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Gifts: A Book and a Bottle

15 Dec

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil, Workman Publishing, $24.95 (paperback)

The holiday season is here in full force, which for many of us means it’s time to buy presents galore. While finding perfect gifts is the hard part of the season, this year there’s an easy choice for the wine lovers on your list: Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible has just been revised and updated.

MacNeil is a multi-award-winning, preeminent wine writer, educator and consultant. says, “No one combines style, knowledge, skill, passion and presentation better than Karen MacNeil.” And The Wine Bible is a classic that belongs in every wine library. Because it’s so comprehensive, I think it should be one of the first books in that library.

For one thing, it’s simply lots of fun. Not every book that’s 996 pages is. But this eminently browsable tome is chockablock with informative asides, tips, engaging anecdotes, definitions, glossaries, photos, maps, labels and recommended producers. It informs and, thanks in part to MacNeil’s colorful, dramatic writing, entertains.

I especially enjoy the many short, creative topics. For example, in her chapter on Burgundy, MacNeil includes sections titled “History, Monks, the Establishment of Terroir and the French Revolution”; “Where’s the Boeuf?”; and “The d’Or in Côte d’Or.” Other intriguing sections include “Sauerkraut, Skunks, and Sweaty Socks” and “Chateauneuf-du-Extraterrestrial.”

For this second edition (the first dates to 2001), MacNeil has tasted more than 10,000 wines and visited dozens of wine regions around the world.  Sections on the wines of China, Japan, Mexico and Slovenia are new. The history, food, wines, grapes and wineries of each region are, of course, covered. So are tasting wine, shopping for wine, choosing wine glasses, matching wine and food, cooking with wine, storing wine, and many other -ings. And much more.

Bottom Line: The Wine Bible makes wine almost as enjoyable to read about as it is to drink.

If you’re looking for a bubbly wine–a sparkling gift for many people–I recommend Lucien Albrecht’s Crémants d’Alsace–and so does MacNeil. She includes Albrecht in her “Alsace Wines to Know” section.

Romanus Albrecht started the winery in 1425, and over the centuries other Albrechts have been responsible for significant innovations and advancements. In 1971, for example, Lucien Albrecht helped gain Appellation d’origine Contrôlêe status for Crémant d’Alsace; he’s considered one of the founding fathers of this AOC regulated category.

Crémants d’Alsace are some of the best French sparkling wines from regions outside Champagne. Lucien Albrecht Crémants are especially well regarded by many. In 2004 they won an unprecedented four gold medals at the Crémant Wine Challenge tasting. French wine expert Jacqueline Friedrich calls Lucien Albrecht wines “excellent … on every level” in her book The Wines of France.

There are two versions–a white and a rosé (which I prefer):

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut (50% Pinot Blanc, 25% Pinot Gris and 25% Riesling): Fine and elegant bead (bubbles); light, delicate palate; crisp acidity. Well balanced, fruity finish.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé (100% Pinot Noir, the only red wine grape allowed in Alsace): Aromas and flavors of strawberry, rhubarb and cherry. Exuberant mousse (the sparkling effervescence of a wine). Crisp acidity. Creamy texture. Long finish.

The suggested retail price for both is $21.99, but I’ve seen them on for as little as $15.

Some Don’t Like It Hot: Temperatures to Serve Wine At

2 Jun

I want to share an easy way to remember good temperatures to serve wine at. I came across it in the “Welcome to Wine Country” brochure from Uncork New York!, which suggests two mnemonics to remember: 45-55-65 and 3-2-1.

1) Sparkling wines, including Champagne, should be served at 45° F. It takes three hours of refrigeration to achieve this temperature.

2) White table wines and late harvest and ice wine dessert wines should be served at 55° F. A good two hours in the fridge should be sufficient to cool them.

3) Red wines, port and sherry should be served at the cool room temperature of 65° F. It takes about one hour to reach this temperature.

This is an easy system to remember, but it benefits from some tweaking. After doing more research, I came up with other numbers that suggest serving:

Sparkling wines and Champagne at 40° F to 50° F

Light- to medium-bodied whites at 40° F to 50° F
Full-bodied whites at 47° F to 60° F
Rosés at 40° F to 55° F

Light, fruity reds at 50° F to 62° F
Complex, rich, mature reds at 60° F to  68° F

White dessert wines at  40° F to 50° F
Port at 60° F to 65° F

Unfortunately, the nifty mnemonic doesn’t work for these temperatures. Such is life. I suggest you try out different temperatures and post your favorites on the refrigerator. For many of us, just getting in the ballpark of these temperatures will be sufficient.

Wine Importers to Rely On: Jorge Ordoñez’s Fine Estates from Spain

26 Aug

by Sharon Kapnick

For more than two decades, Jorge Ordoñez has brought many great Spanish wines and inexpensive Spanish wines of great value to the U.S. via his Dedham, Mass., firm. He’s played a leading role in modernizing Spanish wines and then creating a market for them. As wine lovers in the U.S. started to move beyond Rioja and sherry, Ordoñez was exploring, discovering and improving wines from other regions. And then, after Americans embraced wines from Rías Baixas, Priorat and Ribera del Duero, Ordoñez partnered with some of the best winemakers in Jumilla, Montsant and Calatayud.

Wine figured in his life from his early childhood in Málaga, where his family ran a wholesale food and wine business, selling to restaurants along the fashionable Costa del Sol. Ordoñez managed the company for several years before moving to Boston, his wife’s hometown, in 1987. There, importing Spanish wines seemed a promising business for him.

Ordoñez is a savvy, hands-on businessman. He’s guided his producers in all stages of winemaking, suggesting blends, emphasizing quality control and solving problems. He knows which grapes will thrive in each region and ensures that the appropriate grapes are planted in the correct spot. He convinced vignerons to keep their old vines of native Spanish grapes instead of replacing them with better-known non-indigenous grapes. Ordoñez claims to have brought the first Albariño, Spain’s seafood-friendly signature white wine, to the U.S. in 1991. He also introduced Godello, Monastrell and Txakoli to American consumers. He was the first to  insist on refrigerated storage areas and refrigerated shipping. He basically revolutionized the Spanish wine trade.

Ordoñez’s talents have received much recognition. In 1997 Food & Wine magazine gave him its Golden Grape Award, which honors “visionaries in America who are not only changing the way we think about wine but also determining what we will be drinking in the 21 st century.” Influential wine critic Robert Parker Jr. twice named Ordoñez one of the Most Influential Wine Personalities of the Last 20 Years. In 2012 he was nominated by the James Beard Foundation as Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional.

In a recent interview with the online Shanken News Daily, Ordoñez said, “Today Americans know Spanish wine regions better than most Spaniards.” That, in large part, is due to the efforts of Jorge Ordoñez.

When shopping for Spanish wines, you’d do well to look for Jorge Ordoñez Selections or Fine Estates from Spain on the label.