Michael Bray

Wine Columnist Michael Bray

Welcome back to this month’s “you ask and I’ll answer.” For those just tuning in, you can find me at Michael@passionvines.com. I welcome you to email me with any wine-related questions, and I will use this monthly column to answer them. While I will not be able to answer all your questions, I do promise to always provide an answer via email. This month we answer a couple questions from you, the readers, and then we check in with some of our region’s top wine folks for a little Q&A on what’s hot and happening this summer.

Q: I’m looking to buy my wife a bottle of vintage champagne for her birthday: what is a great year for Champagne? — Will S., Orlando, Florida

A: Will, I’m thrilled to learn that At the Shore made its way to you in sunny Florida. Your question is outstanding and offers an important distinction between still wine and sparkling Champagne: much of all still wine is produced every year, rarely skipping a vintage, therefore, vintage matters. Vintage refers to the year the grapes are harvested. Conversely, in Champagne, producers will only designate vintage wine in what they believe to be great years. All other wine is simply referred to as NV (non-vintage). As a result, whenever you see a specific vintage on a Champagne, you can trust that it was from a great vintage.

Q: I have a friend who is on a mission to drink 100 different varietals. Give me one to send to her that will be a sure surprise. — Debbie J., Linwood

A: Debbie, I love this. In fact, you just gave me inspiration for a new wine club … but back to your question. Let’s go with a Spanish grape variety called Mencia. I recently had a biodynamic wine called Descendientes de Jose Palacios Petalos ($20). Like that of a medium bodied Pinot Noir, it’s very rustic, aromatic, with potential for aging. It pairs great with grilled salmon, peppers, asparagus and sweet potato. Give this a shot.

Q: What’s one wine and or varietal that you wish everyone would try this summer?

A: Dave Beyel, of Super Liquors in Marmora, writes, “rosé wine — it is now an official category.”

A: Karen Sherman, of Tomatoe’s in Margate writes, “This summer everyone is loving vermentino. It’s the perfect accompaniment to our cuisine — light and crisp with white fruit notes and even a hint of almond. We are pouring La Pettegola by Banfi.”

Q: What has been the biggest surprise/delight this summer when it comes to wine?

A: Cookie Till of Steve & Cookie’s in Margate answers, “for the restaurant, I was so happy to see was how well our Wines of Summer program was received. We introduced people to unusual grapes and growing regions. All wines are organic and, in some cases, biodynamic. On a personal note, visiting Portugal and drinking some of their indigenous whites, with a little age on them, in a place known mostly for port was a total surprising delight!”

A: Joe Lautato of Café 2825 in Atlantic City writes, “It’s a white wine for summer, as always. Specifically, Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough Valley (New Zealand) has been taking over the white category. Maybe we at 2825 are behind the times, but it amazed me after all the years in the biz. The second wine that has me running to my iPad to email our salesperson is Albariño from Spain. Chardonnay has slacked off. The oaky butter-style has people saying ‘nah!’ So, we have moved chard by the glass to the “unoaked” style. It’s nice to see guests moving out of the typical.”

We finish with me asking YOU a question. Email me the answer, and I’ll reply with a prize. Question: What does it mean when a wine is “aged on the lees” (or, as the French say, “Sur Lie”)?

Next month, stay tuned as we feature some of the most anticipated wine attractions this fall.

You keep asking, and I’ll keep writing…

Drink passionately,


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