Wine Tips                                                                                                                                                                  
Where I buy wine:  Living in the Triangle in North Carolina, I buy wine at local outlets in Chapel Hill, Durham and Raleigh. Wines for my wine classes at Duke (see BE's Bio) come primarily from A Southern Season in Chapel Hill and The Wine Merchant in Raleigh, and Chapel Hill Wine Shop. I also like its sister store, Hillsborough Wine Shop (good, friendly service at both!) as well as Whole Foods and the bold new concept retail wine at Durham's new wine shop, Wine Authorities, also in Raleigh. Also fun to browse the wine-stuffed aisles at Total Wine, which boasts the broadest selection in the area.
Books for the Wine Lover -- reading about wine can be as delightful as drinking it (especially with a glass in hand!).

Hotbox! by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, Henry Holt, 2019.  Foodies will love the inside dope on the dark (well, difficult anyway) side of catering--especially the glam ones: 1200 at the Met Museum gala, lamb shanks for 800, cook-outs on Hamptons beaches and a slew of others. However do America's famous chefs do it?  The Lee brothers, culinary insiders, and have fascinating stories to tell. Food is the focus, but wine figures in here and there. A very fun read!

In Search of Good Wine, by John Hailman.  A delightful book for wine lovers to browse. Hailman, author of the outstanding  volume, Thomas Jefferson on Wine, has compiled his writings on wine over a thirty-year period, effectively presenting chronicles of contemporary wine drinking in the U.S. Entertaining as well as informative--a genuine pleasure to dip into for slices of the global wine scene in recent decades.

The World Atlas of Wine, by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson. If there is a single wine book that illustrates the wide world of wine on Planet Earth, it is this one by Britain's most esteemed wine experts. No wine library should be without the latest revise, which provides a detailed and in-depth look at the most important wine regions and their leading vineyards, as well as exciting new frontiers around the globe--sometimes in surprising places. If you are a winelover, you will go to it again and again--an indispensable reference.

Beyond Jefferson's Vines, The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia, by Richard G. Leahy.  A compact history of  winegrowing in Virginia, with profiles of  appellations and leading wineries of the Old Dominion. If you're curious about Virginia's explosive growth over the last two decades--from a handful of wineries in the 1980s to more than 200 today, Leahy's volume will bring you up to date.

Wine List Tips

Wine lists:  I’ve noticed here and there that some include wine ratings in their brief descriptions—the notion being, one supposes, that this offers a clue to quality. Maybe. But it’s not always a good guide for choosing wine with your steak.  A Cabernet or Bordeaux with the exalted rating of 95 (often very pricey) is seldom ready to drink. It’s young, loaded with tannin vying with ripe fruit and a dose of new oak. Your first sip may be impressive in its thrust of fruit but after that the muscle takes over—tannin, alcohol and oak assert themselves and hammer the palate like a sledge, overwhelming the food. It will take time for all those components to meld together in harmony.
A better bet:  a less expensive Cabernet might be more supple and pleasurable to drink. Or see B.E.'s Best Buys
Alternatives: chat with the sommelier or wine server about how drinkable the wine is at the moment; ask if there are other reds she/he would recommend. 


Will legalized cannabis threaten wine-drinking...and thus the future of wine???
         Check out Brit wine writer Andrew Jeffords' view at:   
         What do you think?  Let me know


Hangover Help  I haven't had a hangover in decades, so I can't remember what it felt it like--just bad enough that I never wanted one again.  A newly developed product called Forgiven ( contains a "recovery shot" of nutrients and minerals to help metabolize alcohol. It comes in various flavors, so if you've imbibed in excess......check it out. It works.
The best remedy is prevention--don't overdo it, or at least do spacers over the course of the evening--drink a lot of water, sparkling or still...and check this link for more hints:

Remove Wine Stains

FOUND:   Finally, a sure-fire way to remove red wine stains.  A new spray product called "Wine Off"  (apt, no?) really does remove those red wine spills on table linens and clothes.  Bio-Pro Research LLC, a tech company in North Carolina, created the spray bottle that contains fast-working enzymes that litterally make the stains disappear within minutes. Permanently.  Anybody who drinks red wine knows that spills are inevitable, and can be very pesky to remove.  I've used it with success several times now and am so pleased  to find something that actually works thoroughly.
A boon for winelovers!  And a must-have product. Great for travel.  Available at some wine shops. See also the website:


Got a question about matching food and wine--or any aspect of wine, in fact--email queries to:

Sautéed mushrooms and...buttery Chardonnay:  Sautéeing mushrooms--especially the flavory ones like shitake, maitake, criminis or portobellos--in butter or oil brings out the succulence of these fungi, and it matches up extremely well with oaky (not over-oaked) Chardonnay. Wonderful over pasta, with shavings of parmesan, or chicken breast or fish such as halibut, chunks of grouper, as well as shrimp and sea scallops.  Your wine merchant can recommend nicely oaked Chardonnays.  

Grilled sausages and juicy reds or...  Whole Foods selection of toothsome sausages are terrific grilled. I have them often--over pasta or pilaf or with mustard potato salad--lamb and feta, chicken and roast red pepper. There's a nifty range to savor. With them I like juicy reds, the likes of Rioja crianzas or Jumilla, chilled Beaujolais-Villages, Dolcetto, or a good but not-too-heavy Shiraz. Or, in warmer weather I'll choose one of the fresh, young, tasty dry rosés now streaming onto the market for summer--look for young ones (a year or two old, max) from the south of France, the Rhône, Italy, Argentina, California.

Wine Glasses:  Not to be a snob about it--I often drink wine, reds mostly, in short tumblers; thin glass rather than thick, of course--wine tastes better in thin.  Glasses are important, however, especially for fine wine.  The master glassmaker is Austria's Riedel, a centuries old firm that has perfected the correlation of glass shape to type of wine, and produced a stellar glass for each. Numerous taste tests have proven the difference a glass makes, many of which I have participated in. Riedel glasses are exquisite and expensive, definitely worth having if you can afford it. Stores and shops like The Wine Merchant in Raleigh regularly have comparison tastings, and offer specials from time to time.
     Other glassmakers have taken note and come up with some very good designs. At the January S.F. Chronicle tasting in Sonoma, all of the glasses used for tasting blind were Schott Zwiesel's new Forte line -- lead-free titanium glasses that are thin and elegant but definitely dishwasher-safe, since the thousands of glasses used for the wine competition were washed and re-washed and seemed to come through fine. General price range for the Bordeaux, Burgundy or Chardonnay Forte glasses is around $55 for boxes of 6.


Many light red wines, such as Beaujolais, Bardolino, and lighter Pinot Noirs are often more appealing served on the cool side--especially in the heat of summer. I also cool down the lighter red Zinfandels and inexpensive Merlots--as long as they're fruity and not tannic (chilled tannin tastes bitter). Thirty to forty-five or so minutes in the fridge will do it.

A quick way to soften stiff young reds that are a bit tannic is to pour them into a carafe--with flourish if you can manage it so they'll mix with a lot of air and open up faster.  You can either decant them back into the bottle (young reds won't have thrown sediment) or leave them in the new vessel and pour from there.  It works great for young Cabernets, Syrahs, Zinfandels, though it's no substitute for aging with serious reds that need ten years or more to mature.

Another reason to decant is with older red wines that have "thrown" sediment as they mature.  Any red that is 10 years or older may have sediment. Vintage Port definitely will!  The day before you plan to serve it, stand it upright so the sediments can sink to the bottom of the bottle. Shortly before serving, carefully uncork the wine trying not to disturb the sediment. Using a lighted candle or a flashlight as light source, pour the wine into a decanter or carafe with the light source under the neck of the bottle. Pour in one continuous stream until you see the dark line of sediment move into the neck of the bottle; stop pouring immediately.  Swish the wine around in the decanter to aerate it further and serve.

People in my wine classes know my first recommendation for cheese to serve with wine:   goat cheese, chèvre in French. Goat cheese shows off just about any wine--whites (especially sauvignon blanc or fumé blanc), reds (especially Rhône varietals and Pinot Noir), dry rosés, even Ports such as Cockburn's Reserve or the Late Bottled Vintage Ports on the market now, though Stilton is still the prime choice for Vintage Port and a nutty hard cheese for Tawny, or perhaps a creamy blue.

>>> And thanks to Lars Hoiby of Oslo for reminding me about the glories of Roquefort, genuine French Roquefort with its creamy texture and salty intensity, and Sauternes, the powerful late-harvest white wine from Bordeaux.  Sauternes's  intense honeyed apricot flavors are the perfect foil for the unique French cheese. 

Got a question about matching food and wine--or any aspect of wine, in fact--email queries to:


from Metro Magazine 

Cork Report: Start Your Own Wine Cellar

By Barbara Ensrud


I hear the comment these days that people don’t have the patience to lay down wines and allow them to age. Really? Then why do so many new houses create space for wine storage — sometimes quite large? Why are wine storage/cooling units selling like hotcakes? Actually, I think the whole concept of buying wine is changing as people are discovering the advantages of having their own wine cellar.

“Cellar” probably isn’t precisely the correct term. I had a cellar in my last house, in the basement built into a hill where temperatures were cool and steady year-round. Ideal, or pretty close. The house I’m in now doesn’t have a basement, so I built a well-insulated wine room in the back of my garage, cooled by a small air conditioner in summer and a thermostat heater for temperature drops below about 53 degrees. While many houses don’t have basements, “wine cellar” has become a symbolic term for any collection of wine, however large or small — it’s a convenient term, so that is how we’ll use it here.

Reasons To Start a Wine Cellar

Convenience. How nice to be able to walk a few steps and choose wine for dinner instead of always having to make a special stop by the wine store. And not have to worry about running short. How convenient to have wine on hand for spontaneous occasions — if friends drop by, for instance, or the notion strikes to whip up a special dinner and make an evening of it on the spur of the moment.
. It seems expensive to start a cellar at first, but it will save money in the long run. When you buy by the case, there are discounts anywhere from 10 to 15 percent — that’s like getting a bottle free. Buying more than what you need for a single evening allows you to take advantage of wines that are on special. Often, when you go back for more, they may be sold out.
Investment. Fine wines, especially reds, appreciate in value as they mature. Good Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignons, Meritage blends invariably improve with age and become more enjoyable to drink. Prices are lower when they first come out, but exceptional recent vintages —  2009, 2010, 2015 for red Bordeaux — usually increase in value. Château Mouton-Rothschild 2003 cost around $185 a bottle on the first offer; buy it today and you’ll pay over $500. Lesser wines, lesser vintages, of course, won’t increase that dramatically; better ones, however, such as 2010 and the recent blockbuster 2015, will most definitely.
Fun & Pleasure
… they’ll taste better with age! Given the chance to evolve in bottle, most reds develop more interesting aromas and flavors and become smoother in texture. Some white wines will also (well-balanced Chardonnay or White Bur­gundy, Alsace Riesling). It’s fun to browse through your accumulation, discover wines you forgot you bought, check up on what’s ready to drink ... and pull out something special and delicious for dinner tonight.  See B.E's Discoveries

Getting Started
First you need a cool, quiet storage spot, away from light and vibration (definitely not atop the fridge!). If you don’t have a real cellar, the back of a closet or a cool corner can serve. Though the ideal temperature for storing wine is 53 to 57 or 60 degrees, they’ll do OK at 65 to 70 degrees as long as the temperature is stable and doesn’t fluctuate above that--not recommended for fine wines or aging longer than 5 years.

Then, start buying. Browse a few shops, see what’s out there in terms of specials — and taste when you can. Most of our wine shops have weekly tastings, many are free, so take advantage of them to see what you like … and don’t like.

Caveat. There’s a trick to getting started: Make sure you always have wines for current drinking, so you won’t be tempted to dip into bottles that will get better if you can keep your mitts off them.

The Three-Tiered Cellar: $250, $500, $1000 +

Determine an amount you want to spend to get started, but whatever it is, divide it into three parts:

1. Wines to drink now. Depending on the amount you buy, this should make up a sizeable chunk of the whole. If it’s a single case, at least six bottles for current drinking — which you replenish as soon as you’re down to three. This is vital if you want to leave the ageworthy wines alone.-

2. Wines to age two to four years from when you buy them — three bottles or a case.

3. Wines that need five to 10 years minimum to be at their best — three bottles or a case.

Ramp up the quantities if you are spending more — one case for drinking, a mixed case of wines to age two to four years, and five to 10 years.

4. Replenish the stocks you deplete. If you do, you’ll be surprised at the nice little cache you will accumulate over time. Collecting wine can be addictive but an awful lot of fun, and you receive the satisfaction of drinking wines that improve with time (check out my Web site:

Working with a wine merchant you trust can be a big help. Some, such as Dur­ham’s Wine Authorities, even keep track of purchases you make, with notes on the wines so you know the styles and types of wine you liked.

Here are some suggestions for stocking up. We’ll revisit the subject from time to time, with cellaring recommendations at the various levels. Check out wine auctions such as, Hart Davis Hart and others, especially if you're looking for more mature wines in older vintages no longer on the market.

Current drinking: Choose a variety of whites, dry pinks and reds that drink well now. Inexpensive whites are best when young and fresh, so buy only what you will drink in a month or two. Reds: one to three years old:   Beaujolais;  Dolcetto and Chi­anti, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo; Aus­tral­ian Shiraz, such as Stump Jump, Penfolds Bin 28; Côtes-du-Rhône;  Spanish Rioja Crianza, Monastrell, Jumilla; Latin American reds: Malbecs from Alamos, Maipe, Terrazas, Trapiche; Merlot, Syrah and Cabernets from Chile: Cousiño Macul, Los Vascos, Veramonte. Replenish often.

Age two to four years, $18-$28: California Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Rosso di Montalcino, Chi­anti Riserva, Rioja Reserva, Ribero del Duero; Aussie Shiraz, such as Pikes, Tal­tarni, Torbreck, Kilikanoon Oracle, Penfolds Bin 389; Gigondas, Minervois, Faugères, Corbières from the south of France; Pinot Noirs, $18 to $28, such as Au Bon Climat, Santa Barbara Winery, Ramsay, Rodney Strong, Russian Hill, Wild Horse; red Burgundies from Givry, Mercurey, Côtes de Beaune-Villages; Portuguese estate reds such as Prazo de Roriz, Vale do Bonfim

Age five to 10 years or more: Red Bordeaux from 2012, 2015, 2016  especially grand cru Saint-Emilion, which are good values; California Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah, $35 and up; Brunello di Montalcino, Super Tuscans, Barolos; Spain: Pesquera, Ri­bera del Duero, Rioja Reserva, Priorat.

Other: It’s always nice to have a bottle of two of Champagne or sparkling wine on hand; also a good wood-aged Port, such as Fonseca Bin 27, Croft Distinction, Cock­­burn Special Reserve or perhaps a 20-year-old Tawny Port for after-dinner or the cheese course.

Questions? Comments?  Email me:

Vintage Dates Do Matter

By Barbara Ensrud

What does the year on a wine label mean? Some consumers aren’t sure: is it the year the wine was made, the year it was bottled or something else? Even some wine professionals, including restaurateurs, marketers and certain critics say it hardly matters since 95 percent of wine sold is opened and consumed the day it was bought, no matter the year.
But I don’t agree because 1) I want to know the age of the wine, and 2) vintages vary, ranging from great to average or poor. The vintage date is the year the grapes were harvested in the vineyard. It’s particularly important for white wines such as Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier and dry rosés. As a rule I want to drink these wines as young and fresh as possible, within a year or two of the vintage date. Even a 2005, and certainly anything older, may taste tired and stale.
Vintage variations matter too, more so for red wines. One year may be rainy and cool producing thin fruit; others may be hot and dry producing overripe, raisiny wines. Some, however, such as 2005 in Bordeaux or 2007 in the Rhône were picture perfect. In these areas those vintages are outstanding. It explains why a classified ’05 Bordeaux costs more than the 2004 — a lesser vintage — from the same property.
Some restaurants don’t include vintage dates on the wine list, an annoyance for me because I always want to know the vintage of the wine I’m ordering. If it’s not there, the waitperson has to go and check the bottle. Whether the list has dates or not, I look to make sure it’s the vintage I wanted. You’d be surprised how often the wine list states a certain year but the wine you receive is a later vintage. Sometimes it’s OK and I accept the bottle — but if I ordered a 2003 red from California — likely to be smoother and more ready to drink than the 2006 they now stock — I may switch to another wine.
No vintage date on table wines usually means that earlier vintages are in the blend. By law, a vintage date means that at least 85 percent of the wine is from the year stated. Sometimes adding wine from other vintages can improve a wine, but it can also be a way of using up leftover, unsold wine. I recently had a non-vintage Chardonnay that was oxidized. I suspected the addition of old, tired wines.
My advice to consumers: don’t buy wines without a vintage date unless you already know and like the wine. My advice to wineries: sell non-vintage wines at your winery, so people can taste before buying.
There are a few exceptions for non-vintage wines. Fortified wines such as Sherry, Madeira and wood-age Port are not vintage-dated. They are intentionally blended from several vintages for consistency of style.
Another exception is Champagne from the Champagne region of France (and some sparkling wines from elsewhere). While top cuvées (blends) of Champagne are vintage-dated in superior vintages, by far the largest volume of French bubbly is non-vintage. It’s a long-standing tradition and a part of appellation controlée laws that govern winemaking in every region of France. The practice here is to allow small amounts (as little as five, as much as 15 percent) of previous vintages in order to give consistency to house style. Non-vintage Champagne from quality producers can be an excellent value.

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