CVIndependent

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Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

I am always amazed by “I never/I only” wine-drinkers. I encounter them all too frequently when they come into the shop looking for a specific wine. I quickly discover that my suggestions for an alternative selection are futile when the customer informs me they will only drink this one wine.

Oh, how terribly boring. These wine-drinkers are like 4-year-old children faced with a new dinner option. “I don’t like it! I won’t eat it! What is it?”

Astonishingly, I even encounter a few wine professionals who fall victim to this ideology, although they are more likely to enter the “I never” subset (as in: “I never drink Napa cabernet!”) because they think they know better, or their vast years of experience have led them into some archaic belief system.

Maybe you know one of these “I never/I only” people. Or perhaps you are one of these people. If that’s the case, stay with me … this article is for you.

The most-common wine manifesto I face is: “I never drink chardonnay.” This is so rampant in the wine world that it’s hard for me to believe sometimes that chardonnay is still the No. 1 varietal in the country. The reasons why people have abandoned chardonnay are usually valid or, at the least, understandable—but they are also terribly short-sighted.

As one woman at a recent tasting explained to me: Those lean, crisp styles aren’t real chardonnay. I clutch the pearls; let out an audible gasp; and try to stay calm. “No, no,” I say, almost trembling at the misinformation. “The wine you’ve come to associate with chardonnay is the actual impostor here.” She is not alone in this thought. In fact, most desert-dwellers I talk to have the same thought-process. How can I blame them when every restaurant wine list from here to San Diego (with some fabulous exceptions) offer six whites by the glass—and four of them are overly oaked, creamy, carnival-midway explosions of buttered, fried, caramel-vanilla dipped flavors of something-or-other? There is no awareness that this same grape can produce wines with razor-sharp acid, bright mouth-watering citrus fruits, and a finish that makes your palate say, “Thank you, sir; may I have another?”

These styles are not as elusive as you may think—but they are hiding in plain sight. For every anti-chardonnay drinker, there is a bottle of Dauvissat or Patrick Piuze Chablis or Ceritas Trout Gulch Vineyard chardonnay just waiting to be discovered. Even in Napa, the heartland of overly contrived chardonnay, Steve Matthiasson is crafting an affordable, gloriously lean and zippy incarnation called Linda Vista. And in Sonoma, the chardonnays of Lioco, Porter-Bass and Scribe are breaking the age-old California interpretations. I implore everyone who has a myopic view of this little grape to give it another go. (Or, as I say to my picky-eater kids: Follow the three-bite rule.)

What most people don’t understand about chardonnay is that it is a very neutral grape in terms of flavor. Its flavor profile is nowhere nearly as overt as, say, sauvignon blanc or riesling. And yet this is the very reason it produces some of the most expensive wines in the world. You know them as Meursault, Montrachet and, of course, Chablis. You see, chardonnay was chosen by the Cistercian monks centuries ago to be planted in Burgundy because of its propensity for high acid and its neutrality. What those smarty-pants monks knew, even way back then, was that this land—and each specific parcel of land—was unique in its composition. They firmly believed that what grew on this plot of land was going to taste different than what grew on any other piece of land. And that’s what mattered—the place. The grape was simply a catalyst to show what the land could do. The flavors and aromas of the grape shouldn’t outshine the flavors and distinct qualities that were inherent in the dirt—so they needed a grape that could be the bridesmaid to the more-important element.

But this is a double-edged sword, because just as chardonnay’s transparent nature was a bonus for the vignerons of France, it was also a tool for winemakers looking to make their mark in the new world. Chardonnay is easily manipulated and malleable to an eager winemakers’ every whim. When the masses demanded bigger, bolder, richer wines, chardonnay was an easy accomplice. All of a sudden, the market was flooded with wines that were stylistically so far removed from its ancestors that it was hard to remember they were ever even related.

If all of this isn’t reason enough to get you to abandon a negative viewpoint on chardonnay, then I’m left with no choice but to pull out the big guns. Yes, that’s right: I’m going to wine-shame you. Hear me when I tell you that no experienced, knowledgeable wine aficionado would ever, ever disrespect the white grape of Burgundy. In fact, most wine professionals and sommeliers will tell you that this region and its noble grape are the Holy Grail—so revered that, in fact, it’s many sommeliers’ “stranded on a desert island wine.” Yours truly is included in that bunch.

I realize I’ve singled out chardonnay here, but there are many other “I never/I only” wine-drinkers out there, and we’ll explore this more on another day. In the meantime, if you’re part of the ABC (anything but chardonnay) crowd, I hope you take away one thing from this: Wine is about so much more than just the grape.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine

We have entered the temperature ugh zone, where the only thing anyone can talk about is how disgusting it is outside. Yes, the next few months will be miserable, but as my Canadian grandmother used to say, “The desert is hot, but at least I don’t have to shovel the sand.”

While it’s sweltering outside, the idea of popping open your favorite bottle of cabernet might seem repugnant. And maybe you’re the type of person doesn’t love white wine … so what’s a wine-lover to do?

The answer: Have no fear! I have your summer wine to-do list right here—and it even includes a rich, brooding and intense red.

One of my favorite summer sippers is made by an unlikely duo from the Central Coast of California. Union Sacre is the brainchild of Xavier Arnaudin, a Wine and Spirit Education Trust-certified, oenology degree-holding, ex-boxer-turned-winemaker from France; and Philip Muzzy, a self-taught designer from Michigan who lived in his van before becoming Xavier’s business partner. Unlikely, right? But together, they have more than 25 years of experience working at Central Coast wineries—and it shows. The Belle de Nuit gewurztraminer might be the most luminous expression of this varietal I’ve ever tasted. On the nose, it’s full of ripe lychee fruit and rose petals, but on the palate, it’s bone-dry and crisp, with an almost-wiry tinge of grapefruity zing racing down the back. This is the kind of wine that will make you rethink everything you thought you knew about gewurztraminer. It ferments on its skins for about 30 hours, which imparts the most beautiful pale copper color you’ve ever seen. And the label … oh my goodness, the label: It appears all serious and formal at first glance, but turn the bottle around, and you’ll reveal a stunning image through the clear juice. Can you tell how impressed I am?! If we’re friends, expect to drink a lot of this wine this summer.

Chenin blanc is one of my favorite varietals, and I think it’s tragically underrated. It’s the ultimate chameleon, ranging in style from sweet to sparkling to mouth-puckeringly dry, so there is a chenin blanc for everybody. In the summer, I love the citrusy, tart styles that wake your mouth up and beg for that summer peach-and-arugula salad. My chenin blanc du jour is the Maitre de Chai “Kierkegaard” chenin blanc, which is sourced from two old vine vineyards: the dry-farmed Sani vineyard, planted in 1981 in Dry Creek, Sonoma, and the original rootstock Reamer vineyard, planted in 1975 south of Sacramento. Owners, grape-growers and vintners Alex Pitts and Marty Winters are not professionally trained winemakers. They were, however, professionally trained chefs who met while working at Cyrus in Sonoma under the careful direction of famed chef Douglas Keane. The irony here is that a chef’s purpose is to create a dish by manipulating ingredients, adding a little of this and a little of that until it tastes just right. That couldn’t be further from what they’re doing as winemakers: They simply allow the grapes to do their thing—nothing added, tweaked or manipulated. No fining; no filtration; and the wine undergoes wild fermentation. The result is a glorious, low-alcohol wine bursting with key lime, passion fruit and melon.

Now, for you red-drinkers who think you have to give up the stemmed glass in the melting months: I assure you, that’s not the case! In fact, there are several red wines that are meant to be chilled and are perfect for our summer. And in case you missed the article I wrote explaining why it’s perfectly acceptable to chill all your red wines, consider this your permission slip.

Gamay is the signature grape of the Beaujolais region of France, and up until around 10 years ago, most people would have only associated that region with Beaujolais Nouveau, that grapey, fun and simple wine released the third Thursday of November every year. And while Beaujolais Nouveau might be akin to California’s white zinfandel, it, too, has a time and a place where it can be a fun beverage of choice. That said, real Beaujolais is so much more than that young and fruity rendition of gamay. There are 10 crus in Beaujolais, each making a serious wine with its own unique characteristics. Some of my favorites are Chateau Thivin from Brouilly, Marcel Lapierre from Morgon (the Raisins Gaulois is a household staple around here), and Guy Breton’s gamay from Regnie. The best part of these delicious wines is that they are meant to be consumed slightly chilled. If that isn’t enough, I’ll up the ante and tell you the cherry on top is that these wines have few to no additives, are lower in alcohol, and have almost no tannins. The result is an easy-drinking, dare I say gulpable wine that is the perfect beverage for friends, barbecues and pool parties.

If easy-drinking, lighter reds aren’t your bag, don’t despair: I have just the thing for all you hearty red-wine drinkers out there … and it’s called Tannat. This signature grape of Uruguay was relatively unheard of a few years ago. It originally hails from the Southwest region of France, and just like malbec, which also originally comes from southern France, it was producing harsh, tannic, difficult-to-swallow wines. It wasn’t until the grape reached South America that it found its true home. And, like malbec, tannat creates wines that are deeply pigmented, rich and full-bodied, with opulent aromas of blueberries, dark chocolate and licorice. Is your mouth watering yet? It’s also one of the “healthiest” red wines on the market due to its exceptionally high levels of resveratrol. Bodegas Garzon has set the bar high for tannat from Uruguay due to its state-of-the-art winery, no-expense-spared winemaking team, and meticulous farming practices. What’s more is that because it’s still relatively under-the-radar, you can get this stellar wine less than $20 a bottle at most places. Tannat really shines when it’s chilled down for about 20 minutes prior to opening, which means you can have your full-throttled red wine when it’s hot—and drink it, too.

Last but not least, I would be remiss if I didn’t include the party-perfect Matthiasson “Tendu” red. I cannot think of a get-together I’ve hosted in recent memory that did not include several liter bottles of this incredible juice. Don’t let the crown-cap closure and clear liter bottle fool you into thinking this is cheap jug wine. This delicious blend of barbera, aglianico and montepulciano is crafted by “winemaker of the year” and Napa demi-god, Steve Matthiasson and was modeled after the easy-drinking wines he experienced in the sidewalk bistros of France and Italy. This wine was made for those long summer nights, eating al fresco, playing bocce ball in St. Helena with friends. In short, it’s a sophisticated wine that’s meant to be drunk like a beer, when you don’t want a beer, but are craving wine. Yes, please!

There is an expression in France that has been adopted here in California—glou glou—which basically means glug glug, or down the hatch. My hope is that these glou glou wines inspire you to have more fun. Not all wine needs to be swirled, and pontificated, and analyzed. Sometimes wine is just a drink—a very good drink.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Wine