Education in opening a 2014 Burgundy


, ,

I’ve become fascinated with Burgundy and learning more about it. Burgundy is a complex region in eastern France with varied terroir, history, and tradition.

I visited the famed Pinot Noir/Chardonnay region in 2014 as a real novice and visited a couple good wineries and a couple which disappointed. In 2019, three buddies and I traveled to Beaune to visit wineries and eat in a few of Beaune’s magnificent small restaurants. I think we had better wine experiences on my second trip which we arranged on our own.

Our very first stop on the trip proved to be one of the best in my mind. We drove out to nearby Vosne-Romanee and tour and tasted at Domaine Armelle and Bernard Rion. The winery, caves and tasting room sit in the heart of the really small village. Alice, one of three daughters was our tour guide. She took us through recently updated winemaking facilities, then into the cellar for more history, philosophy and tasting.

The winery was founded in 1896 by Pierre Rion and has remained in family control and operation since. The history has allowed for growth and adding vineyard plots from all over Burgundy, many of them very sought-after and prestigous vineyards.

We tasted maybe six wines and then enjoyed a couple of truffle samples. Truffles are found on the Rion property. I purchased a bottle of Nuits-Saint Georges Dame Marguerite for about 47 Euro. That imported bottle today sould cost about twice that amount. I also brought home a Rion bottle from Vosne Romanee, one of my favorites.

I opened that Nuit-Saint-George Christmas weekend. The fact sheet from the website said ageability was about 10 years. So I was pushing up against the maximum on that bottle. I found the wine a bit rustic, leathery, earthy, and with good depth. And Interesting enough it was even better the next day when the fruit became a bit more pronounced.

I have a lot more to learn and understand about Burgundy. I still have about 7 bottles of red I purchased during the trip. My life’s wine journey has gone from Lambrusco and Riesling to a little bit of everything to nowdays Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The journey never ends.

Does size really matter?


, ,

EDITOR NOTE: This was my fall wine column for Madison Magazine, a quarterly lifestyle publication in East Central Indiana. They hold rights for a period after publication but the subject matter is not dated.

Does size really matter? No, but shape just might.

To elevate your wine drinking and pleasure consider buying a couple of really nice wine glasses. Opinions vary on the impact of high-end wine glasses, but many think it makes a difference. Count me in as one who likes the varietal-specific Riedel stemware.

Riedel is an historic Austrian company with all sorts of wine glasses at all levels of pricing. The company also pioneered specific-shaped wine glasses for different wines.

While I admit being a fan, wine professionals aren’t necessarily drinking from the same cup. Many sommeliers recommend one really nice, well-made glass – usually a medium-size Bordeaux glass.

Jan Bugher, sommelier at Bluebeard restaurant in Indianapolis, mostly agreed with her wine pro colleagues until she and I did a couple of side by side comparisons during the conversation for this column.

“I’m not sure it makes that big a difference,’ she said when we sat down. “It’s not just the shape of the glass but the way the wine hits your mouth.” She believes the thin lip of finer stemware will give the best wine enjoyment.

Instead, as a restaurant wine specialist, she thinks it makes a difference to the wine buyer. “It is sort of tradition and experience,” she said. “It also is an indication of service. If I go into a restaurant and they serve their wine in a thick glass I have some doubts. But if a customer orders a Red Burgundy or White Bordeaux and the staff is putting down the appropriate stemware, it changes your whole perception of the restaurant.”

But still Bugher wasn’t positive it made a difference in day-to-day drinking. So, she and I enjoyed a side-by-side experiment with a big-bowl Riedel Pinot Noir glass and a standard shape inexpensive glass. We drank a lovely, and inexpensive Weather Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast. Suggested retail, not restaurant prices, would be around $20-$30.

The veteran wine specialist was surprised. “It does make a difference,” she admitted. “I feel like I’m getting more fruit from this one (Riedel stemware)” She went on to notice, and me too, that the characteristics on the nose of the wine were much more pronounced in the Riedel glass.

“It comes across a little more focused, elegant and dry. It just focuses the fruit more,” she said. “Is it enough I’d do it every day probably not, but there is a difference.”

My personal experience is it makes a very notable difference with Pinot. I own the Riedel Pinot Old World and New World (tulips) glasses and love them. I also use a Syrah/Zinfandel glass for big wines.

It’s time to note the Riedel glasses are by far and away the industry leaders but they’re not cheap. Any one of its top level stemware runs around $30 a glass. Riedel produces multiple shapes for all sorts of different wines and have 96 different products on its webside.

But what should you buy to enhance your wine-drinking experience?

“I would tell people to buy the Riedel red (Bordeaux). I think that’s a great all-purpose glass. It’s a great glass you can use for everything, that’s unless you want to do something fancy.” Fancy used to be the tall, slim flutes for bubbles. But in recent years more traditional glasses and even cocktail-shaped glasses have taken over for sparkling wines.

Bugher believes wine glasses are part of a great wine experience. “It’s about attention to detail and perception. And we’ve proven here today that they do work.”

Since she serves and recommends wines nightly in one of Indy’s high-end restaurants, she notices customers’ reactions. “When people spend money it gives them confidence in what they spend. If I just bought a $100-$200 bottle of red burgundy (and they bring out Riedel stemware) I think, ‘Oh good they’re breaking out the nice glasses and I feel better for what I spent.”

So image counts, yes. But try the side-by-side test and you’ll be surprised how shape affects flavor.

What do I recommend? I agree that buying the red wine Bordeaux glass is a great start. I’d add a Pinot glass, if you drink a lot of Pinot Noir, and a cocktail sour glass for bubbles.

There are other glass brands just look for shape and the thinness of the lip.

Wine glasses will become just as important to you as the wine you’re pouring.

Stock up on Oregon Pinot?


, ,

If you love Oregon Pinot Noir, it may be time to stock up.

Howard with Oregon winery owner Bill Sweat.

Three years of forests fires and an untimely spring freeze is challenging winemakers to change their standard production. It’s also forcing decisions on wine distribution, tasting rooms, and club memberships

The Willamette Valley had smoke damage in 2018 and 2019 but the worst smoke taint was in 2020 when the fires burned in the valley and not just adjacent areas. Smoke penetrates the thin skins of Pinot at a much more significant rate than Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. While there is no danger to using the grapes, the taste can be mildly to profoundly affected.

The solutions vary to making wines requiring less skin contact to making no wine at all. There will be lots more Pinot Noir Rose’ from the 2020 vintage but less, and in some cases, a lot less Pinot Noir.

“Our sparkling, whites and rose were unaffected and we bottled the usual amounts,” said Winderlea owner Bill Sweat. “We made about 800 cases of Pinot Noir versus a more typical 4,500.”

Sweat explained much of his grape crop was picked the first day of the smoke while some of the fruit came from a windswept vineyard. “It will only affect our retail and wholesale businesses to the extent that 2020 will not have a lot of wine so we’ll move to 2021 more quickly. We’re pouring 2018 Pinots right now.”

Alloro’s Tom Fitzpatrick

At the higher elevation in the Chehalem Mountains, smoke taint was less of an issue, Alloro vineyards lowered its fruit set and clusters. “The forest fires did not impact our yield,” said General Manager and winemaker Tom Fitzpatrick.

Alloro mitigated any significant smoke impact by using 60 percent of its Pinot grapes in a trendy white Pinot Noir. Again, a pale pink wine which requires less skin contact during the winemaking process. But that move obviously reduced the cases of the highly rated Pinot Noir.

Fitzpatrick took the most unique view of the challenge. “With our focus on terroir-driven wines, we embraced the potential influence of the fires – a natural environmental element in 2020 that an honest terroir-driven wine should display. Our hope was to craft a wine that might present some influence from the fires but only only one small and pleasant element that adds complexity. We are very pleased with the results.”

Still, that results in less Pinot Noir for the up-and-coming Alloro Vineyards. Fitzpatrick had sold 50 cases of Pinot Noir to the Indianapolis wine shop I have worked at over the past two years. We’ll not be getting any new wine for the coming year.

Having had a least one extensive conversation with the Alloro winemaker at the vineyard a few years back revealed significant concerns about the reality of climate change. Fitzpatrick has planted the northern Italian red wine grape Nebbiolo for future vintage production. He’s gone so far as to pouring Italian Nebbiolo wines in the tasting room to introduce customers to the grape which makes the big, sought-after Barolo wines.

While optimistic about surviving the freeze, Fitzpatrick knows the freeze is going to reduce yields this growing season. “The year promises to deliver very high quality, though possibly at the expense of yield and the ultimate quantity of the wine produced.”

Long-time industry leader Lange Estate Vineyards’ winemaker Jesse Lange is simply trying to manage the problem. “Our whites were pretty unaffected” he said. “Certainly, smoke compounds and how they interact with any given wine is the most complex wine chemistry I’ve ever delved into.”

Lange called it an endeavor fascinating as much as it was intimidating. He transitioned to the frost challenge with similar winemaking intellectual perspective. The frost experience was different from vineyard to vineyard, he said.

The valley was hit in mid April this year with temperatures in the mid-20s. Grape vines bloom at that time and are very delicate, there is a second bloom with a decrease in yield with slightly less flavor but a crop can produce wine though at perhaps a lesser quality.

Determining the exact frost damage will continue throughout the growing season. “Our early estimates were in the 10-20 percent range but that doesn’t mean the crop will be reduced by that much,” Sweat explained. “Given that our vineyards naturallycrop 4-plus tons per acre and we thin them back to 2.5-2.75 tons peradcre, I don’t think this will have much affect on us. Impact seems varied widely across the valley though.”

Oregon’s agricultural leaders have said crop loss from the freeze could wipe out up to 50 percent of the normal crop. The iconic Domaine Drouhin winery is making no Pinot Noir while most of not many are cutting back significantly.

If you love Oregon Pinot but it up now. If not try some red Burgundy to quench your Pinot palate.

Howard’s note: This is a magazine piece I wrote this summer for Madison Magazine based out of Anderson. They have an exclusive right to the content for a period after publication.

Huber’s – Not just about wine anymore


Changing consumer tastes and a growing number of family members has spurred Southern Indiana’s Huber Winery to significant growth.

Wine production, stable around 50,000 cases for several years, neared 70,000 cases this past year. But what’s really impressive is the explosive growth of the distilled spirits business. Huber’s is putting spirits in barrels more than they are bottling and selling. The expectation is they’ll pass the 50 percent mark in the coming few years for finished product, obviously spurring additional growth.

The success is driven by treating wine and spirits the same and capitalizing on Huber’s incredible tourist draw at their winery, distillery, farmer’s market, restaurant, large meeting hall and more.

Visitors to the hilltop winery near New Albany topped 500,000 visitors just a couple of years ago, then 600,000 the following year. Ted Huber said this year the winery had several days when more than 20,000 people passed through the vines, Christmas trees and up to the tasting room. Those numbers make Huber’s Indiana’s most-visited winery.

“Our family sees a lot of success in the spirit market because we treat it exactly like wine,” said President and co-owner at Hubers. “When you have a tasting experience here at winery, you can sit here and enjoy wine and have a great tasting. Guy sitting beside you can be your best friend who hates wine but loves spirits. He has a different shaped glass and whiskey being poured in his glass and has a great time. We treat the tastings the same. We talk about the flavors. Instead of talking about vineyards we’re talking about cornfields. There is a lot of correlation between the two.

Huber started with a small still more than a decade ago making brandy and now business is booming. The whiskey and bourbon products are sold in 20 states. They have three rickhouses (spirits’ barrel storage) and have started construction on a fourth. The rickhouses hold 2400 to 7,000 barrels each.

“Liquor is a little easier for us to ship out of here and get on the shelves than an Indiana wine,“ he said. “We have a lot of people moving away from wine and getting into spirits. People are getting into what goes into those drinks.

“People will say that’ a really good cocktail but why is that Manhattan so different from that Manhattan? And now that they’re in the cocktail market they’re trying some of the main ingredients. Kentucky bourbon or Indiana rye have different flavor profiles. So the consumer is finding that to be very interesting.”

The market growth has coincided with family growth. The sprawling operation is nearly 180 years old with family ownership and control the whole time.

“As the size or his working family has expanded, Huber has been able to experiment more. “My mother is still here, my uncle is still here, my business partner is here and now we have five members of the seventh generation coming on board.

“That takes a lot of space for family members to live on the farm, and work on the farm without getting in each other’s way,” he laughed. “We a legacy farm going on 180 years and we want to continue that. We’ve had to have more opportunities for family members to move into the company.”

As far Huber is concerned, growth has been nonstop. “A construction company has been coming or going since 2013. As long as the economy remains strong, we’ll keep expanding.

Wine lovers take note of one of their boldest moves. “We’re moving into Chardonnay which is brand new for us. We bought a farm that is a great location for Chardonnay. Note he’s not talking about the hybrid Chardonel but the world’s second most-planted grape Chardonnay. Ted’s two sons, Blake and Christian, are crafting a Chardonnay in a French Chablis style – no oak! There is very little, if any, Chardonnay grown in the Hoosier state.

The exciting growth means employment opportunities as well. The winery, orchard and farm employ 75 full-time employees. Employment swell up to 175 during peak seasons.

The future isn’t just about new wines and booming spirits sales. When that fourth rickhouse is complete, the family plans to build a new tasting room combining the wine and spirits tasting opportunities.

Huber’s is often recognized as the state’s best estate grown red wines. When given the chance, try the Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Bordeaux-style Heritage, or Petit Verdot.

Where have the all the biscuits gone?


Empty shelves at all markets around the city.

Where have all the biscuits gone?

Long time passing?

Where have all the biscuits gone?

From not so long ago?

Where have all the biscuits gone?

Baked during pandemic- every one.

Oh, when will the doughboy return?

Oh when will the Pillsbury guy return?

Ok, that was bad with apologies to Pete Seeger and the Kingston Trio. But have you tried buying canned, ready-to-bake biscuits lately or during the pandemic? They are almost impossible to find.

I love Pillsbury crescent or buttery biscuits but I’ve visited four Indy food markets and found little inventory. And don’t get me started on missing those orange-iced rolls!

I’m good on Google and searched various word combinations and can’t find any reasoning. Nothing online about supply problems, manufacturing problems or any reason. But no biscuits this week at four markets and same happened during high of pandemic? Why is the Pillsbury doughboy awol? I’ll even take other brands – and no biscuits!!

Forget the Christmas toys, car electronics, and other things identified as being in short supply. Can someone tell me where the biscuits have gone?

This is a national breakfast crisis!

Just what is a ‘bad wine?’



Wine sales people, writers or just an aficionado will talk about bad wine but it’s not a topic anyone wants to wallow in for a lengthy time.

So what is bad wine? A bad wine may be defined as simply as one you don’t like. But perhaps your neighbor likes it. A wine gone bad is a whole different story.

A rule of thumb to start with, never store any wine in a warm spot. Never. No, you can’t leave that wine you just purchased in the car on a warm day even for an hour.

Always store your wine on its side in a cool, dry, and dark spot. That’s an easy first suggestion to avoid bad wine.

But there are other culprits in bad wine, primarily oxygen. I tell retail wine customers, almost daily, oxygen is wine’s best friend and most lethal enemy. Opening up almost any bottle of red wine to decant it or just air it out will almost always improve the drinking experience. If you don’t have a wine decanter and you drink a good amount of red wine, go buy one. Most home stores have wine glasses and decanters. A cheap one works as well as an expensive one.

Conversely, oxygen will quickly kill red wine once opened. An ever-puzzling challenge is what to do with that half a bottle left over at evening’s end. If not sealed up properly, you will probably have an unpleasant experience when re-opening. If the wine smells overly musty or tastes like vinegar or cider, it’s likely gone bad.

Here’s an over-simplified couple of clues to bad wine. If you think it is unpleasant from your previous pour a day or more earlier, it probably has oxidized.

There are all sorts of devices to save wine and I’ve tried most of them. There are expensive options to cheap alternatives. The best I’ve found is the simple rubber stopper with a little hand pump to suck out the excess air.

If you’re really serious about wine you need a Coravin. The device pierces the cork with a needle-like projectile. Proponents say it will keep the wine for weeks if not months. The solution isn’t cheap though, ranging from $200-$300 models. But they do work well. You’ll see the Coravin in better restaurants and even wine shops in use every day.

But oxygen isn’t the only enemy. There are several chemical reactions which can happen in the bottle which will make it undrinkable. Going into those problems would make this column as unreadable. These flaws are much more noticeable than too much oxygen. The smell and taste will be terrible – and that’s not a wine geeky term.

Let’s tackle one other category of bad wine – a wine you strongly dislike. It’s a fun and challenging task to recommend wines to retail customers. It’s hard sometimes to recommend a wine that fits a customer’s desired description or price point.

I don’t like to recommend a wine I don’t like but that’s not fair – what I like you might not. I’ve learned through the years to judge a wine for what it is. Does the $9 bottle pass the same test as a $50 bottle? Is it balanced across your palate, reasonable acidity and just the right alcohol level? If any wine meets those standards it’s probably a decent bottle.

Many customers are looking for the cheapest bottle they can find and there are good well-made wines around $10 in a decent wine shop. You’re rolling the dice at that price point in a liquor store or grocery.

Everything still comes back to your personal tastes and budget. You want to upgrade your wines, don’t be afraid to ask questions and seek help from a wine professional. But you may need to up your budget just a few bucks to avoid those bad wines.

Contrasting wine visits

McMinnville, OR. – After a long Sat traveling to Oregon, we kicked off our Willamette Valley visit with a wonderful day of tastings with dramatic differences.

A note about the travel – two flights, Indy-Minneapolis and Minneapolis to Portland. I don’t recall seeing much of any one in either airport and none on the flight without a mask. It’s refreshing to see that level of cooperation to end this terrible pandemic.

None of the three wineries we visited required masking.

Our first stop was Knudsen Vineyards and it was my favorite of the day. Knudsen planted grapes back at the start of the Oregon wine industry in 1971. Those vines are now gone due to root disease but sprawling vineyards is one of the valley’s best.

For years Knudson sold grapes to Erath and then Argyle. They still sell a lot of their growth to Argyle for their sparkling wines.

We were greeted by Page Knudson, second-generation family member. She was delightful and answered lots of our questions.

The Knudsen Chardonnay and Rose were terrific. The Rose’ is made with some of the oldest vines on the property. The selection of dynamite Pinot Noir — from blends to designated blocks in the vineyard were all terrific and different enough to match any tastes. The Pinot’s ranged from full bodied and full fruit to the popular more light and delicate mouth feel Oregon has made popular.

So, you’ve never heard of Knudsen? Well they didn’t start producing their own wines until start of the last decade and to this day are only doing 2,000 cases. it’s a gem of a winery …. small, family owned and operated and terrific wines.

Our second stop could not have been more different. I had been anxious to visit Resonance – the French-owned Louis Jadot operation that has drawn lots of attention due to the French icon’s investment. The tasting room is stunning with an ‘old barn’ feel.

The wines aren’t going to be for everybody. They self describe the wines as made with a Burgundian accent. Very true. The pinot noir is lighter, leaner and more acidic than much of what a visitor will taste in the Valley. The chardonnay from Hyland vineards was a wonderful Oregon take on white burgundy.

Zach Thom, Howard, Zach Bigg at Elk Cove

Last stop was long-time producer Elk Cove, also a big producer by Valley norms at 85,000 cases. Part of this trip is aimed to visit with friend Zach Thom whom worked at the wine shop in Indy with me. We also were joined my Zach Biggs who worked with us for about a year.

Elk Cove makes lots of choices from Chardonnay, Riesing, Rose’, sparkling and several Pinot Noir. The wines are consistently dool..

Elk Cove might just make the best Pinot Gris of any producer in the valley.

Today is our ‘something different’ day. I always go to the Gorge and Mount Hood on an of day but we’re mixing it up and are going to visit the rocky Oregon Pacific Coast


What’s for dinner?



EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m cleaning up my computer and finding a couple Magazine pieces I’ve written in past year an not posted here. In retirement, I work at a small boutique wine shop. The most frequently asked question is about food and wine pairings. Here’s my take written late in 2020 with a few edits.

Red or White? It’s the oldest question in fine dining and wine world when thinking about wine with a meal. The right answer is there is no answer – eat and drink what you like and don’t let anyone tell you differently. But there are plenty of people willing to make suggestions.

There is a humorous cartoon that pops up on social media occasionally addressing that choice. A caveman and cave woman are standing in a stone house. The caveman says, “Remember if it eats us. we drink red; if we eat it, it’s white.”

Having worked part time in retail wine sales for more than 3.5 years in retirement, customers seeking a good wine-food pairing are an everyday occurrence.

The best approach is to start with the basics and you’ll find delight. But then try new things and then try a few things that make no sense at all.

For years wine drinkers and restaurants have lived with the red meat/red wine and chicken/fish with white wine mantra. It works and it works well. Char a ribeye or strip steak and pop open a big Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and you’ll understand how good pairings can be. If you enjoy roasted chicken, you’ll delight in one of California’s big buttery Chardonnays or a leaner and crisp Chablis or White Burgundy from France.

But everyone wants tips and recommendations, so here are a few:

Barbeque or heavily spiced foods: Malbec, Shiraz, or French Cotes-du-Rhone wines will work well. Something different: Try a semi-sweet Riesling or Gewurtztraminer.

Tangy foods: Try Albarino, Spanish Verdejo, or a good Sauvignon blanc. New Zealand Sauv Blanc is acidic with bold citrus grapefruit flavors, California Sauv blanc is a more restrained wine with great balance, while French Sancerre is an elegant and soft version of Sauv Blanc. Something different: Try an Italian Vermentino or Garnaccia.

Salmon: One of the best traditional pairings is Pinot Noir or a Sauv Blanc. Try those other whites mentioned above for a change. Something different: Pick up a lighter red like a Spanish or Italian Barbaresco.

White Fish: The whites already mentioned will work with most white fish. If you have a firm white fish like Halibut, try something different like a Mourvedre or Grenache.

Pork Chops, roast or shoulder: Pork is one of the most flexible proteins in our diet. That also makes pork a perfect meat for wine pairing experimentation. Try reds and white with lower acidity and a lighter mouth feel. Something different: Get bold and choose a California Zinfandel to create a real contrast.

Hamburger: Lighter red wines like Beaujolais Cru or a Spanish Rioja.

Pizza, chili, simple pasta: Everyone drinks Chianti and it works great. But try the previously mentioned Italian Barbaresco or Barbera.

Salads and desserts: A good catch-all answer for a food group is bubbles. Traditional champagne is dry and refreshing but on the pricey side. Don’t overlook Italian Prosecco, Spanish Cava, and US made sparkling wines. Something different: A favorite is French Cremant. Cremant is made by the same process as Champagne but, per French law, cannot be called Champagne. Alsace, Burgundy, Loire Valley, and the Languedoc produce Cremant wines. There are great ones for around $20.

Final tip is an “oh-wow” experience. Get some nice salty popcorn and real French Champagne and enjoy.

Getting the alcohol right for you



EDITOR’S NOTE: While I did shut down my regular newspaper column a couplel of years ago, I have continued to write a quarterly magazine piece for a targeted circulation in East Central Indiana. The magazine has a quarantine on these for my publication but these posts tend to be non dated. This is from Spring 2021.

A good argument is assured when oenophiles engage in any discussion on alcohol levels in wine.

To some extent wine is viewed differently than other alcoholic beverages, mostly as something for dinner or relaxed enjoyment. The truth is much of the world’s favorite wine is high in alcohol. That makes those wines more of a health risk, particularly more of a risk as we age, and sometimes even difficult to drink.

Traditionally, French wines are somewhat lighter in alcohol content than American or Italian. Now for a quick bit of education, riper grapes create higher sugars and higher sugars create higher alcohol. What are two of the warmest and sunniest regions in the world? California’s coastal region and the hot expanse of Tuscany and northern Italy produce high alcohol wines.

A glossary would be helpful: Low alcohol wines (under 12.5%): Italian Prosecco, French Vouvray, California White Zin; Medium alcohol wines (12.5-13.5%): Champagne, most French whites,  French Beaujolais and Burgundy, Spanish Rioja. High alcohol wines (13.5-14.5%): Many Chardonnays, Malbec, Shiraz, California Pinot Noir, Rhone Reds and Italian Barolo; Very high alcohol (more than 14.5%): California Petit Sirah and Zinfandel, some California Cabernet, Italian Amarone

That is not an all-inclusive list by any means but a good guide.

The drawbacks to high-alcohol wine should be obvious and you’ll find little disagreement from medical and health professional. Too much booze can lead to sleep deficiency, obesity, heart disease, fertility issues, and pancreatitis.

As an aging Hoosier I would add acid reflux, indigestion and low-grade headaches to the list. I became interested in this topic in the last six months when I started having adverse affects from higher alcohol red wine. And perhaps I should add I drink less wine now than in previous years. I’ve also heard similar complaints from older customers shopping in the wine store where I work part time.

I decided to do a little alcohol survey in that shop. Let me clarify it is more of a boutique wine shop with value wines but a bigger selection of premium wines than any liquor store or grocery aisle.  The wines I looked at, French and American, range from $50-$350 a bottle. But price has nothing to do with alcohol levels it was just a good test group. I chose a set of shelves with 24 random wines from Bordeaux and another with 24 bottles from California, mostly Napa.

The results are interesting to serious wine drinkers. Of the 24 Bordeaux wines, none were higher than 14.5 percent but there were 10 right at that mark. Half of the wines were 14 percent or lower with 10 of those in the 13 range.

How many people buy wine based on alcohol? The answer is very few but it’s starting to creep into the conversation. It’s also a bit of a national conversation usually centered around California and Australian reds.

How do you know the alcohol content in your wine? That’s really easy. The alcohol level in any bottle of wine sold in the USA must have the alcohol content on the label. Some wine makers make it tough to find but you’ll come across it on the bottom corner of the front label or buried in a bunch of small type on the back label.

There is also plenty of controversy about how accurate those measurements are, especially from California. Oddly enough, California liquor laws allow a 1.5% variance on wine below 14% and a 1% leeway for over 14%.

So an easy solution is to buy French wine, right? That is what I’ve elected to do in future purchases. But, for enjoyment purposes if you want a big, hot Napa Cab just have a glass of water near by and sip it alternatively with the wine. The simple glass of water is a solid solution that works and doesn’t dilute the enjoyment of a hefty red wine.

The point is not to drink more of one wine or less of another. The goal is to educate yourself and know what you are drinking. The risks are significant to heavy and moderate drinkers.

Enjoy your big red wines but be sure to mix in some whites and lighter reds for your health. And, always drink in moderation.

About online reviews

CLEARWATER, Fla. – A strong case can be made that Google Reviews, Trip Advisor and more can be strong research tools when planning a trip.

I read them and I write them. But they need to be taken with a grain of salt, or in this case maybe a pebble of sand.

I used a booker, as I often to for this last minute relaxation trip to Clearwater. A booker is simply one of those online aggregators which can book your flight, hotel, and even car rental. I’ve had great success with them.

I had one book this trip I got a round-trip flight for under $200 booked on Spirit Airlines. The AIRBUS jet was new, great smooth flight – had to pay for a bottle of water. The 300-plus seat aircraft only had 100 passengers so that was comfort in avoiding COVID, etc. But stewardes said a morning flight wa sold out.

The booker found a couple motels in Clearwater on special wih too-good-to-be true prices. (Yes, I know better.) I avoided the beach and jus wanted located in the city. The beach hotels are rightfully costly $300-$400 a night. So we booked this older smaller motel near the Philadelpia Phillies’ spring training complex. The booker’ best deal on a car was $100 a day. So I used a different booker and found a car for half that cost.

But the night before this trip I got curious about my motel booking. So I read a ton of online reviews and best characterization might be ‘Ahh-oh.” The reviews were mostly all terrible to horrible.

I called the booker Tuesday morning, hours from departure, and learned they could cancel but no refund on a pre-paid six-night stay. So there is one useful tip – check the cancellation policy dammit if someone else is booking your room.

And read the reviews anyway. Here is how it played out – I went to the motel and checked it out, epecting to find what I had read. It could use a coat of paint outside.

I was honest with the young man at a regrettable check in window. He checked and the reservation was canceled but no refund. The young man showed me what would be my room. It smelled fine, linens looked new, and bathroom was spotess. The room was okay for less than $100.

I stayed and next morning (today, Wed.) found the manager, who could only roll her eyes when asked about the online reviews.

“You know people book us because of price and get here and see we’r not on the beach,” she said with a smirk. “And then if one little thing is wrong they trash us. We’re not the Ritz-Carlton but we do our best for the rate.”

I also talked to some guests at the pool last night and none had anyhing bad to say about their room one woman said she and husband switched rooms because of noise in parking lot betweenn here and another value motel next door.

I had a quiet night – a little bit of a noisy air conditioner. Bed was fine even if bit too soft for my personal preference.

I checked out the free continental breakfast which did not appeal. But went next door to one of Clearwater’ iconic breakfast joint Lenny’s. More on Lenny’s later in week. The ladies waiting tables oozed southern charm. My greeter had a huge Dolly Parton-style blonde hairdo. I knew I was in the right place.

So on day one I was reminded to read online reviews skeptically. I told the manager that if my stay remainder of my stay is as good as first impression and first night, I’d write her a good review – not from guilt but because it would be earned.

Off this morning to checkout path to beach… it’s crazy out there … maybe grab a Ron-Jon shirt or hat and a grouper sandwich. Then it’ back to motel pool with my wine stash and a book.