Thursday, May 13, 2021

Wine for Writers

DEBORAH CROMBIE: You know how much writers like to get the inside scoop? And you know how much I love wine, right? So today's lovely guest, wine expert Becky Sue Epstein, is a double dip for me and a treat for you. (And I might just have to do a little more research...) But first, let's take Becky's quiz !


WINE FOR WRITERS –EIGHT TRUE THINGS

What do writers need to know about wine? No, that opening won’t work, too boring. They’ll just click onto something else online. Like cute pet pics.

What do writers want to know about wine? Not quite as bad. But these writers are too busy to spend time learning about wine, they just want to magically know.

OK, here’s the deal. Readers depend on writers who care: about their settings, their characters, their research. We readers figure it out pretty quickly. If you’re writing about Paris and you’ve never been there, it’s easy to tell.

If you’re putting wine in your books – and who doesn’t have a sip at the end of the day? – here are EIGHT TRUE THINGS to keep for reference, in order to preserve your readers’ trust that you are the authority in this book.

Depending on your characters, you can choose whether to have them behave according to (mainly incorrect) popular myths about wines, or according to the (perhaps counter-intuitive) reality.

Bonus: you can also use this list to enhance your own real life wine experiences.

 

SETTING THE SCENE:

NOT TRUE: Colorful glassware says you care about wine.

TRUE: Wine afficionados (collectors and experts) only serve wines in clear glasses.

Also, the glasses are tulip-shaped -- the tops of the bowls curve inward -- so the aromas are concentrated in the glass.

WHY: Clear glasses allow diners to evaluate the color of the wine, which is a factor in appreciating the wine.

Aroma is another subtle element that enhances every sip of wine.

TIP: Hold a wineglass by the stem to avoid warming the wine too much. Which means stemmed glasses are great for parties, but actually not necessary on the dinner table. Though they do look elegant.

 

SERVING WINE

NOT TRUE: White wines and sparkling wines must be served very cold. Red wines must be served at room temperature.

TRUE: Take bottles of white wine, champagne and other sparkling wine out of the refrigerator about 15 minutes before serving, for full enjoyment of their flavors and aromas. Put the bottle back the refrigerator or into an ice bucket after 30 minutes.

RED WINES can benefit from a little chill. They are best served at around 60-65 degrees F (15-18 C). Modern kitchens and dining rooms are just too warm. Place a bottle of red wine on a cool window sill, or even in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes before serving.

WHY:  Whether red, white or sparkling, all warm wine gets “flabby” – it loses its bright feeling and its all-important flavor balance. And no one wants a blah wine, with or without a meal.

 

STORING AN OPENED BOTTLE OF WINE

NOT TRUE: Always store opened bottles of white wine (not red) in the refrigerator, where they will last for a long time.

TRUE: Red wines, once opened, should also be stored in the refrigerator. But just for a day or so. Red wine starts to degrade, and you’ll wonder why you liked this wine to begin with.

White wines, once opened, will do best in the refrigerator for a few days. Not longer, or the flavors and aromas will fade and deconstruct -- as will the joy of drinking the wine.

WHY: Wines are sealed without oxygen in the bottle. When the bottle is opened, oxygen gets in and it’s only a matter of hours before the wine starts to degrade due to this exposure.

 

WINE WITH FOOD

NOT TRUE: Just serve a wine you like and it will be fine with dinner.

TRUE: When planning a meal, consider (or google) the region where your dish originated, and choose a wine style that also originated there.

WHY:  Originally, wine grapes and food ingredients were all grown near each other, by small farmers everywhere. People in each region have had centuries to perfect their natural wine and food pairings. Makes sense, when you think about it.

TIPS: Turkey and salmon are popular US foods, native to this land. The US was not a country known for its wines until relatively recently in world history; pair these foods with US pinot noir.

Many Asian foods pair well with off-dry Riesling, which is classically from Germany, sometimes from other Northern regions such as the Finger Lakes in New York state.

Also, refer to the winery website of any particular wine you like, because many wineries list food-pairing suggestions.

 

WHEN TO DRINK A WINE

NOT TRUE: all wines should be aged; the older the wine, the better.

TRUE: Almost all the wine we see on store shelves is ready to drink when we buy it. This means it will not benefit from further ageing; in fact it will become less appealing over time.

WHY: over 95% of today’s wine is made to be consumed within 1-2 years after it is sold. Wineries know the optimum windows for consuming their wine, and they make sure to get it into stores at the right time.

 

CHAMPAGNE

NOT TRUE: all wine with bubbles is Champagne.

TRUE: Champagne is only produced in the Champagne region of France (northeast of Paris), and according to strict regulations. It has been produced there for 400 years.

All other bubbly wines are “sparkling wines.” Not nearly as romantic a name, but true nevertheless.

WHY: Reputable wine producers and regions across the globe have all signed treaties with the French Champagne producers. Some wine regions have their own proprietary names for sparkling wines, even in other parts of France.

TIP: if you see a US wine labeled “Champagne” run the other way – it’s not going to be good.

 

PROSECCO

NOT TRUE: Prosecco is another kind of Champagne. 

TRUE: Prosecco is a sparkling wine made according to strict regulations, in an area centered in the Veneto region of northern Italy – yes, on the mainland near the romantic city of Venice.

WHY: Prosecco is made with different grapes and different processes from Champagne. It has been produced in its home region for about 100 years.

 

RED, WHITE AND ROSÉ

NOT TRUE: color is added to wines to make them red or rosé.

TRUE: The color in red and rosé wines comes from the red grapes’ skins.

WHY: The insides of grapes are white, so all wine would be white if the grapes were lightly pressed, and the skins immediately discarded. To make red rosé and red wines, before being pressed, the red grapes are left in large vats for various amounts of time, depending on the wine, to extract the color and other beneficial elements. 


Becky Sue Epstein is an award-winning wine writer, who has traveled to most of the wine regions of the world. Her expertise includes Champagne, Port, Vermouth and Cognac. She has written several wine and food books, including Champagne: A Global History; Brandy: A Global History; and Strong, Sweet & Dry: A Guide to Vermouth, Port, Sherry, Madeira and Marsala. Now, she just might be trying her hand at writing cozy mysteries -- with a wine component, of course. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter. For more answers to wine questions, readers of this site can email her at Becky@BeckySueEpstein.com

DEBS: How'd you do on the quiz, REDS  and readers? This was so much fun, and I did pretty well, although I don't always abide by things I know to be wrong, like how long you can keep white wine in the fridge...

And I get in big trouble in my books when my characters need to drink French wines--I can definitely use a boost to my education. Becky's books are now on my resource list, but she's going to be answering readers questions here on the blog today!

Welcome, Becky!

75 comments:

  1. So interesting, Becky . . . thanks for a very informative post.
    I noticed that you said to hold a wineglass by the stem . . . what do you think about stemless wine glasses?

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    1. Good question, Joan. That's what my daughter has, but I prefer stemmed.

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    2. I have both, Debs, but my STAR TREK wineglasses are stemless . . . .

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  2. Thank you for sharing this, Becky! I didn't know about keeping half bottles of red in the fridge, nor that they should be served a bit cool.

    I have a pump thingy and rubber corks that go with it it, to pump the air out of a half-consumed bottle of red. What do you think of that system? Should I also use it with white?

    Also, I know certain readers are rolling on the floor laughing at even the concept of a "half-consumed" bottle. Me too... Since the pandemic hit, I've been all about boxed wine so I didn't have to go out into the world to replenish the supply as often. Thoughts on boxed wine?

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 11:37 AM

      Hi Edith! Anything you can do to keep oxygen out of your wine is great. My favorite new wine saver is REPOUR. Re-close your wine bottle with this stopper and it lasts for at least 2 weeks in the fridge.
      Boxed wine: Also called bag-in-box in some regions. This is a great way to keep oxygen out of wine. However, I have found that more you pay, the better the wine quality.

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    2. Repour! On the way to get one now. YAY!

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    3. Oh, you use a new one every time? Ooh! Such interesting science behind it!

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  3. This is fascinating. Some of it, I knew. But most, I did not. Especially about consuming wine soon after purchase. I have several bottles I've been saving for a special occasion. Now I'm thinking Thursday is pretty special!

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    1. Every day is special, Annette:-)

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    2. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 11:40 AM

      Some years ago, the wine writers at the Wall Street Journal started an annual "Open That Bottle" Night.
      I think we should do this several times a year.
      Starting today would be good!

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  4. Wait, so all those big, aspirational wine cellars in fancy new homes are mostly full of degrading wines? This makes me feel better about only having a few bottles on hand at a time.

    Becky, thank you for demystifying wine and food pairings. That is the most sensible advice I've ever heard, and the least pretentious. Also, so easy to remember. That explains why a Gruner Veltliner tasted so good with my dinner in Austria, because it's a regional wine.

    What is your position on wine fridges? I don't understand how they are meant to keep both reds and whites chilled properly, unless if the reds are not stored there except just before serving?

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    1. Karen, I have a wine fridge and I love it. It's zoned for three different temps. Reds at the bottom, whites in the middle, beer or fizzy drinks at the top.

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    2. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 11:41 AM

      Yes, Deborah Crombie really knows her wines!

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    3. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 11:44 AM

      Wine fridges are good because they are a little warmer than conventional refrigerators in most countries.
      If you are simply storing a few bottles to use in the next few weeks, your home fridge is fine. Remember to take the wine out 15-30 minutes before serving. Less for white wines and sparkling wines, more time for red wines.
      All wines can be stored at the same temperature, around 55 degrees F (12 degrees C). In a dark and somewhat humid environment, ideally.

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  5. You've answered my most pressing wine questions, including what to do with a bottle of wine I've opened for a half or full cup of wine in the recipe. Don't leave it in the fridge more than a few days.

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 11:46 AM

      You can also pour the rest of the wine into a smaller container -- the less space for oxygen, the better.
      Not as pretty, but it works!

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  6. Welcome to JRW, Becky. Thank you for a very informative post, very useful! A bit of research could be a huge help to improve pairings with food.

    I love wine, my husband doesn't really care for it. Like Edith, I use a pump that removes air from the partially consumed bottle.

    While most of our glasses are inappropriate by today's standards, which I knew, it is still a kick to set the table with fancy crystal or even with my mother's green stemware from time to time.

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 11:51 AM

      So glad you enjoyed this post. In case you can't tell, I love talking about wine, so feel free to reach out if you want to discuss food-pairings, too.
      About glassware: have you thought of using your heirloom glasses simply as water glasses? (You probably have.) Your table settings must be beautiful!

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  7. I'm not sure what it says about me that I read EVERY WORD OF THIS. Wine! I thought. So much better than a pet pic! Anyway, a great and very helpful piece. I've always struggled with what to pair with Asian food and always seemed to land back on Asian beer. But I'm going to try the off-dry Reisling tip next time. Thanks

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 11:53 AM

      Thanks, Amy, glad you found this helpful. Happy to talk more about wine any time!

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  8. Amy, you weren't the only one to read every word. LOL

    I did okay. One of the main characters in my Laurel Highlands series prefers red wines, so I'd done just enough research to not make her look like an idiot. I'm bookmarking this page for future reference. LOL

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 11:56 AM

      Liz, now I am bookmarking your Laurel Highlands series for my tbr list!

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  9. Yum! As a red wine aficionado, I devoured this blog post. Thank you so much for the skinny on wine, and for supporting my long held habit of chilling the reds before consumption.

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  10. So interesting! Thanks for sharing, Becky! I always thought I didn't much like red wine until a recent trip to Tuscany opened my eyes. And what is it about chardonnay that gives me a headache, and how come I don't seem to get one if the chardonnay cost more?

    And what about all that swirling that I've seen wine drinkers doing at wine bars before taking (another) sip?

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    1. I can't drink chardonnay either, Hallie, it gives me a horrible headache. And I'm hesitant to up the price, because it's such a waste if I can't drink it...

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    2. Yes, I suddenly get a headache from white wine, too! And I am fearful of rose, although I love it, I am afraid to try. Red wine – – happily – – is still fine. Wonder why that is?

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    3. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 11:59 AM

      Actually, Hallie has a point: it is worth going up a notch or two in price, to get better quality wine!
      Or you could turn to France: White Burgundy is all Chardonnay.

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    4. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 12:05 PM

      Hank, here's the deal. Many people who don't drink red wine, drink rose wine without any problems. AND rose is made with red wine grapes. Not as much tannins or color from the skins as conventional reds, so maybe that is the difference.
      Whatever you do, don't cheap out on your rose wine. This is another area where going up a notch in price can make a big difference. Or try a classic French rose from Tavel or Provence.

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    5. You are so right about upping the price on the roses, Becky. My daughter loves wine, too, and one of our favorite things is to have a nice glass of rose with lunch out at a favorite cafe. There's just something so celebratory about it.

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    6. This is reminding me of the sweetish sparkling rose we loved waaaaaay back when I knew zero about wine - Lancers Mateus. In a clay bottle? Anyone else remember?

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    7. Yes, Hallie! College days...

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    8. I remember those bottles, although my parents drank the wine.

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    9. I prefer Northwest Pinot Gris, but UNoaked Chard, especially from the Columbia Valley (WA)might work for you. Indeed most WA chards have very litle oak.

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  11. Becky is on west coast time, but she will be here!

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  12. Loving the questions and comments! Becky, I also read every word. I just thought of a question that I've had for a while. If you cook a meal using wine in the dish you're serving, is it good to offer the same type of wine to drink with it? Something similar?

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 12:08 PM

      Yes -- that is the ideal way to do it!
      Serve the same wine to drink that you used in cooking your dish.
      Which also means that you won't be using cheap wine to cook with. So your life will improve in many ways, right?

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  13. Becky, what French whites would you recommend for someone who likes crisp California/West Coast whites?

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 2:37 PM

      Hi Deborah,
      I'd look at northern Italy, specifically pinot grigio from Collio, where all the vineyards are on hillsides that were under the sea a few million years ago. Crispness and a hint of minerality too.

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  14. Becky, I struggle with reds. I don't eat much meat, so would love some suggestions for food pairings.

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 2:43 PM

      Red wines without meat are classic in southern Italy. Reds from the Campania region -- where they were too poor to afford meat!
      Good Chianti Classico wines (from Tuscany) are light, and they can pair well with vegetable-based dishes like zucchini, peppers and onions with with sundried tomatoes and a hint of tomato paste. If you think along those lines, would that help?

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  15. A friend and I were talking just this morning about a fabulous meal we once shared, sitting on the tailgate of my truck, eating carry-out barbecue from foam boxes, and washing it down with a wonderful pinot noir. (Note to people who know me: there were frolicking border collies involved.) What are some of you wine suggestions for casual tailgate dining like that?

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  16. Such an interesting post, Becky. My daughter gave me an insulated wine beaker. It’s brilliant for keeping white wine chilled ( but not as pretty as crystal)

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 2:44 PM

      Your insulated wine beaker will be great for the summer, especially now that we are all entertaining outside!

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  17. This is incredibly interesting! Store open red wine in the refrigerator? I am very surprised by that…whoa.

    And I echo the question about the stemless wine glass. I love our Riedel glasses… What do you think of those ?

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  18. I have stemless Riedel wine glasses too! The key is to have as thin a lip on the glass as possible, that way the wine flows beautifully (and correctly) onto your tongue.

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    1. OOh, I am so pleased to hear it...yes, the lip is a sliver. And that's something completely new--now I will think about that in a different way!

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  19. All very interesting, Becky Sue. Thanks for this.

    So relieved to hear wine will last a few days after opening, because that's been my Thing for the past 430 days. One glass of wine--red or white--4 pm every day. No more. No less (or no fewer, if we're counting the glass as an item, as opposed to a volume). Each bottle lasts 4 days, and once it's open, its contents must be consumed in good time.

    And--oh joy--a new Wine & Liquor store (LCBO, for fellow Ontarians) has just opened up a 15 minute walk from my house. Excercise AND wine shopping.

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 2:46 PM

      Susan, I guess you're not allowed to walk home sipping, are you?

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  20. Interesting info! I'm not used to drinking red wine that has been chilled as opposed to room temperature. When it happened I always wondered if that was a mistake. Now I know. We enjoy wine very much. We used to be in a wine club when we lived in Minnesota. Such fun. The commercial where the man is trying to impress his date by ordering Peanut of the Night (pinot noir) still cracks me up.

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    1. I think that traditional "cellar" temperature is much cooler than room temp in American houses.

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    2. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 2:51 PM

      Pat, you could try out gradually lowering the temperature of your red wine. Pour two glasses of wine. Put one in the fridge for 5 minutes and see what the differences are. Another time, try 10 minutes in the fridge. Etc. You'll be able to figure out your own preferences. While drinking wine. All in the name of Experimental Science.
      Deb, exactly -- room temperature used to be a lot lower.

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  21. I just Googles "authors who drank a lot of wine" and got 13,800,000 hits, so Becky Sue may be on to something. I actually went to check - my wine glasses are clear, but they don't curve back to hold in the aroma. This may be because I got them in boxes of ten glasses for ten dollars.

    The thing I'd really like to know is - what should I do if I'd like to buy ahead and age wine at home? I have an honest-to-goodness cave in my cellar: the brick archway supporting the massive chimney stack at the center of the house. It stays very dry, thanks to the heat pump water heater, and the temperature is at 50-55F/10-12C year round. However, I did already know that most wine I can buy at the local store is ready to drink today. Where does one get wine to "lay down" for the future?

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 2:58 PM

      Julia, I often find good glasses at discount shops. Make sure to look at the curvature of the bowl. And that the rims are as narrow as possible.
      Though I have some expensive glassware My ideal "company" glasses are less than $5, so I never have to worry if a glass breaks during a dinner party. And afterward I can put the glasses in the dishwasher.
      WINE CELLAR: I wish I had one like yours! How to fill it would be a longer discussion, so feel free to DM me and we can talk.

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  22. What a helpful piece, Becky Sue. You explain these wine facts in such a clear, relatable way. I don't drink much, but I do like to have a bottle or two of wine on hand. I'm glad to learn more about its shelf life, both before and after opening. My stomach handles white wine better than red, and I prefer something on the dry side, not sweet.

    The first time I had company in over a year was about three weeks ago, and before we ate the main meal, we had some appetizers. I decided to get some Prosecco to have for anyone who wanted a taste. Well, only the three women, including myself, had it, but we all really enjoyed it. I chose it because I'd read that it had a low alcoholic content, and for some reason, it just felt right to have. My daughter and sister-in-law both commented how much they liked it. Do you have a preferred brand in it?

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    1. Kathy, my daughter and I are big prosecco fans. We prefer it to champagne, unless we are splurging on really good champagne. I'd love to see what Becky recommends, too. I include American sparkling wines in that category, too. A nice one is Gruet, both in the blanc and rose, out of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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    2. I love Trader Joe's North Coast Sparkling Rose, but it's only available around November and December every year, and when it's gone, it's gone. I did buy extras this year, but next year I'm getting a case! $10 a bottle, a great buy.

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    3. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 3:07 PM

      Prosecco is such an amazing wine, when made well. Look for a bottle that says "Prosecco DOC" on the label. It must come from the Prosecco region of Italy where everything from the hillside to the vineyards to the winemaking is done according to strict regulations.
      I don't know any good Prosecco wines that cost less than about $15/bottle.
      If you want to go up in quality (and price) to some truly wonderful Prosecco, the label will say "Prosecco DOCG" -- and a lot more Italian words, which I can help decipher if you need it.

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    4. Thank you, Debs and Becky, for the information on Prosecco. I will probably be including it in future gatherings.

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  23. You had me at Prosecco! This is such a fabulous post! I did not shine on the quiz and clearly have a lot of learning to do. I’m sharing it with all of my wine loving friends. Thank you, Becky Sue!

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 13, 2021 at 3:09 PM

      Thanks, everyone -- this is such fun!
      Hope we can do it again sometime!

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  24. Very interesting. This reader noticed in two new books read back to back recently the mention of the same French wine. The books were Good Company and Who Is Maud Dixon? and the wine in both is Chateauneuf du Pope. The name Darrow was mentioned in both books as well, as a surname in one and as a school name in the other. Coincidence?

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 14, 2021 at 3:37 PM

      Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a legendary wine region in Southern France, not too far north of Avignon. I think it's probably a coincidence that the wine and the surname are used in two books. However, you might want to try a glass of wine from this excellent region, next time you see it on a menu or in a shop. Most of the wine made in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape region is red; the much more rare white wines are also terrific!

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  25. My mother loves White Zinfandel, but as time as gone on, fewer and fewer restaurants are carrying it. Do you have any idea why that may be?

    I'm also bummed out about the shape of wine glasses. I have two types of old-fashioned shaped wine glasses that belonged to my grandmother, but I won't use them and I know that no one else would want them, either! :-(

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    1. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 14, 2021 at 3:41 PM

      Mary Kaye,
      1. You can always use your wonderful heirloom glasses for water -- or anything else.
      2. White Zinfandel: It's no longer very fashionable. Rosé wine has taken its place, in many instances. There are some rosé wines your mother might like; make sure she asks for one that is "sweet" or "fruity"

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  26. Loved this post. We're lucky to have great friends who own one of the largest wineries in Texas. They've taught us a lot about wine, but I learned something today: Repour! Shopping for it today. Thanks, Becky and Debra!

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  27. Becky Sue EpsteinMay 14, 2021 at 3:44 PM

    Hi Gay, I was lucky to visit the Fredericksburg area a number of years ago, and was amazed at how much wine is now made in Texas. And every winery had something very good, so you must be drinking well there!

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    1. So happy you made it to Fredericksburg, Becky!

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