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Columns – Miranda Franco

Discovering Japanese Wine: A Beginner's Guide
Miranda Franco
Jun 19, 2024

June 19, 2024: Japan may not be the first country that comes to mind when thinking of wine, but grapes have been planted and cultivated (albeit in small quantities and for medicinal purposes) in Japan for over 1,000 years. The consumption of wine was first observed by Japanese residents when Jesuit priests from Portugal resided in Nagasaki in the 16th century. However, it wasn't until the late 19th century that the industry began to take shape. Since then, Japanese winemaking has evolved, with a notable surge in domestic wineries over the last few decades-a trend that stands out given the country's status as the world's fifth-largest importer of wine. Despite the strong presence of imported wines, the Japanese wine industry is thriving, blending traditional practices with modern techniques to produce unique, high-quality wines.

Your Next Wine Trip: Portugal's Dão and Bairrada Regions
Miranda Franco
Apr 30, 2024

Apr 30, 2024: Portugal's Bairrada and Dão may not be as widely known in the United States as some of their counterparts like Porto and the Douro Valley. However, these wine regions are quietly becoming the best destinations in Europe for wine travel. Both areas are gradually establishing themselves as some of the most interesting in Portugal due to their distinctive soil compositions and climate characteristics that combine to make wines with real distinction. During a recent visit, I explored offerings from exciting, idiosyncratic winemakers making exceptional wines. I experienced firsthand the remarkable wines these regions produce, from crisp whites to rich reds and everything in between. Traveling through these regions is an absolute delight, with many narrow roads twisting through the fertile vineyards that link dozens of attractive little towns and villages. But the true strength of Bairrada and Dão's is their great wines - and wine values - that cement their status as world-class destinations.

Breaking Barrels, Part 3: Women in the Italian and French Wine Worlds of Puglia and Bordeaux
Miranda Franco
Mar 13, 2024

March 13, 2024: In March, as International Women's Day and Women's History Month take center stage, we continue to shine a spotlight on trailblazing women in wine. While female winemakers are no longer a rarity, they still represent a minority in nearly every major winemaking region worldwide, with men dominating the landscape. While it's essential not to qualify winemakers based on gender, it's worth acknowledging and celebrating these women for the quality of their wine. This installment reveals the profound impact of two visionary women who have shaped the viticultural terrain of Europe. From the storied vineyards of France to the picturesque hills of Italy, pioneers like Nea Berglund and Marzia Varvaglione redefine excellence in winemaking, emphasizing the global influence of female vintners.

Alex Gambal's New Memoir Provides an Unvarnished View of the World of Wine and Burgundy
Miranda Franco
Jan 10, 2024

Jan. 10, 2024: Imagine being an American with a young family and deciding to uproot your life, leaving the comfort of your stable job to chase your passion to the heart of French wine country. Alex Gambal did just that, as the allure of chasing his dream was too strong to resist. In 1993, he, his wife, and two small children moved from Washington, D.C., to Beaune to explore the wine business. After decades of making wine in France, he has written a memoir about his experience - Climbing the Vines in Burgundy: How an American Came to Own a Legendary Vineyard in France.

Breaking Barrels, Part 2: Women in the Sonoma and Lake County Wine World
Miranda Franco
Nov 29, 2023

Nov. 29, 2023: Women have long been involved in the production of wine in California, but historically, few women were known as winemakers. According to a 2020 study by two professors at Santa Clara University, Lucia Albino Gilbert PhD and John C. Gilbert PhD, there were over 4,200 wineries in California, and approximately 14 percent had a woman as their lead winemaker. However, this lack of representation hasn't stopped remarkable women from claiming their place in distinctive winemaking regions in California. My last 'Breaking Barrells' piece focused on Jill Matthiasson, Jaime Araujo, and Kelsey Phelps in Napa Valley. This time, we introduce you to Maura Kinsella and Joy Merrilees, trailblazers who have distinguished themselves in Sonoma and Lake County, respectively.

Breaking Barrels: Women in the Napa Wine World
Miranda Franco
Oct 11, 2023

Oct. 11, 2023: Napa Valley is renowned for its world-class wineries and vineyards, but behind the wines exist women playing pivotal roles in shaping the region's wine industry. These women, like Jill Matthiasson, Jaime Araujo, and Kelsey Phelps, are making significant contributions to Napa Valley's winemaking and viticulture. They lead with tenacity, commitment, and perseverance in building a stronger community in Napa. I sat down with each of them to learn a bit about their journeys in the wine industry and how they are pushing traditional boundaries and raising the standards of what we drink.

The Next Frontier of World-Class American Wine: Southwest Michigan
Miranda Franco
Aug 30, 2023

August 30, 2023: The spotlight on Michigan wine has often been focused north, toward Traverse City. However, just as California has noteworthy wine beyond Napa and Sonoma, it's important to recognize that Southwest Michigan has a serious wine scene that has been quietly earning its reputation. The region is known for refreshing and crisp whites and, increasingly, reds that can hold their own against European counterparts. Vineyards here, with their rolling topography, plentiful fresh water, rich soil diversity, and insulating lake-effect snow, are attracting ambitious young winemakers with an eye toward the future of American wine. Many of them are honing their skills on the campus of Lake Michigan College in Benton Harbor - the Midwest's first commercial teaching winery. These winemakers are branching out into new territory, experimenting with varieties and techniques previously rare in Michigan.

Inside the Fortieth Annual Aspen Food & Wine Classic
Miranda Franco
Jul 2, 2023

July 2, 2023: I returned recently from the bacchanal that is the Aspen Food & Wine Classic. My memory is still a bit hazy, and my eyes are still blurry from three days and three longer nights of parties on top of parties. Over its four decades, the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen has become an internationally buzzed-about festival where year after year, more than 5,000 attendees-including the world's most famous chefs, Master Sommeliers, major liquor brands, and NBA superstars-head to 8,000 feet of altitude for Grand Tastings, sip-fueled lectures, cooking seminars and a never-ending number of dinners and late-night parties. This was my first Aspen Food & Wine Classic, and it did not disappoint. Aspen is a town that makes Washington, D.C., real estate (my hometown) look like a sales bin at Target. When I landed at the Pitkin County airport, I knew I was in for a quintessentially Aspen experience with one glimpse of the majestic mountains and an inhalation of the crisp mountain air.

Every Wine Has a Story: Go There Wines
Miranda Franco
Jun 14, 2023

June 14, 2023: "Every wine has a story" is prominently featured on the Go There Wines website, and is the refrain that informs their mission. There is always a tale to be told with wine, and every sip unveils the journey of the winemakers who guide the grapes from vine to bottle. Wine can tell stories of daily miracles, traditions, celebrations, and resilience. To ensure these stories are told, Go There Wines aims to provide a market for winemakers in underrepresented communities and wine regions. Many of the wines hail from areas that, through history, have been marginalized by war, politics, and poverty. Go There Wines partnerships include wines from Abdullah Richi, a Syrian winemaker in exile who's currently working in Lebanon; maverick sisters Baia and Gvantsa Abuladze, who are breaking the patriarchal winemaking mold in Georgia, and Nondumiso Pikashe, who runs Ses'Fikile Wines (an IsiXhosa word meaning 'we have arrived'), and is pushing boundaries in Paarl, South Africa. Their wines reveal stories of dedicated, passionate winemakers challenging convention.

You Can and Should Pair Mexican Food with Wine
Miranda Franco
Apr 26, 2023

April 26, 2023: I just returned from a trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, one of the world's great food capitals. I was drawn in by the enduring allure of the region's nuanced cuisine. The city is brimming with an abundance of life-changing moles, tlayudas, tamales, memelas and Mezcal. Oaxaca has a wealth of natural treasures too. But let's go back to the food. The cooking tradition is ancient, vibrant, varied, and unlike anything else in the world. Oaxacan cooking employs laborious and intricate techniques and flavor profiles. Oaxaca has also inspired drink lovers from all corners of the earth to travel to Oaxaca in search of their favorite and the most artisanal Mezcal. Mezcal pairings most frequently accompany the Oaxacan gastronomic experience. While I love the depth of Mezcal's flavor, I couldn't help but wonder what one does if one wants to move away from Mezcal and Tequila with their Mexican feast and enjoy a glass of wine.

Ownroot Collective: Championing the Undiscovered Underdogs of Wine
Miranda Franco
Feb 22, 2023

Feb. 22, 2023: It's a Monday evening, and I'm fixed to Zoom listening to a burgeoning young winemaker, Ben Matthews of Terratorium Wines, discuss leaving a comfortable corporate career to start from the beginning as a winery intern. The opportunity to connect with Matthews is a perk of being part of the Ownroot Collective community. The Ownroot Collective is a unique wine club concept where members can join talented winemakers for virtual tastings and access and purchase high-quality wines that are only available in small quantities and have primarily been undiscovered. Winemakers like Matthews, who join forces with the Ownroot Collective, are offered a platform to showcase their craft. This inspired platform was launched by Terra Jane Albee in 2020 with a mission to promote winemakers whose production may be small, but whose impact on the wine industry could be significant.

De-Alcoholized Wine to Get You Through 'Dry January' and Beyond
Miranda Franco
Jan 12, 2023

Jan. 12, 2023: With an ever-increasing number of people taking part in seasonal events like Dry January and resolving to make lifestyle changes - there's a demand for de-alcoholized wine that intrigues the palate just as much as their alcoholic counterparts. It's not just Dry January initiatives sparking sales of no- and low-alcohol wine; consumers have helped spur the impressive growth of the category year-round, as evidenced by the sheer breadth of quality products now available. In the past, non-alcoholic wine seemed an anathema and devoid of flavor. Now we are beginning to see complex options, the use of quality grapes from storied varieties and terroirs, and the use of aging and occasionally oak. Further, recent advancements in de-alcoholizing technology have helped to revolutionize the no- and low-alcohol wine market.

Rediscover Cava This Celebration Season
Miranda Franco
Nov 30, 2022

Dec. 7, 2022: Cava was established as an official Denominación de Origen (D.O.) in 1986, shortly after Spain joined the European Union. The D.O. was created to protect all Spanish sparkling wine rather than one specific region. However, this approach, while well-intentioned, had no sub-regions and no category system to recognize quality level, thus lacking the ability to provide consumers the guarantee of quality and origin. Unfortunately, as a result, Cava's reputation has been weighed down over the years by loose regulations and production of mass quantities. Few consumers know how fine Cava can be, or how reflective it can be of its place of origin. Many see it as merely a cheap alternative to Champagne. Cava has always deserved better, and there are indications that Cava's fate is changing largely due to several high-end producers seeking to distinguish themselves outside the Cava D.O. over the last decade. They believed they could more effectively market the prestige and quality of their sparkling wine brands by distancing themselves from Cava's mass-produced image. These estates, including Gramona, Llopart, and Recaredo, to name a few, broke ties and left the D.O. to bottle their wines under the brand name Corpinnat (roughly meaning 'heart of Penedès' in Latin).

Asking 5 D.C. Sommeliers the Questions You've Always Wanted to Ask
Miranda Franco
Oct 12, 2022

Oct. 12, 2022: Enjoying a glass of wine is one of life's most simple pleasures. Yet, for a drink ostensibly all about pleasure, it can be pretty intimidating. The world of wine is filled with nuance and vocabulary that might be confusing unless you're an expert in the subject. So, where do you start when you're looking at a massive wine list? What if there is a flaw in a particular bottle? How should you taste wine when the sommelier pours a bit in your glass for sampling? Buying wine can feel as opaque as Mourvèdre. Luckily, there are highly trained and passionate sommeliers to help guide us along the wine journey. Five of the best sommeliers in the exceedingly vibrant wine market of Washington, D.C. agreed to share their perspectives on the qualities that define a good sommelier, indicate how they got started, and provide their expertise to answer some of our burning questions. So, grab a glass, and drink in the wisdom of our wine experts.

Take Note of England's Top-Quality Sparkling Wines
Miranda Franco
Aug 17, 2022

August 17, 2022: It's easy to forget that plenty of other countries and regions beyond France take on the task of crafting delicious sparkling wines. Franciacorta in Italy, for instance, is a sparkling wine from Lombardy that deserves far more attention than it receives. And yet, the world's most striking example may be England, a nation with a thriving, fast-growing sparkling wine industry that has risen from recent obscurity to become a serious contender on the world sparkling stage.

The Perfect Summer Sipper: Txakolina
Miranda Franco
Aug 11, 2022

With temperatures soaring across the country, you'll need a cold drink to lull you out of your heat-induced stupor. Look no further than Txakolina (pronounced chock-oh-lee-nah) an effervescent, incredibly crisp, refreshing wine that can cut through the hottest summer days. Txakolina (also called Txakoli or Chacoli) by no means is exclusively a seasonal drink; however, it's hard to deny that it is an ideal wine to enjoy on a summer terrace. The Basque region's answer to Vinho Verde, most Txakoli wines have relatively low alcohol (typically 10-11 percent), making them perfectly refreshing for hot summer days. A hint of salinity and ample acidity also make these wines perfect for social drinking over shared plates on a warm afternoon.

The "Second Wines" of Bordeaux's First Growths: Anything but Second Rate
Miranda Franco
Jul 5, 2022

July 5, 2022: I just returned from Bordeaux, spending the week tasting some of the world's finest wines. I had this great fortune thanks to Ronald and Margaret Rens, Founders of the Bordeaux Wine Experience, who perfectly curated a trip highlighting the region's quality, heritage, and pedigree. It was the first and likely last time I will enjoy all the first growths across multiple vintages in a week's time. It was a remarkable, eye-opening, and educational experience I could have never attained on my own. As my budget does not often allow me to taste these icons of wine with stratospheric price tags, I will look to Bordeaux's leading château's less expensive "second wines." Second wines offer Bordeaux lovers an excellent opportunity to buy wines from first growths at a fraction of the price of a chateau's Grand Vin.

Meet the Women Producing Some of Mexico's Most Sought-After Wines
Miranda Franco
May 17, 2022

May 18, 2022: Mexico's Valle de Guadalupe wine region continues to gain international prominence. The Valle has been referred to as the Napa Valley of Mexico, and for a good reason. This emerging region can yield world-class wines, blessed with a perfect climate, a centuries-old winemaking tradition, and surrounded by two seas. And yet, perhaps even more remarkable than the excellent wines coming out of the Valle de Guadalupe is the number of women producing them. The influence of women on Mexico's wine industry is profound, and some of Mexico's most exciting and coveted wines are being produced by a cadre of women winemakers.

Wine Proprietor Uses an Artist's Touch to Make Exceptional Pinot Noir
Miranda Franco
Mar 30, 2022

Mar 30, 2022: Thomas T. Thomas has long loved music, and he loves wine. He is a self-taught guitar player from the outskirts of Toledo, Ohio, who studied music at Ohio University (shout out to all my fellow Bobcats) before transferring to the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music to study voice. However, Thomas knew music was not the most lucrative career direction, so he earned an MBA and took a position with GE Capital in the Corporate Finance Division. Later, he became a finance executive at the biotech company Genentech. A fortuitous trip to Burgundy in 1999 would change everything. Thomas was taken by the French soil and those superb Pinots. He became intoxicated with the thought of recreating that experience. So, in 2001, Thomas and his wife bought property in Anderson Valley - a region in western Mendocino County that routinely produces exceptional Pinot Noir.

The Jewel of Napa: Diamond Mountain District
Miranda Franco
Feb 8, 2022

If Diamond Mountain District doesn't sound familiar, you need to know more. This little-known region, nestled in the Mayacamas range on the western side of the Napa Valley, far away from the traffic of the valley floor, produces some of the region's most exquisite wines. It also has stunning views from an appellation that ranges from 400 to 2,200 feet above sea level. The region's fine-grained, ash-like soils contain shards of reflective volcanic glass, which inspired its name.

Spain's Best Kept Secrets: The Winemakers and Regions of Tomorrow
Miranda Franco
Nov 29, 2021

Rioja is typically at the forefront of Spanish wine understanding and sales. However, I'd like to cast the net further afield and explore a few regions and producers that are awakening Spain's wine industry. I've rounded up a few of my favorite emerging regions, bottles, and winemakers, as the fun is not only selecting the style of wine you like drinking but also the names you like to drink. Let's get started in Galicia, in northwestern Spain, just north of Portugal. It includes five wine appellations (Denominacion de Origen, or D.O.): Rias Baixas, Ribeiro, Ribeira Sacra, Valdeorras, and Monterrei.

The Georgian Wine Revival, as Explained by the Experts
Miranda Franco
Oct 26, 2021

Whether amber-colored skin-contact wines pique your interest, or a full-bodied Saperavi sounds more your style, Georgian wine has something for every wine lover. The country has all the makings of a great wine destination - the longest-running wine tradition with wines fermented and aged in clay qvevri, over 525 indigenous grape varieties, and stunning landscapes with the Caucasus Mountains to the north and the Black Sea to the west. Despite a winemaking tradition spanning 8,000 years, Georgian wines have come onto the world wine stage only recently, as geographical and political isolation from Europe meant that a rich wine heritage remained largely unknown to the West. A new generation of Georgian winemakers is preserving the old winemaking traditions while bringing new life and energy to the wine industry and propelling it forward to keep up with today's growing demand.

Pathbreaker: Dan Petroski, The Massican Winemaker Pushing Whites to California's Forefront
Miranda Franco
Sep 21, 2021

The Napa Valley wine industry is rich with winemakers producing premium Cabernet Sauvignon as economics continue to drive the prominence of the variety. So, it was a thrill to sit down (via Google Meet) with winemaker Dan Petroski as he pushes the pendulum of Napa Valley wines toward white wines that combine the sunny Mediterranean with an intellectual appeal. Petroski is the founder and owner of Massican, which serves as an ode to Mediterranean wines. Massican's name comes from the coastal mountain range in Southern Italy. His entire production is white wines (and vermouth), producing several distinctive Italian varietals like Ribolla Gialla and Tocai Friulano that don't often get the attention they deserve and are seldom seen in Napa. His focus on white wines makes Massican the only all-white wine project in the Napa Valley.

Wine Doldrums? It's Time to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone
Miranda Franco
Aug 10, 2021

Are you in a stale relationship with your go-to wine? Let's face it - sometimes relationships go stale. When that happens, it helps to inject something new and fresh into the routine, especially in a year that limited our possibilities and cramped us within our comfort zones. Shaking up our usual wine drinking could go a long way toward getting us back to the adventure of life again. So, while there is nothing wrong with having favorites, if you'd like to explore wine's diversity, here are some ideas to veer ever so slightly into new territory and prevent tongue tedium. You can always go back to the same old, after trying some fresh alternatives, but odds are good that your wine horizons will be broadened.

We Should All Be Drinking More Portuguese Wine
Miranda Franco
Jun 15, 2021

Portugal's winemaking heritage is well-established. For starters, the country produces nearly 50 percent of the world's cork. Porto, made with grapes sourced from the Douro Valley, is the world's oldest regulated wine region, and other areas like Alentejo, Dão, and Bairrada have been producing wine for centuries. Though Portuguese winemaking dates to ancient times, demand for Portuguese wine reached its height in the 17th and 18th centuries, upon Britain's "discovery" of Port wine. However, political struggle throughout the 19th and most of the 20th greatly hindered modern winemaking. It wasn't until Portugal joined the European Union in 1986 that truly modern Portuguese winemaking began. Adventurous consumers will find much to love about the wines of Portugal, its colorful history, and its diverse pool of indigenous grape varieties.

Consider Lesser-Known Wine Regions for Your Post-Pandemic Travel Plans
Miranda Franco
Apr 13, 2021

or more than a year, we have been forced to stay grounded. Now, more than ever, the possibility of traveling again feels less elusive. Vaccinations are on the rise, and restrictions are slowly lifting. In other words, the hope of reclaiming travel is on the horizon. For those who wish to combine their love of wine with wanderlust, wine travel is the way to go. And while your mind may flash to vineyards in Napa or France, many unsung wine regions are also worth exploring. From Pico Island to Traverse City, below are some lesser-known wine locations to consider for your next trip. For those not quite ready to travel, wine recommendations are also provided so that you may explore these regions using your "liquid passport." You don't have to get on a plane to learn the history, culture, and traditions of a place if you are open to listening to the tales in your glass.

An Interview with Jason and Flora Chang of Family Owned and Operated Nine Suns and Plinth
Miranda Franco
Mar 3, 2021

Visitors to Nine Suns are treated to spectacular views and in the tasting room engage in a casual, down-to-earth experience with wines that merit serious attention. Hospitality is the focus here. You will not experience a host rattling off statistics about oak percentages and discussing pump-overs while pouring wine for ten other visitors. Instead, you will be privately toured by either Jason or Flora, who oversee the winery. Their focus on personal interaction and relationship development has allowed Nine Suns to thrive in an area that is home to Colgin, Bryant Family, Chappellet, Continuum, David Arthur, and Ovid. Jason and Flora recognize that wine is not just about quality and craft but about people and their experience with the wine, which, in part, inspired their new passion project - Plinth.

Interview with Congressman Mike Thompson: California Wine Country's Foremost Advocate
Miranda Franco
Nov 11, 2020

Congressman Thompson can be found working hard in the halls of Congress … or in the rows of his vineyard. He recently won re-election, and next year will begin his 12th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he will continue to advocate vehemently for the wine community. Thompson serves California's 5th Congressional District, including all of Napa and parts of Contra Costa, Lake, Solano, and Sonoma Counties. The Congressman was born in the Napa Valley and continues to reside there with his family. He also owns a 20-acre vineyard in Lake County.

VIK Wines: A Story Like No Other
Miranda Franco
Oct 20, 2020

The story of VIK begins with Norwegian entrepreneur Alexander Vik. In 2004, he envisioned a luxury retreat and vineyard that would produce world-class wines. The pursuit led him about two hours south of Santiago to 11,000 acres in the Millahue Valley, between the Pacific Ocean and the high-altitude Andes Mountains. For those fortunate enough to visit, it is an unparalleled experience.