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Wine Enthusiast

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Wine Definitions


Malbec is a black grape that makes for food-friendly wine. It is often described as inky with purple fruit flavors of black cherry, pomegranate, plum, blackberry, blueberry, and raisin. It has a serious side of coffee and molasses. When aged in oak, Malbec takes on the dessert flavors like vanilla, coconut, and mocha. It is often referred to as “plump.”

In the vineyard, Malbec does not luxuriate – in fertile, even-keeled climates, mold and rot dog its health. Coulure is ever a threat to the varietal, especially if the weather is cool during bloom or the vine is in high vigor – to which Malbec is prone. Malbec is a go-getter in the soil but sets fruit poorly.

Its climate forms its flavors: cooler climates produce brighter fruit tones and warmer climates draw out those purple fruits that can’t help but lure cocoa and chocolate to their magnetic tannins.

In Bordeaux and the Loire Valley, it is a minor varietal used for blending sparely with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. 

Malbec was brought to California’s Santa Clara Valley in the, but many vineyards were lost to phylloxera. Thanks to a broadened understanding of the importance site-appropriate clones play in winemaking; they have set down new roots in the state. 

“Malbec” is synonymous with “Argentina.”

Malbec had been planted in Argentina before it was famously kicked out of Burgundy in the mid to late 20th century. Heartier vines replaced Malbec in Burgundy due to its unpredictable harvest and a number of remarkably diseased growing seasons. Other than the lustily rustic (but not widely distributed) Cahors, Malbec was a well-known grape only in the various regional pockets dedicated to growing it. 

In the early-mid 1990s, Malbec from Argentina began to make its way onto the wine shop shelf. It immediately presented itself as an incredible deal for wine in its price-point. Having been given “junk” status by the industry, Malbec became the favorite of wine seller and wine buyer without a formal introduction. 

Thanks to Argentina’s high, arid altitude and rocky soil, Malbec survived to make its way back to Bordeaux where it has revived its role in the Bordeaux Five – the five first growths of the region. 

Stateside, look for Malbecs from Washington, Oregon and be sure to open the cellar doors for Chilean offerings out of Colchagua, Curicó, Cachapoal. Compare bottles from South Africa to those from South Australia and New Zealand’s Hawkes Bay – where Chardonnay blesses the very first light of everyday. 

More information can be found either in review text or on the producer’s Web site. You can use Wine Enthusiast’s online Buying Guide to find the top-rated Malbec wines among our extensive Malbec wine reviews and easy-to-use database. Our Malbec wine reviews will give you a general idea what to expect from wines made from Malbec and will help you find one that best suits your needs.

White Blend

Blending white wine grapes is a traditional winemaking practice that has produced venerated blends such as France’s Bordeaux Blanc and Italy’s Soave – trademark regional blended wines whose production is controlled by their respective  DOG and DOCG. 

A blended white wine made outside of the laws of an official label designation falls under the category of “White Blend.” 

White Blend wine ranges in style and character depending on the region, grapes, and wine-making goals. Some are made after the traditional methods of the Old World, and others are terroir-driven. 

White Blend wine that is made following a prescribed Old World style provides an excellent opportunity to compare the terroir of Old World wines to that of the expansive world outside of it. A Marsanne Rousanne blend from Washington State shows a volcanic minerality whereas a Marsanne Rousanne from its homeland in the Rhone Valley has whispers of wood spice and a memory of cinnabar.  

South Africa’s bright and spicy take on a Bordeaux-style white (a blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc) offers a contrast to Italy’s blended wine made of the same grapes.  

Chardonnay blends can be found worldwide and are often an indication of a wine region’s winemaking style as well as its terroir. A steely Chardonnay blend from New Zealand provides a sheer wall to compare an oaked California blend of the same grapes. 

Blends are most often made by combining mono-cépage wines of different varietals – each varietal being harvested, crushed, and fermented separately and then blended in trial batches. This process allows the winemaker the ability to showcase their intent and perspective.

Nontraditional terroir-driven blends are beginning to take up corners of real estate under the White Blend label designation – such as the effervescent and distinctive Chardonnay - Torrentes blends from Argentina.

White Blend wine introduces to the world obscure grape varietals that are only grown for blending purposes. In Croatia, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris are blended with Malvazija – a group of grape varieties– to create aged-citrus notes.  

Many wineries have created their signature blend or label that, like a departmental designation, becomes a trademark of their label. 

Assemblage information can be found either in the wine’s designation, review text, or on the producer’s Website. You can use Wine Enthusiast’s online Buying Guide to find the top-rated White Blends among our extensive White Blend wine reviews and easy-to-use database. Our White Blend reviews will give you a general idea of what to expect from wines made from White Blends and will help you find one that best suits your needs.

Red Blend

“Red blend” is a label designation for a blended red wine that contains less than 75% of any one grape varietal. Red blend wines can be made following well-loved traditional prescriptions – such as a Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – but the category also contains an exciting breadth of unorthodox combinations. A blended red wine made outside of the laws of an official label designation falls under the category of “Red Blend.”

Wines under the red blend category vary in color, aroma, flavor, structure, and even age-ability. Red blends from cool climates tend to be lighter and brighter while those from warm climates tend to be bolder and darker. The varietals used, the region where they were grown, the season as well as vigneron and winemaker decisions all play an essential role in how a red blend will taste.

Winemakers blend red wines to complement and negate a grape’s attributes. For instance, the thick-skinned Cabernet Sauvignon lends tannins to the thin-skinned, plummy Merlot. Tannins – which can be as bitter and chalky as chewing on a grape seed – allow a wine to age and will over time soften, yielding to secondary and tertiary flavors.

Typically, red blends are created by crushing and fermenting each grape varietal as a mono-cepage. After the juice is extracted from the skins and put into lots, the blend is created through “blending trials” which requires the winemaker to taste the characteristics of each trial blend wine. A winemaker will sometimes add wine made from white grapes to provide a red blend wine to add additional nuances and balance. 

What happens in the vineyard and its location is just as influential as the winemaker. Region dictates the flavor components of any given varietal. A classic blend of Syrah, Petite Verdot, and Merlot from Washington State will invariably have different tasting notes than those of the blend’s Cotes du Rhone roots – even if made by the same winemaker. 

Region relents its importance to terroir. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre from Gigondas stands apart from that of Chateauneuf du Pape – the distinction being a matter of 27 minutes and at least as many dollars. 

These differences, sometimes subtle, sometimes remarkable are what makes the maddeningly broad category of red blend worthy of a deep, investigatory dive.

Another benefit to taking time to explore the wealth of selection under the “red blend” category is becoming acquainted with little-known, region-specific varietals. Borraçal (known by the equally eye-catching name of Caíño tinto) lends fragrance to red blend wines from Vino Verde. There are even exceptional regional field blend red wines such a Touriga Franca, Tinta Cao, and Tinta Roriz (aka Tempranillo) – a blend from the Douro, Portugal. 

From the most notable red blend wines to intriguing new styles that illustrate New World terroir, the breadth of wines under the “red blend” is cause for celebration. For more detailed information on which red blend to choose for the cellar, a casual night in or to bring to a dinner party, Wine Enthusiast’s Buying Guide can help you. Find the best red blends from our extensive database. Our reviews will give you a general idea of what to expect from the bottle and help you find the one to best suit your needs. 

Pinot Noir

Pinot noir is a noble red grape upon whose shoulders the world’s most prized vintages stand. In Burgundy, the varietal makes for cellar-bound bottles of a sensuously perfumed, complex wine. In Champagne, it’s gently pressed into a lithe-bodied juice that is blended with Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

Just pressed, the juice is a cheery ruby color. Young Pinot noirs sometimes show hues of red and violet. As the Pinot noir ages, its color loses intensity and even changes to a brick red hue – however, dusty bottles emerge from a 50-year cellaring with a vibrancy that does not betray the wine’s age. 

The bouquet is often faceted with black currant, cherry, pepper, cinnamon, coffee, and smoke. In the mouth, the thin-skinned grape provides fine tannins, and the bright edges of the short-seasoned varietal are easily softened with a little age.

As the years go on, fresh fruit flavors roll into the territory of the venerable – jam and kirsch. Sought-after notes of truffle and bolete take hold, and it isn’t surprising for older bottles to produce a spank of leather and a brush of fur.

The varietal has been putting humankind through its winemaking paces for over 2,000 years. In both the field and the cellar, Pinot noir demands attention. Genetically irascible, the varietal enthusiastically mutates. Pinot noir’s mutations are the most cataloged of the vinifera grapes. This unstoppable ability to genetically shift directly benefits both winemaker and the grape’s legacy. 

Infamously prone to root rot, fungus, and mold, its vast variety of clones offers a breadth of disease and blight-resistant genetics. Growers select clones for resistance to a specific vineyard peril or the site’s soil, microclimate, and acreage. 

Different clones grown in the same vineyard will vary in flavor, color, yield size, and cluster density. This variety works to the advantage of the winemaker, and it is not uncommon for winemakers to create an assemblage using wines from a number of Pinot noir clones to play off each other’s characteristics. 

Where once all Pinot noirs were judged by the Burgundian ideal, it is now accepted that Pinot noir is its own grape in its own land. A tour of Pinot noirs from different regions is a tour of terroir – be it established or emerging.  

Oregon Pinot noir wines are most reflective of their Burgundian roots. In Germany, where it reigns under the name of Spätburgunder, wine made from German Mariafeld clones is known for being red, herbaceous, and bright. In New Zealand, Dijon clones grown away from the coast are dark with a rumble of berry. 

In the sandy clay and decomposed granite of Chile, warm nights and cool mornings make Dijon clones disastrously miserable. Yet the full canopied clones 9 and 16 ( the same clones that are grown in California) promise stony black cherry notes that translate oak with purple-red finesse. 

Are you looking for a Pinot noir to remember or a rosé structured like no other? Use Wine Enthusiast’s online Buying Guide to find the top-rated Pinot noir wines among our extensive Pinot noir wine reviews and easy-to-use database. Our wine reviews will give you a general idea of what to expect from wines made from Pinot noir and will help you find one that best suits your needs.

SF International Spirits Competition

Blog Posts for the San Francisco Wine Competition and San Francisco Spirits Competition web page.

Cocktail Garden Tips

Garden Gluttony, an embarrassment of riches no more

Spring has many of us looking at taking another swing at the garden this year. Last year’s mistakes resulted in hairy carrots, too many zucchini, and daily google searches that basically provided the same answer: bugs did it, stop watering so much, you kinda don’t suck at this but you know nothing. Voles will eat it all.

For every failure, there is success in learning something new. Nitrogen-rich soil makes carrots hairy. Amaranth will kill squash beetles! Cabbage plants become invasively large. Watering at night draws in pests. 

Then there’s the fact that gardens produce a lot of food. Why yes, you can have too much kale and, no, you don’t need three varieties. The question most gardeners ask themselves is, “What am I going to do with all of this food?”

Maybe it is time to enjoy the garden a little more by making it drinkable. Not only does a cocktail garden sound romantic, but it is also more pragmatic than say a salsa garden. Because there’s only so much salsa a person can eat and no one has ever stood in the middle of their garden and implored, “how am I going to drink all of this?”

Here are seeds to start for the perfectly drinkable garden:

Lovage for Bloody Mary “?!?”

Lovage tastes like celery had a moment and got serious about life. Soak a quarter cup of just-picked, washed rough-chopped lovage leaves in 750 ml of Absolut Original Vodka for a celery-flavored, herbaceous Bloody Mary. Watch people take a sip and then look around wild with surprise and curiosity.

Plant lovage in a sunny, well-drained area on the edge of your garden. With the right amount of water (more than sage and less than tomatoes) and slightly acidic soil, it will come back year after year and grow to about 4’. 

Sage for Salty Dogs 

Sage can save so many things from ruin. From gamey lamb to under seasoned soups, sage is born to do the heavy flavor lifting. Place a few fresh leaves in two TBSP of course sea salt and cover for a week. Use the salt for an unforgettable salty dog cocktail rim.

Hardy and drought resistant, sage wants warm, well-drained soil and plenty of space to keep on trucking. Avoid watering its leaves, let it get a lot of air, and let it spread.

Nasturtiums for Absolut Perfect Martinis

Every chef has a panty-dropper – a go-to dish that makes undergarments unnecessary. Post a photo of Nasturtiums in a salad on Instagram, for instance, and knees go weak around the world. Pickle the nasturtium seeds in a hot salt and sugar brine and refrigerate them for three weeks. Serve them in the bottle of vodka martinis. Be prepared for love. 

Nasturtiums like even keel. They can handle the sun with enough good, well-watered soil where they can cascade down the side of a pot or over a raised bed. Let the flowers mature and the seeds form. Pick them while they are still green. 

Armenian Cucumbers for True Love

Let’s talk cucumbers and vodka. The two vibe on each other like bartenders and the just divorced. While the chemistry is there, it isn’t always worth the time to work with watery, seedy varieties found at the grocery store. The green-skinned cucumbers found in the supermarket are there because their skins don’t bruise – not because they are the ideal cultivar for vodka. Grow more sensitive skinned cucumbers for more floral tasting cucumbers that don’t need to be peeled or deseeded. Some cucumbers are just a better fit than others.

If you have a trellis, Armenian cucumbers will grow as long and straight as a forearm. Perfect right out of the garden, they can be thrown into the food processor or juicer to create a mash ready to be soaked in vodka. The Armenian Cucumber is sturdier and less watery than a supermarket cucumber. Thinly sliced, the Armenian Cucumber makes for a translucent white garnish on the side of a glass. 

Four Top Baijiu and What Eat with Them

Premium and Prized: Serve Sauce Aroma Baijiu by Z Year of the Zodiac Memorial Baijiu to the dignitaries of your life. 

Sauce Aroma Biajiu are powerfully structured thanks to multiple rounds of fermentation and up to 8 distillation cycles. Valued for its labor-intensive production process, Sauce Aroma Baijiu carry a certain amount of prestige and are commonly served to VIP guests.

Z Year of the Zodiac Memorial Sauce Aroma Baijiu boasts a nose of apple, pear, apricots, and grapes. Delicate vegetal notes lilt warmly through the body of slightly smokey, warm tropical fruit. Try Fritos with a caviar dip, spicy short ribs, anything with pickled vegetables, or a smoked mushroom burger.

Delicate Maverick: Rice Bran Aroma Baijiu from Cardinal Tien Junior College of Healthcare and Management.  

Adored for both its scent of warm cooked rice and fruit-forward bouquet, Rice Bran Aroma Baijiu sports a zest of lemon on the nose and body. Floral and pineapple flavors  stage whisper those of grilled, herbed salmon, shrimp and grits, and juicy pork dumplings. 

While potent, Rice Aroma Baijiu is a little different from the other three baijiu styles in part because it is fermented and distilled as whole grains of either short or long-grain rice. Using whole grain rice slows the fermentation which draws out the components Rice Bran Aroma Baijiu is known for. 

Balanced Force: Z Year of the Zodiac Memorial Baijiu, Strong Aroma Baijiu offers ripe tropical fruit contrasted with the depth of barnyard earthiness. Traditionally made in the South of China where it is hot enough to ferment batches of mash in large, venerable fermenting pits, this Strong Aroma baijiu is complex and robust enough to stand up to a Hoppin’ John, jambalaya, or pulled pork sandwich. Try a Fried Oyster sandwich and feel free to bathe it in hot sauce. Strong Aroma Baijiu stands up the spice of Szechuan cuisine like it was born to it… because it was.

Fast and Floral: Light Aroma Baijiu by Intimate Friend Hand-Craft Sorghum Liquor is aged for three years in jars. Made with sorghum this Baijiu is distinct for its sophisticated nose and body. 


Light Aroma Baijiu is typically made from sorghum, peas, and rice husks and then fermented in clay pots or, weather permitting, in-ground vats. Traditionally the belle of the north, Light Aroma Baijiu typically showcases a floral, melon nose and a body of dried apricot, bitter herbs, and pine. While a couple of major baijiu styles fall under the Light Aroma Baijiu header, beware: neither pulls a punch. Pair it with herb-roasted chicken, persimmon, citrus fennel salad, or grilled oysters with nasturtium microgreens. 

Washington Wine Guide

Washington State Wine Guide.

Publication intro

A celebration of dirt, wind, sun, and bravery in a bottle 

When talking to a winemaker about Washington wine grapes, it’s best to follow these rules of thumb: Never after midnight. Always with water. Never-ever pre harvest. 

What could be a brief but engaging conversation will, after midnight and just before harvest, turn into a verbal love letter. Beer will disappear, pizza boxes will empty and there’s a high probability that one winemaker will multiply into a few. Be prepared for a lesson on geology, history, soil chemistry, weather and horticulture. Be prepared to stumble away with a thorough understanding about brix, ph and destemming. 

As harvest nears, winemakers become grape-obsessed and make the trek to the rocky slopes of Eastern Washington’s vineyards to taste (and test) in the rows. Wineries can reserve blocks of vines that catch the light just so and drain the spring rains in just the right way. When it is at last warm enough, delicate leaves will unfurl with the help of tiny winged angels dancing to the sound of heralding trumpets – or so it is described by a winemaker at 1AM. 

As any vineyardist will tell you, the life of a grape vine is not one of pleasure-bound leisure in a verdant eden of arbors. To coax out the best fruit, the vine must struggle a bit and toughen up in order to stand against the glare of the sun. Its roots must seek nutrients in an obnoxiously hard ground. It must survive threats like insects, wilt, rot and powdery mildew. Within a few short months, a vine is expected shake off a harsh winter, thrive and produce fruit by the tons. As if to add insult to injury, any exuberance of growth the vines might show in the summer is pruned without apology. Buoyant clusters of Syrah fall to the ground in order to bestow light, air and nutrients on other, more preferable clusters. Each varietal, be it a Riesling, Sémillon, Merlot or Mourvèdre requires its own special combination of natural hardships and rocky ground – elements that Washington’s grape growing regions are delightfully prepared to doll out. What makes Washington Wine unique is the number of varietals growing in their ideal environment. Take a quick trip to Woodinville and become acquainted with an astounding Bordeaux blend, a silky Nebbiolo and a sparkling wine all grown and made in one state. The signature grapes of Italy, France, Spain, Germany and Austria all do very well here. 

Enter the heroes An absent-minded sip of Cabernet Sauvignon from Red Mountain will grab you by the wrist and pull you into the Adrianne Dow Young: Washington State Wine Guide 2014 glass – there you will taste the long days of sunlight and the cool breeze that wicks the heat off of the small dark berries that can’t afford to bake too hot for too long. The soil and the specific way it has formed the Red Mountain AVA is a benefit of an ancient natural disaster – the Missoula Floods. While this very small area has produced incredible grapes, it was not immediately apparent that the overlooked slopes of Red Mountain were good for much other than growing cheatgrass. Four hours north in the high desert of Chelan, a plummy, complex Tempranillo opens minds. Chelan’s high altitude and dry air suit Tempranillo, a grape that doesn’t grow everywhere and certainly doesn’t grow everywhere well. It’s not an obvious choice to grow Tempranillo in an area known for its apple orchards, but it is an educated one. In the Columbia Valley, micro climates thrive like rabbits in a warren – there are so many that just about anything is possible. It is likely that you’ll meet hard scrabble, mineral-loving varietals like Albariño as easily as a river-life-loving Marsanne. There is not one varietal that stretches across the land, but many that nestle in small blocks. These are grapes grown to outshine in quality rather than to march en masse into the bins. Who does that? Who bothers with just an acre of grapes? Who decides that a patch of land where killdeer scuttle back and forth is suited for Tempranillo? Who would pick up a handful of gritty earth and think that in a few years, it might produce some pretty ok grapes? The brave Washington Winemaker, that’s who. Adrianne Dow Young: Washington State Wine Guide 2014 

Terroir as it lives and breathes Making wine employs creativity, skill, technical knowledge, a strong back and the nerves of a mountain goat. At best, it is a process that involves a lot of cleaning, lots of beer, sleepless nights and early mornings. At its most intense, it involves great leaps of faith, a couple of broken fingers and stories that are retold for decades. Washington wine’s greatest single quality is the gutsy band of people who have chosen to grow wine grapes and make wine here. Very, very good wine. Even in the face of all the variables that get thrown at them. One wildfire will change the course of a winery’s year. An early summer hailstorm will crush the hopes of even the most accomplished winemaker. But year after year, Washington winemakers take the risk and use what both nature provides and vineyard workers coax. From a great amount of skill and a touch of guile rises a smoky field blend; a gloriously dry rosé; a late harvest dessert wine that will never be made again–because the circumstances of will never be the same. Standing alongside the tried and true award-winners are the once-in-a-life-time characters. Don’t miss your chance to taste them. Any of them. 

The party is getting bigger by the moment While the Yakima Valley AVA is celebrating 31-years (established 1983) of being the center of Washington’s Adrianne Dow Young: Washington State Wine Guide 2014 wine universe and Walla Walla and Columbia Valley AVAs turn 30 (established 1984) wine in Washington still has the air of a relatively young industry. There’s an excitement to be found in little one room wineries and palatial chateaus across the state. It’s the adventure of tasting a new release and returning to coveted favorites. Newest to the scene is hard cider. Just as varied as wine, Washington State wineries and cideries are producing astounding, lovely and memorable bottles. Textures and flavors of these ciders range from silky and sweet to effervescent and dry. It’s the perfect addition to the ever evolving world of Washington wine.