Michael Bray

Wine Columnist Michael Bray

Greetings and happy holidays! Welcome to another “you ask and I’ll answer.” For those of you 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 of them, I do promise to always provide an answer via email.

Q: Chris F. from Linwood asks, “I’m looking for a reasonably priced, full body Napa Cabernet for Christmas dinner. What do you recommend?

A: Easily a ‘Top 5’ most commonly asked question in a wine shop and rightfully so given the price points of Napa Valley fruit these days. For those just starting out, in order for a California wine to list an AVA (American Viticultural Area) like Napa Valley on the label, at least 85% of the fruit in that bottle must come from Napa Valley. Conversely, if the label just states, “California,” 75% of the fruit must come from California. These rules, as silly as they may seem, help to protect the sense of place and ultimately, the terroir of a particular region. The point that I want to make is that drinking California Cabernet is very different than drinking Napa Valley Cabernet. In terms of price, while you can easily find a great California Cabernet for $10-$15 a bottle (try Trim Cabernet), you will be hard pressed to find a worthy Napa Cab for under $30. To that end, my No. 1 pick for Napa Cab this holiday would be Shannon Ridge Ovis Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2015 ($32/bottle). Made by winemaker Joy Merrilees and aged 28 months in French oak barrels. Intensely rich and aromatic, giving way to dark fruits, tobacco and beautiful tannin. Ovis — Latin for sheep — pays homage to the flock of sheep that help control the weeds in the vineyards. Enjoy!

Q: Ellen K. from Margate asks, “I’m looking for some wine events to explore with my friends, is there anything happening in our area throughout the holiday?”

A: There are a couple noteworthy options in our area. Every Saturday, Borgata hosts a free wine tasting at Vintage — A Wine Boutique, located at The Shoppes at The Water Club. The wines are selected by Borgata’s sommeliers and would be a great add-on if you’re already in the casino. Secondly, Borgata will host New Year’s Eve at The Wine Bar, located at the Marketplace Eatery. If you are remotely interested in sparkling wine, this promises to be an amazing evening. In addition to Chef Luca’s amazing five-course menu, my good friend and international sommelier Eugene Engel, will share his extensive knowledge of Champagne and producer, Pol Couronne. This five-course dinner with champagne pairing is $95 per person.

Q: Lauren K. from Ventnor asks, “I need a gift for my niece. She just turned 21 and caught the wine bug.”

A: Yes! Great news, Lauren. In previous articles I’ve recommended my top wine books. I will email you these. Given her age, I’m going to assume her wine budget is minimal. One option, get her one bottle that she’ll never forget. Ask the retailer to print our tasting notes to accompany the gift. Second option, buy an assorted mixed case of wine. Allow her to explore region, varietal and price points. Again, ask your retailer for tasting notes on the wines. Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not recommend Wine Foundations, a seven-week wine course beginning Tuesday, January 15. Class meets every Tuesday, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Linwood Country Club. Classes are designed for beginners to intermediates and limited to 50 students. $399 per person. For more info go to www.passionvines.com.

Q: Debbie H. from Mays Landing asks, “How do I know if a sparkling wine is dry or sweet?”

A: Debbie, I selected your question for its timeliness. Approximately, 60 percent of sparkling wine sales happen in December. The terms used to designate the level of sweetness in sparkling wines are a bit confusing. The most common you’ll see on bottles are Brut Nature, Brut, and Extra Dry. Brut Nature is the driest of the bunch (“bone dry” is an accurate descriptor here!); Brut is still very dry, and the most common style you’ll encounter; and Extra Dry is still dry, but not as dry as Brut. If you’re not satisfied and want to know a bit more, here’s the complete list of terms, in order from driest to sweetest: Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec, Doux. The ripeness of the grapes and the amount of sugar added during dosage will impact the sweetness of the finished wine. A must try wine is Gruet Brut from New Mexico, made in the traditional method. If you’re looking for true Champagne, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better value than, Paul Goerg Brut Reserve NV at $30 per bottle.

Lastly, we finish with me asking YOU a question. What are your wine goals for 2019? Is there something (perhaps a region or varietal) that you’d like to explore? If so, drop me a line. I look forward to hearing from you as well as sharing a glass of wine with you in 2019.

Drink passionately,


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Associate Editor, At The Shore/ACWeekly

Freelance reporter for At The Shore/Atlantic City Insiders from 2011-2015; Editor in Chief, MainStreetMarlboro.com,2014-2015; Writer for Zagat, 2013

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