Wine Word of the Week: Decanting


We've all been at a fancy restaurant and seen a waiter or Sommelier trot past us with an elaborate, glass contraption that looks like it belongs in a museum. Most likely they’re en route to decant an expensive bottle of wine for a patron. But is the process of decanting all show? And if not, when should a wine be decanted and what exactly does it DO to enhance our enjoyment of wine?

The process of decanting dates back to ancient Rome when wine was fermented in large containers called amphorae. Decanters were used to siphon wine out of amphorae to bring to the table for serving. Since an amphora generally contained a fair amount of sediment at the bottom, the decanting vessel also served to separate the wine from the sediment which, although it poses no health risk, is not very desirable to drink.

Over the years, decanters have been made of various materials including silver, bronze, gold and terra cotta earthenware. During the Renaissance, the Venetians introduced the style of decanter we are most familiar with today. It is typically made of glass and features a thin neck which expands into a broader base which maximizes the wine's oxygen exposure.


Today, a decanter serves two primary purposes: (1) to separate older wines, usually red wines or Port, from any sediment at the bottom of a bottle which occurs naturally as wines age, and (2) to aerate younger wines, both white and red, which tames their tannin and helps them "open up," and become more expressive and approachable.

While most tannic, young red wines such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Malbec, and Merlot will benefit from decanting, older wines can be more fragile. In fact, it's a good idea to taste an older wine (10-15+ years old) before making the decision to decant. If you like the way it tastes right out of the bottle, you may want to avoid the decanting process altogether. If the wine is very "closed" or unexpressive and/or contains a significant amount of sediment, then you will probably want to proceed with decanting it.


The process of decanting is quite easy to perform and you don't need a fancy decanter to do it - a big glass vase or water pitcher will work just fine! Also, if you only plan on enjoying a glass or two, the Vinturi Wine Aerator is also great choice at a great price. If you would like to go ahead and decant a bottle yourself, just follow the steps below but be sure to take note, decanting a young bottle is different from decanting an older bottle:

  1. If the wine(s) you want to decant are stored on their side in a cellar or wine fridge, be sure to stand the bottle(s) upright for 24-48 hours prior to decanting. This allows the sediment suspended in the liquid to settle to the bottle of the bottle.

  2. Select the decanter (or glass vase or pitcher!) you'd like to use and make sure it is properly cleaned and dried. If you're thinking of investing in a decanter, we really like the ones from Riedel. We've had ours for over 12 years and it does a fabulous job and is easy to clean too.

  3. Remove the capsule and cork from the bottle of wine and wipe any dust or schmutz from the neck and top of the bottle.

  4. If you're decanting a young bottle of wine (under 5 yrs), invert the opened bottle of wine over the decanting vessel and let it flow freely into the decanter. The more "sloshy" this process is, the better (without spilling the wine of course). Young wines really benefit from that infusion of oxygen! As for timing, you can decant young tannic wines up to 2-3 hours before serving, however, if you'd like to experience more of the wine's natural evolution in the glass (as I like to do) you can decant it just before serving.

  5. If you're decanting an older bottle of wine (10+ yrs), place a candle or the light from your iPhone under the neck of the bottle as you slowly and steadily pour the wine in one continuous stream from the bottle into the decanter. Once you begin to see sediment approach or enter the neck of the bottle - slow your flow or stop pouring altogether depending on how much there is. You don't want any sediment getting into your freshly decanted wine!

  6. Once you've poured the wine into the decanter, discard the bottle and any dredges at the bottom and enjoy your decanted wine!


Other twists on decanting:

  • For especially youthful, tannic red wines you can "double-decant" them by pouring the wine into a decanter and then right back into the bottle - double the decanting, double the fun!

  • If you're feeling adventurous, you can also "hyperdecant" your wine (young red wines ONLY!) utilizing a technique introduced in the revolutionary Modernist Cuisine cookbooks (see video below!). Simply empty the bottle of the wine into a blender and blitz for 30-60 seconds. Wait a minute or two for the foam to subside and enjoy!

  • In order to expedite decanting, you can combine a Vinturi Wine Aerator with a decanter and pour the wine through the device into the glass decanter in order to speed things up.

I hope you enjoyed our latest Wine Word of the Week and if you have any “wine words” you’d like to learn more about, please feel free to share them in the Comments section below. To see previous installments of this segment, please click here and, as always, thanks for reading!

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5 Fabulous New Year's Wine Resolutions!

With your New Year's Eve hangover in the rear view mirror, along with some of your more stringent resolutions (buh-bye #DryJanuary), it’s time to start planning for the future! To help with the vinous portion of your plan, I’ve got 5 Fabulous New Year’s Wine Resolutions to guide you into the New Year:

  1. MIX IT UP: Because the world of wine can be confusing it's often easier to just stick with the same wine day in and day out - but how boring is that?!? To break out of your rut, why not vow here and now to sample a different wine every week or at least every month? We make it easy at Highlands Wine Shoppe where you can stop by and sample any of the wines on our tasting machines. We always have 16 selections available by the glass (or taste!) and our amazing staff can help guide you towards your new favorite for 2023.

  2. START A WINE COLLECTION: If you've been drinking wine long enough to have a favorite wine region and/or producer it might be time to sock a few bottles away for a later date. Aged wine can be such an enjoyable experience but collecting wine does NOT mean you have to have a custom built, 5,000 bottle cellar. In fact, far from it! From an 18 bottle, under the counter wine fridge to a 150+ bottle, free-standing unit roll with whatever suits YOUR needs. This piece of equipment is VERY important since varying temperatures, mechanical vibration and light exposure are arch-enemies of wine. And stay tuned for more information on our upcoming Collector’s Series of wine tastings that can guide you towards some great selections!

  3. HONE YOUR TASTING SKILLS: Whether you’re a budding wine enthusiast or an aspiring Somm to really learn about wine you need to use a consistent tasting approach that utilizes ALL five senses. This sensory information provides valuable insight into a wine's place of origin, grape variety and "terroir” which are all critical factors when learning about and understanding wine. So if becoming a better taster is something you’re interested in achieving this year, please click here to be notified of our upcoming events and classes - or - we’d be happy to schedule a private class for you and your friends.

  4. DRINK MORE SPARKLING WINES: The focus on sparkling wine/Champagne consumption around special occasions like New Year's Eve leaves the majority of the year unbearably bubbly-free. While Champagne's price tag may limit it to more of a special occasion wine, there are many sparklers from around the globe that are priced for everyday consumption. Wines like Prosecco, Cava and Crémant are perfect for enjoying on a Tuesday night or sipping over lunch with a friend. As an added bonus, sparkling wines also have less calories and alcohol than a glass of Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon - affordable, delicious AND figure-friendly - what's not to love about that?

  5. FOOD + WINE INSPIRED TRAVEL: Our post-pandemic world, in between variants at least, is the perfect time to visit that wine region you’ve been dreaming about. Whether it’s an overnight trip that’s closer to home or a long haul flight to an Old World wine region, put your planning hat on, do your research + get ready to explore. For some food and wine-inspired travel inspo from our travels to wine regions near and far, please check out my post 5 Glamorous Getaways for Food and Wine Lovers.

I hope these suggestions inspire you to further embrace the world of wine in 2023! If you have any other wine-related resolutions I'd love to hear about them, please let me know in the Comment section below.

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Top 10 Valentine's Day Gifts for Food + Wine Lovers

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”
— George Bernard Shaw

Valentine's Day is the perfect opportunity to treat your sweetheart to something special and show them how much you care. If they happen to have a passion for food and wine (in addition to you!), you're in luck because in this post I'm sharing my top 10 favorite Valentine's Day gifts for food and wine lovers!

All of these items are near and dear to my heart and I'm very excited to share them with you. Please scroll down to browse the descriptions and simply click the name of an item to view purchasing information. Just FYI, some of the links are affiliate links which result in NO extra cost to you, and a small commission for me if you purchase something.

If you have any questions about any of these items, please feel free to reach out using the comments section below. Also, please scroll down for info on when I'll be revealing my 2021 Valentine's Day wine recommendations:


Le Creuset Enamel Cast Iron Heart Cocotte Cerise ($199)

This festive heart-shaped cocotte is the perfect Valentine's Day gift! It combines the performance + durability of enameled cast iron with a festive shape perfect for this most romantic holiday.

Braised dishes are also the perfect opportunity to cook wine-infused recipes such as Boeuf Bourguignon or Coq au Vin + this size is perfect for cooking à deux!


K+M Valentine’s Chocolates ($39)

Skip the heart-shaped box full of bonbons this year + opt for an assortment of elegant, bean-to-bar chocolates from California’s legendary Napa Valley.

K+M Chocolate is the brainchild of world-renowned American Chef Thomas Keller (of Michelin-starred French Laundry + Per Se fame), so you know they’re gonna be good. And if you’re a real chocolate geek, check out their short film, How to Taste Happiness!


Le Labo Eau de Parfum Set ($52)

Give your Valentine flowers she can wear! This fabulous set will allow her to explore + enjoy the 5 most beloved scents from this NYC-based fragrance maker! This set features Rose 31 (my personal fave), Bergamote 22, Santal 33 (Beyoncé's fave), The Noir + Neroli 36.

Each of Le Labo’s fragrances is named after the primary scent note + given a number, which indicates the composition's total ingredient count. Their formulations do not include animal products, paraben, preservatives or coloration + are never tested on animals.


Mastering the Art of French Cooking - 2 Volume Set ($50)

With HBO Max’s series about the life + times of this beloved world-renowned American cookbook author + cooking show host set to release this year, Julia’s about to get HOT again!

Child changed American food culture by making French cuisine approachable to home cooks. The release of the film Julie + Julia in 2009 about Child’s career + blogger Julie Powell changed my career forever as well.


Coravin Model 3 Advanced Wine System ($150)

The PERFECT gift for the wine lover on your list, the Coravin revolutionized the way we enjoy wine! This cutting edge, yet easy to use, system allows you to sample any wine without removing the cork!

The specially designed, coated needle gently pierces the cork allowing you to pour wine quickly + smoothly. Inert Argon gas then forms a protective layer that prevents the remaining wine from oxidation. Truly genius + I highly recommend for ALL wine lovers!!!

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Farmgirl Flowers Valentine’s Peonies ($75-149)

NOTHING brightens up the kitchen like a bouquet of gorgeous peonies! Their fabulous color + fragrance make them one of the most coveted flowers on Earth.

The “Petal Up” + “Next Petal” options are design-it-yourself arrangements that come with 12-24 stems of picture-perfect Chilean peonies. All in favor of some next petal blooming beauty, say aye!


LaDurée Savoir Vivre: The Art of Fine Living Book ($32)

Stunningly illustrated with specially commissioned photographs + illustrations, the latest Ladurée entertaining + lifestyle book offers practical tips + inspiration on topics such as how to prepare + have breakfast the Ladurée way, how to be a good host + a good guest, how to dress for the theater + how to pack for stylish travel. It is the ultimate guide to knowing how to live well, the French way.

The books also comes nestled in an irresistible box, packed just like Ladurée’s delectable confections.


Zalto Champagne Glasses Set of 2 ($118)

I am completely smitten with these gorgeous glasses that truly deliver an unparalleled tasting experience! They are Somm favorites + their long-stems are made with a continuous piece of pulled crystal + are therefore more resistant to breakage.

The Zalto Champagne glass, with its classic flute design, is perfect for every style of sparkling wine. It is also feather-light, dishwasher safe + 100% lead free.


Thomas Keller MasterClass Part II ($180)

As a follow-up to his first MasterClass, the legendary Chef Thomas Keller devotes his second cooking class to beef, duck, chicken, pork + veal, + the techniques he uses to prepare them.

Learn to sauté, pan + oven roast, braise, fry + grill, + how to select the best cut of meat for each technique with confidence. Then, learn to make the stocks + sauces that are essentials in Chef Keller’s restaurant kitchens.


Island Creek Oyster of the Month Club ($225)

Oysters are for lovers + this is the PERFECT Valentine’s Day gift for the ostreaphile in your life! Whenever I get these for Steve we look forward to the monthly delivery + I’m always sure to have some good Champagne on hand to enjoy with them.

You can choose 3, 6 or 12-month increments + the lucky recipient will receive 25 oysters per month.


I hope you find these Valentine's Day gifts for food and wine lovers helpful and if you’re looking for some delicious wine recommendations, please check out my recent appearance on WPTV Newschannel 5 featuring Romantic Red Wines for Valentine’s Day.

In the meantime, for even more Valentine's Day resources, check out my favorite recipes, desserts and playlists that are guaranteed to set the mood for l'amour. Wishing you and your loved one a deliciously Happy Valentine's Day! xo

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6 Wonderful Winter White Wines


This month I am craving white wine. Not the bright, citrusy Sancerres and Pinot Grigios of Summer, no, this week I'm craving WINTER white wines! The vinous equivalent of a lush, luxurious cashmere sweater.

But what exactly does that mean?

Winter white wines have a little somethin' extra - a little vinous booty if you will. Winter white wines are rich, creamy and delicious and capable of keeping you warm on a chilly night. They should even be served about 5 degrees warmer than lighter-bodied Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc (50-55 degrees is ideal). This allows the complexity of their aromas and flavors to really shine.

Luckily, I've had the chance to sample some of these beauties recently. From a luscious Viognier from France's Rhone Valley to a Marilyn Monroe-esque Chardonnay from California's Napa Valley, I've got some steals and splurges that I think you are really going to enjoy!

6 Wonderful Winter White Wines

1.) YALUMBA Y SERIES VIOGNIER, BAROSSA VALLEY, AUSTRALIA ($12): This alluring, medium-bodied winter white displays floral-imbued notes of honeyed citrus, peach and spiced pear with a delightful palate-hugging viscosity.

2.) CROSSBARN SONOMA COAST CHARDONNAY, SONOMA, CALIFORNIA ($28): A medium-bodied wine with delightfully creamy notes of spiced apple, peach, apricot, fig and vanilla which culminate in a long, lovely, lingering finish.⠀

3.) ZIND-HUMBRECHT GEWURZTRAMINER, ALSACE, FRANCE ($27): Fragrant aromatics of lychee, rose and ginger emanate from this completely delicious, spicy Gewürz that should be dubbed "the official Wine of Winter!"

4.) HARTFORD COURT FOUR HEARTS VINEYARD RRV CHARDONNAY, SONOMA, CALIFORNIA ($42): Floral and fabulous this Chardonnay entices with glorious aromatics of honeysuckle and orange blossom. On the palate, alluring notes of Meyer lemon, red apple, candied ginger, peach and spice are followed by a mineral-tinged finish.

5.) CLIFF LEDE NAPA VALLEY SAUVIGNON BLANC, NAPA, CALIFORNIA ($24): This medium-bodied white wine envelops the palate in rich, elegant notes of mandarin orange, white flowers and peach balanced by a delightfully crisp, lively minerality.⠀

6.) CHATEAU DE SAINT COSME CONDRIEU, RHONE, FRANCE ($78): This perfumey and richly textured white wine, made from 100% Viognier, delights with enticing notes of honeysuckle, lemon verbena, star fruit and apricot which you can readily savor on its luxuriously lingering, spice-tinged finish.

For purchasing information for any of these Winter White Wines, simply click on the wine’s name above. And, just in case you can't find a particular wine or it's not available in your area, please don't give up! Ask a clerk at your local retail store to recommend a wine that’s similar to the one you're looking for. Better to enjoy something similar than no wine at all!

Also, if you're interested in learning more about wine this year, I have the perfect place to start: my White Wine 101 and Red Wine 101 blog posts. I hope you enjoy them and please feel free to share this post with your wine loving friends ~ Cheers!

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5 Fabulous New Year's Wine Resolutions!


With your New Year's Eve hangover in the rear view mirror, not to mention a disastrous pandemic-ridden 2020, it’s time to start planning for the future with a proverbial clean slate. To help with the vinous portion of your plans, here are 5 Fabulous New Year’s Wine Resolutions to guide your exploration in the New Year.

From becoming a better taster to planning a trip to your favorite wine region, here are some great ideas that will truly enhance your enjoyment of and proficiency in wine:

  1. MIX IT UP: Because the world of wine can be confusing it's often easier to just stick with the same wine day in and day out - but how boring is that? To break out of your rut, why not vow here and now to sample a different wine every week or at very least every month. Come on by the wine shop where we always have 16 wines available on the machines to sample by the glass. Not in the area? I’ll also have plenty of great recommendations here on the blog and in our weekly newsletter so please stay tuned.

  2. START A WINE COLLECTION: If you've been drinking wine long enough to have a favorite wine region and/or producer it might be time to sock a few bottles away for a later date. Aged wine can be such a truly enjoyable experience but collecting wine does NOT mean you need to have a custom built, 1,000 bottle cellar, in fact, far from it! From an 18 bottle, under the counter wine fridge to 150+ bottle, free-standing unit go with whatever suits YOUR needs. Having a temperature-controlled place to stash your bottles is VERY important since varying temperatures and humidity levels as well as mechanical vibration and light exposure are arch-enemies of wine. If your budget allows, purchase a unit with a little room to grow, wine lovers have a habit of outgrowing them faster then they think!

  3. HONE YOUR TASTING SKILLS: Whether you’re a budding wine enthusiast or an aspiring Somm to really learn about wine you need to taste it in a particular way, utilizing ALL of your senses. This sensory information provides valuable insight into a wine's place of origin, grape variety and "terroir” which are all critical factors when learning about and understanding wine. So if becoming a better taster is something you’re interested in achieving this year, please click here to be notified of our upcoming wine tastings.

  4. DRINK MORE SPARKLING WINES: The focus on sparkling wine/Champagne consumption around special occasions like New Year's Eve leaves the majority of the year unbearably bubbly-free. While Champagne's price tag may limit it to more of a special occasion wine, there are many sparklers from around the globe that are priced for everyday consumption. Wines like Prosecco, Cava and Crémant are perfect for enjoying on a Tuesday night or sipping over lunch with a friend. As an added bonus, sparkling wines also have less calories and alcohol than a glass of Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon - affordable, delicious AND figure-friendly - what's not to love about that?

  5. FOOD + WINE TRAVEL: Take advantage of our post-pandemic global status + book that trip you dreamed about during lockdown! Whether it’s an overnight trip to enjoy a favorite restaurant or a long haul flight to an Old World wine region, start planning now and as soon as we get the green light to travel - you’ll be ready to go! For some food and wine-inspired travel inspo check out my post 5 Glamorous Getaways for Food and Wine Lovers.

I hope these suggestions inspire you to further embrace the world of wine in 2023! If you have any other wine-related resolutions I'd love to hear about them, please let me know in the Comments section below.

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Top 10 Rosés for Fall 2020


As we ease into Fall, I know you’re probably looking forward to embracing all the wonderful red wines that pair so brilliantly with the delicious dishes we look forward to during the chillier months. But since Fall doesn’t officially start until September 22nd and the temperatures are still soaring into the triple digits in most of the U.S. (please, make it STOP!), I have some delicious rosé recommendations to share that are going to help you make the transition seamlessly.

But lest you think these are the pale, rose petal pink Provençal rosés of Summer…think again! No, the wines in this post are located on the other end of the rosé spectrum. They’re the crimson-hued, deeply colored, pink wines that are packed with flavor and beautifully bridge the gap between the lighter rosés of Summer and the fuller-bodied red wines of Fall and Winter.

You might be surprised to learn that this spectrum of rosé wine even exists! Since the Provencal rosés have gotten so much press during the #RoséRevolution, many of the other beautiful shades of pink wine still remain well kept secrets. Well, that ends today and I’d like to encourage you to drink the rosé rainbow, and the wines listed here provide the perfect opportunity to do just that.


And because these rosés contain more color, flavor and tannin than their lighter counterparts, I like to call them “red wine drinker” rosés. Mostly because my die hard red wine lovers who generally despise wimpy Provencal rosés, positively LOVE the darker colored pink wines. But these wines are so user friendly, as we usher in Fall they can provide enjoyment to a variety of wine lovers. This is also a great way to get acquainted with some unfamiliar grape varieties including Nebbiolo, Mourvedre and Negroamaro which make some truly brilliant pink wine.

So go forth, scroll down and enjoy these recommendations and if you have any questions about anything you read here, please let me know in the comments section below.



Leone de Castris Five Roses Salento Rosato, Puglia, Italy ($16): In Italy, rosé goes by the name “rosato” and this one represents the very first pink wine to ever be bottled and sold in Italy back in 1943. The current vintage is a blend of 90% Negroamaro, a dark, thick-skinned, red Italian grape with blackish-violet skin that produces wines with medium-plus tannins, and 10% Malvasia Nera, a blending grape that brings additional color and aromatics to the finished wine. The end result is a delightfully dry, medium-bodied rosato with notes of baked plum, cherry and spice with a delightful herb and spice-tinged finish.

A.A. Badenhorst Secateurs Rosé, Swartland, South Africa ($14): If you’ve been following my recommendations lately, you know I’m obsessed with the Secateurs wines. They offer an incredible value for the price and their rosé is no exception! This savory blend of 90% Cinsault and 10% Shiraz will keep you coming back for more with enticing notes of wild strawberry, watermelon and earth accentuated by a tangy, balsamic finish. And just FYI, this wine gets its gorgeous deep pink hue from 2 hours of contact with richly colored Shiraz grape skins.


Masciarelli Villa Gemma Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Abruzzo, Italy ($18): Established in 2010, the Italian Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC is strictly dedicated to the production of rosato wine. It’s an appropriate name since “Cerasuolo” means “cherry red” which refers to the deep, translucent crimson color the wine has from very brief skin contact with the highly pigmented Montepulciano grape. As a big fan of this producer (check out this delightful pairing), I love this hearty gem that’s sure to delight those who enjoy a more mouthfilling style of rosé with notes of wild cherry, raspberry and herbs accentuated by lovely tannins.

Chateau D’Aqueria Tavel Rose, Rhône, France ($22): This deeply colored pink wine hails from France’s Southern Rhône, specifically, from Tavel, the first AOC ever established in France in 1936. This is a Grenache-based blend that includes other indigenous red and white grapes from the region including Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Bourbolenc. As a rosé that’s closer to an actual red wine, it has a dazzling, deep ruby-red color and fragrant aromatics of red berries and spice. On the palate, ripe juicy flavors of cherry and ripe berries strawberry, cherry, peach,


Charles Joguet Chinon Rosé, Loire Valley, France ($22): Hailing from France’s Loire Valley, this rosé comes from well known producer Charles Joguet and embodies the beauty of the region’s signature red grape, Cabernet Franc. This medium-bodied, lively rosé, crafted from 100% Cab Franc, exhibits enticing aromas and flavors of raspberry, rose and cherry accompanied by savory herbal notes of lavender and thyme. Red wine lovers will adore this wine’s depth of flavor, slight grip of tannins and spice tinged finish that round out the experience.

Round Pond Estate Rosato di Nebbiolo, Napa Valley, California ($24): When I first tasted this wine at a trade tasting years ago…I was immediately intrigued! It was clearly no wimpy rosé and to this day, this California “rosato” exhibits tremendous depth of flavor and that delightful hint of grip that only tannins can provide. Crafted from 100% Nebbiolo, the same red grape responsible for the legendary Barolos and Barbarescos of Italy’s Piedmont region, this wine has aromas and flavors of blood orange, watermelon, strawberry and spice framed by a food friendly acidity and fine grained tannins.


Goldeneye Rosé of Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley, California ($25): This gem from the legendary, California-based Duckhorn portfolio, has been one of my best sellers since last season! This delightful rosé is a blend of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier, and while crafted from relatively reserved grapes, this sophisticated rosé seduces with layers of flavor featuring notes of white peach, orange peel, strawberry and spiced pear. The fruit is accentuated by a lively, yet graceful acidity and a lengthy, spice-tinged finish.

Wölffer Estate “Summer in a Bottle” Rosé, Long Island, New York ($26): Hailing from Sagaponack, NY in the bucolic glory of the Hamptons this rosé is a creative blend of 40% Merlot, 22% Chardonnay, 12% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7% Gewürztraminer, 6% Cabernet Franc, 4% Pinot Meunier, 4% Pinot Blanc, 3% Riesling and 2% Sauvignon Blanc. As the sheer number of grapes might suggest, this delightfully aromatic wine is packed with flavor exhibiting notes of blood orange, guava, spiced pear and strawberry accompanied by a fabulous, food-friendly acidity and fine-grained tannins.


Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, Provence, France ($40): The pale color of this rosé from this iconic, Provençal producer belies the fabulous flavor you’ll discover in your glass. Crafted primarily from Mourvèdre, the region’s signature red grape, with a bit of Grenache and Cinsault added for good measure this refreshing wine delights on the palate with complex aromas and flavors of blood orange, tart cherry and peach accentuated by a lovely minerality and notes of savory rosemary, lavender that conjure the terroir of this beloved wine region.

Chateau Minuty Côtes de Provence Rosé et Or, Provence, France ($45): Hailing from the South of France with vines planted on the Saint-Tropez peninsula overlooking the stunning Côte d’Azur this delightful bottling is a blend of the winery’s signature grape, Grenache, with a splash of Cinsault. This wine delivers enticing, fragrant aromas of candied citrus, red berries and white flowers while on the palate intense flavors of pink grapefruit, white peach and wild strawberry are accentuated by a bright acidity and a crushed limestone and citrus-tinged finish.

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Champagne 101

“I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love and when I’m not.”
— Coco Chanel

Champagne is one of the most luxurious wines in the world. It’s high price tag and French pedigree are part of the reason but, equally so is its enduring association with some of the most glamorous people in history. Iconic fashion designer Coco Chanel, King Louis XV’s paramour, Madame de Pompadour, and legendary actress Marilyn Monroe were all huge fans who were known to passionately extoll the gloriousness of this sparkling elixir.

But Champagne is fascinating from a technical perspective as well.

From the intricate way it’s made to the rich history of the region it comes from, Champagne is truly the unicorn of the wine world and this essential Champagne 101 guide will demystify this vinous treasure for you and reveal all the basic fundamental information you need to know. And if you just so happen to be on a quest to broaden your vinous horizons and increase your knowledge base in the world of wine, be sure check out my White Wine 101 and Red Wine 101 posts as well.

But first things first.



In ANY discussion about Champagne it's important to note that while ALL Champagne is sparkling wine, NOT ALL sparkling wine is Champagne. Only sparkling wine from the actual Champagne region of France can be called Champagne. So even if a sparkling wine is made using the same grapes and the same method as Champagne but it comes from outside the geographic region, by law it cannot be called Champagne.

And if you try to call it that, they will sue you.

Yes, the Champenois are litigious…but for good reason. In the early days of California wine country, the habit of featuring the term “California Champagne” on bottles of sparkling wine became pretty widespread. Eventually, the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (aka the CIVC), the governing body of the Champagne region, took umbrage at this vinous appropriation and took action. Well, sort of.

“While all Champagne is sparkling wine, not all sparkling wine is Champagne.”

The “Treaty of Versailles” was drafted in 1919 following WWI and it addressed this issue among many others, however, the treaty was never ratified by the United States which was in the midst of Prohibition at the time, so it hardly seemed relevant. Once Prohibition ended in 1933, however, U.S. wine producers were still free to continue to legally use the term “Champagne” on their bottles, much to the chagrin of the Champenois.

Thankfully, over the years many New World winemakers began using the term “sparkling wine” instead of Champagne on their sparkling wine bottles and in 2006 the U.S. and the European Union finally signed a wine trade agreement. In it, the U.S. agreed to no longer allow any new uses of certain place names on wine bottles, however, anyone who already had an approved label such as Cook’s, Korbel, André and Miller High Life were grandfathered in and are still allowed to use the Champagne name to this day.


More recently, companies outside the wine world like Apple, Perrier and Yves Saint Laurent have also felt the legal wrath of the CIVC when they tried to use the Champagne name in association with their products. This CIVC’s vigilance has paid off, however, and helped to preserve the history and integrity of the Champagne name.

“So what’s the big deal?” you might ask. “All these decades of strife over a name?”

I’m SO glad you asked!

Ruinart’s depiction of how Champagne’s legendary chalk caves were dug.

Ruinart’s depiction of how Champagne’s legendary chalk caves were dug.

You see, Old World wine regions like Champagne are ALL about the concept of terroir, a French term that describes the way a wine reflects the place it comes from. Perhaps more accurately, terroir refers to the intersection of grape variety, climate and soil type and how these components come together to produce a wine that can’t be duplicated anywhere else in the world.

Old World wine regions have had centuries to perfect their knowledge of their land and they now definitively know which regions grow which grapes best. That’s why nobody in Burgundy is growing Cabernet Sauvignon and nobody in Champagne is growing Syrah. Because of this, they identify their wines by region rather than by grape variety like we do in the US. The same concept applies to food products like Prosciutto di Parma and Comté cheese which come from specific places in their respective countries.

Alternatively, here in the U.S., we’ve only been making wine for about 200+ years and we’re still experimenting with growing different grapes in different regions. In Napa Valley alone, one of our country’s oldest wine regions, you’ll find vineyards dedicated to numerous grapes including Sauvignon Blanc, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Refosco. So we label our wines by grape variety rather than location which is why deciphering Old World wines can be somewhat of a challenge…but one definitely worth accepting!



The Champagne production zone (AOC vineyard area) was defined by a law passed in 1927 and encompasses roughly 34,300 hectares of vineyards. It lies approximately 100 miles northeast of Paris, spreading across 319 villages (‘crus’) in five departments: the Marne (66% of plantings), Aube (23%), Aisne (10%) and Haute-Marne + Seine-et-Marne.

A primary distinguishing feature of the Champagne region is its sheer geographic location, the grapevines are planted at the northernmost limits of their cold tolerance. Average annual temperature in Reims and Epernay (latitudes 49°5 and 49° North) is just 50°F and vines, like all plants, require minimal weather conditions to survive and in the Northern Hemisphere, they rarely thrive beyond latitudes 50° North and 30° South.

The region’s second major distinguishing feature is its dual climate, which is predominantly oceanic but with continental tendencies. Champagne also receives barely 1,650 average annual hours of sunshine compared with 2,069 in Bordeaux and 1,910 in Burgundy. The growth rate is accordingly limited, giving the grapes the freshness and crispness that Champagne requires.

There are also four main growing areas (see map below):

  • The Montagne de Reims: Its soils are chalk-based, with striations of loam, lignite, clay, sand, silt, and marl. It contains nine Grands Cru villages and Pinot Noir is the main grape cultivated here.

  • The Vallée de la Marne: This sub-region is located on the riverbanks of the Marne and its soils are more variable than in other Champagne sub-region. It contains only two Grands Cru villages: Ay and Tours-sur-Marne and Pinot Meunier is the main grape variety planted here.

  • The Côte des Blancs: This sub-region owes its name to the color of the grape that is planted there: 95% Chardonnay. Champagnes produced in this area often include the term "blanc de blancs" and it is the source of Chardonnay for many vintage Champagnes and prestige cuvées from the large Champagne houses. Only four villages are located on the actual Côtes des Blancs slope, namely Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oger which are known for producing wines with light, delicate aromas and finesse and elegance.

  • The Côte des Bar: This is the only major sub-region in the Aube, located southeast of the town of Troyes. Pinot Noir is the predominant grape grown here although small amounts of Chardonnay and, to a lesser extent, Pinot Meunier can be found here as well. Other approved grape varieties that are seldom used can also be found here including Pinot Blanc, Arbane and Petit Meslier.

Together these regions encompass nearly 280,000 plots of vines, each measuring roughly 12 acres (100 square metres). Seventeen villages have a traditional entitlement to Grand Cru ranking and 42 to Premier Cru ranking.



Unlike the vintage dated wines we’re used to seeing on store shelves that represent the majority of wines produced, Champagne is first and foremost about the art of blending.

With few exceptions, most Champagnes on the market are a blend of grapes, vintages and vineyards. With respect to the most common type of Champage produced, non-vintage Brut, these components are brought together by the winemaker with the express intention of creating consistency from year to year. They do this using the three main approved grapes in Champagne that each bring a little something different to the wine:

  • CHARDONNAY: The only white grape of the Champagne trinity, Chardonnay contributes elegance and acidity to the finished wine, allowing it to age with grace and finesse. Chardonnay accounts for 30% of the region’s plantings and does particularly well in the Côte des Blancs where is yields delicately fragrant wines with characteristic notes of flowers, citrus and minerals. It is the slowest to mature of the three Champagne varietals and also the longest-lived.

  • PINOT NOIR: Accounting for 38% of plantings, Pinot Noir grows particularly well in the cool, chalky soils of the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bar. Pinot Noir adds backbone, body and heft to the blend, producing wines with distinctive aromas of red berries and good structure that can also age particularly well.

  • PINOT MEUNIER: The least well-known of the three grapes, Pinot Meunier accounts for 32% of plantings in the region and shows better cold-weather resistance than Pinot Noir, which is notoriously difficult to grow. Meunier is well suited to the soils of the Marne Valley and adds roundness to the blend, producing supple, fruity wines that tend to age more quickly than wines made with the other two varieties. Therefore it is most useful in non-vintage Champagnes intended for near-term drinking.



All Sparkling Wine undergoes a secondary fermentation to get its bubbles, and it’s WHERE Champagne undergoes its secondary fermentation that makes it so uniquely special!

By law (Old World wine regions have lots of laws regarding winemaking!), Champagne must undergo its secondary fermentation in the bottle it is later sold in. This is the main tenet of the Méthode Traditionelle (aka Traditional Method and Méthode Champenoise) which is the only method that can be used to produce Champagne. This is a much more time- and labor-intensive method of making sparkling wine compared to the Charmat Method that’s used to make Prosecco in which the secondary fermentation takes place in a tank.

Once primary fermentation has occurred and the base wines have been blended and bottled, a combination of still Champagne, beet sugar and yeast (aka “liqueur de tirage”) is added to each individual bottle to kick start the magical, bubble-inducing secondary fermentation. During this critical transformative process, the yeast consumes the sugar, thereby creating alcohol and carbon dioxide in the bottle. As the yeast cells complete their job, they eventually die and fall to the bottom of the bottle where they are referred to as “the lees.”

The lees impart a very desirable, biscuity, yeasty note that is a sensory hallmark of Champagne and other wines produced using the Méthode Traditionelle. The longer the wine remains in contact with the lees or dead yeast cells, the more pronounced this quality will be. By law, all Champagne must spend at least 15 months in the bottle before release, of which 12 months maturation on lees is required for non-vintage cuvées and three years minimum for vintage cuvées.

In practice however, most of the well-known Champagne houses cellar their wines for much longer, usually 2-3 years for non-vintage wines and 4-10 years for vintage Champagne. It’s important to note these wines spend this time maturing in the legendary chalk caves that lie deep beneath the city of Reims (see video below to see the cellars at Krug Champagne).


Towards the end of their long resting period, the Champagne bottles must be moved and rotated in order to collect and remove the sediment which is comprised largely of the aforementioned lees or dead yeast cells. This is accomplished through the process of riddling (aka “reumage”) in which the bottles are placed in A-shaped riddling racks, also known as "pupitres."

Initially, the bottles are placed in the racks horizontally, parallel to the floor and gradually, over time, they rotated and inverted either manually or mechanically by gyropalette. This motion causes the sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle where it is ultimately disgorged. Prestige cuvées are usually “riddled” manually which takes about 2-3 months while less expensive sparklers are done mechanically which takes approximately one week.

Once the bottles are completely inverted or “sur pointe” they are ready for disgorgement (aka dégorgement). During this time and labor-intensive process the neck of the bottle containing the sediment is plunged into a freezing solution, the temporary crown cap is then removed and the pressure inside the bottle causes the freezing plug to shoot out (watch video here), while spilling as little actual wine as possible.


Before the bottle is sealed with a cork, there’s one more very important step: dosage. In order to replace any wine lost during disgorgement, the bottle is topped off with liqueur d’expédition, a mixture of wine and sugar that determines the sweetness level of the finished wine as well. The seven levels of sweetness are determined by the grams per liter of sugar (g/l) added during dosage (see graphic) and by law, that sweetness level must be included on the bottle’s label.

“Brut” is the most common classification you’ll encounter on store shelves followed by “Demi-Sec” and, more recently, “Brut Nature” which has become more popular in recent years due to its low level of sugar. It’s important to note, however, that sugar is added to Champagne mostly in order to balance its high acidity level. For instance, while Brut Champagne can contain up to 12 grams of sugar, it is intended to be perceived on your palate as dry. Due to the Champagne region’s cool climate, the grapes struggle to attain ripeness resulting in wines characterized by high acidity levels and the addition of sugar helps to create a more balanced and enjoyable sensory experience. It’s really not until you get to the Sec/Demi-Sec levels that the wines start to have a noticeable sweetness.

The Méthode Traditionelle concludes with sealing the bottle with a cork. The cork is squeezed into the bottle, covered with a protective foil capsule and then secured with a wire cage (aka muselet) to create an airtight seal. Champagne bottles are thicker than normal wine bottles because they must be able to accommodate the build up of pressure caused by the secondary fermentation. When you’re down in the chalk caves, every so often you’ll hear a “pop” when one of the sleeping bottles breaks due to a flaw in the glass.

Once corked, the bottles continue to age in the cellar until the winemaker deems them ready for release onto the consumer market. The natural, porous cork allows for micro-oxygenation to occur, and for that reason Vintage and Tête de cuvée Champagnes are excellent candidates for aging.



  • NON-VINTAGE BRUT: The most common type of Champagne, non-vintage Brut is a blend of vintages, grape varieties, vineyards and consists of 85% of Champagne made. It is comprised primarily of the current vintage’s wine with between 15-40% base wine from previous vintages added to create a similar tasting wine from year to year. While we mostly think of wines as a reflection of the vintage they’re from, non-vintage Brut is the exception to this rule. Consistency is the winemaker’s goal because this wine represents the “house style” and it is unique to each brand of Champagne.

    For instance, Taittinger is known for its extensive Chardonnay holdings so its non-vintage “Brut la Francaise” is predominantly made of up Chardonnay with smaller percentages of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. On the other hand, Bollinger favors the Pinot Noir grape so their “Special Cuvée” is comprised predominantly of Pinot Noir with small amounts of Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier as well.

  • VINTAGE: Conversely, Vintage Champagne is blended from the wines of a single ‘millésime’: a single outstanding year that the individual producer chooses to declare a vintage. These wines are only created in those years that are deemed outstanding by a particular house and thus, are meant to reflect all the nuance of the given year. Unlike non-vintage wines, only grapes harvested in the year featured on the label may be included in vintage-dated wines.

  • PRESTIGE OR TETE DE CUVÉE: At the opposite end of the spectrum from a Champagne house’s non-vintage Brut is their most special offering aka their Prestige Cuvée or Tête de Cuvée. This Champagne is usually comprised of the best of the best of everything that house has to offer and they are proprietary and unique to each house. And they can vary is styles and types too! Some are vintage some are non-vintage. Some are Blanc de Blancs and some are Rosé. It just depends on what the Champagne house wants to do.

    Examples of well-known Prestige Cuvées include Louis Roederer’s Cristal, Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, Perrier Jouët's La Belle Époque and Veuve Clicquot’s La Grand Dame.

  • BLANC DE BLANCS: This French term translates to “white from whites” and refers to Champagnes made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. These wines are generally lighter-bodied with a racy acidity that truly highlight the immense potential of the Chardonnay grape.

  • BLANC DE NOIRS: This French term translates to “white from blacks” and refers to a white wine (Champagne) made exclusively from black grapes which in Champagne are Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. As long as you separate the juice from the skins, you can make a white wine from black grapes as is the case in the Champagne region. These wines are fuller-bodied with a richer mouthfeel, reflecting the characteristics of the grapes it’s made from.

  • ROSÉ: This name of this style refers to the beautiful pink color of the Champagne that gets its color one of two ways: (1) saignée or (2) blending in still red wine. The saignée method requires the wine to get its color by macerating the juice with the actual grape skins for a period of time. This method produces a Champagne that more closely resembles a red wine with more tannins which are extracted from the colored skins. While forbidden in making still rosé wine, blending still red wine into Champagne to create a Rosé gets a thumbs up from the CIVC! This method also gives the winemaker more control over the process but both methods produce truly delicious, bone dry (NOT sweet!) Rosé Champagne.



Which glassware you use when serving and enjoying Champagne will depend on the type and style of wine you’re serving as well as the occasion.

If you're popping a non-vintage Brut Champagne to celebrate a festive occasion or enjoy with brunch, by all means break out the flutes! Tulip-shaped, crystal flutes are ideal (avoid those thick, rolled-rim glasses at all costs!) because they allow the aromas of the Champagne to focus in the headspace of the glass where they can be readily enjoyed while still feeling celebratory, glamorous and fun.

But, if you're enjoying a pricier bottle like a Vintage or Prestige Cuvée Champagne, especially if it’s been aged, I highly recommend breaking out your White Burgundy or white wine glasses. The larger bowl and shape of these glasses is perfect for appreciating the complex aromas and flavors of these wines that have developed over time.

You also want to serve special or aged Champagnes slightly warmer than the recommended 45 degrees for most sparkling wines. As these graceful, elegant wines warm up (i.e. 50 degrees), their aromas and flavors are more readily able to be savored and enjoyed.


I hope you my Champagne Wine 101 helpful and that it inspired your understanding of this truly delightful wine. If you have any additional questions about anything you’ve read, please let me know in the comments section below. And when you’ve sufficiently soaked up all of this information, please proceed to the next two 101 installments: White Wine 101 and Red Wine 101.

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