Tom's blog

Prosecco fights to keep is name

There are few wines that have had the meteoric rise of prosecco. Long famous in its native Italy, the sparkling wine could never compete with real champagne or even sparkling cava from Spain. The reason was more about marketing, but it was cost that propelled sales to new heights.

Today prosecco -- made from the glera grape instead of the traditional chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier -- is one of the fastest growing segments of the wine market. It is doing so well, that Australian is trying to compete with a sparkling wine it wants to call "prosecco." That development has lead Italians to protect its hold on the name in negotiations for a free trade deal between Australia and the European Union.

Italy is seeking a Geographic Indicator that would reserve "prosecco" for its country of origin. Champagne has earned that right, although its the name of the region as well as the beverage. Prosecco is a village near Trieste, but today the name is used in nine Italian regions.

This all seems silly to most people, but it means a lot of money to producers. Australian prosecco has boomed just like Italian prosecco.

I remember well similar vociferous battles over the name "chenin blanc," used in France and still in other countries, "burgundy" which was copped by E&J Gallo for a fruity jug wine that didn't even have pinot noir, and "champagne" which eventually was abandoned by sparkling wine producers in the United States.

Legendary Duboeufs carry on in Beaujolais

So many people turned up their noses at beaujolais even though it represents one of the most underrated best values from France. Beaujolais has suffered from annual assaults of its own making, namely the release of the frivolous and meaningless beaujolais nouveau. Yet the French wine made with gamay beaujolais grapes has as much character and purpose as any other grape variety. 

Franck and his father, Georges Duboeuf

Franck and his father, Georges Duboeuf

I was reminded of my support for Beaujolais while recently talking to Franck Duboeuf, son of the legendary Georges Duboeuf. I met the elder statesman, still clinging to his title of the "king of beaujolais," in the late 1980s when he was pushing beaujolais to a Washington, D.C. market. His ruffled, curly head of hair was naturally dark then -- not so today, but neither is mine the same. Back then, beaujolais nouveau was arriving via helicopters, submarines, sky divers, hot air balloons and any other gimmick sure to attract a drinking party of revelers.

However silly nouveau, it has managed to bring attention to a region that struggles in the shadows of Burgundy to its north. Perhaps it can't compare, but the crus from 10 Beaujolais villages make some terrific wines that can actually be aged.

For more about this region and my interview with Franck Duboeuf, see my column on another page.

Catching up with Greg Norman wines

When speaking of Greg Norman, it's hard to pinpoint one achievement. As a golfer, he won two British Open Championships and stood atop the list of best golfers for 331 weeks, eventually replaced by Tiger Woods. He's designed more than 100 golf courses and owns 14 businesses. 

He's also established a successful wine business that despite the competition remains a household name. Today I caught up with the wines and with his daughter, Morgan, a full-time resident of Jupiter, Fl. who helps to market the wines and was instrumental in much of the label design.

Morgan and her father have residences on Florida's East Coast and were in Naples for their annual QBE Shootout that this year will raise money for children's cancer. You can't speak of golf without speaking of wine because Norman often sees the two together. His business pattern is to first establish a golfing center in areas where the demographics are good, then introduce his wines to the market. If you recognize the name in golf, you will recognize it on a wine label too. Very smart.

Norman instructs his wine team to make a wine that can be enjoyed with food and is reasonably priced so that most people can afford to buy it. Across the board, the wines are approachable and well priced at around $15. These are wines that aren't over-oaked or over-extracted like so many other wines.

Morgan says that her father has resisted the trend to make fruit bombs, much like many of the Australian shirazes that have flooded the U.S. market. And now the market is coming back in the direction of his style of making a more balanced, less alcoholic wine. 

I'll be writing a column about these wines in the next several weeks. Meanwhile, I highly recommend you try the 2015 Greg Norman Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon, 2015 Santa Barbara Pinot Noir and the 2016 Eden Valley Chardonnay.  All of them are priced under $15.

Making your holidays sparkle

I hate to admit that I don't think of champagne as an every-day wine. It's usually associated with celebrations -- such as Christmas and New Year's. Most champagne is sold in December, so obviously I'm not alone in opening some bubbles at this time of the year.

My wife and her girlfriends love champagne year-round and I pour more for them than I do for myself. To me the bubbles just get in the way of a good wine, but then I recently opened several champagnes that brought me to my senses. The bubbles are part of champagne's character and behind it is a good wine.

That precise thought came to mind when I sipped a 2012 Taittinger. This house is known for its exquisite chardonnay-based champagnes and this vintage version didn't disappoint. It also brought back a fond memory of dining with Claude Taittinger in the late 1980s at Chateau de la Marquetterie, a palatial property that served as a command post during World War I. It was bought by Pierre Taittinger in 1932.


Taittinger has been one of my favorite champagnes ever since I first tasted its Comtes de Champagne. It stands alongside Krug, Cristal and other top cuvees of the most prestigious champagne houses. You never had champagne like this and one sip will make you understand the difference between cheap sparkling wine and champagne. 

This northern region has given winemakers fits over the years, but with global warming it has been easier to ripen grapes. In fact, I have to wonder if one day Champagne won't be ideal for still wine. Could the next best pinot noir or chardonnay be coming from Champagne?

I have been sampling a lot of sparkling wine and champagne in the last couple of weeks. Not a bad gig. A column with my recommendations will appear in the next week or so.

Santa had better be nice

It's not me who should be nice. That is Santa's responsibility. I've been doing good things all year and damn if I'm going to accept some cheap bottle of Cheap Wine for Christmas. What about you? Have you dropped any hints or are you just throwing yourself to well-intended family members who will wrap another bottle of Menage a Trois?

Buying for the family wine snob isn't easy and it may be safer to just buy the guy some golf balls or a gift card at Home Depot. But if you endeavor to step bravely into the world of wine buying, I offer 5 suggestions.

1. Don't buy just any wine There are a ton of wines -- not all of them expensive -- that say "unique." Don't go anywhere near chardonnay or merlot, but instead consider alternative grape varieties that will intrigue your gift recipient. I'm thinking godello from Sicily, muller thurgau from Austria, cabernet franc from Chinon. Think emerging wine countries: Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia.

2. Think about the talked-about wines. Duckhorn's Three Palm Vineyards Merlot was the number one wine in the world in Wine Spectator's annual challenge. It will cost you nearly $100, though. Or think of David Phinney's new blends that draw grapes from an entire country, i.e. "F" is a blend of French grapes, "E" is for Spain, etc. They will cost under $25. 

3. Think local. I dread to recommend this because there are some crazy peach wines from obscure wineries. But, still, most people ignore some of the great wines produced in states like New York, Texas and Virginia.  Chosen carefully, they will be a pleasant adventure.

4. Think outside the wine box. Most people would love a bottle of port to wile away a Sunday night around the fire. An ice wine from Canada is incredible, yet most people haven't tried it. There is also sauteurne that can be pricey, madiera, aged sherry, cognac.

5. Think bubbles. A bottle of real champagne -- not prosecco -- is a luxury and a timely gift to ring in the new year. You can now get champagne for under $50 from producers such as Pommery, Nicolas Feuillatte, Moet & Chandon and others.

If you don't want to buy wine or can't very well ship it across the country, turn a page and look at a good book. My favorite this year is "Cork Dorks" by Bianca Bosker. And there are other practical gifts: a Languiole corkscrew, a Riedel decanter, an aereator.

I have more suggestions in my column on another page. Keep checking back.

I hope this helps. Good luck!

Tasting No. 1

My wife and I had some neighbors and their adult children over for a steak dinner the other night. The neighbor wanted to take us all for dinner on the town, but I suggested instead a dinner at our house. She would buy Kobe steaks and I would provide the wine. I knew this would be a better and cheaper dinner than picking up a restaurant tab for six people. Plus, we love to entertain.

I pulled out several aged California cabernet sauvignons from Mt. Veeder and Episode and a 2003 Clos de Marquis from Bordeaux. None of them really impressed me, but then one of our guests, an oenophile from Chicago, mentioned that the 2014 Duckhorn Three Palms Vineyard Merlot had received the Wine Spectator's top wine in a list of 100 from all over the world.

Then, I remembered I had one in the cellar. So, we poured it and clearly it was the best wine of the evening. I can't remember the last time a merlot made number one on the magazine's list. Ever since the movie, "Sideways," merlot has struggled to get recognized. But the Three Palms, ever one of the best made, was deserving of the award. It was very complex and full bodied with layered dark fruit, spice, cedar, anise and a finish that just wouldn't die. But that's been the case for years.

Congratulations to Duckhorn. 

Kosta Brown changing course

It was recently announced that Dan Kosta and Michael Browne are stepping down from the pinot noir powerhouse company they co-founded in the late 1990s. That in itself is a remarkable announcement, but to me it was overshadowed by the news that the producer's iconic, hedonistic pinot noirs would change course.

As reported in the San Francisco Chronicle, Kosta said the extracted style of Kosta Brown's pinot noirs is what made them so successful -- and the co-owners so rich that they could leave and start another wine company. But today these wines are a poster child of what NOT to do. Like many other trends, the over-extracted and riper-style pinot noirs are presumably not as highly regarded as they once were. It reminds me of the old chardonnays that were way too creamy, extracted and oaky. That trend changed too.

Getting more recognition nowadays are the balanced pinot noirs that are more cerebral and elegant -- not unlike the style found for centuries in Burgundy. But is such a shift really what consumers want -- or what winemakers want?

Kosta Browne got its breakthrough with the 2003 vintage that scored 96 points in the Wine Spectator. Demand soared so high that people are on its waiting list for more than 3 years. Only 15 percent of Kosta Browne is sold to wholesalers -- the rest are distributed from the winery to eager and well-heeled members. 

Recognizing the need to change directions to maintain profitability, new equity owner J.W. Childs wants to distance itself from Kosta Browne's reputation for ripe pinot noir. Even Kosta says his new venture with Browne -- Alden Alli -- will have less extracted pinot noirs. 

And, Kosta Browne's winemaker, Nico Cueva says he will use less oak, native yeasts and less extraction.

Although I prefer my sensual burgundies to pinot noir fruit bombs, I wonder how a leaner style will fare with consumers. Winemakers are sensing shifting winds, but big and juicy pinot noirs are still loved. Time will tell.

California's syrah making strides

With all the wines from which to choose, we often neglect syrah. Perhaps it’s because we think first of shiraz, those fruit-forward and often insipid knockoffs from Australia. OK, we all know Australia produces some incredibly dense and complicated syrah, but many are way too frivolous and ghastly overripe for us. 

So we happily reunited with the grape variety in a blind tasting among friends. These versions were from California and demonstrated that the grape can lead to some rich and complex wines. 

High on the list was 2014 Ramey Sonoma Coast Syrah ($40). Like its pinot noirs and chardonnays, Ramey’s syrah is made with care and attention to detail. It is balanced and more like a Northern Rhone syrah than an Australian shiraz. More classic in style with earthy, meaty aromas and a flavor profile that strikes the unami element. Dark berry flavors with a dash of olives and pepper. Ver supple and long in the finish. 

Two other favorites were the 2014 Dierberg Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara Star Lane Vineyard Syrah ($40) and the 2013 Donelan Sonoma County Cuvee Christine Syrah ($48).  

The Dierberg showed off generous and forward red berry aromas, fresh raspberry and plum flavors with fine tannins. This wine will age but shows well know when paired with barbecued meats. 

The Donelan syrah was more complex with effusive plum and cassis flavors and a hint of dark chocolate. Balanced but with acidity and balances a lush mouthfeel. Made entirely of syrah, it is a bold version that can be enjoyed now or aged.  Donelan makes an incredible Obsidian Vineyard Syrah that will set you back $105, but as we say, it's incredible. 

My advice for starting a cellar

A friend of mine had asked me to put together a list of wines he should buy for his new wine cooler. An avid wine drinker, he stuck to the same wines year after year, content to rely on a name rather than risk money on alternatives.

He wanted to buy 10 cases and take my list to local retailers who would then bid for his business. That's an interesting concept, but one doomed to fail. Not every store will carry all of the wines I would recommend. Any wine the retailer special ordered would have to be purchased by the case because retailers just don't want to put wines on their shelves they don't particularly want. Ideally, he would buy a half-case of each and thus diversify his collection.

But he was determined, so I put together the order. We agreed that 5 cases would be priced $25-$35 and 5 cases would range from $35 to $75. The first batch would be for current drinking -- within, say, 3 years -- and the second, more expensive batch would be for long-term cellaring.

I didn't choose wines that I thought were really special, simply because they would be too hard to find and unlikely would be carried by the retailers he was going to visit. So here's the list of wines of good value -- they surpass similar wines of the same price.

MERLOT: Duckhorn Napa Valley $54; Markham Merlot ($25) 

CABERNET SAUVIGNON (Calif): Chateau Montelena ($58); Robert Mondavi ($30)                   

PINOT NOIR: Domaine Serene Evanstad ($70); Ponzi Tavola ($27)                 

ZINFANDEL: Ridge Pagani Vineyard  ($35); Seghesio Sonoma County  ($18)                                

BLENDS: Franciscan Magnificat ($55); Marietta Old Vine Red ($16) 

ITALIAN VARIETALS: Gabbiano Chianti ($30); Altare Barolo ($50)                                               

SPANISH VARIETALS: Can Blau ($17); Artadi ($18)

FRANCE: Sociando-Mallet Bordeaux ($40); Guigal Cotes du Rhone ($16)                      




Cayuse dumps an entire vintage

Let's all have a good cry. Cayuse, the Walla Walla estate launched by Christophe Baron in 1997, announced this week that it will not release any of its 2015 wines -- nearly 3,000 cases of 750ml bottles and 2,678 magnums.

Christophe Baron

Christophe Baron

Let me give you a perspective of the significance of this decision to both producer and customer. You can't get any Cayuse in the store. You have to be on a mailing list and there's a 7-year waiting list for that too. The wines sell for more than $100 each -- the iconic Bionic Frog Syrah can fetch $300 on the open market if a customer wants to resell his allocation. These wines are coveted.

With this kind of money at stake, the financial consequence is huge for Baron, Washington's first biodynamic producer and a guy who insists on quality. The loss to the customer who salivates while waiting his allocation is equally catastrophic.

The cause of this decision? Bad corks.

In a letter to customers, the producer said during the early bottling process, "paraffin particulates caused by faulty corks was discovered." (Paraffin is often used to seal cork, a natural product of the bark of a cork tree). Bottling was immediately halted. The unnamed cork manufacturer insisted the problem was isolated to the first lot of corks and assured Cayuse that a second lot would be just fine.

It wasn't. The paraffin and an oily film was discovered in a random check and a professional analysis was done of the entire bottle. Researchers confirmed everything was defective. Cayuse offered refunds for the nine bottlings that had been released; another five bottlings were not released.

The letter to customers read, "We are devastated at the loss of these wines...As you know, there is considerable anticipation for the 2015 vintage from Cayuse Vineyards and the wines were outstanding prior to that bottling in May. In March, just two months before that bottling, Jeb Dunnuck of The Wine Advocate tasted barrel samples of these wines and scored them between 93 and 100 points."

Wow. By my calculation, the financial loss is more than $3 million.

However right the decision, it must have been painful. Surely they'll recover their costs from lawsuits and insurance, but the emotional loss cannot be satisfied. A lot of painsaking effort and stress goes into growing grapes from bud set to harvest. To see it all lost to a frickin cork?Mind boggling.... 

Take a shower, sip a drink

I don't quite understand the need to drink while I'm in the shower, but apparently the makers of SipCaddy do. They have developed a $14 plastic drink holder that attaches to shower walls or bath tubs with suction cups. 

You must have a problem if you can't even take a shower without a can of Bud nearby.  OK, maybe I get someone lounging in a bubble bath with some champagne nearby, but do you really need a caddy?

Well, here it is for those who can't live without one.

Soap and sip with the Sipcaddy.

Soap and sip with the Sipcaddy.

It's about the people, not the wine

Several wine producers from Napa Valley have been posting on Facebook their experiences with the deadly fires that have literally engulfed wine country.  Many of them are expressing relief that they and their properties are safe while lamenting that others have not been so lucky.

One winemaker told about how her phone was ringing from customers asking questions about their wine orders. Really? With thousands of homes being ravagedby wire and more than 30 people dead, is this the time to ask a small wine producer to focus on their most recent order?

Unfortunately, many people from afar are more devastated by the loss of vineyards. However foreboding that image, it pales in comparison to the lives that have been lost. Even among those who have survived there is the loss of their homes to deal with. 

The vineyards will eventually recover and Napa Valley will be whole again sooner than you think. Let's just think about the fire's impact on people.

France suffers another crop loss

Today I was musing about France's shrinking dominance of the wine market. When I first got involved in writing about wine, France was well seated at the top. No one else made champagne, no one else's cabernet sauvignon could hold a candle to a first-growth bordeaux and Burgundy's pinot noir prices were in high demand despite commanding some of the highest prices in the world. The French were drinking more wine than water. French wines ruled.

Now, thanks to spring frosts in Bordeaux and summer storms in Champagne, French wine production is expected to shrink an average of 19 percent this year. Among the Bordeaux producers most severely impacted were Chateau Margaux and Chateau Petrus. Even harder hit are vineyards in southwestern France where production will decline 39 percent.

France and Italy compete for being the top wine producing country in the world. Together with Spain, the group makes more than half of the world's wines. But France's production has declined every year -- 11 percent since 2007. So, this year's loss will have an impact on its number one position.

Except for well-heeled collectors, I doubt most wine consumers will be impacted by this year's crop loss. That's because the global wine market is so diverse today that a drop in production in France really doesn't rate more than a blip.

Today's consumers have turned to Spain, Italy and emerging markets like New Zealand. Even the United States has a stronger role in the marketplace here as states like New York and Washington are earning a place on shelves.

French wine prices are likely to rise now, but there is so much more to choose from.

Popping a cork influences a wine's perception

There is an unending debate over screw-top closures. Do they preserve wine better and avoid cork taint -- or will they affect the flavors when the wine is stored over time?

Early research shows that screw-tops don't impart any artificial flavor to wine, but new research knows the mental impact they have on consumers.

Researchers at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory at Oxford University queried 140 participants who sampled two Argentinian malbecs, one with a cork and the other with a screw-top. The wines -- a Terrazas de los Andes and a Catena -- were tasted after the participants listened to a cork being removed and then a screw-top being opened. They were then asked to resample the wines after they personally opened bottles sealed with corks and screw-tops. They were unaware that were trying the same wines but sealed differently.

When asked, participants rated the cork-sealed bottles 15 percent better in quality. Only 13 out of participants said they preferred a screw-top.

Also cited as an influencing factor of whether the environment was festive. A popping cork, in other words, enhanced a celebratory mood.

I'm not surprised by any of this. Unleashing the fury of a cork influences perceptions. People are eager to enjoy wine and celebrate. Let the good times roll.

Remembering the BV of old

One of my fondest memories from my early years of writing about wine is Beaulieu Vineyards. A friend was then the education director for Heublien, which at the time owned BV. He would often share many of the wines from the vast portfolio and I got a good understanding of this top-drawer Napa Valley producer.

The wine I remember the most was the BV Rutherford, which then cost around $14, if memory serves me correct.  Sourced from BV's prized Rutherford vineyard, it always exceeded its price in quality. I bought it by the case. 

BV 2014 Napa Valley Cab Sauvignon Beauty Shot Close Up.jpg

I was happy to again taste the Rutherford with the 2014 vintage. The price is now $33 a bottle but it continues to surpass its price in quality. I consider it to be a good value for collectors. It still has layers and layers of Napa Valley fruit, ranging from plums to cherries with hints of "Rutherford dust," cedar, and allspice.

I also tasted the 2013 BV Reserve Tapestry ($65), a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, petit verdot, malbec and cabernet franc. This wine is huge and in need of aging but loaded with plum, black cherry and blackberry flavors.

Andre Tchelistcheff, the famous Russian emigre first to make reserve wines in Napa Valley, was BV's winemaker from 1938 to the mid-70s. He set the quality tone for these wines, especially the reserve Georges de Latour, and even in death he serves as a mentor. 

BV has undergone a number of ownership changes over the last couple of decades and for awhile it seemed to have lost its focus and its leadership position in the Napa Valley lineup. However, these wines seem to recapture the BV of old.

Thanks a lot, Irma

I'm sorry that I haven't posted in more than a week. My business was rudely interrupted by Hurricane Irma, which blew through my hometown of Naples and shut down my internet service for 9 days. 

The absence of access to the outside world gave me plenty of time to think, especially about my wine cellar that was perilously close to a total collapse. With the hurricane's eye bearing down on Naples, I sacrificed a 1986 Mouton-Rothschild on the eve of the storm because frankly I wasn't sure I'd ever see my wine again. It was given to me by my wife on Valentine's Day, 1988, and was symbolic of a rite we shared every Valentine's Day -- I made a romantic dinner and she bought me a nice bottle of wine. It cost $80 then; it was worth $900 today. And, it scored 100 by Robert Parker and James Suckling. It was damn good.

 My wife, mother-in-law and I were forced into a shelter when the threat of a storm surge was too ominous to safely ignore. When forecasters predicted a 10 foot surge, we expected to return to our house by boat. I paid last respects to my wine collection and left.

The surge didn't happen and I found minor damage to the house when we returned. Fortunately, the wine cellar was just as I had left it -- best bottles at the top and sacrificial bottles at the bottom. Unfortunately, we were without power and no power meant rising temperatures in the cellar. My fight wasn't over.

The well-sealed cellar held its temperature for a couple of days and only slowly declined. But by the fourth day, the temperature was 79 degrees. I was beginning to imagine corks easing their way out of the bottlenecks.

Two buddies from Maryland drove straight through with a generator and gear to hot wire my cellar to the electric panel -- the inside unit could be plugged into a generator but the outside unit was hot wired. Just as they rolled up, the power returned and my collection was saved.

Prior to the storm, I was studying generators and had selected one to install in February when my electrician buddy would be visiting for a week. So, my intentions were good --just not well timed. 

Those of you with collections should take heed of this advice: don't delay. Generators are hard to get at short notice and they are important even if you don't live in a hurricane-prone state. Power can be interrupted by snowstorms, mud slides, tornadoes, high wind or just some fruitcake cutting a cable. My generator will power the cellar, a few lights, the refrigerator, TV and a bit more. It cost me $1,100.

I shudder when I think of the wines I could have lost. There is the financial loss (uninsured), but equally important the emotional loss. Each of these bottles have made several journeys with me and have stories behind them. They are my children.

Drinking a priority wine


If you had a day to drink up your wine cellar, what wine would you start with? It was more than a fun, cerebral exercise for me.  With Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida, I was faced with what to do with my 500-plus bottle cellar. Both the lack of AC and the threat of wind damage presented a dilemma: stay or flee.

In the end, I have decided to stay with my cellar -- we'll go down or survive, but happily together. But just the thought of losing my cellar got me to prioritize my drinking order. I even assembled three cases to tote in the car: some Gruard-Larose, Troplong-Mondot, Sociando-Mallet and odd bottles of Mouton-Rothschild and Grange.

My best bottle was a 1986 Mouton-Rothschild that my wife gave to me on Valentine's Day in 1988. It cost her $80 then; it's worth nearly $900 today. What better time to open it? It was sublime - everything I imagined it would be. I don't think I've ever tasted a better wine: intense floral nose with hints of lead pencil and cedar; smooth dark fruit, cassis flavors with fine and almost untraceable tannins.

Drinking such wine sets a lofty benchmark for Bordeaux for me. Dense, so balanced, so long in the finish, so perfect. It was superbly delicious and I'm glad I opened it. 



Why do people collect all those corks?

If you are like most people, you're reluctant to throw away your corks. You have no idea what to do with the corks, but you just can't throw them away. So they go into a basket or a big jar that remarkably becomes a room decoration. You probably save hotel shampoo containers too and somewhere in the house is a bag of restaurant matches. Seek help.


I was recently at a rented cabin in Washington and there in the corner next to the fireplace was a basket of corks contributed by the various renters who occupied the place over the years. By the names on the corks, the renters drank cheaply. I told the landlord I had never seen a collection of this size. He emailed me that a youngster, bored by the rain, once counted them -- 1,435 and still amassing.

In the kitchen drawers were a couple of cork trivets -- the landlord's gallant effort to put the corks to use. He could have built hundreds of these and made a mint at the local flea market.


I neighbor asked me to collect corks for her, then presented me with a gift: a house built with my corks and some crafty accessories. It was probably the most unique use of corks.

I did like a friend's wall hanging, a vertical display around a photo of him and his wife. Each cork came from a bottle they shared. It's enough to move a person to tears.


I had a party last night and found 15 corks sitting around this morning. It grieved me, but I threw them away. Sometimes a trashed cork is a piece of art.

The wine workout. Really?

I'm not sure this video inspires a healthly lifestyle, but it's funny. I mean, the woman is obviously fit -- that's good -- but she's guzzling from a bottle -- that's bad. Depending on how many reps she does, she could have a problem with balance. And that's really bad.

Looking and finding something unique

I'm always walking the aisle looking for a different wine -- a wine that comes from an often-forgotten region, like Chinon or Alsace,  or a wine that uses ancient grape varieties like those from Campania and Sicily. Sometimes I'm rewarded; other times I understand why these regions and grapes are forgotten. Wine, like life, is a box of chocolates.

Over the years I occasionally grabbed a bottle of Beaumes-de-Venise during these excursions and I've always been rewarded. And, I was again with the 2015 Domaine de Durban Beaumes-de-Venise, a wine imported to the U.S. by Kermit Lynch.

This southern Rhone region in the department of Vaucluse has an interesting history. It is known more for its sweet fortified wine, Muscat Beaumes-de-Venise. In fact, it was the fortified wine that was first to earn the AOC status.  It too is an excellent dessert wine, but I really like the unfortified wine made from grenache, syrah and mourvedre.

For years the rouge was overshadowed by the luxurious muscat. It wasn't until 2005 that the rouge (and the muscat) were declared a cru -- the highest honor bestowed on wines in southern Rhone. That slow progress means the wines are relatively inexpensive -- around $20 for the Durban. Values like this are hard to come by in France.

The mix of classic Rhone grapes gives the Beaumes-de-Venise a lot of red fruit flavors and hints of lavender, pepper and dried spices. It's not meant for long-term aging.

 I loved this wine. At this price I can even buy a few more bottles.