HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us


Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline on Twitter

Critics Challenge

Distillers Challenge

San Diego Challenge

Sommelier Challenge


Winemaker Challenge

WineReviewOnline on Facebook

WineReviewOnline on Instagram

Columns – Christy Frank

All I'm Saying is, Give Pinotage a Try
Christy Frank
Jun 26, 2024

June 26, 2024: Pinotage. It's one of those 'love it or hate it' grapes. Actually, it seems to be more of a 'hate it' grape. In the minds of many wine people of a certain age, Pinotage brings to mind notes of burnt rubber, iodine and the sort of old, stinky smoke that used to exist in New York bars when smoking was still allowed inside. This doesn't reflect the true state of Pinotage today, and it was never the case for all Pinotage anyway, but the collective memory of the wine industry is long and stubborn and old tasting grid habits are hard to break. In any case, at the risk of jumping to quickly to the conclusion of this column, my belief is that you don't in fact hate Pinotage...you just haven't tasted the right one yet.

Bindi Wines: Magic in the Macedon Ranges
Christy Frank
Apr 3, 2024

April 3, 2024: Looking back over my last several columns, I have been on an Australia kick. Well, that kick is going to continue. This month, we're heading to the state of Victoria, the state that takes up a small chunk of real estate in the southeast corner of Australia. For this column, we're heading northeast, to the Macedon Ranges. It's roughly the same drive time to this region as to the Mornington Peninsula or Yarra Valley (both more widely known in the USA), but it seems worlds away, at least in my mind, where it was one of the early visits on a long-ago trip to Australia, when the jet lag hadn't yet descended like a ton of bricks and I was still sort of floating along in that dreamy, hazy state of 'where am I on this planet?" Where I was, was at Bindi, which is indeed a dreamy place, jet lag or not. It's one of the handful of wineries in this legitimately cool, high-altitude region, where the weather rushes at you, all dramatic clouds and grey skies and then shushes away just as quickly.

Ochota Barrels: A Long Overdue Tasting
Christy Frank
Jan 17, 2024

Jan. 17, 2024: So if you know, you know. And if you don't, I'll fill you in. Ochota Barrels wines are some of the loveliest wines to come out of Australia. That may seem like an opinion, but at least according to me, it's a fact, confirmed at a recent tasting of older and current vintages I had with a few Hudson Valley-based wine industry friends. Husband and wife team Taras and Amber Ochota knew the technical side of winemaking but for their own label, took a hands-off approach. While they never referred to themselves as 'natural winemakers' the wines could play in that field. Bright, fresh, perfumed with structure from acidity and whole bunch vinification rather than extraction and oak. The names of the individual bottlings reference punk bands and songs that I had never listed to. But the wines still sang for me, even if I didn't know the lyrics. They would sing to many people - and Stateside, for many of my wine industry friends, these were the wines that turned their heads to what was happening in the Land Down Under.

Swan Valley's Alternative Intrusion into Aussie Wine History
Christy Frank
Oct 4, 2023

Oct. 4, 2023: Just north of Perth and slightly further inland, Swan Valley is, to use the phase most often applied to the Barossa, a treasure trove of old vines. In 1829, the UK botanist Thomas Waters planted vines at Olive Farm and began selling wine in 1832. The winery is still operating. Another winery, Houghton's, dates back to 1836. Following a twisty-turny path of purchases and sales, the original plot of old vines is now part of Nikola Estate. Beyond these historic wineries, the Swan Valley also hosts a number of small growers, each with their own old vine treasure trove. And there's a growing crop of young winemakers working with them. There are analogies to be made with South Africa's Swartland region. That too is a region at the edge of the wine map that was rarely mentioned until the combination of old vines, young winemakers, and new wines started to become too delicious to ignore.

Dear Wine Shop Owner, Vol. 3
Christy Frank
Aug 2, 2023

August 2, 2023: It's that time again - time for another installment of 'Dear Wine Shop Owner!' Current and would-be wine shop owners pose questions and I do my best to answer them. The first installment turned into a rambling mind dump on how to write a wine shop business plan while the second explored the 'whys' and 'hows' of developing a return policy. For this third installment, I'm answering a freeform question asking about my favorite insider tips for making a wine shop run smoothy. If you happen to own or work in a wine shop, hopefully some of these tips will be helpful, or at least validation that you're not alone in your foibles. And for the rest of you? Consider this a little peek behind the curtain and into the wonderland that is the wild world of wine retail.

Climate Change Wines: English Bubbles and Still Champagne
Christy Frank
May 31, 2023

May 31, 2023: I recently hosted a wine dinner focused on English Sparkling Wines and Coteaux Champenois - two wine styles that are big winners in the world of climate change and global warming. The quick soundbite is that those white cliffs of Dover are made from the same chalk soil that the Champenoise make such a big deal about on their side of the channel. Combine that with an average temperature that's been eeking up ever so slightly, making the southern bits of England finally warm enough to ripen the usual Champagne suspect grapes, and voila (or whatever the English phrase would be) - you have a region poised for Champagne-style greatness! As it's getting warmer in jolly England, it's also getting warmer in Champagne. One of the results of more reliably warm growing seasons has been an increase in Coteaux Champenois - the legal catch-all for "still wines made in what would otherwise be called Champagne if they were sparkling." They are delicious, always expensive, and made in tiny quantities.

Dispatches from Behind the Counter: Dear Wine Shop Owner
Christy Frank
Mar 15, 2023

March 15, 2023: Time for another installment of "Dear Wine Shop Owner," my semi-regular attempt to answer the burning questions I get from fellow cavistes across the country. (I was in Paris last month, so I'm feeling fancy; why use three American words [wine shop owner] when there's one perfectly good French word that means the same thing?) The first installment answered the question 'How should I decide what to stock?' with a mind dump about how to write a wine shop business plan. This installment gets into the weeds and whys of a return policy. As an aside, the columns in this series also happen to address matters of interest to almost everyone who visits Wine Review Online, as virtually everyone within that set spends time and money in wine retail shops-including every winemaker worth her or his salt. Happy reading - and if you have any burning questions of your own, send them to me at [email protected]. Anonymity guaranteed!

New Year's Resolutions: Tips to Get More of the Wine You Want
Christy Frank
Jan 5, 2023

Jan. 5, 2023: I know, I know. I can already hear the eye rolling. Another article about New Year's resolutions? Really? Setting aside the cliché aspect of the topic, these are some tips I am honestly excited to share. For the last year I have been focused quite a bit on tasting notes - writing them, thinking about what makes a good one, even using AI-generated art to expand on what they could be. With that comes a lot of thought about how 'civilians' think about wine (occasionally, typically at the point of purchase) compared to those of us in the industry think about it (all the time, everywhere). The outcome of all that thought is this list of manageable tips to help anyone whose resolution involves learning more about wine. The main goal is to help you, the wine drinker, learn what you like, how to describe it, and how to get more of it - without diving into a class.

Dispatches from Behind the Counter: The Woes of Wooden Wine Boxes
Christy Frank
Nov 9, 2022

Nov. 9, 2022: Does the thought of a wooden wine box make your pulse race with desire? Does it evoke visions of DIY projects and cause your Pinterest fingers to twitch? Do you picture the side panels as chic wainscotting in your wine cellar (even if you don't actually have a wine cellar?) Maybe you see a new set of bookshelves? Or cute little side tables? Perhaps the perfect storage system for your vinyl collection or all those New Yorker magazines you've been piling up for years? Or does the thought fill you with a low-grade sense of dread and loathing. (And the sudden realization that you need a screwdriver - the literal kind - and don't know where you put it.)

Dispatches from Behind the Counter: Dear Wine Shop Owner
Christy Frank
Sep 7, 2022

Sept. 7, 2022: Time for some more peeks behind the wine shop counter. It's been nearly 15 years that I have been deeply involved in the independent retail side of this business. Over that time, I've become a go-to resource for people who are charmed and intrigued at the thought of opening a cute little wine shop of their own. So, with that in mind, I've started to round up some of my favorite questions. I'll work into these columns on a semi-regular basis and try to keep them light enough that it makes sense for anyone looking for a glimpse of what it's like to own a shop. And for those of you that are serious about it, this might not be the answer you want, but it's probably the answer you need!

Lessons Learned from 100 Days of Tasting Notes
Christy Frank
Jul 13, 2022

July 13, 2022: Back on April 1st I signed up for a 100-Days Project. This one was with The Isolation Journals, an online community of creatives that sprung up, like so many online communities, during the early days of COVID. The idea of any 100-Day Project is to create one tiny, beautiful thing each day, for 100 days. I decided my project would be to write a daily tasting note. You would think that as a card(board)-carrying member of the wine business working in retail, I would be writing tasting notes all day, every day. But that hasn't been the case for, well, years. This 100-Day Project promised to kick me into gear. July 10th was the 100th day, and while I didn't manage to post a note every single day, I did post 100 notes during the 100 day period. And more importantly, I got my tasting - and tasting note - groove back. I remember what a simple joy it is to taste a wine and scribble down a few thoughts about what it brings to mind.

Piquettes: The Impossible Dream Come True
Christy Frank
May 11, 2022

May 11, 2022: Piquettes are one of those new old things - a blast from the distant past that's finding homes on shop shelves across the country. If you swim in the natural wine waters, you're probably already familiar with these delightful new arrivals to the scene. Yes, delightful. I'll be the first to admit that the word 'delightful' gets thrown around a bit willy nilly. But the best piquettes are indeed a delightful rainbow of liquid yumminess. The basic method for Piquettes: Take the pomace left over after wine production. (The non-technical term would be 'the gunk that's left in the tank after you press off the wine.') Add water and let it steep. Press the water-steeped gunk into another tank or barrel (at which point it will be flavored with memories of the original wine or cider.) Way back when, this would then have been bottled and given to field workers and, yes, children. But Todd Cavallo adds a few extra touches - he adds about 15% finished wine to the mix to stabilize it, and then pops it into the bottle with a small bit of wildflower honey. You won't really taste the honey, but the sugar kicks off a very light fermentation which gives the final wine a bit of a sparkle.

Tales of Catawba (and other Hybrids)
Christy Frank
Mar 23, 2022

Mar. 23, 2022: A long, long time ago, on an island far, far away, I used to drink wines made from the Catawba grape. Alright, that's only sort of true. It wasn't all that long ago (but I won't say how long, for fear of dating myself.) And the island wasn't that far away - it was Put-in-Bay, off the northern coast of Ohio in Lake Erie. And I really didn't drink that much Catabawa because I really didn't like it. It was sweet and a little funky in a very grapey way - a headache waiting to happen in a plastic cup. Skip forward to sometime in 2016, when I arrived late for a drink meeting at Rouge Tomate. My drink meeting mates were already sipping from two glasses - blind wines had been poured. They were both sparkling, with the more-foamy-than-full-on bubble that signals 'petillant naturel,' the newly cool old-school method of getting bubbles into bottles. I took a sniff and a sip. No way! Could it be? It was grapey, a little funky, floral and fruity…some might even say 'foxy.' But delicious.

Dispatches from Behind the Counter: How to be a Satisfied Customer
Christy Frank
Feb 1, 2022

Back in my wine shop days, I used to write a feature called 'That Customer.' Since then, not much has changed. Wine is still confusing. And wine shops are still confusing. But happily, they still tend to be staffed with people who like to talk (and talk… and talk) about wine. So, what you may think of as a silly question, shop people likely just consider an opportunity to…talk about wine. But all that talking doesn't amount to much if it doesn't result in a bottle that you'll like at the price you want to spend. What you'll find below are tips and tricks to make you a more satisfied customer.

Mead Me in St. Louis
Christy Frank
Nov 9, 2021

Last week I went to St. Louis for a mead competition, partly for the brilliant pun possibilities, but really because of a few sips of pyment I had earlier this year in Texas. A pyment is a co-ferment of honey and grapes, something I didn't know until Alisha Blackwell-Calvert, one of my fellow judges at the TexSom International Wine Awards, gave me a few sips of one she had made with Bluewood Brewing in St. Louis. It combined the pretty floral/peachy notes of Riesling with the wispy, heathery character of wildflower honey and walked the tightrope of freshness, delicacy and subtle power all at once. I was smitten. A few months later, Alisha reached out to ask if I would like to judge the National Honey Board's Mead Crafter's Competition in St. Louis and I gave her a quick yes (and a few terrible puns.)

Dispatches from Behind the Counter
Christy Frank
Sep 14, 2021

When I opened my first wine shop in 2008, I did the very 2008 thing - I started a blog about my adventures behind the counter. Some of the favorite posts involved peeks behind the magic curtain. Industry folks enjoyed them because they told the truth. And 'civilians' enjoyed them because, well, who doesn't love a little glimpse of an emperor in skivvies? Nearly 15 years later, I'm back behind the counter - and the adventures are as entertaining as ever. So, on occasion, I'll use this column to tell them. Well, some of them - I'll spare you the retail minutia on how to count out a cash drawer or break down a cardboard box.