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How do we pick our wines?

A club member asked me recently how we pick the wines that go into our clubs. Before I answered her, I checked some of our numbers.

Since 1999, the year we started Cellars Wine Club, I have kept track of every wine featured. I added those up and the total came to over 2800 wines! Quite an impressive number until I estimated how many wines I have tried that didn’t make it into the club: over 15,000.

So how do we choose? In short we taste, taste, and taste lots of wines! In general there are three avenues to have the wines presented to us. The first is wine tasting events that we are invited to on a weekly or monthly basis. The second is wine shipments that are sent to us from across the country or even across the world. The third is the most common because almost
every day we meet with either a winery representative, an importer, or a distributor representative (a sales agent who represents the wineries). They bring the wines directly to us that they would most like us to consider for our clubs. Sometimes they bring one wine, sometimes a dozen. Most of the time we open the wines right there and taste through the lineup. This is beneficial because we can give them feedback on what we like or don’t like about the wine and this helps them with future submissions. There are many factors that help determine inclusion;

  1. Taste – The big one. The wine has to be good and be a good representation for the wine club it is chosen for.
  2. History – We try to feature as many new wines and wineries as possible, thus a new winery gets put ahead in the line over a previously used one whenever possible.
  3. Price – We need the wine at a great price so we can offer it to you at a great price.
  4. Regional Availability – We stay away from wines that can be purchased at every grocery store around the country.
  5. Compelling Story – We love a good story about a family winery or a new wine region for our write-ups and tasting notes.

It is only after combining all of these factors that a final wine line-up is established for every club, every month. The best part about choosing the wines for the club is largely the same reason people join our wine club: we get to try new wines all the time. But for our club members, they get to try the best ones.

We hope you continue to enjoy them with us!

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The Art of Decanting Wine


This could be a new term to some of you that are beginning to enjoy wine. Decanting a bottle of wine is in essence pouring the opened bottle into a vase like vessel made of glass. Traditionally this practice is only done with red wines and not practiced when serving white wine.

In the “old days” you would decant a bottle of wine to help settle the sediment, which can form in an older bottle of wine. The main reason to decant is to let the wine breathe or aerate it. Young or old wines benefit from decanting and can greatly improve the taste of most wines.

We look at it this way; the wine has been confined to a very tight space since bottling and simply needs to stretch its legs out.

The length of time to have your wine in a decanter can vary from the age of the bottle to the type of wine in the bottle.

A good way to test the length of time to decant is taste the wine when the bottle is opened and then again after it’s been in the decanter for a ½ hour. Then continue to try it at specified increments until you think the taste is better and has opened up.

Decanting shouldn’t be intimidating, quite the opposite. It offers you a chance to experience a new way to appreciate wine and even better is a great group endeavor to share with friends or family. Like anything with wine the best way to learn about something is to try it!

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The Art of Coopering

Oak maturing is an artform. The barrels a winemaker picks have a checked impact on how the wine will taste, giving flavors that extend from sweet to somber, says Margaret Rand.


Each wine has a back-story. We’re used to following a wine’s history back to the unbroken grape, then contracting and greening the grape on the vine to a hard bit, and after that viewing the blooming. Is it true that it is early? Late? Homogenous? It’s the way we clarify why wine tastes the way it does.

Anyway from the minute we achieve the barrel in which the wine is matured, there’s an alternate back-story. It extendss to the cooperage – to the fire that toasts the wood, to a cooper inspecting the grain, to the maturing of the wood in the downpour and the wind, to an oak tree developing straight in a French forest. In the first story we ask, which vineyard? Which winemaker? Regarding oak, we ask, which timberland? Which cooper?

In case you’re a winemaker, the second question is more crucial than the first. In case you’re a winemaker, all woods resemble the other much the same. But the barrels you purchase from Taransaud, say, are diverse to those you purchase from, say, Boutes or Sylvain, and they make the wine taste distinctive. Truly exceptionally diverse.

House style

A brisk, shortsighted outline: Taransaud barrels are figured by winemakers to make wine taste less enchanting in youth than others, however they are astounding in the long haul – they’re effective, somewhat dark. You may utilize them for your excellent vin, possibly less so for your second wine; Boutes may be better for that. Nadalié barrels give a certain sweetness. Sylvain is some place in the middle. Mercurey gives a ravishing harmony in the middle of leafy foods. Seguin-Moreau is decently like Taransaud. What’s more that is to name just a small amount of the coopers, and to disregard the nuance with which coopers can alter their barrels to suit your wine.

What you need, whether you’re purchasing a barrel or a suit, is something that fits. Your terroir, your mix of grapes, and what you are attempting to attain or express, is novel. Genuine châteaux don’t purchase barrels off the peg. They welcome their coopers along to taste their wines – the day I identified with Véronique Sanders of Haut-Bailly she’d used the morning doing simply that, examining with each of them her terroir and her grapes and the intricacies of her wine. ‘There were modest contrasts between [the wines of] the distinctive coopers; the contrasts were much more prominent a couple of years back. There was an inclination that they all comprehend what we need.’

At the point when the cooper comprehends the wine, he can recommend the right wood for it. The quantity of variables is psyche boggling. There’s the woods, which is typically connected to the kind of grain, yet diverse parts of the same woodland – and even distinctive trees in the same piece of said timberland – may have altogether different grains. Fundamentally, a tight grain from a moderate developing tree will give more class and less tannin; a more open grain from a more quickly developing tree will give more tannins and less soil grown foods fragrance. A few winemakers have most loved backwoods and additionally most loved coopers, yet even here the cooper checks.

‘All coopers have entry to the same timberlands, so barrels ought to be pretty much the same, however they’re not’ says Benjamin Sichel of Château Angludet. Benjamin had been stating to Tonnellerie St-Martin that the wood required to incorporate better into his wine. ‘He said: “We need to attempt the woods of Jupilles” [near Le Mans]. I didn’t have any acquaintance with it some time recently, however I attempted it and I generally request it from him now. He lets me know I’m his just customer request 100% Jupilles. In our wine it incorporates the many-sided quality without overwhelming the wine. Yet on its own its excessively, and misses something. Barrels from Tonnellerie Taransaud supplement it.’

A mix of coopers is constantly best, supplementing diverse parts of the same wine, as well as distinctive grape mixtures from diverse terroirs. Eric Murisasco, specialized chief at JP Moueix, likes Remond and Taransaud barrels for the limestone of Château Bélair-Monange, and Demptos and Seguin- Moreau for the earth of Château Trotanoy. Three or four separate coopers is most likely the base, in addition to one or two new ones on trial. There doesn’t appear to be a huge contrast in methodology in the middle of Right and Left Banks. When I inquired as to whether he treated the Merlot of Château Canon distinctively to the Cabernet Sauvignon of Rauzan-Ségla, he said: ‘It’s Merlot on the level of St-Emilion, with force and structure. On the off chance that you need Vivaldi, its distinctive to needing Beethoven.’

Biting on wood

Fabien Teitgen, specialized executive at Château Smith Haut Lafitte, goes above and beyond. The house has its own particular cooperage on location, so he picks the wood. ‘At the point when the wood is part open you can see the grain. Also the odor is exceptionally vital. You get a thought of the style of the wood from the emanation. I bite it as well, to feel the tannins, to check whether they’re dry, and to judge the aromatics. From that I choose what to purchase.’

Maturing is an alternate variable – are the fights matured out in the open for one year, two years, three, or significantly more? What happens in maturing is not just that rain washes tannins from the wood additionally that proteins create in the wood, and those chemicals influence smells. Camille Poupon of Tonnellerie Sylvain says: ‘Aquitaine has an oceanic atmosphere, so the maturing is speedier than in, say, California. Two to three years in an oceanic atmosphere is sufficient to wash the tannins.’ Two years’ maturing gives an alternate result to three years. Once more, its about what suits your wine.

Part 2 coming soon…

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How do you taste wine?

So, how do you taste and evaluate a glass of wine? Follow our wine tasting tips below—but before you start, make sure you’re in the right tasting environment.

Tasting Conditions

First, make note of the environment surrounding your wine tasting experience that might affect your impressions of the wine: A noisy and crowded room makes concentration difficult. Cooking smells, perfume and other odors can hurt your ability to get a true sense of a wine’s character. The drinking vessel is important as well. A glass that is too small, the incorrect shape, or one that smells of soap or dust, can also affect the wine’s flavor.

The temperature of the wine will also have an impact on your impressions, as will the age of the wine and any residual flavors from whatever else you have been eating or drinking. You want to neutralize the tasting conditions as much as possible, so the wine has a fair chance to stand on its own. If a wine is served too cold, we recommend tasting at room temperature, warm it with your hands by cupping the bowl of the glass. If a glass seems musty, give it a quick rinse with wine, not water, swirling it around to cover all the sides of the bowl. This is called conditioning the glass. Finally, if there are strong smells nearby—especially perfume—walk as far away from them as you can and try to find some clear air.

Evaluating by Sight

Once your tasting conditions are as close to neutral as possible, your next step is to examine the wine. The glass should be about one-third full and you should loosely follow the following steps to completely evaluate the wine visually.

Straight Angle View

First, look straight down into the glass, then hold the glass to the light, and finally, give it a tilt, so the wine rolls toward its edges. This will allow you to see the wine’s total color range, not just the dark center.

Looking down, you get a sense of the depth of color, which gives a clue to the density and saturation of the wine, the darker the wine, the denser the wine. You will also learn to identify certain varietal grapes by color and scent. A deeply-saturated, purple-black color might well be syrah or zinfandel, while a lighter, pale brick shade would suggest pinot noir or sangiovese.

Side View

Viewing the wine through the side of the glass held in light shows you how clear it is.

A murky wine might be a wine with chemical or fermentation problems. On the other hand, it might just be a wine that was unfiltered or has some sediment due to be shaken up before being poured. Murky wine is not always a bad thing, but  a wine that looks clear and brilliant and shows some sparkle, is always a good sign.

Tilted View

Tilting the glass so the wine thins out toward the rim will provide clues to the wine’s age and weight.

If the color looks quite pale and watery near its edge, it suggests a rather thin, possibly insipid wine. If the color looks tawny or brown (for a white wine) or orange or rusty brick (for a red wine) it is either an older wine or a wine that has been oxidized and may have been aged past its prime.


Finally, give the glass a good swirl. You can swirl it most easily by keeping it firmly on a flat surface; open air “freestyle” swirling is not recommended for beginners.

Notice if the wine forms “legs” or “tears” that run down the sides of the glass. Wines that have good legs are wines with more alcohol and glycerin content, which generally indicates that they are bigger, riper, more mouth-filling and dense than those that do not.

Evaluating by Sniff

Now that you’ve given the wine a good look, you’re ready to take a good sniff. Give the glass a swirl, but don’t bury your nose inside it. Instead, you want to hover over the top like a helicopter pilot surveying rush hour traffic. Take a series of quick, short sniffs, then step away and let the information filter through to your brain.

There are many guides to help you train your nose to identify key wine fragrances, both good and bad. There are potentially thousands of aroma components in a glass of good wine, so forget about finding them all. Naming all the fruits, flowers, herbs and other scents you can trowel out of the glass can be a fun game, but it’s not essential to enjoying and learning how to taste wine.  Once you’ve taken a few quick, short sniffs of the wine, try to look for the following aromas, which will help you better understand the wine’s characteristics.

Wine Flaws

First, you want to look for off-aromas that indicate a wine is spoiled. A wine that is corked will smell like a musty old attic and taste like a wet newspaper. This is a terminal, unfixable flaw and the wine should most likely be disposed of.

A wine that has been bottled with a strong dose of sulfur will smell like burnt matches; this will blow off if you give it a bit of vigorous swirling, the smell of sulfur does not indicate a bad wine, it simply needs to breath a bit.

A smell of vinegar indicates VA (volatile acidity); a nail polish smell is ethyl acetate.

Brettanomyces—an undesirable yeast that reeks of sweaty riding asaddle scents. A little bit of “brett” gives red wines an earthy, leathery component; but too much obliterates all the flavors of fruit.

Learning to identify these common flaws is at least as important as reciting the names of all the fruits and flowers. And it will also help you to understand your own palate sensitivities and blind spots. Discovering what you recognize and enjoy is key to learning how to choose wine on your own.

Fruit Aromas

If there are no obvious off-aromas, look for fruit aromas. Wine is made from grapes, so it should smell like fresh fruit, unless it is very old, very sweet, or very cold.

You can learn to look for specific fruits and grapes, and many grapes will show a spectrum of possible fruit scents that help you to identify the growing conditions—cool climate, moderate or very warm—of the vineyard.

Flowers, Leaves, Herbs, Spices & Vegetables

Floral aromas are particularly common in cool climate white wines like riesling and gewürztraminer, and some Rhône varietals, including viognier.

Some other grapes can be expected to carry herbal or grassy scents. Sauvignon blanc is often strongly grassy, while cabernet sauvignon can be scented with herbs and hints of vegetation. Rhône reds often show delightful scents of Provençal herbs. Most people prefer that any herbal aromas are delicate. The best wine aromas are complex but also balanced, specific but also harmonious.

Another group of common wine aromas might be characterized as earthy. Scents of mushroom, damp earth, leather and rock can exist in many red wines. A mushroom smell can add nuance; it can also help you determine a possible grape or place of origin of the wine. Too much mushroom may just mean that the grapes failed to ripen sufficiently, or were from an inferior clone.

The scent of horse or tack room leather can be an accent, but too much can indicate brettanomyces.

Scents of earth, mineral and rock sometimes exist in the very finest white and red wines. These can be indications of “terroir”—the particular conditions of the vineyard that are expressed as specific scents and flavors in the finished wine.

Wine Barrel Aromas

If you smell toast, smoke, vanilla, chocolate, espresso, roasted nuts, or even caramel in a wine, you are most likely picking up scents from aging in new oak barrels.

Depending upon a multitude of factors, including the type of oak, the way the barrels were made, the age of the barrels, the level of char and the way the winemaker has mixed and matched them, barrels can impart a vast array of scents and flavors to finished wines. Think of the barrels as a winemaker’s color palette, to be used the way a painter uses tubes of paint.

Secondary Aromas

Young white wines and young sparkling wines may have a scent very reminiscent of beer. This is from the yeast.

Some dessert wines smell strongly of honey; this is evidence of botrytis, often called noble rot, and is typical of the very greatest Sauternes.

Chardonnays that smell of buttered popcorn or caramel have most likely been put through a secondary, malolactic fermentation, which converts malic to lactic acids, softening the wines and opening up the aromas.

Older wines have more complex, less fruity aromas. A fully mature wine can offer an explosion of highly nuanced scents, beautifully co-mingled and virtually impossible to name. It is pure pleasure.

Nonetheless, the effort to put words to wine aromas helps you focus on, understand and retain your impressions of different wines. You want to build a memory bank of wine smells and their meanings. That is where the language of wine can add value to a wine tasting event. Learning to talk the talk, if not carried to extremes, helps to dispel some wine myths, such as the confusion surrounding descriptions on wine labels. Have you ever known anyone to ask why a winery added grapefruit to its gewürztraminer and raspberries to its zinfandel? The fact that these are simply descriptive terms is not always understood.

Evaluating by Taste

It’s finally time to taste! Take a sip, not a large swallow, of wine into your mouth and try sucking on it as if pulling it through a straw. Ignore the stares of those around you; this simply aerates the wine and circulates it throughout your mouth.

Again, you’ll encounter a wide range of fruit, flower, herb, mineral, barrel and other flavors, and if you’ve done your sniffing homework, most will follow right along where the aromas left off. Aside from simply identifying flavors, you are also using your taste buds to determine if the wine is balanced, harmonious, complex, evolved, and complete.


A balanced wine should have its basic flavor components in good proportion. Our taste buds detect sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.

Sweet (residual sugar) and sour (acidity) are obviously important components of wine. Saltiness is rarely encountered and bitterness should be more a feeling of astringency (from tannins) than actual bitter flavors.

Most dry wines will display a mix of flavors derived from the aromas, along with the tastes of the acids, tannins and alcohol, which cannot generally be detected simply by smell.

There is no single formula for all wines, but there should always be balance between the flavors. If a wine is too sour, too sugary, too astringent, too hot (alcoholic), too bitter, or too flabby (lack of acid) then it is not a well-balanced wine. If it is young, it is not likely to age well; if it is old, it may be falling apart or perhaps completely gone.


A harmonious wine has all of its flavors seamlessly integrated. It’s quite possible, especially in young wines, for all the components to be present in the wine in good proportion, but they stick out. They can be easily identified, but you can feel all the edges; they have not blended together. It’s a sign of very good winemaking when a young wine has already come together and presents its flavors harmoniously.


Complexity can mean many things. Your ability to detect and appreciate complexity in wine will become a good gauge of your overall progress in learning how to taste wine.

The simplest flavors to recognize—very ripe, jammy fruit and strong vanilla flavors from various oak treatments—are reminiscent of soft drinks. It is perfectly natural for new wine drinkers to relate to them first, because they are familiar and likeable. Some extremely successful wine brands have been formulated to offer these flavors in abundance. But they do not offer complexity.

Complex wines seem to dance in your mouth. They change, even as you’re tasting them. They are like good paintings; the more you look at them the more there is to see. In older wines, these complexities sometimes evolve into the realm of the sublime. The length of a wine, whether old or young, is one good indication of complexity. Simply note how long the flavors linger after you swallow. You might even try looking at your watch if you have a particularly interesting wine in your glass. Most beginning wine drinkers move on too quickly to the next sip when a really good wine is in the glass. Hold on! Let the wine finish its dance before you change partners.


A complete wine is balanced, harmonious, complex and evolved, with a lingering, satisfying finish. Such wines deserve extra attention, because they have more to offer, in terms of both pleasure and training, than any others you will taste.

Now that you understand the basic steps with our wine tasting tips, it’s time to experiment on your own. It can be quite helpful to build a wine journal of your adventures. Write complete tasting notes for wines you like and dislike. Noting the characteristics that each wine shares will be immensely helpful as you start learning how to choose wine on your own. Cheers!