CVIndependent

Wed08222018

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

Katie Finn

Dear Katie:

I just found a bottle of 2004 Fetzer chardonnay in my hall closet. It was on the floor hidden under a down comforter. Is it still good?

Sincerely,

Thirsty in La Quinta

 

Dear Thirsty:

No.

Sincerely,

Katie


This answer might seem obvious to a lot of people—obvious because the idea is that chardonnay doesn’t age well. Obvious because Fetzer is an inexpensive brand. Obvious because it’s been housed in a sweatbox. Maybe obvious to some because it’s from California, and the common perception is that only wines from Europe age well.

But … what if it isn’t so obvious? What if the scenario was a 1998 Caymus Special Selection? What if the bottle wasn’t in your sweltering hall closet, but rather in a temperature-controlled wine fridge or cellar?

I recently celebrated a milestone birthday. Thus, it was a perfect excuse to uncork some bottles from the year of my birth and discover what aged better: Me, or the wine?

I’ve had a bottle of 1978 Kalin Cellars zinfandel in my possession for a long time—so long, in fact, that I can’t remember who gave it to me. Nothing in my cellar filled me with as much joy as this bottle. I thought this wine would always remain uncorked and in my collection. Maybe with a little “do not disturb” sign on it. I figured I would keep it as a fun wine relic that made my collection legit. Because I was not the original owner, I had no idea how this bottle was treated before I started lovingly caring for it. There was a significant amount of ullage (fancy speak for wine evaporation), and the mold was creeping out from under the foil. After a lot of thought, I decided that I could always keep the bottle—but if I was going to taste this wine, crafted by two people of undisputed genius and integrity, now was the time.

To my amazement, the cork came out almost entirely in one piece and was completely soaked through. Immediately, I could smell musky leather and sweet cigar. There was an earthy spiciness to it and even a little dried cranberry. It was alive! I actually shrieked out loud as if the wine glass I was holding was a winning lottery ticket. This 40-year-old California zinfandel was not just drinkable—it was delicious. Imagine that.

My dear friends gifted me a magnum of 1978 Niebaum-Coppola Rubicon. This was the inaugural vintage of this wine under the expertise of the great André Tchelistcheff. Otherwise known as “The Maestro,” this man is considered the founding father of Napa, and his passion and knowledge is unrivaled.

Pulling the cork from this bottle gave me chills. I was about to experience history. Before tour buses, phony castles and bachelorette parties made their mark on Napa, it was a place of great destiny and unfettered hope. The dream of potential greatness was now in my glass, and it did not disappoint. If I closed my eyes and inhaled deeply, the wine was every bit a Bordeaux. Truffles and mint and licorice leaped from the glass. I was in heaven.

I was 2-for-2. 1978 was a very good year.

At a party the other night, one of my friends was telling me that she had recently gone to dinner with her husband to celebrate their anniversary. They decided to open a bottle of 2005 Far Niente cabernet—the year they got married—to commemorate the occasion. To their shock and sadness, they discovered the wine was far past its prime—an undrinkable waste of money.

The question was, of course: Why? Convention says that wine gets better with time, and this was an expensive bottle from a very reputable producer. They had handled the bottle appropriately, and it really wasn’t that old. How could my 40-year-old wines kick the flavor pants off the 13-year-old?

Should we add wine to the list of things no longer allowed to age gracefully?

These questions gave me a great excuse to call my smarty-pants brother-in-law who also happens to be the enologist for Hall Wines in Napa. We got all nerdy about phenolics and color precipitation, and he schooled me on wine stability and pH levels. This is not exactly riveting content for a layman, so to put it simply: We discussed how winemaking has changed.

When California began its wine career, the idea was to emulate Bordeaux as much as possible. The first step in doing so meant picking the grapes earlier. An earlier harvest means grapes with higher acid and lower sugar, which translates to lower-alcohol wines. These are going to be wines with a beautiful garnet or ruby color. These are wines that have a silky and elegant mouthfeel. These are wines that have flavors and aromas like violets, cedar and plums. These are wines that are meant to be aged.

More often than not, when you pull the cork on a cabernet from California nowadays, you will be met with an opaque, inky, almost black wine. These will be wines that are rich and opulent on your palate. Flavors like blackberries, black cherries, vanilla and licorice will jump up and smack you in the face. The wines will most likely have an alcohol percentage of at least 14.5. These are wines that you want to drink sooner than later.

Winemaking has evolved over the last 40 years because consumers needs have changed. Their palates have changed. We buy a wine at 11 a.m. in order to have something to drink that night with dinner. We are a Jack-and-Coke, gin-and-tonic culture that learned to embrace wine—as long as it packed the same punch as our cocktail. I’ve even seen T-shirts that say “no wimpy wines allowed.” So most winemakers, in a crazy scheme to make money, follow consumer demand and create fruity, ripe, high-alcohol wines that are meant to be consumed right now. Any cellaring that needs to be done has most likely already been done by the winery before the wine is ever released to the market.

So what does this all mean? In short, we can’t have it both ways. That full-bodied wine that’s ready to pair with your steak tonight is not going to blow your hair back in 13 years, let alone 40. All those beautiful up-in-your-face fruit flavors that come jumping out of that inky liquid are going to be the first thing to dissipate as the wine matures. Once those primary flavors and aromas are gone, the wine has nothing left to offer. Without the preservative power of enough acid or tannin (and a few other nerdy factors) that will help the wine soften gradually and allow the flavors to meld together, that high-octane juice is going to fall flat on its face. Or worse, it will become an expensive bottle of vinegar.

This is not to say that Napa isn’t producing age-worthy wines—it is! They are just not the norm anymore, and that means the consumer needs to do a little homework before buying.

When in doubt, err on the side of younger is better. (Ahem, I’m still talking about wine here). Find a reason to celebrate (The newspaper wasn’t in the gutter this morning!), and open that bottle.

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..

My introduction to the world of canned wine came earlier this spring, when I stumbled upon a unique beer/fruit/wine fusion called Foxie. I was delighted to see it is a collaboration between an awesome winery out of Paso Robles called Field Recordings, and Hoxie Spritzer, the Southern California company that single-handedly made drinking wine spritzers cool again.

Upon the first sip, I was in love—real, lasting love. Flavors of fresh, tart grapefruit with just a touch of bitter hoppiness were all supported by a base of gloriously dry rose and bubbly mineral water. No glass. No bottle opener. Just a girl and her frosty cold can of aahhhh.

I totally understand all the hype around boozy cans. Given the only way to stay sane this time of year is to spend any and all free time in a pool (or the vegetable walk-in at Costco … but they told me I couldn’t drink in there anymore), the need for a glass-free way to enjoy wine is paramount. The more you think about it, the more obvious it is that cans should be the new frontier of wine packaging: Concerts, golf courses, movie theaters, public parks, beaches … all are a no-go for your bottle of vino and fancy Riedel glassware.

Cans have a lot going for them. They are easy to store and far easier to lug around in a cooler or backpack than a bottle. You don’t have to worry about cans breaking, and they chill down really quickly. They don’t require any extra stuff—like glasses, a corkscrew or a special insulated bag tall enough to fit the bottle. And the best feature is that they are far less conspicuous when you need a nip on the down-low. (There’s just something about pulling a wine bottle out of your diaper bag that feels wrong.)

I’d never really noticed canned wine on my shopping trips, so I figured that I might have a half-dozen or so options when I went to collect my R&D samples. I was so wrong—like, I-have-been-in-a-coma-while-cruising-the-wine-department wrong. Not only did Total Wine greet me with two huge displays of canned wine; I was also led to a floor-to-ceiling section down one of the aisles. Whole Foods has a more limited selection, but there is definitely a quality-over-quantity theme there, and the pricing isn’t any higher than their competitors.

I decided that I already had the beer/fruit/wine concoction nailed, so now it was time to see how plain ol’ wine fared in this trendy and highly portable vessel. I narrowed down the overwhelming selections by producers and availability. I didn’t want to grab anything too obscure or hard to find, so everything I chose is widely distributed and easy to get your hands on. (Not that you’d necessarily want to get your hands on all of this … but we’ll get to that in a minute.) All in all, I procured 12 different producers with 20 different offerings.

Then I grabbed some In-n-Out, phoned a few friends to come over, and started poppin’ tops. I’ll spare you all the gruesome details and give you the highlights. If nothing else, this was one of the most educational, thought-provoking and eye-opening tastings I’ve ever done.

Right away, we noticed that few of the cans featured a vintage. In fact, only three of the 12 producers had it somewhere visible on the can, and even then, we had to really search for it. The Tangent wines out of San Luis Obispo, Dark Horse from Modesto, and Underwood from Oregon—the pioneer of the canned-wine movement—displayed a vintage somewhere … even if that meant it was printed in teeny tiny numbers on the bottom of the can. I’m assuming the rest are not non-vintage wines, but the makers omitted printing a vintage on the label in an attempt to control printing/packaging costs. But who knows.

I decided that to help create a more unbiased opinion, we would taste each of these out of proper wine glasses. This might have actually been to the detriment of the wines, because every one of them—when poured into a glass—had some effervescence. It died down pretty quickly in some of them, but there’s something about seeing a fizzy cabernet being poured out of a can that is slightly unsettling.

I should also mention that I served these at what would be considered proper wine temperature. That was a big mistake, too: When it comes to canned wine, colder is better. The next day, I popped open a few more samples that had been in my 38-degree refrigerator overnight, and a lot of the unsavory qualities we found the wine to have the day before had magically disappeared. I also chose to drink these right out of the can—and discovered that is definitely the way to go.

All of the wines had a significant sweetness, with some featuring a fake fruity quality. In the worst examples, that resembled cough syrup; in the not-so-offensive wines, it tasted kind of like a fruit roll-up. The cold wines I pulled and drank from the fridge also lost the noxious rubber/sulfur smell that made a few of them absolutely undrinkable the night before.

There were clear winners and favorites—and some, while not my preferred style, are definitely drinkable and enjoyable. We discovered the whites are better than reds, and the roses are all pretty damn gulpable.

Here’s the list of what came out ahead:

• The favorite of the night was the Dark Horse 2017 rose from Modesto, of all places. I had never heard of Dark Horse, and would have never thought a wine from the armpit of the state could produce such lovely flavors and aromas. I’ve apparently painted Modesto all wrong, and Dark Horse is to be taken quite literally: The packaging is great, and the wine is clean and fresh with all the strawberry, rhubarb and ripe watermelon flavors for which you’d hope. It didn’t give off that funky, gassy smell when opened, and didn’t have a lot of effervescence right out of the gate.

• The best overall producer was Tangent from San Luis Obispo. Both the 2016 rose and sauvignon blanc were varietally correct in their flavor profiles, with bright acidity and none of the phony fruitiness of their competitors. The cans look great, and the labels had all the important geeky information like vintage, vineyard, varietal and place. Well done, Tangent!

• We all agreed that the Underwood Wines from Oregon are solid and very drinkable. We tasted the 2016 pinot gris and pinot noir, and the 2017 rose. While they all had that distinct sweetness and just a little factory-produced fruitiness, there was nothing unpleasant about them, and the pinot noir was the undisputed favorite among all the reds we tried.

There were quite a few chardonnays on the table that night. This was, by far, the most painful category. One of them was unequivocally the worst thing I’ve ever tasted. I thought for a moment that I might have thrown up in my mouth—but, no, it was just the wine. There were, however, two producers that created chardonnays for someone who loves California chardonnay: Westside Wine Co. and Alloy Wine Works are perfect casual sippers for anyone who loves their oaky, buttery, vanilla-laced chardonnay.

So … what have we learned? When the bottle is banned, reach for a can of really cold rose (or that super delicious grapefruit Foxie). Pop it; slug it back; and say aahhhh.

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..

Oh, millennials. They’re so hard to keep up with, with all their abbreviated words and vegan, plant-based burgers.

Snark aside, millennials have an overwhelming amount of consumer power—so what they want, they get. The wine world is no exception, and right now, what millennials want is the wine equivalent of the unbathed, unshaven hippie—the un-photoshopped, makeup-free, I-woke-up-like-this wine … otherwise known as “natural wine.” Given that kids these days can’t seem to use words in their entirety, these wines, of course, are also called “natty wines.”

So what, exactly, is a natural wine? For starters, “natural wines” have no clear and regulated definition. They are absolutely not the same as being organic or biodynamic, although it’s safe to say all winemakers who adhere to the natural-winemaking philosophy wouldn’t think of using grapes that were not organic or biodynamic. However, organic and biodynamic wines are a result of grape-growing and grape-farming practices in the vineyard that are closely monitored and have strict guidelines for certification. Natural wines are created based on decisions the winemakers make in the winery—without any specific criteria. That said, there is a common approach to natural winemaking: The ideology across the board is to have minimal intervention.

The largest and perhaps most controversial aspect to natural wines is the exclusion of sulfur. If you want to sound like a cool kid, the term is sans soufre. Simply saying “no sulfur” is really quite pedestrian. Call it what you want, but sulfur dioxide is a naturally occurring byproduct of wine fermentation. What we are talking about here is the addition of sulfur dioxide to prevent bacteria growth and spoilage. I, for one, will never be mad at the necessary addition of sulfur as a preservative. After all, I don’t want my wine to taste like a dirty diaper or a mouse cage that hasn’t been cleaned for seven years.

Another benchmark for natural wines is not filtering out particulates—so your bottle of “natty juice” is probably going to look cloudy with little “thingys” floating around. These little “thingys” aren’t bad for you and (probably) won’t make you sick, but the presence of all those proteins, microbes and organisms floating around can make the wine unstable and quick to spoil—not to mention taste sour, tangy and a little bit like my father’s barn.

By not filtering or adding more sulfur dioxide, winemakers are attempting to retain the “purity” of the wine. I totally get it: In an industry that’s been plagued by winemaker over-manipulation, thus creating homogenized and industrialized wines, it’s refreshing to try wines that are left the hell alone. But to what end? Liking a wine that doesn’t have additional sulfur dioxide just because it doesn’t have additional sulfur dioxide is like liking a wine just because it’s $300. At some point, we need to recognize that the proof is in the pudding.

Other aspects of the natural-wine movement include whole-cluster fermentation—the act of not destemming the grapes, but rather throwing the whole bunch into the tank to create depth of flavor and heightened textures; and allowing the wine to ferment with native yeasts as opposed to controlled, cultivated yeast strains. So whatever wild yeasts hitched a ride on the grapes on their way into the winery is whatcha got. Fun! If not a little unpredictable.

Oak barrels have also fallen victim to the natural-wine craze. This is not a bad thing; I’m happy to see the over-oaked pendulum swing in the other direction. Honestly, I loathe oakiness in wine, so the rise of alternative aging and fermenting vehicles is a happy sight. So, what is the new winemaker fermentation device du jour? Vessels like concrete eggs are ideal at fermenting without imparting flavor, and clay pots like ancient amphorae are used in an attempt to get back to our Roman winemaking roots. (I guess?)

Again: Purity and an honest, untainted expression of the wine is the goal—allowing the wine to be the master of its own fate and unveil its unique personality without a winemaker fingerprint. It’s actually a really exciting and profound thing, if you think about it—almost Daoist in its simplicity. But I have to wonder if the lack of winemaker intervention is creating a new kind of homogenized wine, where all the wines have a strange kind of kombucha-esque quality and really don’t offer that clean, terrior-driven sense of place that is sommelier cat nip. Has the pendulum swung too far in the other direction?

I clearly remember my first natural wine experience. I was at a Calistoga party house—an exquisite home owned by a wine family where nobody actually resides; its purpose is to host epic parties and have attendees crash out—with a dear friend who had a bottle of Cruse Wine Co. St. Laurent Petillant Naturel. I’m pretty sure it was the first time I’d had the St. Laurent grape, and I know it was the first time I had experienced a sparkling wine called petillant naturel, also known in its abbreviated form (natch) as pet nat. This little darling is quite simply a sparkling wine made in an ancient—or, as it’s called, “ancestral”—way by bottling still-fermenting juice, and sealing it with a crown cap (like a beer); this allows the carbon dioxide to continue to build and finish fermenting in the bottle. The result is a delicately sparkling wine that’s a little fuzzy-looking, but delicious as hell.

Wanna jump on the natural wine bandwagon? Elisabetta Foradori is always a go-to for me, as is anything made by Marcel Lapierre. If you want your mind blown, Josko Gravner is the Holy Grail. Domestically, you can find some unique versions by Donkey and Goat, and Tendu by Matthiasson is an awesome summer sipper.

Those millennials. They’re a pretty hip and thought-provoking group. Just maybe, they’re onto something.

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..

Wine is scary and intimidating. I get it; it has its own language full of science-y words. It comes from places we’ve never heard of, from grapes we can’t pronounce.

It doesn’t help, of course, that there is a whole fleet of wannabe wine experts just waiting to correct that word you mispronounced, or inform you that even though the wine you like is ”OK,” they like one that is, by far, better. And just how do they know that this wine of theirs is superior?

It got a huge score, naturally.

Before I proceed to rip apart the wine-scoring system that Americans cling to like cellophane-wrapped cheese, I want to point out that we have come a long way in our wine journey. Before wine became hip in this country, we were a Jack-and-Coke, Seven-and-Seven, cosmo-drinking culture. Wine was for snobs or elitists or Europeans. Nowadays, you’d be hard-pressed to go to any city and not find at least one wine bar. We no longer associate all pink wine with sweet swill, or turn our nose up at something foreign. Walk into any supermarket today, and you will find a highly developed wine section with multiple offerings spanning the globe—a far cry from the olden days of one wall of wine that featured domestic, cheap chardonnay and merlot. Well done, America!

So … why—with all this wine sophistication and savvy that consumers now have—do we still hold tight to stupid scores?

Every time someone tells me that wine XYZ got 98 points, or that Chateau Crème de la Crème got a disappointing 87, I start twitching, and my insides get hot. There are so many things about the point scale that bother me, but the No. 1 thorn in my side is the notion that I am supposed to care about that number. There is a pervasive idea that we should respect a system that reduces wine to nothing more than a high school science project graded by a potentially burnt-out expert who may or may not be distracted with thoughts of their long-overdue Hawaiian vacation.

Giving a wine a score—a hard and fast number to hang around its neck like a noose—does nothing positive for the wine industry. In fact, I will say it has been the greatest hindrance to our blossoming wine culture. It infantilizes our decision-making and hogties us from being able to discover what we like about certain wines. Take me, for example: I happen to love wines that are bracingly acidic. I want there to be so much raging acid in my wine that it stings my tongue and makes me wince a little. What if gave 100 points to every wine that resulted in a slight chemical burn? It seems silly for a professional to tout such a concept, but I assure you it is no different than Robert Parker awarding 100 points to wines that are too-concentrated, overly alcoholic, hyper-extracted fruit-bombs. The only benefit I’ve ever found in such ridiculousness is that if Parker gave it a big score, I knew I’d hate it. My wallet and I are very grateful for that, because the other pitfall is, of course, that as soon as a wine reaches Wine Spectator/Wine Advocate stardom, not only does that wine immediately sell out; you are guaranteed to see that wine double in price, if you ever see it again.

Points give consumers the false idea that there is such a thing as a “perfect” wine: 100 points awarded for being flawless! According to that guy. On that one day. And that guy’s palate on that day. By giving power to the points, we fail to acknowledge that wine is a moving target. It is a living thing affected by all kinds of variables, the most important of which is you. I actually feel sorry for wines that get 100 points; chances are, they will never achieve that status again, and thus, they’ll never be quite as good as they used to be. In that same vein, I feel pretty sorry for us consumers, too: We will constantly be subjected to a wine industry chasing those big scores and crafting wines to appeal to what that guy likes—row after row of wines like little Stepford wives that are perfectly bland and soulless.

I often wonder if the scores these wines get would change if the circumstances were different when the wines were tasted. Maybe that Central Coast syrah wouldn’t taste like 95 points with a plate of yellowtail sashimi. Just maybe, in that same scenario, the 87-point chenin blanc just got a little bit better? Points eliminate context. Are we always just drinking wine alone, without food, in a vacuum—or do you actually eat during the day? Just last night, I opened a bottle of Spanish cava with some friends as we downed a bucket of cheap fried chicken. It was glorious (seriously, one of the best pairings you’ll ever have), and the bubbles were exquisite. Would I have enjoyed it any less if the cava received an 82? Nope. And I find the very notion of my pleasure being dictated by a number irresponsible and more than just a little bit laughable.

“I give that donut a solid 91!”

“That massage was an 88 at best.”

“Your house is lovely, but there’s no pool, so you get an 83.”

Sounds ludicrous, right?

Scores will obviously continue to be used, and despite my ranting, I do understand why; I don’t agree with it, but I understand it. Scores act like little life vests to shoppers drowning in a sea of options. The idea is that scores help people paralyzed with the fear of buying the “wrong” wine. I’m here to tell you there is no such thing: No matter what the score is, you’ll always be faced with the unknown flavor in the bottle. Scores are not a guarantee that you’ll like the wine. They simply imply that someone likes the wine, and maybe you will, too.

I feel certain that you know your palate better than anyone else, and you probably know more about wine than you realize.

Trust yourself.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is currently studying with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. When she's not hitting the books, you can find her hosting private wine tastings and exploring the desert with her husband and two children. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

When I took my first sommelier exam 15 years ago (gasp!), it’s safe to say that most people didn’t know what a sommelier was. In fact, I once told someone I was a sommelier, and not being familiar with that word, he was convinced I was trying to tell him I was Somalian.

Fast-forward over the years, and we’ve seen the emergence of the foodie culture, the globalization of wine, and the idea of a sommelier going from obscurity to the mainstream. Hell, there’s even a movie that put this odd little profession of nerds in the Hollywood spotlight.

But even with sommeliers garnering more recognition and even a little notoriety, I can’t help but wonder if people really know what it is that we do. What does it mean to be a sommelier? Sometimes I think even people in our industry have forgotten what our purpose is.

For me, being a somm has always translated to wine education, and because I’ve made it my mission to get as many people drinking as much weird wine as possible, I always encourage questions at my tastings—and I get lots and lots of them. In my mind, they’re all valid (No, really!), because to me, there’s nothing worse than a self-proclaimed "wine expert" who won’t ask questions about what he doesn’t know, because he thinks he should already know. However, some questions are better than others. Dare I say … some are more intriguing than others?

At a recent wine dinner, I had the opportunity to answer one of my all-time-favorite questions. I was blabbing on and on about quality to value ratios, and seeking out great wines for the price, and finding "hidden gems" when I heard this:

So, do you think a wine like Screaming Eagle is worth its price?

I love these questions so much, because they really don’t have an answer. On one hand, yes, if you have the means and desire to spend $4,000 on a bottle of wine that you will probably never drink, because chances are, you’re looking at this as a collectible—much like someone buying a vintage car that they will never drive. It’s not about practicality or function; it’s about owning something very few people can lay claim to.

On the other hand … no way. The very idea is absurd, especially given that wine does, indeed, have a shelf life. The whole purpose of wine is enjoyment, and if you are purchasing a bottle of Screaming Eagle, and plan on pulling the cork and gleefully sipping it to your heart’s content, could it possibly bring you more joy than if the bottle cost you $400? Or $40? Many would argue … no.

But as far as a sommelier is concerned, the answer should be: “Who cares?” The truth is, wines like Screaming Eagle, Harlan and Opus One bore me. There is no denying they are exceptional; they are rare, perfectly crafted, shining examples of what Napa is capable of, and anyone who buys a bottle should expect nothing less. If you’re spending $500 on a bottle of California cabernet, there’s no crap-shoot involved: You can pat yourself on the back and rest assured the wine you’ve purchased will be stellar. If I recommend a bottle of Cliff Lede’s Poetry, Dalla Valle’s Maya or Shafer’s Hillside Select, have I really done my job … or do these wines just make my job easy?

I like to think that a sommelier’s purpose is to do what the consumer cannot: We are the flavor-finders, the value-hunters, and the detective of wine secrets. We know how to identify a great bottle of wine, from a great producer, who’s using quality fruit under strict confidentiality from a famous vineyard. Maybe it’s a wine from a region that’s up and coming. Maybe it’s a varietal that is making a comeback or fell into obscurity. Maybe it’s a side project from a famous winemaker who started a new label just for the fun it. Our job is to find the wine that’s $20, but drinks like it’s a $75 bottle. Our job is to find your perfect bottle of wine.

The beauty is: Those wines are everywhere!

The Fortnight cabernet, made by Napa legend Charles Hendricks, which we featured at our wine dinner at Cooking With Class, is a perfect example. Charles has made wine everywhere from Viader to Regusci, and now makes this fun side project in Calistoga with his friends at T-Vine. It’s labeled “California,” because from one year to the next, the fruit sources will be different. The varietal blend will be different. But the outcome is consistent: It’s a wine less than $20 that is downright delicious and a crowd-pleaser.

The Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti is the best wine deal going at Costco as of this writing. I have a case of this in my “cellar” at all times. This is one of the most notable producers in Piedmont, Italy, and this Barbera is juicy and ripe, with the perfect amount of acidity, body and fruit. This is the epitome of the Tuesday-night-with-homemade-spaghetti wine. Did I mention it’s $8.99 a bottle?

How about a deliciously drinkable pinot noir from Macedonia? I’m willing to bet you’ve never had a wine from Macedonia before. I recently grabbed a bottle of the Macedon pinot noir from Whole Foods and spent $15. I went home and drank it with some prosciutto and a triple-cream brie. ’Nuff said.

One more insider tip: If you want the best bang for your buck, make a beeline right for the Spanish wines. Spain really is a revelation in the world of wine these days. If you are a fan of the more classic European style, look for a Rioja. The ones from CVNE (pronounced COO-nay) will never disappoint you. If you like more fruit-forward, ripe and bold styles, à la California, the grenaches from Priorat or a lovely mencia from Bierzo are right up your alley. The Palacios family is my go-to for both regions! Are you looking for light and crisp refreshing wines for a warm evening? You can’t go wrong with a fresh, peachy albariño from the Rias Baixas (REE-ahs By-shas), or a zippy, citrusy rueda made from Verdelho. And don’t even get me started on sparkling wine. Remind me again why everyone is drinking Italian prosecco when Spanish cava is better AND cheaper?

Being a sommelier is all about the love of wine. We’re here so the consumer doesn’t get ripped off (ideally). We are matchmakers. We find the right wine for the right person. We save you time, money and the frustration of another disappointing bottle. We offer up wildly new and exciting bottles from grapes you didn’t even know existed. And we will happily give you your security-blanket bottle of cabernet.

I am lucky. I love what I do. Now, sit back, relax … and just trust me.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is currently studying with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. When she's not hitting the books, you can find her hosting private wine tastings and exploring the desert with her husband and two children. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

There are so many parties in the desert this time of year. A girl can hardly keep her calendar straight, with all the fundraisers, galas and soirees all around town.

However, there is one fabulous party that, for obvious reasons, I have never been to—the White Party Weekend. Celebrities, sunshine, world-class DJs and gorgeous men splashing around in a pool … and I don’t feel invited. It all sounds like a helluva good time to me, but seeing as how I’m not exactly the attendees’ “type,” I miss out on all this fun. So, in honor of the thousands of men who descend into the valley to forget about their troubles for a glorious weekend, I, too, have decided to throw my own White Party—a White Wine Party, that is.

I feel as though the timing of this party is impeccable: The days are getting longer; the weather is warming up; and those beautiful desert sunsets and casual patio dinners just beg for a cool glass of something light and bright.

I’ve noticed a trend around town that has me a little perplexed: As of late, at every wine event I’ve worked or attended as a guest, more and more people are telling me they don’t drink white. As much as I could roll my eyes at a statement like that, I kinda get it. For years, California chardonnay was all about being fat and ripe, with mushy baby-food flavors and loads of caramel and butter. New Zealand sauvignon blanc was practically GERD-inducing, with its tart and bitter flavors of grapefruit and grass. If these are the only wines people are drinking, and perhaps the only wines available at their favorite restaurants, then they’re bound to think that’s what all white wine tastes like. This where I come in. (Cue the sommelier superhero, with cape flapping in the wind.)

The guest list to my not-so-exclusive White Wine Party features a roundup of all my favorite international wine darlings. I plan on surrounding myself with a bevy of beautiful bottles, dripping in beads of ice-bucket condensation. In case you’re wondering which wines are invited to this extravaganza, allow me to introduce you to the greatest wines you’re not drinking.

Portuguese vinho verde is my absolute favorite day-drinking, warm-weather sipper. Slightly sparkling with a tangy zip of key lime and lemon peel, and an alcohol by volume of around 9 percent, you can literally drink this all day. By the pool. Nude. So I’ve heard.

South Africa is my all-time-favorite wine-producing region, so I would be remiss if I failed to include a bottle of their delicious chenin blanc. Also known as Steen, these wines more often than not feature bright-green apple and grapefruit notes with a hint of grassiness. But a word to the wise: These wines can be chameleons, and some are made in an off-dry to full-blown-sweet dessert style. Those chenins are not invited to this particular party.

If you like bold and robust malbec from Argentina, you’ll adore the country’s signature white varietal, torrontes. This wine tastes like sauvignon blanc and viognier’s love child. It’s a perfect balance between peaches and lemons and roses and honeysuckle, and goes down as easy as your favorite box of Girl Scout cookies.

Albariño is just downright delectable, and its sole purpose in life is to provide you with happiness. Its other purpose in life is to help me wash down a big bowl of delicious ceviche. One of the most aromatic wines on the guest list—and God’s gift to seafood—this little Spanish gem is bursting with orange blossoms, honeydew melon and just a touch of saltiness.

Finally, enter the Grande Dame of all white wine—Chablis. This is not to be confused with the gigantic jug of Carlo Rossi on the bottom shelf at the store, because Chablis is not a grape; it’s a place. And this place in the northern climes of Burgundy is solely dedicated to making the best chardonnay in the world. This, my friends, is pure sophistication and elegance in a glass. This is the chardonnay for everyone who thinks they hate chardonnay. Lean and razor-sharp, these wines are all about pears, limestone, white flowers and passionfruit, with no butter, mushy fruit and caramel to be seen. These wines are like Grace Kelly: beautiful, rich and a class act.

Don’t forget to extend an invite to Sancerre, txakolina (Chalk-o-LEENA), assyrtiko (Ah-SEAR-tee-ko) and the countless other alabaster beauties: There is a glorious world of white wine out there, and your new favorite wine is waiting for you. Go get it.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is currently studying with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. When she's not hitting the books, you can find her hosting private wine tastings and exploring the desert with her husband and two children. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Sophisticated and balanced with a hint of pretension.

Elegant and silky with a feminine nuance reminiscent of the Old West.

Forward and brazen with a left hook that will leave you speechless.

Seriously? What does this mean?

As an avid “reviewer” of wines—which, let’s be honest, means I get to drink for a living—I can’t help but wonder if people are perplexed by this verbiage. Don’t get me wrong—I love it, but it must confuse the hell out folks: Am I supposed to like the wine that tastes like animal dander warmed by rays of Italian sunshine?

I look at it this way: Wine is a lot like art and music. It is plagued by critics trying to one-up each other in describing tangible items in a way that sounds human and mysterious.

I’m guilty of this, too. I’ve been known to describe certain Napa cabernets as “teenagers at prom ready to give it up on the first date.” It’s not exactly the most tactful way to describe a wine, I know, but it is a more captivating description than simply stating the wine is bold, audacious and very forward.

For years, merlot was described as an iron fist in a velvet glove. My favorite wine geek, writer and importer, the great Terry Theise, once described an obscure little grape called scherube as being riesling’s evil, horny twin. If that doesn’t make you wanna rush out and get your hands on a bottle, nothing will.

Words like fleshy, sexy, demure and even slutty are a wine writer’s way of reinventing the wheel and keeping it interesting. Who wants to read the same old descriptors of New Zealand sauvignon blanc over and over? Gooseberry, cat pee, fresh grass, blah, blah, blah. How many times can one read (or write) about caramel, butterscotch and toasted oak? The flavor profiles haven’t changed; the times have.

But what does it mean when a wine is sexy? How does wine dance across your palate? What does riesling’s evil, horny twin taste like?! It could be so hard to interpret descriptions that have nothing to do with wine … and yet somehow, I know exactly what they mean. How would you describe an apple? Would you say it was crisp and tart with a little sweetness on the finish? Or would you say it was sassy and flirty with a voluptuous side? Are they one in the same?

I am often told by people frustrated with nouveau wine culture that they don’t know how to “talk wine.” They can’t relate. The truth is, you should be able to describe wine however you please—as obscure and abstract as that may be.

There is no secret to knowing how to thoughtfully describe a wine. All one needs to do is pay attention and slow down while enjoying wine. That said, I’m never going to tell you not to slug your favorite vino with reckless abandon, cuz’ that’s fun! But if you want to really understand the flavors in your wine, you need to be present while drinking. At my guided tastings, I always tell people to trust their palate. If you tell me this wine tastes just like your grandma’s strawberry rhubarb pie, I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong. If you want to tell me a particular wine reminds you of a cat ’o nine tails, go ahead … but I might start to panic that I’ve been roofied.

However, if you are a fan of the more technical lingo and want to have a conversation about wine that’s fairly universal, there are really only a few terms you need in your arsenal:

• Dry: This refers to the sweetness or, more importantly, the lack thereof, in the wine.

• Tannic: Tannins are astringent and slightly bitter. Think of the sensation in your mouth when you sip a tea that’s steeped too long. An overly tannic wine will feel like you just swallowed 36-grit sandpaper.

• Fruity: Not to be confused with sweet, a wine’s fruitiness is determined by its, well, fruity aromas. Whether it’s lemons and pears or blackberries and figs, or jammy and ripe, or fresh-picked and bright, a fruity wine will taste like fruit. See how easy this is?

• Acidity: Commonly confused with tannins, acid is that tingle on your tongue that will make your mouth water. Acid in wine is basically sommelier crack.

• Minerality: Ever heard someone say their wine smells like wet stones and chalk? Maybe they’re drinking a delicious chablis. Minerality is one of the non-fruit components to wine and is present in wines from certain places.

• Earthy: One of the other non-fruit descriptors. Earthy encompasses the aromas of mushrooms, tobacco and leather. Some wine professionals will use the term forest floor, soil or dust to describe earthy wines, but those are just fancy words for dirt.

• Herbaceous: That grassy sauvignon blanc and that cabernet franc that smell like chili peppers are considered herbaceous wines—and these are positive attributes. That vegetal wine that smells like canned green beans = bad. Got it?

I’ve made it my mission to make wine less confusing, more approachable and easier to understand. Does that mean what I say, then, has to be boring or predictable? I think we can swing both ways. (Pardon the pun.) Nothing says we can’t get frisky with our descriptors as long as we can back it up with something quantifiable. A bra stuffed with toilet paper will be discovered eventually.

While I’m on the subject, you should know that as I write, I’m sipping a delightful Barbera d’Asti that is as firm and defined as a shirtless Christian Grey, with a round and soft Kim Kardashian finish. Know what I mean?

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is currently studying with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. When she's not hitting the books, you can find her hosting private wine tastings and exploring the desert with her husband and two children. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Nothing says “let’s have a party and make some bad decisions” like a bottle of bubbly. There is a reason it’s the No. 1 beverage of choice when you want to celebrate a victory, christen your new yacht or get laid. Simply put: Bubbles are fun and can instantly turn an average Tuesday night into something special.

Wanting to share all the special fun of bubbly with my friends, I broke out my most coveted bottle for a toast to ring in the New Year. Imagine my shock and sadness when the glorious bottle of aged, grower Champagne was collectively poo-pooed: I was told it tasted like cheese and bread. I didn’t fully understand that those descriptors were a bad thing until I looked at one person across the table who had scrunched up their nose and let out a pitiful “eww.” Instead, my New Year’s comrades gleefully drank, and raved about, some bottle of beer that supposedly tastes like peanut butter and jelly. I took their word for it.

That night, I realized two things: I did not have to share my bottle of Champers with anyone (yay!); and these people have never had real Champagne. This is, of course, no fault of their own. Between the weird almond crap they give you at the polo matches, the cheap shit you get at Sunday brunch, and the endless amounts of Prosecco everywhere, it isn’t any surprise that the real deal was an assault on their senses.

So, with Valentine’s Day right around the corner—and all the hot tub- and Champagne-induced hanky-panky that comes with it—this is a good time to let you know what your options are. Perhaps I can spare you from ending up with a funky, cheesy bottle of eww.

If you’re new to the world of sparkling wine, or you just want to stay up to date with what the rappers are drinking, here is some serious insider info. First and foremost: Not all sparkling wine is created equal. There are several different grapes that are used, and several different methods of creating carbonation. I won’t bore you with all the technical specs, but there is one little nugget of information that is crucial to being savvy about bubbles: Champagne is a place. Prosecco is a place. Franciacorta is a place. Cava, Crémant and Pétillant-naturel are styles. Calling all sparkling wine Champagne is like calling all cars Bentleys, or referring to all vineyards as Napa. It simply isn’t the case. Luckily, navigating the sparkling waters can be fairly easy.

Cava is the wine God’s gift to bubbles on a budget. This little gem hails from Spain and is made in the same time-consuming way Champagne is (known as Méthode Traditionnelle), but with a Korbel price tag. Trust me when I tell you this is the best bang for your buck out there. Look around town for a beautiful bottle called The Lady of Spain by Paul Cheneau, and you’ll start looking for any excuse to celebrate.

Prosecco has one job: to make your brunch more fabulous. Never was there a better mate for orange juice, or any juice, for that matter. Just a touch sweet, Prosecco is the OG sparkling wine in the famous peach Bellini cocktail, because Italians know this cheap and cheerful offering shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Are there quality examples of Prosecco out there? Sure, but they are becoming harder and harder to find among the sea of mass-produced cases in the supermarket. Keep this value-driven option for your morning buzz.

However, if you are looking for some praise-worthy bubbles from Italy, look no further than Franciacorta. This is Italy’s version of Champagne, and it’s every bit as sophisticated and elegant as its French counterpart. There just happens to be some of this beautiful fizz at Desert Wine Shop on Highway 111. Grab it; chill it; and send me a thank-you note.

Here in the good ol’ U.S. of A., we are no slouch in the sparkling wine department—if you know where to look. Sure, we put out our fair share of garbage, but we also have some shining examples that will rival the best bubbles out there. The Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs (which means it’s made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes) is still one of the best bottles on the market. If you’re looking for something a little off the beaten path, I am absolutely in love with Gruet (pronounced grew-ā). The sparkling rosé is 100 percent pinot noir and comes from New Mexico. It’s around $15 a bottle, so be prepared to have your socks knocked off.

Do you have hipster friends visiting from L.A. that you desperately want to impress? Grab a bottle of Pétillant-naturel (or, as the kids say, Pét-nat); pop off that crown cap; and get ready to taste the wine equivalent of kombucha. These wines can be made anywhere, with any grape, and are usually unfiltered and foggier than San Francisco in July.

One of the biggest buzz words in the world of Champagne is the term “grower.” It’s what all the cool kids are drinking. What does this mean, you ask? Well, in short, it means that the wine is produced by the same people who own the vineyards. This is somewhat of a rarity in Champagne, because for years, it was easier and more profitable for these little family-owned operations to sell their grapes to the big Champagne corporations (think Veuve Clicquot, Moet, Roederer, etc.) than make, bottle, label and market the fruits of their own labor. Thanks to innovative importers who want to show what these little families can do, we now have the awesome ability to taste Champagne from tiny parcels of land, created by the same people who lovingly tend to the vines all year. Pretty cool, right?! One of my favorite examples is called Champagne Coquillette, which I happily found at Whole Foods in Palm Desert. Other personal favs include Gaston Chiquet and Vilmart et Cie. If you’re on a tighter budget but still want the French stuff, look for a Crémant d’Alsace like the Lucien Albrecht. The label looks like Cristal, but your card won’t get cut up at the register. Winning!

These are all easy-drinking, light and refreshing examples of sparkling wine that will never elicit an “eww” or a scrunched nose—I promise. Now go grab a bottle of fizzy bubbly, and do something naughty.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is currently studying with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. When she's not hitting the books, you can find her hosting private wine tastings and exploring the desert with her husband and two children. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

At long last, the desert’s al fresco season has arrived.

What better way is there to end an exhausting day of NASCAR-style evasive driving down Highway 111 than by relaxing on your favorite restaurant patio? This is where you’ll find me any given early evening. I’ll be pretty easy to spot: Just look for the gal sipping a full-bodied red with an ice cube floating in it.

Say what?! Ice in red wine? That’s right; you heard me. Before you clutch your pearls and recoil in horror, allow me to demystify this greatest of all wine crimes.

Several years back, I was sitting in a restaurant and having lunch with a notable winemaker. In the middle of a sentence, he casually picked up his fork, fished out an ice cube from his water glass, and plinked it into his glass of red wine. The look on my face must have resembled that of a child who just found out there was no Santa. What did he just do?! Is this OK?! Will we be asked to leave and dare not show our faces in here again?!

He simply smiled at me and said: “I don’t like warm wine.”

It was a revelation. As a sommelier, I had always known that it was perfectly acceptable to chill down a bottle of red, and I never flinched from asking for an ice bucket regardless of the reaction from the server. But if this guy—respected and revered in his position in the wine world—felt no shame about a cube or two floating in his cabernet, then who am I to say otherwise?

I think it’s safe to say we’ve all been there—sitting in a bar or restaurant, ordering a glass of wine, and watching the bartender grab the bottle sitting on the counter next to the steaming espresso machine. You know that you’re about to endure a wine that’s an ambient 80 degrees (or higher if it’s in August). Let me assure you—this is not what “room temperature” was ever supposed to mean. Once upon a time, in a land far, far, away, “room temperature” was actually referred to as “cellar temperature,” and when a bottle of wine was desired to accompany the evening meal, one had to venture into the deep, dark, cold subterranean level of the castle where temperatures would hover around 50 degrees. Those are not exactly the same conditions as my hall closet, where some of my wine lives. But then again, I don’t have a castle—or a subterranean level, for that matter.

The truth is, we Americans notoriously drink our white wine too cold, and our red wine too warm. Living in the desert where temperatures often hover between 100 degrees and the blazing inferno that is hell, the “too cold” part is almost forgivable. I've long said that I'd rather have my wines too cold than too warm, as it's much easier, certainly ’round these parts, to go up in temperature than down. That said, there should only be a 10-degree difference between white wine and red wine: Your whites should be between 50 and 55 degrees (rosé and Champagne are a couple of exceptions), while the reds should be around 65 degrees. 

I know this may come as a shock to some people who hold tight to the “room temperature” concept as gospel and shudder at the very idea of plinking a cube into their wine. I honestly think folks are so afraid of looking like a wine novice—knowing that putting ice in your wine is considered very déclassé—that they’ve convinced themselves that drinking warm wine is OK. The fact is, when a wine is too warm, every flaw is exacerbated. The wine begins to live under a microscope, and each sip can be a painful reminder of a bad year, an unskilled winemaker, or just cheap crap. (If you’ve ever ordered a nondescript “house wine,” then you know exactly what I’m talking about.) In this case, an ice cube or two are your best friend, because when a wine is too cold, the flavors are muted, and the aromas are all but silenced. This is not necessarily a bad thing when the wine is marginally palatable. Conversely, if you’ve ever had a white wine that didn’t taste like much initially, only to have it develop into a delicious and delightful explosion of aromas, it probably just needed to warm up a bit.

Now, I’m not suggesting that you put ice in a glass of ’82 Lafite or a Grand Cru Montrachet. That would be a crime punishable by terminal sobriety. But if you’re imbibing benchmark, world-class wines, they’d damn well better be served at a proper temperature. Furthermore, any restaurant worth its salt is going to make sure the wines being presented are stored correctly at the ideal temperature—or at least pretty close to it.

If you get anything out of this article, let it be this: If you come face-to-face with a lukewarm rose, a tepid sauvignon blanc or a downright-sweltering malbec, don’t hesitate to reach for the ice. Is it going to water the wine down? Oh, probably. Will it interfere with the wine’s texture, aromas and delicate nuances? Sure it is. My point: That might not be such a terrible thing. Yes, manipulating the temperature of the bottle is most certainly the preferable method, but we don’t always have that option.

If you need further validation, even the great, venerable British wine-writing legend Jancis Robinson said she has been known to pop a few ice cubes into her glass from time to time—because no one should drink warm wine.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is currently studying with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. When she's not hitting the books, you can find her hosting private wine tastings and exploring the desert with her husband and two children. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The holidays are here, and every publication across the country is offering up advice on the perfect wines to serve for Thanksgiving and beyond.

These articles all suggest there is some skeleton-key wine out there that magically and universally pairs with everything on the table, somehow unlocking the doors to flavor bliss. This is a lie. Take it from me: There is no one wine in existence that will perfectly pair with candied sweet potatoes, tart cranberry sauce, oyster stuffing, green beans, a honey-glazed ham and your 20-pound overcooked turkey. Anyone who tells you otherwise has no idea what they’re talking about.

Let’s face it … the holidays can be rough. It’s incredibly stressful to host a dinner party for a throng of people, let alone the singularly most hyped meal of the year. Adding to that, the Thanksgiving guest list can be downright cringe-worthy: in-laws, a crabby grandpa, an overbearing and hypercritical mother, the inappropriate aunt who will probably make someone cry, and so on. These people the very reason wine is present at these dinners in the first place—but now we now have to worry that the grenache we chose won’t properly accentuate the delicate mushroom flavors in the gravy? Growing up, the only thing I remember anyone fretting about was the bird. So, when did we start agonizing over wine pairings? My main advice: Stop agonizing. Unless that obnoxious cousin who crushes beer cans on his forehead also happens to be a master sommelier, I’m here to tell you: As long as the wine you serve has alcohol in it, you’re doing just fine.

All that being said, I’m constantly asked what wines I’m pouring for the holidays, and I’m happy to tell you about my wine list.

I open up a lot of different bottles on Thanksgiving and would never commit to a case of anything. Much like the dinner itself, with its countless side dishes that make absolutely no sense, Thanksgiving is the perfect opportunity to procure myriad wines that normally would never be seen next to each other on the same dinner table. The bonus is, of course, that there’s bound to be something there that will please your snarky aunt.

I braved the nonsensical aisles of Total Wine and More to give you a one-stop wine shopping experience. All the wines mentioned heretofore can be found in the Palm Desert mega store. Pack a snack; you might be there a while.

First on my list is a sparkling wine—and there is no need to drop a paycheck on a good bottle if you’re in the know. My go-to this season is a fabulous little gem called Gruet. It’s produced in New Mexico (that’s right … New Mexico!) by a darling French family that’s been producing bubbles in Champagne since the 1950s. The Gruet brut is an astonishing value and will impress the snobbiest of wine nerds.

Next up are wines no one will be able to pronounce. This is always fun at a dinner party. My favorites are an Austrian gruner veltliner like the Winzer Krems gruner veltliner kremser sandgrube and the dry domestic Husch gewurztraminer. Both are lively and expressive and relatively low in alcohol, so you can keep your wits about you while sitting across from your mother-in-law all night.

As for the reds, let’s start with what I won’t serve: Zinfandel is always on my no-no list. So many are around 16 percent alcohol, and we all know that Thanksgiving is about endurance drinking. Plus, here in the desert, we very well may have a god-forsaken heat spike that day, and after heat plus a boozy wine mixed with all the tryptophan in the turkey, you might slip into a coma and not be heard from in days. So, no zinfandel. I will be picking up some cru beaujolais this year. Not beaujolais nouveau—cru beaujolais. I found a delicious Domaine des Maisons Neuves from Moulin-a-Vent that is every bit as food-friendly as your beloved pinot noir, but not nearly as wallet-draining. Plus, it’s meant to be chilled down, which will help you deal with the blazing heat from the ovens and burners going simultaneously in your kitchen.

Merlot will be front and center on my bar, haters be damned. It’s velvety and rich with loads of fruit and just the right amount of vibrant acidity. After revisiting the Frogs Leap Merlot, I can’t for the life of me figure out why everyone abandoned this beautiful little grape. C’mon people: Sideways was 13 years ago. Let’s move on.

The rest of the wines I’ll serve are fun favorites that I enjoy year-round—chenin blanc from South Africa, and a Cotes du Rhone rouge which is a delightful blend of grenache, syrah, mourvedre, et al. I’ll have some Oregon pinot noir, and maybe a wacky Greek wine or two.

The point is I’m going to drink what I want without a single thought about the perfect pairing. The holidays are all about indulging and gastronomic hedonism, so have fun; be safe; and drink whatever you damn well please.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with more than 15 years in the wine industry. She is a member of the Society of Wine Educators and is currently studying with the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. When she's not hitting the books, you can find her hosting private wine tastings and exploring the desert with her husband and two children. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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