Wine Enthusiast Wine Enthusiast Magazine Mon, 20 Mar 2023 15:58:27 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Wine Enthusiast 32 32 How to Drink Like a Scandinavian Mon, 20 Mar 2023 14:00:00 +0000 group of friends toasting in Stockholm, Sweden
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It’s been almost 10 years since I first ambled across Copenhagen’s charming cobblestone streets in search of the original Mikkeller bar and other lesser-known microbrews. Since then, my stops in the Danish capital have grown in frequency and length, and my ventures have taken me deeper into the depths of Scandinavia, with me always learning from more knowledgeable peers.   

In that time, modern Scandinavian culture has continued to entice individuals from across the globe. From mid-century design aficionados to fashion lovers and, most recently, foodies, the influence and impact of the simplicity and functionality born from Scandinavian creativity grew an audience of visitors. 

Now, Scandinavia finds itself influencing the drinks world, too. Forget images of Viking hordes skolling mead after a bloody raid. Modern Scandinavian drinking culture is based on building community. Ask around about how to drink like a Scandinavian, and you’ll find that from Oslo to Jutland and beyond, the culture prides itself on socializing and local ingredients, along with the type of cozy comfort often associated with the Danish word “hygge.” Here, we explore what it truly means to drink like a Scandinavian so you’re ready when you finally book that trip.   

Stauning Whiskey
Image Courtesy of Stauning

Start with Skål  

There are many toasting traditions around the world, and Scandinavia is no different.  

“In Denmark, Sweden and Norway we have many words in common, both in spelling and in pronunciation,” explains Alex Munch, co-founder of Danish whisky distillery Stauning in Skjern, Denmark. “Skål is one of them and is our word for cheers.”  

He explains that skål is supposedly derived from the word for a kind of bowl and goes back to the time of the Vikings. “They fill it with beverages and let all drink from it so they can have their own skål,” Munch says. “Originally the toast belonged to the pagan festivals where the Vikings sacrificed their livestock to the Nordic gods.”  

He continues, “At [modern] parties, it is common to propose a toast. For the just married couple, for the birthday boy or birthday girl or just for a happy life. The skål is very inclusive, leaving nobody behind because—in drinking—we are all equal.”  

There’s a very specific way to skål with your drinking partners when sipping in Scandinavia: “The ritual of skål-ing where one raises a glass of akvavit with panache, look[s] intently at their drinking companion, down[s] the glass and return[s] to eye contact is almost its own mode of communication, expressing many things without uttering a word,” says Lars Williams, co-founder, CEO, chef and distiller of Danish-American flavor company Empirical.  

Drink with Community  

It’s rare you’ll find a Scandinavian sitting at a bar solo. Group outings are the way of life and sharing your glass with those you love is essential to the Nordic experience.  

“The key word in drinking like a Scandinavian is community,” says Munch. “We love to drink together with our families, friends or colleagues and we look forward to it for many days, not to say weeks.”  

And this desire to pour a beverage with your community extends into all social outlets, too. “Companies organize Friday bars for their staff to unwind at the end of the week,” explains Williams.  

Paul Aguilar, head of flavor research and development at Oslo’s Himkok adds, “overall, drinking like a Scandinavian means enjoying a drink in a social setting.”  

Embrace Designated Drinking Days  

In American culture, weekends tend to be prime drinking time, but Scandinavian imbibers don’t limit themselves to Friday and Saturday nights. Another great Danish term is lille fredag, which translates to “little Friday.” This refers to “Thursdays that feel like a Friday, and when it is therefore deemed acceptable to have a few drinks without guilt,” explains Williams.  

Additionally, the European region even has designated days to celebrate together with beers in hand. “One of the most important dates on the Danish calendar, J-Dag, is the day celebrating the yearly launch of the Christmas beer,” says Williams. “The whole country gets giddy, dressed up and celebrates in the bars and streets.”  

Ingredients in local market Sweden
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Cozy up with Hygge Spaces 

At the region’s top watering holes, it’s apparent that designing homey, welcoming spaces guests want to return to again and again is a priority. There’s a “focus on creating a comfortable and inviting atmosphere without clutter or unnecessary embellishments,” says Aguilar.   

Bars often concentrate on the use of natural materials such as wood, stone and leather to help create a warm and inviting vibe that feels connected to the surrounding environment. This follows the Danish concept of hygge “that roughly translates to ‘coziness’ or ‘comfort,’” explains Aguilar. “This can be achieved through the use of warm lighting, comfortable seating and natural elements like plants or artwork.”  

Copenhagen-based bar Ruby executes this principle flawlessly.“Ruby is set in an old apartment and as such, it has to have an element of coziness,” General Manager Michael Hajiyianni explains“The key to the design is having no bad seats, every table has something to look at whether that be a cabinet, art or furniture.”  

Order Like a Scandinavian  

Once you have the right space, a community to celebrate with and the proper skål down, it’s time to order like a local.    

The Scandinavian culinary and drinks world focuses on sustainability and local ingredients. Many bars establish relationships with local farmers, foragers and producers, which provide them with fresh, high-quality ingredients that are unique to the region. Hajiyianni adds that you should try “Scandinavian spirits and produce as much as possible. There are now many great producers of many different spirits and aromatized wines.”  

Aguilar notes that his bar also sources spirits and liqueurs from local distilleries and breweries to support the local economy and reduce its overall environmental impact. When selecting ingredients, he prioritizes local and fresh produce, as well as foraged ingredients like berries and herbs that are abundant in the Norwegian countryside (think dill, parsley, tarragon, horseradish, elderflower and more).  

A similar approach can be found at Ruby. “When it comes to our menu, we work mainly with local farms and we have a forager who sources ingredients for us,” Hajiyianni says. “We try not to use too much citrus juice from outside of Denmark. Instead, we like to use apple and sea buckthorn juice. We also make fruit vinegars, using fruit when it is at its peak and extending the shelf life. We love using whey, which is the by-product of yogurt production. It adds a lactic acidity to a drink and is great for sours.”  

When it comes to brands, options like Danish whiskey producer Stauning highlight area ingredients. All ingredients used for its products, except yeast, are local or come from other places in Jutland.  

“Water comes from the nearby water plant and when it is possible we reuse the water,” says Munch. “All our grains are coming from two local farms and for our smoked whisky we use heather and peat from Jutland—the peninsula where we are situated. Last year we put up solar cells to make renewable energy.”

In addition to Stauning, Hajiyianni likes to feature Empirical and many fruit wines from Cold Hand Winery on Ruby’s shelves and in its cocktails.  

Final note  

More important than any item on this list? Being kind to your drinking partners, which is the most Scandinavian trait of all. Remember, “Drinking like a Scandinavian is being together and sharing,” reminds Munch. “We’d rather pour the last drops in the bottle to others than drink them ourselves.” 

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Homemade Grenadine Is Worth the Squeeze Mon, 20 Mar 2023 13:00:00 +0000 A grenadine cocktail next to pomagranites
Pexels / Charlotte Map / Any Lane

Grenadine has a long history and complicated legacy. Often mischaracterized as cloying, when made correctly, the non-alcoholic pomegranate sweetener is bright and balanced. It adds nuanced flavors and color to everything it touches, from classic whiskey and tequila cocktails to non-alcoholic drinks.

If you’re eager to separate the real McCoy from technicolored imposters, consider this your guide to grenadine, a criminally misunderstood ingredient.

What Is Grenadine?

Grenadine is a sweetener made of pomegranate juice, water and sugar. Alternatively, some bartenders add orange blossom water to their grenadine recipes, and others spike theirs with vodka. At its most essential, however, grenadine is a simple syrup that swaps some of its water for pomegranate juice.

According to drinks historian Camper English, “real grenadine from pomegranates was being made and sold in New York in 1872.” Its name is believed to derive from the French word for pomegranate, grenade.

There isn’t typically alcohol in grenadine, nor does it contain cherry syrup. The latter is a misperception that persists because some U.S. bartenders in the early 20th century tinted their drinks red with cherry juice or Maraschino liqueur, among other rosy-hued ingredients, in lieu of making an actual, pomegranate-based grenadine.

Cocktails with Grenadine

In cocktails, grenadine complements an array of spirits, including whiskey, rum, tequila, gin and more. Look for it in classic cocktails like the Jack Rose, Pink Lady, Scofflaw, Tequila Sunrise and El Presidente.

One reason grenadine is an effective cocktail ingredient is that pomegranates are so balanced. Unlike acidic citrus fruits, like lemons and limes, pomegranates’ natural sugars offset their tang. According to the USDA, eight ounces of pomegranate juice contains approximately 31 grams of sugar, whereas lemon juice has six grams.

Those sweet-tart flavors enable bartenders to swap equal-parts grenadine for simple syrup in all sorts of drinks, writes creator and CEO of Proteau, John deBary in Drink What You Want. “It’s one of my favorite ways to add a distributive hit of sweetness, acidity and juicy aromatics to a cocktail.”

Non-Alcoholic Grenadine Drinks

One of the most famous non-alcoholic grenadine drinks is the Shirley Temple, a 1930s creation named for the child actor and performer. It combines one ounce of grenadine with eight ounces of lemon-lime soda like Sprite or 7-Up. It’s usually served over ice, in a highball glass and topped with a cocktail cherry.

Another non-alcoholic grenadine drink with nostalgic appeal is the Roy Rogers, which swaps the Sprite or 7-Up for Coke or Pepsi.

If you prefer a less sweet non-alcoholic grenadine drink, consider the Crackling Rose. It features grenadine alongside freshly squeezed lemon, tart cranberry juice and rosewater.

Or, keep things simple and stir a tablespoon of grenadine into sparkling water or ginger beer. Add a squeeze of lemon or lime, and serve over ice.

Grenadine Recipe

Quality bottled pomegranate juice from brands like POM and Lakewood are sold online and in many grocery stores. You can also press your own by quartering and squeezing fresh fruit.

Total Time 10 min.
Serving Size 2 cups
1 cup pomegranate juice
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water


Combine pomegranate juice, sugar and water in a saucepan over medium heat, but don’t bring to a boil. Stir until sugar dissolves.

Remove from heat and cool. Store, covered in the refrigerator, for 3 to 4 weeks.

In Memory of the Discontinued Dunkaccino, a Boozy Homemade Version Fri, 17 Mar 2023 19:00:55 +0000 Boozy Dunkaccino cocktail

America woke up to some disheartening news: Dunkin’ has officially taken the beloved Dunkaccino off the menu. Yes, the very drink that Al Pacino rapped about in a fake ad for the 2011 film Jack and Jill is no more.  

The Dunkaccino, which Dunkin’ described as a “unique blend of coffee and hot chocolate flavors,” was added to menus back in 2000. However, locations around the country have been quietly pulling it from their offerings for the last few months. This prompted people on social media to speculate that the coffee chain was preparing to formally end the Dunkaccino drink’s over two-decade run.  

And today, fans of this hot chocolate and coffee concoction had their worst fears confirmed. A Dunkin spokesmen told, “As we focus on innovation and finding new ways to delight guests, we continually evolve our menu in an effort to deliver a fast, frictionless experience. The Dunkaccino is retired for now, but there’s always the chance for its return in the future.” It’s also worth noting that the frozen Dunkaccino, which was added to menus in 2015, has also been discontinued.  

But here at Wine Enthusiast, we weren’t ready to just let the Dunkaccino go into that good night. No.  

Instead, we took a stand and revived it at home—with a boozy twist, of course. Think of it as a java-infused twist on our spiked hot chocolate.

Without any further ado, here’s how to make a deliciously boozy Dunkaccino, which will forever be in our hearts, minds and coffee cups.  

How to Make a Boozy Dunkaccino 

Recipe by Jacy Topps

5 ounces brewed coffee, cooled to room temperature
1 ½ ounces vanilla vodka
½ ounce Irish cream liqueur (preferably Baileys)
½ ounce chocolate syrup
1 ounce whole milk
Whipped cream, for garnish
Small piece of chocolate, for garnish

Boozy Dunkaccino Directions

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add coffee, vanilla vodka, Irish cream, chocolate syrup and milk.

Shake until well-chilled, about 25 to 30 seconds. Strain drink into a tall cup filled with ice. Garnish with whipped cream. Grate chocolate over whipped cream, and serve.


What Is a Dunkaccino? 

The Dunkaccino was a blend of hot coffee and hot chocolate flavors offered at Dunkin’ Donuts locations.  

What Does a Boozy Dunkaccino Taste Like? 

One word: Delicious.  

“Combining coffee, vanilla and chocolate flavors, this boozy rendition is a creamy delight that will put a pep in your step,” says Jacy Topps, print assistant editor and Languedoc-Roussillon and Vin de France reviewer at Wine Enthusiast.  

Where Did Dunkin’ Start? 

There’s a reason why Dunkin’ is synonymous with the Red Sox, Boston and all things New England. Its first location opened in Quincy, Massachusetts, back in 1948. Originally called Open Kettle, the shop became Dunkin’ Donuts two years later (in 2013, the coffee company dropped Donuts from its name). You can still visit the original location today.  

In South Africa, Winemakers Are Slowly Reversing a History of Inequity Fri, 17 Mar 2023 17:19:00 +0000 Cape Winelands Sunset with rows of vineyards and a gravel road on a hill with orange and pink coloured clouds over Table Mountain Stellenbosch South Africa
getty Images

The sky lit up with pastel shades of orange, pink and lavender. Fluffy clouds danced across the horizon. The rugged peaks of South Africa’s natural giants Simonsberg, Groot Drakenstein and Die Twee Pieke surrounded us, standing tall and majestic in the distance. The view in every direction was utterly breathtaking—a Stellenbosch sunset that was truly a feast for the eyes. The guests, out on the lawn clinking glasses of Cap Classique, ate it up.

I was in the bathroom crying.

The Western Cape, which makes up most of South Africa’s Winelands, is overwhelmingly beautiful. The wine made there is equally alluring. While visiting the country for the first time, I got a double-edged lesson on the sense of place wine can deliver. To enjoy a glass of South African Chenin Blanc is to know how it feels to stand in the sun beside a 240-millionyear-old mountain while scents of proteas, honeysuckle and sea salt waft through the air. It is to feel both weightless and graceful, yet mighty, all at the same time.

Even amid such natural splendor, a shadow of disparity cloaks the country. The stain of apartheid is inescapable, and the immense poverty that directly results from it runs deep throughout the Cape. There is a wealth gap that’s far too wide to wash over with good wine. After days of driving to gorgeous wine estates, passing townships lined with houses made of tin and scrap metal, where people who looked like me lived, I found myself struggling to hide my anguish.

So there I was, crying my eyes out in a stall at the South African Cultural Carnival and feeling the weight of a complicated and prejudiced history not too different from my own. I wondered what could be done to help change the circumstances of so many impoverished people.

As I wiped my eyes, there was an answer of sorts sitting on the bathroom sink: my glass half full of a dark garnet blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Petit Verdot and Merlot. Statuesque and elegant, an award-winning red wine produced by Carmen Stevens, one of the first Black African winemakers to own and operate a winery in South Africa, offered a response. Stevens is also a member of The Wine Arc, the collective that provides resources and guidance for Black African-owned wineries, winemakers and entrepreneurs, which hosted the event.

The change was already happening, slowly but surely. Through Wine Arc and initiatives like the South Africa Wine Industry Transformation Unit, a nonprofit that promoted equitable access and increased representation of Blacks in wine, people from the country who looked like me were gaining visibility.

Though it will take time to shift the disparity, there is work being done to create change for the better, at least through the lens of wine. I left the bathroom with renewed hope, ready for another glass.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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9 Food Festivals Every Drinker Should Know Fri, 17 Mar 2023 16:34:33 +0000 Santa Fe Chile & Wine Fiesta
Image Courtesy of Jane Phillips Photography

Finding a just-right food pairing for a favorite wine, beloved beer or go-to cocktail isn’t simply a pleasant happening. When the combo works, the experience can be otherworldly, heightening flavors and aromas both on the plate and in the glass.

Clearly, creating opportunities for next-level pairings is something some food and drink festival organizers are thinking about. Mark your calendars, because these fun food festivals put eats and drinks front and center. From a multi-city celebration of Mexico’s pozole and mezcal, to a fete focused on the joys of pairing Pacific Northwest seafood with Oregon wine, many bring food and drink lovers together in quirky and unexpected ways. We imagine that the chances of finding heavenly pairings are high.

Of note, most fests are about more than just the drinks and food: they’re also about the local community, heritage and traditions. Wherever your travel plans take you in the months ahead, there’s likely a food festival being held nearby. Here are some can’t-miss celebrations.

Food Festivals to Add to Your Calendar

Camp Verde Pecan and Wine Festival

Camp Verde, Arizona

About an hour outside of Phoenix in a dark-sky destination on the banks of the Verde River, this annual celebration of Camp Verde’s pecan growers and wineries includes nut and wine tastings, local artisan vendors, food trucks and live music. Tickets are $20 and include a commemorative wine glass and six wine tastings with some of the 15 local wineries present. Of course, there’s all the scheduled fun: Don’t miss the pecan pie contest.

When: March 18-19, 2023

Nulu Bock and Wurst Fest

Louisville, Kentucky

The sixth annual festival celebrates two Germanic specialties: Bock, a malty beer style similar to lager, and wurst, a cased sausage. Yes, you can sample plenty of bock from local breweries (and bourbon, too—this is Louisville, after all) and wurst dishes from local restaurants. But the scene-stealer here will be… a series of baby goat races. That’s right: Louisville’s Nulu neighborhood includes two goat-named streets (Nanny Goat Strut and Billy Goat Strut), lending an offbeat theme to the fest. Attendance is free and goat costumes are encouraged!

When: March 25, 2023

Mudbugs & Margaritas
Mudbugs & Margaritas / Image Courtesy of Mudbugs & Margaritas

Mudbugs & Margaritas

Foley, Alabama

This festival sounds like an over-the-top fever dream: Tasty crawfish dishes (the “mudbugs”), Johnny Cash and Tom Petty tribute bands, a farm animal beauty contest and multiple vendors offering margaritas, as well as craft beer from Fairhope Brewing Company. Plus, a huge entertainment area and petting zoo for kids. Tickets are $5 and kids under 12 are free.

When: April 1, 2023

Connecticut Hard Cider & Doughnut Fest
Connecticut Hard Cider & Doughnut Fest / Image Courtesy of Rich Ide

Connecticut Hard Cider & Doughnut Fest

Berlin, Connecticut

This small event started in the fall of 2020 to support area bars and restaurants affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, the event will feature four bars and restaurants serving up special deals on hard cider, beer and hard seltzer and thousands of free donuts. Tickets are $21.99 and include access to drink specials and a choice of two free doughnuts. A “doughnut menu” listed on the ticketing site shows the options including pumpkin pie and sweet apple cider (save us a maple glazed doughnut, please!).

When: April 8, 2023

Bowl of ‘Zole Festival

Multiple locations

This event began when chef Danny Mena, author of Made in Mexico, did a pozole pop-up in Brooklyn; now, it’s a triplex of tastings in three different cities. In Denver, Boston and Brooklyn, look for local chefs showcasing their versions of pozole, the comforting Mexican stew, along with copious tastings of mezcal and other agave spirits. Tickets start at $55.


  • Denver, Colorado; March 30, 2023
  • Boston, Massachusetts; April 12, 2023
  • Brooklyn, New York; October 19, 2023

Astoria Crab, Seafood & Wine Festival

Astoria Warrenton, Oregon

Since 1982, this annual fest has provided a great excuse to explore the twin bounties of Oregon wine and seafood. (Local craft breweries will be pouring, too.) The event brings together 150 vendors, dozens of community organizations and small businesses. Just looking at the menu highlights from seasons past has us salivating: crab cakes, seafood ramen, fried oysters, shrimp melts and crab mac and cheese. A craft fair and live music on two stages is part of the draw, too. Tickets start at $10.

When: April 28-30, 2023

BBQ & Barrels

Owensboro, Kentucky

Known since 1979 as the International Bar-B-Q Festival, this year the Kentucky festival rebranded to include an emphasis on bourbon—of note, Green River Distilling calls Owensboro home. Expect 15 distilleries offering bourbon pours and BBQ food trucks and vendors alongside a mainstay of the festival: church cooking teams. The event is free to the public and includes a backyard barbecue cookoff, and ticketed bourbon tastings with classes and food pairings. Carnival rides, live music and a “BBQ 5K” also will be part of the family-friendly activities.

When: May 12-13, 2023

Santa Fe Chile & Wine Fiesta

Santa Fe, New Mexico

If you’ve ever visited Santa Fe, you’ve likely noticed clusters of glossy chile peppers hung outside storefronts to dry. The chiles are a state specialty. This event is an opportunity to not only enjoy tasty chile-infused bites, but explore New Mexico’s vibrant wine scene. Attend wine seminars and events ranging from chef demos and sit-down brunches, to “Chile Friday,” a grand walk-around event featuring bites from Santa Fe restaurants and fresh-roasted chiles from local farmers. Tickets for this year’s event go on sale July 5 and prices vary based on events.

When: September 27-October 1, 2023

Hangout Oyster Cook-Off Craft Spirits & Beer Weekend

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Gulf coast oysters are the star bivalve at this festival, which is presented by oyster supplier Murder Point Oyster Company. While 2023 details have yet to be confirmed, based on past events, look for an oyster-shucking contest and tastings from oyster farmers and chefs—including plenty of food celebrity appearances. Don’t forget all of the craft beers, craft spirits (a recent addition to the fest) and live music. Tickets start at $75.

When: November, 2023

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These Complex Bottles of Sauternes Make the Case for Sweet Wine Fri, 17 Mar 2023 15:36:54 +0000 3 bottles of Sauternes on a colored background
Images Courtesy of Vivino

When the average drinker thinks of Bordeaux, bold red blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot or rich Bordeaux Blancs might come to mind. But under the right conditions, the grapes Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon and Muscadelle produce exquisite bottlings of Sauternes, a deeply flavorful sweet white wine you don’t want to miss. These wines are nothing like the subpar-quality, sugar-laden offerings that historically have contributed to sweet wine’s poor reputation in the U.S.

Haven’t tried Sauternes yet? Consider this your signal to snag a bottle.

What Is Sauternes Wine?

Sauternes is a smaller wine sub-region of Bordeaux known for a sweet white wine of the same name. It’s made with grapes that have a super-concentrated flavor due to Botrytis (also known as noble rot). The primary grapes found in this wine are Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc, but may also include Muscadelle. The Sémillon grape is particularly susceptible to Botrytis and is well known as the most important grape variety in Sauternes for this reason. The wine is full-bodied with high acidity, which helps balance out the wine’s sweet notes and helps with longevity, explains Wine Enthusiast Senior Tasting Coordinator Craig Chamberlain.

What Does Sauternes Taste Like?

The flavors of Sauternes vary slightly depending on the exact bottle, but typical flavors include honey, butterscotch, coconut and tropical fruits, Chamberlain says. The wine may also have notes of apricot and sometimes smoke or vanilla when oaked.

Sauternes Bottles to Try

Château Suduiraut 2020 (Sauternes)

96 Points Wine Enthusiast

This wine is pure Sémillon, giving richness. The weight gets a massive lift from acidity and aromatic, spicy honey. The wine’s balance is impeccable, with poise and elegance, and it will age well. Drink from 2026. —Roger Voss


Château d’Arche 2019 (Sauternes)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

With its high proportion of Sémillon, the wine is luscious and finely honeyed. The wine has depth and layers of dry botrytis mingling with the yellow fruits and orange zest flavors. It is still young, ready to age for many years. Drink from 2026. —R.V.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Château Suau 2019 (Sauternes)

91 Points Wine Enthusiast

This estate, located partly in Barsac, has produced a concentrated wine. With dense orange marmalade and apricot flavors, the wine has an unctuous character that will develop. Vanilla from the wood aging lingers, so wait and drink from 2025. Editor’s Choice —R.V.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Château d’Arche 2020 Soleil d’Arche (Sauternes)

90 Points Wine Enthusiast

This is an open, welcoming sweet wine. It has freshness and citrus flavors against a honeyed background. Light wood aging has softened the wine’s acidity and enhanced its spicy aftertaste. Drink the wine now. —R.V.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Château Laribotte 2019 (Sauternes)

88 Points Wine Enthusiast

With some luscious marmalade flavors, this velvet textured wine is deliciously rich. Acidity is a good balance to the ripeness of the wine. It is likely to be ready to drink from 2023. —R.V.

$33.99 Vivino


Do You Chill Sauternes?

Similar to other full-bodied whites, you’ll want to chill your bottle before serving. Chamberlain recommends refrigerating the wine and pulling it from the cold 10 to 15 minutes before you plan to serve it. The wine should be “a little bit warmer than what you would serve a beer,“ he notes. You can read our cheat sheet for serving wine for more information.

How to Pronounce Sauternes?

Sauternes is pronounced “so-turn.”

How Is Sauternes Made?

Sauternes is made like any other white wine, but the key difference is the high level of sugar in the grapes used. This is a result of the fungus that grows on the grape, called Botrytis, which causes the grape to shrink, its flavor to concentrate and become very sweet. “Where the appellation is, there is a bunch of water from rivers and it’s very foggy and damp with lots of moisture in the air, so it’s very easy to have a rot or fungus grow,” Chamberlin says.

What Food Can You Pair with Sauternes?

It can be difficult to pair sweet wines sometimes, but Chamberlin suggests trying two tactics: The first is to serve Sauternes with big, bold flavors like blue cheese or foie gras. Alternatively, you can try it alongside cheesecake or fruit-based desserts, like a tart. You simply want the dessert to be less sweet than the wine.

Why Is Sauternes So Expensive?

Though the price on the label may at first seem similar to other bottles of wine, most bottles of Sauternes are sold in a 375ml bottle instead of a standard 750ml, meaning you’re paying more per ounce. Chamberlin says “anything worthwhile” will likely hit between $30 and $50—and that’s for a half-sized bottle. The high price is likely due to the Botrytis, he explains. Because the Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon berries are smaller when fermented, they produce less wine than a typical vine would produce.

Why You Should Trust Us

All products featured here are independently selected by our team, which is comprised of experienced writers and wine tasters and overseen by editorial professionals at Wine Enthusiast headquarters. All ratings and reviews are performed blind in a controlled setting and reflect the parameters of our 100-point scale. Wine Enthusiast does not accept payment to conduct any product review, though we may earn a commission on purchases made through links on this site. Prices were accurate at the time of publication.

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Not a Chardonnay Fan? This List Could Change Your Mind Thu, 16 Mar 2023 13:00:00 +0000 3 bottles on chardonnay on a designed background
Images Courtesy of Vivino

Chardonnay has conquered major wine regions globally and is one of the most widely planted grape varieties. From Burgundy and Champagne in France, to Italy, Austria, the United States and beyond, there are exceptional bottles produced all over the world.

But, it can be a polarizing grape. Just ask members of the Anything-But-Chardonnay (ABC) club. But we don’t think that sentiment is always fair. After all, with such a wide array of styles and plantings throughout the world, no two bottles are alike.

To help you get started on your Chardonnay journey (or change some ABCers’ minds) we pulled together the best selections for every palate.

The Best Chardonnays to Try Now

Best Under $20

Chardonnay can command high prices depending on many different factors like location, vintage and more. Thankfully, these exceptional bottles are easy to find for $20 or less.

Robert Oatley 2021 Signature Series Chardonnay (Margaret River)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

Pale gold in color, this is a top example of this renowned Margaret River style. A perfume of fresh hazelnut, honeydew melon and lemon is underpinned by some florals and subtle oak. The palate is full bodied. Where it lacks a little in depth and poise it gains in tastiness, helped by supportive oak and a lively lift of citrusy acidity. A lemony finish lingers. Food friendly sipping now until around 2032. —C.P.


Lamoreaux Landing 2021 Chardonnay (Finger Lakes)

91 Points Wine Enthusiast

With aromas like green apple Jolly Rancher and peach candy—backed by toasted coconut and ground ginger—this is an easy-to-like Chard. The vivid, confected fruit flavors flow through to the palate, where a softly creamy texture is buoyed by a lick of acidity. Balanced, with lovely freshness and length, this is a versatile, food friendly bottling at an affordable price. Best Buy —Christina Pickard

$11.98 Vivino

Gérard Bertrand 2020 Cote des Roses Chardonnay (Pays d’Oc)

91 Points Wine Enthusiast

Delicate aromas of ripe stone fruits and jasmine lead the nose on this wine. Zesty yet creamy, the complex palate offers crisp apple, pineapple, butterscotch, vanilla and oak before a saline finish. Best Buy —Jacy Topps


Glenelly 2020 Estate Reserve Chardonnay (Stellenbosch)

92 Points Wine Enthusiast

Beautiful floral tones of orange blossom and honeysuckle waft from the glass of this wine upon first nosing, followed shortly by a fruity core of pink-apple flesh, ripe peach and just a touch of mango. It’s well balanced and medium weight in feel, with the ripe fruit tones perfectly matched by lifting acidity and a delicate textural framework. Though drinking well now, this should continue to show well through 2025. Editor’s Choice —Lauren Buzzeo

$15.22 8wines

Best Under $30

Yes, there are plenty of great options for $20 or less, but if you’re willing to spring just a bit more money upfront, you can really start to see everything this grape has to offer. These $30 or fewer bottles are worth a try for a little more cash.

Jax 2021 Y3 Chardonnay (Napa Valley)

92 Points Wine Enthusiast

Fermented in concrete and then aged in neutral oak, this value-minded white is impressive. Bright and fresh in good acidity, it has light layers of lemon and pineapple that deliver plenty of flavor in an elegant package. #73 Enthusiast 100 2022 —Virginie Boone


J. Lohr 2021 October Night Chardonnay (Arroyo Seco)

91 Points Wine Enthusiast

Gardenia, jasmine and apple blossom aromas meet with a touch of stone on the nose of this approachable bottling. The palate offers tuberose and guava flavors that lean quite tropical, but there’s enough stony minerality and citrusy acidity to keep it vivid into the finish. —Matt Kettmann


Best Buttery Bottles

Chardonnay often undergoes a winemaking technique called malolactic fermentation (MLF), which gives the wine a creamy mouthfeel and often buttery notes. MLF winemakers use bacteria to help lower a wine’s acidity and bring out these flavors. “During the sometimes month-long process, bacteria change malic acid to softer, creamier lactic acid. Diacetyl, a byproduct of MLF, imparts a buttery taste,” Chasity Cooper previously wrote for Wine Enthusiast. These bottles best represent the buttery notes MLF brings out in Chardonnay.

Shannon Ridge 2020 Buck Shack Whitetail Chardonnay (Lake County)

90 Points Wine Enthusiast

This lush, buttery wine is all dolled up in vanilla, almond and cream flavors on a smooth-as-silk texture. It’s full-bodied, broad and soft on the palate. —Jim Gordon


J Vineyards & Winery 2020 Chardonnay (Monterey County-Napa County-Sonoma County)

87 Points Wine Enthusiast

This oaky, full-bodied wine offers robust oak spice and toast aromas, butter, pear and vanilla flavors on a smooth, creamy texture. —J.G.

$17.99 Total Wine & More

Best California

Typically, Chardonnays from California are riper, fruitier and more full-bodied than Old World styles. As the most widely planted white grape in the Golden State, it’s safe to say that there are some exceptional examples. Here are some of our favorites.

Three Sticks 2020 Gap’s Crown Vineyard Chardonnay (Sonoma Coast)

98 Points Wine Enthusiast

A creamy mouthfeel of exuberant nuttiness is met by an undercurrent of fresh lemon, tangerine and peach in this highly impressive coastal wine. Deliciously balanced, complex and layered, it exhibits length, breadth and tremendous beauty, exceptional in every way. —V.B.

$59.97 Total Wine & More

The Hilt 2020 Estate Chardonnay (Sta. Rita Hills)

96 Points Wine Enthusiast

This is a layered yet expertly restrained and mineral-driven Chardonnay. Aromas of white flower petals, grapefruit pith and the slightest hint of toast are wrapped in ashy and chalky elements on the nose. The palate is vibrantly tight with rock and citrus peel flavors, exhibiting a brilliant acidity. Drink now–2040. Cellar Selection —M.K.

$39.99 Vivino

Groth 2020 Hillview Estate Chardonnay (Napa Valley)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

This white wine from an estate property is bright in lemon and tangerine, with a tasty accompianment of biscotti and anise. Well-integrated oak gives it structure and weight without being intrusive. A touch of pie dough and nutmeg coats the finish. Editor’s Choice —V.B.

$36.99 Vivino

Best Oaked

Love it or hate it, oaky Chardonnay is here to stay.

“The affinity between oak and Chardonnay is so great that oak flavors are often taken as a marker for the grape itself,” Anne Krebiehl, MW, previously wrote for Wine Enthusiast. American oak can give these wines popcorn and toffee notes, while French oak can give wines a nuttier, spicier characteristic. These bottles bring the best of oak to your glass.

Clendenen Family 2018 Bien Nacido Vineyard Chardonnay (Santa Maria Valley)

95 Points Wine Enthusiast

This bottling begins with a mellow touch, and then opens in more toasty ways, showing judicious levels of butterscotch, lemon confit, hazelnut and oak on the nose. Zippy acidity and savory salinity slice through the palate, contrasting the richer waves of toasted nuts, baked lemon, seared peach and white chocolate.  —M.K.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Artesa 2019 Estate Vineyard Chardonnay (Carneros)

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

A vivid gold color and extra-rich caramel, almond and butterscotch aromas grab attention quickly with a sniff of this full-bodied, unabashedly oak-aged and nicely mature wine. It feels rich and velvety in texture, concentrated in its baked apple and poached pear flavors. Ample baking spices and buttery tones linger on the finish. Editor’s Choice —M.K.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Rombauer 2021 Home Ranch Chardonnay (Carneros)

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

This creamy, layered and well-balanced wine cuts rich Bosc pear and yellow apple flavors with lemony acidity that keeps the palate lively and lengthens the fade. The wine is the best of four current Rombauer Chardonnay releases from Carneros. Smooth and complex, it keeps revealing more nuances sip after sip. —J.G.


Best Unoaked

Not an oak fan? No problem. There are plenty of unoaked Chardonnays to choose from–give these bottles a try.

Chehalem 2021 Inox Unoaked Chardonnay (Willamette Valley)

92 Points Wine Enthusiast

Bright aromas of pear, star fruit and the underside of a pineapple lead to medium-weight, plentiful, crystal-clear stone and tropical-fruit flavors. It’s vivid, refreshing and juicy with a long finish—as good of an unoaked Chardonnay as I’ve had. Editor’s Choice —Sean P. Sullivan

$14.99 Vivino

Jac Cole 2021 Unoaked Chardonnay (Russian River Valley)

91 Points Wine Enthusiast

Smooth and nicely fruity, this medium-bodied wine tastes fresh, ripe and full of Fuji apple and Bosc pear flavors. There is little or no oak influence, so it’s a pure expression of the varietal grape flavors. —J.G.

$15.99 Naked Wines

Morgan 2021 Metallico Unoaked Chardonnay (Santa Lucia Highlands)

91 Points Wine Enthusiast

Tightly woven aromas of lime pith, Meyer lemon, chalk and jicama draw the nose into this unoaked bottling. There’s a firmly stony expression on the palate, giving a mineral edge to the honeysuckle and riper apple flavors. —M.K.



What Is the Best Chardonnay?

Whichever you prefer! Chardonnay is a versatile grape, with flavors and aromas ranging from apple, pear and citrus if it’s from a cool climate region, to banana and melon if it’s from a warmer climate area. It lends itself exceptionally well to oak aging but can also be enjoyed without time in a wooden barrel.  

The best way to find the Chardonnay you like the most is to sample as many as you can in different styles. This grape is a chameleon because it lacks a strong flavor expression of its own. 

Is Chardonnay Best Served Cold?

Chardonnays should be served around 50–55°F. If it’s not oaked, then serve it closer to 50°F.

What Cheese Goes Best with Chardonnay?

The best cheese to serve with Chardonnay depends on a few things. If you have a light, crisp bottle, serve Chardonnay with feta or mozzarella. If it’s a light-bodied, dry, unoaked Chardonnay (think Chablis) serve it with a ripe, pungent cheese, like Camembert or Brie. Lastly, for a lightly oaked Chardonnay, reach for Gruyère, Gouda or other semi-soft cheeses.

Why You Should Trust Us

All products featured here are independently selected by our team, which is comprised of experienced writers and wine tasters and overseen by editorial professionals at Wine Enthusiast headquarters. All ratings and reviews are performed blind in a controlled setting and reflect the parameters of our 100-point scale. Wine Enthusiast does not accept payment to conduct any product review, though we may earn a commission on purchases made through links on this site. Prices were accurate at the time of publication.

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The Grasshopper Is a Mint Chocolate Delight Wed, 15 Mar 2023 21:14:50 +0000 Two Grasshopper cocktails
Photography by Ali Redmond

Flavor-wise, a Grasshopper cocktail evokes those chocolate mints an old-school restaurants might present along with the dinner bill. We mean that in a positive way: Both are minty, chocolatey and an oh-so-sweet finish to a meal.

Although the Grasshopper is often served after dinner as a digestif, it can be enjoyed any time. Perfect for mint lovers and those attracted to festive, green cocktails, this vibrantly-hued sipper has a fascinating history. Here are all the details and how to make your own. 

What Is a Grasshopper Cocktail?  

The Grasshopper cocktail is a heavy, creamy and sweet cocktail, not dissimilar in spirit to the equally minty It’s a Wonderful Life cocktail and Boozy Shamrock Shake, not to mention the Wednesday Addams cocktail and Cadbury Egg cocktail. But like the chocolatey Brandy Alexander, the Grasshopper is actually an International Bartenders Association-recognized quaff steeped in tradition.  

According to IBA, the official version is a simply-shaken cocktail containing crème de menthe, white crème de cacao and fresh cream, served in a chilled cocktail glass with an optional mint leaf garnish.

Where Did the Grasshopper Cocktail Come From?  

The drink emerged at a time when Americans were opting for sweeter cocktails as opposed to stronger, whiskey-forward beverages. A version using equal parts crème de menthe and crème de cacao was mentioned in 1908’s World’s Drinks and How to Mix Them by “Cocktail Bill” Boothby, a San Francisco bartender. Boothby attributed the cocktail to Harry O’Brien of the Palace Hotel in San Francisco. The drink continued to regularly appear in global bartending guides through the 1930s, according to The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails. These versions belonged to a class of cocktails known as pousse café, which calls for layering ingredients rather than shaking them. 

A shaken version that better resembles the modern-day Grasshopper is attributed to a New Orleans restaurant, Tujague’s Restaurant. The establishment claims to have served the first modern Grasshopper in 1918 in its original location’s bar. This version, which Tujague’s Restaurant credits to owner Philip Guichet, incorporates crème de menthe, white and dark crème de cacao, heavy whipping cream and brandy. The cocktail was allegedly crafted for a New York City cocktail competition, where it came in second place.

Of course, few classic cocktails’ histories are undisputed. According to The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails, there is no documented evidence proving the Tujague’s Restaurant story. The first proof in print of the modern Grasshopper was in the Boston Traveler in February 1950; writer Neal O’Hara references the drink as “popular in the Midwest.” From there, the drink started popping up in papers all over the country, with numerous writers and readers claiming different provenances. 

Why Is It Called a Grasshopper? 

According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, the drink is “supposedly named for the jumpy effect it produced.” This interpretation was linked to a booze-free, temperance-era interpretation of the drink, which married lemon and orange juices with raw egg, sugar and ice. Later boozy versions in the 1960s attributed the name to the drink’s bright green hue. 

Grasshopper Cocktail Ingredients  

The drink began as equal parts crème de menthe and crème de cacao, and these continue to be non-negotiable ingredients in Grasshopper recipes. Crème de menthe is a bright green liqueur (though, a white version is available) with a very sweet, minty flavor. Crème de cacao is a chocolate liqueur with a deep cocoa flavor that comes in white or dark variations. Together, the two create the Peppermint Patty-like, minty and chocolatey flavor profile that is the hallmark of a Grasshopper.  

Today, the blended Grasshopper is more common than layered versions. Modern bartenders tend to add a creamy element—think heavy cream—and additional flavorings like Cognac or blackberry brandy, which contribute additional depth of flavor. 

How to Make a Grasshopper Cocktail 

Though some recipes call for using a blender or shaved ice, our version simply calls for shaking the three ingredients vigorously in a cocktail shaker filled with ice before straining it over a chilled cocktail glass with an optional garnish.   

Grasshopper Cocktail Recipe 

Recipe by Jacy Topps


  • 1 ounce green crème de menthe
  • 1 ounce white crème de cacao
  • 2 ounces heavy cream
  • Small piece of chocolate, for garnish*


In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, add the green crème de menthe, white crème de cacao and heavy cream and shake vigorously until chilled.

making a grasshopper cocktail
Photography by Ali Redmond

Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

pouring a grasshopper cocktail
Photography by Ali Redmond

Grate chocolate over one side of the cocktail with a fine grater or microplane. Serve immediately.

adding garnish to grasshopper cocktail
Photography by Ali Redmond

*Garnish optional

Lake Michigan Has a Bustling Wine Scene. Here’s How to Explore It Wed, 15 Mar 2023 15:57:57 +0000 Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club
Image Courtesy of Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club

Towering sand dunes plunge steeply into the clear waters of Lake Michigan at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, while in the distance sleek sailboats cut through the turquoise waves. Endless rows of cherry trees and bucolic farmland greet the eye as you drive from one charming small town to the next along winding country roads. Culinary standouts such as Traverse City’s Farm Club, The Cooks’ House and Modern Bird offer diners locally sourced, inventive cuisine paired with exciting wine lists. Paddle boarders, water skiers, windsurfers, kayakers, slushie surfers, wake boarders and other freshwater fans delight in the golden sandy beaches and lakes large and small. The glittering shores of Northern Michigan have long drawn Midwestern summer crowds eager to soak in all the area has to offer. Add to the list of attractions increasingly acclaimed wines produced in the Great Lakes region.

In recent years, the relocation of talented winemakers from Napa, Bordeaux and the Willamette Valley coupled with the presence of long lauded local vintners has added to the Great Lakes’ luster. Situated along the 45th parallel—a distinction shared with notable winemaking localities, including France’s Burgundy and Italy’s Piedmont—the freshwater shoreline and glacial soils shape the character of the wines. The area’s three AVAs—each with its own unique grape-growing terroir— include the Leelanau Peninsula, which stretches from Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes to the western arm of Grand Traverse Bay, straddling two bodies of water (Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan); Old Mission Peninsula, situated just across the bay from Leelanau; and the state’s newest AVA, Tip of the Mitt.

Michigan’s fate and the vitality of its vineyards are inextricably linked to the health of its waterways—a critical resource, even in a region that appears to have more than enough. You needn’t look further than the ongoing Flint Water Crisis to understand that Michigan, though surrounded by fresh water, faces serious public health and environmental issues, much of it rooted in deteriorating infrastructure, government misconduct and social inequality. The Great Lakes ecosystem, which contains roughly 20% of the world’s fresh water, also faces myriad conservation issues, including the effects of aquatic invasive species, coastal development, climate change, overfishing, contamination of watersheds due to runoff, erosion and over-farming— unfortunately, that is merely the tip of the iceberg.

“The very reason that we’re able to grow grapes this far into the interior of the continent is because of the water,” says winemaker Sean O’Keefe of Mari Vineyards. “Being here on Old Mission Peninsula, there’s no vineyard view that doesn’t offer a glimpse of the water.” It is a constant reminder of the responsibility that comes with growing in these parts. Dave Bos of Bos Wine in Elk Rapids says, “I’ve been growing organic and biodynamic wine for the past 13 years in Napa, and when I moved back to Michigan I had a vision of making world class wine and changing farming in the region to create a healthier system.”

Perhaps the best way to appreciate the natural beauty and fragility of the Great Lakes— besides sampling its tantalizing wines—is to get out on the water. Here, some of the biggest names in the Northern Michigan wine world share their favorite places to play on, over, around and, of course, in the water.

Sean O'Keefe_Swimming at Old Mission State Park
Image Courtesy of Sean O’Keefe

Secret Swimming Spots

Taking a dip at Old Mission State Park with Sean O’Keefe, Head Winemaker, Mari Vineyards

Swimming locales are kept under tight wraps, but there is one trick of the trade worth sharing. Depending on which way the wind blows, warm water pools in the harbors and coves around Old Mission Peninsula—Haserot Beach and Lighthouse Park are great swim spots—and once you’ve lived here a long time, as O’Keefe has, you get a read on it. The water is inviting from May through November as long as the air is warm, and a chilled bottle of Mari Vineyards’ lush, citrus-leaning Late Harvest Riesling suits the mood no matter the season.

Lake Micigan canoes
Image Courtesy of Christine Chitnis

Paddle Out

Kayaking Elk Rapids Day Park with Dave Bos, Owner and Winemaker, Bos Wine

In the summer months, when it stays light well past 10 p.m., dinner on the beach is the preferred way to end the day. Bos stocks the cooler, stows the kayaks in the back of the truck (you can also rent boats from Bayfront Beach and Bike) and heads to Elk Rapids Day Park, a family friendly beach with picnic tables and grills—not to mention great paddling. Bos Wine Garden, a few miles down the street from the beach, offers tasting flights paired with dips and charcuterie boards (and a less sandy dining option).

Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club
Image Courtesy of Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club

Local Links

Golfing at Arcadia Bluffs Golf Club with Doug Olson, Director of Winemaking and Grape Growing, Boathouse Vineyards

With sweeping panoramic views of Lake Michigan and natural sand dunes incorporated into the links, Arcadia Bluffs is a bucket-list course that lucky locals play regularly. As a public course, all are welcome. Nearby Traverse City is the place to stop for a bite to eat: Boathouse Restaurant, Modern Bird, The Cooks’ House, Trattoria Stella are all favorites of Olson’s.

family flying in airplane over Lake Michigan
Image Courtesy of Nicole White

High Flying

Floating over Lake Leelanau with Nicole White, Owner, Dune Bird Winery

Taking to the skies in a floatplane offers a new perspective on the area’s immense beauty and a bird-eye view of the seasonal changes. You may see the snow receding to reveal spring’s greenery, or careen over shores alight with the fiery rich colors of autumn. Lake Leelanau’s colors shift from Caribbean blue in the shallows to deep cerulean. Once back on land, White will commemorate a flight with a bottle of one of Dune Bird’s aviation themed reds: AV8, a rich, dry red that marries Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah varietals and Woolsey’s Red, a robust blend of Blaufränkisch and Merlot.

Picking mushrooms in the woods
Getty Images

Happy Trails

Mountain biking at Glacial Hills Pathway and Natural Area with Thomas Houseman, Winemaker, 2 Lads Winery

Tucked between Torch Lake and Lake Bellaire you’ll find 31.5 miles of Michigan’s finest mountain biking and hiking trails. During the warmer months, this forested area is a mushroom forager’s paradise if you know where to look. Houseman has found morels, oyster mushrooms, hen-of-the-woods and chanterelles galore. Which incidentally pairs perfectly with a chilled bottle of 2 Lads Winery’s versatile Cabernet Franc Blanc.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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“Anxiety Purgatory”: Winery Owners on the Aftermath of Silicon Valley Bank’s Collapse Wed, 15 Mar 2023 15:26:20 +0000 Silicon Valley Bank symbol with wine glass falling off of it
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Tegan Passalacqua spent last weekend in what he’s been calling “anxiety purgatory.”

The acclaimed winemaker and owner of Sandlands in Lodi, California, learned on Friday that his financial institution, Silicon Valley Bank, had collapsed. He spent days weighing worst-case scenarios.

Up to $250,000 of his money was insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC); however, Passalacqua had just released all of Sandlands’ winter wine—and had more than twice the insured amount in his account when the bank failed.

“I’m a growing business, so you have these sales periods when you bring in a good chunk of change and it goes away until the next sales period,” he says. “This is about the worst time for it to happen to me.”

Silicon Valley was the second-biggest bank collapse in U.S. history. It was a favorite of venture capital firms and tech startups, many of which pulled out vast sums of money shortly after the bank revealed its huge losses (the result of short-sighted investments paired with rising interest rates) on Wednesday.

While the wine division of the bank formerly known as Silicon Valley Bank represents just two to three percent of the institution’s assets, the roughly 400 wineries that maintained accounts with the institution are now trying to figure out how to best move forward and protect their financial futures.

On Monday morning, after about an hour and 20 minutes of trying to log onto his online banking portal, Passalacqua saw that all of his money—which will soon go toward farming, bottling and other winemaking expenses—was sitting in his account.

In a rare move, all depositors—even above the $250,000 limit—at Silicon Valley Bank were made whole under the systemic risk exception that was approved on Sunday by the FDIC, Department of the Treasury, Federal Reserve and President Biden.

“It’s rare to have a bank of this size fail and not find a suitor to purchase the assets and liabilities,” says Rob Eyler, Ph.D., a professor of Economics at Sonoma State University. “And it’s incredibly rare to have the President of the United States say, ‘We’re good here’ no matter what level of deposit you have.”

As part of the joint announcement on the systemic risk exception, the organizations assured that “No losses associated with the resolution of Silicon Valley Bank will be borne by taxpayers.”

The FDIC’s Deposit Insurance Fund, funded by quarterly fees assessed on FDIC-insured financial institutions and government bond interest, currently holds over $100 billion, which the treasury says is “fully sufficient” to cover SVB depositors.

While that exception to the $250,000 limit saved both large and small producers, like Passalacqua, whose company produces just 3,000 cases per year, many on social media were quick to criticize the move as an elite bailout package.

“BTW, who are typical ‘depositors’ @ #SVB? Wineries, solar, crypto firms. Not exactly mom-and-pop savers,” tweeted Nick DeIuliis, the CEO of natural gas company CNX Resources Corp. “Propped up for years by free money #Fed policy. So why are Main Street taxpayers suddenly bailing out the Cali elite? #bailout.”

That may be true for the bank’s tech clients but doesn’t seem to be the case for many of the wineries that hold SVB accounts. According to Rob McMillan, EVP and founder of Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division, the bank has lent out $1.4 billion in loans spread out amongst its roughly 400 wine clients. Most of those wineries are on the smaller side, says McMillan, producing under 5,000 cases per year.

So, while quite a few, like Passalacqua, may have had large sums in the bank from recent releases, most of the bank’s clients in the notoriously asset-heavy, cash-poor wine industry had far less than the amount insured by the FDIC in their accounts.

“I can’t tell you how many people had more than $250,000, but it wasn’t many,” says McMillan.

Adam Lee of Clarice Wine Company in Santa Lucia Highlands has been a long time customer of Silicon Valley Bank. When the news of its collapse came out Friday, he had $65,000 in his account. While he knew his deposits were covered, he was still stricken with worry about what Silicon Valley Bank’s closure would mean for his business. “It was a bit of panic on Friday as SVB went down,” he says. “I have a line of credit with SVB and I’m not certain what might happen to that if the bank sells.”

Lee’s $100,000 line of credit is just a drop in the bucket, but it’s a lifeline for his company that pays it down until harvest and then borrows it up again to produce his 650 cases per year.

Marcus Goodfellow of Goodfellow Family Cellars is in a somewhat similar but even more stressful boat.

On Monday, he was supposed to close on a property in Oregon’s Willamette Valley with a Silicon Valley Bank loan, after months of back-and-forth paperwork and negotiations. Needless to say, it didn’t happen. And, though the bankers in SVB’s wine division are still inching it forward (potentially closing it tomorrow), Goodfellow is also running through worst-case scenarios and backup plans.

He has already gone past the agreed upon closing date with the buyer, who has extended for a week. If the SVB loan doesn’t go through, Goodfellow could lose his earnest money along with the property if the buyer doesn’t allow him to seek out another bank. “I’d have to be honest and say big banks don’t do this type of stuff as much as Silicon Valley Bank,” he says. “Unquestionably, they have a great understanding of very specific and unique challenges of cash flow that wineries face.”

That’s why, in spite of all the stress from the crisis, many winemakers are more concerned about what will happen to the industry if SVB’s wine department completely shutters. The concern is both a short-term cash crunch and long-term loss of funding for an industry few banks service.

McMillan is fairly confident that won’t happen and they will “roll out of this.” He says he’s already been contacted by four banking businesses and another four to five non-banking companies including private equity firms that have expressed interest in buying up the wine division.

And Eyler believes that any pain in the wine industry that has resulted from SVB’s collapse should be relatively short-lived, aside from some potential cost increases specifically on the lending side. Though he thinks Silicon Valley Bank’s failure will “be a big deal in banking for some time to come” that will require careful consideration of whether this was a regulatory failure, not to mention how the Fed should address its interest rate-raising policy, he believes the wine industry could potentially benefit if more banks begin eyeing the market.

For now, Tim Mayopoulos, the newly appointed CEO of Silicon Valley Bridge Bank, sent out an email to clients urging them to help the institution rebuild its deposit base by leaving money in the bank and transferring back the deposits that have been pulled out over the past week.

Passalacqua is still trying to figure out how to best move his business forward after this weekend—and his unintentional intensive on business banking. In spite of the stress of the crisis, he and other winemakers are still reluctant to move their accounts away from Silicon Valley Bank due to its support of the wine industry and the staff who have helped grow his business. Even the tellers in the bank’s St. Helena office buy his wines via the mailing list, he says.

“They’re literally the people I’m working with on a day-to-day basis,” Passalacqua says. “They are the people who are supporting my brand.”

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What Is Shochu? 5 Bottles to Get You Started Wed, 15 Mar 2023 13:00:00 +0000 Shochu on a red tray against a black background. The moment of pouring in a bottle.
Getty Images

When talking about Japanese alcoholic beverages, most of us immediately think of sake. But it’s time to change that thought process, because the distilled spirit of Japanese shochu is worth your time. Though it lacks sake’s name recognition, shochu is becoming more widely available in some U.S. cities and is popping up at more bars and restaurants. It’s great news for anyone looking to expand their drinking horizons. 

What Is Shochu?  

Shochu is a distilled spirit that is mainly produced in Japan’s southern regions Kyushu and Okinawa. It has over 500 years of history and is considered Japan’s native spirit. Its common base ingredients include rice, barley, sweet potato, buckwheat or chestnuts. “Depending on which [base] ingredient is used, a shochu can be called barley shochu, rice shochu or potato shochu,” says Tetsuro Miyazaki, general manager of U.S. operations of Iichiko Shochu.  

It’s also often thought of as “Japanese vodka” for its higher alcohol by volume (ABV). Although shochu can range in ABV from 20% to 40%, most average around 25% ABV. This makes the spirit a lower-alcohol alternative to liquors like gin or vodka, but a higher-alcohol alternative to beer, sake or wine.   

What Does Shochu Taste Like?  

The flavor is sometimes described as a cross between vodka and whiskey. The specific flavor notes and aromas are determined by various factors: the base ingredient used, the type of koji mold, the koji base, the duration of aging and the vessel used. These factors help determine the flavors of the final product.

Another influential factor is the method of distillation used. According to the Japan Sake and Shochu Makers Association (JSS), atmospheric distillation tends to bring out a fuller flavor of the raw material, while vacuum distillation results in a lighter, slightly more floral profile. 

Barley shochu, in particular, is often soft and inviting on the nose and has aromatic fruity flavors. A leading brand of barley shochu in Japan is Iichiko. It offers two expressions: Silhouette and Saiten. Silhouette has notes of warm rice, white peach, sea breeze and golden plum, while Saiten, Iichiko’s higher-ABV expression, has aromas of honeydew melon, white grapes and kabosu citrus, with a hint of soy, white pepper and barley notes. 

Where Can You Buy Shochu?  

Several online liquor shops in the U.S. carry prestigious bottles like Kuro Kirishima, Iichiko, and Takara. Before buying, make sure to check online reviews of shops and know their offerings. You can also find shochu at your favorite Asian restaurant or Japanese bar. Here are a few of our go-to bottles for shochu beginners. 

Shochu Bottles to Try 

Mizu Shochu

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Think spa water with a kick: bright, lively aromas suggest lychee and rosewater, plus a faint raspberry note. The palate opens dry and finishes long with a delicate cantaloupe hint accented by grains of paradise. Distilled from barley (67%) and black koji rice (33%). –Kara Newman 

$36.49 Total Wine & More

Jikuya White Shochu

96 Points Wine Enthusiast

Complex and nuanced, this shochu opens with mild white floral and violet aromas. The palate is light, with fleeting mocha and pecan pie sweetness, finishing earthy, with a gentle floral exhale. Consider for a martini variation. Distilled from sweet potatoes and rice (white koji, hence the name). –KM

$32.99 Wine Searcher

Iichiko Saiten Shochu

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Toasty, warm cocoa and roasted almond on nose and palate lead into a bracing finish. Lemon peel astringency is framed by white pepper and ginger heat. 100% barley, including the koji. –KM

$32.99 Caskers

Colorful Honkaku Shochu

95 Points Wine Enthusiast

Savory, lush and food-friendly, this shochu offers a bold cocoa powder scent. The palate is similarly bold: mushroom, roasted chestnut, carrot peelings and walnut are enlivened by ginger and white pepper sparks on the long exhale. Distilled from sweet potatoes and rice. –KM

$55.99 Total Wine & More

Kana Shochu

97 Points Wine Enthusiast

Complex and multi-layered, this shochu has a faint pale straw tinge and mild, mellow almond aromas. Toasted coconut and butterscotch richness leads into a lively, tingly finish with lemon pepper, tarragon and pine. Sip or mix. Distilled from kokuto (black sugar) and rice, and aged in oak casks at least one year. –KM

$69.99 Total Wine & More


How Do You Drink Shochu?  

In Japan, shochu is consumed more than sake or whiskey. “Japanese people consume it on a daily basis [thinking] they are less likely to have a hangover after drinking shochu, so the beverage overtook sake consumption in 2003,” claims Miyazaki.  

Another upside? It can be served at a range of temperatures. You can drink it on the rocks or mix it with either hot or cold water.  

Hitoshi Utsnomiya, director of the JSS, says the traditional way to drink the spirit is oyuwari, or shochu with hot water. When you add water, the alcohol content goes down to about 12 to 15%, similar to a glass of wine.  

Shochu also makes a great cocktail base. A popular drink is chu-hi, a shochu highball that mixes the spirit with soda.   

Shochu is traditionally enjoyed with a meal but it can also be consumed before or after eating, making it a great aperitif or digestif. If you happen to keep a bottle at home, be sure to put it in the fridge so you can enjoy it cold without the need to dilute it with ice.   

What Is the Difference Between Shochu and Soju?   

Though the names may sound similar, shochu and soju are two different spirits. Soju, often called the “Korean vodka,” is a rice-based undistilled spirit popularly consumed in Korea. Its appearance is clear and colorless, and its taste is slightly sweet and smooth. Made from grains and starches like barley, sweet potatoes and tapioca, soju has a mostly neutral flavor.  

How Is Shochu Made? 

Koji—a substance made of soybeans, rice or other foodstuffs inoculated with a mold culture—is another key ingredient to shochu. The mold, a critical component of the saccharification process, breaks down starch into glucose. The resulting mash then ferments to produce alcohol, which is then distilled.    

When it comes to distillation, shochu is divided into two categories: honkaku (single distillation) and ko-rui (multiple distillations). Honkaku shochu, made from various base ingredients, is distilled in a pot still like whiskey and rum. “This [type of] shochu doesn’t contain any additives or sugar, making it super-premium and clean,” says Utsnomiya. Meanwhile, ko-rui shochu is made from various cereals and molasses and goes through distillation in a column still like vodka.  

Why You Should Trust Us

All products featured here are independently selected by our team, which is comprised of experienced writers and wine tasters and overseen by editorial professionals at Wine Enthusiast headquarters. All ratings and reviews are performed blind in a controlled setting and reflect the parameters of our 100-point scale. Wine Enthusiast does not accept payment to conduct any product review, though we may earn a commission on purchases made through links on this site. Prices were accurate at the time of publication.

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Vinfamous: The Greatest Cellar on Earth That Never Was Wed, 15 Mar 2023 10:00:00 +0000 Vinfamous Episode 102: The Greatest Cellar on Earth That Never Was
Image Courtesy of Wine Fraud and Getty Images

In this week’s episode, we uncork what’s potentially the most famous wine scandal of all. Rudy Kurniawan, purported to be a wine broker of fine and rare wines. Rudy was once known for having “The Greatest Cellar on Earth.” However, his millions in sales turned into years in prison after law enforcement caught him manufacturing labels and creating fraudulent wines. As many as 10,000 counterfeit bottles created by Kurniawan may still be in private collections.

Listen Now: Vinfamous: Wine Crimes & Scandals

Episode Transcript


It was an open secret.


They either see him as a hero, Robin Hood figure, who’s taking the rich to the cleaners or as a villain.

(Theme Music Fades In)


You are listening to Vinfamous, a podcast from Wine Enthusiast. We uncork tales of envy, greed, and opportunity. I’m your host, Ashley Smith. 

(Theme Music Fades Out)

So as you know, this podcast covers wine crimes and scandals. And there is one crime you may have already heard of, Rudy Kurniawan and his multimillion-dollar cellar. This week on Vinfamous, how exactly did he get away with this fraud for so long? Where might he be now and who are the real victims of this kind of deceit? To answer these questions, let’s go back about two decades. The sunglasses were tiny, jeans were low, and a free-ish Britney Spears was pumping out hit after hit. That’s when Rudy Kurniawan took his first sip of fine wine. The story he would tell his friends is this. He was sitting at a restaurant in San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. He was eating dinner with his family and perusing the wine list. His eyes landed on the most expensive bottle, a $300 Opus One. He was hooked. Rudy had a new obsession, fine wine, and soon the world would see how obsessed he was.


Rudy, he was young.


That’s Maureen Downey.


I remember there was a dad with a kid and the kid was only 12 years old and he would bid, and after that, Rudy was the next youngest guy. So Rudy was funny and nice, and he was a geeky wine interested guy.


Maureen met Rudy when she was working at the auction house, Morrell & Company. She was already recognized as a skilled sommelier and worked her way up the hospitality industry at some key New York City spots that you may have heard of, such as Lespinasse, Felidia, and Tavern on the Green. In the early 2000s, wine auctions were becoming more and more popular. Wine auctions in New York only became legal in 1996. Things were different back then. There was a sense of camaraderie.


It used to be that before every auction we’d have a pre-auction tasting, and that was a fun event, and people would walk around and sample the wine. It was a Thursday night event and everybody would go, and it was such a small industry that we were all friends.


Rudy lived with his mother in a Los Angeles suburb named Arcadia. He started out like many wine drinkers in Southern California. He would drink local wines like Screaming Eagle, but then passion led him to jump coast to coast, going to auctions in Los Angeles and New York City.


He was part of the group. We would have dinners and we would have tastings and we’d have auctions, and he was just part of the crew that we ran with.


It was at these pre-auction tastings in New York City where Maureen got to know Rudy. She said he was buying $40 bottles of Merlot, not anything super fancy, but that was just the beginning.


Everyone we spoke to spoke about Rudy’s encyclopedic knowledge of wine, his palates, which enabled him to identify any wine from Californian, to old, to Australian to old Burgundy.


That’s Jerry Rothwell. He’s a documentary filmmaker who co-directed a film about Rudy’s life in wine. The film was called Sour Grapes. Then pretty quickly, Rudy moved up the wine lover’s ladder into the world of Bordeaux and Burgundy wines. These are fine wines that create obsessive cult followings. His taste was growing more and more expensive. Just a few months into his arrival to the wine auction scene, he wasn’t just the nerdy young guy attending the pre-auction party with everyone else, he was a man of money who threw exclusive expensive affairs.


He threw tasting parties and dinners costing tens, hundreds of thousands of dollars. For everyone, I think Rudy was a slightly mysterious figure. They knew that he lived with his mom, but he never invited people to his home and there were these kind of ideas circulating he was a son of a very rich family, possibly beer exporters in Indonesia, China. He said he’d come to the US on a golf scholarship. There were these myths that grew up about him. All of them were based actually in some element of truth, but none of them were detailed enough to really pin down who he really was.


Right. There’s like this mystique, these rumors of like, “Oh, well, I wonder who he really is to throw all these lavish parties and be this Great Gatsby of wine.”


Yeah, and obviously, as soon as you come into Rudy’s orbit, I think people must have felt they just got really lucky. Here’s a guy who’s going to enable us to taste wines we would never otherwise be able to taste.


Real estate tycoons, movie producers, bankers, these are the moneyed wine enthusiasts who fell into his orbit. They called Rudy Dr. Conti as they drank famous wines like Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Burgundies that went back to the 1800s. Can you imagine sitting at one of these tables? You’re chatting with powerful people, eating exquisite dinners, and Rudy is about to pour a wine that costs more than your car and very well could have been bottled before your grandparents were born. What else do you need to build a mystique like that?


There emerged this a series of wine clubs, mainly in LA and New York, often all male with names like the Bergholds or the Order of the Purple Pallet, or the one which really was part of the 12 Angry Men. You needed to bring some pretty expensive bottles of wine to be part of that group.


Yep, you heard that right. While these other drinking groups had innocent names, this macho group called themselves the 12 Angry Men. It’s the same name as the 1957 courtroom drama, which took place during a time in US history when only men could serve on juries, but I digress. Apparently they called themselves this because they would arrive to fancy wine parties and would be outraged when they realized that yet again, they brought the nicest, most expensive bottles of wine. They thought of themselves as elite wine drinkers and they didn’t want to share with inferior wine drinkers.


I guess that group got its reputation for excess for two reasons. One, because of the almost value of wine that would be drunk in an evening. Tens of thousands of dollars of rare wine could be drunk in an evening. And secondly, because maybe the emerging of a wine blogging culture, particularly John Kapon would write accounts of these sessions, which would build the myth, I guess.


John Kapon, remember that name. He’s the third generation owner and operator of Acker Merrall & Condit, or Acker for short. It’s a wine store in New York City’s Upper East Side that has been around since 1820. John’s emails after their drinking sessions just added to their legendary status. At these gatherings, Rudy would pour bottles from his personal collection nicknamed the magic cellar. Ostensibly, he was getting this wine from his headline making bids at auctions. According to a 2006 Los Angeles Times article, Rudy was spending an estimated $1 million per month bidding for old and rare wine, and he did that for “the last several years.” In 2006, other wine lovers could purchase part of the mystique of this magic cellar. The stakes were high for Rudy, but they were perhaps higher for the auction house hosting this event, Acker.

This was the first ever single seller auction at that auction house. The first auction netted $10.6 million, $10.6 million. Then in the second auction, bidders more than doubled that number and netted $24.7 million. This broke the record for the single sale of wine at an auction. That’s wild. This added fuel to Rudy’s lavish lifestyle. He decided it was time to move out of the LA suburbs, and he started an $8 million renovation in the lavish LA neighborhood of Bel Air. He drove exotic cars. He started to buy contemporary art, but not everything was adding up. Some were growing suspicious of Rudy’s exceptional fortune finding rare wines. Sommelier Maureen Downey kept your eyes open.


In the wine auction industry, obviously everything is secondary market and/or gray market, so you have to inspect all the bottles and you inspect them for provenance, for health. So you’d put these cases of wine up on a table and you’d realize that eight of them looked the same and maybe four of them looked a little bit different.


Maureen realized she had a knack for identifying the odd bottle when she was starting out at Morrell’s Auction House.


One of the first bottles I ever found, I reached to the back of a table to grab a bottle of what was supposed to be Petrus and my sheer muscle memory of how heavy the bottle was supposed to have been kicked in. And I lifted the bottle. I almost threw it on the ceiling because it was in this really light blue glass that at the time we would’ve associated with Chilean Merlot. So I just started seeing these things that didn’t fit. Every time you look at a bottle, I take a moment, especially with an old and rare bottle, or actually now even young bottles because organized crime is heavily involved now and it’s mostly younger wine that are being counterfeited, but I look at it, if you imagine looking at a piece of art, you don’t focus first on the lady’s foot. First, you look at the whole piece and you spend a moment looking at the whole piece and taking the whole piece in, and then eventually you start to look at the details in the different parts.

So imagine looking at a great master and then all of a sudden you look down at the foot and you can see that it was printed digitally and you’re looking at that going that doesn’t fit. So when I have a bottle that has a label that looks like it’s been through 50 years of cellaring or it looks like it’s been through a war and you have a pristine capsule, those things are supposed to have spent their lives together, and you look at that and you go, “This bottle’s had a facelift because that capsule does not match that label.”


She started studying up on the elements a fraudster would try to impersonate, things like the label, the seal, even the type of paper used to make the label. She mined her network of friends in New York.


I had a friend that worked at The Met and she introduced me to a woman who worked in the old documents department, and I took her to artisanal and plied her with as much cheese and wine as she could eat, and I just asked her questions for hours about the history of paper and what happens to paper in humidity and how paper has changed over time. I visited printers and I have cousins who are glassblowers and they’re glass experts, and I just gathered all this weird information from other places and started putting it together.


It really seems like you were the perfect person to take this on because you had that network that you could call on and because you had the tenacity to seek out information that you could use to then make this your whole career.


I’m basically a counterfeit junkie. I really got into wine because I love learning and I love history. So if you put together a love of wine and a love of history and a belief that these wine producers are pouring their heart and soul into these wines and it’s art and it’s just really wrong. It’s probably also a little bit of Sister Catherine in my Catholic upbringing in my ear telling me do the right thing.


So when Rudy contacted her about some bottles he wanted to sell, Sister Catherine was whispering in her ear.


I had the realization that Rudy was trying to sell fraudulent wine the very first time that he brought wine to me at Zachys and that he could not come up with receipts for them. It’s absolutely preposterous that a young man would claim that he recently bought these bottles and now he wants to sell them, and he didn’t have a receipt to prove that he purchased them. I don’t think that’s something that should be a difficult thing to expect. If a 26, 28-year-old has millions and millions of dollars of jewelry or any asset, gold, where’d you get it? By this point, things were pretty modernized and you could just show me your credit card bill.


Years before John Kapon’s Acker Auction House broke record selling Rudy’s wine, Maureen was speaking out. And even at the time, you were one of the only people who were speaking on what was going on with the fraud and with Rudy. And that made you a bit of an outsider in your industry.


Oh, I’m a pariah to a lot of people. I have to take bodyguards to large tastings. I’ve actually been physically assaulted.


Oh my God.


But this is big money, and I was viewed as the girl pissing on the boys’ campfire. Everybody’s having fun, why can’t you just let it go?


When you realized, okay, this guy is trying to pull off some fraud here, who did you tell? What is the next step from that?


My God, I told everybody that would listen. It actually got to the point where my brother said to me once, “Mo, you got to let it go. Nobody cares about fake wine.” And I was like, “But it’s wrong, damn it. No.” Then there was the Ponsot auction.


The Ponsot auction. Acker Auction House advertised an impressive catalog of wines to be auctioned off on April 25th, 2008. These vintages were so rare, so high end, even the most refined Burgundy enthusiast hadn’t heard of them because they didn’t exist. Laurent Ponsot would be the authority on this. He’s the owner and operator of Domaine Ponsot. So he was shocked when he saw 1959 and 1945 bottles of Clos Santini in the auction catalog. But Laurent knew with absolute certainty that these vintages did not exist. His family only started producing this wine in the 1980s.


Laurent Ponsot and Burgundy, he ended up calling John Kapon and saying, “Look, you can’t sell these bottles. We never made them.” And John said, “Yeah, okay. I’m going to pull them.” And Laurent Ponsot did not believe John Kapon and Ponsot showed up at the sale. If Acker had intended for those lots to be withdrawn, those Ponsot lots, they would’ve been on the addendum as withdrawn. They were not withdrawn. They were not withdrawn until somebody went up to the podium and told John Kapon that that guy sitting right in front of you with long hair is Laurent Ponsot. And then John pulled them from the podium. This was several hundred thousand dollars worth of Ponsot wines that were pulled, and this is where then Laurent Ponsot went to John and said, “Where are these from?” And John said, “I got them from Rudy.”


After this break, the secrets spill out from Rudy’s magic cellar. If you follow politics, you’ve probably heard of the Koch brothers, Charles and David. They bankroll Republican candidates and conservative causes, but if you’re in the wine world, then you might recognize Bill Koch as the biggest private wine collector in the United States. His home base is Palm Beach, Florida and he holds 43,000 bottles of wine in his cellar.


I guess it’s the size of a, what can I compare it to? Half a gymnasium, something like that.


That’s Jerry Rothwell again. Jerry visited the cellar when he was filming Sour Grapes. What was it like to be surrounded by wine that expensive? If I was at that vineyard, I think I would be afraid I was going to like hurt a vine, and if I was in Bill Koch’s wine cellar, I would be scared to touch anything.


Yeah, always a bit worried about knocking over bottles. Yeah, it was an extraordinary space.


Bill Koch hired a team of skilled investigators to confirm the authenticity of his wines. In 2007, investigators flagged wines he had purchased from Rudy at auction.


He was in the process of discovering that $4 million worth of those, I think 400 bottles were fake, half of which he’d bought from Rudy. And so I think for Koch, it was a very personal journey. He spent, I think, more on investigating Rudy than he lost in wine, but for him, it’s not about revenge, but it’s about getting to the heart of understanding what happened.


It’s about this time when the FBI starts building their case against Rudy as well. Maureen Downey starts talking to Bill Koch’s investigators and the FBI around 2008.


So it was four years we were talking to these guys before Rudy was finally arrested.


Wow. That’s a long investigation. Why do you think he was able to continue doing what he did for so long and getting away with it? Just that nobody cared or that the money was more important?


Yep. It’s all about greed. It’s all about the almighty dollar. The people that were buying these wines were not people that cared about their authenticity. They cared about having a bigger wine than you. It was all about who’s got the bigger one. It was total American male ego.


Four years later, the authorities busted into Rudy’s home in Arcadia. Inside this cookie cutter suburban home was the operations behind the so-called magic cellar. Investigators seized millions of dollars in properties and assets, such as luxury cars. There was a white sink stained by wine. They found three bottles sitting on a pink towel that were stripped of their labels and a couple of bottles with labels soaking in an attempt to make the new labels appear decades old.


When the FBI raided Rudy’s house, what they found was all kinds of evidence of his faking activities, and that makes you understand of the lengths he had to go in order to fake vintage wine. First of all, you need to get the label itself right, which isn’t necessarily easy because labels, you needed to age paper to make those labels believable and print them in a believable way. You needed to be able to stamp those labels with the appropriate merchant, and that’s some of the mistakes Rudy made that ultimately got brought forward in court. So for example, there was a wine distributor called Percy Fox & Co, which is a UK wine distributor in Sackville Street in London, and Rudy made a label for that which misspelled Sackville Street.


And bottles. Rudy needed to have hundreds and hundreds of bottles to keep up with this act. And as you might imagine, the bottle of, say, a 1945 Domaine Conti is quite different than the $20 bottle you’d find at Costco. Remember the lavish parties young Rudy would host deep into the night? Well, after his guests all stumbled home and tables would be full of empty wine glasses, Rudy would collect the discarded bottles and sometimes he would go to great lengths to obtain these.


He managed to get old glass bottles from distributors in France, we think. And he claimed that he was creating a bottle museum, so he’d be getting bottles from restaurants.


Crew restaurant is where they had the big dinners, and then after the dinners, sommelier Robert Bohr would ship the empty bottles back to Rudy, making sure to cork them to preserve the sediment.


Then of course, there’s the wine itself. He would create his own blends of old French wine and young wine from California. When people look back on their tasting notes, some would remark how youthful the wine tasted. Hindsight is always 2020.


Then he needed to test an experiment, and that was the role of dinners and tastings to try bottles out on people. Had it worked? Did they pick anything up? He professed himself to be an expert in fake wine. So sometimes he would bring a bottle and he’d say, “Yeah, I’m not really sure about this one. Tell me what you think.” When the FBI his house, there’d be these bottles which had blending recipes on them on the whole using as a base for the wine, maybe wine of the same era, 50s 60s Burgundy wine, but off-vintages. There’s evidence that he bought large quantities of off-vintages and then mixing them with perhaps a newer Californian wine. It’s not like he’s re-bottling a $5 bottle of wine, it was a $10,000 bottle of wine. He’s going through quite lengths to get wine to end up with something that tastes similar to the wine he’s faking.


So I had to ask if these fakes ever came close to tasting like the real deal. And did you ever taste any of it?


Oh, I’ve had a bunch of his counterfeits. They usually don’t taste very good, but a lot of times they’re corked, and that’s a good counterfeiters trick, is that they intentionally put TCA in the bottle so that you think, “Ah, bummer, corked.”


Right, so then that that’s the excuse for why it doesn’t taste right.




Then finally, the FBI brought Rudy Kurniawan to trial. This was the Fed’s first ever criminal case involving wine counterfeiting, $1.3 million in counterfeit wines, 2013 December in New York City, a time when many people are shopping in Midtown or trying to see the Rockettes, a federal jury was deliberating if this man was guilty. Two hours later, they decided he was guilty of fraud and sentenced to 10 years in prison. Some notable names testified, including Bill Koch. He said he spent $2.1 million buying more than 200 counterfeit bottles, and he spent $25 million on a “personal crusade to get to the source of the fraud.”


Ultimately, during the trial, I felt really bad for him. I was the only one that said hello and goodbye to him every day. Nobody was there for him. All of those people that made so much money off of him completely abandoned him, and I felt bad for him because he’s a patsy in all of this. Rudy is not the mastermind here. Rudy didn’t make the money. Look at all the people that made millions and millions and millions of dollars and the people whose businesses were built on the back of the fraud.


Mail and wire fraud is what Rudy was convicted of, and he ended up serving only seven years of his sentence. Then in 2021, US immigration officials deported him. Rudy boarded a plane in Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and flew back home to Jakarta, Indonesia. He was 44. They released a grainy picture of him, dark glasses, plain T-shirt, short pin, straight black hair. He has wrinkles. No one really knows what he’s up to now. He could be making fake wines in Indonesia, but one thing is for certain, the mystery behind his wine and his family fortune was all smoke and mirrors, but some new details emerged.

Enterprising journalists in Indonesia uncovered that Rudy’s family has deep connections to organized crime. His uncles are Hendra Rahardja and Eddy Tansil. His Uncle Hendra is at the center of a tangled web of bank related grift. After fleeing Indonesia, he was sentenced to life in prison for misusing more than $216 million in assets. In 1996, his other uncle bribed his way out of prison in Indonesia. He was in jail for embezzling a jaw dropping $420 million from the Indonesian bank where he worked. In 1998, Uncle Eddie was discovered to be living in China, running a beer company. That’s just a few years before Rudy started his own foray into the world of wine. So let’s back up. In the case of the $1.3 million wine fraud, was justice served here and who was really harmed?


My experience with the release of the film is that people have quite polarized views of Rudy. They either see him as a hero, Robin Hood figure, who’s taking the rich to the cleaners, or they see him as a villain that’s stomping on the value and the artistry of wine. I think in the end, he’s neither in a bit of both of those things. I think what people I suppose need to bear in mind is that Rudy himself was very wealthy and that wealth had probably, at the time, we couldn’t really establish the direct link with the bank frauds within his family in Indonesia. But I think that link has been pretty well established now by Indonesian journalists.


I asked Maureen the same question, who is harmed when wine is counterfeited?


So I started screaming about this in 2002. It’s been 10 and a half years since Rudy was arrested. I have been screaming about this for so long, 20 years, that I finally decided to adopt the politician’s angle. Who is harmed by this? The children. Why the children? If you look at statistics, if 25% of all alcohol is illicit, then we are talking about 25% of all alcohol taxes not being collected. So the next time you wonder why a school is underfunded or why you hit a pothole, thank a fraudster.


Well, okay, apart from tax funding being taken away from innocent children, Maureen argues there is another impact on this.


It affects all of us because it raises prices. There’s a reason that Napa Valley Cab, you can’t get a decent Napa Valley Cab for less than $150 now. You used to be able to get it for $75 or $65, but when the highest producers raise their prices so high and you consider yourself a quality producer, you go, “Well, the gap between their prices and my price can’t be that high. I look cheap now. I need to raise my prices because I need to be in line with that luxury level.” What we have are higher prices. We have less trust in the industry. We have producers whose art is being totally bastardized, and we have a lot of people who are clearly not working on behalf of the consumer, which I think is horrific. I think consumers need to stand up and only work with those vendors that they know are doing an amazing job.


Maureen now runs Chai Consulting and the website, She trains sommeliers and people in the wine industry to recognize signs of fraud.


A lot of retailers really don’t like me because I’ve made their job more difficult. I don’t trust, I verify. Trust is what got us where we are. Oh, trust me, I’ve been buying from this guy for 30 years. I don’t care. Maybe he’s been selling you fakes for 30 years. People do not osmose the ability to authenticate. There are a lot of old time retailers, especially in the United States that are selling counterfeit wine, whether they know it or not, and I don’t think that everybody that sells counterfeits does so intentionally, but a lot of people would just prefer the plausible deniability. Oh, I didn’t know. When they get caught, oh, I didn’t know. We are finally seeing some retailers and negotiants who care enough about the issue to do something about it, finally. Berry Bros. & Rudd was an early adopter. They had us come in and train up Philip Moulin as soon as they were made aware of the scope of the problem and the scope of the problem is vast. According to the World Health Organization, 25% of all alcoholic beverages are either counterfeit or illicit.




25%. Yep. It is not a problem only for people who drink Château Lafite. I was in London. I judged the International Wine Challenge. I bought a bottle of Hendricks at a major supermarket chain, and I put it in the freezer in my hotel room and it froze. Gin’s not supposed to freeze. It was a counterfeit bottle of Hendricks. So this is happening across the board.


Hendricks is my favorite. So I was like, no.


So that was shocking, right?


The labels are evolving. Now, if you look closely on certain bottles of wine, there’s a pattern of bubbles indicating authenticity, and Maureen has a new idea to protect consumers.


Anything that we authenticate, we put into the Chai Vault, which gives a blockchain secured ledger that shows that the bottle is authentic, where it was authenticated by whom, and it also shows any provenance information. And then if somebody sells the bottle, that ledger is updated with the new information and a buyer’s name can be encrypted so that it can never be seen by anybody else. But the actual sale information isn’t. The vendor and the date of sale remain in the blockchain for people to see so they can actually trace the origin of the bottle. And until we start really using a lot of these Web3 applications, we’re going to continue to have to trust. And I don’t trust, I verify.

(Theme Music Fades In)


That’s all for this week’s episode of Vinfamous, a podcast by Wine Enthusiast. Join us next time as we travel back to ancient Roman times and investigate the surprising history of poisons in wine. Find Vinfamous on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen and follow the show so you never miss a scandal. Vinfamous is produced by Wine Enthusiast in partnership with Pod People. Special thanks to our production team Dara Kapoor, Samantha Sette. And the team at Pod People, Anne Feuss, Matt Sav, Aimee Machado, Ashton Carter, Danielle Roth, and Carter Wogahn.

(Theme Music Fades Out)

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Non-Alcoholic Amari Deserve Space on Your Bar Cart Tue, 14 Mar 2023 19:26:36 +0000 3 bottles of non alcoholic amari on a green background
Images Courtesy of the Merchants

Italy’s beloved bitter digestif, amaro, isn’t for everyone. Those who love it, however, crave the bracing bitter punch it delivers. Now, the category is attracting the zero-proof crowd.

Non-alcoholic drinks are having a moment in the sun, from wine and spirits, to beers and cocktails, and amaro is no different. If you’re not drinking alcohol for a night, a season or forever—you’re in luck: There are more and better non-alcoholic amaro options than ever before.

What Is Amari?

The word amari (amaro as singular) literally translates to “bitter” in Italian, but the term applies loosely to all sorts of bittersweet, herbal liqueurs. Amari are traditionally crafted by infusing grape brandies with a mix of flowers, tree bark, citrus peels, herbs and spices. Famous examples include vibrant red Campari, sweet and tangy Aperol, licorice-y Fernet-Branca and artichoke-forward Cynar.

Amaro recipes are often closely guarded and dizzyingly complex. They tend to be sweetened with sugar syrup and aged in barrels or bottles, making for a silky texture and complex depth of flavor.

Amaro first hit the market in Italy in the 1800s. They were originally billed as medicinal aids: All those barks and herbs were said to aid digestion and soothe the stomach. That’s why amari are often consumed as a digestif, aka a drink consumed after dinner. These days, however, amari are just as commonly enjoyed before dinner—in a spritz, Negroni or other pre-meal cocktail—as they are savored after a meal.

What Is Non-Alcoholic Amari?

Simply put, non-alcoholic amari are bitter digestifs that do not contain alcohol. The category faces some challenges in terms of acceptance.

“What is that, root water?” asks Michael Snodgrass, CEO and partner at Las Vegas-based alcohol importer and distributer West Coast Beverages when asked about the trend.

Others, however, are more enthusiastic. David Othenin-Girard, the spirits buyer at K&L Wine Merchants in Hollywood, California, sees the category as exciting and delicious. “You can get so much more unexpected flavor from non-alcohol amari,” he says. “There are even flavors you don’t necessarily get in alcoholic amari.”

Othenin-Girard emphasizes that amari are, by nature, unique. “You can’t even make an alcoholic substitute for Campari,” he explains, as its recipe is a secret. This gives modern non-alcoholic spirit makers plenty of room to experiment and play. Some producers make claims that, true to tradition, the herbs, roots and teas in their non-alcoholic drinks can still make your tummy feel good.

Today, there are more interesting amari options than ever. Hannah Selinger, a James Beard Award-nominated journalist and certified sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, is a particular fan. She started cutting back on alcohol a few years ago, when she began suffering from migraines.

“Ever since, I’ve been thrilled with the emerging options when it comes to NA beverages like amari,” she says.

How to Drink Non-Alcoholic Amari

“If you love cocktails, you can build on these [non-alcoholic amari] with tonics and juices for an equal, if not more enjoyable, experience than an alcoholic cocktail,” says Othenin-Girard.

For example, Negroni Sbagliatos are hot right now. Making one with non-alcoholic amari can be a great way to turn down the ABV without sacrificing flavor. Alternatively, Othenin-Girard loves the woodsy Bitter Optimist Cali Amaro served simply over ice with a splash of grapefruit soda. “I love the bitter on bitter from the liqueur and the grapefruit,” he says.

The big takeaway? “Don’t deprive yourself just because you’re going to take the night off from drinking,” Othenin-Girard urges.

Ready to give these non-alcoholic options a try? Here are five excellent amari—sans booze—drinks pros swear by.

5 Non-Alcoholic Amari to Try

Three Spirit Social Elixir

Othenin-Girard loves the “more complex tincture style botanical extracts” in Three Spirit Social Elixir, a full-bodied, bittersweet drink that gets its unexpected savory bite from lion’s mane mushroom, yerba mate and the wild herb damiana. Despite containing no alcohol, Three Spirit claims its drinks will make you feel… something. It’ll make you “a little floaty and flirty,” says Othenin-Girard, adding that the combination will “lift spirits and reduce inhibitions.” Who says sober can’t be wild?

$39.00 Three Spirit

Bitter Optimist Cali Amaro

Othenin-Girard sips this when “our six-year-old [gets] up at 6 am and a strong cocktail is not the best choice, but we want something delicious.” Inspired by Los Angeles’s year-round sunshine and citrus growing history, Cali Amaro’s ingredients include yerba mate, pink grapefruit, mandarin orange, sage, bay laurel, thyme and angelica. Its fresh acidic bite plays against the offering’s punchy, bitter notes. The versatile spirit is crafted to be sipped straight over ice, as a spritz or as the base for a more complex cocktail.

$35.00 Optimist Drinks

Tenneyson Black Ginger

Tenneyson’s maker Graham Wasilition urges that his spirit is different from traditional amari “because of the sugar content. We purposefully do not add any refined sugar.” Still, the drink’s sweet and bitter profile makes it feel right for this list. It delivers punchy and bright notes of black ginger with a spicy, peppery kick. Other ingredients include dandelion, lemon balm, bergamot, Yerba Matte, grape seed and gentian root. It’s great for sipping on its own after dinner or with lime juice and seltzer over ice for an anytime pickup.

$39.00 Boisson


Selinger prefers amari that have a little less bitter on the back palate, which is why Ghia is a staple on her bar cart. With ingredients including elderflower, lemon balm, yuzu and rosemary, it reminds her “more of an alcohol-free Riesling than a more aggressive, throaty, bitter amaro.” Ghia is a superb option for those who like to end a meal with something that’s a little different, but still reminiscent of amari.

$38.00 Amazon

The Pathfinder

Even though Wasilition makes a (sort of) competitive product, he recommends The Pathfinder: “It’s excellent, and I respect their product very much,” he says. This elixir starts with fermented hemp, which is distilled in 16th-century style copper pot stills before being infused with a top-secret mix of “distillates, extracts, tinctures and oils,” according to the producer. The heady botanicals include wormwood, angelica root, ginger, sage, juniper, saffron, orange peel and wild Douglas-fir.

The result is a layered, satisfying drink with tons of complexity and an earthy, bracing bite. The rich, almost creamy texture lends itself to coffee. Mix up an alcohol-free Irish coffee, or sip it with club soda and a squeeze of lemon.

$40.00 Wellspent Market
We Recommend:
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The Bee, an Unsung Vineyard Hero, Steps Into the Spotlight Tue, 14 Mar 2023 18:58:29 +0000 grapes and flowers with bees flying around it
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The grapes we grow for wine don’t technically need bees. In fact, the cultivated “common” grapevine, known as the Vitis vinifera, is hermaphroditic, meaning it possesses flowers with functional pistils (which act as ovaries) and stamens (which produce pollen), allowing these vines to self-pollinate.

But, it may seem surprising that despite this, wine growers have long invested time and money into designing vineyards that attract bees. And as bee populations decline globally, vintners are working even harder to bring bees to their vineyards.

So, why are bees so vital to the vineyard, and what are winemakers doing to foster them? We break down everything you need to know.

How Bees Impact the Vineyard

purple wine grapes close up
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Improve Soil Nutrition

Bees, when confronted with a rotating buffet of snacks all year, return the farmer’s favors by helping to create healthier, richer and more water-retentive soils. This is because bees help to pollinate and care for cover crops, which can be vital to a vineyard’s health—this is especially true in drought-plagued California.

“Cover crops have been shown to promote soil health by improving soil’s organic matter, preventing erosion and raising soil moisture holding capacity,” says Sally Camm, Grgich Hills Estate communication manager in Napa. “They are also a key way to encourage a diversity of microbes in the soil, which is especially important when you’re working within a monocrop like grapes.”

The Grgich Hills Estate has been certified organic since 2006, and plants bee-friendly cover crops, like mustard and clover. “What we find is that whether or not a cover crop succeeds is totally dependent on bees,” says Camm. “If the bees aren’t interested, the cover crops don’t seem to take.”

Attract Helpful Insects

Bees are also important because they protect vines against less desirable critters, and encourage better ones to stick around. “When you provide food for bees, their presence and the success of the plants they pollinate attract other beneficial insects,” says Katja Hogendoorn, Ph.D., a research fellow who specializes in bees at the University of Adelaide’s School of Agriculture, Food and Wine.

Their presence attracts “parasitic wasps, for example. The [parasitic wasps] feed on leafhoppers, mealybugs and moths and other insects that are bad for vineyards.”

Better Grape Development and Reduce Bunch Rot

In a study Hogendoorn published in Apidologie, she found that honeybees actively remove calyptra—a protective cap that covers grape flowers until bloom. By removing the caps, these honeybees may benefit the development of the grape berries and grape bunches. This is especially true in Pinot Noir, where, she wrote in the study, the “persistence of the calyptra can cause the development of malformed grapes and bunches.”

The presence of bees may also help reduce the occurrence of bunch rot, hypothesizes Hogendoorn. “But more careful study needs to be done before we can be certain,” she adds.

How Wineries Are Fostering Bees

Bernat Sort Costa, Grgich Hills Estate’s regenerative organic research manager, explains that they either cultivate or already had natural plant and tree-rich areas around each vineyard to boost biodiversity and attract pollinators. And at their 155-acre American Canyon property (just over 10 miles south of Napa), the vineyard team has planted more than 350 native trees, shrubs and flowering forbs in recent years.

“The selection is designed to maximize diversity with native, drought-resistant species, while also ensuring we have plants that flower throughout the year to provide nutrients to bees and insects,” says Costa. “Across our properties, we have dedicated gardens where we grow plants needed for biodynamic preparations, as well as flowering plants for insects and birds.”

To help do this, Grgich has teamed up with the nonprofit Apis Arborea to install beehives in tree trunks and they also have conventional bee boxes.

Joel Sokoloff, vineyard and ranch manager at the biodynamically farmed 240-acre Soter Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, also keeps a few hives of honeybees but says he is primarily focused on attracting native bees and pollinators.

Sokoloff says that his team sows a collection of clovers, peas and vetches in the vines, all of which appeal to different species of bees. In the surrounding fields, they plant brassicas, phacelia and other flowers like flax and meadowfoam, which spring up throughout the year, plus orchards and gardens that contain cultivated bee-friendly plants, like squash, peppers and sunflowers.

Soter Vineyards is one of six Willamette Valley vineyards working with the Oregon Bee Friendly Wine project, says Andony Melathopoulos, an assistant professor of pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University, who sees the program and actions of concerned vintners as foundational for native bee survival.

“The biggest challenge for wild bees is getting enough of the right kinds of flowering plant species in the landscape,” he says. By planting more pollinator-friendly plants in and around vineyards, “Oregon viticulturists can lead the world in promoting bee biodiversity.”

The Loss of Bees and the Larger Impact

Wooden Bee Hives Rest In A Springtime Vineyard And Cherry Tree Orchard
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Though bees have long been a priority to farmers, attracting them to crops is more important now than ever. Around 90% of commercially produced food crops in the U.S. depend on bees and other pollinators to reproduce, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Honeybees contribute about $15 billion to the U.S. economy. Though they are not native—European colonists brought honeybees over in the early 1600s as an easy source of sugar. But wild bees are important for our economic and environmental health too. Of the roughly 4,000 native bee species in the U.S., 20% to 45% are pollen specialists, meaning they rely on one type of plant for food. If the bees aren’t present, the plant won’t reproduce, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

But these vital insects are in trouble. Beginning in 2006, scientists began noticing alarming declines in honeybee colonies; the phenomenon was soon dubbed Colony Collapse Disorder. In 2022, beekeepers reported an estimated 39% of colony loss in an annual survey conducted by the Bee Informed Partnership, in line with previous years. While numbers are harder to come by for native bees, experts estimate that globally, 40% of all native bees are vulnerable to extinction.

Pesticides, especially neonicotinoids, which poison the entire plant, including the pollen and nectar that bees feed on, have been partially blamed for the disquieting declines. Since then, the European Union, Canada and the U.S. (through 2019’s Saving America’s Pollinators Act), have banned neonicotinoids for most uses. Climate change and widespread monoculture are also believed to be factors, according to scientists.

While the threat to the world’s food supply is top of mind for everyone when it comes to plummeting bee populations, it is becoming increasingly clear that bees also contribute, in much less obvious, but equally essential ways, to the health of all farms—vineyards included.

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Inside the New Wave of Sea-Centric Gin Tue, 14 Mar 2023 17:52:39 +0000 Oceanic Gins
Photography Robert Bredvad, Food Styling Takako Kuniyuki, Prop Styling Paige Hicks

It’s easy to forget that Brooklyn is bound by the Atlantic Ocean. But here was a reminder: visiting Halftone Spirits, located in Brooklyn’s Gowanus neighborhood and finding owner and head distiller Andrew Thomas measuring two types of seaweed to add a subtle umami flavor to his SVQ Gin, named for the airport code for Seville, Spain—a country on the other side of the Atlantic.

Wild Icelandic kelp adds peppery, briny notes—“it smells to me like pure ocean,” Thomas says—while frilled purple leaves of Drillisk dulse seaweed, sourced from Ireland, are pungent, earthy, with an almost fishy exhale as I nibble a dried leaf that escapes the gin basket.

This is just one of a growing number of gins featuring oceanic botanicals designed to add subtle salinity and seaside breeziness to martinis and other drinks.

Gin’s Nautical Roots

If that sounds very different from the usual pine- or citrus-forward gins, that’s exactly what these distillers have in mind.

In recent years, gin producers have really leaned into unusual botanicals beyond the boundaries of classic London dry. But many sea-inspired gins push harder than ever, from a myriad of gins featuring kelp, sea lettuces and other seaweeds to piscatory varieties made with oysters, squid ink (England’s Dr. Squid, a colorchanging novelty gin), lobster (Homard and Lobstar Gins, both from Belgium) and pinches of sea salt (Jin Môr Sea Salt Gin, from Wales). Unfortunately, not all are available in the U.S. With all that splashing about, they’re each still considered gin.

“Gin has no rules, aside from the juniper,” observes Manya Rubinstein of The Industrious Spirit Company (ISCO), which is developing a gin infused with oysters and kelp. “There’s so much you can do with it.”

That’s right: While juniper must be included to label a spirit as “gin,” there are no restrictions on any other ingredients used to lend fragrance and flavor. “Botanical”—a word typically relating to plants—is the catch-all term used, but there’s no specification in either the E.U., U.K. or U.S. regulations that says they must be plant-based. So, bivalves and other sea creatures are fair game to flavor gin.

Some say there’s ample historical precedent for ocean-inspired gins.

“When you go back to the origins of gin, it does indeed have a nautical and maritime component to it,” notes distiller Marsh Mokhtari of Gray Whale Gin, which features foraged Mendocino kombu, among other California-based botanicals (including Big Sur juniper plus mint, fir, lime and almonds) in its citrusy, faintly saline spirit.

“When the Dutch introduced genever (the precursor to modern-day gin) to the U.K., it became so popular that British naval sailors would receive one pint of gin as their daily rations. So, it does make sense that gin producers would be inspired by the ocean.”


A big part of the draw: These oceanic ingredients evoke a sense of place.

That place may be as vast as the entire ocean. Consider the newly released ’66 by Norwegian: The cruise-line gin includes the soft vegetal notes of Salicornia seaweed (also known as sea beans or samphire) to give a coastal vibe. Others, like Halftone, use ocean botanicals to evoke faraway places; their SVQ gin, part of a series of limited-edition gins that nod to locales around the world, draws inspiration from the “savory salinity” of food and drink from Spain’s Galician coast, folding that in with Seville orange peel, woody olive leaf and white peppercorn.

But the vast majority strives to draw in local flavor—instead of earthbound terroir, a sense of “merroir,” derived from the French word mer, meaning “sea.” Typically, the portmanteau is used to describe the flavor of bivalves, but ginmakers are starting to co-opt the term, too.

“We’re leaning into celebrating our little oceanic merroir and playing up those coastal briny aspects,” says ISCO’s Rubinstein. Located in Providence, Rhode Island (the Ocean State), ISCO made a splash in 2021 with its Ostreida Oyster Vodka, made with oysters sourced from small producers in New England, New York State and beyond, and plans to follow that with an oyster gin in late 2023.

Elsewhere, Scotland’s Isle of Bute Distillery uses oysters sourced from Loch Fyne in its briny Oyster Gin, along with coriander, seaweed and cucumber. The distillery lays claim to creating the world’s first commercial oyster gin, debuting in 2018; it remains the distillery’s first and most popular offering.

“It feeds in with the provenance of being a seaside, island-based, more rural area,” says cofounder Jack Madigan-Wheatley.

The shells and seawater (aka oyster liquor), but not the oyster meat, are used; after an initial test batch that included the full bivalve. “We realized putting raw fish into the still was a really bad idea,” Madigan-Wheatley says. “The place absolutely stank; for weeks the distillery was absolutely unbearable.”

Gray Whale Gin, Halftone Gin
Photography Robert Bredvad, Food Styling Takako Kuniyuki, Prop Styling Paige Hicks

Cocktails & Creativity

One of the key drivers behind the spate of sea-centric gins: savory cocktails, like the Dirty Martini. While bartenders have long created infusions with kitchen-sourced ingredients, these commercial bottlings are a recent development, helping to speed such cocktails, as well as food-friendly drink pairings.

“I think people are really excited about more savory cocktails and more briny cocktails,” says ISCO’s Rubinstein. “It’s a fun flavor to play with.” The broad nature of the category means a wide variety of flavors, from briny and bright to smoky and savory.

Another impetus: Developments in aquaculture—including an uptick in seaweed and oyster farms—mean greater availability of these underwater ingredients, which in turn speaks to the spirits industry’s growing focus on sustainability.

“From a global perspective, 98% of farmed seaweed is from Asia,” notes Bailey Moritz, aquaculture program officer with World Wildlife Fund. But over the past few years, seaweed farming has picked up significantly in Europe and the U.S., notably Alaska and along the West Coast of the U.S. Mild sugar kelp, bull kelp and red seaweeds, like savory dulse (“bacon of the sea,” Moritz jokes), are among the popular farmed varieties in the U.S.

Similarly, oyster farming is on the rise. “It’s another way that people can make money on the water if things like fishing are not working out,” Moritz explains. Plus oysters have been proven to help filter out particulates and clean the water where they reside. It also doesn’t hurt that oysters are considered a high-value product: “They’re sought after for their merroir…oysters, they all have their story to tell,” says Moritz.

With so many ocean species, “people are recognizing that there’s untapped potential,” Moritz observes. Amid worries about climate change and the sustainability of farming on land, “people are more actively seeking food they can feel good about. We’re facing challenges, and kelp and seafood can be a solution for that.” What could be next? Moritz sees a rise in farming of scallops, clams, mussels and lobster. Will these lead the next wave of sea-inspired gins?

Truly, anything could be possible. After all, “gin is not just a singular category,” Thomas muses later, in Halftone’s graffiti-adorned tasting room, as I sample the earthy SVQ gin, accented with hints of licorice and mint.

Indeed, many of the distillers working with underwater sea life seem to recognize the same offbeat holy grail: the specter of pechuga, Mexico’s tradition of distilling mezcal with raw chicken breast or other meats to celebrate a bountiful harvest season. “Eventually,” Thomas says, “someone’s going to do a pechuga of gin with a whole fish.”

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

More Gin-Spiration: Oceanic Gins to Try

Rétha Oceanic Gin

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Crisp and slightly vegetal, this nuanced gin opens with bright fennel and citrus then rounds into mouthwatering white pepper, anise and coriander. It’s made with seaweed harvested on the beaches of Île de Ré, off the coast of France’s Cognac region. —K.N.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Fundy Gin

90 Points Wine Enthusiast

Sun-dried dulse, a type of seaweed, is a key botanical in this Nova Scotia gin. Citrusy aromas combine lemongrass, lime peel and a whiff of fresh fennel. The palate opens gently with hints of violet and fennel seed, and finishes brisk and astringent, with anise, pine, burnt rosemary and peppery sting.—K.N.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Gin de las Californias Nativo

95 Points Wine Enthusiast

This refreshing gin delivers on the citrus promised in its name, unfolding nuanced layers of bright lemon, tangerine and kumquat on nose and palate. Grapefruit peel and coriander perfume the exhale. Made with a sugar cane base. Best Buy —K.N.

$24.49 Total Wine & More
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DIY Wine Gift Basket Rules to Live By Mon, 13 Mar 2023 22:33:39 +0000 Wine Gift Basket
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Wine gift baskets are truly the gifts that keep on giving. In addition to containing delicious bottles of wine, which are perfect for popping now or later, the best and most festive wine gift baskets are riddled with wine-adjacent treats like cheese boards (for your wine and cheese nights), wine gadgets (for opening that bottle of vino) and more items that promise moments of enjoyment far beyond simply receiving the initial gift. What better way to add a personal touch than by building one of your own?   

However, there are important considerations for DIY-ing your own wine basket. After choosing the bottle (and of course, the perfect basket), there are a few staple items that needn’t be missed—and a number of iffy items that can probably be skipped.

Not sure where to begin? We talked to the pros to learn how to build the best at-home wine basket possible. The answers are in!  

First Thing’s First: Wine  

The key word in wine basket is “wine,” so homing in on the vino is a great place to start. Sarah Tracey, sommelier and lifestyle expert at The Lush Life, says that the best wines to gift are ones with a story you can share. “I recommend picking bottles from a winery you have visited or a region you’ve traveled, or even somewhere your giftee has traveled, so as to bring back special memories,” she says. Some great options are wines from Bordeaux and Australia or Italian or Burgundy wines, or bottlings by female winemakers or Black-owned wine labels

Aesthetically speaking, Tracey also notes that odd numbers are always more pleasing to the eye, so sticking with an odd number of bottles is key. “You could choose a single bottle that’s very special and include some snack pairings or accessories, or you could go all out and go big with five,” she says. “But for me, three is the magic number.” In terms of specifics, Tracey recommends sticking with a “one of each” formula—one sparkling, one white and one red—as these bottles can be enjoyed on various occasions. And when in doubt, Champagne is always a good idea.  

Don’t Forget the Staples!  

For Brenna Gilbert, founder and CEO of lifestyle brand Love Feste and New York City’s Champers Social Club, including the basics is always a good idea. “Give the people what they want—great charcuterie, favorite cheeses, some pretty apricots and Marcona almonds,” she says, also citing crusty baguettes, luxury honey, and decadent chocolates as other foolproof items to include. To take your basket to the next level, springing for a customizable cheese board with your recipient’s name or initials is a solid idea.  

Lastly, for an added personal touch, Gilbert recommends customizing the basket with items that create an experience, such as a card game, taper candles or a few flowers to help set the scene. Tracey also suggests including a useful accessory, such as a wine key, bottle stopper or pretty coasters, such as these personalized vineyard coasters, to truly bring the basket to the next level.  

Items Not to Include  

Knowing what not to include is just as important as understanding what’s important. Gilbert recommends staying away from gimmicky gadgets in a wine gift basket, such as elaborate wine openers and other unnecessary tools. “Encourage good wine skills. Recipients need nothing more than a good wine key,” she says.  

Maneesh K. Goyal, co-founder of SONA Home and owner of SONA restaurant, also emphasizes the need for a good wine key (he recommends Le Creuset’s wood-handled opener). Additionally, Goyal notes that glassware with stems will often break if not packaged correctly, so simply leaving them out is generally a good idea.   

From a wine perspective, Tracey recommends steering clear of bottles that are meant to age long-term. “Part of the fun of receiving a basket is the joy of unpacking it and popping those bottles, so why make them wait?” she says.  

The exception to this rule? Including two of the same bottle that have the potential to age, yet are good for drinking now (like these vintages that hit their peak this year). This makes for a fun experience, inviting the recipient to both pop one now and revisit the gift down the line. Tracey also notes that if you’re not sure of a giftee’s personal tastes, stay away from anything too adventurous and stick with the classics, like Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon

Best Type of Basket   

In the spirit of sustainability, Gilbert recommends seeking out a basket that recipients might use again. “I love to lean into picnic baskets, great totes or a keepsake woven basket that can be used later to [store] toiletries, hand towels etc.” she says.  

Not sure where to find a basket? Tracey suggests heading to your local craft store or perusing thrift stores or flea markets for the most unique (and sustainable) finds.  

How to Build a Wine Basket  

With regard to packaging the basket, Goyal recommends including useful items rather than wasteful packaging—think hand towels wrapped around bottles instead of tissue paper or plastic. “Tied with a ribbon, [a hand towel] will keep the bottles from knocking together and can be enjoyed long after the wine’s been drunk,” he says. Wrapping the bottles in reusable wine bags, or even wine-themed comfy clothing, also does the trick.   

Gilbert explains that if hand-delivering baskets, using a sturdy basket and little filler will ensure that most items arrive safe and sound. If shipping, however, she prefers to use Flexi-Hex or corrugated cardboard sleeves. “They still give you the [visual] impact…  as you can layer a little ribbon or a tag, and they’re more easily recyclable than a plastic wrap,” she reveals.  

Adding a Festive Flair  

 For a unique touch, Goyal suggests designing the wine basket around a theme, such as cozy fireside evenings or outdoor spring picnics. “Just like I would with a dinner tablescape, [I think about] decor,” he says. Goyal states that dried florals are “underrated and last a long time,” and that using seasonal fruit or produce can add a celebratory pop of color.  

“I have always felt green is the best color for a wine basket—natural, fresh and inviting,” he says. In sticking with the green theme, Gilbert adds that using a natural material as filler, such as moss, can also provide great texture to the basket, while also ensuring that everything stays in place.  

Final Touches  

Consider adding a wine journal to your recipient’s basket, which will allow them to catalog the wines they’ve enjoyed over a long period of time. Of course, at the end of the day, gift-giving is personal, and presenting a wine basket is no exception.  

“I love to go the extra mile and make it a reflection of the receiver,” says Gilbert. Simply adding a personal note can go a long way. Goyal agrees. “Always include a handwritten [message]—never underestimate the power of a beautiful note on good stationery!”   

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Pregnancy and Motherhood Could Revolutionize Wine if We Let It Mon, 13 Mar 2023 19:01:12 +0000 person holding a baby while drinking champagne with friends
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In Fleishman is in Trouble, Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s novel-turned-zeitgeisty 2023 television series, the character Libby Epstein compares being a working mother to having two full-time jobs. “It’s just math,” she says.  

For many real-world working parents, the sentiment resonates. A 2020 Gallup poll showed that fathers in heterosexual, dual-income households don’t share childcare, cleaning, grocery shopping and other duties equally with their female spouses. And, according to a recent study on motherhood and burnout, “less than a third of [500] parents surveyed believe that caring for kids is evenly split among both parents.” 

This imbalance plays out in the wine world, too. Mothers who work in wine also have irregular hours and late nights to contend with, not to mention varying sociocultural attitudes toward raising children around alcohol. Plus, anyone who’s filled glasses or presented a wine list while visibly pregnant has endured more than their fair share of raised eyebrows and cutting remarks. 

But the irony is, pregnant women could be considered some of the wine industry’s sharpest analysts and we may be hindering the potential of mothers at all stages. Instead of sidelining or isolating motherhood from the field, we might consider its potential to unlock new ways to understand wine. 

Pregnancy and Evaluating Wine 

Every person and pregnancy is different, but, as many as two-thirds of women report heightened senses of smell during their pregnancies. That could certainly be seen as an asset in an industry where professionals spend years training their noses and palates to identify and evaluate a wine’s aromas, ripeness, alcohol content and balance.

Suzie Kukaj-Curovic, senior director of public relations and corporate communications for Freixenet and Mionetto, one of the largest sparkling wine companies in the country, had her first child in November 2020. The majority of her pregnancy fell during the strictest shutdowns of the early pandemic.

“I found out I was pregnant on the first day of shelter-in-place,” she says. Despite the immense challenges of the situation, she describes her professional experience as “incredibly positive” due to her manager’s support. When the company eventually rolled out a hybrid return-to-work plan, for example, she was exempt. “Not many people had that luxury at other companies,” she says.

From home, Kukaj-Curovic hosted twice-weekly virtual events where she would sniff, taste and spit wines, with tasting groups. During her pregnancy, she noticed significant changes in her sense of smell. “I was picking up all of these really out-of-the-ordinary aromas and tasting notes. I felt like my aroma library expanded,” she says.

For a communications specialist whose duties include discussing aromas with people who have diverse biographical scent memories to call upon, it was an incredible asset.

Another example, Brenae Royal, who handles winery relations and vineyard ops for Monte Rosso Vineyard, found that each stage of pregnancy impacted her senses differently. During her first trimester, she found wine flavors almost unpleasantly pronounced. By the second trimester, however, her already-expert nose and palate were supercharged.

“My sense of smell was so strong that I swear I could smell the soap used to sanitize the stemware,” she says. “Wine became much more nuanced, and I felt like I could smell and taste things that you usually get after the wine has been decanted. I’ve been loving participating in tastings because wine just opens up in a way it hasn’t before for me.”

Royal attended trade shows and other wine events while visibly pregnant, and credits other female wine professionals for dissolving stigmas so she could do her job and feel supported. “I feel that most people knew I had the strongest senses in the room,” says Royal.

If Kukaj-Curovic had attended any of those same events, she likely would have agreed. “I have friends and colleagues that swear during their pregnancy they were the best tasters, and that their palates evolved,” she says.

The Medical Research Gap

Statistically, women have stronger senses of smell than men, explains Andrei Rebarber, M.D., clinical professor at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, and president of Maternal Fetal Medicine Associates, PLLC. “That becomes especially pronounced during pregnancy when estrogen and cortisol levels are higher,” he says. Some believe this is an evolutionary adaptive mechanism, orchestrated by the body to protect the fetus from potentially unsafe foods.

Unfortunately, studies on how pregnancy affects the senses are few and far between. “There’s so much gender divide in [medical] research and reimbursement,” says Rebarber. By means of example, he explains how insurance companies reimburse procedures to remove warts from male genitalia at higher rates than for the same process on female patients.

He hopes that medical treatment, funding and research will become more equitable as gender parity in the field improves. “More women are going into medical school, and there are going to be more women in leadership positions.”

The Future of Mothers In the Wine Industry

Female wine professionals—alongside those from BIPOC, queer and other marginalized communities—are making similar strides to diversify drinks businesses. Still, gender biases persist and affect the ways wine professionals do or don’t talk about everything from postpartum recovery to the effects of pregnancy on the sense of smell.

“Because it’s a male-dominated industry, a lot of people have this perception that you don’t want to raise the idea that, because you’re a woman, any female-related issues are impacting your performance or ability at work,” says Kukaj-Curovic.

That’s not to say the members of wine companies’ C-suites have evil intentions. Executives of all genders in many industries adopt a don’t-ask, don’t-tell attitude toward female healthcare due to the scope and endurance of workplace pregnancy discrimination nationwide. Besides, many of us would prefer to share fewer personal health details with our employers, not more. However, those in positions of power have immense opportunities to change the ways gendered healthcare is viewed and experienced in their workplaces.

Depending on the relationships managers have with their employees, they might celebrate pregnant staffers’ heightened senses by encouraging them to write tasting notes or participate in research and development. As with anything related to personal health, context is key. Still, it would be a shame to categorically ignore pregnant wine professionals’ supercharged skill set.

Camillya Masunda, founder of Ebony Wine & Spirits, didn’t work in wine when she was pregnant, but being a mother is now part of her business. She uses hashtags like #mompreneur in her branding, and her teenage daughter contributes to the company’s digital and creative strategy.

“Women in wine get underestimated,” says Masunda. “Not only are we in the industry and creating varieties and brands and doing everything we can to move things forward, but we’re also teaching the next generation.”

Every year, members of the industry wring our hands about losing generational market share. Meanwhile, there are so many wine professionals whose potential contributions have barely been permitted to scratch the surface.

Female wine professionals are among many who feel they are sidelined in the industry. Those in positions of power could regard this as a call to action to be more inclusive. What other valuable assets and perspectives do marginalized communities bring to wine? Who benefits when they’re amplified, and what issues persist when they’re continuously overlooked?

From pregnancy to motherhood and beyond, diversity and inclusivity are keys to building sustainable businesses. This isn’t political. It’s just math. 

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Why the Wine and Whiskey in ‘The Last of Us’ Hit so Close to Home Mon, 13 Mar 2023 13:00:00 +0000 A scene from HBO's The Last of Us
Image Courtesy of HBO / Liane Hentscher

Warning: This story contains spoilers.  

If you haven’t contemplated Beaujolais lately, you’re not watching enough television. The wine is one of several drinks that gets screen time in The Last of Us, an HBO limited series. When they’re not fighting authoritarian corruption, gang violence or zombie-like creatures called “the infected,” characters in The Last of Us are seen raising glasses of Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages, stockpiling Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon and shooting whiskey.  

The series, which debuted in January 2023 and aired its finale on March 12, is based on a 2013 video game. The show features Bella Ramsey and Pedro Pascal as survivors of a global pandemic that wreaks mass destruction. And, clearly, alcohol plays a pivotal role.

But their drinking is less about inebriation than human connection, and it makes even the most fantastical dystopian scenarios uncannily relatable. There may be monsters, but there’s also someone opening a sentimental bottle of wine with a loved one, swigging liquid courage to kiss a crush or catching up with an errant sibling over a dram. Rather than blurring the edges of an experience with alcohol, these drinks mark it as significant.  

The “Heartbreak” Bottle of Wine 

A scene from HBO's The Last of Us - close up on a bottle of wine
Image Courtesy of HBO / Liane Hentscher

No one needs wine or whiskey to survive, but sharing a drink can remind us we’re alive. 

This is especially evident in the show’s third episode, “Long, Long Time.” It stars Nick Offerman as Bill, a self-described survivalist; Murray Bartlett as Frank, his soul mate; and Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages 2002 as the wine that brings them together. When Frank first happens upon his Massachusetts homestead, Bill serves him a home-cooked rabbit paired with Beaujolais Villages. Soon thereafter, they fall and love and build a life together. At the end of the episode, on their deathbed, Bill and Frank open another bottle of the same wine.  

While some viewers sniffed at the idea of such an uncomplicated, $15 wine cosplaying as a special occasion bottle, others appreciated its accessibility. In January, after the episode aired, TikTokers nicknamed Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages “the heartbreak wine” and spiked sales. “When you realize Target has the heartbreak wine #thelastofus,” posted one user. In four weeks, her video was viewed 93,600 times.  

Besides, as Frank and the San Francisco Chronicle’s Senior Wine Critic, Esther Mobley, note, rabbit pairs well with Beaujolais. That vintage of Louis Jadot Beaujolais Villages had a solid industry reputation, too. Wine Enthusiast called it “fresh and charming” in an 87-point review, and ranked it among the year’s best buys. 

Then again, the actual bottle is hardly the point. Drinks can be sentimental. You might sip the same outdated cocktail each time you see your college friends, or pour an otherwise forgettable Prosecco on your anniversary because it’s what was served at your wedding.  

That’s what makes the wine in “Long, Long Time” so meaningful, says Stephen Schmitz, a principal at communications firm Lagniappe, who secured winery product placements in Netflix’s 2019 film Wine Country, among others. “That episode gets at something central to why we all love wine. It’s more than an alcoholic beverage. It’s home. It’s culture. It’s how you show love and familiarity.” 

It’s not the only bottle in the episode, either. At the start of the pandemic, as Bill raids local retailers for supplies, he picks up cases of Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon from his small-town wine shop. A pricey, big-name brand can be a source of comfort to someone trying to exert control or enjoy a sense of stability, says Schmitz.

The Courage of Whiskey  

A scene from HBO's The Last of Us
Image Courtesy of HBO

While the liquor in The Last of Us isn’t as prominently branded, it accompanies pivotal moments in the characters’ lives. In episode six, when Pedro Pascal’s character, Joel, reunites with his long-lost brother, Tommy, they reconnect over glasses of whiskey. Even if you’ve never been estranged from a sibling for years due to zombie warfare, it’s pretty compelling that you both might start to open up once you’re on opposite sides of a bar.  

Additionally, in episode seven, Bella Ramsey’s character, Ellie, finds a half-full bottle of Hamblen Whiskey, a fictional brand. Ellie and her best friend Riley, played by Storm Reid, take shots as they explore an abandoned mall and their romantic feelings. The awkward boldness as they pass their stolen bottle back and forth is recognizable to anyone who ever rode the mall merry-go-round or shared a discovery with a budding crush. 

The Real World Connection 

A scene from HBO's The Last of Us
Image Courtesy of HBO / Liane Hentscher

There are all sorts of reasons to enjoy wine or whiskey that have nothing to do with navigating interpersonal relationships, and any qualified mental health professional will tell you that using alcohol to feel closer to loved ones is a terrible idea.  

The wine and whiskey in The Last of Us aren’t about enabling behavior, however, so much as they are a portal to normalcy. In 2020, at the start of our own, real-world pandemic, many of us engaged in Zoom happy hours and couchside mixology for that same reason.  

Who we are is much more complicated than what is or isn’t in our glass. But, sometimes, a Beaujolais by another name wouldn’t smell as sweet. 

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The Green Tea Shot Might Be St. Patrick’s Day’s Most-Ordered Drink Fri, 10 Mar 2023 22:21:58 +0000 Green Tea Shot
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Irish beers and full-sized green-colored cocktails might be the first drinks that come to mind when you think of St. Patrick’s Day, but apparently, tastes are changing. According to data crunched by hospitality engagement platform Union, green tea shots were the top cocktail ordered at last year’s festivities. Is the sipper poised to sweep the holiday again this year?

It’s still too early to say, but a glance at Google Trends suggests that the emerald-hued concoction might have appeal beyond St. Patrick’s Day. Searches for “green tea cocktail” are at an all-time high, and TikTok videos tagged with that term have pulled in roughly 6 million views. (In contrast, videos tagged #grinchcocktail—referring to the viral Grinch cocktail recipe—only have 2.7 million views.) To say that it’s popular is a vast understatement.

Not familiar with this increasingly in-demand drink? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is the Green Tea Shot?

As best we can tell, the green tea shot doesn’t actually contain any tea. (It’s not unlike Long Island iced tea or the Tokyo tea, in that respect.) It is, however, as its name suggests, a shot—meaning that it’s usually served in a shot glass. Typically a shade of light green, the drink is sweet and tangy. Like most shots, it’s meant to be downed in one gulp.

What Is in a Green Tea Shot?

Although there are several variations across the internet, recipes tend to call for some combination of whiskey, peach schnapps, sour mix and lemon-lime soda. Irish whiskey, particularly Jameson Irish Whiskey, is a popular choice, which seems appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day.

Not a fan of store-bought sour mix? Make your own homemade version by blending fresh lemon juice and simple syrup, a trick bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler showed us with his amaretto sour. (Add one teaspoon of simple syrup for every ounce of lemon juice.)

How to Make Green Tea Shots

Recipe by Jacy Topps

½ ounce Irish whiskey, such as Jameson
½ ounce peach schnapps
½ ounce sour mix
Splash of lemon-lime soda, such as Sprite
Lime twist, for garnish


In a cocktail shaker with a few cubes of ice, add Irish whiskey, peach schnapps and sour mix. Shake to chill, about 10 seconds. Strain into a shot glass or rocks glass. Add a splash of lemon-lime soda and garnish with lime twist.

5 Cocktails that Pair Perfectly with Oysters Fri, 10 Mar 2023 21:01:43 +0000 oysters next to a cocktail
Images Courtesy of Remy Anthes and Stocksy

When you think of the perfect oyster wine pairing, your mind might immediately go to the standby: crisp white wine. Although you can’t go wrong with the classics—think Picpoul, Chablis and Champagne—more and more oyster bars and restaurants are pairing these briny, happy-hour favorites, whether fresh or cooked, with cocktails. The results can be revelatory. 

But getting people to change their eating and drinking habits can be a tall order. In 2014, when Hog Island Oyster Co. revamped its restaurant in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, it introduced an entire bar and cocktail program overseen by Saul Ranella. He recalls that getting diners to enjoy their oysters alongside a mixed drink wasn’t so easy.

“People were stuck in this linear mode of pairing oysters with white wine, sparkling wines, light beers and stouts,” he explains. “It took a long time for people to catch on that we were even serving cocktails.” 

Ranella says that the gateway to opening minds was spirits served neat, like whiskeys and mezcals, to show that they naturally complement flavors found in oysters. The smokiness in mezcal, for example, pairs perfectly with the briniest oysters; Ranella suggests a sip of a Japanese whisky to go with the mild sweetness of Kumamoto oysters. From there, it became easier to convince guests to occasionally veer away from a glass of bubbles in favor of a cocktail.

There’s a method to the mixology pairing madness. Usually, Ranella says he and his team “try to find notes in the terroir of the spirits and match that with the flavor of the oysters.” For instance, a drink might mimic a mignonette sauce, but sometimes it’s not as intuitive. “We also throw things at the wall and see what sticks.”

Here are five bars and restaurants serving up oyster-and-cocktail pairings all over the U.S., where you can find out what sticks. If you aren’t local to these areas, no problem! These establishments offered up recipes for their favorite cocktails to pair with oysters, so you can try it at home.

Rappahannock Oyster Co. cocktail
Image Courtesy of Rappahannock Oyster Co.

Shape of Curiosity at Rappahannock Oyster Co.

Washington, D.C.

When creating drink recipes to pair with briny bivalves, beverage manager Jonathan Kibiloski tends to favor fortified products like Sherries, vermouths and some sakés. “We think most about salinity levels, fruit and acidity when thinking of building cocktails to pair with our oysters,” he says.

For their Olde Salt Oysters, which start salty before giving way to a fresh finish, Kibiloski likes the Shape of Curiosity, a drink that blends bourbon with fino Sherry. The apples, lemon and honey in the recipe help mellow out the intense salinity of the oysters, he says.

Shape of Curiosity

Recipe courtesy of Rappahannock Oyster Co., Washington D.C.

1 ½ ounces bourbon
½ ounce fino Sherry
¾ ounce apple-spiced honey (ingredients and directions follow)
¾ ounce lemon juice


Add all ingredients into a shaker and ice and shake vigorously, about 45 seconds. Double strain into a chilled coupe glass and garnish with an apple slice.

Apple-Spice Honey

Toast 4 cardamom pods and 1 star anise until golden brown. Bring 2 ounces hot water to just below boiling. Muddle 1 cup chopped apples in a quart container. Add honey and hot water, stir until combined. Add and stir in cardamom pods and star anise, let sit 12 hours. Strain so that there are no herbs or apple chunks.


Imperial Opal at Maison Premiere

Brooklyn, New York

At this Williamsburg boîte, inspired by the drama of old-time oyster bars and absinthe cafes, the goal is to highlight the unique quality of oysters from all over the world with the right cocktail recipes.

Oysters from Canada’s Colville Bay, whose salinity builds as you eat them and finishes with a light floral zest, are best paired with the Imperial Opal cocktail’s delicate herbaceous and anise notes, which it gets from La Clandestine Absinthe Blanche and Varnelli L’Anise Secco.

Imperial Opal

Recipe courtesy Maison Premiere, Brooklyn, by William Elliot

1 ounce La Clandestine Absinthe Blanche
¼ ounce Varnelli L’anise Secco
½ ounce simple syrup
1 ounce Mountain Valley Spring Water
½ teaspoon rose flower water
2 lemon twists, for garnish


Combine all ingredients except rose flower water and lemon twists into a rocks glass with crushed ice. Stir until well combined. Pack the glass with an additional mound of crushed ice, forming a cone. Garnish with lemon twists and top with rose flower water. Serve with two small sip sticks.

Tongue Thai’d at Primrose

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

Raw shellfish might be the last thing you’d think of ordering in a landlocked mountain town, but this elegant-but-casual restaurant flies in fresh seafood from the West Coast a couple of times a week. For oysters served with its yuzu-passion fruit mignonette, owner Collin Kelley recommends Tongue Thai’d, a martini built around a vodka infused with Thai chilies and brightened with fresh pineapple juice and a ginger liqueur.

“[We wanted] to create something as tropical and refreshing as the yuzu-passion fruit mignonette for the oysters while also providing that little bite of heat to complement all the flavors going on,” adds Kelley. “It’s like a vacation for your mouth.”

Tongue Thai’d

Recipe courtesy Primrose, Steamboat Springs, by Collin Kelley

2 ounces Thai chili-infused St. George Spirits Citrus Vodka (ingredients and directions follow)
1 ½ ounces freshly juiced pineapple
½ ounce Giffard Ginger of the Indies Liqueur
½ ounce agave nectar
Pineapple slice, for garnish


Pour all ingredients minus garnish into a cocktail shaker with ice.  Vigorously shake. Double strain into a martini or coupe glass. Garnish with a pineapple slice.

To Make the Thai Chili-Infused St. George Spirits Citrus Vodka:

Cut off the stems and slice 8 Thai chilies vertically. Add chilies to bottle of St. George Spirits Citrus Vodka. Let infuse for 24 to 36 hours. Use mesh strainer to strain into pitcher.

Rail Pass
Image Courtesy of Puritan Oyster Bar

Rail Pass at Puritan Oyster Bar

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Many of the cocktails are served pitcher-style in ceramic Gurgling Cods (which, for the uninitiated, look just like what they sound like) and rotated based on the oyster selection for the week.

Cold-water Wellfleet oysters should be paired with the Rail Pass, Puritan Oyster Bar’s light-and-bright twist on the Manhattan, which blends Scotch, dry and herbal Greek vermouth and a touch of peach liqueur.

Rail Pass

Recipe courtesy Puritan Oyster Bar, Cambridge, by Jared Sadoian 

1 ½ ounces Compass Box Glasgow Blend
¾ ounce Otto’s Athens Vermouth
½ ounce Liquore delle Sirene Canto Amaro
¼ ounce Rothman & Winter Orchard Peach Liqueur
Lemon twist, for garnish


Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice. Stir until well-chilled and well-diluted. Strain into a double old fashioned glass with a large cube of ice. Express lemon peel over the cocktail and garnish.

Blood in the water cocktail
Image Courtesy of Remp Anthes

Blood in the Water at Hog Island Oysters Co.

San Francisco, California

For every oyster variety served at Hog Island Oyster Co.’s flagship restaurant, there’s usually a specific cocktail that the servers and bartenders will recommend for pairing. For a plate of fried oysters, they suggest the spicy Blood in the Water, a Bloody-Mary-meets-Michelada cocktail spiked with a fortified jalapeño syrup. The drink is bold enough to stand up to the fried oysters’ breading and garlic, but still delivers enough salt to match the brine.

Blood in the Water

Recipe courtesy Hog Island Oysters Co., San Francisco by Saul Ranella 

Sal De Gusano, for rim
1 ½ ounces mezcal
1 ½ ounces Hog Island Bloody Mary Mix
¾ ounce fortified jalapeño syrup (ingredients and directions follow)
2 ounces light beer
1 lime wedge, for garnish


Rim glass of choice with Sal De Gusano. Fill glass with ice. Combine mezcal, Hog Island Bloody Mary Mix and fortified jalapeño syrup in shaker. Shake vigorously. Pour into glass. Top with light beer. Garnish with lime wedge.

To Make the Fortified Jalapeño Syrup:

Juice 10-15 green seeded jalapeños and strain through a China cap strainer (there should be no pulp). Combine 8 ounces jalapeño juice, 2 ounces lemon juice, 10 ounces of fine sugar in a pot. On medium heat, stir until sugar dissolves. Once cool, add 4 ounces mezcal of your choice.

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Lorena Vásquez, Guatemala’s First Female Master Rum Blender, on the Importance of Asking ‘Why’ Fri, 10 Mar 2023 18:47:43 +0000 Lorena Vásquez
Image Courtesy of Zacapa Rum

To become a great master blender, it takes a sharp nose, discerning palate and vast storehouse of knowledge, but if you ask Zacapa Rum’s Lorena Vásquez what helped her reach the pinnacle of her profession, she’ll add another requirement. “Children of a certain age are constantly asking why, why, why—about everything,” Vásquez says. “My mother says I never got past that stage. I always want to understand the why of things.”

That curiosity has served her well, helping her become Guatemala’s first female master blender, a job title that no woman anywhere held until 1997 when Joy Spence of Appleton Rum in Jamaica knocked down that barrier. After overcoming personal hardships, proving her worth as a working woman and eventually changing the game when it comes to rum production, Vásquez is a force.

Challenging Beginnings  

The spirits industry remains largely male-dominated, with research indicating that in 2020 women represented just 10% of C-suite roles in the food and beverage sector. But that’s an improvement from the different world Vásquez first encountered when she joined the Zacapa team in 1984. At the time, Vásquez was in her late 20s and worked in quality control. During visits to the distillery floor, she was the only woman among approximately 200 men. “As I’d walk past them, they’d make catcalling noises, so I would turn back and say, ‘Hello, I’m Lorena. Nice to meet you. How can I help you?’” Vásquez recalls. Gradually, they got the message.

These struggles, however, paled in comparison to those Vásquez had already faced. She and her then-husband, a Guatemalan, were living in Vásquez’s native Nicaragua when fighting broke out between the Sandinistas and the Somoza regime. In 1979, the Guatemalan embassy urged its nationals to leave, and the couple (along with their one-year-old son) were among those airlifted out of Managua by the Spanish military, taking only the clothes on their backs. They made their way to Guatemala, which has been her home ever since.

Creating Change  

With a degree in chemistry and food technology, Vásquez has used her unique position and knowledge base to shake up the beverage industry. She first landed at a beer company, but her dislike for beer eventually led her to Zacapa. Although not a rum connoisseur at the time, she enjoyed the puzzle that is sensory analysis and fell in love with the rum’s complex flavors and aromas. “I saw that aging the same rum in different climates produced totally different results, and I started asking why,” she says.

The answers led her to transform Zacapa’s operations. While rum is most commonly made from molasses—a legacy of the Caribbean sugar trade, which produced it in abundance as a byproduct—Guatemala law required its rums to be made with sugarcane. After investigating different varieties and studying the results, Vásquez settled on three sugarcane plants. All of Zacapa’s rums start with “virgin honey,” the first pressing of the three sugarcane varieties, which are grown in clay-rich volcanic soil on the company’s own plantations in southern Guatemala.

Vásquez also relocated Zacapa’s aging facility to its “House Above the Clouds,” which is situated at an altitude of 7,500 feet in Quetzaltenango, in Guatemala’s western highlands. The cooler temperatures and decreased oxygen levels allow rum to age more slowly.

Additionally, Vásquez developed her own version of the solera system, a method of aging Spanish sherry. Using oak barrels that once held oloroso, Pedro Ximénez or whiskey, toasted to different specifications, she blends new rums with older batches before moving them from one barrel to the next. The work is part art and part science, but the result is a smooth rum with complex aromas and flavors. “It’s not a mathematical formula,” she says. “The blend tells you what it needs.”

Of course, it helps to have an acute sense of smell. Vásquez laughs as she recalls her frequent childhood complaints about meals she disliked. “You found the best job for that nose,” her mother tells her now, “because then you finally stopped bothering us.”

Lifting Up Women in a Man’s World 

With 38 years worth of experience in the industry, Vásquez is keen to pass on her expertise, particularly to other women. She makes it a point to hire many women at Zacapa—in the distillery, at the aging facility and even driving tractors on the plantations. The company also employs 700 women from two Guatemalan communities to weave the bands inspired by traditional petate (a woven fiber often used as bedding) that adorn every bottle of Zacapa 23.

One cooperative is composed largely of widows whose husbands died during the civil war, while the second community was previously devastated by severe drought and suffered from malnutrition. Most of these women have little education and few work prospects, but now both groups are able to work from home while caring for their children. “If you support women,” says Vásquez, “you’re supporting families.”

“She is deliberate with her work and how she gives back,” says Lynnette Marrero, a master mixologist and co-founder of the female bartending competition Speed Rack. Marrero is a Zacapa trade advocate who has been collaborating with Vásquez for nearly 15 years. “Lorena is a driving force with a killer palate. She really cares and is always willing to give advice,” she says.

When asked about that advice, Vásquez’s response sounds a lot like her own story. “Don’t be afraid—you have to persevere, fight and learn every day,” she says. “Nothing is easy in life, but you can’t give up. Ask questions. Ask why.”

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The Differences Between Bourbon and Scotch, Explained Thu, 09 Mar 2023 22:42:25 +0000 scotch vs Bourbon
Getty Images

Whiskey covers a wide range of categories, including two of the best-known: America’s bourbon and Scotland’s Scotch. While they’re both distillates made from grain and aged in oak, the similarities end there. In fact, they don’t even spell whiskey the same way: Americans use whiskey with an “e” (as we’ll continue to do so here, to describe the overall universe of whiskeys), while Scotland goes with “whisky.” 

As with any type of whiskey, “each is going to be influenced by the characteristics of the grain, the water, the yeast, the climate, the type of still used and the type of barrel it is matured in, in their respective countries,” says Lia Niskanen, founder of Barrel Strength Talent, a whiskey event company. Here are the main factors that differentiate bourbon and Scotch. 

What’s the Difference Between Bourbon and Scotch? 

1. Location

“The big difference is wherethey are made,” says Niskanen. “Bourbon, by law, must be made in the United States (and not solely in Kentucky, contrary to popular belief) and Scotch must be made in Scotland.” 

That said, not all American whiskeys are Bourbon (think rye, Tennessee whiskey, American single malts etc.).  But all whiskey made in Scotland is considered Scotch. 

2. The Grains

In brief, bourbon is mostly corn, while Scotch is mostly barley. Of note, Scotch includes both malt whisky and grain whisky. 

“Bourbon must contain more corn than any other grain (51% minimum),” says Robin Robinson, author of The Complete Whiskey Course. By comparison, “Scotch designates barley, and any other grain, setting up the difference between malt whisky type (barley only) and grain whisky type (any other grain—these days it’s mostly wheat) plus barley.”   

3. Distillation Method

Scotch is allowed to be distilled to a higher strength than bourbon. That said, both whiskey types usually are diluted with water to bring them down to a palatable strength. 

“Malt whiskeys are generally distilled to about 63% alcohol-by-volume (abv), and the grain whiskies of Scotland have a maximum limit of 94.8%,” notes Niskanen. By comparison, bourbon can be distilled no higher than an alcohol-by-volume (abv) of 80%, or 160 proof. 

4. Aging 

While both age in oak, the specifications of the container and aging times vary.   

“Bourbon specifies [it must be] matured in a new, charred, oaken container but doesn’t give a minimum time period,” says Robinson. (However, of its own when it comes to aging—straight bourbon must be aged at least two years, bottled-in-bond bourbons must be aged at least four years, etc.). 

Meanwhile, Scotch whiskies must undergo a minimum three-year rest in an oaken container before it can be legally recognized,” says Robinson. Also of note: Scotch doesn’t require new barrels, and often is aged in used bourbon casks. 

If you want to give both a try, here are our top-rated bourbon and Scotch bottles.

Top-Rated Bourbons 

A Blend of Straight Bourbons: Barrell Bourbon Batch 031 Cask Strength 

97 Points Wine Enthusiast

Nuanced vanilla and tropical fruit aromas introduce this blend of straight bourbons, aged from 6–16 years. The palate opens with brown sugar and mouthwateringly savory spices, cayenne and clove. Adding water dials in an espresso note, while a fleeting hint of pineapple emerges on the exhale.

$89 Total Wine & More

A Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Classic: Old Fitzgerald 11 Years Old Bourbon

97 Points Wine Enthusiast

Concentrated caramel tinged with toffee and espresso leads the nose. The bold palate offers more of the same, though a splash of water adjusts the flavor to a more dry, leathery tone, finishing long with ginger, black pepper and tobacco highlights. Bottled in Bond. Fall 2021 Edition.

$560 Caskers

A “Wheater” (Wheated Bourbon) to Savor: New Riff Distilling Red Turkey Wheated Bourbon

95 Points Wine Enthusiast

Look for rich toffee and mocha on the nose and palate, edged with clove and black pepper heat. A splash of water adds tinges of toasted gingerbread and butterscotch, finishing quite fiery. This is a limited edition launched in Nov 2021, made with 70% corn and 25% heirloom Red Turkey wheat grown in Ohio and purchased from Blue Oven Bakery, with remaining 5% malted barley.

$59 New Riff Distilling

A Versatile Bourbon That Won’t Break the Bank: Dickel Bourbon Aged 8 Years

94 Points

Maple sugar aromas are accented by a rootsy, sarsaparilla-like hint. Add a splash of water to adjust to taste; the reward is burnt brown sugar and maple, drying to a complex finish that suggests baking spice, leather and a fleeting espresso note. A versatile option to sip or mix. Launched June 2021.

$24 Total Wine & More

Top-Rated Scotches

A Fruity, Approachable Blended Scotch: Compass Box Orchard House Scotch Whisky

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

As the Orchard name suggests, this Scotch is markedly fruit-forward by design. Expect a light gold hue and bright, fresh apple and pear aromas teased by a faint hint of peat smoke. The palate opens with vanilla and almond, plus hints of lemon cream pie. A splash of water releases a plume of peat smoke, leading into mouthwatering salt-and-black-pepper finish. Blended malt Scotch.

$51 Total Wine & More

A Budget-Friendly Blended Scotch to Sip or Mix: Chivas Regal 12 Blended Scotch Whisky

91 Points Wine Enthusiast

Honey and a resin-like aroma lead into a mellow palate that shows baked apple and dried apricot drizzled with honey. Adding water coaxes more cinnamon and clove, plus lemony acidity and a hint of vanilla custard. Best Buy.

$30 Total Wine & More

A Smoky Islay Single Malt: Ardbeg Wee Beastie 5 Years Old

91 Points Wine Enthusiast

A distinct mesquite smoke note leads the nose of this Islay single malt. The ferocious palate opens with almond, spicy honey and peat smoke, plus a hint of barbecue sauce twang. Each savory sip finishes warming and intense, laced with eucalyptus, sea salt and cayenne. Released in 2020, this is a permanent addition to the Ardbeg core range.

$46 Total Wine & More

A Single Malt That Makes a Great Gift: Benriach The Twelve

96 Points Wine Enthusiast

What’s in the bottle is a 12-year-old single malt aged in a combination of Sherry, bourbon and Port barrels. Expect a tawny hue and almond and fresh red apple aromas. The palate opens brisk and bold, showing caramel and baked apple flavors. A splash of water brings out mocha tones alongside cinnamon and ginger. Overall, this is a lightly sweet sipper, warming and delicious.

$63 Total Wine & More

A Single Malt Heavy-Hitter Meant to Impress: The Dalmore 15

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

This is a 12-year-old Scotch finished in Sherry casks for an additional three years. The result is a deep amber hue and dried cherry and cinnamon aromas. The palate opens with oak and dried fruit, finishing with dark cinnamon, cocoa, clove and a lively hint of lemon peel.

$135 Total Wine & More

How to Chill Whiskey

While there’s nothing wrong with sipping whiskey neat, sometimes it’s nice to have a big chunk of ice to chill and slowly dilute it as you sip.  

Most bars don’t use ice molds—but have access to Kold-Draft or Clinebell machines to make fancy ice on demand, or work with professional ice purveyors like Hundredweight to source crystal-clear cocktail ice. That said, we asked for recommendations to make whiskey-worthy ice at home.  

A final word of caution: avoid whiskey stones, which don’t melt and imperil dental work. 

The Best Ice Molds to Chill Whiskey

Clearly Frozen

 “Clearly Frozen uses foam to help with directional freezing, and I get beautifully clear cubes every time,” says Amy Probasco, a bartender in Chicago. “This, like most clear ice trays, will take up quite a bit of freezer space, but I think it could be worth it if someone really wants the clear ice experience.

$38 Amazon

Peak Ice Works Spheres

“An ice sphere will melt slower than a large ice cube,” says Rémy Walle, head bartender for RPM Seafood in Chicago. For a more decorative option, opt for Star Wars Death Star ice ball molds. 

$18 Sur La Table


 You send them your logo or initials and they’ll inscribe them into the silicone ice mold, so you can have custom ice blocks to impress the hell out of your friends when you serve that Bourbon you paid too much for,” says Robinson.  

$30 Siligrams


 “Affordable and easy to source for the at-home whisky person,” says Shawn Soole, bar manager at Clive’s Classic Lounge in Victoria, Canada. Bonus: some Tovolo trays come with lids, to help keep out freezer smells. 

$11 Amazon
]]> 0
IPA Ice Cream Proves Hops Aren’t Just for Beer Thu, 09 Mar 2023 22:15:31 +0000 IPA Ice Cream
Image Courtesy of Salt & Straw

Looking for a sweet and festive undertaking to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Try homemade IPA ice cream.

Much like brewing, making ice cream involves a bit of science and tact—but it’s nothing that the home chef can’t handle. Think of ice cream as a rich blank canvas to highlight the strong, hoppy flavor characteristic of IPA-style beers.

Time to put your brewer’s cap on and grab your favorite Irish brew or hazy American IPA. Here, we break down how to make your own boozy ice cream at home, starting with a solid foundation.

How to Make Homemade IPA Ice Cream 

Making homemade ice cream may sound intimidating, but rest assured it’s much easier than it looks.

Start with a good ice cream base from a reliable recipe. “It’s really hard to mess up, as long as you start with a great foundation,” says Tyler Malek, co-founder and head of innovation at Salt & Straw, an ice cream company based in Oregon. Having a base recipe keeps things organized and serves as a starting point from which you can tinker with a huge range of flavors—including the aromatic hops that define IPA-style beer.

Then, it’s time to add some boozy flavors. 

“You can’t just pour beer into ice cream,” shares Malek. “Its flavor isn’t concentrated enough to stand up to ice cream’s fat content. And if you try to cook off some of the water to intensify the flavor, you distort the character of the very beer you were trying to feature in the first place.”

The solution? Dry-hopping—just like a brewer would.

Dry-hopping entails steeping hops in alcohol to extract their fragrances. This harnesses the complex bitterness and aromas of hops that define IPA-style brews

To achieve the iconic flavor profile of IPA-style beer in ice cream form, Malek recommends steeping a combination of hop pellets in vodka before adding them to a caramel malt ice cream base. This results in a tasty IPA syrup that you can use in this creamy dessert. Bonus: You can use the leftover syrup in your next cocktail.

So, grab a bottle of your favorite fruity IPA and put on your brewer’s cap. It’s time to make IPA ice cream.

IPA Ice Cream

Recipe adapted from Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cookbook by Tyler Malek and JJ Goode

¼ cup vodka, or other high-proof alcohol
1 teaspoon Citra hop pellets
3 tablespoons golden light liquid malt extract
¼ cup caramel 40L malt
¼ cup caramel 20L malt
1 teaspoon Columbus hop pellets
1 teaspoon Falconer’s Flight hop pellets
1 teaspoon Chinook hop pellets
3 cups Ice Cream base, very cold*(recipe to follow)
½ cup your favorite balanced, fruity-hopped IPA, cold

At least one day in advance, combine the vodka and Citra hops in a small glass jar and cover with an airtight lid. Steep for at least 24 but no more than 36 hours.

Pour the vodka mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a small bowl, pressing the solids lightly to extract as much liquid as possible. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the liquid for this recipe. Store the rest in the fridge for up to 3 days.

In a small pot, bring 2 cups water to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to low, then stir in the liquid malt extract, caramel 40L malt, caramel 20L malt and Columbus hops. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Then, stir in the Falconer’s Flight hops and cook for 15 minutes more. Finally, add the Chinook hops and cook for 10 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat and pour the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer into a small heatproof bowl, pressing the solids lightly to extract as much liquid as possible.

Fill another small mixing bowl with ice, then fill it halfway with water. Set the bowl containing the infused liquid into the ice water and stir to quickly cool the liquid. When it’s cold, stir in the reserved 1 tablespoon infused vodka and store leftover IPA syrup for one week.

Put the ice cream base, the cold beer and ¾ cup of the cold IPA syrup into a bowl and whisk to combine. Pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and turn on the machine. Churn until the mixture has the texture of soft serve.

Transfer the churned ice cream into freezer-friendly containers. Cover with parchment paper, press down so the paper adheres to the ice cream and cover with a lid. Store in the coldest part of your freezer (farthest from the door) until firm, at least 6 hours. Store in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Ice Cream Base

½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons dry milk powder
¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 ⅓ cups whole milk
1 ⅓ cups heavy cream

Combine the sugar, dry milk and xantham gum in a small bowl and stir well.

Pour the corn syrup into a medium pot and stir in the whole milk.

Add the sugar mixture to the pot and immediately whisk vigorously until smooth. Set the pot over medium heat and cook, stirring often and adjusting the heat if necessary to prevent a simmer, until the sugar has fully dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat.

Add the cream and whisk until fully combined. Transfer the mixture to an airtight container and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours for better texture and flavor. Stir the base back together if it separates during resting time. Store the base in the fridge for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.


Do You Need an Ice Cream Maker to Make IPA Ice Cream?

Nope! An ice cream maker isn’t necessary to make ice cream at home. To make this IPA ice cream without an ice cream maker, freeze the mixture of ice cream base, beer and IPA syrup after whisking. After 30 minutes, churn the mixture manually using a whisk or hand mixer and pop it back in the freezer. Repeat this process until it has the texture of soft serve before proceeding to the next step. 

However, it may make your life easier. If you’re looking to make ice cream making a lengthier pursuit, Malek encourages scoping out Amazon or a local thrift store for an affordable option to get started.

Where Can You Buy Hops?

Malek purchased the Citra, ColumbusFalconer’s Flight and Chinook hops used in this recipe at a local brewery. If you prefer to have items shipped right to your door, a wide selection of hop pellets can be found on Amazon.

]]> Is Wine-Finished Whiskey Any Good? Thu, 09 Mar 2023 18:33:51 +0000 Whiskey barrels
Getty Imags

I love wine. I love whiskey, too. But a recent mega-tasting for Wine Enthusiast tested those affections: Some of the least palatable were wine-finished whiskeys.

To be fair, as spirits reviewer for a wine magazine, I probably get more wine-finished samples than most. (“Finishing” here means matured whiskey is placed in a barrel that previously held another liquid— like wine—which can add nuanced flavor.)

Many have been outstanding: Finished in red wine casks from Bordeaux’s Pauillac region, peaty Port Charlotte Scotch took on lively dark chocolate and smoked chipotle. And Milam & Greene’s Port-finished rye was one of my favorites of 2022, layering peanut brittle and dried cherry tones.

But for every rave, I find myself with multiple wine-finished clunkers, like a Cab-finished bourbon that tasted like a stick of Big Red gum swirled in Robitussin.

What makes the difference?

“Experience,” says Milam & Greene CEO and master blender Heather Greene; that Port-finished rye I enjoyed was the culmination of years honing her palate and relentlessly tweaking the final blend, drawn from multiple barrels aged in various weather conditions. “A rookie would just throw it all in a port cask and wait.”

Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s Director of Distilling & Whisky Creation, was a pioneer of finishing, starting in the 1990s; even he acknowledges the technique can be “tricky.”

Like any good wine pairing, understanding which complements a whiskey is integral to success, Lumsden notes. For example, he counts Ardbeg Black, aged in New Zealand Pinot Noir casks, as a particular success, since the assertive fruit stood up against the smoky Islay Scotch. By comparison, the softness of unpeated Glenmorangie plays better with a rich, sweet wine such as Sauternes (making Nectar d’Or bottling a honeyed delight).

When I told him that many of the bottlings I’d hoped—but failed—to love have been American whiskeys finished in casks that held wines from the same region, Lumsden offers a pithy diagnosis: lack of balance. “You wouldn’t have a red-hot Mexican chili con carne and eat it at the same time as you’re eating red-hot vindaloo curry,” he explains.

“You’d have cooling things on the side, like cucumber raita. It’s the same idea: big-flavored whiskey that has been matured in new oak, then finished in barrels from big, full-bodied, high-alcohol wines like Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t always work.”

Knowing how much forethought and expertise is needed, it’s easy to see why so many experiments miss the mark. But hear me out: Despite those wrong turns, wine-finished whiskeys have earned a place on any well-stocked bar cart. Chosen well, it can be one of the most satisfying pours around.

With that in mind, here are four wine-finished whiskeys that made the cut.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

4 Wine-Finished Whiskeys to Try

Rye Whiskey Finished in Port: Milam & Greene Port Finished Rye Whiskey

97 Points Wine Enthusiast

Complex and enticing, this rich take on rye has a notably deep, ruddy hue, with toffee and red fruit aromas. The big, bold palate opens with dusty cocoa and mild cinnamon. Adding water brings out plush butterscotch and peanut brittle, finishing with a red fruit note and plenty of warming spice. Top 100 Spirits 2022 —K.N.

$52.99 Caskers

Scotch Whisky Finished in Sauternes: Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or

96 Points Wine Enthusiast

This 12-year-old single malt was finished in casks that previously held Sauternes, the golden sweet wine of Bordeaux. Smooth and elegant, look for a honey hue and notes of vanilla and lemon cream on the palate, finishing with baking spice and a puff of smoke. Adding water unleashes more creamy vanilla and citrus. Top 100 Spirits 2017 —K.N.

$79.99 Caskers

Bourbon Finished in Oregon Pinot Noir: Freeland Spirits Bourbon

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Finished in Pinot Noir barrels from Oregon’s Elk Cove, this bourbon shimmers with dark fruit and spice. Vanilla and caramel are layered with dark cherry, dried fig and fruit leather, finishing long with clove and black pepper. Top 100 Spirits 2022 —K.N.

$43.99 Caskers

Irish Whiskey Finished in Sherry and Marsala: Busker Irish Whiskey

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Billed as a triple cask whiskey, the liquid was finished in barrels that previously held Sherry, Bourbon and Marsala. The result is a cinnamon and faint floral aroma, and a palate that sizzles with baking spice. It eventually mellows into flavors of vanilla wafer, cocoa and dried fig, finishing with gingery zing. —K.N.

$21.99 Caskers
We Recommend:
]]> 0 Love Easter Candy? The Cadbury Egg Cocktail Is for You Thu, 09 Mar 2023 18:26:42 +0000 Creme Egg Cocktail
Photography by Tracie Davis

With spring around the corner, Easter is officially on the horizon, which means—much to the delight of the sugar-addled masses—the arrival of Cadbury Creme Eggs. The beloved seasonal candy, a chocolate egg-shaped confection with a yolk-like fondant center, went on to worldwide adoration after its introduction in the United Kingdom in 1963. Inevitably, the beloved seasonal candy’s arrival each year translates to a blast of attention on social media, and with it, the creation of Cadbury Crème Egg-spiked cocktails. (We don’t make the rules, people.)

If grinding actual candy into your drinks doesn’t sound appealing, we’ve got you. There are ways to enjoy candy-inspired cocktails without using literal candy.

Case in point: Our Cadbury Egg cocktail. Astute readers of the recipe will note that there’s nary a candy to be found in the list of ingredients. (We’re not counting the chocolate syrup rim, because who doesn’t love a chocolate syrup rim?) Instead, the drink calls on white creme de cacao, a sweet liqueur that adds chocolate flavor and body, and white chocolate liqueur, which delivers aromatic notes and cocoa butter flavor. Advocaat, a traditional Dutch beverage that marries eggs, sugar and brandy, provides a custard-like consistency, while half-and-half ensures a creamy base. Vanilla vodka adds an aromatic kick.

How to Make a Cadbury Egg Cocktail

Recipe by Jacy Topps

Chocolate syrup, to rim glass
1 ½ ounce vanilla vodka
1 ounce white creme de cacao
1 ounce white chocolate liqueur
½ ounce Advocaat liqueur
½ cup half-and-half


rim of glass getting coated in chocolate ot make a Creme Egg Cocktail

Spread chocolate syrup on a small plate. Dip the rim of the cocktail glass in the chocolate syrup. Set aside.

making a Creme Egg Cocktail

In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine vanilla vodka, white creme de cacao, white chocolate liqueur, Advocaat and half-and-half. Shake well to combine, about 30 seconds.

Pouring a Creme Egg Cocktail

Strain into cocktail glass. Serve immediately.

The Case for Mixto Tequila: Why 100% Agave Isn’t Always Best Wed, 08 Mar 2023 22:09:10 +0000 A tequila bottle with agave and sugar in it
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As spirit sales have increased over the last few years, largely due to the growing consumption of high-end tequila and mezcal, there seems to be an idea among tequila aficionados that you should only drink bottles labeled 100% agave tequila. Tequila without that label—called mixtos—contains other forms of sugar, and there’s an assumption that it must be avoided because it’s of lower quality. But tequila makers are pushing back against that narrative, stressing that there is plenty of space for mixtos on the tequila shelves.  

“All tequilas are good,” says Jorge Antonio Salles, with respect to the effort required for cultivating agave. Salles is the third-generation master distiller of El Tequileño, a brand founded in the Mexican town of Tequila in 1959 by Salles’s grandfather, Jorge Salles Cuervo. “People outside of Mexico, and even some in Mexico, see mixto as a low-quality product, which I don’t agree with.”  

The truth is, a bottle of 100% agave tequila is no guarantee of a high-quality product, and to demand it seemingly denies an important part of tequila’s history: the products that have never been made with 100% agave. Salles’s grandfather’s tequila, El Tequileño Blanco, is a mixto, consisting of 70% agave and 30% piloncillo, a form of raw cane sugar. He says it’s the best-selling tequila in Tequila.    

What Deserves to Be Called “Tequila”?

By definition, all tequila must be made in the Mexican state of Jalisco, though some definitions include those bottles produced in Michoacán, Guanajuato, Nayarit and Tamaulipas. The spirit must use only Blue Weber agave, though tequila isn’t required to be made from 100% agave. Only 51% is required, and up to 49% of the tequila may be made from other sugars, sometimes including low-quality sugars such as corn syrup. (For more details, read our beginner’s guide to tequila.)  

The History of Mixto Tequila 

Up until recently, the practice of adding additional sugars to the agave base was extremely common in tequila production. “When tequila first appeared, most tequilas were mixtos,” says Salles. “Back in the late 1980s, there was a shortage of sugar, and one kilo of sugar became way more expensive than one kilo of agave, so many people started switching to 100% [agave].”  

According to data from the Consejo Regulador del Tequila (CRT), the regulatory body for tequila, as recently as 1995, mixto production outpaced 100% agave tequila production by nearly 50-fold. Consumers quickly developed a preference for 100% agave tequila since the rise in the last 20 years, and along with it, the rationale that it always indicated a higher quality product. But in truth, the origin of 100% agave tequila is rooted more in economics than tradition.   

Tony Salles La Guarreña distillery
Image Courtesy of El Tequileño

The Case for Mixto Tequila 

Adding additional ingredients to tequila (like caramel color, glycerin and oak extracts) can adjust for color, flavor and body after fermentation and distillation processes have taken place. Mixtos are not automatically considered to have additives, however. (Though, tequilas are legally allowed to include 1% additives, which is different than using non-agave sugars.) In fact, fermentable sugars beyond agave are considered natural. El Tequileño Blanco, for example, is a tequila that qualifies as additive-free.  

Scarlet Sanschagrin and her husband Grover, who have both received tequila “catador” tasting training, launched the Additive-Free Tequila list in 2020. The list aims to address transparency in tequila labeling, highlighting those brands that do not include additional additives as finishing agents. Having tasted and evaluated hundreds of tequilas through the project, Sanschagrin says that prejudice against mixtos exists should be put aside.  

Creating the list has “made us give up our preconceived notions about things like mixtos and other processes that aficionados normally judge,” she says. “There’s talk about how only brick oven-cooked tequilas are good, for instance, but then if you blind taste enough, you realize that every piece of equipment is just a tool, and if the maker knows how to use it, you could end up with a really great product.”  

The same holds true with ingredients, such as high-quality, added sugars in a mixto. During a blind tasting hosted by the Additive-Free Tequila project for a number of tequila aficionados, El Tequileño Blanco was ranked second overall in the flight, with experts citing its bright, citric flavor and notes of cinnamon.

Mixto tequila is also a more cost-effective choice in the current economy. “If a mixto is made well, you can have some really nice flavors, and it can be an alternative to 100% in a high-priced agave situation,” says Sanschagrin.  

To her point, the price of agave has risen considerably with the growing demand for tequila. To visit Jalisco now is to notice how every scrap of available land is used to cultivate agave, including difficult-to-harvest spots such as steep ravines, or the sides of the highway. Whereas 100% agave tequilas grew in popularity in light of an increase in the price of sugar, now the reverse is true, with agave nearly double the price of piloncillo per kilo, according to Salles.  

Additionally, mixtos represent a potential value proposition for tequila producers, not only because of the price of agave but also of the inconsistency of agave. Agave can be as volatile as wine grapes, with the added dimension that agave plants typically take five to seven years to reach maturity.  

The Remaining Problem

While many mixto producers are advocating for tequila lovers to opt for their products, there is still some difficulty when it comes to standardizing the final spirit’s quality. Some tequila producers use methods to cut costs by harvesting agave too early, using low-quality sweeteners and including additives to help “improve” the final product.  

This is because, in order to meet tequila demand, there is a growing concern that agave farmers are harvesting agave before they fully ripen. This practice then often leads to the inclusion of additional additives to correct for flavor and body. Salles worries, however, that the challenge of steering consumers toward mixtos as a more responsible option for the agricultural health of the region may be too great to overcome.  

“Unfortunately, not many of us tequila makers [who are still making mixtos] are making quality ones,” he says, citing the use of cheaper sugars such as molasses or corn syrup, “and there are too many people that firmly believe 100% agave is a better product.”  

Another challenge, he notes, is that current tequila regulations do not encourage makers of mixtos to declare the percentages of agave and other sugars on their bottles. 

The big takeaway for tequila lovers? Don’t summarily dismiss mixtos. You might be missing out on a great bottle.

]]> Ginger Liqueur Is the Kick Your Cocktail Game Needs Wed, 08 Mar 2023 18:35:24 +0000 A moscow mule with ginger splashing in it
Getty Images

Ginger is the earthy, spicy flavor that’s essential for many cocktails, like the Moscow Mule or Dark and Stormy. This flavor is often added to drinks in the form of non-alcoholic ginger ale or ginger beer. But there are other options that give your drink that ginger kick, with an added punch of alcohol–enter ginger liqueurs.

“You want to have ginger liqueur in your bar because it will expand the range of cocktails you can make tremendously and spice up your cocktail game—pun, intended,” says Josh Morton, founder of Barrow’s Intense Ginger Liqueur, based in Brooklyn, New York.

Interested in experimenting with the flavorful root? Here’s everything you need to know about ginger liqueurs.

What Is Ginger?

Before we get to ginger liqueurs, let’s start with the flavor itself. Ginger comes from the Zingiber officinale plant that’s native to Asia and has leafy stems and yellowish-green flowers. The rhizome, or the ginger root, is what’s most commonly used as the spice. It can be purchased in the fresh form as the full root or as a dried, powdered form.

For centuries, ginger has been used for medicinal purposes, especially for relieving gastrointestinal issues, like nausea and bloating. It is also thought to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Today, ginger adds flavor to tea, candy, gingerbread and is an essential ingredient in many dishes and drinks.

What Is a Ginger Liqueur?

Berry Bros. & Rudd The King's Ginger Liqueur
The King’s Ginger / Image Courtesy of Amazon

Liqueur is a spirit that has additional sweetness or spiciness added to its base alcohol. Ginger liqueurs are flavored with spice, but the exact processes, base spirits and sweetness levels vary by brand.

For instance, Barrow’s, which debuted in 2013, uses a blend of Peruvian and Hawaiian ginger, says Morton. The ginger is chopped up and left to macerate at room temperature in a 190-proof neutral cane spirit for at least a month. The mix is pressed to remove the liquid and the infused liquor is blended with a lower-sugar simple syrup. Then, it undergoes a racking process, like wine.

The result is a 22% alcohol-by-volume (abv) liqueur with a cloudy appearance, due to the product not being strained, says Morton.

Domaine de Canton
Domaine de Canton’s ginger liqueur / Image Courtesy of Domaine de Canton

Another spirit, The King’s Ginger, has evolved from a 1903 recipe created for King Edward VII of England. It’s made from a neutral-based grain spirit, ginger, lemon oil, sugar and Scotch.

Whereas Domaine de Canton, which launched in 2007 and is made in France, uses baby ginger, combined with vanilla beans and honey. Its base spirit is Cognac and is 28% abv.

How to Use Ginger Liqueur

Ginger spirits are versatile. Dominic Alling, brand ambassador for Mount Gay Rum, says the liqueur goes with all kinds of other spirits and brings a unique flavor to many different cocktails. The liqueurs are also often used to add sweetness or replace other sweeteners, like simple syrup, according to Morton.

Need some ideas to break open your bottle? Try these cocktail recipes, straight from bar experts.

Mix up Some Moscow Mules

Moscow Mule Cocktail in Copper Mug in Dark Luxurious Bar with Copy Space
Getty Images

A classic Moscow Mule features ginger beer, but you can replace it with ginger liqueur, says Alex Cajuste, beverage director at Steak Frites Bistro in New York City. Start with one part ginger liqueur to two parts vodka, and adjust the flavor from there. Then, top it off with sparkling water to get the fizz you’re looking for.

“Ginger is one of my favorite spices for its healing virtues, its taste and the character it brings to any dish or drink.” Alling also says you can swap the vodka for rum to make a rum mule. The rum-ginger pairing “brings out different flavors of both the liqueur and the spirit,” he says.

Pair It with Citrus

The Merman's Tale Mezcal Paloma Cocktail
Photo by Tom Arena

Ginger and citrus are a flavorful pair. Ivan Papic, beverage director at Sweetbriar in New York City, likes adding ginger liqueur to a classic Paloma, which blends tequila, lime and grapefruit. “It plays really well with brown spirits and aged tequilas,” he says, adding that he also likes to incorporate ginger liqueur in an Old Fashioned.

One of Alling’s favorite citrus-ginger cocktails is the Speightstown Punch. In a glass, mix 1-ounce rum, ¾-ounce fresh grapefruit juice, ¾-ounce ginger liqueur and 1.5-ounce mint green tea. Serve over ice.

Morton also suggests adding an ounce of ginger liqueur to a classic mimosa or margarita.

Try a Chicago Mistake Cocktail

Chicago Miskate
Image Courtesy of Barrows Intense

A twist on a Manhattan, the Chicago Mistake is made by stirring 2 ounces of ginger liqueur, 1-ounce punt e mes (a dark brown Italian vermouth, but you can sub Cynar or Dolan white vermouth), 5 dashes Angostura bitters and 5 dashes of orange bitters. Serve over ice.

Leaving out the whiskey makes it a low-proof cocktail but one that still has a “rich flavor profile,” says Morton.

Make a Penicillin Cocktail

The Penicillin Cocktail
Courtesy of Getty Images

The Penicillin is a classic cocktail traditionally made with Scotch, lemon juice and honey-ginger syrup. Morton suggests making the drink with ginger liqueur instead of syrup for a different take.

Sip as a Digestif or Aperitif

A refreshing pre-dinner drink, or aperitif, that Cajuste enjoys is lemonade with ginger liqueur, fresh lemon juice and water or seltzer.

Papic likes to sip ginger liqueur with seltzer and fresh mint, which he says is “very refreshing and low-abv. Perfect for summer months.”

Drinking a small amount of ginger liqueur after dinner as a digestif is another option. “On a cold night, I could do it as a shot just to get the blood flow going,” says Cajuste.

]]> 0 RumChata-Spiked Iced Coffee Is What Caffeinated Dreams Are Made Of Wed, 08 Mar 2023 18:08:15 +0000 Rumchata Iced Coffee
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Coffee and alcohol might be the drink world’s best example of “opposites attract.” Consider classic Irish coffee, Tik Tok-beloved spiked dalgona coffee, the brooding Mocha Russian and other boozy coffee concoctions. Coffee, so often considered a morning beverage, takes on an entirely different character when spiked with alcohol, which, no surprise, is far more often associated with nightlife. When combined, the drinks are appropriate in both realms. After all, a spiked coffee makes for both a decadent breakfast drink and a late-night eye-opener, depending on your mood. 

Such is the case with RumChata-spiked iced coffee. RumChata, the cream liqueur made with rum, cream and cinnamon, adds a horchata-like character to richly-flavored iced coffee. It’s a delightful thing to sip at any time of day.  

Looking for more RumChata-infused cocktails? Try out the RumChata White Russian, the RumChata Mudslide or the RumChata Alexander.  

How to Make RumChata Iced Coffee 

1 cup coffee, room temperature
1/2 ounce RumChata


Fill highball glass with ice. Add coffee and RumChata. Stir and serve.

Wine Enthusiast Podcast: TikTok Is Having a Major Impact on the Wine World Wed, 08 Mar 2023 15:14:08 +0000 Amanda McCrossin TikTok Is Having a Major Impact on the Wine World
Image Courtesy of Getty Images, Amanda McCrossin

As TikTok’s popularity soars, the wine community has taken notice. Winemakers, influencers and experts have become regular creators on the short-video platform. So, this week, we’re delving into the platform.

What is TikTok? How does it work? And why is the wine community successfully jumping on the bandwagon? Editor Jacy Topps chats with Amanda McCrossin to find out. McCrossin is a certified sommelier, former wine director and Wine Enthusiast Wine Star nominee, and she has amassed nearly 200,000 followers on the platform in a short amount of time.

Here, Topps and McCrossin discuss why those in the wine business need a strong social media presence, how TikTok could be beneficial for wine producers and just what kind of videos do well.

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Episode Transcript

Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting.

Speakers: Amanda McCrossin, Jacy Topps

Jacy Topps  00:09 Hello, and welcome to the Wine Enthusiast podcast. You’re serving drinks culture, and the people who drive it. I’m Jacy Topps, editor here at Wine Enthusiast. This week we’re delving into the world of TikTok. So just what is TikTok? How does it work? And why is the wine community successfully jumping on the bandwagon? I sat down with Amanda McCrosson to find out. Amanda is an a certified sommelier, a former wine director, and Wine Enthusiast wine star nominee, and she has amassed nearly 200,000 followers on the platform in a short amount of time. So listen on as we discuss why those in the wine biz need a strong social media presence, how TikTok could be beneficial for wine producers. And just what kind of videos do well on the short video platform.  Every glass of wine tells a story. These stories reveal a hidden histories, flavors and passions. And sometimes they unravel our darkest desires. And Wine Enthusiast newest podcast, the infamous journalist Ashley Smith dissects the underbelly of the wine world. We hear from the people who know what it means when the products of love and care become the source of greed, arson, and even murder. Each episode takes listeners into the mysterious and historic world of winemaking and the crimes that have since become the infamous. This podcast pairs well with wine lovers, history nerds and crime junkies alike. So grab a glass of your favorite wine and follow the podcast to join us as we delve into the twists and turns behind the all time most shocking wine crimes. Follow their infamous on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen and be sure to follow the show, so you never miss a scandal. New episodes drop every other Wednesday.  Hi, I’m Jacy Topps assistant editor here at Wine Enthusiast and today we’re discussing wine and TikTok. My guest is Amanda McCrossin. And with over 175,000 followers, Amanda is someone in wine who is doing Tiktok really, really well. A certified som, Amanda has worked both in New York City and California, perhaps most notably at press restaurant and Napa Valley, where she was the wine director. Amanda was also one of our Wine Enthusiast wine star nominees. And now she’s taking over wine social media. Welcome, Amanda. I’m so happy you can join us today.

Amanda McCrossin  02:55 Oh, I’m thrilled to be here. Jacy Topps thanks so much for having me.

Jacy Topps  02:57 So your resume in wine is quite impressive. But let’s back up. So I want to know how long you’ve been in wine and where your wine journey started. Yeah, so

Amanda McCrossin  03:11 I’ve been in wine, uh, gosh, I guess a little over a decade now. And I started in New York City. I think like a lot of us in the wine industry. I didn’t start in the wine industry actually started in entertainment. So my degree is in musical theater. I worked professionally on stage for about a decade before that I was I was a child actor. And then I went to school for musical theater, as I said, and then went to New York and did my thing there. But I kind of caught the wind bug while I was working at my side job, which was at a private club in Manhattan, and really just was taken by the whole lifestyle of a culture. I loved the academic aspect of it. I loved diving down a rabbit hole of information and just finding that there was endless amounts of things to be curious about. So it’s been an interesting journey since and as you mentioned, I went from New York to California and did a couple of things out there as well.

Jacy Topps  03:58 Awesome. So you said that you worked at a private club was like a like a, like a like a country club?

Amanda McCrossin  04:04 Kind of Yeah. So you know, it’s interesting, you asked that because I’ve moved from outside of Philadelphia, where like things like this didn’t exist. But I worked at this place called the Core Club, which is essentially like a country club in the city, right. But there’s no tennis or golf or anything like that. It’s just a social club. So it’s for the Manhattan elite. It’s very expensive to join. But it was a really interesting place to work because there’s obviously a lot of money and so there’s obviously big money being spent on wine. And so when you’re first learning out and you get a taste, you know, the best there is in the wine industry. It’s a pretty good place to start.

Jacy Topps  04:37 Okay, awesome. Yeah, I worked at a country club as a bartender a long, long time ago.

Amanda McCrossin  04:43 It’s a vibe.

Jacy Topps  04:45 Definitely a vibe. So social media, it’s it’s huge. You know, like it started just to connect with our friends. Yeah. And then businesses started, you know, utilizing it and I don’t No, like, it doesn’t come natural for some, does it come natural for you?

Amanda McCrossin  05:05 I think it comes natural for me, not necessarily in this social aspect of it, but in the creation aspect of it. Like, I think I probably consider myself a creative or an artist first. And for me, being on social media and, and allowing, and having the ability to create content and share that with others, like, that’s the social aspect of it that I really love. So it does come natural for me in that way I am, I think most people would describe me if they you know, or I guess my close friends would describe me as very shy and not super outgoing. I loved being onstage, but I, you know, I loved I’m a little bit of an introvert. So for me, social media is a really good way to access the social parts of myself that I typically have a little bit more anxiety about. Okay,

Jacy Topps  05:52 That’s a great answer. I’m just the opposite, as well. But I kind of use social media just socially. So it’s kind of, it’s kind of awkward for me to like, do that humblebrag of like, Oh, here’s this article that I edited, or here’s an article. So it’s, it’s kind of just it’s not natural. For me.

Amanda McCrossin  06:11 I think a lot of people feel that way. Yeah, yeah, I think a lot of people have a little bit of anxiety around that, and not wanting to put themselves out there in that way. And I still feel that too. You know, I think even when I’m trying to talk about my own things that I’m doing, I still I think I find it easier to like talk about someone else’s thing versus my own thing. That yeah, you know, the social aspect is an interesting part of all of this. And it’s, I’ve really loved it because to me, it’s it’s a way to scale what I was doing on the floor at the restaurant as a psalm, you know, you talk go from table to table to talk to people about wine and their interest in what they want to drink and what they’re eating. And so for me, it was a way to sort of scale that and to do that at large with lots of different people and answer lots of different questions and talk to lots of different people about those things on a more regular basis.

Jacy Topps  06:58 Okay, I know, I’ve heard some people say, well, it’s not really you know, necessary for business. And I kind of disagree. I feel like social media is vital. Like is a vital resource for folks and wine. Do you agree with that? Not necessarily tick tock. But like any type of social media, I think,

Amanda McCrossin  07:15 yeah, I think you know, at this point, no, there’s there’s no escaping it. If you’re in business, I mean, there’s very few businesses who have abstained, just for the sheer access, right, like you could really hone in on who your clientele is, and build a strong community. And I think, I think there is definitely a social aspect of it, for sure. But there’s also, there’s also sort of this like tribal element for businesses, you know, really showcasing and if we’re talking about wine brands, like showcasing who you are outside of the actual bottle, right, like a lot of these when I look at Napa Valley, right? It’s a place filled with amazing wine, amazing Cabernet. But you know, what’s, what’s the difference between this Cabernet from tokulan vineyard and the other Cabernet from Chokolate. And vineyard? Well, it’s often the people it’s often their interests and what motivates them. And so you sort of I think, for me, what I’ve seen work really well is sort of building this community around who the actual people behind the brand are and showcasing what that bottle signifies beyond just grapes, and juice, you know, are these people into hunting? Are they into fishing? Are they into theater? Are they into the arts, and I think when people pick up that bottle, those are the kinds of things that really resonate with them beyond just what the wine tastes like, and how it’s pairing with their foods. So social media, I think, has become really important as, as we see more and more brands emerge as the wine culture continues to expand as more regions start to enter the fold, both from production and then from importation. And so I think the more that we have the ability to hear some of these more personal stories behind the actual labels, the better it is for wine at large.

Jacy Topps  08:54 Yeah, that’s a great perspective. I agree. I mean, I interviewed some wine directors here in New York City on on podcast, and a few of them basically said they learn about new wines and new producers through social media, because you know, people are so busy, they don’t have time to get out to a lot of the festivals and the trade shows anymore. So I think a lot of producers need to really understand don’t just give us a picture of, of your wine label that’s mighty beautiful.

Amanda McCrossin  09:26 And only handle so many drone shots, you know? Exactly,

Jacy Topps  09:29 Exactly. So, tick tock now, I didn’t even hear about tick tock until the pandemic and maybe because it wasn’t I haven’t even no idea when it started. Could you explain what TOC is?

Amanda McCrossin  09:44 Yeah, so TikTok is actually it’s it’s an evolved business like as it actually started as an app called Music musical Lee. It’s music al dot L y. And then that was that was purchased and there’s actually been a few different iterations of it, but ultimately, you know, I think you actually have like a head start on me on the tick tock thing because I, I didn’t utilize tick tock until about a year and a half ago when I started on it. But tick tock is really just a it’s an interesting platform, and that I think it sort of is a hybrid between Instagram and YouTube. And then it has a little bit more of the social interactions that you would see on Instagram, but it’s definitely more video focused like YouTube. But it is a global platform. That is, as I said, video based and now you can upload videos up to three minutes long, within the app, 10 minutes if you’re creating outside of the app, and it is a fascinating world, it is a world I never thought that I would enter I was YouTube and Instagram focus for years, I had no interest in getting into Tik Tok because, as you might remember, from the pandemic Tiktok was really a place where like, you did lip synching to videos and choreographed dances, right? Like it is for kids. It was really the kids when and you know, I’m 36 years old, like, I’m not a kid anymore. But you know, I would hear about these, like 14 and 15 year olds doing their thing to fun dances and I thought that was really cool. But like, I just didn’t see any any place for me in that world, initially, at least.

Jacy Topps  11:13 So what made you decide to try it?

Amanda McCrossin  11:16 A friend who is in the comedy world, was looking at some of the reels that I was creating on Instagram. And she said, You know, I think you should really look at tick tock. I was like, I don’t know, like, if tick tock for kids, like, is anyone even on Tiktok, like over the age of 21. And she’s like, actually, it’s a wider demographic than you think. And you can upload longer videos now. And I think you’d have some great success with it. So I said, Alright, so I started kind of messing around with it, that this was like June of 2021. And initially, I thought, you know, again, I was still kind of thinking like, this is gonna be a younger demographic, you know, a generation that probably doesn’t have a ton of expendable income that isn’t super wind savvy or even interested in wine. So we’ve got to keep it, you know, bottles that are like 10 to $15 things that are available at grocery stores. And I did that for a few months. And I realized that I was dead wrong. I had gotten this app completely wrong. And it evolved way more than I had realized. The demographic was way broader than I had anticipated. And people were actually really interested in more expensive wine and were a lot more wine savvy and more more wine curious than I had realized. And it wasn’t until it took me like six months to kind of realize this, but it wasn’t until December of that same year in 2021. I uploaded like a video. It was just it was something with an original sound. And I got so many questions from that video that were like, what do you do at a restaurant when the wine is presented? And what are some of your favorite champagnes? And like if I’m celebrate, like all these questions around wine, and I was like, Oh, this is really interesting. And on Tik Tok, they had just unveiled this basically feature where you could reply with a video and so I started replying to some of these comments with different videos. And they took off and it like almost immediately, like people talk about overnight success on Tik Tok, like, it was quiet for six months. And then in those few weeks, my account grew from about 250 followers to like 30,000. Like, wow, days, like this is a short amount of time and I’m getting hundreds of 1000s of use questions from people. I’m looking at my demographics, they’re showing me 75% female, it’s between the ages of like 25 and 55, with a large percentage of that over the age of 30. And they are interested in wines that are you know, 30 to $50. Like, these are not inexpensive wines. I mean, they’re not crazy, expensive wines. And we can talk about, you know that later, but it blew my mind how curious people were and it signified to me that as an industry I don’t I just don’t think that we have been maybe talking about the right things and doing a great job of of education because ultimately that’s what the content creation was it was just wine education, contextualize it for people doing situational things. And, you know, I think I have to give credit where it’s due because there are some great creators, like the millennials, some ISIS, Daniel, David Chang was on there. Jamie Griff, like these guys were doing great content and really started paving the way and I looked at that and I was like, you know, I think together we can really brought in this this wine talk community that exists on Tiktok

Jacy Topps  14:28 Wow, that’s amazing. Yeah, I think a lot of it is just that social media goes so fast. It’s just it’s just like the second you get to hang the hang of Instagram and then the stories and then there’s something else. And then you know, produce like wine producers and media companies. It’s like, oh my god, what, what’s it like that’s why there’s like, you know, whole departments that like, basically research this stuff and then kind of create this for companies because it’s so much so fast. fast.

Amanda McCrossin  15:01 Yeah, it does evolve very quickly. I mean, even daily, weekly, especially tick tock, I mean, it is a very, very fast platform that you can create a piece of content. And in a week, that will be irrelevant, especially if it’s using like an original sound. And to your point, yeah, I mean, there are there are entire teams, there are people that are dedicated to just doing social media. Which if you look five years ago, that was not a thing in the wine industry. Now in other industries, for sure, right. Yeah, look at fashion, beauty. You know, lots of different industries were weren’t had full social media team. But wine has always been a little bit slow to adopt social media. And so I think it’s a it’s a great step in the right direction to see some of the marketing departments bring in people to specialize just in social media and have that be their entire job. Because you’re right, it is a full time job. And anyone in marketing who thinks that they can just, you know, give this to someone as like a side project, and hope that’ll be successful, I think is, is going to be really surprised that they’re not going to make a lot of movement on there without having a more full time or even, you know, part two full time dedication to this. It’s a lot.

Jacy Topps  16:05 Wow, I’m so fascinated.

Amanda McCrossin  16:09 It is a fascinating world. I mean, I

Jacy Topps  16:11 Wish this was like a video, you can see my eyes. It’s like both. Yeah. So you said the actual videos were like, it was like 10 seconds to like, 10 minutes? Or how does that work?

Amanda McCrossin  16:26 Yeah, so it’s all video, although I think you can, you can post a video, or you can post photos in a slideshow format now, but for the purposes of this conversation, you can post a video that’s up to three minutes long. So you can create the entire video and app which is what I do. Most of the time, I do all of my filming, and all of my editing inside the actual tick tock app. And if you do that, you can record up to three minutes. If you do it outside the app, which I will do from time to time, then you can upload a video that’s 10 minutes, but most of the content that you’re seeing on tick tock because it is very fast. And if you’ve never been on tick tock, I’ll just sort of paint a picture for you. So you open up the app, and it’s basically a screen. And you’ve got two columns. One is the following column. And the other is the for you the for you page is all suggested videos very infrequently Are you going on there and actually doing are searching out content. All of that is more of a thing now, but essentially, it’s just suggesting videos, that the algorithm is suggesting videos to you that they think that you’ll like based on interests and other things that you’ve liked. And they start to kind of create an avatar for you or profile for you. I mean, you don’t know that this is all happening. But you’ll start seeing content come up on your page, and you keep scrolling and scrolling and scrolling and scrolling. And that’s called the for you page. And that’s ultimately as a creator where you want to end up because that’s where you’re going to have the most discovery. But it’s fascinating. From the standpoint of like, you know, this discovery is very powerful. And if if you can create content and get discovered on that platform, and have the algorithm figure out exactly where that content needs to be distributed. It’s a very powerful thing that no other app has been able to do thus far.

Jacy Topps  18:06 So basically, how long does it take you, for instance, to create a video?

Amanda McCrossin  18:12 I mean, it depends on the video, but it can take me anywhere from about an hour to six hours. I mean, like I said, most of I think I’d started answering this and most of the content that you’re seeing there, even though you can upload up to three minutes. Most of the stuff you’re seeing is between 30 seconds and a minute and a half, my content tends to be longer because wine tends to be more complicated subjects. So I tend to take between two and three minutes for that. So the more in depth videos take a long time. Usually they’ll they’ll take me anywhere between six and eight hours, especially you know, if it’s a more complicated subject, like you know, breaking down the differences between champagne and Prosecco, I’ll take time, and I’ll scrub that out, I’ll make sure that every single thing that is coming out of my mouth is intentional. And you get it down to just the salient points, which is very difficult. And I think as a writer, you can probably appreciate that, right? Like you’re really just trying to figure out like, what can I like how much of this can I remove without losing the point of what I’m saying. And that is what I’m trying to do on tick tock because like I said, scroll super fast, people’s attention spans are way shorter, and you need to capture their attention within the first three seconds and then hold it. So some of the things that I do that you’ll notice in the videos is I change the angle of my video a lot of times even like mid sentence and that kind of tricks your brain into thinking that you’re watching something new. So So yeah, it’ll take me about six to eight hours because of all these things that I do to retain attention to make sure that the content is as specific as I can possibly be without having any sort of fluff and then also to just make sure that I keep it relevant. So you know why does someone care about the DLC Geez of Italy? Well, because ultimately that relates to quality right? So if you see do CG on a label that can often mean quality and I think if you can relate that back to things that people already know about then That’s, you know, that contextualize is that that makes them interested in learning further about what a do CG is,

Jacy Topps  20:07 Wow, that takes a lot of creativity, a lot of our a lot of understanding, obviously, the wine industry, which you do, and then understanding the app, understanding the whole software.

Amanda McCrossin  20:20 It’s, it’s, it’s been a journey, but it’s been fun. You know, I think the, the one thing that I have going for me is, you know, I’m very, very curious. But there’s a lot of information out there, right. And there’s so many great creators, even beyond the wine space that are doing amazing things. And so I look at what they’re doing, you know, I try to take notes, and I try to see what some of the, how they’re utilizing the app, how they’re engaging with their audience, and what they’re doing to not only get those views, but you know, to communicate with their audience and make sure that they are helping them because ultimately, that’s what you know, I’m there to do, I’m not there to necessarily necessarily share my story, I’m there to help. And if that’s through my own journey, and through my own stories, great, but you know, my job there is to make sure that people feel supported, and they feel like they have a voice and they don’t feel intimidated at a restaurant, when the wine that’s just presented, I didn’t grow up in a wine household, I felt all of those things, all of the insecurities that people have felt around wine, I have personally felt them and I from time to time, continue to feel them. You know, I’m a 36 year old female in the wine industry, like my boyfriend still gets the wine list handed to him. So I, you know, I know those feelings are still very fresh for me. So, you know, my goal is, you know, to obviously get people to drink more wine, but also to get them feeling comfortable in their own journey and get excited about digging deeper and diving into regions and different producers and styles. And it’s just so much fun. Because I remember the excitement that I had. And I it’s been really refreshing to hear some other people who have come back and said, you know, you’ve gotten me so excited about wine. And I never thought that was possible, because I didn’t grow up in a wine drinking household. So it’s, it’s really gratifying in that way.

Jacy Topps  22:02 Yeah, I think a lot of the things that have become so successful so quickly, are things that make wine accessible. I mean, wine has been this thing that like, you know, only a certain class where it’s been said that only a certain class is supposed to have and drink and enjoy. And I think social media definitely makes it more accessible. And I think that’s why it’s blown up so quickly. And now, a word from our sponsor, something happened when I was shopping at Total Wine and more the other day, not only did I find my favorite Cabernet, but I got it for the lowest price. There’s so many great bottles to choose from that I wanted to buy them all, I can’t wait to go back to Total Wine and get new ones to try with friends with the lowest prices for over 30 years find when you love and love what you find a total wine and more. Drink responsibly, be 21. So if a wine producer obviously doesn’t, well, some do some actually can afford to do that in house. But if they can’t afford to do it in house, they partner with the content creator like yourself, correct? Is that how that works?

Amanda McCrossin  23:16 They could we’re starting to get into, you know, the legal conversation, right. So tick tock, there are some legal things around tick tock that you can and can’t do, both legally and from a community guidelines standpoint. So within the app Tiktok has their own community guidelines that say what what you can actually do on the app in terms of posting about alcohol. And so it’s pretty clear that tick tock does not want you marketing or selling alcohol, they obviously do not want you to be doing marketing to children. That’s kind of goes without saying. And so with that in mind, you have to be very careful when you’re creating content, especially in the alcohol segment, that you are not directly marketing that wine. Now you can talk about wine, and you can educate around that wine, but you can’t say buy this wine, it’s $50. And here’s where you go to buy it. And so for that reason, it’s a little bit hard as creator to work with a brand directly. There are ways around that. And I think if you are a winery, you can you can definitely hire creators or work with creators to create content around your brand, but it’s not, you know, I think you have to, you have to be cognizant of the fact that it’s not going to be just a direct sale. Like maybe you’re creating content around an event that’s happening, maybe you’re creating content that’s more educational focused, it’s not necessarily going to be a punch to the face of like buy my wine, it’s delicious. And then on the flip side of that if you are a winery, consult with your legal team, because there are some ramifications around what you’re allowed to do versus not allowed to do and I think you know, some some winery I don’t think there’s any like or tank garages on Mary, there’s a few that are on there. But I know there’s a few winery owners and marketing people who’ve expressed to me that legally they are not able to be on Tik Tok, but they’re winemakers can be on Tik Tok. So their winemakers can create content. I think that’s really cool, right? Because you could potentially be a winemaker taking people around to the different vineyards and showing them the process of making wine and like, What songs do you listen to while you’re in the wineries, there’s like a million different things you can do. And there’s a lot of fun that you can have, like, tick tock is such a fun platform. And that’s kind of what I was getting at earlier. Like, it’s just, we have so much fun there you can be yourself can do whatever you want, like, and it changes all the time. And I know the change is scary for some people, but the change is actually it’s a good time.

Jacy Topps  25:41 So how does that translate to sales? Like if I was a wine producer, it’s like, okay, great. Like, that sounds cool. And people, you know, just the everyday person is going to talk about my wine. But how does that translate to sales?

Amanda McCrossin  25:58 I think if you were to ask a marketing person, how their social media in general translates to sales, you’re looking at, you know, the long term sale, you’re not necessarily looking at a direct conversion, you’re looking at building an audience, you’re looking at continuing to engage with community, you’re keeping people top of mind. Right. But I think that also, again, I think it goes it’s the same, it’s the same marketing principles, right? Like, you’re just trying to get people to understand what you’re doing besides just making wine. So it is a it’s a longer conversion. Of course, you know, there are some that have done really well initially. And I think if you look at like, Joe Wagner is such a great example of a winemaker who’s on tick tock that, you know, is probably sold quite a bit of wine inadvertently, just by being himself and doing crazy things. But in terms of like, you know, can I post my new release? Sure, you can, but is that going to convert to sales immediately? Maybe not, if you haven’t done the legwork. So I think it you know, tick tock is no different than any other social platform, and then you have to continuously do the work and you’re not going to necessarily have that return on investment immediately. It’s going to take time.

Jacy Topps  27:02 Okay. That totally makes sense. It’s like building relationships. Right?

Amanda McCrossin  27:06 Totally. Yeah. I mean, it’s, I think it’s just a little bit it’s not, you’re not taking out an ad and wine enthusiasts, you’re not, you know, you’re, you’re building a real a longer term relationship so that when they do see the ad, and wine enthusiasts are like, oh, yeah, maybe it’s time, you know? Yeah,

Jacy Topps  27:21 that’s makes total sense. So what kind of videos are working well, for you, like other like, How To videos? Is that instructional?

Amanda McCrossin  27:31 Some of them are instructional. Yeah. So I just I recently posted a video on how to open champagne, for example. And that did really well as it was centered around New Year’s Eve, which is very intentional. So those you’re really well people also love like, you know, I’ll traveled to different wine regions. And they love kind of going through the different wine regions and seeing different vineyards and some of the experiences that I have there. So a little bit more voyeuristic. There’s always sort of an educational component to it. Like I always try to leave, or at least give people something that has value beyond just like, isn’t this a beautiful place? And like oftentimes it is right? Like we’re so lucky to be in this industry, where these places are epically beautiful, and we are drinking amazing wine and seeing these beautiful things all the time. But I do try to add a little bit of value here and there, even if it’s just you know, a little note about like, you know, I’m in Montalcino, the main grape is center, Vaizey. And this is a producer that you should know about. So things like that, that I think are just little nuggets of information. But they’re always it’s always educational, you know, some of the things that I’ve done are more situational. So for example, I will I’ll play the plate, several different characters in a show in like a video. And I’ll be the guest. It’ll be the sob and I’ll sort of put this next year. Yeah. Right. So you’re like sitting at the restaurant and you like, that psalm gives you the wine list. And you’re like, Oh, this is, you know, this is really big, you know, what should I do? And they just kind of like walk away. And you’re like, what? And so a break, I break down like, literally how long this is organized, like really simple things in some regards, but then also like very complex things that require a little bit more explanation. And then I can do multiple parts. And you always want to leave him when something more so we always try to leave them like, I also I push, I push people, I think a little further than I thought that I could. And that’s been really fun to see. Because I think I think we’ve always assumed that people just want the basics. And they actually want a little bit more than that. They actually want a lot more than that. And so I I add in more information that I think is comfortable. Like I think living in a little bit of an uncomfortable zone, in terms of just information levels is a good place to be. People are curious, they’re smart, they want to know, they want to know things so I tried to give them as much as I can.

Jacy Topps  29:43 This has been so educational informative, like my mind is blown.

Amanda McCrossin  29:50 I’m so glad to hear that. It’s been it’s been really fun on there. I didn’t I didn’t think two years ago that I’d be the Tick Tock girl but here we are 36 years old and the TikTok girl Well,

Jacy Topps  30:00 I mean, you know, I’m Gen X. So I’m like, I’m not. I’m not older millennial. I’m Gen X. So I’m like, why? Yeah. I’m just I’m shocked. It’s crazy. It’s it’s fun, though. So when you’re not doing TED talks, and you are just enjoying yourself, what’s in your glass? Final question.

Amanda McCrossin  30:26 Let’s say my glass. Cash is always great wine open, because I’m always drinking for the videos. But am I glass? You know, I’m a bubbles girl. I love a good glass of champagne. But you know what I’ve been loving lately is Oregon sparkling? I don’t know how much of that you’ve had.

Jacy Topps  30:42 Oh, I haven’t had much of it. But it’s exciting. It’s so good. Like

Amanda McCrossin  30:47 Chardonnay. And then sparkling wine made from Chardonnay. And Oregon is so delicious. I’m having a lot of fun exploring that region as a whole. But I’ve been I’ve been loving some of the sparklings that are coming out of there. And the more I can get my hands on the better.

Jacy Topps  31:00 Yes, so amazing. Thank you so much for joining us. This has been so great.

Amanda McCrossin  31:06 The pleasure is mine. Thanks for having me.

Jacy Topps  31:13 The rate at which social media platforms are increasing can seem really overwhelming. So which ones should you actually be utilizing from entertaining ways to educating your consumers to reaching new ones? TikTok just might be the social media platform you need to check out. What are your thoughts? If you liked today’s episode, we’d love to read your views and hear what you think. And hey, why not tell your wine loving friends to check us out to remember, you can subscribe to this podcast on Apple, Google, Spotify and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. You can also go to wine backslash podcast for more episodes and transcripts. I’m Jacy Topps. Thanks for listening.

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8 Wines that Showcase the Innovative Power of Female Winemakers Tue, 07 Mar 2023 23:14:59 +0000 3 bottles of wine on a designed background
Images Courtesy of Vivino

For centuries, winemaking was a male-dominated field. Today, women across the globe are changing that narrative and shaking up the industry, adding ever-more names to history’s list of important women in wine. Even in the face of obstacles that have some women in wine struggling to stay afloat, female change makers are fighting to make the fruit of the vine more inclusive for future generations.

Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day serve as moments to acknowledge these pioneers who have broken through barriers and transformed their craft. From female-run Champagne houses to New World female winemakers, the growing impact of women in wine reflects a larger shift in society’s acceptance and celebration of women’s professional achievements.

Here, we showcase bottles hand-selected by the Wine Enthusiast Tasting Department that exhibit the passion, perseverance and grit of the female winemakers behind them.

Caroline Frey, Jaboulet

Though she comes from a family with a long history in wine, Caroline Frey stands as a force in her own right. After gaining early exposure to vines at Bordeaux’s Chateau La Lagune, Frey studied at Bordeaux University and implemented organic and biodynamic practices at Paul Jaboulet Ainé in Rhône, which her family acquired in 2006. Frey’s mindful approach to winemaking puts soil nourishment front and center to produce quality wines while respecting the environment.

Bottle Pick: Paul Jaboulet Aîné 2018 Les Traverses White (Ventoux)

90 Points Wine Enthusiast

Pretty whiffs of dried rosemary and herbes de Provence perfume zesty white grapefruit and pear in this wine. A full-bodied, juicy blend of Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc and Clairette, it’s fruity but delivers a lingering salt-rimmed finish. At peak now, the wine should hold through 2024. Best Buy —Anna Lee C. Iijima

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Patricia Tóth, Planeta

Patricia Tóth believes in the potential of Sicilian grapes. Born in Hungary, she made the town of Etna her home after joining the Planeta team in 2005. As one of Planeta’s head winemakers, Tóth pays special attention to the stony and volcanic soils that define Sicily’s terroir, which plays a key role in her curation of bright, mineral whites.

Bottle Pick: Planeta 2020 Etna

92 Points Wine Enthusiast

Wild oregano and sea grass (with lemon and brine) come together on the nose of Planeta’s Etna bianco in a perfect marriage of the volcano and gulf that dominate the space in which its produced. Fried herbs and slate washed with sea water are on the palate, as is stone fruit that pops with citrus and acid and seemingly refuses to end. —Danielle Callegari


Cathy Corison, Corison Winery

Cathy Corison’s career in wine spans over three decades of artisanal winemaking and entrepreneurial grit. Significantly outnumbered by men when she first entered the wine world in 1972, Corison went on to complete her master’s degree in oenology at UC Davis, work at a handful of California wineries and eventually found a winery of her own with her husband.

Corison’s wines highlight the power and elegance of Cabernet Sauvignon in addition to the necessity of innovation in the vineyard, whether that’s tinkering with acidity to exploring the potential of electric tractors.

Bottle Pick: Corison 2019 Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (Napa Valley)

97 Points Wine Enthusiast

This snugly wrapped, agile, medium-bodied wine from old vines keeps a core of raspberries, violets and black currants under a veil of silky tannins. The wine’s excellent acid balance, tension and sense of depth will unleash more complexity as the tannins resolve over time. Best from 2028–2040. Cellar Selection —Jim Gordon

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Anne Moller-Racke, Blue Farm

Since arriving in California from Oberwesel, Germany, in 1981, Anne Moller-Racke’s wine industry journey has taken several exciting turns. Her first point of impact was at Buena Vista Carneros Winery, where she helped shepherd the recognition of Los Carneros as its own AVA. In 2001, she shifted gears and founded The Donum Estate, serving as president and winegrower.

While expanding the Donum brand, Moller-Racke began a personal project in her backyard: What started with the planting of seven acres of Pinot Noir has since blossomed into Blue Farm Wines, a boutique vineyard regarded as one of California’s most exceptional. In 2019, she stepped away from Donum to fully dedicate her energy to Blue Farm.

Bottle Pick: Blue Farm 2019 Anne Katherina Estate Farmed Pinot Noir (Carneros)

95 Points Wine Enthusiast

With a delicious nose of rose and orange peel, this wine is richly layered and substantive, developing into a midpalate of earth and forest and spicy hints of clove and nutmeg. Textural and ultimately bright, it has subtle power and enduring elegance.-Virginie Boone

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

Theresa Heredia, Gary Farrell Winery

Theresa Heredia’s love of wine first bloomed thanks to her chemistry background and early travels across France’s most acclaimed wine regions. Through her first wine internship at Saintsbury Winery in Napa’s Los Carneros region and working as a winemaker at Freestone Vineyards in Sonoma, Heredia gained considerable experience with California’s cool-climate grapes.

In 2012, she joined Gary Farrell Winery as a winemaker and specialist in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Today, she serves as the vineyard’s Director of Winemaking and continues to produce wines that exhibit complexity and elegance.

Bottle Pick: Gary Farrell 2020 Russian River Selection Chardonnay (Russian River Valley)

93 Points Wine Enthusiast

This buttery but not extreme wine is scented with popcorn and butterscotch followed by good acidity, cream and golden apple flavors and a touch of lemon. It is nicely balanced, layered and oaky. —Jim Gordon


Marie Doyard, Champagne André Jacquart

Fifth-generation winemaker Marie Doyard has Champagne in her blood. But when she stepped into her family’s Champagne estate at the age of 25, she knew she wanted to do things differently and carve a niche for herself in the industry.

Under Doyard’s leadership, the grower Champagne produced by Champagne André Jacquart is made entirely of Chardonnay grapes fermented in wooden barrels with a low dosage of sugar. Her tinkering with tradition not only produces terroir-expressive bottlings, but also inspires other winemakers to embrace change.

Bottle Pick: André Jacquart 2009 Millésime Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature Chardonnay (Champagne)

94 Points Wine Enthusiast

While this Champagne from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is still young, showing a crisp, bone-dry character alongside tight fruit and mineral tones, it offers plenty of richness. As it softens, it brings in a toasty edge, and will mature to greater benefit. Drink from 2022. Cellar Selection —Roger Voss

$ Varies Taub Family Selections

Vanya Cullen, Cullen Wines

The youngest of six children, Vanya Cullen grew up with pioneering parents whose Wilyabrup estate helped transform Margaret River into a world-renowned wine region. In 1989, Cullen became chief winemaker of the vineyard, retaining her family’s promise of quality, integrity and sustainability. Recognized for her commitment to biodynamic and organic practices, she has received several awards including the prestigious 2020 James Halliday Winemaker of the Year in 2022.

Bottle Pick: Cullen 2019 Wilyabrup Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot (Margaret River)

96 Points Wine Enthusiast

The wines from this iconic, biodynamic estate always sing of their place. 2019 was a cooler-than-average vintage but one that’s winning over this reviewer for the wines’ aromatics and elegance. Layered and highly characterful, the nose is floral, like West Aussie wildflowers, and a bit meaty, like the pan scrapings from a roast. The fruit comes in compote form, like freshly canned rhubarb, plum and currant. There’s an earthy, savory spine like beet juice, olive brine and cedar shavings. A cool eucalyptus edge adds to the vintage charm. Chiseled, sappy tannins are powerful but leave ample room for flavor. Exceptional quality at an attainable price, this drinks well now with decanter and protein at hand, or could cellar beautifully for a decade at least. Editor’s Choice —Christina Pickard


Elizabeth Kester, Wente Vineyards


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After earning her bachelor of science in wine and viticulture from California Polytechnic State University, Elizabeth Kester joined Wente Vineyards team as resident enologist in 2010. She climbed the ladder, becoming the winery’s Director of Winemaking in 2021. In her role, Kester is laser-focused on innovation in the winery and implementing cutting-edge technology in the field. She joins two other female change makers at Wente: Director of Vineyard Operations Niki Wente and Vice-President of Marketing and Customer Experience Aly Wente, both fifth-generation winegrowers.

Bottle Pick: Wente 2021 Morning Fog Chardonnay (Central Coast)

90 Points Wine Enthusiast

There’s a steely edge to the pear, apple and crisp pineapple aromas on the nose of this bottling. The palate sizzles with acidity and offers a touch of grip, with key lime pie flavors most prevalent. —Matt Kettmann


Why You Should Trust Us

All products featured here are independently selected by our team, which is comprised of experienced writers and wine tasters and overseen by editorial professionals at Wine Enthusiast headquarters. All ratings and reviews are performed blind in a controlled setting and reflect the parameters of our 100-point scale.Wine Enthusiast does not accept payment to conduct any product review, though we may earn a commission on purchases made through links on this site. Prices were accurate at the time of publication.

]]> 0 Strawberry Honey Milk Kakigōri Is a Regal, Icy Treat Tue, 07 Mar 2023 18:25:35 +0000 Strawberry Honey Milk Kakigo¯ri PAIRING: Kato Sake Works Bubbly Nigori
Photography / Robert Bredvad, Food Styling / Takako Kuniyuki, Prop Styling / Paige Hicks

Kakigōri is one of the great shaved-ice desserts of the world. Unlike the coarser texture of snow cones, kakigōri is fine and fluffy like soft snow, which lets the toppings diffuse throughout the dessert like a sunset casting its glow across the sky. Look for a machine that shaves thin, rather than crushes, the ice.

While kakigōri is often gilded with sweetened condensed milk, Tonchin, a New York restaurant with its roots in Tokyo, uses a honey cream, which is less sticky and more complex. It’s a beautiful complement to the bright strawberry flavor. Frozen berries are preferred here since they’re packed at peak ripeness and exude a strawberry syrup as they thaw, but feel free to use very ripe—even overripe— fresh strawberries.

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

Strawberry Honey Milk Kakigōri

Courtesy Tonchin New York, by Creative Director Kiyotaka Shinoki, Instagram @tonchinnewyork

3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 10 oz. bag frozen organic strawberries, thawed
½ cup organic heavy cream
¼ cup honey Shaved ice, as needed
Sliced fresh strawberry, for garnish
Chopped fresh mint, for garnish


Place sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan or skillet over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Transfer to a blender with the strawberries and purée until smooth. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

In a large bowl, whisk cream until it thickens slightly. Whisk in honey until smooth. Chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Shave ice according to the instructions of your shaved-ice machine. Scoop tall servings of shaved ice into four individual goblets or small bowls. Pour strawberry sauce over to taste, then drizzle with honey cream to taste. Garnish with strawberries and mint and serve immediately. Serves 4.

Wine Pairing:

Kato Sake Works Bubbly Nigori

“This sake has the perfect balance to accompany this dessert,” says Tonchin General Manager and Sake Curator Dylan Capello. “It’s lightly effervescent, and boasts notes of honey and coconut, with the creamy texture of an amazing ambrosia salad.”

]]> Oscar-Worthy Wines: 10 Bottles Made by Past Winners and Nominees Tue, 07 Mar 2023 18:16:12 +0000 3 celebretes next to there wine bottles
Images Courtesy of Getty Images and the Merchants

It’s safe to say that we are excited about the 95th annual Academy Awards. Wine Enthusiast editors already have their drinks lined up. We have awards-inspired cocktail pairings figured out. We have snack pairing ideas for days. But what if you’re looking for a wine with a bit more… Oscars cache, perhaps? We’re talking about bottles made by past award winners and nominees.

Of course, plenty of celebrities are into wine. Cameron Diaz, Eric Wareheim and Drew Barrymore are all behind wine brands, and more still are engaged in spirits-related or other boozy projects. But for this list, we’re highlighting Oscar-winning or nominated celebs behind bottles currently on the market.

Will any of their bottles have a starring role at your Oscars watch party?

Francis Ford Coppola

Francis Ford Coppola and Coppola Diamond Prosecco
Image Courtesy of Getty Images, Total Wine and More

Known for films like The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, it’s safe to say that director Francis Ford Coppola is legendary. His film company, American Zoetrope, has earned over 60 nominations and 15 wins.

Coppola has also spent the past several decades building a wine empire. Today, the Francis Ford Coppola Winery produces “three million cases from 340 acres of vineyards spread across several wineries in California and Oregon and includes brands such as Francis Ford Coppola Diamond Collection, Sofia and Director’s Cut.” Not to mention, he also restored Inglenook, a historic Napa winery that had fallen by the wayside.

And the Winner Is… Coppola Diamond Prosecco: What better way to toast this year’s best director than with a bottle of bubbly from an absolute legend.

Brad Pitt

Brad Pitt and Chateau Miraval Cotes De Provence Rose, 2021
Images Courtesy of Total Wine and More, Getty Images

The two-time Oscar winner and seven-time nominee is known for his roles in iconic films like Fight Club, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Oceans 11 and so many others. And the Moneyball actor also found success in the wine world. In 2008 he, and then wife Angelina Jolie, purchased the majority interest in Chateau Miraval. Later in 2013, according to U.S. Magazine, they began making a rosé at the South of France estate.

After their divorce in 2016 Jolie sold her shares. But Pitt still maintains co-ownership of the chateau.

And the Winner Is… Fleur De Miraval Exclusivement Rose Champagne: Want to drink like the stars? Then spring for a bottle of Pitt’s bubbly, as it will be the only sparkler poured at this year’s Oscars.


Sting next to Il Palagio Roxanne Rosso Toscana
Image Courtesy of Getty Images and Total Wine and More

Sting has been making hit songs for decades. His compositions for beloved films such as Emperor’s New Groove and Kate & Leopold among others earned him several Oscar nominations.

But the “Roxanne” artist also has a major wine venture. While traveling in Italy in 1999, he and wife Trudie Styler came across Il Palagio, which had fallen into disrepair, and started restoring the property. Today, the Tuscan winery produces several different bottlings (with names you may recognize, such as “Message In a Bottle”) as well as honey and olive oil.

And the Winner Is… Il Palagio Roxanne Rosso Toscana: Look, the song “Roxanne” is going to be stuck in your head for a while anyway. You might as well sing it while enjoying a glass of this.

George Lucas

George Lucas and 2018 SKYWALKER PINOT NOIR
Images Courtesy of Getty Images and Skywalker Vineyards

We don’t think Lucas needs much of an introduction. Name one person who has not heard of the Star Wars franchise… we’ll wait.  But something you may not know is the two-time nominee owns a winery called (very appropriately) Skywalker Vineyards.

According to the winery’s website, Lucas was inspired by Coppola’s success in the wine industry and struck out on his own venture. Today, the estate produces Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and other bottlings.

And the Winner Is… Skywalker Vineyards Pinot Noir: Take a walk on the dark side with this deep ruby-hued sipper.

Alan Silvestri

lan Silvestri and callaway winery Late Harvest Chardonnay
Images Courtesy of Callaway Winery and Getty Images

Silvestri has composed music for hit movies such as Polar Express and Forrest Gump, which earned him two Oscar nominations.

In 1989, the Who Framed Roger Rabbit! music composer and his wife purchased the property that would become their winery. Today, Silvestri Vineyards produces a late-harvest Moscato, Chardonnay and Barbera along with other wines.

And the Winner Is… 2019 Pinot Gris, Ala, Estate: Kind of like a good song, a bottle of zippy and light Pinot Gris is always a crowd pleaser.

Mary J. Blige

Mary J Blige and Sun Goddess
Images Courtesy of Getty Images,

Known for songs like Family Affair, Mr. Wrong, Be Without You and countless other hits and collaborations with other artists, Mary J. Blige has received two Oscar nominations. The hip-hop icon has also made waves in the wine world.

Collaborating with Friuli-Venezia Giulia’s winemaker, Marco Fantinel, Blige created Sun Goddess. Today, the brand produces a Pinot Grigio Ramato, Sauvignon Blanc, Prosecco and Merlot.

“She was involved in every single detail, from the style to the color to the label and materials,” Fantinel told Wine Enthusiast in an interview. “She was checking every single thing because she knows that success has no shortcut.”

And the Winner Is… Sun Goddess Prosecco: For a night of celebration, you can never have too many bubbles.

John Legend

John Legend and LVE French Sparkling Rose
Image Courtesy of GettyImages, Total Wine and More

John Legend has been drinking wine since, well, he “started drinking,” the singer told Wine Enthusiast in an interview.

In 2013, Legend teamed up with the owner of “Raymond Vineyards in Napa Valley, to make a Cabernet Sauvignon,” under the Legend Vineyard Exclusive (LVE) label.  LVE now produces a Chardonnay, red blend and some canned options along with other bottlings.

“I’ve always loved wine, always loved the memories I’ve had with great wine, the great meals, the great experiences [and] the great conversations,” Legend told Wine Enthusiast.

And the Winner Is… LVE French Sparkling Rose: Much like Legend’s many pop hits, this wine is sure to be a crowd pleaser.  

Jon Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi and Hampton Water Rose
Image Courtesy of GettyImages, Total Wine and More

It might have been a surprise to learn rock icon John Francis Bongiovi, Jr. (fans know him as Jon Bon Jovi) was involved in the wine business. Heck, it even came as a surprise to the “Living on a Prayer” singer.

“[I] Never imagined we’d someday be in the wine business, but it’s really all I drink,” John Bongiovi told Wine Enthusiast in an interview. The singer and his son, Jesse, teamed up with French winemaker Gérard Bertrand and released Hampton Water rosé in 2018.

“Our vision for Hampton Water was to share the relaxed lifestyles of the Hamptons and the South of France and bottle up that feeling of enjoying life,” Jesse Bongiovi told Wine Enthusiast.

And the Winner Is… Hampton Water: Like blaring a Bon Jovi hit, there’s never a bad time to enjoy a bottle of easy-drinking rosé.

John Malkovich

John Malcovitch and Gibson family grp
Images Courtesy of Getty Images, Gibson Family grp.

John Malkovich is no stranger to success in the film industry. The Oscar nominee has been in hits like In the Line of Fire, Being John Malkovich, Con Air and numerous others.

But the actor has also made a name for himself in the wine world with his label, Les Quelles de la Coste.

On his Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon blends, Malkovich told Wine Enthusiast, “our oenologue [Jean Natoli] suggested it. I always thought it was a risky or, let’s say, volatile, mix. But I am delighted by the results. It only needs a year or so to calm down or make peace with itself. The Pinot provides the Cabernet with roundness, refinement, but also punch, strangely enough.”

And the Winner Is…  LQLC, ‘14 Quelles’, 2018: celebrate the winners with this legend’s flagship bottle.

John Lasseter

John Lasseter and Lasseter family winery
Image Courtesy of GettyImages, Lasseter family winery

John Lasseter has earned five Oscar nominees and two wins for his work on classics like Monsters Inc., Toy Story 3, Cars and others.

The Tin Toy director has also found success in the wine world. He and his wife became interested in winemaking in 1993 after moving to Sonoma. And later, in 2002, they purchased the land that would become Lasseter Family Winery.

Today, they produce several different red blends, Sauvignon Blancs and more.

And the Winner Is… 2016 Reminiscence: This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc is perfect to have on hand in case you or someone at the party isn’t feeling bubbles.

Honorable Mentions

We haven’t heard much from Lorraine Bracco regarding wine in a bit. But the Academy Award-nominee started Bracco Wines in 2006, which imported wines from different Italian regions and producers.

According to the Niagara Falls Review Dan Aykroyd, ended his partnership with Diamond Estates Wines & Spirits in 2022. But the one-time Oscar nominee is still involved in the booze business. He founded Crystal Head Vodka.

Last, but certainly not least, Antonio Banderas partnered with Bodega Anta Banderas back in 2012. However, the winery appears to have since closed.

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You’ve Been Drinking Orange Wine Wrong Tue, 07 Mar 2023 17:59:48 +0000 a glass of orange wine with a thermometer as the base
Getty Images

My first orange wine confused me. I was new to skin-contact wine, so when the bottle arrived, I threw it in the fridge before pouring a sample. It appeared light amber-ish gold in the glass and came out of the fridge chilled like a white wine. But each sip tasted bitter and dead on the palate. The tannins were tacky and sticky, and my tongue seemed papered to the roof of my mouth.   

I’ve since learned from my mistakes. Back then, skin-contact wines were still a bit of a novelty in the U.S., but today they are mainstays on lists in New York and West Coast cities, as well as smaller markets. So why are so many places still serving them wrong?   

By wrong, I mean serving them like I once had: ice cold.

Orange wines can sometimes look like a white wine, because it’s made from white grapes and retains much of their coloring. As a result, the instinct is often to serve a glass of orange wine in the white wine range of 45 to 55°F, rather than like a red at slightly cooler than room temperature, around 58 to 68°F.  

But orange wines are made with techniques used for red wine, which allows grapes extended contact with their skins before vintners press off the juice.

Orange wine on a table
Getty Images

“I think of orange much more in the camp of light-bodied red than I do white, and I think that people need to untrain their brains to think that a white grape equals treatment as a white wine,” says Brianne Day, former Wine Enthusiast 40 under 40 Tastemaker and owner of Day Wines. She makes three orange wines—Tears of Vulcan, Vin de Days l’Orange and Zibibbo.   

“That kind of grittiness that you get sometimes from skin contact, with some kinds of grapes, can be off-putting in some circumstances and temperatures,” says Day. “Coldness can exacerbate that.”

Day believes barrel-aged whites, most reds and many orange wines are best in that cool cellar temperature range of 55 to 58°F, though if a wine is low in astringency and tannins, she says it’s suited to be chilled cooler. But take her Tears of Vulcan, which is typically around 40% Pinot Gris. It’s better served at a warmer temperature.   

“Pinot Gris, when it’s on skins, oftentimes we get quite a lot of tannin and the particular site that I work with is pretty tannic. So, I wouldn’t go as cold with that one because all you’re going to notice when you drink it is the tannins and the astringency,” says Day. “It’s kind of like … if you got a Nebbiolo that has a lot of tannin to it and you were to chill it down, you wouldn’t even really be able to taste the wine because it would just be sucking all the moisture out of your mouth. I kind of treat the orange wine similar to that.”  

Kate Lasky and Tomasz Skowronski, owners of Pittsburgh’s Apteka restaurant, also argue for serving skin-contact wines at just cooler than room temperature. They’ve had natural wines and orange wines on the list since Apteka opened in 2016.   

“Whether it’s light-bodied reds or oranges, typically we’ve pushed the envelope,” says Skowronski. He prefers to serve orange wines at the upper end of the optimal temperature window, closer to 65°F. “That’s especially true for bigger oranges, where those tannins are a little bit more aggressive as it gets colder, and then you don’t have the levity of the nose to kind of lift it up.”  

Orange Wine
Getty Images

Lasky and Skowronski say they’ve especially noticed that when it comes to Georgian and certain Austrian wines, aromatics are really only accessible above a certain temperature threshold. Lasky reflects back several years to a bottle of Grauburgunder from a favorite producer—a wine she estimates spent a week to 10 days on the skins.   

“It looks beautiful; it’s this really nice, pink hue,” she reminisces. “We threw it in the fridge and drank it cold and it tasted really bitter and horrible… bitter and boring. And then, you know, two hours later it’s like this bright [wine]. It was still not a super aromatic wine, but before it was like, you had nothing.”  

Georgia, with its 8,000 years of winemaking history, arguably has a better handle on the issue of service temperature for orange wines than other wine-drinking cultures. That’s because many of its wines, including its qvevris—wines fermented and aged below ground in traditional enormous clay vessels known as qvevri—come with recommended cellar and service temperatures written on the back label. That’s especially true for qvevri amber wines, the preferred Georgian term for “orange” wines.    

While a qvevri does benefit from a little bit of chilling, it shouldn’t be served at temperatures as low as 40 to 45°F, says Noel Brockett, president of importer Georgian Wine House. Instead, it should be somewhere between 55 and 63°F.  

“If it is a qvevri wine, if it is an amber wine—it needs to be treated like a red wine,” says Brockett. “Its complexity of bouquet, the progression of phenolic and tannins in the glass, are helped by a warmer temperature.” If one serves a qvevri or amber wine five or 10°F cooler than cellar temperature, the consumer’s experience of the wine is closed off.   

Glass of orange wine sitting on table
Getty Images

“Basically, what happens when you chill a wine is that the aromatic qualities, the volatile molecules, are not as warmed up. Even if you swirl the glass, those things are not being released at that temperature,” he explains.   

With amber wines, it’s essential to get the aromatics up front. “Those are the kind of sweet-ish tea aromas, [which are a] little bit rustic—you need to get those aromas, to get your nose aligned,” says Brockett. “The wines actually kind of play this little trick on you where you feel like you’re going to get something sweet and then, when it gets onto the palate, it has this dry, tannic finish. Do it at the wrong temperature and you get no aromatics; it kind of smells flat. And then, all you’ve experienced is dry tannin, and that is just not what amber wines are meant to be.”   

Going forward, these restaurateurs, importers and winemakers hope more people will serve skin-contact whites closer to cellar temperature—more in line with, say, a Pinot Noir than a Pinot Gris. After all, if the customer’s first, second or even fifth introduction to an orange wine is a bitter, tacky experience that leaves their tongue stuck to the roof of their mouth without a hint or hope of flowers or herbs, why would they come back for a second glass?

For more details on the optimal serving temperatures for different wines, check out our cheat sheet for serving wine.

]]> 0 7 Irish Beers Beyond Guinness Mon, 06 Mar 2023 21:11:48 +0000 3 irish beers on a designed background with an Editor's Picks tag
Images Courtesy of the Merchants

As the story behind St. Patrick’s Day goes, Saint Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland—a great reason for a celebratory drink. Today, however, the holiday that celebrates the patron saint of Ireland has become a global party that has little to do with religion or snakes, but plenty to do with beer and whiskey.

It’s nearly impossible to talk about Irish beer and not mention Guinness. Thanks to tradition, great marketing and breweries around the globe, Guinness has cornered the market on Irish beer with its stout, which is immediately recognizable thanks to its nitrogenated pour that cascades down the glass—resulting in a thick cake of foam atop the pint.

That famed stout is ubiquitous all year, but St. Patrick’s Day is its time to shine. The brewery, owned by Diageo, says roughly 17 million pints are expected to be served this March 17.

“While we do actually brew different Guinness beers in 50 countries around the world and are served in over 150, all of the Guinness Draught we get here is brewed at St. James’s Gate in Dublin and imported to the U.S.,” says Jimmy Callahan, Guinness Brewery Ambassador. “It’s the same beer here and in Ireland.”

Now we’ve got nothing against enjoying a Guinness (or several) on Saint Patrick’s Day. But if you are looking to change things up, here are some Irish beers that aren’t Guinness but are definitely worth enjoying.

The Irish Beers to Enjoy Right Now

1. For Fizzy Drinking

Smithwicks Red Ale

Also produced by Diageo, this red ale is nearly as ubiquitous as its stout cousin, Guinness, at American bars. Garnet in color with a sweet grain profile and almost imperceptible hops, this beer adds a pop of carbonation to the tastebuds during those long afternoons at the pub.

$19 (12 Pack) Total Wine & More

2. Stout Alternative

Murphy's Stout

Choice is a great thing. And when it comes to dry Irish stouts with a nitro pour, there is another option: Murphy’s. Owned by Heineken but brewed in Cork, Ireland, this stout has a stronger coffee and roast malt flavor, which adds a bit of oomph to the glass.

$8 Total Wine & More

3. Another Stout Alternative

Beamish Irish Stout

Also owned by Heineken, this brewery dates back to the late 1700s. The stout has familiar flavors of coffee, dark chocolate and a touch of smokiness.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher

4. For the Discerning Drinker on St. Paddy’s Day

Sullivan’s Maltings Irish Ale

This rich red ale brewed by Sullivan’s in Kilkenny, Ireland, is malt forward with classic caramel and biscuit threads, and a touch of earthy, old world hops.

$16 (4-Pack 15 oz Cans) Drizly

5. For The Lager Drinker

Harp Lager

Harp is the lager most found next to Guinness, as it’s produced by the same company. It’s a crisp and easy-drinking alternative to a roasty ale.

$9 (6pk-11oz bottles) Total Wine & More

6. The First Beer of the Day

Lough Gill Chuckee Larmz

This milk stout is brewed with breakfast cereal and marshmallows. At 9.1% alcohol by volume (abv), you will soon forget where you put that pot of gold. Brewed in Ireland’s County Sligo, it’s a proper pastry stout that brings the sugar and fun.

$18 (4-pack 16 oz. cans) Vine Republic

7. For the Hop Fans

Kinnegar Brewing Scraggy Bay IPA

Dark ales might rule the day, but there is still a space for hops. This 5.3% abv IPA has a “snappy little bite of hops” according to the Letterkenny-based brewery.

$ Varies Wine-Searcher


Is Guinness an Irish Beer?

Yes. Guinness is owned by Diageo and based in Ireland. It also has breweries around the world including one in Maryland. It is synonymous with Ireland, and its headquarters is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

What Is an Irish Beer?

Simply put, Irish beer is beer brewed in Ireland. There are two styles that are largely attributed to the Emerald Isle though: The dry Irish stout, and the Irish red ale.

A dry Irish stout, like Guinness, is dark in color and often appears black but shows ruby highlights. It is malt forward, often with flavors of roast coffee and chocolate that balance sweet with bitter. The hop profile is often low and earthy. It has become common to serve this beer through a nitro tap or can widget that adds a smooth texture to the pint.

An Irish red is copper in color with an emphasis on malt flavor that leans into caramel and light toffee. Traditional versions have a biscuity flavor mixed with a touch of roast bitterness. Hops, if perceptible, are often floral and light and it finishes dry thanks to the roasted malts.

What Is the Best Irish Beer?

The one that gets your eyes smiling. There are many popular and high-selling ones that have large distribution, like Guinness, Harp, Smithwick’s, Beamish and Murphy’s. But the best one is the one that you enjoy and that brings out the revelry of friendship.

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Brad Pitt’s Rosé Champagne Takes Center Stage at This Year’s Oscars Mon, 06 Mar 2023 21:05:01 +0000 Brad Pitt next to Fleur de Miraval
Image Courtesy of Fleur de Miraval

Rosé Champagne, or tequila martini? That’s one choice actors like Michelle Yeoh and Colin Farrell might face after the 95th Academy Awards on March 12, when the lights go up and drinks begin flowing. And at least one of their colleagues will be pretty familiar with the copper-tinged bubbles in everyone’s flutes. 

Fleur de Miraval will be the sole sparkling wine poured at both the Oscars and the post-ceremony Governors Ball. The nearly $400-a-bottle brut rosé Champagne is produced by Champagne house Fleur de Miraval, which is co-owned by Brad Pitt. It’s the producer’s second starring role at the Oscars, which unseats long-reigning Oscars pour Piper-Heidsieck in 2022. Piper-Heidsieck had previously been the official Champagne of the Academy Awards for seven years.

How did the change up happen? “An agency put us in touch, and of course, we were very happy to be part of anything artistic in general, and cinema in particular,” says winemaker Marc Perrin via phone from the Rhône.

Fleur de Miraval’s beginnings can be traced to 2012, Pitt and then-spouse Angelina Jolie collaborated with the Perrins, of Château de Beaucastel, to produce a Provence-style rosé. A few years later, the collaboration grew to include the Péters family, a generational Côte des Blancs producer, for a new house devoted solely to refined rosé-style Champagne. 

The fruit for Fleur de Miraval is grown by the Péters in the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs, an epicenter of some of the world’s choicest grand cru blanc de blancs Champagnes. There, fourth-generation winemaker Rodolphe Péters uses the saignée method for the Fleur de Miraval, which rests on the lees for three years. The first vintage was released in 2020. 

Perrin says the wine is primarily long-aged Chardonnay, with the remaining approximately 25% drawn from Pinot Noir. “We add new Chardonnay to a perpetual reserve every year and remove the same amount, so it’s an endless vintage basically,” he says. “It has all of the brioche of Chardonnay, and young Pinot brings the crunchiness. We really try to push the quality as far as possible.” 

About 20,000 bottles are produced each year, said Perrin, and 1,000 of those—specifically the NV Exclusivement Rosé 2, known as EV2 and released in 2021—made their way across sea for the nominee lunches that lead up to the Oscars, as well as the ceremonies this week. 

Fleur de Miraval
Image Courtesy of Fleur de Miraval

The bone-dry Fleur de Miraval has been described as creamy, satiny and bright, with notes of lemongrass, hazelnut, stone fruit, white tea and biscuits. Regardless of complexity, it will probably cut neatly through the rich beer-battered cod and malt-vinegar chips being plated by British chef Elliott Grover, who will cook alongside longtime Governor’s Ball caterer, chef Wolfgang Puck. 

Also among the small plates are everything bagel macarons with smoked salmon and sorrel; Asian-style fried chicken with pandan leaf-coconut waffles and gochujang-spiked maple syrup; and a crispy rice bar with tartare, carved fish and fruit sushi. 

Another beverage shakeup has quietly gone down this year among still wines, with longtime partner Coppola Winery being replaced by Domaine Clarence Dillon, a Bordeaux winery owned by Prince Robert de Luxembourg. The wines will include a special release of Clarendelle, which has appeared on tables during scenes of Emily in Paris. The winery also sent over Le Dragon de Quintus, a red produced in Saint-Émilion, and La Clarté de Haut-Brion, a $130-blend of Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc made in Pessac-Leognan

On the spirits front, Don Julio tequila will reign, with bartender Charles Joly’s team mixing up margaritas, Palomas and tequila martinis garnished with cotija-stuffed olives.

Shake-ups aside, it’s sure to be a well-oiled Oscars. this year.

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What Wine Enthusiast Staffers Are Really Drinking During the Oscars Mon, 06 Mar 2023 16:54:03 +0000 bottles of wine with an Oscar's statue in front
Images Courtesy of Getty Images, Total Wine and More, Vivino, J Vineyards, and Macari Vineyards

It’s the end of awards season and the Oscars are finally here to honor the brightest and best films of 2022. Whether you’re all dolled up and tuning in live from the Dolby Theater in Los Angeles, California, or sitting on your couch in sweats in New York City, there’s nothing like a glass of something special to kick off Hollywood’s biggest night. 

And why not get a little creative with your drink selection? If you’re just there to watch Rihanna perform (because you couldn’t get enough of her at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show), maybe try a celebratory glass of something sparkling. If you just can’t wait to see who walks home with the award for best picture (we’re particularly fans of Everything Everywhere All at Once) try an award-themed cocktail, like this Everything Bagel-Inspired Martini (if you know, you know). 

Or, if you want take it easy (Sunday is a school night, folks) you can still cheers to your favorite movies, Jimmy Kimmel’s opening number or even your favorite presenters (Emily Blunt, Jennifer Connelly, Samuel L. Jackson, Melissa McCarthy and more) with a non-alcoholic beer or zero-proof cocktail

Still not sure what to pour when the 95th Academy Awards kicks off? We asked the Wine Enthusiast team what they’re really drinking this year for awards night. And the Oscar goes to…

Oscars-Inspired Sips

Champers might stereotypically be the go-to drink for celebrations like the Oscars, but I’ll be raising an everything bagel spice-rimmed dirty martini in honor of my favorite film of the year, Everything Everywhere All at Once. (A big part of the plot revolves around an everything bagel—you’ve just got to see it.) It might sound odd at first, but everything bagel spice, an umami-rich blend of poppy seeds, toasted sesame seeds, dried garlic, dried onion and salt, is an inspired complement to a briny, olive juice-forward martini. Vanderpump À Paris in Las Vegas—which, yes, is the brainchild of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Lisa Vanderpump—serves one, and suffice to say, I’m obsessed. Look, genius can come from anywhere (also everywhere, all at once).”— Rachel Tepper Paley, Digital Managing Editor 

“If I were to watch the Oscars, I’d probably pull some bottles made by award-winning female winemakers, like Nicole Hitchcock of J Vineyards and Winery (a Wine Enthusiast’s 20223 Winemaker of the Year) to highlight the fact that no women directors were nominated for Academy Awards this year.” —John Capone, Managing Editor, Print 

Non-Alcoholic Drinks

“Here’s the thing: Sunday night award shows really like to tantalize the Sunday scaries. Add alcohol and I might be the one getting slapped this year. With that said, I’ll close my personal tab after a glass of wine at dinner and go for a non-alcoholic cocktail of some sort during the show.  I love a simple whiskey drink, so something like our Spiritless “Whiskey” Sour would be sure to do the trick.” —Samantha Sette, Digital Web Producer

“The Oscars come on a ‘school’ night so with my popcorn I will be popping the top on a couple of Lagunitas IPNAs. These are the best alcohol-free beverage I have found. They taste a lot like an IPA and have a similar body and mouth feel. I have never tasted a decent N/A wine and I refuse the idea of an N/A spirit, but I am happy with the IPNA. For a second choice, Clausthaler Dry Hopped is very decent and easy to find.”—Jim Gordon, Senior Tasting Editor

Something Sparkling

“I’ll drink Rose Champagne during the Oscars and pretend it’s the official celebratory bubbly Fleur de Miraval. It’s super expensive.” –Anna-Christina Cabrales, Tasting Director

“I don’t need many reasons to break out some sparkling wines, but the Oscars is definitely the perfect occasion. I’ll be toasting the winners with this Rosé Pétillant Naturel (Pét Nat).” —Kristen Richard, Digital Editor

“I’m a huge fan of Cabernet Franc, but my guests at my Oscars watch party want something a little lighter. We will be drinking the 2017 HORSES from Macari Vineyards. It’s a Cabernet Franc Pét Nat. It’s a wonderful sipping wine that pairs well with a variety of bites we’re having at the watch party.”— Jacy Topps, Assistant Editor  

“There’s no time like the Oscars to feel a little fancy, so even though I’ll be watching in my sweats, I’ll be sipping on some celebratory sparkling wine. My pick: Mionetto NV Brut Prestige Prosecco. It’s a crisp, acidic and light bottle of bubbly that won’t break the bank.” –Arielle Weg, Senior Digital Editor

Think Summer Thoughts with Boozy Brazilian Lemonade Fri, 03 Mar 2023 22:20:29 +0000 Brazilian Lemonade
Photography by Tracie Davis

It may be a little early to start planning the summery sips for your next cookout, but we’d argue that this refreshing drink is so good, it deserves some year-round love. Brazilian lemonade has recently garnered attention from TikTok users: Videos with the hashtag #Brazilianlemonade have raked in 34 million views, which we think qualifies it as an internet sensation.  

And for good reason. The drink combines whole fresh limes (yes, whole!) and sweetened condensed milk to produce a creamy, fresh and deeply citrusy refresher.

In the recipe below, we add rum to the mix, which contributes warm undertones of caramel, fruit and vanilla. It pairs beautifully with the bright, acidic limes and cuts through the richness of the sweetened condensed milk. You can use any of these best rums for this cocktails, but we think a good Brazilian rum would work especially well.

And if you find yourself craving even more citrusy cocktails? Try the Lemon Drop Martini, Simple Rosé Lemonade or Key Lime Pie Milk Punch.

Why Is It Called Brazilian Lemonade?  

This drink is commonly found in Brazil (not surprising, based on the name), but what may seem odd is that although the drink has “lemonade” it its name, most recipes actually call for limes. There’s no straight answer for why this is, but some theories say it’s simply because limes are far more abundant in Brazil than lemons.

Another reason might be because the Portuguese word for “lime” is limão and the word for lemonade is “limonada.” Given that they’re so similar, it’s easy to see why Portuguese speakers might give limes a starring role in lemonade.

Fun fact: Brazilian lemonade is often referred to as Swiss Lemonade in Brazil. It’s a reference to the Swiss brand Nestle’s sweetened condensed milk, which features the image of a Swiss milkmaid on the label.  

How to Make Brazilian Lemonade  

The first step when making a Brazilian lemonade is to create a smooth, diluted lime juice. Start by blending together your limes (with the peel and all) with water. You’ll then want to strain out the grainy bits using a fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth. Then, add in your sweetened condensed milk and flavorings. Most traditional recipes simply require sweetened condensed milk and ice, but we add in a touch of sugar (for extra sweetness, and to balance the alcohol) and rum for a kick.  

Boozy Brazilian Lemonade Recipe 

Recipe by Jacy Topps


  • 6 limes, scrubbed and cut into eighths
  • ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup condensed milk
  • 6 cups water
  • 4 ounces rum (preferably Brazilian rum)
  • Lime wheels, for garnish


Add limes, sugar and 4 cups of water to the blender. Blend 30-45 seconds.

Brazilian Lemonade in a blender
Photography by Tracie Davis

Using a fine-mesh strainer, pour mixture into a bowl, pressing all of the liquid out.

making of Brazilian Lemonade
Photography by Tracie Davis

Pour the strained liquid back into the blender. Add the rum, condensed milk and remaining 2 cups of water. Blend for 30 seconds.

Pouring condenced milk into a blender for a Brazillian Lemonade
Photography by Tracie Davis

Pour cocktail into a highball glass filled with ice. Garnish with lime wheel. Serves two

adding a garnish to a Brazilian Lemonade
Photography by Tracie Davis


What Is Brazilian Lemonade Made of?  

The classic recipe includes limes, sweetened condensed milk and water. Our version has some extra sugar and rum for a boozy twist.  

Why Is My Brazilian Lemonade Bitter?  

The peel and pith of citrus fruits can have some pretty bitter flavors, which is why we recommend only blending the limes for a few seconds and then straining out the blended bits. Additionally, limes and lemons can vary in flavor; you may have just selected some extra-bitter ones by luck of the draw. Luckily, sweetness balances bitterness, so simply add a touch more sweetened condensed milk or sugar until you achieve the flavor you’re looking for.  

If you find you’re particularly sensitive to the bitter flavors in the lime peel, you can use just fresh lime juice without the pith and peel. By doing this, you lose some of the flavors and oils from the lime zest, but it will still taste delicious.  

Is Condensed Milk the Same as Evaporated Milk?  

No! Though both are shelf-stable and typically canned products made from milk, they are quite different. Sweetened condensed milk is cow’s milk with water removed and sugar added, creating a very rich, creamy and sweet syrupy dairy product. Evaporated milk is also made from cow’s milk and has a significant amount of water removed. The difference is that evaporated milk doesn’t have added sugar. If you accidentally picked up a can of evaporated milk for your drink, you’ll need to increase the sugar blended into the final beverage, and it may not be as thick.  

10 Oscar-Inspired Cocktail Pairings for Every Best Picture Nominee Fri, 03 Mar 2023 19:53:21 +0000 A person wearing a suit with a cocktail as a head holding an Oscar award
Getty Images

It’s time to roll out the red carpet for one of the biggest nights in Hollywood. In honor of the 95th Academy Awards ceremony and the outstanding work it honors, we’ve pulled together an Oscar-inspired collection of cocktails to sip as you take in all the extravagant outfits, awkward speeches and poignant surprises—not to mention the can’t-make-this-up moments and the riveting memes that arise from them.

Whether you’re hosting an epic Oscars viewing party with friends or watching solo, make it a night to remember with any of these 10 award-worthy cocktails that we’ve paired with this year’s nominees for Best Motion Picture.

With no further ado, the nominees for best picture are…

All Quiet on the Western Front / Sidecar Royale

All quiet on the western front next to a cocktail
Images Courtesy of GettyImages and Alamy

All Quiet on the Western Front is a moving anti-war film based on the 1929 classic novel of the same name. This Netflix original, directed by Edward Berger, is the fourth movie to depict the story of 17-year-old Paul Bäumer as he enlists in the German Imperial Army and confronts the grievous realities of warfare during World War I.

A film that captures both the gory and heartbreak of war warrants a cocktail with comparable drama. Though its exact origins are murky, the original Sidecar Cocktail was invented during WWI and highlights two French ingredients from behind (Paul’s) enemy lines: Cognac and Cointreau. Try our elevated version, which incorporates Champagne for an Oscar-worthy treatment.

Get the Recipe: Sidecar Royale

Avatar: The Way of Water / Non-Alcoholic Riverine & Tonic Cocktail

Avatar film still next to a cocktail
Image Courtesy of Disney, Photography by Sarah Anne Ward, Prop styling by Paola Andrea, Food Styling Maggie_Ruggiero

After more than a decade of anticipation, James Cameron’s second Avatar film has officially made an even bigger splash at the box office than Titanic, according to the Los Angeles Times. The movie highlights the predators and significance of the sea, as well as the awe-inspiring qualities of water.

So, naturally, we chose a drink that does the same. Tonic water plays a leading role next to herbaceous non-alcoholic gin in this zero-proof alternative to the classic Gin & Tonic. Though water is an often underestimated ingredient in cocktails, our Mixologist’s Guide to Carbonated Water dives deeper into the pivotal role it can play.

Get the Recipe: Non-Alcoholic Riverine & Tonic Cocktail Recipe

The Banshees of Inisherin / Back in Black Cocktail

The Banshees of Inisherine film still next to a cocktail
Image Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures, Noah Fecks

Directed by Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin takes us to a remote island off the coast of Ireland to experience the tragedy and dark comedy involved in friendship. Throughout the film, lifelong friends played by Colin Farrell and Brendon Gleeson banter over a pint (or two) of Guinness, making a beer-based cocktail an obvious pairing.

Our Back in Black cocktail is a deeper and darker variation of the classic Irish Coffee recipe—much like the humor in the film. A strong foundation of cold brew mingles with Irish whiskey and Guinness for a boozy brew that will keep the festivities going all ceremony long. The addition of burnt sugar simple syrup keeps the overall flavor from tipping too bitter.

Get the Recipe: Back in Black

Elvis / Americano Presley

Elvis film still next to Americano Presley
Images Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, Photography by Tom Arena

Directed by Baz Luhrmann, Elvis explores the journey of American rock ‘n’ roll legend Elvis Presley with special attention to the singer’s complicated relationship with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. We couldn’t help falling in love with this low-alcohol riff on a classic Americano, which we think matches the King’s eccentric, norm-shifting style. Bubbly and neon-hued, this cocktail brings the glitz and glam of Las Vegas to your living room.

Get the Recipe: A Neon Drink’s Ode to Elvis

Everything Everywhere All at Once / Le Dirty Bleu

Everything Everywhere all at Once film still next to a cocktail
Image Courtesy of Gabrielle Gaines and A24

It’s an understatement to say that indie comedy-drama Everything Everywhere All at Once spun into a big success. Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, the film follows the multiverse adventures of a Chinese immigrant as she connects with alternate realities and grapples with complex family dynamics.

Believe it or not, everything bagels are essential to the plot. Why? Well, you’ll have to see the movie to find out. Once you do, get a load of Le Dirty Bleu. This super savory cocktail is essentially an elevated dirty martini jazzed up with an everything bagel spice-coated rim. The iconic spice blend—a mix of poppy seeds, toasted sesame seeds, dried garlic, dried onion and crunchy salt—lends a satisfying umami kick and a delightful crunch.

Get the Recipe: This Everything Bagel-Inspired Martini Is Everything Savory All at Once

The Fabelmans / French Press Sangria

The Fablemans filmstill next to a cocktail
Images Courtesy of Universal Pictures and Ali Redmond

The Fabelmans is a semi-autobiographical account of the upbringing of its director and writer, cinematic pioneer Steven Spielberg. Much like Sammy Fabelman in the movie, Spielberg knew he wanted to make movies from a young age and experimented with a camera on family trips and hangouts with friends.

Creative resourcefulness was instrumental to the filmmaker’s success, so we looked for the same quality in a cocktail. French press sangria—inspired by a popular TikTok trend—fit the bill. Yes, you can use your coffee station’s French press to make a delightfully fruity white sangria recipe that’ll wow your friends. Who knows, it might just inspire you to take up mixology professionally.

Get the Recipe: French Press Sangria Recipe

Tár / The Classic Pink Lady

A film still from Tar next to a cocktail
Images Courtesy of Getty Images and Tar

This psychological drama directed by Todd Field is centered around the riveting journey of renowned composer-conductor Lydia Tár at the height of her career in a male-dominated industry. But underneath Lydia’s passion for music is a world of dark secrets, elaborate manipulation and abuses of power.

The Pink Lady cocktail is a compelling choice to sip on as the storyline of Tár unravels. Inspired by the movie’s feminine undertones and inherent musicality, this drink combines tartness, body and a strong punch of alcohol to make a statement.

Get the Recipe: The Classic Pink Lady Cocktail Recipe

Top Gun: Maverick / Paper Plane Cocktail

Top Gun Maverick film still next to a cocktail
Images Courtesy of Skydance and Getty Images

In this Top Gun sequel, Tom Cruise returns as naval aviator Pete “Maverick” Mitchell after more than 30 years for another adventure. He also confronts the ghosts of his past as he reconciles an uncertain future.

While watching Cruise zoom through the sky, take flight with your own Paper Plane Cocktail. This bright-colored drink combines bourbon, Amaro Nonino and Aperol for a bittersweet but balanced flavor profile that continues to gain popularity.

Get the Recipe: How the Paper Plane Earned Its Place in the Cocktail Canon

Triangle of Sadness / The Sparkling Colada

Triangle of sadness film still next to cocktail
Images Courtesy of Neon Rated, Tyler Zielinski

Turmoil unravels in Triangle of Sadness when a celebrity couple boards a luxury cruise in exchange for social media promotion. This satirical comedy directed by Ruben Östlund offers a provocative critique on wealth and privilege as it relates to gender-based power dynamics and social hierarchies. 

Simply put, the movie’s nauseating depiction of life at sea is a far cry from the refinement of your typical luxury wine cruise. Let’s just say there are some depictions of, ahem, sea sickness.

Think less queasy thoughts with one of our favorite Champagne cocktails: the sparkling colada. This fancier riff on the piña colada conjures tropical at-sea vibes with classic flavors of pineapple, coconut and rum with a hit of effervescence. Just maybe don’t think about the film’s infamous vomit scene while you sip.

Get the Recipe: The Sparkling Colada Recipe

Women Talking / Last Word

Women Talking film till next to a cocktail
Images Courtesy of MGM, Photography by Meg Baggot / Styling by Dylan Garret

Based on the 2018 novel by Miriam Toews and directed by Sarah Polley, Women Talking is a fictional take on the true story of sexual assault victims in an isolated Mennonite community in Bolivia. The film makes an intense and societally relevant statement on the experience of women who speak up against issues of rape and misconduct.

To take in such a heavy topic, go with a serious, dramatic cocktail like the Last Word. One of the earliest renditions of a sour cocktail, this simple pre-Prohibition drink is a perfect last thing to sip as the ceremony comes to a close.

Get the Recipe: The Last Word, Your First Cocktail Choice

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3 Promising Places Where the Ancient Malvasia Bianca Grape Is Thriving Fri, 03 Mar 2023 15:00:00 +0000 ng man, detail, harvesting white grape Malvasia in vineyard
Getty Images

The Malvasia family of grapes is ancient, hearty and prolific. Yet, it is often an overlooked component in blends—even making up a small fraction of bottlings claiming to be “single varietal” wines made from other white grapes. “I’ve been growing Malvasia Bianca for 20 years and pouring it for 16, and we still have to explain how to pronounce it and what it is,” says Victor Poulos, founder and co-owner of Zin Valle Vineyards in southwest Texas.

Oenologist Walter Filiputti of Meneghetti Winery in Istria traces Malvasia to the 13th century, with origins in Asia Minor (now Turkey and Greece). Today, Malvasia Bianca, a white subvariety, is the most frequently vinified, making light, crisp white wines as well as complex sweet wines. Both the longevity and great geographic diversity of Malvasia grape varieties, particularly Malvasia Bianca, hints at its promise and adaptability in an era of climate change.

Malvasia Bianca thrives in hot, dry climates, particularly on sloping terrain and—most especially—in soil with good drainage. Nikhila Narra Davis, co-owner of Narra Vineyards in the west Texas High Plains and Kalasi Cellars in Fredericksburg, Texas, comments that the grape’s versatility has kept it relevant throughout the centuries, and she predicts that the accelerated change in climate will result in increased plantings in various regions.


Malvazija Istarska, or Malvasia Istriana (as it’s known in neighboring Italy), is Istria’s signature dry white wine, aging well as a single varietal. Though genetically distinct from other Mediterranean Malvasia varieties, Malvazija Istarska is complementary with, and often believed to be related to, Malvasia Bianca. Meneghetti Winery’s Mare Nostrum vineyard preserves more than 40 Malvasia varieties to tell a “centuries-old oenological story,” according to the winery. Here in the Upper Adriatic, vines benefit from the region’s Bora winds, which descend from the mountains to the coast and create cool conditions that support the cultivation of the strong-skinned Malvasia grapes. Resulting wines are fragrant with peach, apricot and floral notes, while also offering surprising underpinnings of minerality and slate.


Malvasia is prolific in Italy’s mountainous northern region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, as well as the northeastern Collio and Colli Orientali regions, where hilly terroir, complemented by sandstone soils, offers the drainage that’s key to this variety flourishing in the vineyard. Cooler climes, from both Adriatic Sea breezes and Alpine foothills, ensure even ripening and balanced acidity. Like nearby Croatia, Friulian Malvasias coalesce fruit and floral notes with bright, mild acidity.

United States

The Texas High Plains’ hot, dry climate and sandy loam soils make a fitting home for Malvasia Bianca. Further west of the High Plains in Texas’ Mesilla Valley, along the New Mexico border, Zin Valle is at 4,000 feet of elevation. West Texas Malvasia Bianca is refreshing, expressing tropical fruit flavors like jasmine, guava, lime and citrus peel in white wines that have body, says Narra Davis. Poulos comments he draws no distinction, in taste or structure, between Malvasia Bianca from the southwest desert and northern Fruili. “It doesn’t change so much across region and microclimate. It’s got a lasting characteristic note.”

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

This Rich, Chocolatey Stout Cake Highlights a Beloved Irish Brew Fri, 03 Mar 2023 14:00:00 +0000 Image Courtesy of Chocolate and Irish Stout Cake
Image Courtesy of Bundt - Melanie Johnson

Move over, Shamrock Shakes. Our dessert of choice for this St. Patrick’s Day fuses a traditional Irish brew with crowd-pleasing decadence: Chocolate Stout Cake.

Also recognized as Guinness cake, the chocolate stout cake gets its name from the use of Irish stout beer in its batter. Like other dark ales, Irish stout not only brings flavors of yeast to the dessert, but it often emulates chocolatey overtones that make an excellent addition to chocolate baked goods. Guinness is a popular choice for its noticeable coffee and cocoa flavors, though any of our best stout beers will do the trick.

Chocolate Guinness cakes can be made in all shapes and sizes which can be intimidating for the everyday baker. In her recent cookbook, Bundt, Melanie Johnson offers a simpler bundt version. Topped with sour cream frosting for a refreshing tang, this easy-to-make cake is a lucky choice all year round.

How to Make Chocolate Stout Bundt Cake

Recipe adapted from Bundt by Melanie Johnson

½ stick plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, divided
¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder, divided
1 ½ cups golden caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
½ cup boiling water
½ cup Irish stout, such as Guinness
2 eggs, lightly beaten
¾ cup sour cream
pinch of salt
1 ¼ cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
For the sour cream frosting:
3 ½ tablespoon unsalted butter
4 tablespoon sour cream
1 ½ cups powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350°F.

Prepare the bundt pan. Melt one tablespoon of butter, then use a pastry brush to brush the melted butter generously over the inside of a 10-cup bundt pan. (Johnson recommends brushing from the base up to prevent any butter pooling). Scatter over one tablespoon of cocoa powder, moving the pan from side to side to coat it evenly. Then, tap it upside down to remove any excess cocoa. Set aside until ready to use.

Make the cake batter. Add the remaining butter and cocoa powder with the sugar, vanilla bean paste and boiling water to a large mixing bowl and whisk until smooth and the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved. Pour in the Irish stout, beaten eggs and sour cream and whisk until smooth. Fold in the salt, flour, baking powder and baking soda, then pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 40–45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Leave to cool in the pan for 10 minutes on a wire rack, then invert onto the wire rack to cool completely.

To make the sour cream frosting: Beat the butter, sour cream and powdered sugar together until smooth, then spread over the top of the cooled bundt cake. Store for up to three to five  days in an airtight container.

RumChata Takes the Piña Colada to New Tropical Heights Thu, 02 Mar 2023 21:57:38 +0000 Rumchata Pinacolada
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We’ve swooned over the milkshake-y RumChata Mudslide. Gone gaga for the RumChata White Russian. Delighted in the RumChata Alexander. Now, it’s time to take the creamy liqueur RumChata in a more tropical direction with this spin on the classic piña colada.

Adding RumChata to a piña colada just makes sense. After all, RumChata—a cream liqueur made with rum, cream and cinnamon—has a bit of an island vibe to it, to begin with. Its ingredients only enhance the piña colada’s components, which fans of it already know include both coconut rum and white rum, fragrant coconut milk and tangy pineapple juice.

Looking for more riffs on the piña colada? We’ve got you covered, with everything from the sparkling colada and the Chartreuse colada to the Angostura colada and the Sherry colada. What can we say, we like piña coladas. We think this latest RumChata-spiked version fits perfectly in the drink’s canon.

RumChata Piña Colada Recipe

Recipe by Jacy Topps

1 ½ ounce white rum
1 ounce RumChata
½ ounce coconut rum
2 ounces pineapple juice
2 ounces coconut milk
cherry, for garnish


Fill a blender with ice. Add rum, coconut rum, RumChata, pineapple juice and coconut milk. Close the lid and blend for 30 seconds or until smooth. Pour drink in a tall glass and garnish with a cherry.


Is RumChata Good for Piña Coladas?

We think so! With ingredients including rum, cream and cinnamon, RumChata plays nicely with the classic piña colada notes of coconut and pineapple.

What Type of Rum Is Best for Piña Coladas?

That’s a matter of personal preference, but we love this selection of boundary-pushing rums.   

What Alcohol Is in RumChata?

The main source of alcohol in RumChata is rum. The liqueur also includes dairy cream, cinnamon, vanilla, sugar and other flavorings.

Get Lucky: These Green Cocktails Are Extra Festive for St. Patrick’s Day Thu, 02 Mar 2023 20:42:47 +0000 3 cocktails in the shape of a rocks glass with a 4 leaf clover garnish
Images Courtesy of Ali Redmond, Tom Arena, and Getty Images

In modern times, the Feast of Saint Patrick has evolved into a day celebrating Irish culture with shamrocks, parades, dancing and delicious cuisine. (Might we recommend this Stout-Cured Corned Beef Cooked with Cabbage, Carrots and Potatoes?) It’s also a day to raise a cheer with a celebratory drink.

Sipping on Irish whiskey or Irish beer like Guinness is an obvious choice for St. Patrick’s Day, but when everything from bar decor to your outfit is green, why not choose an emerald-hued beverage as well? We went for all-green-everything and pulled together some of our favorite verdant cocktails for the occasion.

While almost any cocktail can be made green (hello, food coloring), it’s fun to play with unique ingredients to create a drink that’s not only visually stunning, but delicious as well. We’re talking colorful add-ins like green chili, cucumbers, jalapeños and green herbs, which can help create unique flavor profiles. Other offerings like Midori (a bright green and melon-flavored liqueur), green Chartreuse (an herbal liqueur) or matcha can also turn up the contrast on a green drink.

Looking for some more inspiration to serve up green this St. Patrick’s Day? Try these electric-hued drinks at your celebration.

The Best Green Cocktails for St. Patrick’s Day

The Grinch Cocktail

Grinch Cocktail
Photography by Ali Redmond

Let the shenanigans begin with this stunningly vibrant green cocktail that makes for good drinking well past Christmas. The viral TikTok creation combines Midori for color and notes of melon, vodka for extra punch and pineapple juice for a pop of acid and touch of sweetness. It’s topped with a splash of sparkling wine for fizz and a bright red cherry for some contrasting drama.

Get the Full Recipe Here: The Grinch Cocktail

Tokyo Iced Tea

Tokyo Tea Cocktail
Photography by Ali Redmond

Another TikTok sensation turned St. Patrick’s Day speciality is this neon green cocktail. A cousin to the famous Long Island Ice Tea, the Tokyo Tea calls on classic players—gin, vodka, white rum and tequila—but subs in the Japanese melon-flavored liqueur Midori for triple sec, contributing an emerald hue. A homemade sweet-and-sour syrup cuts through the alcohol, which a touch of club soda lends fizz and freshness. This is a festive, slightly citrusy sip that will have you skipping the green-colored beer.

Get the Full Recipe Here: Tokyo Iced Tea

Boozy Shamrock Shake

Cherry being added to a Shamrock Shake
Photography by Tracie Davis

St. Patrick’s Day is arguably the earliest time of year it’s socially acceptable to go all-in on ice cream. That’s why we’re boozing up the classic fast-food favorite with this Shamrock Shake-inspired treat. You’ll get that distinctive green color and minty, vanilla flavor courtesy of vanilla vodka, Irish cream liqueur and green crème de menthe liqueur. Velvety vanilla ice cream brings it all together. You’ll just have to hit the drive-thru for your side of fries.

Get the Full Recipe Here: Boozy Shamrock Shake

King’s Spicy Margarita

Homemade Spicy Margarita with Limes and Jalapenos and Hatch Chiles
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Grab your favorite tequila, some freshly-squeezed lime juice and a touch of light agave nectar for a very delicious and classic margarita. A few dashes of green chili bitters takes this Mexican favorite to new spicy levels, while green chili kicks up the lime juice’s greenish tint. Garnish with lime wedges and jalapeño to really drive the flavor (and color) of this pot of gold home.

Get the Full Recipe Here: King’s Spicy Margarita

The Geisha

dark green cocktail with a lemon twist in a clear glass
Photo by Meg Baggott

You’ve probably tried Japanese matcha in your morning latte or in a bowl of ice cream after a sushi dinner, but what about cocktails? Deeply colored green tea powder is the foundation of this earthy flavored drink that’ll make you want to paint the town green. It also features honey syrup and cucumber for fresh, herbaceous and sweet notes, as well as lemon juice for acid, ginger liqueur for spice and vodka for a hearty kick.

Get the Full Recipe Here: The Geisha

Mezcal Last Word

Mezcal Last Word Classic Cocktail
Photo by Tom Arena

Traditionally made with gin, this interpretation of the Last Word is made with mezcal, which provides a pleasantly smoky undertone. It’s joined by herb-forward green Chartreuse and fruity and sweet Luxardo Maraschino.

Get the Full Recipe Here: Mezcal Last Word

Basil Spritz Cocktail

Basil vodka cocktail
Photo by Meg Baggott

St. Paddy’s Day not only celebrates Irish culture but also helps usher in springtime. This super floral and herbaceous vodka-based drink has a bright tinge of green courtesy of homemade basil syrups and a hit of citrus from lemon juice. It’s finished off with sparkling wine and a dash of soda water for fizz.

Get the Full Recipe Here: Basil Spritz Cocktail

Cucumber Cocktail with Sotol

A sotol cocktail
Photo by Jessica Sterner

It may be the day to celebrate the luck of the Irish, but this Mexican-style sip is definitely invited to the party. Sotol, a distilled Mexican spirit made from the desert spoon plant, brings a grassy, subtly floral flavor, while green Chartreuse, cucumber juice, lime juice and mint all contribute a vivid green color. A touch of agave nectar lends sweetness to help balance the drink’s earthy flavors.

Get the Full Recipe Here: Cucumber Cocktail with Sotol

It’s a Wonderful Life Cocktail

It's a Wonderful Life Cocktail
Photo by Ren Fuller for Chronicle Books

Yes, this may be a Christmas-themed cocktail, but this smooth and creamy concoction will have you saying “kiss me, I’m Irish” in no time. Chilled half-and-half, Irish cream liqueur and crème de menthe come together for a beautifully crafted show-stopper, the perfect way to cap a day of St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.

Get the Full Recipe Here: It’s a Wonderful Life Cocktail

The Green Tea Shot

Green Tea Shot
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No, the green tea shot doesn’t actually contain any tea. But this refreshing mix of whiskey, peach schnapps, sour mix and lemon-lime soda is the perfect combination of sweet and tangy. Like most shots, it’s meant to be consumed in one gulp.

Get the Full Recipe Here: The Green Tea Shot

Pickle Shots

Pickle Shots
Pickle Shots / Photo by Caitlin Bensel

This fun and playful drink can be adapted from just about anything in your kitchen. It’s no wonder this shooter has found social media fame. This easy-to-make drink is also a lovely shade of green, making it perfect for Saint Patrick’s Day.

Get the Full Recipe Here: Pickle Shot

Grasshopper Cocktail

Two Grasshopper cocktails
Photography by Ali Redmond

A Grasshopper cocktail is minty, chocolatey and an oh-so-sweet finish to a meal. Although the Grasshopper is often served after dinner as a digestif, it can be enjoyed any time. It’s perfect for mint lovers and those attracted to festive, green cocktails.

Get the Full Recipe Here: Grasshopper Cocktail

We Recommend:
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Skip the Drive-Thru and Make Your Own Boozy Shamrock Shake Thu, 02 Mar 2023 20:21:38 +0000 Shamrock Shake
Photography by Tracie Davis

When March finally rolls around, there’s one thing on everybody’s minds—the promise of springtime. Along with warmer temps, beginning-to-bloom flowers and daylight savings time, there’s also St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that falls just days before the spring equinox. What better way to celebrate Irish culture, spring’s arrival and all things green than with a boozy, minty and emerald-hued milkshake? We’re talking, of course, about the Shamrock Shake. 

We at Wine Enthusiast are partial to boozy treats, so our spin on the drive-thru classic naturally takes a detour through the bar cart. Vanilla vodka and Irish cream liqueur contribute a vanilla-scented alcoholic base, while green crème de menthe liqueur adds color and that classic minty flavor. Velvety vanilla ice cream brings it all together. It’s a just-right, spring-appropriate drink to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, which is arguably the earliest time of year it’s socially acceptable to go all-in on ice cream.

What Is a Shamrock Shake?  

Most notably associated with McDonald’s, the Shamrock Shake is a seasonal milkshake that the fast-food giant releases every year in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. The shake is usually made with vanilla soft-serve ice cream and mint syrup, then topped with whipped cream. It is thick, creamy and neon green.

The drink was first officially introduced in the 1970s as a limited-time offering at McDonald’s locations that opted to include it on their menus. Legend has it that a Connecticut McDonald’s owner, Hal Rosen, first served the shake in 1967 in honor of the holiday. In 2012, the drink became a seasonal offering on menus nationwide.

Over the years, McDonald’s has released multiple variations of the drink, including a Chocolate Shamrock Shake, Shamrock Hot Chocolate and Oreo Shamrock McFlurry, but none have received quite the cult following of the original.

At McDonald’s, the classic Shamrock Shake typically pops up in late February. There is no set time as to when the drink leaves menus for the year, but participating stores will offer it “for a limited time, while supplies last.”  

What Flavor Is the Shamrock Shake?  

Because a Shamrock Shake is made with vanilla ice cream and mint syrup, the drink has a distinctive cool, minty flavor. It’s sweet, extremely creamy and has strong notes of vanilla.

How to Make a Shamrock Shake  

A classic Shamrock Shake is simply vanilla ice cream blended with mint syrup and topped with whipped cream, but our version has a fun, boozy twist. We blend together vanilla ice cream and whole milk for a creamy, dreamy consistency. Then we add vanilla vodka and Irish cream liqueur for an alcoholic kick, plus green crème de menthe liqueur for the drink’s signature color. A few extra ingredients—including green food coloring, whipped cream and a cherry on top—make this treat a visual stunner.

Shamrock Shake-Inspired Cocktail Recipe

Recipe by Jacy Topps


  • 4 cups vanilla ice cream
  • ½ cup whole milk, plus more as needed
  • 1 ounce vanilla vodka
  • 1 ½ ounces Irish cream liqueur (Baileys preferred)
  • 2 ounces green crème de menthe liqueur
  • 6 drops green food coloring*
  • Whipped cream for garnish
  • Cherries, for garnish


Combine all ingredients, except whipped cream and cherries, in a blender and blend until combined and creamy.

Shamrock Shake in a blender
Photography by Tracie Davis

Slowly add more milk until you have reached the consistency you like. Then, pour the shake into a tall glass.

Shamrock Shake being poured into a glass
Photography by Tracie Davis

Finally, garnish with whipped cream and a cherry, if desired.

Cherry being added to a Shamrock Shake
Photography by Tracie Davis

*Food coloring can be omitted if desired, but shake will be very light green.

How Instagram Sparked the Clear-Ice Trend Wed, 01 Mar 2023 19:35:34 +0000 Ice on a black background
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In 2012, if you’d seen Scott Beattie brandishing a chainsaw outside Napa’s Goose & Gander, you might have wondered if the barkeeper had lost his mind. But in his quest to serve clear ice in rocks cocktails at the bar, Beattie had acquired huge slabs of sculpture ice, which he then cut down to blocks with a chainsaw. Very carefully. Then, bartenders would hand chop these into double-rocks size for each drink behind the bar. The company he bought the ice from has adapted to bars’ demands over the past decade and now delivers its ice in more manageable three-inch blocks. “Which is great, you know, because we had a very safe way of chainsawing the ice down, but it’s still a chainsaw,” Beattie says.

Block ice like this is frozen completely clear through directional freezing, usually using one of a few commercially available machines purpose-designed, at that time, to supply ice for sculptures. But bartenders serving carefully constructed cocktails with hand-cut ice in neo-speakeasies began adopting clear ice both for its aesthetic qualities, but also because the cloudiness found in conventional ice from air bubbles causes it to melt faster. So beyond being photo ready, denser clear ice has a much slower dilution rate. Beattie says he saw block ice being used in Tokyo bars and this might have put the idea in his head.

Rich Boccato, cofounder of Queens’ Dutch Kills with Sasha Petraske, also credits Japanese bars’ influence on New York at that time and says “handcut ice was a part of our daily repertoire and our side work behind the bar” when he worked at Milk & Honey, but that ice wasn’t crystal clear since they were freezing it themselves. When they opened Dutch Kills in 2009, he says, “I wanted to go a step further, and I wanted that ice to be crystal clear, like they do in Tokyo in many of the popular bars there, which is essentially a common standard.” Boccato went all the way and bought a ClineBell CB300X2D, a machine designed for ice sculptors that makes 300-lb blocks of ice, for the new bar.

That’s a lot of ice. The machine could produce much more ice than Dutch Kills, a busy bar even by New York standards, could use. From there Boccato founded Hundredweight Ice in 2011 and began delivering ice to bars all over New York City.

Clear ice began to spread like wildfire.

“The business model was figured out and then everyone could replicate that pretty easily,” says Camper English, author of the forthcoming The Ice Book: Cool Cubes, Clear Spheres, and Other Chill Cocktail Crafts. “It was really wordspread among the bartenders. And a lot of people who were opening bars ended up opening ice companies,” after Dutch Kills cracked it. And once one bar in a city— L.A. or Rochester, New York or Phoenix or Charleston or Petaluma, California— bought a ClineBell or similar machine and a band saw, other craft cocktail bars in that city had a reliable source of clear ice.

Maybe you can call it the Instagramming of ice, even though ice chopping would have been an essential barkeeper’s skill before commercial refrigeration when bars were in ice houses by necessity and the blocks had to be chiseled down by hand. But today’s modern ice age—which now includes patterns on the outside of ice or flowers frozen inside, as Colleen Hughes at Haberdish in Charlotte, North Carolina popularized—seems to have been fueled by drinkers’ expectations after scrolling their smartphones.

Image may not be everything, as clear ice also has clear quality advantages, but “when that glass goes over the bar and you see that beautiful, crystal-clear cube, and it’s a big rock inside of your old fashioned, even before you taste it,” says Boccato, “your old fashioned might be completely imbalanced and not potable, but it’s going to look beautiful and you’re going to want it.”

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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This Everything Bagel-Inspired Martini Is Everything Savory All at Once Wed, 01 Mar 2023 17:40:04 +0000 Dirty Bleu
Image Courtesy of Caesars Entertainment

Hear us out: Everything bagels and booze are an underrated combo. But forget the generous schmear of cream cheese. While you’re at it, lose the bagel, too. Everything bagel spice—an umami-rich, crunchy blend of poppy seeds, toasted sesame seeds, dried garlic, dried onion and salt—is the martini rim garnish we didn’t know we needed.

Not convinced? Skeptics should tune their attention to Las Vegas’s Vanderpump À Paris, which features Le Dirty Bleu, an everything bagel spice-rimmed dirty gin martini complete with blue cheese-stuffed olives. It’s a super savory drink ideal for those allergic to saccharine-sweet cocktails.

The restaurant is the creation of “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” star Lisa Vanderpump, whose love of alcoholic beverages is well-documented. (See: “Overserved with Lisa Vanderpump.”) But the addition of everything bagel spice was the idea of Vanderpump’s daughter, Pandora Vanderpump Sabo.

“There’s nothing like the hint of a little onion and garlic to make this the perfect savory drink!” she shares. We’re inclined to agree.

Vanderpump À Paris has served Le Dirty Bleus for awhile now—the drink has been on the menu since the early days of the spot’s opening in April of 2022—but it’s freshly on our minds because of this year’s upcoming Academy Awards. Those who’ve seen the much-lauded film Everything Everywhere All at Once know what we’re talking about.

Spoiler alert: An everything bagel gets major screen time.

Le Dirty Bleu Recipe

Adapted from Pandora Vanderpump Sabo, Vanderpump à Paris, Las Vegas, NV

1 tablespoon everything bagel spice
1 teaspoon extra-thick simple syrup*
3 ounces gin
0.5 to 0.75 ounces olive juice, to taste
0.5 ounce dry vermouth
3 blue cheese-stuffed olives
1 sprig fresh rosemary


Fill your martini glass with ice and water to chill. Set aside.

In a mixing glass, add your gin and olive juice and fill with ice. Stir for 45 seconds until the mixing glass is frosted and ice cold.  

Working quickly, discard the ice from the martini glass and place the everything bagel spice on a plate. Using a small brush or the edge of a napkin, wipe simple syrup under the rim of half of martini glass and immediately roll it in the everything bagel spice. If any of the spice is on the inside of the rim, wipe it away. (This prevents bits of everything bagel spice from floating into your martini.)

Add the vermouth to the martini glass. Roll the glass so the inside is coated with vermouth, then discard the liquid. Strain the gin and olive juice mixture into the glass.

Garnish with 3 blue cheese-stuffed olives skewered onto a sprig of rosemary.

*How to Make Extra-Thick Simple Syrup

Add 2 cups sugar and 1 cup water to a saucepan and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce heat and let simmer until thick and syrupy, about 5 mins. In a pinch, corn syrup can also work.

Vinfamous: Murder in the Vineyard Wed, 01 Mar 2023 11:04:00 +0000 Vinfamous Episode 1 - Muder in the Vineyard
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In 2015, bullets flew through a Napa Valley winery in a business dealing gone bad. Only a few years prior, investor Emad Tawfilis gave Robert Dahl $1.4 million to finance his winery. But when a private investigator reveals Robert’s shady past, a legal battle quickly turns into a deadly negotiation.

Follow the podcast and join us every other week as we delve into the twists and turns behind the all-time most shocking wine crimes.

Listen Now: Vinfamous: Wine Crimes & Scandals

Episode Transcript


Hey, Vinfamous listeners, Ashley here. Heads up. This episode talks about murder and suicide and might not be suitable for all listeners. Please use discretion and be well down Winding road. In Napa Valley, two men were meeting in a barn at what was then Dahl Vineyards. The logo featuring the name of the front man, Robert Dahl, was plastered over oak barrels, glasses, and tables. The investor Ahau tops worked behind the scenes from the outside. The winery and tasting room looked like a slice of the peaceful, idyllic Napa landscape. But inside the tasting room, the tone was growing tense between the two businessmen. Both sides had their lawyers on the phone.


He was greeted by Robert, and he was, according to Emad, very stern. His countenance was not pleasant.


That’s David Wise blood. Emad’s lawyer. Emad invested 1.4 million in a dream. Robert sold him on, but Emad had no idea where the money went. The conversation turned heated. A lawyer suggested they take a break. They hung up. Minutes passed. David started to call Emad. He’s getting worried now. Then an email hits his inbox. What happens next is Vinfamous.


There’s a report of police activity at the winery. My heart sign,


Black gloves. There was duct tape, there was zip ties, and there was essentially a murder kit there at the winery.

(Theme Music Fades In)


You’re listening to Vinfamous, a podcast from Wine enthusiast. We uncork  tales of envy, greed, and opportunity. I am your host, Ashley Smith. 

(Theme Music Fades Out)


The Napa Valley lifestyle is the stuff of fantasy who hasn’t sipped California red, while imagining a new life among the vines, where you spend your days honing the craft of winemaking, and you end by watching the sunset disappear behind the low rolling hills. In this week’s episode, we tell you about a face off between two men, a businessman who craved the vintner lifestyle in the investor who financed his dreams. Robert Doll was a big guy with a bigger personality. He grew up watching football and snowmobiling in Minnesota.


He had a very magnetic personality, and you wanted and easily did like him, and you wanted to do what he wanted you to do.


Robert was convincing people who knew him described him as a natural salesman back in Minnesota, he said he sold a mold removal company for 10 million. Perhaps he wanted to continue building his fortune in a more glamorous industry. He told friends that he had this great idea that piqued the interest of the New York Yankees in Minnesota. Twins he wanted to make ready to drink wines. It appeared he had a knack for starting businesses and making friends wherever he went. So in 2010, he uprooted his family and moved 1000 miles away to Napa Valley. And remember back in 2010, we were recovering from the global recession. California mostly focused on fine wine, but when the economy isn’t a slump, consumers reach for the cheaper stuff. But he found an opportunity to start building his business empire. He created a business called California Shiners. This was not a fancy endeavor. A shiner is off-label wine. It’s a blend of wines that other vineyards don’t want to sell to the public. A shiner’s bottle is shiny, hence the name. It looked like his businesses were taking off. He collaborated with Rapper E 40 to make Earl Stevens wine. Also, if you’re an elder millennial like me, you must remember who E 40 is. If you’re on TikTok, his song Choices was a trending sound. The yup, nope song ringing any bells. He was also in business with Adam Corolla of Jimmy Kimmel. In podcast fame, they made a wine called Mangria, like sangria, but manly. Interesting.

Now, back to Robert. It appears as if he’s building his empire Brick by brick, he buys a home for 1.4 million, which translates to about 2 million in today’s economy. It was inspired to look like an estate in Tuscany, and of course it had to have an elaborate wine cellar, an in-home movie theater, and a three car garage. So it was onward and upward to the ultimate Napa Valley dream, his own tasting room, bearing his name, Dahl Vineyards. But there’s something I heard a few times when talking to folks about the story.


As they say, it takes a large fortune to make a small fortune in the wine industry.


That’s when Robert Dahl met Emad Tawfilis. While Robert had the magnetic charming personality of a front man, Emad lived a quieter life. He was of a slight build. He had short, wavy, black hair. He was a runner, and he went everywhere with his dog, a Labrador named Maddie.


I would describe Emad as a gentle soul. He was soft spoken. He was a very loyal and caring person. And unfortunately, I think that those character traits, those positive characteristics, can be misinterpreted as weakness. He was not a weak person.


That’s David Wise Blood. We heard from him earlier. He lives in San Francisco, and Emad hired him as a lawyer.


Our first meeting was by phone. And we spoke at length about his background as an entrepreneur, as an accountant, as, uh, somebody who had always had a passing interest in wine and was interested in investing.


Emad made his money in Silicon Valley, but he’s not a millionaire. It appeared he was at a point in his life when he wanted to enjoy his fortune. Isn’t that the dream of early retirement? So he followed his interests and started to invest in his hobbies. He always loved movies. So Emad had invested in films down in Hollywood, but he was also passionate about wine and Napa Valley drew him in together. Robert and Emad were going to create Doll Vineyards, but again, it takes a large fortune to make a small fortune.


He had originally loaned $180,000 in, I think it was February, 2013. That amount was then increased to $850,000. And then there was a consolidated note for 1.2 million that was executed in September of 2013


To a grand total of


1.2 million, which was basically his life savings.


His entire life savings. What was maybe more wild was how he delivered the investment. He dropped $800,000 in a gym bag.


It just sounds like something from the Sopranos. And to me, that’s a red flag. Although Robert was able to convince Emad, who certainly was no adult, that there was a perfectly legitimate reason for, for doing things in that fashion,


Right? That’s a lot of money. He had a lot of experiences investing money like he worked in tech and and in movies. So why do you think he was willing to give so much money to this guy he didn’t know very well? And then in such weird circumstances, like the cash in the, in the bag and delivering it that way.


And I think that’s in part what happened. I mean, Emad, you’re right. I mean, he was not just given his business background and his education and his experiences. On the other hand, he’d never invested in a winery before. This was something that became, I don’t know if it evolved from an avocation into a dream, but it had some, uh, there was some path along those lines.


Robert seemed to have an answer for everything too.


Robert Dah said. That’s what he said, which was, if I pay vendors in cash, I can get better terms. Why? That meant that there wouldn’t be a wire as distinct from, um, money in a red satchel. That was a sore topic. And so I didn’t, and one of the things about the roles that I’ve played is you get to know people and you realize that there are real lives that are at stake. And it’s more than just about money. And that was certainly true with Iman.


This was more than just money. They wanted to make it big. So the businessmen got to work. They leased a property in Ville. Robert built a tasting room, purchased wine equipment, barrels of wine were branded with the letters DV and set up around the modest estate. In the summer of 2014, Dahl Vineyards opened its doors to the public, and it looks like Robert’s other businesses were taking off too. He partnered with a local couple to open a brewery. He shared ownership of another vineyard, but cracks were appearing in the foundation of Robert’s business empire. He sold wine that was bad. He didn’t pay his growers for grapes. Ahau was growing worried. His investment, his life’s savings would not make a return. Maybe not at all. He was devising a legal strategy. But by the time you’re calling someone like David, you’re in a difficult position.


Emad was, I mean, making a decision to file what became a fairly high profile lawsuit to try to basically get people to honor their obligations. It’s a last ditch. It’s a last ditch thing. And so Emad had concluded two things by the time I was engaged. One, he couldn’t trust Robert and he needed to take steps to protect himself because Robert wasn’t doing that. And two, because Robert, by all appearances, had a robust business and certainly a useful business plan and all the licensure that was required. Robert, if he were pressured, would Emad believed. And that’s not an unreasonable belief that he would do the right thing because if for no other reason it was in Robert Doll’s best interest to do that. But yeah, things were definitely, were definitely quite tense by that point. And they got more tense as we found out more things.


One of the first things they did was call in the expertise of Napa’s Premier private detective Dawn King.


I’m a private investigator here in Napa, California, and I have a business called Dawn to Dawn Investigations, which I’ve been running now for 19 years.


Wow. And before that, you were an F B I agent. I’m so curious to hear how you got into this line of work.


Uh, that’s, uh, that’s a podcast in itself. I was actually dating an F B I agent, and I had always wanted to hear his stories about his latest caper had had, uh, a car break in three different times, and I started to become like a vigilante trying to solve the last burglary.


Emad called Dawn in a panic. He no longer trusted the man he gave his life savings to. Who was the man behind the confident facade. Was this wine empire built out of bricks, or was it a house of cards who really was Robert Dahl.


Emad was showing signs of stress and Bec just by his elevation and his voice and the way that he wanted everything done. Right now we’ve gotta figure out who this guy is.


This was not the first time someone asked Dawn to look into Robert. What she had to tell him did not ease his fears.


So he initially wanted me to run a background, which when he mentioned the name Robert Dahl, I, I’ve chuckled to myself because I had already done a background investigation on Robert. So I knew a lot about Robert Dahl’s background already.


Oh, that’s interesting. So when Emad reached out, you already knew who Robert Dahl was.


Exactly. Exactly. And he had done a little jail time in Minnesota and was, you know, looking like a swindler. And what what Emad was explaining to me was, was making it clear to me that this is, maybe this guy’s pattern has big dreams, but can’t back it up. That became evident to me now with the second person in Napa calling me, uh, to do a background on him.


After this short break, Dawn shares what she uncovered, stay with us. His big dreams went bust in Minnesota. Robert had a checkered pass to failed companies before he moved to Napa Valley and met AAuD.


Mr. Dahl had a business in Minnesota, Durban International. This company had produced a mold killing spray. He had a lot of investors that were unhappy with Mr. Dahl because again, they weren’t, they weren’t getting paid back on their end of the deal. And so these business partners were upset and filed lawsuits against him. That was the litigation that I had found. And, and then I think he had done a small stint in prison because of, because of the fraud.

It sort of painted a picture in my years of investigating it. You know, a leopard doesn’t change his spots a lot of times. And when you look at somebody that’s pulled a fast one on his investors, you can almost guarantee that he’s done it more than once. They don’t just wake up one day and go, oh, you know, I’m gonna, I’m gonna screw my partners out of their end of the deal. And like so many swindlers, they, they talk a really good game. And they’re, they’re super charismatic and they, they, they have great grandiose ideas and they talk people into getting involved with them. And then the investors and the associates get duped.


Dawn discovered that the entity where Emad invested his money was actually defunct


When he found out that it wasn’t, that was that set off all kinds of alarms as well.


This was a major turning point for Ahau. How would he get his life savings back if the entity didn’t exist?


I remember him finding, you know, being so distressed about the fact that that company had been dismantled or was no longer showing up as current. Emad was very emotional a lot of the times when I spoke to him. I mean, that’s why it was so sad to me because he was, I mean, he was realizing I think this is not gonna end well.


Robert Doll’s facade is crumbling. Remember all of the other arms to his wine empire? The celebrity wines, the brewery, the Shiners. By 2014 Robert sold 10,000 cases of wine to comedian Adam Corolla. He owed $800,000 on E 40 s wine deal. He even walked away from the brewery owing money.


But he had been siphoning money, I think from patio wine and from, I mean, basically I MOD’s money into the, the, the, the brewery business and another winery and was not putting the money where it was supposed to be, which was in, in their business venture.


It seems his strategy was to keep opening new businesses to bring in more money. Essentially, Robert was robbing Peter to pay Paul, but his smooth talking could only take him so far. Now, Emad and his lawyer David, understood who they were working with. And as, as a lawyer, I know this was very complicated, but at the same time were you thinking like, well, I’m representing the good guy here. And there’s so much evidence on the other side of like, you know, clearly this guy is in the wrong. I dunno, did you, did it feel kind of like a slam dunk? Like there’s no way you wouldn’t get Im MOD’s money back?


Well, nothing is a slam dunk. The only certainty in litigation is uncertainty. And when you have enough sort of games being played with creating and canceling entities and transferring assets and maybe liabilities or maybe not, and saying you didn’t do this and you did do this, it’s hard. And as far as your question about being able to collect the money, obviously the thought was he’s gonna be good for the money. And of course, the other source that made Emad comfortable and me as his representative was there was, uh, according to Robert’s representations, millions of dollars of wine inventory that was subject to the contract documents in the security interests.


At this point, the tasting room they opened in the summer of 2014 has shut down due to court orders saying you can’t operate or sell wine or do anything. They turned their legal strategy to trying to stop the collateral from disappearing. Neither side was going down without a fight.


There were 19 separate court appearances in the Napa Court, which is a ridiculous amount of court appearances on anything, especially something that hasn’t gone to trial.


And in fact, one, one of the hearings, the judge just stopped the whole hearing and had everybody step outside the courtroom cuz it was just getting too heated between the two sides.


So I saw kind of the dark side of Robert at that point, but I also saw him talking to other people outside the courtroom, just acting like a normal, you know, fun guy that you wanna have a beer with.


Dawn King, the private investigator said she acted as a gopher for Emad’s legal team. She served Robert papers,


But I really didn’t see anything violent with the guy. I mean, I, I had served him papers several times. He was always polite, he wasn’t angry. And believe me, when I serve papers, some people are downright nasty. They throw things at you, they try to run you over, they try to do crazy things. And, and he was never that way.


Dawn was also investigating where the wine equipment went. They obtained court orders to find where things like barrels, tanks and other equipment were used to make wine. It was sounding desperate. This wasn’t just an investment gone bad, this was personal to Ahau.


Nothing’s coming to fruition. And I think he was panicking. And so he was calling me a lot. I mean, I, it was consuming my days, it was escalating because I, I think Emad was realizing that, that this might go south.


They even went so far as to hire a crane company. Robert said he purchased 3000 gallon tanks in order to make in store wine. These tanks were supposed to be huge, easy enough to identify, but


Ultimately the tanks weren’t there. There were teeny weeny little tanks that were there. And Imon didn’t really want to do anything with those tanks. I mean, he, they, they weren’t really valuable to him, but he just wanted to be able to ensure that, uh, Robert understood that it was time to stop the games and to just be honorable.


This discovery was a clear example of Robert not following through on his word. Despite this disappointment, it seemed the settlement was turning a corner. The clouds in this legal storm were breaking, they were getting close to a fair settlement.


We were having coffee, Ima and I and his loving dog, and we were sitting out in Napa. The sun was shining. It finally seemed like things were, were going in the direction that Emad ultimately charted, which is to, to resolve this in a way that’s going to work for him. And that would work for the winery as well.


Then he gets a phone call. Robert wanted to meet now to resolve this at the winery. And remember the winery is completely closed down.


Emod said he wanted to go. I said, Hey, I’m not going. I don’t think you should go


After some back and forth. They all agree to meet at David’s office in San Francisco. It looks like they’re nearing the finish line on some sort of settlement agreement, flushing out an amount that would be paid, who’s going to sell the surplus inventory? And everyone could move on from this. But then


We got a phone call shortly before asking to change the meeting to the winery.


Then Robert cancels the meeting. So they reschedule and he cancels again. Emad calls David to update him


And he said, Robert’s been texting me all weekend. He knows that he screwed up again and quote, I need to get my life back. Those were, those were words I will never forget. And he said, are you gonna join me? I said, Iman, look, I don’t want to and I don’t want you to. Why are you gonna meet with this person? All he keeps on doing is telling you things. And then he doesn’t, he doesn’t deliver. If he’s got records, he can email them to you. He can text them to you. I don’t care. You don’t need to be there.


Emad also asked Dawn King if she was available to be with him during this meeting. She was out of the country. She says she also advised against meeting in person at the winery.


And he said, no, I’m gonna go. I’m not concerned. I said, okay. So he went, and that was the start of, of that day.


On March 16th, 2015, not even a year after the tasting room opened to the public, Ahau arrived at the winery with the dog. He brought everywhere with him.


And then Emad got there and he was greeted by Robert and not with Robert’s normal, friendly sort of man hug, kind of greeting. He was, according to Emad, very stern, his accountants was not pleasant.


Both men had their legal teams on speakerphone. It was a conference call where they were discussing the details of the final settlement.


And so the phone call started. I remember the tone. It was very civil, it was very cordial.


The former business partners already agreed on terms, but this time Robert handed Emad something else.


So what Robert handed Emad that Emad, uh, texted to me was a new settlement agreement that certainly I had not prepared and neither had his attorneys. It was something that Robert had cobbled together. And that settlement agreement, if I remember correctly, provided that Robert would pay, uh, basically 50% of what we had always agreed was the number. And Robert took the lead on that call and Emad said, we’re not here to renegotiate. So Robert Dahl said, I don’t give a shit what the lawyers agreed to. This is, this is more than fair. Emad said correctly. It wasn’t the lawyers who came up with these numbers, it was us. And I’m not here to renegotiate. This call didn’t last for very long.


One of the lawyers asked to take a break from the heated call,


And that certainly seemed appropriate and reasonable. So we took a break, Emad went outside, we spoke, um, on the phone for a few minutes, and that was the last time I ever talked to Emad.


Minutes pass, 10 minutes, 15 minutes. David’s calling Emad no answer.


And it was, uh, unusual and it was concerning.


Your call has been forwarded to an automatic voice message system,


Almost an hour passes. Then David gets an email from a local wine writer.


There’s a report of police activity at the winery. And my heart saw, I just knew, I just knew that it was just nothing, nothing positive was, was happened. Um, and it was just awful.


So according to police reports of what happened after they hung up that conference call, Robert shared another version of the settlement agreement. It looked almost like a manifesto.


It was in the drawer of his desk in the shed and the winery that I saw much later. And that agreement said, I owe you nothing that you Emad filed this lawsuit and took all these steps against me pursuant to some sort of personal vendetta you had against me. And he had a multiple paragraph declaration that he wanted Emad to sign in, which Emad acknowledged those facts. And I’m sure even with the gun to his head, there’s no way that Emad would would ever do that.

ASHLEY (27:10):

At some point while inside the barn, Robert pulled out a gun and shot at Emad.


I just, I don’t even wanna think about the details. And had escaped out the door and


Emad was running for his life. He was weaving in, out and through the vines, dodging bullets that were flying his way. Even in the midst of what was surely panic, he managed to call 9 1 1 and share his location. Meanwhile, Robert jumped in his truck gun in hand to follow Emad. He tracked him down the driveway through the vineyard and out toward the street. It seemed like Emad was in the clear. Police were already arriving at the scene as far as we know, Emad could have seen their flashing lights coming towards him. But that’s when Robert shot him in the back of the head and then drove down the road and shot himself. Police found a few shocking things after the fact. In the vehicle where Robert killed himself, there was a list of names other people he wanted gone.


I was on that list.


And so I could have been a victim if I went with him. I mean, I could have, who knows,


Speaking selfishly about it, had I gone up to Napa for that meeting, you and I wouldn’t be having this conversation. I wouldn’t be around. And that that fact certainly isn’t, isn’t lost on me.


Robert also appeared to have planned this incident out. The conference call with the lawyers could have happened anywhere, but Robert asked to meet with Emad alone on the secluded property that was closed to outside visitors.


I actually saw the black gloves, I saw the zip ties, I saw the bleach, and I saw the contract. I’m like, oh my God. This was completely a setup.


He also had several rounds of ammunition in his truck burner phones, even a hazmat suit.


There was essentially a murder kit that was left behind at that winery.


And what happened after the murder suicide when you got back to town, did the, you know, police ask to see everything from your investigation or, you know, what happened next?


Well, what happened next was really nothing. It was a death and a suicide. So the, the victim and the subject were both gone. So I think to them, you know, what is there to investigate, right?


Right. Because they had their victim and their perpetrator and, you know, case closed.




The community still needed to grapple with what happened. And in many ways, this still haunts the individuals impacted by the crime.


I mean, I I literally think about this every day for lots of reasons. And there were no signs of, of violence. I mean, Robert was bombastic. He could be mercurial, he could be profane, but that doesn’t mean there were any signs of of violence. Uh, we knew that he was a family man. He had a wife and three children. I mean, it just goes to reinforce you. You never know what’s what’s gonna happen. And desperate people, I guess, will do desperate things.


He saw that it was gonna end this whole fantasy of having, you know, this vineyard and this, the, the sexy appeal of having, you know, having a tasting room in the Napa Valley was going to blow up and he turned psychopath. And, and so the moral of the story is, is that when you’re dealing with somebody that maybe is a conman and their house of cards now is falling down, that you just don’t know what they’re capable of. And they could very well be capable of something like murder, which is what happened here. So it’s a very good lesson to be learned and something that, that I took very seriously. And I, I I work my future cases. Now with that in mind, I really do.

(Theme Music Fades In)


Join us next time when we reveal the secrets of the so-called greatest seller on Earth. Find Vinfamous on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen and follow the show so you never miss a scandal. Vinfamous is produced by Wine Enthusiast in partnership with Pod People. Special thanks to our production team, Dara Kapoor,  Samantha Sette, and the team at Pod People Anne Fuess, Matt Sav, Aimee Machado, Ashton Carter, Danielle Roth, Shaneez Tyndall, and Carter Woghan.

(Theme Music Fades Out)

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Wine Enthusiast Presents, ‘Vinfamous: Wine Crimes and Scandals’ Wed, 01 Mar 2023 11:02:00 +0000 Vinfamous Podcast logo
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Every glass of wine tells a story. These stories reveal hidden histories and techniques, flavors and passions. And sometimes they unravel our darkest desires. In Vinfamous, Wine Enthusiast dissects the underbelly of the wine world and what it means when the product of love and care becomes the source of greed, arson, and even murder.

Follow the podcast and join us every other week as we delve into the twists and turns behind the all-time most shocking wine crimes.

Listen Now: Vinfamous: Wine Crimes & Scandals

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Vinfamous Podcast Wed, 01 Mar 2023 11:00:00 +0000 Vinfamous Podcast logo
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Every glass of wine tells a story. These stories reveal hidden histories and techniques, flavors and passions. And sometimes they unravel our darkest desires. In Vinfamous, Wine Enthusiast dissects the underbelly of the wine world and what it means when the product of love and care becomes the source of greed, arson, and even murder.

Listen Now: Vinfamous: Wine Crimes & Scandals

The Best Online Shops for Wine, Beer and Spirits Tue, 28 Feb 2023 23:41:42 +0000 A digital basket with liquor bottles in it
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Let’s get one thing straight: Brick-and-mortar wine shops, beer shops and spirits shops will never go out of fashion. They’re so often community cornerstones, serving as places to learn and gather. But for so many of us, online shopping is a way of life. According to the International Wines and Spirits Record (IWSR), online beverage sales for wine, beer and spirits are projected to grow 66% between 2020 to 2025, potentially reaching $42 billion in sales.

It’s easy to see why. Today’s online retailers are more than just digital storefronts. Many offer clubs that give exclusive access to elusive bottles, online classes and more. Other spots do the legwork when it comes to finding the best discounts. And, arguably their best feature? You don’t need to get off your couch to patronize them—everything is shipped right to your door.

To pinpoint the best online drinks shops, we turned to experts from across the industry. We chose to focus on shops that ship nationally, and divvied the list into sections for wine, beer and spirits. Of course, some retailers span categories—, K&L, Astor Wines & Spirits and others, for instance, also offer spirits, beer and plenty of other beverages. A vendor’s category was assigned based on the area of expertise for which pros deemed it most impressive.

Explore the Sections

Best Online Wine Shops

By Matt Kettmann


This is one of many email-based retailers that sends daily specials. Garagiste is “kind of addicting…seductive, or hypnotic,” says Dan Fredman, a longtime wine retailer turned public relations and marketing consultant for brands from San Luis Obispo and Sonoma to Austria and Argentina. Fredman appreciates Garagiste owner Jon Rimmerman’s “eclectic selections interspersed with old standards,” including many under $20 and “mystery” wines that represent major discounts.

“I like to research the background of the wines when they get here, since it expands my horizons immensely,” says Fredman. “But oftentimes, if you don’t act quickly, the wines will have sold out by the time you place an order.”


For Varinder Sahi, the winemaker and owner of Copia Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles, California, K&L served as a conduit for growing his expertise in a region without many international wine shops, even helping him earn a Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) certification. “My wife Anita and I travel often to different international wine regions,” he says. “As we visit producers, we frequently reference K&L’s database to see if we have access to the wines stateside. If they aren’t [in the database] we buy them at the winery.”

Winemaker Ryan Beauregard, who lives in a remote part of California’s Santa Cruz Mountains, is also a fan. “The selection is solid, and there is always a value on everything from daily wines to unicorn wines,” he says.

Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant

Winemaker Ryan Pease, whose Paso Robles brand Paix Sur Terre focuses on Rhône varieties and blends, turns to this legendary Berkeley-based importer and retailer when seeking direction for his own wines.

“From Bandol rouge, blanc and rosé to Corsican Vermentino along with Grenache from the South and Syrah from the North of France, I find no shortage of inspiration,” says Pease.

Parcelle Wine
Image Courtesy of Parcelle Wine


Bobby Stuckey, renowned restaurateur and Wine Enthusiast’s 2014 Sommelier of the Year, stands behind Parcelle, an online retailer started by Grant Reynolds and Josh Abramson in 2018. They quickly grew into a bottle shop, which opened the same year near New York City’s Lincoln Tunnel. Later, in 2022, they opened a Lower East Side wine bar.

“It’s a great retail wine experience, from old and rare selections to learning about an up-and-coming region or producer,” says Stuckey.

Plonk Wine Club
Image Courtesy of Plonk Wine Club


“When you’re looking for a fun resource to discover new wines for the right contexts, Plonk is the place to start,” says Matt Kaner, a Los Angeles-based sommelier, restaurateur and consultant.

Kaner enjoys how they organize selections into categories like “Dinner Party Packs” and “Mystery Cases.”

“All this awesomeness for around $25 per bottle in six-to-12 bottle-bundles makes a lot of sense while inflation soars, but your glass somehow gets more empty with every second,” says Kaner.

Wine Access

“For those who are a bit more serious about collecting and/or finding those hard-to-get bottles, I like Wine Access,” says Michael Wangbickler, president of Balzac Communications & Marketing. “Their collection is curated by a team of industry experts and you can often find some real treasures there. I know several of the team here, and have the utmost respect for their professionalism and expertise.” Gift
Image Courtesy of may not be the sexiest online wine retailer, but the selection is broad, with lots of smaller or lesser-known regions well-represented,” says Devin Parr, a wine business consultant, who approves of the annual flat fee option to make shipping free. “The wine industry is notoriously clunky and expensive when it comes to wine shipping and online shopping. is as close as it gets to that Amazon-like experience for wine lovers and wine trade.”

Wangbickler agrees. “It’s the granddaddy of online wine retailers,” he says. “They have multiple tools to help customers find the right wine for them, from educational content to live chat with an expert.”

Wine Exchange

Fredman has respected owner Kyle Meyer’s wine evangelism for more than 20 years.

“The daily offers are truly eclectic, bouncing between the three B’s—Barolo, Bordeaux and Burgundy—and over to esoteric wines that he feels people should be paying attention to,” says Fredman. “The prices are more-than-reasonable, enabling me to rationalize the cost of shipping.”

WineText/Wine Library

“WineText is almost too easy,” says Tyler Tomblin, owner of Stagecoach Co. Wine Tours, when describing Wine Library’s straight-to-your-phone service. “Every morning a new deal is texted, I simply reply with the number of bottles I want and that’s it!” He praises their variety, descriptions and discounts.

“This is the easiest way to expand my palate and collection of wines around the globe,” he says. “And I don’t have to shop the deals—they do.”

Best Online Spirit Shops

By Kara Newman

Astor Wines & Spirits

While the brick-and-mortar shop is located in NYC, Astor Wine & Spirits’ online presence is top notch, the pros say, valued equally for wine and spirits.

“They have an unusually wide selection, including many options from the craft and artisanal world alongside the bigger brands,” says Dave Herman, a food and beverage consultant based in Durham, North Carolina. “Their buyer does a great job getting breadth and depth in their catalog. I think their prices are good—not always the cheapest, but never particularly expensive compared to the competition. Plus, they do a great job of the actual shipping: well-packaged bottles shipped pretty quickly.”

Foursquare Probitas is a straight blended white rum distilled by Richard Seale at the celebrated Foursquare Rum Distillery in Barbados and available on It’s shown here with the three drinks from the Rum’s the Word cocktail box by Shaker & Spoon
Image Courtesy of Shaker and Spoon


This site focuses on limited-quantity and “unexpected” spirits, although you’ll find some of the usual mainstays here too.

“They’ve got some really unique offerings, especially [ones] that are more cocktail-centric,” explains Brandon Cummins, director of education for Altamar Brands. He also lauds the site’s cocktail content, which includes drink recipes and bottle collections curated by bartenders and other personalities. “As a former bartender, I get a bit persnickety about online cocktail content,” says Cummins. “But they work with several [bartenders] that I enjoy watching and that have helped expand my awareness of new ingredients, history or also recipes. So, it’s much more about the added content than just an online ordering system for me!”

Drizly Kitchen
Image Courtesy of Drizly


Founded in 2012 and purchased by Uber in 2021, Drizly has a wide footprint across the U.S., and offers not just wine, beer and liquor, but also “extras” like mixers, bitters and jars of olives and cherries to garnish drinks.

“I use Drizly on a nearly weekly basis,” says Paul Kim, a brand ambassador for Woodford Reserve, who often needs to source whiskey bottles for events or gifts. “I know that I can count on finding what I need and when I need it on Drizly. It’s a valuable asset to my success at work and parties.”

Don Spiro, a NYC-based spirits consultant, also looks to Drizly for out-of-state craft spirits. “It can be expensive, but for a lot of spirits I order it either is the only site that carries the product or the only one that ships to New York.”


Flaviar bills itself as a member’s club, offering fine and rare spirits expressions, including “tasting box” subscriptions. But it’s more than just bottles: Curious drinks aficionados can avail themselves of podcasts, a newsletter and a VIP School of Spirits.

Of note, cocktail historian David Wondrich is part of the team. No wonder Baylee Hopings, bar manager with Atlanta’s Oliva Restaurants, says she likes Flaviar “because of the emphasis they have on education for the consumer who wants it.”

Hi-Time Wine Cellars

A family-owned retail store founded in 1957, the brick-and-mortar store in Costa Mesa, Califonia, already has fans, particularly for its wine, whiskey and tequila selections. But it ships nationwide, too.

“It’s been my go-to for years when I need a specific bottle for a competition or personal enjoyment,” says Julian Flores Torres, beverage director for Palenque Kitchen in Orange County, California. “They have a huge selection of spirits, wines, beers, even cigars and they constantly keep track of new products.”

Randall’s Wine & Spirits

Randall’s has five bottle shops across Missouri. They also have “a dynamite online portal,” says Brian Colon, director of food and beverage at Le Meridien St. Louis Clayton in Missouri.The catalog of available items and intuitive customer website make navigation very easy. I found small producer Armagnac in two clicks.”

Colon is also a fan of the store’s VIP club, which offers exclusive limited quantity items and membership discounts. Finally, he appreciates the customer service a family-run brick-and-mortar can provide, even for online orders: “When you call them, a person answers the phone,” he says.

Seelbach's - Starlight Distillery Barrel Pick Trip 2
Image Courtesy of Abandoned Bourbon


Named for a bubbly bourbon cocktail, of course, this site is a whiskey powerhouse. “Seelbach’s is by far the best for craft spirits (especially craft whiskey) and interesting single-barrel releases,” says Aaron Goldfarb, drinks writer and author of Brand Mysticism.

Cummins likes the site “not only for unique and hard-to-find American whiskey releases, but also for just general emails and updates. I genuinely look forward to getting their emails and they’ve made me aware of a few brands and releases I didn’t think would be easily accessible, especially here in the Kansas City area. We’ve got a lot of great stuff, but certain one-offs don’t make it through.”

Taste Select Repeat
Image Courtesy of Pierre Auguste / Taste Select Repeat

Taste Select Repeat

This e-commerce retailer, which launched in 2020, specializes in single-barrel whiskey picks, tequila, mezcal and hard-to-find spirits, and produces virtual and in-person tasting events. “First and foremost, I love that it is a Black-owned business that is democratizing how people can access craft and premium spirits across the country,” says spirits and culture writer Rashaun Hall, who has participated in selecting barrels for the site. “They are also focused on demystifying and diversifying the spirits space.”

Half-Time Beers
Image Courtesy of Half-Time Beers

Best Online Beer Shops

By John Holl

Half Time Beverages

For more than 20 years, Half Time’s two brick-and-mortar locations have been a beer destination for New York’s Hudson Valley and Westchester County, areas that were long light on local beer options.

But even if you’re not a New York local, you can access Half Time’s thousands of beers from hundreds of breweries in dozens of countries. The shop regularly uses upcoming holidays to create in-house boxes that complement a particular season or theme. Half Time has also regularly partnered with companies like Beer Advocate or Untappd to create specialty boxes for “at home” beer festivals or to highlight brews that are popular with drinkers around the country. Half Time also puts together boxes of regional beers to give drinkers a sense of place from the comfort of home.

Drinkers can also choose their own adventure. With the ability to fill up a box of beer at a flat shipping rate, the shop offers up a chance to try a little of everything without having to change out of your slippers. Hard seltzers and ciders are available, too.

Craft Beer Cellar
Image Courtesy of Erika Goedrich

Craft Beer Cellar

While all of the major alcohol categories are covered (plus mead and non-alcoholic options) the focus of this brick-and-mortar shop in Bellmont, Massachusetts, is, as the name suggests, beer. The online shop is well organized by state and style, giving visitors a chance to explore with ease

Co-founders Suzanne Schalow and Kate Baker have curated a beer selection that inspires. From drinkers that are looking to check off the newest release, to connoisseurs that want to revisit classics, the shop is well stocked. While imports are not as popular among drinkers these days, the store does its best to stock interesting finds from around the globe.

Above all, the store is committed to freshness and making sure that the beer that arrives from around the country is at its peak and ready to be consumed when it arrives on your doorstep.  


It’s hard for beer fans to avoid Binny’s when in Chicago. The chain is an institution, where it’s just as easy to get cases of large, familiar brands as it is to snag bottles of hard-to-find gems. This extends to its website and online store, where the digitized shelves seem to go on endlessly.

Binny’s has been a proving ground for any who have gone on to careers in the alcohol industry outside of retail. In an effort to create a diverse industry, the retailer launched The Women of Binny’s initiative in 2021. The goal is “to build community, expand educational opportunities, and promote the advancement of women.”

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The Offbeat and Unexpected Traveler’s Wine Guide to England Tue, 28 Feb 2023 21:12:22 +0000

A magical mix of talent, resources, terroirs and an increasingly favorable climate has resulted in an English wine industry that has exploded in recent years. World-class traditional method sparklers and cool-climate table wines are produced by 197 wineries across Britain, from nearly 900 vineyards. Thanks to the industry’s rapid growth (plantings are up 70% in the last five years and hectarage has more than quadrupled since 2000), combined with the COVID pandemic, which saw Brits flocking to wineries in their own backyards, there has been a stratospheric rise in wine tourism on the Isles.

Nearly 70% of Great Britain’s plantings are located in England’s southeast. Unsurprising, then, that it’s a tourist hotspot, too, particularly in the counties of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, where wine lovers can experience the best of Old and New World: the distinctly European charm of postage stamp towns; the winding, narrow, hedgerow-lined roads dotted with pheasants; the historic, cozy gastropubs; But also, the glittering tasting rooms, holistic, farm-to-table restaurants, health and wellness experiences and unique accommodation that rival the best in Napa.

With the paint barely dry on many of these offerings, there’s an overarching feeling of discovery; of getting in early on a wine region at the brink of international renown. The cat is out of the bag, but only barely.

Region: Kent

England’s sunniest county rivals Sussex as U.K. wine’s beating heart. Less than two hours from London, Kent vineyards grow at the base of the narrow, chalky ridges of the North Downs, which mirror Champagne’s soils but are equally happy on heavier “Wealden” clay and “greensand” soils. If laying claim to top producers like Biddenden and Simpsons isn’t enough, Kent boasts the first—but certainly not the last—Champagne house to invest in English sparkling, Taittinger. An old apple orchard near Kent’s historic city, Canterbury, was chosen as the place to plant vineyards for Taittinger’s English brand, Domaine Evremond.

Chapel Down, Tenterden

A longer-standing endorsement for the future of English wine comes not from Champagne, but from England’s largest and arguably best-known producer, Chapel Down. Known equally for table wines like single-site Chardonnay and Bacchus, a highly perfumed, cold-hearty German cross variety, as for its approachable sparklers, Chapel Down’s vine plantings and bottle production have rapidly increased in recent years. It’s the only English brand to produce over one million bottles and is on track to two million. Tourism offerings have inevitably grown, too.

From a converted barn with an expansive patio and manicured gardens, Chapel Down offers a variety of packages to cater to every budget, from a walking-with-wine tour of the vineyards to a private lunch at the winery’s Swan Restaurant and a stay in nearby Sissinghurst Castle, which claims one of England’s finest gardens. For spirits lovers, Chapel Down also makes its own gin and vodka.

Baflour Bar and Nannettes Vineyard
Baflour Bar and Nannettes Vineyard / Courtesy of Balfour Winery

Balfour, Hush Heath Estate, Staplehurst

Few have taken up the wine tourism mantle with as much dynamism as Balfour. Deep in the Kent countryside, Balfour’s light-filled, wood and stone tasting room, which accommodates 200, is sleek and modern. But, it doesn’t intrude upon the 400-acre property, 300 of which is ancient forest thick with oaks dating back to the 1600s. The vast drinks range focuses almost as much on still wines as sparkling (don’t miss the Brut Rosé or the still Cinque Ports, made from Champagne’s five permitted white varieties), and includes “pink fizz” in a can and a range of Jake’s beers and ciders. They can be tasted from the balcony accompanied by sweeping vineyard views; served patio-side from a vintage red trailer; via a multitude of tour and tasting packages; with lunch or dinner; or while participating in one of Balfour’s many events, like its monthly music sessions. The company also owns the nearby historic Goudhurst Inn, serving up sourdough pizza and a terrific scotch egg at ground level, with accommodation above.

Gusborne in Kent Vineyards
Gusborne in Kent Vineyards / Courtesy Kent Vineyards

Gusbourne, Appledore

Just six miles from the sea, Gusbourne has, in the span of two decades, risen to become one of England’s most celebrated estates. It’s renowned for intense, elegant Blanc de Blancs, ethereal vintage rosé, and—remarkably, considering where we are—spicy, sappy Pinot Noir. Tourism hasn’t traditionally been at the forefront for this quality-focused producer, but in recent years have rapidly accelerated its cellar door offerings. Today, visitors to England’s third largest estate can book a variety of tours, a masterclass with talented Chief Winemaker Charlie Holland and lunch with its in-house chef. Gusbourne also provides a comprehensive “stay like a local” page on its website with recommendations from cycling the Rye Harbour, to crabbing at the seaside, to dining on lobster at Camber Sands, the UK’s only designated desert.

Note: The Wine Garden of England, a collaboration between eight of the region’s top wineries, is an excellent online resource for touring Kent wine country, whether self-guided, chauffeured or on a bicycle.

Region: Sussex

Nyetimber / Image Courtesy of Christina Pickard

If Kent is England’s beating wine heart, then Sussex is its nucleus. It’s technically two counties—West and East. The West boasts Nyetimber, the estate that rocked the world when a pair of American ex-pats, Stuart and Sandy Moss, had the audacity to plant Champagne grapes in England in 1988 and change the course of English wine forever. (Note: Nyetimber is closed to the public, but its exquisite grounds, with 15th and 16th-century buildings, are a must-see if a visit aligns with one of its open days.) East Sussex has Plumpton College, where many local winemakers are alums, as well as longstanding estates like Breaky Bottom, Carr Taylor and Davenport, the latter one of the country’s few organic producers.

Ridgeview Estate Winery
Ridgeview Estate Winery / Image Courtesy of Adrian Lander

Ridgeview, Ditchling Common

East Sussex’s best-known winery is Ridgeview. Planted in 1995 by industry pioneers Mike and Chris Roberts, the second generation of Roberts now steer the ship. Ridgeview’s uncompromising approach to quality for its traditional method sparklers (try the NV Cavendish, the Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs) is rivaled only by the romantic views of the chalky South Downs slopes from its tasting room, or from its brand-new restaurant, The Row and Vines, where guests can enjoy “al fresco hospitality” amidst the original vines from a heated pavilion. Tours of Ridgeview’s underground cellar and various events are also ongoing. Of all visits, this B-corp-certified, sustainable winery won’t be the most glamorous, but it will be authentic and memorable, especially considering Ridgeview’s outsized impact on the English wine industry.

Tillingham, Peasmarsh

Tillingham may be small in size, but like Ridgeview, it is soaringly high on authenticity. Nestled amidst woodlands and rolling hills on the far eastern edge of East Sussex just 10 miles from the sea, Tillingham’s founder and winemaker, Ben Walgate, restored a derelict 13th-century mixed farm in 2018, carrying the tradition of polyculture into the 21st century in a way that feels both modern and pre-industrial. Beside a regeneratively and biodynamically farmed hill planted with 21 grape varieties, a beautifully designed, converted Dutch hop barn houses a stellar farm-to-table restaurant, tasting room, shop and eleven rooms. There are tours, regular yoga classes and vineyard-side bell tents available for rent. Tillingham leads Britain’s natural wine charge, and the bottles reflect this (think: pink Pet Nat, NV “Flor” bubbles reminiscent of Manzanilla Sherry and a Qvevri White, made from traditional Georgian amphorae buried on the property). But it also leads a new wave of holistic wine tourism that draws a young, social media-savvy crowd to wine country from London and beyond.

Wiston / Image Courtesy of Jo Hunt

Wiston, Pulborough

“We wanted a place where we could welcome people,” is what CEO and second-generation family member Richard Goring says about Wiston. The winery’s traditional method bubbles are wonderful—elegant, age-worthy and pristine. It’s surpassed only by the winery’s tourism experiences, designed to connect guests with the land the Goring family has occupied since 1743. There’s a “look under the Wiston’s bonnet” Nature and Wildlife tour in which guests meet at Chalk, the winery’s excellent, light-filled, farm-to-fork restaurant for coffee and pastries, pile into Goring’s jeep or tractor and rumble through the ancient woodlands in search of butterflies and birds; an off-road bicycle and lunch tour; a “Sundowner Safari” tasting, tour and dinner; and a Foraging Tour with Head Chef Bradley Adams. Wiston is quintessentially English in all the best ways and it’s not-to-miss.

Note: Sussex Modern is the county’s tourism agency and it’s a wonderful resource for listings of local wine and non-wine happenings, from the South Downs Dark Skies Festival in February to English Wine Week in June.

Region: Hampshire

England’s chalk-filled wine spine runes throughout pastoral Hampshire, west of Sussex. The county sweeps down to The Solent strait of the English Channel and the Isle of Wight. But the majority of quality wineries are focused around the cathedral city of Winchester. Hampshire boasts Exton Park, which makes some of the country’s most complex sparklers from impeccably farmed vineyards on a beautiful hillside. But, although it rents its luxurious Exton Hall for private events, it’s closed to the public. Thankfully others, like the UK’s oldest commercial winery—and the first vineyards to be planted since 1875—Hambledon, are open to all. 

Hambledon Vineyard / Image Courtesy of Christina Pickard

Hambledon Vineyard, Hambledon

In a protected pocket of the chalky, wind-swept South Downs, just north of Portsmouth, Hambledon’s tidy rows of Chardonnay vines sweep dramatically up to a picturesque manor house. First planted in 1952 by Major-General Sir Guy Salisbury-Jones, Hambledon was, for nearly two decades, the UK’s only commercial wine producer. To add to all this Englishness, consider the fact that another national icon was created in the same small village of Hambledon: the game of cricket.

Hambledon today is growing at lightning speed, having quadrupled plantings not once but twice in the past five years. Tourism offerings are also expanding, with a new restaurant and visitor center to be finished by May 2023. For now, guests can tour the historic vineyards, gravity flow winery and subterranean cellar, or dine with Michelin-starred Chef Nick Edgar in a pop-up restaurant tent, all while tasting Hambledon’s distinctive, opulent, salt-flecked style of non-vintage bubbles. The winery also hosts an annual Jazz and Fizz Fest in July.

Hattingley Valley
Hattingley Valley / Image Courtesy of Christina Pickard

Hattingley Valley, Alresford

20 miles north of Hambledon, Hattingley’s vines are also situated on deep chalky soil. The winery has, for the past decade, been a contract facility for dozens of local labels—and its new facility can process a million bottles. But Hattingley’s own label bubbles are delicious in their own right; delicate but with weight and richness derived from the oak aging that a portion of the base wine receives. Tourism hasn’t traditionally been Hattingley’s focus, but the winery opens to the public on weekends for tours, with tastings from a charming stone and brick cellar door. Save room in the suitcase for some bottles from the shop. The cleverly designed “unapologetically British” wine boxes make perfect souvenirs.

Note: Vineyards of Hampshire lists events and happenings from ten of the region’s main wineries.

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California’s Rare Snow-Covered Vineyards Are a Treat for Some, Test for Others Tue, 28 Feb 2023 17:10:57 +0000 Snow in Califnornia vineyard
The snowy scenes around Thomas Fogarty Vineyards. Courtesy: Nathan Kandler

Snowboarding down the vineyard rows on Howell Mountain at CADE Estate. Skiing across the upper blocks at Thomas Fogarty Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Making snowmen on the usually desert-like ridges that rise above the Santa Ynez Valley in Santa Barbara County.  

These are just some of the social media-shared scenes happening across California since last week when a cold, wet storm dropped inches of snow on places that very rarely see it across the Golden State. Blizzard warnings were triggered in many regions, even around stereotypically sunny Los Angeles.  

“We saw significant snowfall in the range of four to five inches in the vineyard—the biggest snowfall here in decades,” says Karl Wittstrom, the co-owner of Ancient Peaks Winery in Santa Margarita. “It was quite a sight. The last time it snowed in the vineyard was in 2008, and that was more of a light dusting that just lasted for a few hours.”  

Snow in Califnornia vineyard
Neal Family Vineyards dealt with snow and fallen trees on Howell Mountain.

Courtesy: Mark and Laura Neal

But how does this wild weather impact California’s vineyards? Though there have been weather-related hassles like traffic, road closures, fallen trees and other sorts of damage that can come from heavy downpours, the storm should actually spell goodwill in the vineyards, since bud break has not yet occurred.  

“We are actually very happy for the precipitation and the cold this time of year,” says Susan Krausz, owner of Arkenstone, located near the mountaintop town of Angwin north of Napa. “The rain and snow fills our aquifers, and the cold keeps the vines asleep until the appropriate time for them to wake up in the spring warmth.” 

Mark Neal of Neal Family Vineyards, also near Angwin on Howell Mountain, explains that “cold weather like this helps us with insect control and complete dormancy, which we have not had for a couple [of] years.” But he was heartbroken to see so many 200-plus-year-old oak trees come down in the storm and spent much of Friday morning chasing around a couple of his goat-sheep hybrids that were spooked by the weather.  

Snow in Califnornia vineyard
The snowy scenes around Thomas Fogarty Vineyards.

Courtesy: Nathan Kandler 

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, Nathan Kandler, the winemaker at Thomas Fogarty Winery, had fun skiing with his kids, but then dealt with busted stretches of deer fence and multiple fallen trees. “There was more tree damage, mostly oak branches, than I have ever seen,” says Kandler. “But the vines are fine, as the cold will push bud break back a bit.”  

This is usually better for the vintage, because the later buds avoid spring storms and push harvest beyond Labor Day, when there have been reliable heat spikes over the past few years. Plus, Kandler adds, “we can use all the precipitation. We are still at a deficit over the last 10 years.”  

Down on York Mountain, a small appellation just west of Paso Robles, there was talk that this amount of snow hadn’t fallen in almost four decades, according to Jordan Fiorentini of Epoch Estate Wines, though she’s seen smaller flurries before. “Since the vines are dormant, no harm,” she says. “The moisture is very welcome too.” 

Snow in Califnornia vineyard
Snow at Arkenstone near Angwin north of Napa. 
Courtesy: Susan Krausz

Her neighbor, Anthony Young of The Royal Nonesuch Farm, woke his family up at 5:50 a.m. on Friday morning as the rain turned to snow. ”Like it was Christmas morning,” he says with a laugh. 

“Had this happened a week or two later, I’m sure many people on the mountain would be singing a different tune,” notes Alan Viader of Viader Vineyards, who saw numerous folks taking out skis and inner tubes to ride the fresh powder. “It will be a memory we will remember for life. “

Though, it wasn’t all joy. Viader saw a lot of the damage firsthand, working as a volunteer on the Deer Park fire engine. “We were all [with Angwin Fire] very busy responding to multiple trees that fell on powerlines, houses and parked cars,” he says. “Some people ignored the roadblocks and became stuck and stranded on the side of the road due to the heavy snowfall.”

Snow in Califnornia vineyard
Snow at Arkenstone near Angwin north of Napa. 
Courtesy: Susan Krausz

He continues, “it was a busy night with some extremely dangerous conditions at times, as we had trees buckling to the weight of all the snow and falling all around us as we tried keeping roadways clear and open. Never in my wildest dreams would I have expected a storm like this. I’ve lived here most of my life and this was unprecedented.”

Managing partner of CADE, John Conover estimates that the storm caused about $100,000 in damage, mainly due to fallen trees.  

Additionally, the storm did come on the same weekend as Premiere Napa Valley, where wine buyers and sommeliers from around the world come to inspect and purchase upcoming vintages. “Bidders were not deterred by the weather,” says Teresa Wall, the senior director for communications for the Napa Valley Vintners. “If anything, the winter snowstorm added a majestic backdrop and a memorable component to the week. The hilltops surrounding the entire valley were blanketed in snow.”  

Snow in Califnornia vineyard
Cade Estate sustained more than $100,000 in estimated damage from the snowstorm.
Courtesy: Ann Conover

In the end, some say the snow simply gave the land some much-needed water and the winemakers an opportunity to have some fun. 

 “There was no viticultural downside to the snowfall, as bud break is still a ways off. We also received around five inches of rain in the 36 hours leading up to the snow, which only added to what has been an amazing rain season across Paso Robles,” Wittstrom says. “The native vegetation that we maintain between the vine rows has proven to be effective against erosion in the face of these heavy storms, which have also cleaned out the waterways of accumulated debris—the streams, creeks and drainage are all flowing cleanly.”

He continues, “all in all, a lot of healthy moisture this year, capped off by this picturesque snow event, with even more rain landing this week.” 

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What It’s Really Like to Be a Black Wine Professional Tue, 28 Feb 2023 00:37:28 +0000 Mason Washington and Kalchē Wine Cooperative
Images Courtesy of LELIYG and Jacquelyn Potter

Tonya Pitts, the sommelier and wine director at One Market in San Francisco, fell in love with wine because of history. “There’s history behind food, there’s history behind a bottle of wine [and] there’s history with how you serve things,” she says. “And it’s all its history, and it’s a story. All of it.” 

But Pitts’s successful 30-year career in the wine industry, fueled in part by her love of history, was not without hurdles. She faced unique challenges by virtue of being a person of color, and she’s not alone. Now, Pitts and others are crafting a new narrative around what it means to be a Black wine professional—and creating a new future in the process.

High Bush Cranberries and Sumac + Wine with Bee
High Bush Cranberries and Sumac and Wine with Bee. Image Courtesy of Jacquelyn Potter.

Black Winemaking in America 

To appreciate the role Black individuals play in the modern wine landscape, one must first understand their role in the past. The Black community, in particular, has a complex history when it comes to winemaking. Though written records show that Black communities had a close connection to winemaking in the Western tradition, early circumstances left them without the opportunity to freely pursue these passions.  

No truer was this than in colonial America. Enslaved Africans toiled in early vineyards, providing a bulk of free labor. In A History of Wine in America, author Thomas Pinney shares the telling 1850s account of a Southern wine enthusiast, who states, “with all the facilities we possess in the South, with our soil, climate and more particularly, our slaves, nothing can prevent ours from becoming the greatest wine country that ever was.” 

Unsurprisingly, systemic barriers effectively limited many Black Americans’ ability to join the wine world. Most notably, the American Homestead Act of 1862 gave cheap land to white recipients only. Even though the act was repealed in 1976, it continued to cast a long shadow. Statistics from 2002 show that white people owned 98% of private U.S. agricultural land.   

Indeed, the contributions of Black people to wine remained largely unrecorded for decades until 1940, when John June Lewis, Sr. founded Woburn Winery, the first Black-owned winery recorded in history. In 1995, David, Deneen and Coral Brown established their wine-making business at Brown Estate, which became the first Black-owned winery in Napa. Later, Iris Rideau founded Rideau Vineyards in 1997, the first Black-woman-owned winery in America.  

While progress moved quite slowly for decades, it seems to have picked up speed since the turn of the last century. The Association of African American Vintners (AAAV) was founded in 2002 by Ernie Bates, Vance Sharp and Mac McDonald. Between 2020 and 2022, AAAV had a 500% increase in membership. Today the organization counts over 50 Black-owned vineyards, cellars and wineries in their membership. But there remains much work to be done: As of 2020, less than 1% of winemakers are Black, with approximately just 70 Black-owned wineries across America. 

Justine Belle Lambright and Kathline Chery Pressing Petite Pearl at Kalchē Wine Cooperative in Fletcher, VT
Justine Belle Lambright and Kathline Chery pressing Petite Pearl at Kalchē Wine Cooperative. Image Courtesy of Jacquelyn Potter.

The Hurdles of a Black Wine Professional  

Modern Black sommeliers and winemakers have made great strides to change the narrative and move the story of Black wine forward. At the start of Pitts’s career three decades ago, there was significantly lower Black representation in the wine industry compared to today. She recounts the mentorship of a Black sommelier who helped to expose her to wine and hone her skills.

“It was made easier because I had mentors, I had people that were there to guide me and believe in me and cheer me on,” explains Pitts. Not everyone is so lucky. Today, she aims to lend that same support to others. “I don’t want someone to have to go through what I went through, which was that feeling of isolation, even within being in a room full of people”.   

Pitts believes Black wine professionals working today can chart their own paths. “Ten years ago, we probably wouldn’t have been able to say that,” she says. 

But despite progress, major challenges still persist, like access to capital. Nearly half of white-owned businesses received bank loans in the last half of 2019, but less than a quarter of Black-owned businesses received funding.  

“I think what holds us back within certain aspects is access to the funds, to the land, to the resources, the grapes, access to opportunity,” explains Pitts.   

Marlo Richardson, founder of Braymar Wines in California, agrees. “Systematically speaking, we never really exist in a position to have the right resources and connections, the right path to follow,” she says. “Trying to get those connections and that network has been a challenge because I don’t come from a corporate wine background.”  

That a lack of access to capital can also impact a Black wine brand’s ability to scale, Richardson adds. If a business doesn’t have enough money, it can’t procure inventory to partner with big stores or large wine sellers.  

Some funding opportunities such as The Roots Fund and AAAV scholarships have been created to alleviate funding inequities, while other organizations have popped up to support Black drinks professionals. But much work is still left to be done.  

Mason Washington headshot
Mason Washington of LELIYG. Image Courtesy of LELIYG

Diversifying the Wine Industry 

The modern era has brought a bevy of opportunities for Black members of the wine industry. Among them? Hybrid wine. Black cultures around the world have historically used other fruit for wines, in contrast to the European tradition, which revolves around grape wines.

“The Gullah Geechee [a group of descendants of enslaved Africans based in South Carolina] make wines from blueberries and elderberries. Yet that gets frowned upon because [it’s] not Eurocentric,” explains Tahiirah Habibi, founder of The Hue Society and a Wine Enthusiast 40 under 40 honoree. Brands like Kalchē wines, however, are helping to move such offerings into the mainstream with hybrid wines that incorporate indigenous ingredients and methods not seen in traditional European-style wines.  

The modern sommelier scene also continues to make space for Black change makers. They include Mason Washington, a 25-year-old sommelier based in Atlanta. A highlights of his still-fledgling career? The creation of a hotly-anticipated Grand Cru Riesling under the soon-to-be-launched brand LELIYG, a collaboration with German wine producer Weingut Riffel. Washington’s focus on a Riesling marks a unique collaboration between a Black sommelier and a German winemaker.  

“Sometimes I feel like Black-owned wines can be pigeon-holed, so hopefully this can help change this narrative,” says Washington.  

And indeed, the narrative is changing. Today, a wealth of Black-owned wine labels, Black-owned food and beverage businesses, Black-owned wine shops, Black-owned spirits brands and Black-owned breweries continue to innovate and produce extraordinary products. They’ve flourished in spite of a complicated history that never seems to remain fully in the past. It fills people like Washington with cautious optimism.

“At the end of the day, you pave your own journey in wine, and everyone’s journey is different,” he says. “Everyone is not going to see your vision early on, but if you believe in it and put the work behind it, that’s all that matters. A vine doesn’t grow overnight.”

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Chilean Sauvignon Blanc Is on the Rise Thanks to Two Coastal Regions Mon, 27 Feb 2023 17:34:22 +0000 Two bottles of wine sitting next to 3 einr glasses
Photography vy Tom Arena

Casablanca and Leyda are acquiring a reputation as producers of world-class Sauvignon Blanc—some of which rival that of the iconic expression from New Zealand. But at the same time, they have identified unique characteristics of their specific terroir that are site-specific expressions with a true sense of place.

In these two valleys, located along the Pacific coastline, the Humboldt current, morning fog and granitic soils help shape flavor profiles of the wines produced.

Adding to the quality of these wines are the organic, biodynamic and regenerative practices utilized by an increasing number of growers—especially as climate change continues to evolve and affect the region. They affirm that this is the best way to face this challenge and, at the same time, make better wines.


Camanchaca is the local word for the fog that rolls in from the Pacific and covers the land in the early morning. As it’s blown away by the coldwater Humboldt current that originates from Antarctica and sweeps through coastal lands, one can spy the Coastal Mountain range to the east and the expansive surrounding valley that is Casablanca.

“Casablanca is a cool-climate coastal valley influenced by the Humboldt cold-water current that, in this section of the continent, cools the wind that blows from west to east,” says Gonzalo Bertelsen, winemaker at Veramonte. “The mornings are usually cloudy. At noon ocean breezes blow off the fog and the sun shines over Casablanca.”

Camanchaca blows in from the Pacific Ocean
Camanchaca blows in from the Pacific Ocean / Photography by Viñedos Veramonte

Sauvignon Blanc, a variety sensitive to heat and light, thrives well in this environment. The valley’s lower temperatures and overcast days allow for a longer ripening period, positively influencing grape chemistry and thus the resulting wines: “Natural acidity is higher, pH is lower and because the production of sugar is low, the grapes make more balanced wines,” says Bertelsen.

Sauvignon Blanc wines from the valley offer an aromatic nose and flavors of citrus and tropical fruit alongside elevated acidity. There is ripeness, but also freshness. “The soils in this region are older than those of the Andes Mountains and are composed of granite. This also provides a sense of minerality and tension to our coastal wines,” he adds.

Bertelsen further equates the region’s high quality wine production to the ability of growers to adhere to sustainable viticultural practices. For its part, Veramonte has certified all its vineyards as organic and, starting with the 2023 vintage, wines will also be certified biodynamic.

For the last decade, Casablanca has become increasingly affected by drought, meaning it’s now more difficult to access water for irrigation. In a region where dry farming isn’t always an option, this poses a real threat to producers who are focused on high-yield grape growing. “Growing grapes for massive wine production will be unfeasible in Casablanca,” says Julio Bastías, head winemaker at Matetic Vineyards. “The future lies in small wine production with focus on high quality wines.”

For the winemaking team at Matetic Vineyards, achieving quality amid climate change means farming organically and biodynamically, as these viticultural practices allow their soils to capture and retain more water throughout the growing season, meaning less total irrigation is required.

“We believe that good balance and the best fruit can be achieved by farming organically,” agrees Bertelsen. “Farming Sauvignon Blanc organically improves canopy health by allowing better ventilation. Since the canopy is balanced, the fruit-set process is healthy, too. The berries are smaller and concentrate more flavors.” As a result, the winemaker confirms that Sauvignon Blanc wines made with organic grapes “have more complexity and more aromatic layers.”

Leyda Valley

Because of its proximity to the Pacific, Leyda Valley experiences even cooler temperatures than Casablanca and, as a result, produces Sauvignon Blanc wines with vibrant acidity and a citric and herbal character that makes them more similar to New Zealand wines than those of its coastal neighbor.

However, resembling the wines of New Zealand isn’t necessarily what winemakers are aiming for. “Why follow a recipe that is not ours?” says Viviana Navarrete from Viña Leyda. “As winemakers, our goal is to make wines that talk about the place they come from.”

Leyda Valley: Garces Silva
Leyda Valley: Garces Silva / Photography by Garcés Silva

“Sauvignon from Leyda have a more austere nose than those of Marlborough, but they are very elegant,” she continues. “They are herbaceous with aromas of fresh cut grass, cedar, vervain and intense citric notes such as lime, grapefruit and tangerine followed by salt.”

On the palate, these wines have a lasting and crunchy acidity. “This is a result of cloudy skies that stop sunlight from hitting the grape skins directly, preserving natural acidity,” explains Navarrete.

Diego Rivera, winemaker at Viña Garcés Silva, explains that the region’s soil—not just climate—plays an important role in the wines’ vivacity as well. Soils with more clay inclusion “tend to produce vigorous Sauvignon Blanc with more herbal and citric character.” Soils with a larger presence of rock near the surface produce more austere expressions with subtle fruit flavors. “In these wines the focus is on the texture,” he says, referring to the distinct minerality found in the wines produced from these areas.”

Viña Garcés Silva is practicing regenerative farming with the goal of improving soil health and biodiversity—creating an environment with more life both amid the vines and within the soil system. “This is very important not only because having living soils keeps our vineyards in good health, but because it benefits the ecosystem as a whole in the short and long term,” says Rivera.

Rivera confirms that, thanks to their conscientious viticultural practices, grapes are ripening more slowly and evenly. “We have seen more complexity in the wines.”

Rivera also comments that the number of producers in the region incorporating sustainable farming methods— including organic, biodynamic and regenerative methods—is increasing. Given the benefits to grape quality, the resulting wines and, most importantly, the environment, he hopes that this kind of viticulture will become a characteristic and a standard of Leyda wine culture.

Sauv Blanc and Chill with Top-Rated Wines

Viña Leyda 2021 Lot 4 Sauvignon Blanc (Leyda Valley); $38, 92 Points. Grown in coastal vineyards, this refreshing wine is well-balanced. Celery and salt combined with subtle lime and peach flavors alongside lively acidity. It shows lemon notes in the enjoyable finish. —J.V. (Buy on Vivino)

Garces Silva 2021 Amayna Sauvignon Blanc (Leyda Valley); $26, 91 Points. Green peas and lime introduce a vibrant palate offering citrus fruit and light notes of peach. Leyda Valley’s electric acidity carries through a persistent saline finish. This wine has a mineral character and shows the potential of this coastal region. —J.V. (Buy on

Viña Marty 2020 Goutte D’Argent Sauvignon Blanc (Leyda Valley); $ Varies, 91 Points. Attractive and delicate aromas of honey, quince and peach are displayed in the glass of this Sauvignon Blanc from Leyda Valley. The light- to medium-bodied palate is flavorful with more stone fruit and subtle citrusy. Vibrant acidity lifts up the palate and makes the wine very enjoyable. The finish is crisp with a fruity aftertaste. —J.V. (Buy on Wine-Searcher)

Viña Tabalí 2021 Talinay Sauvignon Blanc (Limarí Valley); $ Varies, 91 Points. Herbaceous aromas blend with subtle notes of citrus fruit and salt. It has a mineral texture that carries bright flavors of lemon and green bell pepper throughout the long finish. Vibrant acidity completes the fresh palate. —J.V. (Buy on Wine-Searcher)

Concha y Toro 2021 Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley); $ Varies, 90 Points. A refreshing white from Chile’s coastal region, this wine displays white-peach, lime, grass, and wet stones aromas. On the palate, sharp acidity is balanced by light notes of stone fruit, with lime, and jalapeño flavors. This was a cold year and it shows, still this wine has weight and is very enjoyable. —J.V. (Buy on Wine-Searcher)

Indomita 2018 Duette Premium Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley); $ Varies, 90 Points. White flowers, citrus fruit and hints of herbs make an enticing bouquet. On the palate, this white from coastal vineyards shows weight and a slightly oily texture. Backed by moderate acidity, the lime and stone-fruit flavors are honest and fresh. It’s balanced with a citrus character and a light saline note. —J.V.

Matetic 2021 Corralillo Sauvignon Blanc (San Antonio); $ Varies, 90 Points. The nose opens with intense aromas of herbs. After aeration, it reveals subtle notes of white grapefruit and wet stones adding complexity to the bouquet. This coastal and good-value wine features a mineral character and shows herbs and saline flavors accented by lemon and orange peel. Lively acidity leads to a citrus finish. Best Buy. J.V. (Buy on Wine-Searcher)

Morandé 2021 Estate Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley); $14, 90 Points. Aromatic and intense notes of white grapefruit, guava and a hint of asparagus in the glass of this Sauvignon Blanc sourced from Casablanca. The palate is creamy with rich citrus and exotic fruit flavors blended with subtle chamomile flower notes. It has refreshing acidity and a crisp citrus finish. #47 Top 100 Best Buy 2022. Best Buy. J.V. (Buy on Wine Library)

Morandé 2020 Gran Reserva Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley); $ Varies, 90 Points. White flowers, apricot, and lemon shape the nose. On the palate, are ripe lemon, linden tea and stone-fruit flavors. Aged in foudres, the contact with oak added complexity to the wine while preserving its freshness. It has a medium finish with saline notes. It’s very enjoyable. —J.V. (Buy on Wine-Searcher)

Siegel 2021 Special Reserve Sauvignon Blanc (Leyda Valley); $ Varies, 90 Points. Pronounced herbal aromas dominate this wine, only allowing light citrus and wet stones notes to emerge. Mineral texture and lively acidity makes this wine very refreshing. Citrus flavors of grapefruit and lime show on the balanced and round palate. It has a pleasant, medium-long finish. —J.V. (Buy on Wine-Searcher)

Viña Casablanca 2021 Nimbus Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc (Casablanca Valley); $13, 90 Points. Light notes of mint are followed by lime and peach aromas. This white is flavorful, delivering grapefruit, lime and herbaceous notes on the palate. It has a lemony fresh finish. —J.V. (Buy on Total Wine & More)

This article originally appeared in the February/March 2023 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!

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Vinfamous Giveaway Mon, 27 Feb 2023 16:33:11 +0000 A Vinfamous Giveaway
Vinfamous Giveaway

Fernet Is the Italian Liqueur Missing From Your Bar Cart Fri, 24 Feb 2023 22:48:49 +0000 Fernet Branca
Images Coutesy of Fernet Branca

At the far side of a dimly lit bar, two bartenders share shots of an unknown brown liquid. They’re drinking fernet—most likely Fernet-Branca—and taking part in a well-known industry ritual often referred to as “the bartenders’ handshake.”

This bitter Italian herbal spirit can be found on the shelf of almost any rickety watering hole or high-end cocktail palace. From Milan and Argentina to San Francisco, Fernet-Branca has earned its place in the mixologist lexicon and built a culture all its own.

Here’s everything you need to know about Fernet-Branca.

What Is Fernet?

When people talk about fernet, nine times out of ten, they’re talking about Fernet-Branca. Like Kleenex or Q-tips, the brand has become synonymous with the category. There are several brands currently producing the liqueur but, “Fernet-Branca is the original,” says Erin Campbell, regional portfolio manager for Fratelli Branca Distillerie, Fernet-Branca’s parent company.

The drink “is an ill-defined style of Italian bitter digestive,” says The Oxford Companion to Spirits & Cocktails. “Although widely considered to belong to the amaro family, some argue it forms a category of its own.”

For those unaware, amaro is Italian for bitter and it is a vast category of Italian herbal digestifs. It’s believed to aid in and stimulate the digestive system and is often imbibed after a big meal.

While the herbs and spices used to create fernet differ by brand, usual ingredients include myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe and saffron.

The History of Fernet

As far as it can be traced back, Fernet-Branca was created in 1845 in Milan, Italy by Bernardino Branca at Fratelli Branca Distillerie. The origin of the actual amaro category or even the exact recipe for Branca remains unknown.

According to Branca: A Spirited Italian Icon, “The first publicity billboards told the story of an elderly Swedish doctor and his long-lived family…The advertisement never offered details of the relationship between Dr. Fernet and Branca, or how they got together to produce the ‘renowned’ and healthy liqueur. In the following years, the original recipe was credited to some anchorite monks, who lived in a remote hermitage in the Alps.”