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Columns – Marguerite Thomas

Does Age Matter?
Marguerite Thomas
Mar 22, 2023

March 22, 2023: There are still plenty of skeptics when it comes to assessing the value of old vines but the momentum is changing as more enologists and vineyard professionals come out on the side of age. In general, they say, older vines tend to deliver smaller crops but ones that yield wines with more complexity, intensity and structure. While there isn't much hard science behind the effect of age on vines an increasing number of premium wineries are electing to keep older vines, opting for lower volume in return for greater depth of flavor and increased ageability. While some bemoan the fact that as vines age they generally produce less fruit, others tend to view the intense, flavorful, concentrated and balanced fruit from old vines as a blessing.

Cheers! Wine-Based Cocktails
Marguerite Thomas
Nov 2, 2022

Nov. 2, 2022: While it's true that nothing beats a glass of good wine as the sun sets and dinner looms, every now and then a pre-dinner cocktail can be a mighty fine alternative. My cocktail of choice is apt to be gin and tonic, but I'm not averse to enjoying a glass of good whiskey every now and then, and at the right time and place, a Margarita likewise appeals. Then there's the boozy version of having one's cake and eating it too: A cocktail that includes both wine and spirits. I first enjoyed one of these in France many years ago in the form of Kir Royale. I had already been introduced to regular Kir, a blend of white wine and cassis (cassis, or créme de cassis, is a liqueur made of macerated black currants), but I'd not yet had the pleasure of drinking Kir Royale. Said to have been invented by Felix Kir, a Catholic priest in Dijon, France, Kir Royale is a tasty and refreshing blend of cassis and sparkling wine.

What to Drink with What You Eat: Food & Wine Pairing
Marguerite Thomas
Aug 25, 2022

August 25, 2022: I'm reasonably certain that everyone who reads Wine Review Online has had experience with pairing specific wines with certain foods-or if not experience, at least opinions about what to eat with what you drink. Since this is a topic that comes up so often in our wine-loving lives, I decided to take an informal survey to check in with other folks in the food and wine world about their experiences, principles, and even quirky preferences at the many points of connection between wine and food.

Virginia Wine
Marguerite Thomas
Jun 9, 2022

June 9, 2022: A surprising number of America's founding fathers were wine lovers. George Washington, James Monroe, and Thomas Jefferson all worked hard to establish a thriving wine culture here, but because of the failure to control Black Rot and Pylloxera another couple of centuries would pass before vitis vinifera would be established in America. The first people to successfully grow Vinifera grapes were Gabriele Rause and his boss Gianni Zonin, a successful Italian winemaker who purchased a parcel of land in Virginia in 1976 on which to grow grapes. Today, Virginia has some 300 wineries, many of which are producing some of the best wine in the nation. At a recent dinner in New York City, I had the opportunity to speak to some of Virginia's leading winemakers and to taste their wines.

Spring Wine Quiz
Marguerite Thomas
Apr 13, 2022

Apr. 13, 2022: As we head into Spring, the season of renewal and freshening, it might be time to sweep the cobwebs from the cerebral space where you store your wine knowledge. Nothing serves that purpose better than a pop quiz, regardless of whether the pop results from taking the quiz on the fly or taking it after opening a bottle of bubbly. Here's an example of what you'll encounter: Several different studies around the world seeking to determine the most significant grape varieties for making wine have almost all come up with the same six grapes. Considering that there are at least 1,368 grape varieties for making wine this consensus among wine educators and connoisseurs seems amazing. Equally amazing is that three of the grapes are white and three red. Which six grape varieties are included in the 'Big Six'?

Is Rosé Getting Its Due?
Marguerite Thomas
Mar 8, 2022

Mar 9, 2022: 'Sun, sun, sun…here comes the sun…'. Following two years of dark winter days punctuated by the horrors of Covid, we are all ready for a break as we welcome longer hours of daylight and warmer temperatures into our lives. Now, and with thanks to George Harrison and his fellow Beatles, it's time to start humming their timeless ode to the season-and to start seeking out wines to go with it, specifically, rosé.

Fizz Quiz for the Holiday Season
Marguerite Thomas
Dec 28, 2021

The half of the earth where I live lies north of the equator. At this time of year, the skies here are gray and the days are short and chilly. A s long as we don't have hurricanes, blizzards or sub-zero temperatures I'm mostly okay with all this--and I'm especially okay with it on the days when I have a bottle of Champagne to enjoy as the evening sky darkens. With that in mind, I urge you to pour yourself a glass of Champagne and test your knowledge about Champagne, the beverage, the region and the trivia. We won't mess around with the tiresome business of placing all the answwers to the ten questions upside-down at the bottom here. Rather, in view of the tough year that 2021 has been for almost everyone, we'll just work on the honor system. Just obscure the answers with your free hand and work your way down the list (and by "free hand," I mean the one that isn't holding your Champagne glass!).

Wine Grape Quiz!
Marguerite Thomas
Oct 19, 2021

Every wine drinker in the world is surely familiar with wines made from the Vitis vinifera wine grapes Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Syrah, Chardonnay, and, probably, Riesling. While Zinfandel, Malbec and Tempranillo may not have quite the same name recognition but there's no doubt that regular wine consumers are familiar with their names. But what about Petit Corbu, Kotsifali or Monica? By some estimates there are more than 10,000 wine grape varieties in the world, so unless you are an enologist, a sommelier, or some other well informed wine professional it is unlikely that you'll know every one of them. Still, since it's always fun to test one's knowledge here's a little grape quiz to challenge your enological smarts by seeing how many of these grape varieties you can describe, including place of origin and type of wine. Hint: most, but not all, of them are Vitis vinifera grapes.

Kosovo: Past, Present and Future
Marguerite Thomas
Sep 7, 2021

Kosovo became an independent country when its parliament declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. This political green light triggered the eventual fulfillment of a host of political opportunities, including the approval of a constitution, which had been waiting for this historic moment. Independence also signaled that the time had come to begin seriously upgrading the local wine industry. The region that is now Kosovo has been cultivating grapes and producing wine for two thousand years, but the breakup of Yugoslavia and the conflicts of the 1990s seriously damaged not only the vineyards and wineries, but also impaired the forward momentum that every serious wine region needs in order to be successful. Numbers of estates were abandoned and/or destroyed during the chaos, but progress is now being made to bring some of them back as well as to establish new estates.

The Naked Burger
Marguerite Thomas
Jul 6, 2021

What to have for dinner has become the existential question of the day, for in weather such as this anything resembling normal cooking is simply out of the question as far as I'm concerned. Who wants to turn on a stove, or even stand outdoors in front of a grill in this heat? Not I. What I did want yesterday, however, was a burger. I wasn't interested in a classic burger hunkered down in a bun and awash in mustard, ketchup, relish, et al. While I like that option from time to time, what I was hoping for in this case was the unsullied purity of good beef--a burger that would both satisfy on its own and, as a bonus, prove to be an excellent companion for good red wine.

Marguerite Thomas
Apr 27, 2021

Annual incomes are traditionally low for people who work America's land on farms and vineyards, with about 30% of agricultural workers' families-almost double the rate of the US as a whole--estimated to be living below the poverty line. Consequently, a large part of the wine we drink today is thanks to the work of underpaid laborers. Because seasonal workers often move from one crop to another, and frequently from one region to another as they follow the crops, their relationship with various far-flung employers can make them ineligible for health coverage. Thirty years ago a group of Oregon winery owners and health care professionals got together too help address some of these issues. The outcome of this meeting was the birth of ¡Salud!, an organization dedicated to the healthcare of seasonal vineyard workers.

Embracing the Vintage: Musings on Producing, Keeping and Drinking Vintage Wine
Marguerite Thomas
Oct 13, 2020

Have you heard this one? 'I told my wife that a husband is like fine wine--he gets better with age. The next day she locked me in the wine cellar.' Okay, maybe not that funny…but it did make me think about those people who stash a case (or several cases) of specific vintages of premium wine in their cellar, opening a bottle every now and then to see how the wine is evolving. The expectation, of course, is that since fine wines generally improve with age these wines may taste just fine now but will get even better as time goes by. Some people lay wines down with resale in mind, but that is a different issue altogether as we are talking here about people who are squirreling away wine for their own future enjoyment. And there was a time when wine-loving parents would put away a case of wine for their newborn child to enjoy in 18 or 20 years. I don't know if people are still doing that, but one of the drawbacks to this type of gambling on the future is that sometimes that particular vintage does not turn out as well as expected (I mean the wine, not the child).

Drink Wine and Look at the Moon
Marguerite Thomas
Aug 25, 2020

Goodbye summer, hello autumn. We are entering the time of year when temperatures begin to drop, dusk comes earlier and sunrise arrives later. Another symptom of the season is that in the coming weeks we're going to be treated to an exhilarating amount of celestial activity that kicks off with a full moon on September 2 with two more full moons arriving in October. While astronomers and other moon watchers will delight in the upcoming period of lunar commotion you might well ask what any of it has to do with wine. For vintners who follow biodynamic practices, the moon and its cycles play an important role in both viticulture and winemaking.

Cheering the Heart: Musings on the History of Pandemic Drinks
Marguerite Thomas
Jul 7, 2020

One thing I learned when I went into self-isolation on March 13 and started digging around for more information about pandemics is that while the term 'social distancing' may be a 21st century invention, the practice of people isolating themselves to prevent the spread of dangerous and highly contagious diseases is a way of life that humans have been practicing since at least the 5th century BCE. Until now I had a vague notion of what the medieval Bubonic Plague was, and I knew that scores of people were killed by the Spanish flu in the early 20th century. But I did not realize just how many plagues of one sort or another have swept around the world century after century leaving millions of people dead in their wake. Nor did I know what they drank during those dark days.

Pandemic Cooking: A Passion for Mushrooms, with Wines to Match
Marguerite Thomas
May 19, 2020

At this particular moment in history, when many of us are looking for foods that are nutritious, versatile, have a relatively long shelf life, are easy to prepare and don't take up much room on the fridge, friendly fungi can play more than just an attractive supporting role in our menus. I've long loved mushrooms for their fine flavors and textures and for the many different varieties available. As an added bonus, one thing I've learned in the past few weeks is that when mushrooms play a bigger role in the meal they can pair beautifully with wine.

Getting Out of the Rut
Marguerite Thomas
Feb 25, 2020

If you're one of these people, I've got a couple of suggestions to help you get out of this rut: Tonight, skip the Chardonnay, say 'no thanks' to Cabernet Sauvignon, and pick up a bottle of wine made from lesser known grapes instead. To get you started on your adventure away from the tried-and-true here's a trio of unusual wine grapes--a red, a white and a pinkish wine-to try.

Review: ATK's Twentieth Anniversary TV Show Cookbook
Marguerite Thomas
Jan 7, 2020

It was a couple of days after Christmas and I had a hankering to try one of the recipes from the recently published, 'America's Test Kitchen-Twentieth Anniversary TV Show Cookbook.' This is a hefty tome, weighing about the same as a good leg of lamb, and it is full of appetite inducing color photographs. Putting the book together involved 60 test cooks, editors and cookware specialists at Cook's Illustrated. If you are already acquainted with the basic format that Cook's Illustrated has been following since the magazine was founded in 1980, you'll be in familiar territory here, with each recipe being tested and reworked again and again until the editors come up with what they consider the best possible formula for any given dish.

Raising the Bar in Pennsylvania
Marguerite Thomas
Nov 5, 2019

Some things have changed very little in Pennsylvania's Lancaster and Lehigh Valley regions, where the countryside remains home to some of the most scenic landscapes in the United States. But not everything remains the same here. One positive change is that today's visitor is less apt to encounter wines made from hybrid and native American grapes. Yes, you can still find wine made from hybrid grapes but the momentum has definitely shifted to the European vinifera grapes that are familiar to most American wine drinkers. And yes, you might still run across the occasional rustic winery using obsolete equipment, but more often what you'll discover is state-of-the-art, mostly French and Italian presses, tanks, barrels and bottling lines.

Of Humans and Beavers
Marguerite Thomas
Sep 3, 2019

The Baltimore region was recently ranked second only to Oklahoma in the number of severe storm warnings issued this past summer. One of those tempests hit the city on Tuesday, August 6, when a slow-moving thunderstorm dumped so much rain on my neighborhood in downtown Baltimore that flash floods barreled across several blocks, stranding cars in some intersections. While climate change probably can't be blamed for this wild weather-after all, fierce summer storms in this part of the country are not unheard of-it further heightened my fears about the increasingly erratic climate and, on a related note, concern for the future of wine.

More Pros than Cons with Cans?
Marguerite Thomas
Jul 2, 2019

When my two sons were sub-teenagers, I occasionally took them and a couple of their friends backpacking in California's High Sierras Mountains. Only one thing was missing from these idyllic adventures: WINE! While the sun dipped towards the horizon and my aching shoulders were freed from the heavy backpack all I could think about as I stirred boiling water into dehydrated beef stroganoff was how much I wanted a few sips of wine. Not a lot of wine--I was, after all, responsible for a gaggle of young boys, plus we were at a fairly high altitude--but I would have been truly thankful for a small vinous reward at day's end. I now know that what I needed was a can of wine. Small, lightweight, pretty much indestructible and requiring no corkscrew or other gadget to open, a can of wine would have been the perfect reward after a day on the trail.

What Does a Millennial Want?
Marguerite Thomas
May 7, 2019

In the mid-twentieth century the legendary psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud claimed that women puzzled him. 'What does a Woman want?' he famously mused. Today a lot of people are observing a different population but asking a similar question: 'What does a Millennial want?' In this case, however, it's wine, not sex, that is being considered. So what kind of wine does a Millennial want to drink? Or for that matter do Millennials even want to drink wine at all? Will Millennials prevent wine sales from plummeting, or will this population abandon wine altogether in favor of beer and cider? Is the Millennial generation uniquely sophisticated about wine or are they clueless?

Rum: One of the World's 'Other' Fine Drinks
Marguerite Thomas
Mar 12, 2019

During the first few days of March, when the East Coast is likely to be hit by the worst sort of late-winter weather, my husband and I usually try to squeeze in a warm six-or-seven day Caribbean vacation. And so, for the past several years we have left our home in Baltimore and headed to Vieques, a warm and sunny island that lies about 20 miles east of the Puerto Rican mainland. Since most food and virtually all bottled beverages are brought to the island by boat, provisions sometimes get low. Towards the end of our week in Vieques both grocery stores had pretty much run out of white wines altogether, and the selection of remaining reds was not particularly tempting. What to do? Well, to paraphrase an old saying, when the going gets tough the tough get going for rum.

Balanced, Complex and Charismatic: My Eight Favorite Wines from 2018
Marguerite Thomas
Jan 15, 2019

Although evaluating and scoring wines is far from an exact science, it's clear that certain standards must be met in order for the system to have any meaning at all. When we're assessing them, flawed wines obviously do not merit a high score, or any score at all if the flaw is serious (the presence of TCA, or 'corked' wine, for example). But once flawed wines are excluded, most of us (you, me) are guided by personal preference when it comes to evaluating wines. How much experience we've had tasting wine is also a factor that helps determine how we rank them (there's nothing that sharpens a wine lover's palate as effectively as tasting a whole lot of different wines).

Cin Cin a tutti! Cheers to All with Franciacorta
Marguerite Thomas
Nov 20, 2018

Following all the valuable information that has appeared in Wine Review Online columns, my own self-appointed job now is to point out how delicious Franciacorta wines can be with food. Many of my colleagues compared the wines favorably to Champagne, and like Champagne, Franciacorta is not only a uniquely delicious aperitif, it also can be an enchanting accompaniment to a surprising range of different foods. With this in mind, I reached out to a few producers whose wines are imported to the US and asked them to share with us a favorite recipe that shows off the versatility of their wine at the table. The recipes, which I have taken the liberty of condensing below, illustrate the diversity of flavors and ingredients that these splendid sparkling wines can adapt to and even enhance.

A Tale of Two Vintners
Marguerite Thomas
Sep 25, 2018

Wine comes in three colors: White, red and pink. American vintners come mostly in one color: White. Skin color obviously does not affect a person's ability to make wine or to sell wine any more than gender does (and let's remember that women winemakers were mostly ignored until 1965, when Mary Ann Graf became the first woman to receive an enology degree from UC Davis). So, why do so few African Americans become vintners?

Jed Steele: Populist Winemaker
Marguerite Thomas
Jul 31, 2018

Tall enough to have been a basketball player (which in fact he was, at Gonzaga University), Jed Steele is also distinguished by a broad brush of white mustache fanning out above his upper lip. As a youngster growing up in San Francisco's Bay Area he had no more than a vague notion that he might want to pursue a career in winemaking, but when Fred and Eleanor McCrea offered him work as a cellar rat at their Stony Hill Winery in 1968 it turned out to be a job that would define the rest of his life. After earning an MS in enology from UC Davis in 1974, Steele moved on as winemaker and vineyard manager at Edmeades Winery, in Mendocino. From there he moved to Kendall-Jackson Estate Winery where, as head winemaker, he took the winery's production from 35,000 cases to one million cases in 9 vintages. In 1991 Steele decided to start his own winery. Five years later he moved his start-up production to Kelseyville, in Lake County, where he has been ever since, pretty much pursuing his original vision of producing small lots of varietal wines.

Exploring The Mid-Atlantic Wine Trails
Marguerite Thomas
Jun 5, 2018

Many-maybe even most-readers of Wine Review Online have visited Napa Valley and Sonoma County, and may also have traveled further up the coast to Mendocino's wine country. A few of you have probably also gone on to the Pacific Northwest. But have you ever stopped in to taste the terrific Cabernet Franc at Galer Estate in Pennsylvania, or Bluestone Vineyard's award winning Petit Manseng in Virginia? I was reminded of just how good wine made outside the west coast has gotten when I attended the second Mid-Atlantic Tasting Event a few weeks ago, an occasion that brought together a few media people and a selection of vintners from mid-Atlantic states. The event, which was held at Big Cork Vineyards in Rohrersville, Maryland, was organized by Paul Vigna, who writes about wine for Pennlive.com and who has become a leading voice for the wines and winemaking in the region.

What Goes With What? Vintners Weigh In on Favorite Food & Wine Pairings
Marguerite Thomas
Apr 17, 2018

As co-writer of WRO's column Wine With, I spend a lot of time thinking about specific foods and wines and how they might, or might not, go well together. Food and wine pairing choices can be personal and sometimes quirky (popcorn and Champagne), or obvious and unanimous (steak and Cabernet). One thing I've learned about the subject during a long career of interviewing and frequently sharing meals with winemakers and others directly connected to wineries around the world is that many of these men and women take selecting the "right" wine to go with a particular meal very seriously.

Interview with Burgess Cellars Winemaker Kelly Woods
Marguerite Thomas
Feb 27, 2018

After Kelly Woods received a degree in Viticulture & Enology from University of California at Davis, she went on to work at Napa's Seavey Vineyard and Bryant Family Vineyard, followed by a stint a Morton Estate Winery in New Zealand. While she was working at Sequoia Grove Vineyards, Stephen Burgess offered her a job as winemaker at Burgess Cellars, where she began work in January of 2013. Earlier this year, on February 13, 2018, she was promoted to Winemaker-General Manager.

Reinventing Cork
Marguerite Thomas
Jan 9, 2018

I've come to the little town of Céret in southwestern France, home of one of the two Diam cork factories--the second is located in Spain. As I make my way across the parking lot, an immense blue truck rolls in, with the words DIAM El corcho reinventado emblazoned on its side. Translation from the Spanish: 'Cork Reinvented.' What I am about to learn during the next couple of days here in Céret, and later visiting a handful of wineries, is that…unbeknownst to many of us wine consumers…a sort of cork revolution has been going on.

The Kind of Wine They Make
Marguerite Thomas
Nov 28, 2017

'They make wine in Virginia?' a puzzled California acquaintance asked me recently. 'What kind of wine can they make in places like that?' Since California produces about 85% of the nation's wine, it seems reasonable to assume that most people reading this column drink mostly wine from California. So maybe you open a bottle from Washington State or Oregon once in awhile, but when's the last time you've uncorked an Albariño from Maryland, or a Chardonnay from North Carolina? It's true that a great deal of wine from non-western states is mediocre, and, okay, some of it can be downright awful, but the overall quality of wines made in the eastern section of the nation continues an upward trajectory. I urge you to expand your wine knowledge in the coming new year by seeking out wines from places like New York, Virginia, and Michigan. With that in mind, I'm offering a brief primer here to get you started on your American wine odyssey.

Book Review: The Business of Sustainable Wine
Marguerite Thomas
Oct 10, 2017

While I have sometimes dismissed the term 'Sustainable' as mostly a marketing prop, Sandra Taylor's book left me convinced that it is a legitimate and complex issue. 'Certification, water use and quality, soil, air and climatic impacts, energy, chemicals, wildlife, materials, waste, and globalization are all important topics within the discussion of sustainable wine,' she writes. 'No single factor is more important, and they are most impactful when considered together.'

From Real Estate to Rosé: Q & A with Charles S. Cohen
Marguerite Thomas
Aug 29, 2017

Here's a quiz for you: Let's pretend that you're tired of whatever occupation you are currently pursuing, and so, for your next career you would like to be: a) a lawyer; b) a successful real estate developer; c) an award-winning film producer; d) the owner of a historic movie theater in Greenwich Village, New York, or e) the owner of a French wine chateau. Most of us would probably be happy to answer to any one of these job descriptions, but Charles S. Cohen can claim them all.

Wine from the Middle of Nowhere
Marguerite Thomas
Jul 25, 2017

With California alone producing 89 percent of American wine and Washington and Oregon running 2nd and 3rd in production by state, it's no wonder that the wine most of us drink on a regular basis comes from the west coast. But shouldn't we, at least every once in awhile, try wine from states like Michigan, New York, New Mexico, or North Carolina? Yes, I know, there's still a lot of plonk being made in some of these places, and I am certainly not proposing that we ditch our long nurtured allegiance to the wines of the west. All I'm saying is that sampling some of the best wines from other parts of the country can be a new and exciting tasting experience, an opportunity to broaden our palates, and a chance to learn a little more about the history of wine in America.

Bierzo Beckons
Marguerite Thomas
Jun 13, 2017

Both the wines and the place itself may be unknown to most American wine consumers but Bierzo is definitely a region worth exploring. Located up in the northwest corner of Spain's Castile-León region, Bierzo can lay claim to a rich history that includes some 2000 years of winemaking. So why don't we American wine drinkers know more about the place? For one thing, its mountainous region is remote and isolated. Furthermore, Bierzo's dominant grapes, Mencia and Godello, are relatively unknown, while many of Spanish grapes we've learned to love--Tempranillo, most notably--do not fare well in this relatively humid part of the world. And then there is the fact that that this region (like many others) is still feeling aftershocks from the Spanish Civil War and the four decades-long dictatorship under fascist leader Francisco Franco that rocked the country during the the 20th century.

Q & A with Simonsig Estate's Johan Malan
Marguerite Thomas
Apr 25, 2017

Johan Malan is the winemaker at Simonsig Estate, located in South Africa's beautiful Stellenbosch region. Wine is surely in the Malan family's DNA, as Johan's ancestor, Jacques Malan, a French Huguenot, planted vines in 1688, soon after he arrived in the country. Johan's father, Frans Malan, planted vineyards in the foothills of the Simonsberg Mountain, which became the nucleus of today's Simonsig Estate. Today the estate is managed by Johan and his two brothers. I sat down recently with Johan to ask a few questions, and we continued this discussion later by email.

Here's Looking at You, Roussin de Morgex
Marguerite Thomas
Mar 21, 2017

It is a cold and blustery January morning in New York City's Soho neighborhood. The January sky hangs low and gray as the wind tosses bits of paper and other flotsam along the gutters. A crowd has gathered inside the Spring Studios. Then a man says, 'There are more grapes in Italy than anywhere else.' Okay, despite the gray, wintry setting, we are clearly not in a film noir. In fact, we're at Vino 2017, a celebration of Italian Wine Week sponsored by the Italian Trade Commission and Vinitaly International Academy. The voice we just heard came from Italian wine expert David Lynch during his opening remarks at the early morning introductory round table discussion. As it turns out, that abundance of Italian grapes he mentioned is going to be a hot topic of discussion at Vino 2017.

Hit the Wine Trail
Marguerite Thomas
Feb 7, 2017

No matter where you happen to be in the United States chances are good that there is a wine trail near you. Almost every state in the union now has at least one wine trail, but this was certainly not always the case. New York's Cayuga Lake Wine Trail, which claims bragging rights as America's first organized and longest running wine trail, was established in 1983, when four wineries joined forces to discuss common goals and come up with creative tactics to attract new customers. Today the Cayuga Wine Trail includes some 16 wineries along its route as well as a handful of cideries, four distilleries, and a meadery.

Random Musings on the Cocktail
Marguerite Thomas
Dec 20, 2016

The history of cocktails didn't begin in America, of course--the smart set in Edwardian London, for example, was notorious for partying like mad while downing White Ladies (gin, Cointreau, lemon juice) and Whiskey sours (whiskey, lemon juice, egg white)--but after World War II, people descended on the United States from all over the world, bringing with them their native beverage preferences: Gin drinkers from England, beer guzzlers from Germany, vodka disciples from Eastern Europe, whiskey imbibers from Ireland and Scotland. The inevitable result was the evolution of a liquid melting pot, otherwise known as the cocktail.

Quirky Bubbles
Marguerite Thomas
Nov 8, 2016

With the holidays upon us it's time to think of all things sparkling: Festive lights, glittery gift wrap, some shiny bling, perhaps, and definitely lots of sparkling wine. I certainly would never turn down traditional Champagne, and there's no doubt that crémant, Prosecco, Cava and the like can add an effervescent sense of celebration to just about any occasion. But since there is an entire world of less well-known bubbly just waiting to be discovered, I recently went on a voyage of vinous exploration in hopes of uncovering some odder, more idiosyncratic sparkling wines. Here is the result of that tasting expedition.

Book Review: 'The Winemaker,' by Richard Peterson
Marguerite Thomas
Sep 27, 2016

This is a book about so much more than wine and winemaking. First and foremost it is an account of the development of California's wine industry by someone who helped shaped it into what it is today, but additionally The Winemaker is a charming personal reminiscence of a life fully lived. Among the things that set this chronicle apart from other wine-themed histories is that the author's own life parallels and echoes that of California's post-Prohibition wine industry.

A Wine Quiz for the Dog Days of Summer
Marguerite Thomas
Aug 16, 2016

It's a lazy, late-summer day, too hot for reading some long drawn-out essay about wine, right? Instead, I urge you to grab your laptop and crawl back under that beach umbrella (or at least crank up the AC in your office) and try your hand at this fun wine-themed trivia quiz. You'll find the answers to the questions at the bottom of the quiz.

Art and Anchovies, Knights and Sights
Marguerite Thomas
Jul 5, 2016

If you aren't familiar with the wines of Collioure, don't feel bad--few American wine lovers know anything about this enchanting little sliver of earthly paradise. One reason for its anonymity is that the wine production of Collioure and Banyuls (the two appellations cover the same ground) is relatively small. Another reason is that Collioure is somewhat off the beaten track, carved into the rocky shore of the Mediterranean Sea near the Spanish border (this is Catalan country, with France's section of the Catalan coastline called the Côte Vermeille, while Spain's is known as the Costa Brava). Collioure is a tiny, but picturesque, fishing port once known more for its anchovies than its wines. And yet, Collioure is one of France's most historic wine regions, dating back at least seventeen centuries or so, when the Phoenicians established a trading port here, and while they were at it they also planted vines.

Tyranny or Anarchy?
Marguerite Thomas
May 10, 2016

No, I'm not talking about the current political situation here. It's food and wine pairing that's caught my attention just now following a recent web surfing session during which I was surprised to discover that the word "tyranny" is frequently used in conjunction with the phrase food and wine pairing. "Wine and food matching has become a tyranny," declares Master of Wine Tim Hanni. "Food and wine matching should be important, but not a tyranny," writes Fiona Beckett, whose website happens to be one of my favorites on this subject (food and wine, not tyranny). Blake Gray, meanwhile, wrote about apps on his blog: 'Since food and wine pairing is mysterious and counter-intuitive, if you have a pairing app that tells you One Dish--One Wine, immutably, with no wiggle room, it's a tyrant in your pocket.'

Speaking of Wine: Cyril Brun from Charles Heidsieck
Marguerite Thomas
Feb 23, 2016

Champagne Charles Heidsieck, which was founded in 1851, was the first producer to bring Champagne to the United States. Cyril Brun, who was senior winemaker at Veuve Clicquot for the past 15 years, moved to Charles Heidsieck last May to fill the position left vacant in the wake of cellarmaster Thierry Roset's sudden death in 2014. I recently interviewed Cyril about his life and his upcoming move to become senior winemaker at Charles Heidsieck.

Venturing Beyond the Top Five
Marguerite Thomas
Jan 12, 2016

Dear fellow American wine drinkers: Can we resolve to bust out of our all-too-familiar wine drinking habits and try some new varieties in 2016? According to the Wine Market Council 39 million Americans drink wine several times a week. And do you know what we're drinking? The most popular top five varieties, ranked in order of preference, are Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio, Merlot, and Pinot Noir. Now I certainly have nothing against a good Chardonnay or Cabernet myself, but come on people, let's be a little more adventuresome here.

Colorado Winemaking Gets Serious
Marguerite Thomas
Dec 1, 2015

Colorado is a notoriously welcoming state for skiers and snowboarders, for hikers, bikers, kayakers, bird watchers, and outdoor music lovers. And as any bon vivant who has ever attended the Aspen Food & Wine Classic or the Telluride Wine Festival will tell you, Colorado is also a great place for sampling top wines from around the world. Less well known is the fact that Colorado's own vintners are beginning to produce some very impressive wines of their own.

Oysters to the Rescue
Marguerite Thomas
Oct 20, 2015

If you're an oyster enthusiast as well as a wine lover I'm sure you'll agree with me that one of the best things about our favorite bivalves is how much they can enhance the pleasure of imbibing a glass of Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis or Champagne. But oysters have an even more important role to play than bringing us gustatory happiness: As dynamo filters, we are counting on them to help clean our polluted water systems. When the explorer Henry Hudson sailed his 85 foot ship the Half Moon into the New York Harbor in 1609, he had to navigate around 220,000 acres (acres!) of oyster reefs. The oysters in the harbor had sustained the local Lenape people for generations, and when Hudson arrived that estuary was one of the most biologically pristine, diverse and dynamic waterways in the world. Fast forward to 1906. Not a single oyster is left in New York Harbor, having all disappeared down the gullets of rapacious New Yorkers.

A Long Time Coming: Artisanal American Vermouth
Marguerite Thomas
Jun 30, 2015

In view of the fact that sales of artisanal vermouth in the United States skyrocketed in 2014, making vermouth one of the fastest-growing categories in the US wine trade, the recent release of Adam Ford's book, Vermouth: The Revival Of The Spirit That Created America's Cocktail Culture is well timed. Adam Ford knows first hand what he's talking about: A lawyer by trade, he has created Atsby Vermouth, one of America's leading craft vermouths, which he produces on Long Island's North Fork. Nicely written and beautifully illustrated, the book moves chronologically from the beginnings of the world's oldest spirit (vermouth is at least 10,000 years old) through the history of vermouth in America, and on to contemporary American vermouth.

The American Plate
Marguerite Thomas
May 5, 2015

'In some respects, the past is another country…with flavors all its own that are well worth exploring,' writes Libby H. O'Connell in the introduction to The American Plate: A Culinary History in 100 Bites. In the book O'Connell, an historian, educator and Emmy award-winning documentary producer, shares fascinating facts and entertaining insights into the transformation of our palates from the year 1400 to today. Of course the book focuses on food rather than drink--it's called 'American Plate' not 'American Glass'--but since our ancestors could clearly equal, or even best us in amount of alcohol consumed, the subject of beverages does get some attention.

Sometimes Dreams Do Come True
Marguerite Thomas
Jan 27, 2015

Come on, admit it--even if it's been for only a minute or two…you've fantasized about having your own winery, right? Okay, maybe not actually owning a winery, but being a winemaker, perhaps one of those consulting vintners who jets around following the harvests from New Zealand to Napa. Or, if you're more the outdoorsy sort, maybe you've had a dream of retiring to Oregon to grow fabulous Pinot Noir grapes. But here's one thing I bet you've never had a secret yearning for: Becoming a vineyard field worker doing what the Farm Bureau portrays as, 'Hard, stoop, hand labor, [working] under the sometimes less advantageous conditions of heat, sun, dust, winds and isolation.'

The Evening's Opening Embrace
Marguerite Thomas
Nov 25, 2014

I fell in love with vermouth and other fortified aperitif wines long before fancy table wine seduced me. This infatuation began in my earliest drinking days, when I lived on the coast in western France. The wine we generally consumed with dinner was for the most part local, generic, inexpensive, simple, and tasty: Vin Ordinaire. Occasionally we indulged in a pricy Bordeaux or wine from the Loire, smacking our lips and agreeing that it was tres bon, but for the most part we drank the local stuff, which we thoroughly enjoyed without making a fuss over it. But ah, the aperitif before dinner, now that was another matter altogether.

Autumn in a Glass: Musings on a Seasonal Appetite
Marguerite Thomas
Sep 30, 2014

Just because fall is in the air, I have no intention of giving up the juicy rosés, the spine-tingling Sauvignon Blancs, and the crisp unoaked Chardonnays that were so cool and refreshing on hot summer evenings. But as the days grow shorter, temperatures cooler, and meals more robust…I am probably going to be a bit more discerning about my wine and be less inclined to lazily toss back a glass of that simple Pinot Blanc I guzzled so thoughtlessly in August. I'll be more likely to seek out a beautifully structured white such as Hanzell Chardonnay, and I'll take time to really notice and savor its special attributes.

Review: Proof--The Science of Booze
Marguerite Thomas
Aug 5, 2014

Proof--The Science of Booze, by Adam Rogers, may not be a book for everyone (the anti-alcohol crowd probably won't be interested), but it's hard to imagine any serious wine drinker who wouldn't find Proof chockablock full of fascinating facts and information. The writing is clear, concise, and full of humor in a very readable style that's even more impressive from a writer who specializes in science and technology (the award winning author is currently articles editor at Wired.)