currently, he has 26 different ones on his shelves. The trio of vintages currently on the market, 2019, 2020, and 2021, supports his, and my, excitement for Chianti Classico. I've come to this conclusion after tasting hundreds of them from these three vintages at the recently concluded Antiprime di Toscane in Florence, a comprehensive tasting sponsored by the Chianti Classico Consorzio that showcased about 700 wines. Though I did not manage to taste all of them, I came away with a clear sense of these three superb vintages.

Burgundy Buying Blueprint for the 99-Percenters
Michael Apstein
Feb 1, 2023

Feb. 1, 2023: Even a brief glance at on-line ads from wine retailers shows that Côte d'Or Burgundy has become prohibitively expensive for everyone except the so called 'one-percenters' at the very peak of the wealth pyramid. And I've seen even some of them balk at the prices. What's a Burgundy fan to do while waiting for one's lottery number to be chosen? One option is to look to other areas, such as Oregon or New Zealand, that can produce stunning wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. But that's not an option for committed Burgundy lovers, because to them, it's not about Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. To quote, Jacques Lardière, the venerable longtime winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot, 'If you taste Chardonnay in my wine, I've made a mistake.' Burgundy is about the site-the Burgundians maintain that the grape is merely a vehicle for transporting the flavor of the place to the glass. So, I will recommend a general approach to finding affordable Burgundy as well as recommending specific wines.

Maison Louis Latour Made Outstanding 2020s
Michael Apstein
Dec 21, 2022

Dec. 21, 2022: The 2020 vintage in Burgundy, currently on the market, is the third hot-temperature wise-vintage in a row. It's also a 'hot' vintage judging from some critics' reviews and retailers' enthusiasm. Hot vintages are tricky, especially in Burgundy. The good news about growing seasons with hot, sun-drenched days is that the wines have ripe flavors and lack green, unripe ones and the accompanying palate-searing acidity. This is especially true for areas like Burgundy that traditionally-that is, before climate change-had a tough time ripening grapes. The downside of all this heat is that grapes can get a bit too ripe, which translates into wines with inadequate freshness from low acidity and wind up tasting heavy or jammy.

Beaujolais Nouveau Day: May it Rest in Peace
Michael Apstein
Nov 23, 2022

Nov. 23, 2022: On the third Thursday of November the streets here in Beaune are getting ready to accommodate the crowds that will descend on this charming village to take part in the activities leading up to the annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction, which always occurs the following Sunday. In past years, signs pasted on bistros and wine bars all over town announced, 'Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivée' (The Beaujolais Nouveau has arrived), since the third Thursday of November is the traditional day that wine is released. This year I noticed a distinct absence. The crowds are still here. Wine still flows everywhere. But wait. There are few posters for Beaujolais Nouveau and few of the local bistros are offering it. To my mind, that's just as well. No doubt, Beaujolais Nouveau is a cash cow. But for me, the real value and excitement of Beaujolais lies with the Beaujolais Cru wines, which are drawn from 10 villages in the north of Beaujolais that have the potential to make distinctive wine.

White Wine with Meat
Michael Apstein
Oct 12, 2022

Oct. 12, 2022: Thirty-plus years ago, David Rosengarten's and Joshua Wesson's revolutionary book, Red Wine with Fish: The New Art of Matching Wine with Food (Simon and Schuster, 1989), started to change consumers' ideas about food and wine pairing. With apologies to them for my title, let me amplify what I rediscovered during a recent trip to Paris and then England: White wine, as it happens, is often just fine with meat, red or otherwise. The first dinner in this stretch started a white-wine-with-meat trend that continued during the entire trip. À la Biche au Bois, a cozy game-oriented bistro near the Gare du Lyon in Paris' 12th arrondisement, has a wide selection of reds for the wild duck, venison, and grouse on the menu. But low and behold, the wine list included a 2014 Domaine Raveneau Chablis Premier Cru Montée du Tonnerre on the list for only 75 euros ($74, tax and tip included). The dilemma: choose a traditional pairing-a perfectly fine red Burgundy to go with the grouse we both had ordered-or an exceptional white wine at a bargain price?

Changes in Chianti: A Boon or TMI?
Michael Apstein
Sep 7, 2022

Sept. 7, 2022: You'd think that a region like Chianti, with world-famous name recognition, would just adopt the motto, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' Not so. Changes today abound in the area, specifically the sub-regions of Chianti Classico and Chianti Rùfina, that might well lift the wines to new quality levels. But, along with the heightened quality comes the prospect of Too Much Information overwhelming the consumer. With new designations and regulations now on the horizon, both Chianti Classico and Chianti Rùfina have either raised their game--or muddied the waters. Sorry for this mixing of metaphors, but let's think this through.

Red Wines of Provence and Notable Rosés
Michael Apstein
Aug 10, 2022

August 10, 2022: Rosé naturally comes to mind when thinking of the wines from Provence. But I'm here to tell you that at least one appellation in the region, Les Baux de Provence, makes terrific reds. They also make excellent rosés. Yes, you read that correctly. As someone who has not been swept away by the tsunami of pink wine, I actually find that many of the rosés from Les Baux de Provence are distinctive. Anne Poniatowski, who with her sister, Caroline Missoffe, are in charge of the venerable Mas de la Dame estate, puts the rosés of the region into perspective, 'We (the producers within the appellation) wanted a rosé that was a wine, not just an aperitif.'

Aligoté: Burgundy's Other White Grape
Michael Apstein
Jul 5, 2022

July 5, 2022: White Burgundy is made from Chardonnay, right? Well, mostly. There's another white grape in Bourgogne, Aligoté, that makes zippy, energetic wines perfect for summertime, and ones that are - I might add - are mostly affordable. Not an afterthought, Bourgogne Aligoté is treated with respect by top end producers, such as Coche-Dury, whose $300+ per bottle rendition is definitely not in the 'affordable wine' category. Nevertheless, a 2014 Bourgogne Aligoté of his that I recently drank did show how beautifully this wine can develop and the heights it can achieve. Other Bourgogne Aligoté from highly regarded producers, such as Domaine Michel Lafarge, Domaine Pierre Morey, and Domaine Marc Colin et Fils, whose other wines might carry a triple-digit price tag, can be found retailing for under $30 a bottle.

A Bullseye for Bichot
Michael Apstein
Jun 1, 2022

June 1, 2022: The house of Albert Bichot made an outstanding line-up of both red and white Burgundies in 2020, no mean feat since the growing conditions made success with both colors difficult because of the heat. Many critics, myself included, have raved about the overall success of the 2020 vintage for white Burgundies. I was equally enthusiastic about the reds initially, but now, having tasted a greater range of them, I realize that there is enormous variability among them. Some are spectacular and others, reflecting the heat of the growing season, are overblown, heavy, and alcoholic. However, my enthusiasm for the whites, from the Chablis in the north to the Mâconnais in the south, remains strong.

Don't Overlook Village Burgundies
Michael Apstein
Apr 20, 2022

Apr. 20, 2022: I'm just back from a week in Burgundy where I attended a spectacular week-long series of tastings, Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne, which turned out to be one of my best tasting experiences ever. Held biannually, visitors move from Chablis in the north to Mercurey in the Côte Chalonnaise, tasting wines from a group of villages each day. For example, a hundred-plus producers from Chablis and the surrounding Auxerrois arrange themselves under giant tents in Chablis on Monday showing samples of their recent vintages. The next day, Tuesday, visitors hop from Gevrey-Chambertin to the Clos de Vougeot to the nearby Château de Gilly-lès-Cîteaux, tasting wines from the villages of the Côte de Nuits. You get the idea. Unsurprisingly, I learned an enormous amount about the wines from the 2020 vintage during those tastings that I will report about in this and future columns.

The 2017 Brunellos: Like Wagner's Music-Not as Bad as It Sounds
Michael Apstein
Mar 1, 2022

Mar 1, 2022: I've written about the 2016 vintage of Brunello previously. In summary, it's fabulous, certainly the best since 2010 and one of what will likely be one of the legendary vintages from that DOCG. The wines are balanced, elegant, and stunningly layered, with a combination of dark cherry-like fruit and minerality. The 2017 vintage is a different story in Tuscany. It was, as winemakers like to say, 'a difficult' vintage. One prominent and well-regarded Chianti Classico producer told me as we were walking to dinner in Florence, 'don't bother with the 2017s.' Those wide-sweeping generalizations don't reflect reality, especially in Tuscany, where there's an enormous diversity of weather and terroir. What might be a 'difficult' vintage in Chianti, may not be the case in Montalcino even though those DOCGs overlap geographically. The lesson here is that vintage proclamations are useful, but you really need to taste for yourself or rely on the judgement of people you trust.

An Early Look at the Excellent 2020 Vintage in Burgundy
Michael Apstein
Jan 26, 2022

The 2020 Burgundies, both reds and whites, are, in short, excellent. It's the best Burgundy vintage since 2015. Most unusually, both reds and whites are outstanding, making this the the first vintage since 2010 when both colors excelled. Offers for these wines as futures are just starting to appear. Burgundy lovers should scrutinize them carefully and buy as much as they can afford because the quality of the wines is that high. I find the whites fractionally more consistent than the reds. That said, I found very few reds that were out of balance, over ripe, or had rough tannins. There was far more consistency among the reds in 2020 than in 2019. I base my assessment on visits to the area last September and November when I tasted wines from both small négociants, such as Benjamin Leroux, and large négociants, such as Maison Louis Jadot, growers, such as Pernot-Belicard, and grower-négociants, such as Méo-Camuzet. The problem will be price, and, as always, availability.

2016 Brunello di Montalcino: Don't Miss Them
Michael Apstein
Jan 5, 2022

The great success of the 2016 vintage throughout Tuscany suggested that the just-released 2016 Brunello would be memorable. Is it ever! To my mind, it is, by far, the best vintage since 2010. I certainly prefer the 2016s in general to the more powerful and overdone Brunello from the much-hyped 2015 vintage. Many experienced critics, such as Kerin O'Keefe (whose book on Brunello remains the benchmark for the region) believe that the vintage ranks with the legendary 2004 and 2001 vintages. The best 2016 Brunelli are sleek, racy, and, at times, explosive, yet not heavy or overdone. They are balanced with super fine-grained tannins, which suggests that they should evolve beautifully with proper cellaring, though many are surprisingly easy to enjoy now.

2019 Burgundies: A Mixed Bag
Michael Apstein
Dec 8, 2021

While consistency is rarely a word used when describing Burgundies, the 2019 Burgundies present the consumer with an even greater-than-usual stylistic variation. The usual suspects explain the diversity of the wines: Frost, poor flowering, and heat. Frost, which affected areas almost capriciously reduced the crop in many appellations. Low yields typically produce concentrated wine. Poor flowering meant that the grapes were not uniform in size, some big, some small, which alters the normal juice-to-skin ratio, leading to unbalanced wines. And heat (thank you, climate change) resulted in rapidly increasing sugar levels, making the timing of harvest all that more critical to prevent overly alcoholic and flabby wines. So, the 2019 Burgundies will vary. Some will be rich and intense, immediately appealing to those who like that style. Others show their alcohol as a bit of warmth in the finish, which may bother some consumers but not others. To be sure, many producers got everything right and made exhilarating and balanced wines.

Drouhin's Clos des Mouches Blanc: Created by an Act of God
Michael Apstein
Nov 16, 2021

Drouhin's Clos des Mouches Blanc is a rarity in the appellation of Beaune, where 86 percent of the appellation's vines are red. And among the whites in Beaune, few ever achieve the elegance and stature of Drouhin's Clos des Mouches Blanc. Moreover, though classified as a Beaune Premier Cru, Drouhin's Clos des Mouches Blanc sells at prices closer to that of a Grand Cru. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the acquisition of this famed vineyard by Maurice Drouhin, the son of Joseph Drouhin, who founded the house in 1880, so I thought it was a good excuse to taste a dozen vintages from my cellar, spanning the decades of the 1980s and 1990s, and make a pilgrimage there to discover what all the fuss was about.

The 2019 Cru Beaujolais Releases
Michael Apstein
Oct 5, 2021

The world loves Beaujolais. And for good reason. The various red wines of the Beaujolais region provide something for everyone, from simple 'everyday' pizza wine to far more serious and structured ones from the crus, the top ten named villages. Sometimes the wines from the crus do not even carry the word Beaujolais on the label. The enthusiasm for Beaujolais is not limited to Americans. Signs and posters exclaiming, 'Beaujolais est arrivé' (Beaujolais has arrived) are plastered all over France in restaurants and cafes on the third Thursday of November, the day the Beaujolais Nouveau is released. Between Beaujolais Nouveau and the crus are two other levels, Beaujolais and Beaujolais-Villages. My focus here will be limited to the 2019 wines from the crus, having tasted a bevy of these wines at home and an additional 27 samples from all the ten villages at a tasting organized for me by InterBeaujolais, the organization that represents all of the Beaujolais growers and producers, at their offices in the heart of the region.

Single Vineyard versus Multi-Vineyard Blends
Michael Apstein
Aug 31, 2021

Dr. Laura Catena, the managing director of Bodegas Catena Zapata, Argentina's most famous winery, quips that her father, Nicolás Catena, must have known about fighting climate change before anyone else. In 1992, his neighbors considered him foolish when he started planting vines at high-altitude. He was looking for the highest possible site where there was water, according to his daughter. Today, some three decades later, winegrowers try to combat climate change by either planting vineyards further north or south, depending on the hemisphere, or by 'going up,' and planting at higher elevations. Stephen Brook, writing in Decanter, the world's leading wine magazine, highlighted the importance of Catena's philosophy for Argentina when he wrote, 'Nicolás Catena thrust Argentinian wine into the modern era'…because he realized 'the key was to plant the right varieties in the right location, specifically cooler, higher sites where jamminess would not be an issue.'

Rosé-Nothing but Rosé
Michael Apstein
Jul 27, 2021

Readers may find it odd that I, who am generally unenthusiastic about rosé, should be writing about that category. And enthusiastically at that. However surprising that may be (even to me), I stumbled across a category of rosé, Bardolino Chiaretto DOC, that is stunning. I recently tasted a dozen examples from the 2020 vintage and found an appealing consistency among the wines from that appellation. There was not a loser in the bunch. And the most expensive of the group was $17! DOC regulations may explain why Bardolino Chiaretto is so engaging. Rosé is all the DOC allows producers to make. No red, no white. All production must be rosé.

Costières de Nîmes: Overlooked Southern Rhône Gem
Michael Apstein
Jun 29, 2021

The Costières de Nîmes appellation is a small area, containing about eight percent of the Rhône's vineyards area. An astounding twenty-five percent of its vineyards are certified as organic today, the highest in the Rhône Valley. The ever-present winds help keep the vineyards free of disease. The 71 producers and nine co-operatives produce roughly equal amounts (45%) of reds and rosés. The red wines in general are less weighty and fresher than those from other southern Rhône appellations. Though Syrah, Grenache, and Mourvèdre predominate, Marselan, Carignan, and Cinsault are also allowed. The same grapes, just in different proportions, comprise the rosés. The remaining ten percent of production consists of whites, chiefly from Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Marsanne.

Etna Erupts
Michael Apstein
Jun 1, 2021

One of the great things about Italian wines is that so many notable ones, both white and red, fly under the radar. Everyone's familiar with the great wines of Tuscany, Chianti Classico and Brunello, to name just two, and from Piedmont, home to Barolo and Barbaresco, but these wines often command triple digit prices, commensurate with their reputations. My advice is to explore other regions, such as Sicily, and especially Mount Etna. Though Etna received that island's first Denominazione Origine Controllata (DOC) in 1968, it still accounts for only about one percent of the island's wine production. And it's only been in the last couple of decades that more than a few producers have explored and embraced its unique and challenging terroir.

Terroir is Alive and Well in Barolo
Michael Apstein
Apr 27, 2021

With three wines, all made from Nebbiolo grape, the Marchese di Barolo, a top producer in Piedmont, shows the importance of terroir. The French, especially the Burgundians, have long insisted that the idea of terroir-where the grapes grow-is fundamental to the character of the wine. Indeed, the French name many of their wines, and certainly their best ones, by where the grapes grow, not by the grape name. No Pinot Noir for them. It's Gevrey-Chambertin or Pommard. The Italians take a somewhat broader approach. Some of the best Italian wines, such as Barolo, are named by location. Others are named by the grape, such as Barbera, and some are named by both, such as Langhe Nebbiolo (Nebbiolo grape from the Langhe, a wider area of Piedmont surrounding Alba, Barolo and Barbaresco) or, Barbera d'Alba.

The Joys of Exploring Italian Wines
Michael Apstein
Feb 23, 2021

One of the many things I adore about Italian wine is its seemingly limitless depth. You can always uncover a wine area or category unbeknownst to you, even if it's been known to the Italians themselves for decades. Take, for example, Albana Romagna. It may be a discovery for me and other Americans, but the Italians have known the potential of the grape grown in this area for decades. Comparably obscure to most of us is Refosco dal Peduncolo, a red variety usually showing hard-edged tannins, according to Wine Grapes by Jancis Robinson et al., but a grape that a talented producer has turned into a delightful red wine suitable for chilling. That same producer also makes a dynamite Pinot Grigio (not exactly an obscure grape), that retails for about $12. And of course, I'd be remiss if I omitted the new category of Prosecco Rosé, a brilliant marketing maneuver combining two of the hottest selling categories in wine today. At least that's what I thought until I explored the subject a little deeper.

A Guiltless Way to Enjoy Sauternes
Michael Apstein
Jan 12, 2021

I love Sauternes, but rarely drink that sweet wine. One reason is that the classic combination of foie gras and Sauternes hardly ever comes up these days. But the major reason is that a little goes a long way. One glass as dessert is divine. Two is overkill. I relish Sauternes with cheese, most of which go far better with sweet wine than with red wine, but am reluctant to open and then potentially waste the remainder of a 750-ml bottle, or even a 375-ml half-bottle, just to have a glass. But what if you needn't discard the rest of the bottle? What if you could indulge and have that small glass of Sauternes whenever you wanted without having to invest in a Coravin®? What if just recorking the bottle and refrigerating it would allow you to have another glass a few days later? There would be no guilt in opening-and not finishing-that half-bottle of 1990 Château Rieussec you've been cellaring. The scientist in me said, 'Let's do an experiment to find out.'

Gifts for Wine Lovers…or for Those Who Want to be Wine Lovers
Michael Apstein
Dec 8, 2020

At this time of the year, people can be understandably fearful of giving wine to their wine-loving or worse, wine-geek, friends. So, here are some fail-safe suggestions, both vinous and educational. Plus, an essential but inexpensive gift item that would be a perfect as a stocking stuffer.

In Praise of Regional and Village Burgundy…or, Where to Find Value
Michael Apstein
Nov 3, 2020

Simple economics explains why the wine from Burgundy, or Bourgogne, as the French would now like us to call it, has become expensive. Really expensive. But there's a work-around. My advice is to forget about Grand and Premier Cru Burgundy until you win the lottery. For too long, too many consumers have focused only on those exalted wines that come from the crème de la crème vineyard sites. But annual production from Grand Cru vineyards averages only one percent of total Burgundy production. Throw in the wine from all Premier Cru vineyards, and together they still only account for about 11 percent of Burgundy wines. So, where are the other 89 percent of Burgundies? They are at the regional and village level.

Pouilly-Fuissé Vineyards Finally Get Premier Cru Status
Michael Apstein
Sep 29, 2020

The Nazis were responsible for the lack of Premier Cru vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé, for reasons I shall explain. Moving to newer news, however, The French wine authority, the French National Institute of Origin and Quality (INAO), has recognized 22 vineyards in Pouilly-Fuissé appellation that merit Premier Cru status. The official timeline from submission to approval was lightning-fast by French bureaucratic standards: a decade. Burrier, who also is the head of Château de Beauregard, one of Pouilly Fuissé's leading domaines, noted that it took another decade of work prior to the submission to convince his fellow growers of the value of the endeavor. The long process was necessary to allow the growers to become comfortable with the hierarchy of Premier Cru and to deal with the politics that inevitably arise when drawing boundaries.

Site Trumps Everything
Michael Apstein
Aug 25, 2020

Tasting a line-up of the 2016 Gary Farrell Pinot Noirs shows why Theresa Heredia, the winemaker, is adamant about the importance of site. Same grape variety, same vintage, same winemaking, so how else to explain the wonderful difference between the Pinot Noir she made from grapes grown in the Fort Ross Vineyard in the Fort Ross-Seaview AVA and the one made from those in the Toboni Vineyard, located in the Russian River Valley? These wines reinforce the idea that site (a.k.a. terroir) is alive and well in California. American wine consumers are finally starting to come around to the idea of terroir, a concept vehemently articulated by the French. Perhaps if we just talked about the importance of site instead of using a French word, Americans would embrace the concept.

A Winery in…L.A.?
Michael Apstein
Jul 21, 2020

California red wine selling for $150+ a bottle is not a rarity anymore. But who's heard of a Los Angeles winery selling one for that price? For that matter, who's heard of Los Angeles wineries at all? If you haven't, you're not alone. I asked two well-respected California-based wine writers if they had ever heard of this winery and was met with a deafening silence. So, let me introduce you to Moraga Winery, located in the tony Bel Air section of Los Angeles. Visible from Interstate 405 and a quick 15 minutes from LAX, Moraga Bel Air sits in an upscale-to say the least-residential neighborhood overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Bichot is Back
Michael Apstein
Jun 16, 2020

If I needed any convincing-and I did not-that Bichot, the venerable Beaune-based Burgundy négoçiant, is back, it was after tasting a line-up of their 2018s. That vintage was precarious for winegrowers because the weather provided the potential for both fabulous wines or over-ripe ones with high alcohol levels depending on harvest date, location of the vineyards, and viticulture practices. Bichot avoided the potential pitfalls and hit the bullseye with both their reds and whites in 2018.

Focusing on Terroir, Following Burgundy's Lead
Michael Apstein
May 12, 2020

If terroir-that French concept that where the grapes grow determines the character of the wine-is so important, why haven't American consumers embraced it? Maybe wine appellations, which should define terroir, are just not all that important. That could be, but I doubt it. Wine appellations should help the consumer know what to expect: Is the wine sweet or is it dry? Full-bodied or more delicate? I think Americans haven't embraced terroir because our focus has always been-and still is-on the importance of grape varieties, brands and winemakers. But that may be changing as evidenced by a recent release of a trio Pinot Noirs by Siduri Wines, one of the properties owned by Jackson Family Wines.

Case for Quarantine 2.0
Michael Apstein
Apr 7, 2020

Times like this remind us of the things that are really important in life. In the big picture, wine, though it plays a significant part in my life, is not among them. Compared to the death and disease around us and the prospect of a looming economic recession, and maybe a depression, writing about wine seems trivial. Just a month ago, I was in Florence at the Antiprime di Toscana, the annual tasting of the new vintage of Tuscan wines, including Chianti Classico. Based on those tastings, I had planned an update about Gran Selezione, the new category of Chianti Classico that sits at the top of the region's quality pyramid. At this point in time, however, Gran Selezione and its promise and problems seem trivial at best. So, that column will wait, in favor of another round of advice for cooped-up wine lovers.

Dr. Apstein's Case for Quarantine
Michael Apstein
Mar 17, 2020

I'll leave the medical advice concerning the need to quarantine to your personal physician and public health experts. My advice is for a case of wine you'll need for those two weeks. Of course, depending on how many other adults are with you in quarantine, you may need more than a case. For many, planning dinner two nights in advance is a task. I know of no one who could plan meals two weeks in advance. So, you need flexibility in the wine you select. You'll need reds and whites that go with a variety of dishes, since you may not know exactly what you'll be eating each day.

Brunello 2015: Less is More
Michael Apstein
Mar 4, 2020

The 2015 vintage of Brunello di Montalcino is being heralded as a 5-star vintage (the top rating) by the notoriously easy-grading Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino, the trade group that represents producers in Montalcino. Retailers around the country have jumped onto the bandwagon with enthusiastic praise for the 2015 vintage. I tasted many great wines when the Consorzio showed the 2015 vintage in New York City last month, and again this month in Montalcino. Nevertheless, and while I don't want to rain on the parade, I would urge caution in selecting these wines. Unlike the spectacular and consistent 2010 vintage, which also received 5 stars from the Consorzio, 2015 is not a point and shoot vintage. The hot and dry growing season presented challenges.

Move Over, White Burgundy
Michael Apstein
Jan 28, 2020

Ask wine critics what is the best white wine category in the world…and their usual response is white Burgundy. Yes, I know, some respond with Riesling, but I'm not speaking of greatest white grapes, I'm speaking of a category of wine. After a tasting of Domaine de Chevalier organized by Panos Kakaviatos, friend and WRO colleague, held at the French Embassy in Washington, and from personal experience with wines from my cellar, I now add white Bordeaux to the list. Not all white Bordeaux, mind you, but certain ones, such Domaine de Chevalier, Château Laville Haut Brion, the white wine from La Mission Haut-Brion, and, of course, Haut Brion Blanc.

Burgundy's 2018 Vintage: The Importance of Harvest Date
Michael Apstein
Jan 1, 2020

The standing of Burgundy's 2018 vintage wines can't yet be stated with finality, since most of the wines are still in barrel. However, an assessment at this point is in order, as the wines are now being offered for sale as 'futures.' After tasting wines from throughout Burgundy at négociant houses, such as Bouchard Père et Fils, Joseph Drouhin, and Louis Jadot, as well as many small growers, I found that some of the wines, especially the reds, are truly spectacular, but the consistency is variable. Unlike 2010 or 2015, 2018 is not a 'point and shoot' vintage for the reds, though there will be some outstanding and memorable wines.

Holiday Gifts for Wine Lovers
Michael Apstein
Dec 3, 2019

The obvious choice for gifts for your wine loving friends this holiday season is a bottle-or two-of wine. Sadly, too many are intimidated to give wine to a so-called wine expert. We've all heard the excuses: I don't know anything about wine; I don't want to embarrass myself by giving an ordinary wine; I don't want to spend hundreds of dollars on a prestigious one. Well, I have lots of non-wine suggestions that would make perfect gifts that I'll get to in a minute. But first, let me remind you: You can safely give a bottle of wine. Just give something that you've enjoyed and, if possible, is a little off the beaten track. If you've liked it, then it's a safe bet that your wine-loving friend will at least find it interesting. After all, you're friends for a reason. But if that argument doesn't convince you, here are other options.

Tuscany's Maremma: Italy's Wild West, in More Ways Than One
Michael Apstein
Nov 5, 2019

Despite being home to Ornellaia, Sassicaia, Grattamacco, and Masseto, some of Italy's most expensive and sought-after wines, the Maremma remains obscure to most wine lovers. Though none of the above-mentioned wines carry the word Maremma on their labels, geographically their home is in that region. Maremma is also home to Vermentino, which is a leading candidate to become Tuscany's signature white wine. In addition, with excellent wines being made from Alicante, Syrah, and Ciliegiolo, the Maremma is not likely to stay under the radar for long.

Age Matters
Michael Apstein
Oct 8, 2019

Winegrowers around the world speak lovingly of old vines. Though the definition is never official, nor even clear, many bottles still carry the moniker, Vieilles Vignes, Vecchie Viti or Viñas Viejas, depending on whether you're talking about French, Italian or Spanish wines. A tasting of Travaglini's Gattinara in New York recently drove home the value of old vines. Cinzia Travaglini and her daughter, Alessia, who represent the 4th and 5th generation of the Travaglini family, presented the wines, not intending to show the importance of old vines. But, for me, the tasting did just that.

A Star on Long Island
Michael Apstein
Sep 10, 2019

Recently, I happened to mention to my friend, Howard Goldberg, the longtime The New York Times wine writer, that I was writing a column about Loire wines made from Chenin Blanc. Howard suggested that I visit Paumanok on Long Island's North Fork because, he said, they made great Chenin Blanc. So, I arranged a visit, insisting that I wouldn't take more than 45 minutes of their time because I was just interested in their Chenin Blanc. Well, not surprisingly, Goldberg was correct about their Chenin Blanc. What was surprising was how a scheduled 45-minute visit morphed into a two and half hour tasting due to the discovery that Paumanok's entire line-up is stellar.

Saumur: Home to Fabulous Dry Chenin Blanc
Michael Apstein
Aug 13, 2019

The Chenin Blanc grape can be transformed into fabulous wine. It makes sensationally riveting dry wines and lusciously sweet ones. In this column, I want to focus on the dry ones. They are exceptionally versatile, equally well suited to stand-alone as an aperitif or with a meal, especially with those foods that can pose a challenge for matching with wine, such as sushi, spicy Asian fare or roast pork. Flavorful, yet lightweight and refreshing, they are perfect in the summer. In truth, they are wonderful regardless of the season.

Beaujolais: A Versatile Wine
Michael Apstein
Jul 16, 2019

One of the many things I love about Beaujolais is its variety and versatility. There's Beaujolais Nouveau, a beverage that's almost closer to alcoholic grape juice than to wine, and which many in the American wine press deride regularly. Then there's juicy Beaujolais that are fresh and fruity wines perfect for chilling and drinking at this time of the year. A step up is Beaujolais-Villages, wines coming from any of the 38 villages in this area just north of Lyon that have the potential for better wine. Finally, there's the serious side of Beaujolais. The Gamay grape can reflect its origins or, in modern terminology, be transparent, just as the Pinot Noir in the Côte d'Or.

Surprising Whites for the Rosé Season
Michael Apstein
Jun 18, 2019

It's well known that the red wines from the south of France can provide great pleasure, especially for the price. The whites, in contrast, have received far less attention, in part, because they can be a touch heavy. That may be changing, at least judging from my experience earlier this year. I found that the 2017 whites from disparate areas in the south of French had an engaging vibrancy that make them an easy choice for the summer. Surprisingly, the all-too-prevalent frosts may be responsible, at least in part.

Terroir in Bordeaux
Michael Apstein
May 21, 2019

Part of my enthusiasm for wine, and I'm sure other's as well, is that the character of the wine is, or at least should be, a reflection of where the grapes were grown. For me, this is a fabulous expression of Nature and an almost magical one at that. Wines made from the same grapes grown in adjacent vineyards, separated sometimes by only a narrow dirt path, can often taste very different. This concept can be difficult to appreciate because the producer's winemaking technique can overwhelm the influence of place. When tasting two wines from different locales made by different producers, the question becomes, is it the producer's hand or the locale that is speaking? So, for consumers to appreciate and understand the potential of what is known as terroir, or what noted wine writer Matt Kramer called, 'a sense of place,' it is essential to compare wines from different places made by the same producer.

Guigal: The Birth of a Star in Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Michael Apstein
Apr 23, 2019

Although the house of E. Guigal has had an enormous presence in the southern Rhône as a négociant, producing more than 2 million cases annually of their value-packed Côtes du Rhône, red, white, and rosé, as well as Gigondas, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, they did not own vineyards there until 2017. Philippe Guigal, Marcel's son and current General Manager and winemaker, relates that they had been looking to buy in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for years. He remarked that they had been making Châteauneuf-du-Pape and selling it via their négociant business since the 1940s. As a result, they had a close relationship with scores of growers. They knew the appellation well and knew what they wanted. More importantly, he added, 'We knew what we didn't want.'

Chianti Classico: The Tale of Two Vintages
Michael Apstein
Mar 26, 2019

Consumers are lucky and should be thrilled that there are two stunning vintages, the 2015 and 2016, of Chianti Classico on retailers' shelves now. Although both vintages are outstanding, the character of the wines is very different. In a word, so to speak, the 2015s are riper and fleshy while the 2016s are racier. So, there's something for everyone, whether you prefer the richer Chianti Classico, the 2015s, or the more traditionally framed ones, the 2016s. Consumers can find many well-priced examples from both vintages in the retail market.

Brunello di Montalcino 2014: Not as Bad as it Sounds
Michael Apstein
Feb 26, 2019

Despite the sour mood in Montalcino caused by the 'difficult' 2014 vintage for Brunello (vintages are never poor, they're just difficult), it is definitely a vintage that consumers should investigate closely because some producers made very good wine. To be sure, the talk is all gloom and doom regarding the 2014 vintage in Tuscany, including Montalcino. Even the Consorzio del Vino Brunello di Montalcino's rating--self-serving and among the most lenient in the world--awarded the vintage just three out of five stars. In the last 40 years, only four vintages received a lower rating from them. However, despite the overall poor rating of the 2014 vintage for Brunello, consumers should be interested in at least some of the wines because, as is always the case with 'difficult' vintages, talented producers defy the odds. Indeed, it's better to rely on and follow producers than it is to have a blind allegiance to a vintage.

Léoville-Poyferré: Another Super Second?
Michael Apstein
Jan 29, 2019

A vertical tasting of 15 vintages of Château Léoville Poyferré paired with food at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. earlier this month was proof that this venerable St. Julien property is on the rise. And while Cru Classé Bordeaux is never inexpensive, recent vintages of Léoville Poyferré are well-priced, especially compared to neighboring Château Léoville Las Cases. This is a property whose wines are worth following, not only for their intrinsic worth, but because it is a 'super second' selling for less than super seconds' prices.

The Mother of All Wine Auctions
Michael Apstein
Jan 1, 2019

All hospitals have a Director. But only one--Les Hospices de Beaune--has a Director of Winemaking. (As a physician, I am especially interested in seeing that organizational chart.) The hospital needs a director of winemaking because it owns vineyards--over 150 acres of them, 85 percent of which are classified as Premier and Grand Cru, making it one of the largest vineyard owners in Burgundy. It, or rather Ludivine Griveau, the current winemaker and the first woman to hold that position, makes wine from these vineyards every year.

The 2017 Burgundies
Michael Apstein
Dec 4, 2018

Everyone was smiling during my visit to Burgundy last month. The cellars were, after all, chock full of wine after two good-sized vintages. At Maison Louis Jadot, the barrel cellars were filled to the brim. For the first time ever, barrels were stacked three high in a cellar designed for just two tiers. The 2017 vintage was normal in volume, but is considered large by comparison to the five short vintages that preceded it. The 2018 vintage was copious as well, which explains why the cellars are so full. Frédéric Drouhin put it succinctly: 'Burgundy is back. We have wine.' The 2018 vintage, just finishing its alcoholic fermentation, is already being hailed--somewhat prematurely in my view--as exceptional. François Labet, President of the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne), the organization that represents all Burgundy growers and producers, said--with barely contained enthusiasm--that 'It's shining in Burgundy just like our 2018 vintage, which is ideal . . . close to 1947.'

Chianti Classico: The Times They are A-Changing
Michael Apstein
Nov 6, 2018

With apologies to Bob Dylan, 'The Times They are A-Changing' in Chianti Classico. Three decades ago, producers were embracing the use of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and other so-called 'international varieties,' to bolster Sangiovese. But now, with dramatic improvements in the vineyards, growers have shown the heights that Sangiovese can achieve in Chianti Classico. It no longer needs support. As Francesco Ricasoli, of Castello Brolio, an excellent producer in Gaiole, told me in February, 'Sangiovese in Chianti Classico is unique. We need to preserve it.'

Meerlust's Rubicon: A South African Icon
Michael Apstein
Oct 9, 2018

'He made me an offer I couldn't refuse,' quipped Hannes Myburgh, the 8th generation of the family that owns Meerlust, in response to a potential conflict with Francis Ford Coppola over names. Coppola and his wife own the legendary Napa Valley Winery, Inglenook, whose flagship red wine is also labeled Rubicon. As if the allusion to Coppola's Godfather wasn't enough, he added with a chuckle, 'Plus, I didn't want to wake up with a horse's head in my bed.'

The Best White Wine You've Never Heard Of
Michael Apstein
Sep 11, 2018

Although the Romans cultivated Ribolla Gialla and the Venetians supposedly used the wine made from it to settle debts, I could not have written this column 30 years ago because much of the area where it is grown was in then-Communist western Yugoslavia, now Slovenia, and off limits to Westerners. Furthermore, quality wine was not a focus under the Communist regime and growers were forced to sell most of their grapes to the government co-op, which turned them into an anonymous blend. The epicenter of Ribolla Gialla or Rebula, as it is known in Slovenian, is the small Collio area of northeastern Italy spilling over into the Brda (pronounced ber-da) region of Slovenia. There, among the steep hillsides (collio, as they are called in Italian and brda in Slovenian) the grape thrives.

Marchesi Frescobaldi: 'When you prune, you get to know the plants'
Michael Apstein
Aug 14, 2018

Lamberto Frescobaldi, tieless in a casual sports jacket, has a down-to-earth demeanor and a twinkle in his eye that belies his nobleman status. He is the 30th generation of that famed winemaking family, which in the past traded wine for paintings with Renaissance artists. Lamberto, a man who must be worth hundreds of millions of dollars and has a 700-year family legacy in winemaking, explains with a child-like enthusiasm, 'When you prune you get to know the plants.' Many wine producers with such a legacy would hunker down, counting on their past to sustain themselves. Not Frescobaldi. Under Lamberto, who now might qualify as the Master of Merlot, a handful of recent projects highlight the direction of Italian wine.

Alternatives to Rosé, Even in Provence
Michael Apstein
Jul 18, 2018

With apologies to Alfred Lord Tennyson, rosé to the left of us, rosé to the right of us, rosé in front of us, and there we were, drinking white wine in the heart of Provence. The sommelier at La Presque'îe, a spectacularly situated restaurant--with food to match--on the outskirts of Cassis overlooking the Mediterranean coast, told me that they sell a lot of rosé, but that, like us, many diners order white wine. After all, this is Cassis, a village and appellation just east of Marseille, where roughly three-fourths of the wine produced is white, unlike the rest of Provence where 85 percent of the wine produced is pink. The terraced vineyards are squeezed between expensive residential real estate on steep hills--limestone calanques--that plunge into the Mediterranean.

Will Chinese Wine be as Successful as Chinese Food?
Michael Apstein
Jun 19, 2018

At the end of the Concours Mondial de Bruxelles, which was held this year in Beijing, I sat amazed at how extraordinarily efficient and smoothly run this wine competition was: A dedicated sommelier for each panel of judges, perfectly timed pouring, not a drop spilled or a glass broken, a bevy of technical support assistants for the tablets judges used to record their scores, even robots transporting bottled water to be delivered to the judges' tables. I commented about this to the Chinese judge sitting next to me. His response: 'We have a strong central government.' An understatement, to be sure, but it explains why I predict that within a decade China will be producing world class wines. When the Chinese government sets its mind to something, for better or for worse, it gets done. And it appears as though the government is intent on seeing top-notch wine come from its shores.

Muscadet is Morphing
Michael Apstein
May 22, 2018

The cru system--as in Grand or Premier Cru Burgundy or the cru of Beaujolais--has reached Muscadet. The growers there are doing what producers throughout the world are doing: They are defining and identifying specific areas within the broader region that are capable of producing distinctive wines. The French wine regulators have agreed that certain villages (crus) within the region have unique terroir and are capable of producing unique wines that are very different from traditional Muscadet. This new AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controllée) will carry the name of the village (cru) prominently displayed on the label along with the broader region, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine. In some cases, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine is even relegated to the back label to emphasize the importance of the individual cru.

2015 White Burgundies: Marvelous for Current Drinking
Michael Apstein
Apr 24, 2018

Having tasted the 2015 Burgundies now that they have been bottled and are on retailers' shelves, I can confirm my initial impression of the vintage --sensational for both reds and whites. Importantly, though, the character of the wines is very different depending on the color. I wrote about the reds last March (link below) so this column focuses on the whites. But, before I delve into the wines, let me address an increasingly common complaint about Burgundy's wines, namely, their prices.

Awful Weather in Burgundy, But Some Awesome Wines from 2016
Michael Apstein
Mar 27, 2018

Usually it is perfect weather during the growing season that results in exceptional wines. Think 2005, 2009 or 2015 in Burgundy. Those 'ideal weather' vintages produced excellent wines almost across the board. In 2016, the capriciousness of Nature was apparent: Hail ravaged some vineyards, destroying the entire crop, but leaving a neighboring vineyard untouched. Unusual wind currents resulted in frost damage to usually frost-averse vineyards, while some frost-prone vineyards did not suffer. The major problems with the 2016 Burgundies are small quantities and high prices, not the quality, the weather notwithstanding.

Brunello di Montalcino 2013: The Virtue of Acidity
Michael Apstein
Feb 27, 2018

If there was ever any doubt,--and, of course, there shouldn't be--that Brunello di Montalcino is one of the world's great wines, a sad event last month should dispel it. Thieves stole about 1,000 bottles of Brunello, including some prized single-vineyard Riserva, Poggio al Vento, worth about $125,000, from Col d'Orcia, one of the region's top producers. They took only Brunello, not Rosso di Montalcino or any other of Col d'Orcia's wines. When criminals target a wine--be it by blackmailing Domaine de la Romanée-Conti or by forging labels, you know the wine has hit the big time--though I'm sure that Francesco Marone Cinzano, owner of Col d'Orcia, would have preferred a different form of flattery.

2015 Bordeaux: A Vintage to Buy
Michael Apstein
Jan 30, 2018

The wines from Bordeaux are definitely not the darlings of the breed of new-wave sommeliers whose wine lists are heavy with 'natural' wines, orange wines, or selections from obscure areas--which all too often turn out to be obscure for good reason. But, despite their lack of sex appeal, Bordeaux wines remain benchmarks for Cabernet- and Merlot-based reds, as well as Sauvignon- and Semillon-based whites, whether dry or sweet. And the 2015 vintage reminds us why.

Wines from…Where? Striving for Excellence in Morocco
Michael Apstein
Jan 2, 2018

Readers might reasonably ask why I am writing about wines not available in the U.S. market from one the last places on earth you'd expect to find fine wine--Morocco, a Muslim country where alcohol is forbidden. Why? Because it is a fantastic story about problem solving, a learning curve, and perhaps a little bit of following your heart.

The Mother of All Wine Auctions
Michael Apstein
Dec 5, 2017

The Napa Valley Wine Auction (officially known as Auction Napa Valley), which started in 1981, bills itself as 'the world's most celebrated charity wine event.' To its credit, it raises a lot of money--roughly $10 million last year. Yet this hoopla pales in comparison to the century-old mother of all charity wine auctions, the Vente des Vins des Hospices de Beaune, usually just known as either Hospices de Beaune--if you are an outsider--or La Vente des Vins, if you are from Burgundy. In its present form, the Hospices de Beaune auction started in 1859, which makes the recently completed auction-always on the 3rd Sunday of November-its 157th. The sale raised $13.2 million (11.2 million euros), an all-time record with the proceeds going to the hospitals of Beaune and various other charities.

Grignolino: A Rare but Exciting Choice for Thanksgiving
Michael Apstein
Nov 7, 2017

I never gave much thought to Grignolino, an obscure grape from Piedmont, until Marchesi Cattaneo Adorno Giustiniani poured one, a 1971, from his winery, Castello di Gabiano, at dinner last month. It was show-stopping. One of the qualities that determines greatness for a wine, at least for me, is its ability to develop over time. Wines start their lives redolent of fruit, but with proper aging, the fruit flavors fade and are replaced by non-fruit flavors, such as leather, coffee, mushrooms--it really doesn't matter how you describe them--while remaining fresh and harmonious. Well, at 46 years of age, Castello di Gabiano's 1971 Grignolino ticked that box.

Nizza: A New Italian DOCG Worth Remembering
Michael Apstein
Oct 10, 2017

The new Nizza DOCG, which consumers will see on the label starting with the 2014 vintage, was formerly one of the three subzones of Barbera d'Asti. Part of the reason the wines from Nizza outshine the wines from the Barbera d'Asti DOCG is because this small area is exceptionally well suited to the Barbera grape. Barbera in Nizza is like Pinot Noir in Burgundy or Nebbiolo in Barolo or Barbaresco. Gianni Bertoli, a spokesperson for the association of Nizza producers, explains that since Nizza has always been revered for its Barbera, more than half of the total vineyard area has vines that are over 50 years old. Indeed, the grapes from Nizza have historically commanded a premium.

The Most Beautiful Wine Region That You've Never Heard Of…And They Make Good Wine, Too
Michael Apstein
Sep 12, 2017

Our exceptional bus driver and guide, Matt Wentzell, assured us that he could make it up the steep twisty and bumpy dirt road. I remained unconvinced as the road became more twisted and bumpy. Halfway up, we stopped, carefully disembarked and stepped onto a plateau overlooking the narrow, mountain-lined valley. John Weber, who with his wife, Virginia, moved here a dozen years ago to start Orofino Winery, recounted his first impression upon seeing this view. Driving from Eastern Canada, they took a wrong turn and came over the pass into the valley on this same dirt road instead of the main--and equally beautiful--road. They looked at each other and simultaneously said, 'This is the place.'

No Rosé, Please…Just Chill the Red
Michael Apstein
Aug 15, 2017

As regular readers of this column know--and if you didn't you could tell from the introductory paragraph--I am not a fan of rosé. Although rosés are cool and refreshing, most lack complexity. I realize I'm painting with a very broad brush because there are rosés that deliver lots of character. Rosés from Bandol or Tavel in the south of France, to name just two, can make you sit up and focus on what's in your glass. But most rosés don't demand attention, which, of course, is likely much of their appeal. Most people do not want to think about the nuances of wine, especially in the summer. But for those who want a cool and refreshing, rosé-like experience and want to think--at least a little--about what's in the glass while sitting on the porch or deck, I suggest chilling red wine.

The 'Cru' of Soave: Another Attempt to Resurrect the Region
Michael Apstein
Jul 18, 2017

Soave, one of Italy's great white wines, has an image problem, and, as a result, it gets no respect. Although I'm sure that must be frustrating for the producers, it's a boon for consumers: The wines can be excellent but their prices fail to reflect their quality. If your memory of Soave is bland, watery swill marketed so successfully decades ago by Bolla--consumers have told me that they assumed the name of the region was Bolla Soave--then it's time to try them again. Even Bolla's.

The New Beaujolais, but Definitely Not Beaujolais Nouveau
Michael Apstein
Jun 20, 2017

A recent tasting of Beaujolais reminded me of tasting wines from the Côte d'Or. Yes, you read that correctly--I am comparing Beaujolais and the Côte d'Or. To be sure, I'm not speaking about just anywhere in Beaujolais, only the crus, the 10 villages in the northern part of the region whose bedrock is either pink granite or a blue-black volcanic stone and whose wines are so distinctive that only the name of the village, without a mention of Beaujolais, appears on the label. Despite different grapes (Gamay versus Pinot Noir), different soil (granite versus limestone) and different exposure (undulating hills versus a constant southeast facing slope), both the northern part of Beaujolais and the Côte d'Or are magical winemaking areas where the particular site is paramount in determining the character of the wine.

Canadian Pinot Noir: Who Knew?
Michael Apstein
May 23, 2017

When I told friends that I was going to Edmonton to taste and judge Canadian wines, the predictable response was, 'Oh, icewine.' Having tasted Canadian wines during trips to Ontario and at a previous edition of the Northern Lands Festival Canadian Wine Competition in Edmonton, I knew that Canada made more than just icewine. What I didn't know at the time, but know now, is that Canada makes sensational and unique Pinot Noir that reflect the diversity of sites where the grapes grow.

Canadian Pinot Noir: Who Knew?
Michael Apstein
May 23, 2017

When I told friends that I was going to Edmonton to taste and judge Canadian wines, the predictable response was, 'Oh, icewine.' Having tasted Canadian wines during trips to Ontario and at a previous edition of the Northern Lands Festival Canadian Wine Competition in Edmonton, I knew that Canada made more than just icewine. What I didn't know at the time, but know now, is that Canada makes sensational and unique Pinot Noir that reflect the diversity of sites where the grapes grow.

Lugana: The Perfect Summertime White
Michael Apstein
Apr 25, 2017

With their crispness and cutting acidity, the refreshing wines of Lugana, a small Denominazione Origine Controllata (DOC) on the southern edge of Lake Garda in northern Italy's Lake District, are perfect for drinking in the summer--or year round for that matter. (Just don't confuse Lugana, the wine, with Lugano, a neighboring lake.) A bonus is in finding an area that produces distinctive and unique wines using an autochthonous grape come to life, rather than succumbing to the allure of planting international varieties.

2015 Burgundies: Superb for Both Colors...Don't Miss Them
Michael Apstein
Mar 28, 2017

After having tasted literally hundreds of barrel samples from négociants and small growers while on my annual pilgrimage to Burgundy in November, followed by a series of important importers' tastings New York City earlier this year, (again, mostly barrel samples), it's clear to me that the 2015 Burgundies are stunning. With her typical understatement and wry smile, Véronique Drouhin of Maison Joseph Drouhin, summed it up, 'There's no question it is a good vintage.' I would go further--2015 is a great vintage for both the iconic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-based wines.

The Renaissance at Jessiaume: A Multi-National Collaboration
Michael Apstein
Feb 28, 2017

In parochial Burgundy, where even French citizens from outside the region are viewed with skepticism, an American--and a woman no less--is leading the Anglo-American-French team that is intent on resurrecting Domaine Jessiaume. With the quintessential Burgundian tiles adorning their building, Domaine Jessiaume, which dates from the mid-19th century, is one of Santenay's iconic properties. Of course, looks aren't everything, and in years past, I can recall thinking: If only the wines were as captivating as the building. Well, now they are…thanks to the newly installed Directrice, Megan McClune, and her young French winemaker, William Waterkyn.

Bordeaux's 2014s: An Excellent, Well-Priced Vintage
Michael Apstein
Jan 31, 2017

The press regarding the 2014 vintage in Bordeaux, written in the spring of 2015 after the 'en premieur' tastings (a week long series of tastings of 'representative' barrel samples in Bordeaux) was lukewarm. The vintage was damned with faint praise (e.g., 'It's the best of the lesser vintages,' or 'The best since 2010,' which of course isn't saying much, given the trio of mediocre vintages, 2011, 2012 and 2013). Hence, I approached the annual Union des Grands Crus (UGC) tasting in New York City with a lack of enthusiasm. At this tasting, 89 major chateaux poured 102 of their 2014s, which, unlike the wines sampled during 'en primeur,' were finished wines, bottled and ready for sale, not barrel samples. What a pleasant surprise!

A Champagne Article After the Holidays? What is He Thinking?
Michael Apstein
Jan 3, 2017

To some it will seem odd to read a column about Champagne after New Year's and the holiday season. (My editor will say it's because I've missed yet another deadline.) After all, the vast bulk of Champagne and sparkling wines are purchased and consumed between Thanksgiving and New Year's. Non-holiday consumption is usually reserved for special occasions. In restaurants, sommeliers report that two-thirds of bubbly sales are because of celebrations, according to a Guild of Sommeliers 2014 survey. By comparison, only a trivial amount of Champagne is consumed at other times. And that's a shame!

Is It Terroir or National Origin? Burgundy in Oregon
Michael Apstein
Dec 6, 2016

What's more important in determining wine quality-terroir, or the nationality of the winemaker? Almost everyone agrees on the importance of terroir, the idea (best exemplified in Burgundy) that where the grapes grow is critical in determining the character of a wine. Equally important in the estimation of many wine experts is the role of the winemaker or producer. But what is driving the winemaker--conscious decisions or some subconscious force, such as national origin? The Burgundians' foray into Oregon offers a chance to explore this question.

Umbria: Italy's Forgotten Region (Until Now)
Michael Apstein
Nov 8, 2016

Ask consumers to name their favorite Italian wine regions and you're sure to hear Tuscany and Piedmont. Italian white wine enthusiasts no doubt would add Friuli and Trentino to the list. And Campania would certainly be on most people's short list. Umbria? Not really. Most people, even wine aficionados, can't even locate the region on a map. (It's the landlocked region between Lazio in the south and Tuscany to its north.) Though significant earthquakes have rattled Umbria recently, even the Italian media refers to it as,'Central Italy.' There were good reasons, until now, for Umbria's wine obscurity.

Sicily: Diverse Land, Diverse Wines
Michael Apstein
Oct 11, 2016

The wine culture of Sicily--a little bit of everything--mirrors that island's unique character. Over the centuries, Sicily has been invaded and colonized by the Greeks, the Arabs, the Spanish, and the French, to name just a few. These diverse cultures have all have left their unique marks on the island--Catholic churches built by Arab workers look like mosques from the outside. Monuments to Spanish kings dot the streets of Palermo. Much like the invaders, Sicilian wines are diverse and have arrived on our shores in waves.

Wine Fraud: More Common Than You'd Think
Michael Apstein
Sep 13, 2016

The mother of all wine frauds belongs to Rudi Kurniawan, who was convicted in federal court in 2013 and sentenced to 10 years in prison for essentially selling millions of dollars of counterfeit wine. In a separate, but related matter, Kurniawan agreed to pay billionaire wine collector Bill Koch $3 million in damages to settle a lawsuit in which Koch claimed Kurniawan sold him fake wine. So, wine fraud is clearly big business…at least when the 1% of the 1% are involved.

Robert Mondavi: The Father of California Wine
Michael Apstein
Aug 16, 2016

No one is more responsible for the success of the California wine industry than Robert Mondavi. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the winery that bears his name and is an appropriate time to look back on his extraordinary accomplishments.

Siepi, a True Super Tuscan
Michael Apstein
Jun 28, 2016

Today, the term Super Tuscan has become almost meaningless because its widespread use encompasses anything from expensive wine made entirely from Sangiovese to low-end blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with Sangiovese. The original Super Tuscan moniker referred to innovative wines, blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, or those varieties with Tuscany's traditional Sangiovese. The wines arose in two distinct areas of Tuscany for different reasons.

Surprising Portugal
Michael Apstein
May 31, 2016

Though my predictions lack the consistency of Nate Silver's, I will stick my neck out and say that Portuguese wines will be the next 'hot' item in the US wine market even though pronunciation issues may be an impediment. After spending a week in Portugal judging at the 2016 Concurso Vinhos de Portugal (Wines of Portugal Challenge), tasting a vast array of Portuguese wines (including Port, of course, but also a bevy of hearty reds and refreshing whites) and discussing them with Portuguese winemakers and wine judges from around the world, I came away thinking that Portuguese wines are poised to take-off, much as Italian wines did 30-plus years ago.

Carmignano: The Original Super Tuscan
Michael Apstein
May 3, 2016

No doubt the producers in Carmignano, the smallest DOCG of Tuscany and located just northwest of Florence, bristle when they hear praise lavished on the so-called 'Super Tuscan' wines…and are envious of the prices they command. Although the term Super Tuscan became popular about 35 years ago as a way to describe wines that were made either from Bordeaux grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc (or a mix of those grapes with Sangiovese, the traditional grape of Tuscany), the concept has been around a lot longer--a whole lot longer. Cabernet Franc has been in Tuscany, not for 35, but for 500 years. Catherine de' Medici brought it back from France in the 16th century and planted it in Carmignano where it was--as still is--called Uva Francesca (i.e., 'the French grape').

Chianti Rùfina: Wines Worth Knowing
Michael Apstein
Apr 5, 2016

It's well worth unraveling the confusion that often prevents consumers from embracing Chianti Rùfina, for the wines from this area are a joy to drink. Some people mistake this subregion of the greater Chianti area for Ruffino, a prominent producer of Chianti and Chianti Classico (Ruffino makes no Chianti Rùfina, though). Others stumble over the pronunciation--the accent marks the emphasis, making it ROO-fi-na, not Roo-fin-NA. The wines from Chianti Rùfina are very different from those of Chianti Classico, the best-known subregion of Chianti whose wines are easily identified by the black rooster logo on the neck label. Indeed, Federico Giutini Masseti, from Fattoria Selvapiana, one of Rùfina's top producers, wishes the name of the area were simply Rùfina. A cooler climate--Rùfina is further north and east compared to Chianti Classico--explains, in part, why the wines from the two areas are so different, the wines of Rùfina marked by an elegance and austerity that complements their black cherry fruitiness.

Malbec That Makes You Think
Michael Apstein
Mar 8, 2016

Subtlety and Malbec are two words rarely used in the same sentence. Malbec, at least from Argentina, usually produces a big, ripe, jammy monotonic red wine with little structure or finesse. But then, along came Count Patrick d'Aulan and his team at Alta Vista in Argentina and, later, at Altamana in Chile. Together, they have shown that New World Malbec can convey both subtlety and a sense of place. D'Aulan and his current team at Alta Vista, led by head winemaker Matthieu Grassin, produce Malbecs that makes you think by focusing on single vineyards that contain old vines--more than 60 years of age.

2013 Bordeaux: Like Wagner's Music, It's Not as Bad as It Sounds
Michael Apstein
Feb 9, 2016

In November 2013, Alan Sichel, chairman of Bordeaux's guild of wine merchants, told Bloomberg Business, 'No one will be excited by the 2013 vintage [in Bordeaux].' That comment turned out to be high praise compared to how others in the trade described the vintage--'a catastrophe'--at the time. With that background, it was with trepidation that I approached the annual Union des Grands Crus tasting in New York, an event at which about 100 of the major Bordeaux properties present finished and bottled wines to the press and trade.

Beaujolais Rising
Michael Apstein
Jan 12, 2016

A transformation is occurring in Beaujolais, and within a few years the world will see the wines from that region in a whole new light. For most consumers today, Beaujolais is synonymous with Beaujolais Nouveau, which all too often is a grapey, gooey wine. But, in my mind, the future of Beaujolais surely lies with its crus, which are prohibited from making Nouveau. These ten villages, located in the hilly northern reaches of the region, have unique granitic soil and produce wine that is distinctive enough to be labeled solely with the name of the village, often omitting the name Beaujolais entirely. It's what's happening within the crus--a Côte d'Or-like parcelization--that explains why Beaujolais will reclaim its reputation as a top wine region.

Seeing White at Château Lagrange
Michael Apstein
Dec 15, 2015

Just when you think it can't get any better, it does. At least that's the case for Château Lagrange, the Cru Classé property in St. Julien, which is making yet another name for itself with--of all things--a dry white wine, Les Arums de Lagrange. Although white wine is no surprise in Bordeaux (think Graves and Pessac-Léognan or even Entre-Deux-Mers) it is a real rarity in the Médoc in general and in St. Julien, in particular. Indeed, the regulations for those Left Bank appellations don't even recognize white wines, so Les Arums de Lagrange is labeled only as Bordeaux, not St. Julien.

How Women Transformed Champagne
Michael Apstein
Nov 24, 2015

Dom Perignon, step aside. Although that monk is often credited with 'inventing' Champagne, in reality, the women of the region made it what it is today. Two hundred years ago, Champagne's major production was thin, acidic, still wine, not the bubbly symbol of luxury and celebration of today. Champagne's evolution from coarse swill to refined elegance gives new meaning to the cliché that necessity is the mother of invention. In this case, the 'mothers,' widows suddenly thrust into leadership of the Champagne houses, provided the vision necessary for the transformation.

All Smiles in Burgundy
Michael Apstein
Nov 17, 2015

There were smiles all around Burgundy--at least before the horrific events in Paris on Friday, November 13. And with good reason: The 2014 whites are stunning. And overall, yields in 2014 were closer to normal--70 to 80 percent--after four short harvests, though, as Frédéric Barnier, winemaker at Maison Louis Jadot, noted, 'We are still looking for a full [normal] crop.' Barnier continued, 'We knew from the outset we had something special with the [2014] whites, but the quality of the reds was surprising.' He said that the reds were initially difficult to assess because they went though malolactic fermentation very early--soon after the alcoholic fermentation--due to the unusually warm fall that year. He was pleased with them after this transformation had occurred.

New Zealand Wines: An Update
Michael Apstein
Oct 20, 2015

Although still focused primarily on Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand is showing a lot of vinous diversity these days, both with that variety and with other grapes. In the cellars, winemakers are branching out by using oak barrels for fermentation and aging of Sauvignon Blanc. In the vineyards, growers are experimenting with Grüner Veltliner, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Syrah, to name a few. And the results are very encouraging. In many ways, this experimentation is just a natural extension of New Zealand's already rapid rise in the wine world. Its modern winemaking history dates back only about 35 years, yet its wines, especially those made from Sauvignon Blanc, have taken the world by storm.

Rating Wines: Is a 94-Point Wine Better Than an 88-Point Wine?
Michael Apstein
Sep 22, 2015

I hate the 100-point scale for rating wines. Of course, I use it, like the vast majority of wine writers, because it has become the standard scale and because many consumers expect and embrace it. My dislike is really not with 100-point scale itself, but rather the way many consumers use it, which goes something like this: Plug in the name of the latest 90+ point wine on wine-searcher.com and find the cheapest place in the country who allegedly is selling it. If you live in most states--Bingo!--the wine will appear on your doorstep in a matter of days. It's all very appealing. But let's drill a little deeper. Looking at all those retail 'shelf-talkers' prominently proclaiming this wine's or that wine's score, you'd be excused if you thought the 'number' was the only information you needed when selecting a wine. But what does the point score really mean? Is a 94-point wine 'better' than an 88-point wine? Well, as in most things about wine, it depends.

Sommeliers: Love Them or Hate Them?
Michael Apstein
Aug 25, 2015

Somms--and oh, how I hate that word--are the newest darlings of the wine world. Sommeliers have been anointed the opinion leaders, directing trends in wine consumption, replacing, in many instances, the voices of established wine critics such as Robert Parker, Jr. or The Wine Spectator. Wine producers either love them (if their wines make it onto their lists) or hate them (when their wines are ignored).

The Trouble with Vouvray
Michael Apstein
Jul 28, 2015

Vouvray is home to a fabulous array of under-valued white wines. A major impediment to more widespread popularity is the confusion that surrounds their level of sweetness. (This confusion is surely a major reason the wines remain undervalued, so perhaps--for those of us who love the wines--I should stop here.) A superb trio of wines from Domaine Huet, perhaps the appellation's greatest producer, puts the problem in clear relief. The three cuvées, each made from separate vineyards (Haut-Lieu, Le Mont and Clos du Bourg) in the superb 2014 vintage, were surprisingly different in sweetness despite all being labeled Vouvray Sec.

Chinon: Burgundy in the Loire Valley
Michael Apstein
Jun 30, 2015

Chinon as Burgundy? At first glance, it is an unlikely comparison. Chinon growers use Cabernet Franc almost exclusively for their reds, while Burgundians use Pinot Noir. And Cabernet Franc is no winemaker's Holy Grail, unlike Pinot Noir. Few consumers are passionate about Cabernet Franc, nor do they search for it the way they clamor for Pinot Noir. Cabernet Franc's widely recognized downside is that it can convey an unpleasant vegetal character, reminiscent of cooked green beans or asparagus, when it doesn't ripen fully. Many California producers combat this tendency by harvesting it very ripe and producing a robust red wine that is usually oak-aged and focuses more on power than delicacy. By contrast, however, producers in Chinon have managed to produce graceful wines without a hint of under-ripeness while keeping alcohol levels in check.

Bargains Abound in Burgundy, Part II
Michael Apstein
Jun 2, 2015

Although the quality level of all Burgundy has risen over the last couple of decades, the leap in quality in lesser-known appellations has been truly amazing. These appellations have benefited disproportionately from climate change because they encompass sites where grapes could not achieve adequate ripeness a decade or two ago. But there's been an equally important reason for the increased quality of the wines from these locales according to Amaury Devillard, who owns a number of estates in Burgundy, including the superb Château de Chamirey: 'Advances in viticulture and winemaking have revolutionized the quality of the wines from these areas as a new generation of winemakers have taken the reins.'

Bargains Abound in Burgundy--If You Know Where to Look
Michael Apstein
May 26, 2015

Faced with a shrinking--or at best, not an expanding--supply and a rising demand, what is the Burgundy-lover to do? One solution is to win the lottery and buy the famed examples from Grand Cru vineyards that start at hundreds of dollars a bottle. A better strategy is to search for lesser-known areas, both within and outside of the famed Côte d'Or, where talented producers deliver more than the prices suggests. In these appellations, such as Marsannay, Santenay and Mercurey to name just three, the quality of the wines is rising far faster than their prices. But if history is any judge, these undervalued, lesser-known appellations will not remain unrecognized forever. Just five years ago, the white wines from St. Aubin, a village in the Côte d'Or hidden in a valley behind Chassagne-Montrachet, were selling for about $20 a bottle. Now, as their quality has increased and consumers recognize them, it's hard to find one selling for under $50.

The 2010 Brunello: Don't Miss Them
Michael Apstein
May 5, 2015

You've heard it before, usually from Bordeaux, 'It's the vintage of the century!' Although perhaps not 'the vintage of the century' (it is a little early to round out this century), the 2010 vintage will certainly rank among the greatest ever for Brunello di Montalcino. The vintage is truly spectacular and distinctive for both quality and consistency. Even though production of most Brunello estates is small, so many of them made easy-to-recommend (that is, 90-plus point) wines that consumers will have no trouble finding great examples, even if their first or second choice is sold out.

Vernaccia di San Gimignano
Michael Apstein
Apr 7, 2015

Consumers can be excused if they have no familiarity with Vernaccia di San Gimignano. A well-respected California-based wine writer (who shall remain nameless) recently admitted to me that (s)he didn't even know that Vernaccia was a grape, let along that Vernaccia di San Gimignano was considered one of Italy's great white wines. Indeed, it was the first wine to be awarded DOC status. That's correct: Vernaccia di San Gimignano received Denominazione Origine Controllata (DOC) status in 1966, before such recognition was granted to the big names of Barolo, Barbaresco or Brunello. It was further promoted to Denominazione Origine Controllata Garantita (DOCG) status--the highest accolade for Italian wine--in 1993.

Chianti: Confusing, But Worth Understanding
Michael Apstein
Mar 10, 2015

We Americans adore Chianti because, more often than not, it delivers real value for the price. Chianti is surely the 'go-to' wine for Italian dishes because its acidity and verve make it an ideal foil for Italy's olive oil- and tomato-based cuisine. But its fine tannins also make Chianti an excellent choice for a variety of other dishes, such as hearty stews or simply grilled meat.

Why Are Italian Wines So Popular?
Michael Apstein
Feb 10, 2015

Italian wine has always been popular in the U.S., and today accounts for a staggering one out of every three bottles imported into this country. The growth of Italian wine imports has been constant over the last decade, with a consistent 3-5% annual increase, according to data supplied by the Italian Trade Agency. Indeed, as a country, we drink more Italian wine than the Italians, according to Leslie Gevirtz, a reporter who analyzed the numbers in an article for Reuters last year. So why are Italian wines so popular with Americans?

The Luberon: A Source of Wine for Winter Fare
Michael Apstein
Jan 20, 2015

Those of us in New England are now in the heart of winter. The short cold days and long nights fairly scream for hearty fare, such as lamb shanks or other slow cooked 'stick to your ribs' fare--as my mother used to call it. And of course, hearty red wines to accompany it. Where does one turn for hearty reds that are suited to the foods of the season? I suggest you try the red wines from the Luberon, an overlooked part of the Rhône that supplies robust reds that are ready to drink and that sell for modest prices.

Apstein's Winery of the Year for 2014: Maison Louis Latour
Michael Apstein
Jan 13, 2015

Maison Louis Latour, one of Burgundy's best négociants, is my choice for winery of 2014 because it excels with wines at all levels, especially the less prestigious ones, and even their 'simple' Bourgogne Rouge. A case in point: About five years ago, I served, blind, a 1985 Latour Bourgogne Rouge to a wine savvy group in Boston, including a prominent and highly experienced sommelier and representatives from Maison Latour. The wine was a mature (but still-full-of-life) Burgundy that no one could identify accurately. All guessed its pedigree to be at least a premier cru, with one muttering that it could be Latour's Romanée St. Vivant. So here was a 25-year old Bourgogne Rouge masquerading as premier or grand cru. There are few négociants--or growers, for that matter--who could have managed that.

Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise: A Forgotten Gem
Michael Apstein
Dec 9, 2014

Trends in wine can be hard to understand. Current fashion, for example, catapults high-scoring 'cult' wines, often more suitable for tasting than for drinking, to frenzied popularity and stratospheric prices. By contrast, Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise, a well priced and versatile wine that is equally at home before dinner as it is at the end of the meal, risks extinction. And that would be a tragedy…because these sweet wines can be exceptional. With only about 1,200 acres and a total annual production of just over 100,000 cases--an amount Gallo might spill in a week--Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise is tiny. But in this case, size doesn't matter. This is an appellation to explore and to know by any standard.

Are Old Vines Important?
Michael Apstein
Nov 11, 2014

What does it really mean when a label touts a wine as being made from 'old vines?' (This would be rendered as Vieilles Vignes, Vecchie Viti or Viñas Viejas, depending on whether you've got a French, Italian or Spanish import.) As with many factors in the world of wine, the answer isn't straightforward. There is no legal definition of what actually counts as an 'old vine,' so the first two questions that spring to mind are, 'What do you mean by 'old,' and 'how does one know how old a vine is?'

Estate Wines: What are They, and Are They Worth the Price?
Michael Apstein
Oct 14, 2014

The word 'Estate' on a bottle of wine lends prestige and often entails a bigger price tag. But what does the term really mean…and is this designation actually worth the price premium? The Alcohol, Tobacco, Tax and Trade Bureau (a.k.a. TTB) regulates wine in the US. According to their rules as detailed in the Electronic Code of Federal Regulations (eCFR) (Title 27, Chapter 1, Subchapter A; Part 4.26) a winery can label a wine as 'Estate' if: 1) the winery grew all the grapes on land it owns or controls with at least a 3-year lease; 2) the entire wine making process took place at the winery, and 3) the winery and the vineyards are in the same AVA (American Viticultural Area). An estate wine should not be confused with a 'single vineyard' wine, which may or may not also be an estate wine, depending on whether it conforms to the TTB regulations.

Back to School
Michael Apstein
Sep 16, 2014

Along with the burgeoning interest in wine among American consumers has come an explosion of opportunities to learn about wine. It's a far different state of affairs now than in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when I was learning about wine. Back then, there were few opportunities for novices to attend reasonably-priced tastings to develop their palates. Indeed, the sort of in-store tastings that have become commonplace were actually illegal in many states not long ago. Today, however, those who are just becoming interested in wine are fortunate to have a diverse set of opportunities by from which to learn about the wonders of the grape.

A Chablis Primer, With Good News Regarding 2012
Michael Apstein
Aug 19, 2014

Forgive me for beating this drum again, but Chablis remains one of the best--and perhaps the single best--white wine value in today's world. As for recent developments, the 2012 vintage now on retailers' shelves is not to be missed. Although the wines from 2012 are not quite up to the superlative level of the 2008 and 2010 vintages from Chablis (which are largely sold out), the 2012 vintage is not far behind. Making them even more appealing, the 2012 Chablis have retained their quintessential vibrancy and electricity, which are characteristics lacking in many whites from the Côte d'Or in this vintage.

Prosecco: The Pinot Grigio of Bubbly?
Michael Apstein
Jul 22, 2014

What is real Prosecco? The name has such wide spread recognition that it is already becoming synonymous with 'I'll have a glass of bubbly,' especially among Italians, and much to the dismay of the Prosecco producers. Much as most American consumers refer to any wine with fizz as 'Champagne,' Italians, at least in the Veneto, the region in the northeast that includes Venice and the Prosecco production zones, refer to all bubbly as 'Prosecco.'