“The thing about champagne, you say, unfoiling the cork, unwinding the wire restraint, is that is the ultimate associative object. Every time you open a bottle of champagne, it’s a celebration, so there’s no better way of starting a celebration than opening a bottle of champagne. Every time you sip it, you’re sipping from all those other celebrations. The joy accumulates over time.” …. David Levithan (American Writer).

With an average retail price of $70 U.S., (though you can find it, occasionally in the $50s), I’ll concede this is not my everyday Champagne, albeit my favorite.  Ruinart is the oldest established Champagne house, exclusively producing champagne since 1729.  This “Blanc de Blancs” (white of white) is 100% Chardonnay.  Champagne, however, IS WINE and it presents itself, as does other wine, in many forms. “Blanc de Noirs” (White of Black – white wine from red grapes) can be a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, or simply Pinot Noir.  It may come as vintage or as a blend of several years (non-vintage).  And then there is the dosage – the measurement of sweetness injected into the wine after disgorgement that determines its finish as an unsweet to sweet dessert wine with gradients in-between.  So, while I must admit this Ruinart Blanc De Blancs is, for me, a special occasion wine, it is so only because of its price and my economic status.  Many Champagnes cost less (though, for me, few deliver more).

The point being, it is wrong to categorize Champagne (mind lock it) as celebration wine.  With all the styles in which Champagne may present itself, one could easily serve different styles of Champagne throughout each course of a grand meal: from the aperitif to and including dessert just as you do with wine.  It’s Champagne’s association with celebration that has stunted its sales growth here, limited its appreciation and given rise to that horrid image of pop, cheer and laugh as the wine foams out of the bottle and then gets served.  

In fact, Champagne’s natural acidity makes it a natural for food pairing.  Try a rose with salmon.  Try a Blanc de Blancs with chicken (even fried), oysters, creamy cheeses, shellfish, linguine with white clam sauce, caviar and appetizers containing caviar, salty foods and dishes made with cream sauces, steamed, fried or grilled seafood (as long as the sauce is not overpowering).

I recently enjoyed this wine with a “crab fest” of steamed King Crab Legs and Dungeness crab clusters, grilled shrimp, saffron dusted scallops (a mistake) and a spinach soufflé.   


To begin, Ruinart opens with a soft pssst, not a loud pop – the mark of well-made Champagne (be certain to chill any bottle so as to reduce the pressure when opening).  Pour this luminous, glistening Champagne – the color of golden straw – into the glass and notice that the mousse is not aggressive.  Such excessiveness – for me – just gets in the way.  No, everything about this Champagne is finessed. Bubbles are extremely fine and shockingly persistent, carrying to the glass’s rim all the aroma and palate pleasing tastes one could hope for.

The unique chalkiness of the soil that these Chardonnay vines grow in and the cool climate of the area assure perfect expression of the acidity in these grapes from Ruinart’s estate vineyards in Sillery and Brimont (the ancestral home of the Ruinart family) and from premiers crus only in the Cote des Blancs and the Montagne de Reims. Using only the best of recent vintages, these are blended with 20-25% reserve wines.     
Ruinart maintains chalk quarries deep underground the city of Reims where the wine rests after first sitting on its lees for four years after the second fermentation.  The result is a crisp but rounded and creamy wine that is a study in elegance.  Malolactic conversion provides rich creaminess to the mouthfeel, but the wine remains crisp and cleansing.  For a Champagne, it is surprisingly full bodied, while yet being lightened by its citrus character and delicate mousse kept fresh with the most persistent of very fine bubbles.  On the nose: hints of toast, honey, butterscotch and almond play with notes of white flower and green apple.  The palate delights in brioche, lemon crème, and hazelnut.  Lychee adds an exotic touch. While apparent, none of these flavors are brutish, instead they are suggested.  A hint of cantaloupe? The fruit emerges through the sharp acidity which, itself, is opposed by amazing creaminess.

Other tasters refer to poached white peach, lemon meringue pie, angel food cake, butter cookie, lemon peel hints and jasmine.   Different words, I think, for essentially the same experience.  All appreciate the minerality in the finish of this wine.

If you still believe that Champagne is fit only for celebrating occasions, perhaps you’ll begin to consider that Champagne can make any occasion special and any meal an occasion. 

……………. Jim

Follow and “Like” Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more. does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate.

Ruinart, founded by Nicolas Ruinart in the Champagne region in the city of Reims in 1729, is now owned by luxury goods conglomerate LVMH (Louis Vuitton, Moet Hennessy).

James Suckling                  93
Wine Spectator:                 92
Wine Enthusiast:               92
Robert Parker:                   90
Munis Vini 2014:               Gold
Munis Vini 2015:               Silver
Munis Vini 2016:               Gold

Producer:                            Champagne Ruinart
Imported By:                      Moet Hennessy USA, Inc. (NY, NY)
ALC:                                  12.5%
Dosage:                              8g (Brut)


“Great wine is about nuance, surprise, subtlety, expression, qualities that keep you coming back for another taste.  Rejecting a wine because it is not big enough is like rejecting a book because it is not long enough, or a piece of music because it is not loud enough.”  —  Kermit Lynch   Adventures on the Wine Route”.

Think of Bordeaux and wine in the same thought and likely it’s red wine that immediately comes to mind.  But if I include the words Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle next to Bordeaux, you’re likely to pause just a moment, and then try to remember the various white wine regions of France.  The whites of Bordeaux fell off our national attention span in the late 1980s.  And with some exceptions, the extraordinary price escalation of the region’s reds kept publicity focused on that color.   Add in that it’s such a global marketplace that even regions within the same country compete for our attention.  Sauvignon Blanc?  The Loire.  The Rhone produces delicious white wine.  So does Burgundy. So too does the Cotes du Roussillon and Alsace, as does Italy, Australia, Spain and the U.S.   It’s easy to forget that of “before” when so much of the “now” is pushed between our ears.
Plating With Fresh Dill, Organic Red Grapes,
Satsuma Mandarin & a Slice of Blood Orange.

So when I was putting together a very simple lunch recently and my “new” favorite white Rhone was out of stock, I brought along a very nice Cotes du Roussillon instead.  But it wasn’t nice enough.  More expensive, yes. But not acidic enough to be palate cleansing with a simple lunch of salmon and cream cheese on bread with various accompaniments.  My brother came to the rescue with this Graves from his collection.  More specifically: a white wine of Herve Dubourdieu of Chateau Graville-Lacoste in the Graves AOC.  Not Sauternes or Barsac or the Loire, but Graves – how easy to have forgotten and how sad to have done so.  And thanks to Herve Dubourdieu and my brother, Bill, who rescued the lunch.

A dry white, with delicious minerality and cleansing acidity, the Chateau Graville-Lacoste is unusual in its proportion of Semillon (75%) in the blend. It’s finished with 20% Sauvignon Blanc and 5% Muscadelle.  Fermented to dryness, the wine finishes crisp and cleansing, pairing well against the oily Salmon and fat of the cream cheese while yet remaining rounded.  Fruity, with some herbal character, the wine offers lychee, citrus zest and lemongrass opposed by baked apple and lemon butter in a Wallenda of balance.   Its ARP is $19. What’s not to like about this?

I’d like to enjoy this wine again, paired with a platter of seafood: crab, shrimp, oysters and scallops, maybe some broiled and crusted white fish along with a green salad and a crusty baguette.  Pair it also with cheddar or several semi-soft cheeses., but try it.  Not something I instinctively thought would do well with Cheddar, I later made some flourless gnocchi and a sauce of various aged cheddar along with crumbled bacon and broccoli and paired it with this wine.  It was delicious. In your quest for new regions and varietals, perhaps you’ve been away from the whites of Bordeaux for too long and it’s time to reacquaint yourself with them.  They might just surprise you with nuance, subtlety, and an expressive quality that will keep you coming back for another taste.                            


…………. Jim

Follow and “Like” Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more. does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate.

Varietals:                     Semillon, Sauvignon Blanc & Muscadelle (see Above)
Appelation:                       Graves, Bordeaux, France
Soil:                                  Clay & Limestone on Fissured Rock
Age of Vines:                   45-48 Years
Vinification & Aging:      Stainless, 6 Months
Bottled Unfiltered
ARP:                                 $19 U.S.
ALC:                                 12%
Imported By:                     Kermit Lynch* (See Quote Above)


Wine is like a liquid representation of who [the winemakers] are and what makes them tick. It's also all about making memories. Your olfactory senses are intrinsically linked to memory, so when you're sharing a bottle of wine, and then having it again, you're dredging up memories. And for me that's just a super romantic, beautiful, poetic thing.” …. Brie Roland, "How to Drink Wine Without Looking Dumb or Going Broke"

Thanks go out to the winemakers at Lynfred Winery (Andres Basso previously of Concha y Toro and Rodrigo Gonzalez with experience from Casa Lapostolle) for producing this 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon.  In the process, they unknowingly saved my dinner.  Having some basil pesto made and saved from my summer’s harvest, I prepared wild caught, pink shrimp and finished them in warmed pesto.  Some spiralized zucchini with aglio y olio finished with grated Parmesan Reggiano and a petite filet mignon basted in herbed compound butter completed the meal.    

It was one of those rare occurrences where everything came out nicely.  The problem was the wine. I had at the ready a red blend from Napa Valley assuming my guest would prefer it. She didn’t, nor did I. Much too fruit forward.  But I had a backup: a Barbaresco – no expense spared. An Italian Nebbiolo against a meal structured to be somewhat Italian should work. And actually, it was delicious but didn’t pair well against the filet.  Not taking any chances, I also had the Lynfred 2015 opened.  The Cab happened to be their monthly release (December).  Cab works, of course, with beef.  But shrimp?  Well, I had the bottle anyway, so “no harm”.  A Somm at Lynfred (now at a satellite location though still with the winery) talked of pairing Cab with lobster and it was a standing disagreement between us.   Now I think he’s on to something. Then again, I’m not sure I would sauce a lobster with pesto.

The reason for the red blend was that my guest often finds Cabernet Sauvignon too tannic.  But this rendering of Lynfred’s (90% Cabernet Sauvignon / 10 % Merlot) was eminently drinkable.  Sourced from the Jones Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope of Washington and Lodi (Central Valley California) and vinified at the Roselle (Illinois) winery, the Cab was not tannic (which was my guest’s concern).  And with Washington fruit, the wine was better restrained; for me – more elegant, when blended, than the heavier and too fruit-sweet wine of the more prestigious area within California.  My concern with Lodi grown grapes has subsided over the years, tasting what Zinfandels this appellation has produced.  With 110,000 acres in size and producing more wine grapes that any other California appellation, Lodi’s claim to fame was also its marketing “boat anchor”.  Bigger is not best.  And bigger, by definition, means numerous micro-climates, plots of different soil, and different exposure within the behemoth AVA.  An experience that delivers less than expected blemishes the entire appellation.  (Another reason for more earnestly considering dividing this appellation).
A Glass I Enjoyed (And Yes, Paid For)
While Doing "Research" At
The Winery

As I like to say, “What’s inside the bottle” tells a better story (when selecting from such an appellation) than what’s on the label. And what’s in this bottle is – and worked – perfectly.  Cassis, green pepper, cherry on the nose in a wine that appears deep garnet in the glass.  Forrest berries and baking spice on the palate. Some grip makes itself evident, though moderated and the tannins soften and gentle even more with air.  Air, not needing to be excessive, is nonetheless this wine’s friend.  Decant and appreciate aromas that now add violet and sweet tobacco (unlit cigar) to those already mentioned. Add in slight hints of mocha, vanilla and black pepper.  The taste benefits also with the addition of blueberry, toasted oak, cedar and dark (unsweet but not bitter) chocolate.

And then there is the spice.  Not spice as in “hot”.  Spice as in “tasty”.  In fact, this wine is made so deliciously complex with spice that I continue to buy and taste bottles of it to better understand.  The winery’s promo refers to “sage,” but I find it much more complex and intriguing. In fact, one of the reasons I so enjoy this wine is its spice:  enjoyable while yet being difficult to narrow down.  Clove, black licorice, black pepper intermingled with vegetative tastes of green bell pepper and eucalyptus and dried green tea.

But I’m getting lost in describing this wine without getting to the point that it served so well against the shrimp in pesto. Cleansing and complimentary.  The acidity cleansing the palate of the oil in the pesto, the wine’s spice complimenting the basil, cheese and spice used in making it.  I so enjoyed this wine that I will be making this dish again as an excuse to open another bottle and revel in its complex spice.  Needless to say, it paired well against the petite filet mignon, but that was no surprise. Thanks, Lynfred.  I suspect whenever I open a bottle of your 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon, I’ll remember the moment.


Follow and “Like” Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more. does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate.

Lynfred Winery 
15 S Roselle Rd
Roselle, IL 60172
(630) 529-9463
Tastings Rooms Also in: Wheaton, Naperville and Wheeling

Sourcing:         See Above
Blend:              See Above
Brix:                 24.5
Aging:              American Oak, 24 Months
RS:                   0.4%
Ph:                   3.7
TA:                   6.75 g/L
Cases Produced: 507
Release Date:  12/1/2018 (See Note)

Lynfred’s 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon will be available to the general public on March 1, 2019 priced at $25.25.   It is available presently to members of either the “New Release” or “Red Wine” club and discounted at $20.



“Wine enters through the mouth, Love, the eyes. I raise the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, I sigh.”
  ― William Butler Yeats

I’m sorry WSET.  At my age and with my eyesight, I can’t see the difference between Deep Purple, Ruby, Garnet or Tawny.  (I’m going with Garnet on this one).  But looking at Jayson’s 2010 red wine Napa Valley, I can tell that it paints the glass with Napa Valley color.  Rich, ripe juice with deep fruit that is so particular to and characteristic of Napa Valley.  Decadent. So deep it absorbs light like velvet without a sheen.  It is one of my “markers” in blind tastings even before inhaling the wine’s aroma.

If you’re a fan of Napa juice, this may be your chosen glass.  At 72% Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s only 3% shy of being eligible to be labeled as such.  Merlot makes up 17% with 6% from Cabernet Franc and the 5% being made up from Malbec.  The significant percentage of Merlot softens the blend allowing for the wine’s drinkability on release. It is produced and bottled by Pahlmeyer in Oakville, California and modeled after the blends of Bordeaux, if you accept that Napa can model Bordeaux.

Pahlmeyer is one of those names that causes heads to turn and draws “oohs and aahs” in the trade.  “Jayson” wines are created from declassified Pahlmeyer lots, a concept that began in Bordeaux in the 18th century as a means of using high quality lots not chosen for a chateau’s premier wines. Some wineries may attach an initial and the numeral “2” as an indication on the label when doing this.  Others (particularly in France) will use different names entirely with little indication on the label that the wine has been declassified (so you may not know it is attached to the famous estate).  In “Jayson,” all the grapes for this wine are grown and vinified by the same standards as for Pahlmeyer wines.    

“Jayson” was awarded 90 points from Wine Spectator, commenting that the wine was “… pure, rich and persistent, displaying a vivid core of blackberry, expresso, vanilla bean and dried herb notes.”   I didn’t get the expresso, but enjoyed brown spice that they did not mention.

 Whatever you detect, I encourage you to decant this wine and save a remainder for the second day.  In my tasting (the first day) I decanted a half bottle, allowed it to air for just under two hours and thought the nose to be all berry dominant.  This was enhanced with hints of allspice and clove. The taste was all rich and ripe berry (black) fruit with cassis underlying The texture was syrupy and glycerin-like; the wine full-bodied.  As a “Bordeaux”, it lacked (for me) the dust and earthiness of “old world” wine.  Although dry, it was not “chewy.”  In fact, it gave me a “sweet” impression from its level of sun-drenched, warm weather fruit ripeness.  Tannins were so smooth they were absorbed into the fruit. All this is intended to be descriptive, not critical.  If you find red wine, in general, too dry or your special guest does, again – this could be the wine you want in your glass.

On the second day, the wine developed more complexity: adding notes of plum. And the berry notes became more blackberry compote-like incorporating notes of pastry. Allspice and clove were retained, joined by a whisper of pepper.  Most interesting was a taste of unsweetened cherry on the finish that remained on the palate throughout the long finish extended by spot-on acidity.  But all palates are personal and correct for the person owning them.  Notes from the winemaker refer to a flavor of sun-warmed figs. I didn’t get that.  Nor did I get the references to “expresso.”

What I got was a rich and supple, easy drinking wine that presents itself elegantly and with a luscious mouthfeel.   

…………….. Jim

Follow and “Like” Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more. does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate.

Jayson-Pahlmeyer Winery:
811 St Helena Hwy South
St Helena, CA 94574
(707) 255-2321

ALC:                                                       15.2%
ARP:                                                       $55 (Current Vintages


"I would happily die with a bottle of white burgundy in my mouth." ....Julia Child

Take a ride with me aboard my time machine, leaving the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, and travelling forward back to 2016 – forty years later and two years ago in September.   That’s when the Chardonnay grapes, grown adjacent to the South River (Russian River Valley sub-AVA) on Rochioli’s estate (in Sonoma, California) were harvested and began their own time journey into becoming wine. 

I tasted this wine side-by-side with a 2013 Meursault (in the Cote de Beaune, France).  Admittedly, not the fairest comparison.  The vintage of 2013 from that region was rated 90 by Wine Spectator and 94 by Wine Enthusiast. Neither publication has yet rated Sonoma’s 2016 Chardonnay vintage. Allowing for time allows for development.  And Tom Rochioli estimated a cellaring period of five to six years for his “South River” Chardonnay, a single-vineyard selection through not his most pricey.  Generally, it’s accepted that white burgundies will have a longer life.  The Meursault’s anticipated cellaring maximum, for example, was eleven years.

Then again, this is not about cellaring.  It’s about taste. And, in that sense, we  (I and another taster) were certainly not doing a validated test for the industry, nor was that our intention.  So what was the point?  It was, based on my assumption, that if you were invited to a dinner in which Chardonnay would be an appropriate wine to enjoy with the meal and you wanted to impress – it’s my assumption that you would bring a French wine and not one from California. 

Is that always the right choice?  France has history. Imports have cache, and France has them both. France’s reputation of producing quality wine has been rightfully earned.  But assuming one is always better carries with it the assumption that the other is always less. We attempted to keep things reasonably equal for this comparison.  So, Le Montrachet was “out.”  The Meursault was from a well-respected winery and vineyard (and will remain unnamed) and of comparable price (the Meursault was $6 less, average retail price).   

The photo here of each wine as it appeared in the glass is a good starting point.  After sniffing and tasting, each wine could be identified. But they were so close, on the nose and on the palate also, as to prove the understanding of subtle difference by definition.  On the first sampling of Rochioli’s “South River,” aromas of oak and burnt butterscotch were forward but with air, lemon brightened the presentation.    

The palate of the “South River” was more involved (our opinion). The oak was apparent, but now subservient to lychee and green apple.  Notes of almond announced.  Lemon was hinted.  As the wine warmed, apricot became present.

This is, perhaps, less a review of “South River” than a comparison of this Chardonnay from Rochioli in Sonoma to that of the Meursault in France.  The natural question, then, is “What’s the difference?”  The answer is “not much” but important to some palates. On the second day, again tasting side-by-side, it seemed the “South River” emphasized lemon on the nose, while the Meursault was still dominated by smoke.  The “South River” (while presenting only slight differences) was brighter: more citrus, more buttery lemon. It may have been a mind trick, based on acidity, but the “South River” had a somewhat zippier body.  I wondered, had the barrel toast not been so heavy on the “South River”?  The Meursault seemed weightier with oak. (I learned later that “South River” was aged nine months; the Meursault was fermented 100% in wood and aged 15 months). And the lemon in the Meursault was less integrated.  It was weighted down with toasted oak and browned butter. Notes of bitter orange were enjoyable, but opposed by a posse of the heavier notes of smoke and oak.

So what?

That’s for you to decide.  After all, there are those who prefer Chardonnay fermented and aged in steel only.  I belong to the camp of believers that wine should pair with the meal so I enjoy both styles (which includes blends of juice aged in steel and wood).  What’s interesting is that our little, unscientific test resulted in both of us preferring the “South River” from Rochioli.  As a confirmed Francophile, I found that surprising.  I suspect it has to do with the wine being (our opinion) better balanced, lighter, brighter and zippier.  Though oak was apparent, it was restrained enough to prevent the wine from being overpowered by it.

For the detectives out there wondering how a taste could be blind with only two people, I mention that my companion switched the glasses however times she did after I left the room.  She had no idea which glass was from which country as they were poured without her being present.  And, as you saw from the top photo, it would be difficult to visually discern which was which anyway.  We selected by number and the bottles (put away) had been numbered.

Several philosophers have opined along the lines of “No prophet (being) accepted in his home town”.  If there is a moral to this rant, it is this:  Yes, there are certain grapes (Malbec, Sangiovese and others) that are extremely sensitive to the area in which they are grown and I totally accept the reality of terroir.   But Chardonnay is called an international grape for a reason.  It is also the most malleable and that which is most influenced by the winemaker’s election regarding its vinification.  But most importantly, this rant is about assumptions.   Yours.  Wine is an on-going pleasure and assumptions about quality (without on-going tasting over the years) will limit the joy of your wine experience.  You’ll have denied acknowledging how your palate may have changed; how the industry in your own country has changed. You’ll be stuck in a time machine with a dead battery. 


Follow and “Like” Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more. does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate.

Note: “South River” is a limited production, single-vineyard made wine and unlikely to be available at retail though it may be obtained at auction on-line.  “Single vineyard” wines from here and elsewhere, despite being of the same varietal, will produce wines with different nuances.  However, a good place to start with Rochioli’s Chardonnay  is with their “Estate” label.  The 2016 Estate Chardonnay, for example, was rated 91 Points by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and is available at most large wine retailers.  

Lobster, scallops and chicken, especially roast chicken, Dijon-tarragon cream chicken, chicken Kiev.  Fish cakes. Eggs Benedict. Veggies with a béarnaise sauce.  Turbot. Grilled veal chops with mushrooms (great with mushrooms).   Pumpkin filled ravioli or lasagna made with butternut squash and white sauce. I made Chilean Sea Bass with an orange-lemon-butter sauce, roasted, then finished with threads of saffron and garnished with citrus rinds. Enjoyed with a green vegetable and baked rings of acorn squash drizzled with pure maple syrup and filled with pecans and baked apple pieces.

TECH SPECS  & ETC. (South River):
Rochioli Vineyards & Winery:            
6192 Westside Rd.
Healdsburg, CA 95448
(707) 433-2305                 

Varietal:               Chardonnay, 100%
Vines’ Age:         26 Years
Soil:                     Yolo: very deep, alluvial, well drained & from mixed rocks.
Date Picked:       September 7, 2016
Days Fermented:  Primary, 10.  Malolactic, 20
Type:                    Whole cluster, no skin contact, pressed directly to barrel
Barrels:                 60 gallon, 100% French, 30% new, Aged Sur Lie
Aging:                   9 months
Acidity:                 .62gm/100ml
Ph:                         3.50
ALC:                     14.5%
Cases Produced:    223
Rating:                   94 Points, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate
ARP:                      N/A


SHERRY. Simplified

“He who never made a mistake, never made a discovery”… . Samuel Smiles

Unless you happen to be a Master of Wine or Master Sommelier, employed in the business or working in a bodega’s solera in Spain, sherry can be intimidating.  But each fall, I am called to it.  As an aperitif (serving an elegant Fino slightly chilled) or with dessert (enjoying Pedro Ximenez) or anywhere in between, sherry has its place at both the patio and dinner table.   But it is that multiplicity of style, perhaps, that is keeping more people from enjoying this delicious beverage. After all, there’s a place for Pedro Ximenez (think of Sauternes, Trockenbeerenauslese, Muscat de Beaumes de Venise and other sweet wines).  Serving any wine, no matter how exceptional but matched improperly will not prove to be the rewarding experience you thought it would be. And money spent on a bad experience frightens one away from repeating the experience. 

It need not be so.

Fino in the glass.
There are actually only two forms of sherry made.  Within those forms, there are variations we will get to later.  But the best place to start is with an understanding of the two types: They are (1) FINO and (2) OLOROSSO.  Both are made from the same grape (Palomino).  The difference is in how the grape juice is allowed to become wine and where that vinification occurs.  The “how” is more important than the “where”.
A Fino Sherry

In fino, the juice is protected by a layer of flor that develops over the liquid. Flor is simply a yeast (albeit unique) that forms over the top of the juice and protects it against exposure to air. Fino sherries are lighter in color. They are lighter bodied because that thick protective layer of yeast, floating on the surface, protects the wine against oxidation.  Oloroso sherry is just the opposite.  Oloroso wines are allowed direct exposure to air, usually via partially filled barrels in which the juice experiences oxidative aging. So what results?  Without the protective covering, juice reacts with oxygen and the result is a wine with a deeper color and fortified to a higher level of alcohol.  Generally, Oloroso sherry is produced from base wines (think Champagne’s base wine before blending or aging) but which are not considered to have the quality or delicacy to be made into fino.  The decision as to how the juice will continue on (as Fino or Oloroso) is based on evaluating the base wine. 

At least that’s how it used to be.  The modernization of the sherry industry, begun in the 1960’s and throughout the 1980’s, combined with centuries of experience and note taking gained from the bodegas’ solera masters now provide that winemakers can predetermine which of the two sherry types (FINO or OLOROSSO) each grape lot will become.

So, selection really takes place first in the vineyard. Wines for the best finos are from the oldest vines and from those which have been grown on the best albariza soils. Olorosos are made from grapes having grown on heavier clay.  Elegance is crucial to finos so it is comprised of “free run” juice which is less course and astringent than the pressed juice used in olorosos. Then there is the issue of barrels, fermentation temperature and other details both critical but not needed here, so let’s stay on course. Suffice to say, wine makers today are well aware of a cask’s propensity to develop a non-fino profile as well as ambient conditions that will besiege the flor thereby impacting the wine’s style. 

None of this means that one style is better than the other. Just as a white wine may be more appropriate to a dish than a red (or vice versa), a fino may be more appropriate than an oloroso. Then too, there is that never-ending issue of your preference.  Generally, an Oloroso will be more full-bodied, higher in alcohol, darker in color and dominated by oxidative and caramelized aromas.  Fino sherry will be more pale in color and lighter bodied. The biological aging process of fino sherry (so named because the changes in the wine are due to the action of a living organism, i.e. “yeast”) will result in wines with less alcohol than that of an Oloroso (oxidative aging).  Also, the flor (yeast) feeds on acetic acid, lowering acid levels in the wine so made, but again – a detail better left to your follow up. Wines made as fino may be more “nutty” in character than Oloroso which should display more raisin.

Lustau Palo Cortado
In The Glass
One of the variations of these two types is Palo Cortado, my favorite. It begins as a fino – fortified to a low level of alcohol in order to permit the flor to flourish. However, during the aging process the flor dies and the wine ages both biologically AND oxidatively.  It is, truly, the only accidental variation – though, as stated – the circumstance necessary for that can now be created, or better stated – encouraged.  Nonetheless, it occurs as a natural process.  All Sherry is fortified and in any Sherry intended to be a fino (i.e. aged under flor), the juice is fermented at lower temperatures than that used for olorosos.  Too high a temperature and the flor dies.  The same misfortune occurs if fortification with grape spirits results in an alcohol strength much above 16%.  Finos are generally fortified to 15% or 15.5%.  Olorosos, which mature without flor, are fortified to approximately 18% (which would kill the flor on a fino).

Despite how carefully the process is moved along, sometimes the flor of this juice from the best lots in the best soils and oldest vines and fermented under cool temperature without exposure to wood and protected from heat; this juice that is free run and has been so carefully tended to and has been pre-selected to be a fino will never become so.  The flor has died.  Sometimes, it doesn’t even form correctly.

There are other styles of Sherry that also begin as a fino . The winemaker, looking at the flor and observing its character evaluates the wine’s character and potential. Amontillado, for example, starts out as a fino but is fortified to 16%. Flor cannot survive and the aging continues oxidatively.  This is not an Oloroso because it began as a Fino.  But it is also not a chance occurrence.  Consider a wine of this style to be an aged fino. These dry wines are amber colored, rich and nutty.  Less costly Amontillados can be made by blending and are usually sweetened. Avoid them.
Lustau Amontillado

In The Glass
This essentially concludes the “how”.  Earlier, I referred to variations also resulting from “where”.  There are three areas notable for Sherry production within the Jerez D.O.: Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and Puerto de Santa Maria - all in Spain.  Growing conditions (soil, temperature and other factors) will impart subtle differences to the wines, and wines may be differently labeled.  A fino beginning to take on characteristics of an amontillado may be labeled as a fino-amontillado, but will be known as a Manzanilla Pasada if from the Sanlucar de Barrameda.  It is very pale, light and dry but influenced by the unique flor of the maritime air of that specific area.  It may be rendered as a Fino or Oloroso.  Lustau also makes available an Almacenista “Fino del Puerto”.  But this too will clearly identify the style as "Fino", the difference being that it was produced in Puerto de Santa Maria.  Differences are subtle, but appreciable to Sherry lovers.  

There are also sherries that are sweet in style.  Some may remember Paul Masson’s “Rare Cream Sherry,” but that was made in California and was a blended wine and not a Sherry as the Spanish would know it.  Also, very popular amongst those enjoying sweet drinks, was Cream Sherry, Croft’s Pale Cream Sherry  and Harvey’s Bristol Cream. Most Pale Cream is the same as Cream, being a blend of non-distinguished sherries with sweetening added; the Pale Cream having its color removed by charcoal.  The Spanish eschew these wines. 

There is one sweet sherry, however, called PX or Pedro Ximenez made from a grape of the same name.  It is Sherry from Spain, through grapes likely have not been grown within the Jerez D.O. Intensely sweet, raisiny and brown amber, it is available also as a vintage wine and always made from dried grapes.  Oloroso dulce (sweet oloroso) is a blended wine using a portion of sun-dried Pedro Ximenez grapes along with Palomino.

Along with other things on the label, you might see initials such as VOS (Very Old Sherry – blends at least 20 years old) or VQRS for sherries at least 30 years old.   These initials will influence price.

A good sherry brand to start with is Lustau.  Despite Palo Cortado being hyped as the rarest of all varieties (100,000 bottles produced per year vs 60 million overall) and therefore very expensive, you can find Lustau’s  Palo Cortado “Peninsula” Sherry at most large retailers.  Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate awarded it 96 points; Wine Enthusiast 90.  Its ARP is under $20.  Serve it very slightly chilled and expect aromas of vanilla, burnt butterscotch and molasses. On the palate: brandied raisins, baked apple, brown butter, a hint of soy sauce, maple and almond with a suggestion of vanilla and resinous notes.  Taste it against an Amontillado and a Fino.  Keep notes of your experience.  The aging process, flor, location of vinification and other things influence the end result.  Your own palate will tell you what you like.

Here are some pairing suggestions to get you started in your journey with Sherry.

Manzanilla (A light styled-Fino, with salinity, from Sanlucar de Barrameda):  Sushi, Oysters, Smoked Salmon. Grilled octopus or calamari.
Fino: A charcuterie board with jamon, olives, nuts, white asparagus wrapped in prosciutto and unaged Manchego cheese.  Gazpacho with crusty bread.  Mussels in white-wine sauce. A salad of French feta and sliced grape tomatoes.
Amontillado: Paella (made with ham, chicken or sausage), Risotto with mushrooms, Grilled tuna. Fig & Olive Tapenade.
Palo Cortado: My favorite is pink shrimp grilled in walnut oil and seasoned with Chef Prudhomme’s “Seafood Magic” (not shrimp) with diced sweet onion then garlic added later.  This breaks all the rules, but with the shrimp seasoned as it is, it works very nicely.  Asparagus and mushroom risotto also works for me.  Consider too pheasant and quail served with a mixture of wild and other rice with dried fruit.
Oloroso: Pork, pigeon, duck.  I like duck breast with a cherries in a cherry sauce reduction. Spanish soup (Olla Polrida).  Flan.
PX:  Desserts, As a drizzle-garnish on black bean soup or waffles.  Coffee & fine chocolates.  Crème Brulee.

Note: The above wines are listed from lightest to heaviest in style.

Historical Note:  Chocolate Molten Lava Cake allegedly was a mistake, created by New York chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in 1987.  The story goes that he removed a chocolate sponge cake from the oven before it was done and found that the center was still runny, but was warm and had both a good taste and texture.  This mistake, like Palo Cortado Sherry, became popular worldwide and became a wonderous discovery.  Unlike the Sherry (whose origin is not contested) the Molten Lava Cake is claimed also to have been invented intentionally and in France by  chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres.  Either way, these “mistakes” have been blessings!

…………. Jim

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True excellence is a product of synergy”….. Mack Wilberg

Like taffy & apples, beef & Cabernet Sauvignon just go together so nicely.  OK, a Bordeaux (Left Bank) could do as well.  But with this beef (bone in) rib roast – “Prime Rib” – except it was “Choice” – I wanted a Cab. The roast was rubbed with lots of finely chopped (fresh) garlic, thyme, oregano and rosemary in softened butter (no, not the healthiest approach), then placed in a 450 oven for 15 minutes and reduced to 325 at 15 minutes per pound (could have been longer).  Made some “au jus” and a Horseradish Sauce and served it with organic roasted Brussels sprouts with lardons (fat removed) of applewood smoked thick-cut bacon and roasted chestnuts in a reduction of pure maple syrup.  Finally, a medley of “sweet potatoes” (Hannah & Garnet Yams and Sweet Purple Potato) mashed and garnished with crisps made of each.  With the star being the rib roast (though I really like the Brussels sprouts) I brought out two Cabs: each from Kenwood Vineyards, each their “Artist Series”: a 2007 and a 2009.
These wines are their top label, the “Artist Series” having originated in 1974 and drawing attention since its beginning.  While each vintage may include slightly different percentages, the 2007 typifies a blend with 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 4% Malbec and 3% Merlot yielding a wine with 14.5% alcohol by volume. You might think that pretty similar to a left bank Bordeaux, except it comes from Sonoma County, California. 

Either way, it does the state proud.  Each (estate) lot is fermented individually.  After gentle pressing and racking, the young wine is moved into oak barrel (82% French, 18% American) to age for 28 months.  Each barrel from each lot is then tasted and only the best barrels are selected for the “Artist Series”.  After bottling, wine in that series ages an additional 18 months before release.

I’m reminded frequently of that quote from Pliny the Elder who said two thousand years ago: “The best wine is that which taste good to thine own palate.”  The magazine Wine Enthusiast was not enamored of this vintage, but other reviewers were.  I was too.  Its nose of ground spice was intriguing.  It’s a medium-plus to full bodied wine that carries the brown spice onto the palate joined with blackberry and clove.  Cassis and plum integrate within the bouquet and marry upon the palate with subtle vanilla and a hint of forest floor that hints at an “old world style. A subtle hint at cedar adds complexity and a whisper of mint finishes this work of artistry.

This is a polished wine whose integer is a seamless composition of fractions that blend themselves into a smooth presentation with spot-on acidity and managed tannins carrying the married characters into a long, easily appreciated finish.     
At 91 points from Wine & Spirits and Wine Spectator, the 2009 was met generally with more smiles.  I wondered if this, perhaps, was attributable to 2009 being considered a better vintage for Sonoma.  But no!  Wine Spectator rated that year (the vintage – not the wine) at 86 points, two points under the 2007 vintage.  But even a quick overview of their vintage charts will reveal  their definite Napa favoritism.  As a certified “wine geek” I guess I’m also a certified odd-ball in generally preferring Sonoma – that “less fruit forward” thing.  It’s Pliny’s matter of preference.

I did find the 2009 darker with fruit being more deep yet less forward and more dusty. More tannin. And I enjoyed it immensely.  The composition is slightly different at 93% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3.5% Malbec, and 3.5% Petit Verdot.  Its appellation is 54.5% Sonoma Valley, 42% Dry Creek Valley, and 3.5% Lake County. The alcohol is at the higher end of the typical French style at 14.5%.  Consider the “Artist Series” akin to a French house producing non-vintage Champagne in which a consistency of style is desired.  At this point, look for current vintages.  “Artist Series” Cabs can be aged but there’s always a risk involved in buying old bottles stored in unknown conditions.  Kenwood wines are commonly available through many price labels, but the “Artist Series” is likely a label you’ll find only at the winery or available on-line. Your local merchant should be able to order one for you. Regardless how you obtain it, you’ll be surprised by the excellence of what you thought was only a “grocery store” wine.

There is no ARP for this wine that can practically be mentioned here.  I’ve seen prices between $50-$90, when available.  Production is limited so prices will vary per a merchant’s stock.  Shipping and taxes are not included in on-line pricing.

For an earlier review of Kenwood Vineyards see:  To see a review of Kenwood’s 2010 “Artist Series” Cabernet Sauvignon visit:

…………….. Jim

Follow and “Like” Wine Mizer on Facebook for mini-reviews, industry news and more. does not accept any advertisements, nor is it affiliated with any winery, vineyard, importer or distributor.  You may be assured that any opinions are not economically biased (though they may not be appropriate to your individual and unique palate).