Michael Bray

{standaloneHead}Michael Bray{/standaloneHead}

In my last column — the first one of the year for 2018 — we kicked off a new format that would allow you, the reader, to ask questions (by emailing me at michael@passionvines.com) and I would commit to answering them. I am incredibly grateful for the questions I received and will do my best to answer them. Naturally, if anything needs clarification, or if you would like to explore it on a deeper level, you know where to find me.

Q: Samantha T. from Somers Point asks, “with organic being so popular right now, how do I know if the wine I’m drinking is organic?”

A: Great question, Samantha, and one I get asked a lot. Wine is an agricultural product and should be treated as such. You have every right to know where it comes from, how it’s been treated and if it’s organic or biodynamic. The quick answer, though not always visible, is an “organic” declaration on the label. The process of becoming organic, however, can be cost prohibitive for a winery and so many will choose to “practice” organic, but not be certified by government standards. This is where I say, the back label is more important than the front label. For every imported wine, they must have an importer printed on the back label. This alone, will provide you with a level of standard and quality. It’s no different than trusting your favorite restaurant or supermarket, for example, once trust is established, and you can feel very comfortable drinking any wine from that importer. Here’s a sample of importers that you can trust when it comes to natural and organic practices: Shipped at 56, Polaner Selections, Skurnik Wines and David Bowler. These importers only import wines that are produced by passionate growers, farmers and winemakers who employ the most natural methods to hand craft wines of the highest level of quality. But this trick does not work for domestic wines, which leaves you to rely on the retailer or restaurateur. If that’s not possible, you can always visit the winery website.

Q: Martha P. from Mays Landing asks, “I’m just getting into wine, what’s the fastest way to learn?”

A: My favorite question of all time! Thanks for asking, Martha. There are three things that you can do to accelerate your wine IQ: 1) Drink. Sounds silly and perhaps obvious, but I would challenge you to do so mindfully and with a companion. Often we drink with little to no intention, other than finishing what’s in the glass. As you begin to set your intention, to understand the components of what’s in your glass, you will bring an awareness and a beginner’s mind to the task. Having a wine buddy will challenge your point of view and ultimately your pallet. (2) Language. You may find yourself stuck, uncertain what to say or how to describe what you’re tasting. Every subject has its own language, and wine is no different. Use the following vocab as your new lens to evaluate wine. For each, ask yourself if it’s high, medium or low Residual Sugar (RS); this will tell you if the wine is dry or sweet and will be detected on the tip of your tongue and typically within the first 10 seconds of sipping the wine. Acid: typically detected on the sides of your tongue; too high and it will be too tart, too low and the wine will be to flabby. Fruit: this can be detected on the nose and on the finish. Overall, would you say the wine is fruity or earthy? Tannin: this is felt more than it’s tasted. It is a mouth puckering sensation that often results in structure and complexity. Body: think milk. Skim (light), 1% (medium) and 2% (full). How would you classify the body (or weight) of the wine you’re drinking? (3) Read: grab a copy of Wine For Dummies and/or Wine Folly.

Q: Andrew B. from Brigantine asks, “I need a $25 California Cabernet that would impress a wine connoisseur.”

A: It’s easy to spend a lot, to get a lot. I love Andrew’s question because ultimately it forces us to judge a wine, not (solely) on price, but on quality. What I’m most impressed with currently is Blue Rock Baby Blue 2015 and Goldschmidt Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2015.

Lastly, we finish with me asking YOU a question. Email me the answer, with your mailing address, and I’ll get something special in the mail to you!

Q: For a wine produced in the U.S.A. to be labeled, “Cabernet Sauvignon,” what is the minimum amount of Cabernet Sauvignon that must be present in the bottle?

A. 50%

B. 25%

C. 100%

D. 75%


Michael Bray

Get our Best Bets at the Jersey shore delivered to your inbox every Wednesday, just in time to plan your weekend!

Recommended for you

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.