Book Review: “Buy The Right Wine Every Time”

A helpful guide to global brands

Tom Stevenson, a prolific wine writer and respected authority on the subject (including The Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia!), is known for tomes whose pages are mostly flipped by those training to be wine experts.  But he’s taken a different tack with his latest book – ‘Buy The Right Wine Every Time‘ (Released on March 4th, 2014).

He’s written this book for those new to wine. I wish I’d had access to such a book when I was a newbie, some 35 years ago. It appeals to anyone who needs some wine competency but doesn’t have the time or inclination to pursue it as a hobby.  I don’t know such people, but I hear they exist in large numbers and that some of them are actually quite pleasant to be around.

Tom doesn’t waste any ink introducing the conceit for his book. In just a few pages he introduces his reader to the book’s intent and organization.  Then he dives in.  The first 25 pages show his top recommendations by ~30 types of wine, using a simple ranking and 1, 2 or 3 dollar-sign indicator for rough pricing guidance.  His top tier ($$$) indicates a cost above $25 (retail price, not restaurant), which may seem a rather low ceiling to fine wine buffs, but in reality such wines make up less than 4% of wine sold in the U.S.  

Tom’s quick ranking-by-type then yields to the bulk of the book, which describes each wine in greater detail (and with extremely helpful label images – no mean feat when writing about hundreds of wines). Though the book will be a handy guide for those browsing through a wine shop, it’s just a bit too big and bulky to bring into a restaurant setting (unless available for mobile e-readers, which I don’t see anywhere – just yet).

Photo, Tom Stevenson

Author, Tom Stevenson

Be sure not to miss the back section of the book, wherein Tom provides his ’20 most useful wine tips’. He’s not kidding, these are useful tips. If you’re new to wine, learn these 20 tips and you’ll know more about wine than most people ever will. (Cautionary note: Don’t be too eager to show off your new-found skills. The world of wine is a never-ending warren of curiosity, with new questions that arise at every turn. A single lifetime is insufficient to learn all the twists and turns. And believe me, if you have a healthy dose of insatiable curiosity, you’ll find Tom’s 20 tips as nothing more than a good start. Good on ya!)

As for the hundreds of wines in the book, they tend to be global brands – those that are easiest to find in your local store. Which makes sense for guide book – what use would it be if you could never find the wines it describes? However, I’ve chosen a different wine life. To me, the most amazing and enjoyable part of the mondo vino is the small producer who’s ignored the siren call of ‘biggering’ production in favor of crafting a wine that makes a unique statement. Wine as art vs wine as widget. Such wines have little mass appeal and instead develop cult-like followings among a small but devout niche of wine lovers. If you worship at that alter, this book will not scratch your itch.

But then, that was not its intent. And in fairness, it provides a useful launch pad for those who think they may become interested in such endeavors. I recommend it for what it is – a useful guide for those new to wine and for those seeking some quick competency without investing much time or money to get there.  


Dave the Wine Merchant

A Travesty of Justice – Case against wine merchant dismissed

In today’s news comes word of a NY court case that was dismissed out of hand.  Seems the judge didn’t take kindly to the plaintiff’s suit against a wine merchant who sold him wine using Parker’s score (91) and a staff description of the wine.  The plaintiff bought six bottles at $13 a bottle, only to get them home and find they were not to his liking.  

This is a travesty of justice for those of us who would like to preserve the right to legal recourse against art galleries that sell us art that doesn’t quite match the pain on our walls, radio stations that play bad music, and sports teams that lose to teams whose fans, team members and management are known jerks.  

Imagine the legal precedence this sets.  Pretty soon you won’t even be able to sue a taco truck for selling you tacos you don’t like.

What’s America coming to?

Details here

What Wine Pairs With Spring Salads?

White wines with Spring salds

Spring arrived early this year.  And though I am covering my optimism with some naked puts on late frosts, we are enjoying our warm spring weather as we live in denial of California’s ongoing drought.

One of the early indicators of Spring at our olive ‘farm’ in Boonville is the arrival of Miner’s Lettuce (AKA Winter Purslane.  See photo.) along or walking route on Anderson Valley Way.  Foraging for this tasty but short-lived treat has become part of our seasonal ritual.  Dress these greens very simply with a squeeze of lemon, our Lila Farms EVOO and a bit of crunchy, flaky sea salt – our favorite comes from Mendocino’s Bob La Mar, or simply “Captain Bob’s” in our household.

We’ve harvested many baskets worth of Miner’s Lettuce over the past few years.  It has a thicker texture than most lettuces, with less veins and more leaf.  One might say it’s meaty in its texture, though that description seems a bit lacking – the flesh of an animal used to describe a vegetarian delight?  Maybe it’s best described as just this side of baby spinach, with the hopes that you know what that delight is like.  But don’t steam or saute this treat or you’ll miss it’s toothiness.

Recommended Wine Pairing
The wine to pair with Miner’s Lettuce doesn’t differ all that much from the wines that pair with most spring salads.  Spring greens exude an enthusiasm for life, a fresh greeniness that the wine needs to compliment.  For this reason, and I hate to dissapoint the “I drink red with everything” crowd, you really must eschew anything with more than a tint of color.  Crisp, dry Rose’s work well.  Heavy Chardonnay does not, Chablis-style does.  Sauvignon Blanc is brilliant, though the extreme versions from New Zealand would over-power.  Crisp whites from Northern Italy or Iberia are brilliant.  But, when are they not?

A Word on Acidity
Salad dressing is the one ingredient that ruins most wine pairings, so the wise host will focus the wine choice around the dressing.  Here’s your fool-proof guide – pair acid with acid.  In other words, if you have a dressing that features vinegar or citric acid, ask your local fine wine merchant for a white wine with similar acidity.  Because the wine world has its own vocabulary, you might hear words such as “Crisp” and “good structure” or “acidic backbone” when referring to such wines.  

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Dave the Wine Merchant

A Fun Winery Tour – For our Northeastern Members!

In this morning’s wine news comes a story of interest to our NYC area wine club members – a winery tour that includes food, two nights at the Caldwell House B&B and a driver, all for less than $900 per couple…

Caldwell HouseSALISBURY MILLS, NY  _ The Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast is offering guests the chance to drink and dine responsibly this Spring with its White Glove Wine Getaway. Now guests traveling in the area for the annual Shawangunk Wine Trail Pasta Primo Vino event may sip and savor regional wines and pasta dishes at up to 14 wineries and leave the driving to their designated chauffeur. Pasta Primo Vino takes place April 12-13, 2014.

“Every year we see a lot of guests excited about Shawangunk Wine Trail but unable to finish their trek,” said Dena Finneran, who co-owns the award-winning country inn with her husband John. “This time we’re creating a getaway for adults who want to sample wine at all the wineries while leaving the driving to someone else.”

Guests who reserve the White Glove Wine Getaway will begin their day shortly after breakfast.  A pre-planned itinerary – chosen to maximize the number of winery visits each day will begin at a nearby winery where they’ll each receive a souvenir wine glass, then they’re off – in groups of eight to 10 people in a limo from winery-to-winery, complete with a cooler stocked with refreshments. Every winery will have sampling of four handcrafted regional wines accompanied by a delicious pasta dish, courtesy of Barilla Pasta.

“Pasta Primo Vino is such a spectacular event,” said Randy Maduras, Executive Director of the Shawangunk Wine Trail. “It’s a special way to usher in the Spring, especially this year after so much snow.”

The wineries participating in the Shawangunk Wine Trail Pasta Primo Vino event include: Adair Vineyards, Applewood Winery, Baldwin Vineyards, Benmarl Winery, Brimstone Hill Winery, Brotherhood Winery, Clearview Vineyards, Demarest Hill Winery, Glorie Farm Winery, Palaia Vineyards, Robibero Winery, Stoutridge Vineyard, Warwick Valley Winery and Whitecliff Vineyard.

The White Glove Wine Getaway (for groups of 8-10 people) includes:
·     2-night stay at the Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast
·     2 -day admission to the Shawangunk Wine Trail Pasta Primo Vino event
·    Complimentary three course gourmet breakfasts
·    Limo fully stocked with revitalizing refreshments
·    Designated chauffeur
·    Free WiFi at the inn so you can share your weekend on social media.  [Or catch up with emails if you're into the quick buzzkill!]

Package $879 per couple plus tax for a 2-day tour

Optional: 1-day wine tour and all of the above: $759 per couple plus tax

For additional information or larger groups contact the Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast at 1-800-210-5565 or visit

About Caldwell House
The Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast is a multi-award winning member of the prestigious Select Registry and Diamond Collection groups of Inns. Located in the heart of the Hudson Valley– close to the United States Military Academy at West Point, the Storm King Arts Center, Brotherhood Winery (and many of the Shawangunk Wine Trail Wineries), and the Woodbury Premium Outlet Mall. Some of the Hudson Valley’s most beautiful hiking/biking trails are within walking or easy driving distance. Built in 1802, this historic inn is full of many original features, antiques and original paintings, as well as modern amenities. Each guest room includes its own private full bath (several  with Jacuzzi tub for two), smart TVs with Netflix/Hulu, free Wi-Fi Internet access, individual room temperature controls, iPads and more.

The Caldwell House Bed and Breakfast is located at 25 Orrs Mills Road, Salisbury Mills, NY 12577. To make a reservation call 1-800-210-5565 or visit Also at:

What Wine Pairs With Donuts?

The trend spotters have all reported in and it’s safe to say the cupcake fad is dead.  In its stead, I bring you (drum roll) the donut fad! (Or the doughnut fad, depending on your spell checker)

“Yeah, so?” you ask, “what’s that have to do with a wine blog?!”

Glad you asked.  Everyone knows donuts don’t pair with wine.  Many have tried, few have lived to tell the tale.  And, given my oft-repeated advice that a wine needs to be slightly sweeter than the dessert it’s paired with, few wines would stand up to the test.  Pairing donuts with a dry wine would be about the most unpleasant culinary experience I can imagine, though it seems a just sentence for those nutters who claim “I drink Cabernet with everything“.  For the rest of us, we’d be nuts to pair donuts with dry wine.

Um, until now.

Today, Urban Daddy reported a new company called ‘Bespoke Doughnuts’ has introduced savory doughnuts to San Francisco’s adventurous eaters.

Savory Donuts

For example, here is Bespoke Doughnuts lineup for this week.

Appetizer: A carrot-ginger doughnut.

Main course: A Hawaiian-barbecue doughnut with a grilled-pineapple filling, sweet teriyaki glaze, and taro or lotus root chips and kalua pig on top.

Dessert: A Snickers-inspired doughnut. 

Guess I’d better get over there and start researching some new wine pairings.  You know, just in case this fad catches fire.  Meanwhile, Urban Daddy reports Bespoke Doughnuts can be found in two locations in San Francisco – Saturdays, 9am until sold out, at Mélange Market, 3153 17th St, and Sundays, 1 to 6pm, at Beaux, 2344 Market Street.

Wine Club Shipment – New Selections!

Keenan Res Merlot 2010 LabelWell, it’s done!  This month’s wine shipment to members of our wine clubs.

This week, 11 different wine selections were shipped to our club members.  Or should I say, we shipped wine to those members living in states where the thermostat allows for the safe delivery of wine – the rest of your packages are enjoying a bit of quiet repose in the shop’s basement.  Baby Blue label

Once your shipment arrives, you’ll find the latest additions to my curated portfolio, any of which you can order here

In case your copy of my wine notes gets lost, you can read them here – 2014-02 Wine Club Notes, all wines.

Buil et Gine Montsant 17XIAnd finally, if you’re looking for guidance on pairing your wines with food, you’re bound to find some new favorites among our home-tested recipes, complete with recommended wine pairings.

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Dave “the Wine Merchant”
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Combining Food and Wine: Basic Guidelines

wine & food guidelinesBy Lily McCann

Food and drink articles and programs often stress the importance of combining food with the right type of wines. There can sometimes be an element of snobbery attached to this subject.  At the end of the day, enjoying food and wine is a subjective experience and people can try and enjoy any combination that suits them.  That said, understanding the basic principles of matching food and wine may help you find some combinations you really enjoy.

Staying local
Traditional advice is to combine regional wines with authentic local dishes and this is a wisdom that rarely fails. Claret or Rioja with roasted lamb, or Muscadet with fresh shell-fish are classic combinations and their success outlines some of the principles that can guide the best pairings of food and wine.

Balancing food and wine
Ensuring that food and wine have a similar weight or presence is often advised. Delicate dishes go better with lighter wines while rich foods fare better with something bigger. This is where the age-old ideas of matching fish with white wine and red meats with red wines come from. Chicken and pork will usually work with both, depending on the sauce they are cooked in. Of course these rules are there to be broken – fish can be enjoyed with red wine but ideally a wine low in tannin and high in acid such as Pinot Noir, Sangiovese or Bardolino, and even then, the pairing is best when the fish is rich in oil and flavor.  Cooking the fish with tomato and olive also strengthens the flavor bridge to these red wines.

Crisp, unoaked white wines are generally seen as a good accompaniment to shellfish and fish dishes. This is even truer with fish served with a wedge of lemon because the citric acid in the lemon increases the acidity in the dish. And a good rule of thumb with wine and food parings is to match acidic dishes with acidic wines.  Wines with marked acidity include dry Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc or other white wines from oceanic growing regions.  Oh, and preferably unoaked wines – oak flavors fight with the briny flavors of these fish and seafoods.

One other thing to keep in mind, two of the most overlooked and food-friendly wines on the market are dry Rosès and Sparkling wines.  Both contain enough acidity to refresh your palate between bites, and enough body to complement your food.

Red wine and meat
Many red wines are loaded with tannins that leave the palate dry and almost gritty.  They also overpower the flavor of many foods. Choosing foods that provide a protein or cream barrier are ways to compliment this trait. Tannin wants to latch onto the nearest available protein and if nothing else is available, gums and teeth will do! Occupying the tannin with the fat molecules from a good steak or rare cooked lamb will mop up the tannin in a young Claret or Cabernet, giving a softer and sweeter edge to the wine.

Soft, creamy cheeses can perform a similar task, providing a coat of fat and protein on the palate. Conversely, hard cheeses are less efficient at doing this, and tend not to pair as well with tannic red wines. A diet of red meat, red wine and soft cheese may not be the healthiest way to eat every day, but there are plenty of healthy living blogs such as those highlighted by KwikMed that will provide a range of lower fat recipes using these foods that can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet.

For other meats such as chicken and pork which are well cooked in roasts or casseroles, try rich white wines or livelier, fruitier red wines with softer tannins.

Fusion foods
Fusion foods are arguably responsible for the breakdown in the traditional food and wine partnerships. The inventive combinations of flavors and ingredients from different parts of the world can leave wine drinkers wondering where to start. The only way to work out the best wine for a fusion dish is to look at what it contains in the way of acidity, sweetness, protein and heat and go from there. Spicier dishes are best combined with off-dry and unoaked white wines and sometimes pair well with softer red wines. If a dish has a lot of sweetness to it, try and find a wine with even greater sweetness. It’s a difficult task and even the best food and wine experts can struggle to match complex fusion dishes with a suitable wine.

Enjoy it!
As stated above, the most important thing is always to enjoy your food and wine however you choose to combine them. Even if you make a particular effort to match food and wine you will still probably get it wrong on occasions. Try and keep a note of combinations that have worked well for you and understand why the worked. If you can build up a good repertoire of food and drink combinations that you enjoy, you can return to them whenever you like.  Or you can choose to branch out and be a bit more adventurous.  Who knows? as Dave the Wine Merchant says in his tagline, you might just “Discover your next favorite!”

Those Wacky Spaniards: “Wine&Sex” party in the Canary Islands

wine&Sex Canary Islands

Wine Myths:

  • It’s stuffy.  
  • It’s for old people.  
  • It’s a status symbol.  
  • Young people prefer beer or cocktails.  

Myth-buster Felipe Monje ((5th generation winery owner in Spain’s Canary Islands) is putting such myths to rest with his upcoming Wine&Sex party.  So far, sixty of his club members have reserved their space for next week’s event, which involves all the usual visual and sensory stimulus you can imagine.  A most interesting use for a barrel room, I’d say.

I just hope he continues the event for the next 21 years.  That way next week’s freshly minted embryos can hold a reunion party at the winery, and celebrate their simultaneous coming-of-age birthdays.

Read W. Blake Gray’s full article here.  (Side note, Gray is an excellent wine writer whose considerable skills must yearn to stretch beyond the confines of wine’s boundaries.  This must have been a fun assignment for him!)

Oh, and don’t let me stop you from planning your own event, even if you don’t have your own barrel room, and even if the attendance list is limited to two.  Just tell me – what wines will you use from my carefully curated portfolio?

Recommended pairings for your own Wine and Sex party:

  1. I can’t think of a more effective social lubricant than a good bottle of bubbly
  2. But some swear by the aphrodisiac effects of dark chocolates paired with deep, dark reds such as Rhone Varietals or Cabernets
  3. And don’t neglect a little something sweet when planning an evening of amore.  Pair these dessert wines with cheeses, nuts or your favorite fruit desserts.

Cheers, and good luck!
Dave the Wine Merchant

A “Special Club” just for you. Initiation fee: $50, a curious mind and a great palate.

Member Photos - Special Club ChampagneTechnically, the Special Club consists of 26 champagne producers (see image at left – not sure which one’s missing, but it made for a symmetrical photo)  

But I expand that definition to include the lucky few, such as you, who consider themselves devotees of fine champagne.  You must be, or you wouldn’t be reading this.

And though only the producers have rigorous entry requirements, the buyers of their champagnes make up an equally small percentage of champagne drinkers.  This is not by chance, it’s due to the limited supply of Special Club champagnes.  Are Special Club champagnes for you?  Well, let’s see… First, you must be relatively well heeled (average price of a Special Club champagne is $50 – $100).  

And you also love a bargain – your price will double were you to choose a Grande Marques champagne from one of the big houses (who buy grapes from these same growers).

But the reason to purchase one of these special wines goes far beyond price.  You must also appreciate the unique nature of a champagne driven by characteristic of place.  That is, each one will reflect the uniqueness of the producer’s region and vineyard.  This is fairly antithetical to the usual strategy in Champagne, which dictates that a house style be achieved with every bottling.  The art of blending has made the house style possible, but it also means the individual bottlings may not achieve their highest possible expression, were sufficient quantities of grapes available.  The special club’s limited production eliminates this issue.  This is a wine for the true wine lover.

Special Club Bottle Henri GoutorbeFactoids on Champagne’s “Special Club”

  • The Club was created in 1971
  • All 26 members must be Grower-Producers (Récoltant-Manipulants).
  • Their goal is to promote the expression of the terroir in their unique regions.
  • The Special Club bottling represents each member’s best offering.  Wines are not submitted if the grower feels they are not up to standard in a given year.
  • Club wines must be aged in bottle for at least 3 years.
  • Members serve as a “jury of peers”, ensuring that every Special Club bottle sold is of exceptional quality. This is a high standard to surpass, as each wine represents the club’s judgment and taste.  Only exceptional wines are allowed to be labeled.
  • The Special Club is also known as Club Trésors de Champagne (Treasures of Champagne)
  • The wines are all put in the same unique bottle, regardless of producer, but each wine maker gets to put their own label on the bottle.
  • The wines all taste different because they come from different villages/grape blends.
  • But each one is deemed to be extraordinary! 

Dave “the Wine Merchant”

Highlights from Taste of the Bay 2013

2013 Taste of the Bay

Sending congratulations to the student organizers of last night’s ‘Taste of the Bay’ event in the Julia Morgan ballroom.  There are many charity fund-raising events you can attend in San Francisco.  I’ve been to many.  But this is the only one I know of where the organizers are full-time students in SFSU’s Hospitality Management track.  Many of them also hold part-time jobs in addition – oh to have that resilience and energy once again.

Dessert Table - 2013 Taste of the BayThe food options were more than ample, and most of the samples offered fell somewhere between ‘excellent’ and ‘outstanding’.  To compliment the food offerings the student organizers recruited a handful of breweries (of course, the community-oriented Lagunitas Brewery was pouring!) and about a dozen Wineries, pouring 2-5 wines each.  

It took some work and much jostling but I managed to taste all the wines.  My favorites were the Chardonnays and/or Pinots from Thomas George (formerly the Davis Bynum property), Hook & Ladder, and Moshin, as well as the ’08 Cabernet from Xurus (pronounced Hoo Roos) from Lake County.

Special kudos to the entrepreneurs behind “Spicy Vines” – wines infused with spices without using heat to steep the spices (which makes so many mulled wines bitter, hence the need for sweeteners).  I laud their risky venture inspired by the traditional winter wines found in many Old World wine regions – it’s the traditional drink that greets vineyard workers after a cold morning of pruning vines.  Spicy Vines offers fun, unique wines you can serve warmed or at room temperature.  I encourage you to try them here.

Winemaker Bryan Harrington, Dr. Kathy O'Donnell, SFSU

Winemaker Bryan Harrington, Dr. Kathy O’Donnell, SFSU

Though not pouring at the event, I enjoyed learning about the no-sulfite techniques being employed by Bryan Harrington for his “Terrane” line of wines.  He uses chilled CO2 to extract the natural oxygen-inhibiting properties of grape seeds in place of the more commonly applied SO2.  I’ll be stopping by his facility on Custer Ave soon, and will report on the highlights.  Bryan’s eponymous ‘Harrington Wines’, one of San Francisco’s urban wineries, features a couple dozen obscure Cal-Ital wines, each crafted in very limited quantities.

Dr. Colin Johnson, Chair of SFSU Hospitality & Travel Mgmt Program

Dr. Colin Johnson, Chair of SFSU Hospitality & Travel Mgmt Program

I encourage you to attend next year’s event, or to sponsor a table if you’re in the hospitality industry, to help support this most worthy cause.


Dave “The Wine Merchant”

Disclaimer.  For the past six years, I have been a regular guest lecturer for SFSU on the “History of California Wines” and “Deductive Tasting Techniques”.

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