Michael Bray

Wine Columnist Michael Bray

Welcome back to this months, “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 had intended to feature various Q&A from our region’s top restaurateurs, the interviews are far more extensive than I anticipated and will require one more month to prepare. As for this month, we talk Burgundy, French wine law, bad wine at a restaurant and some random quick-fire answers to questions.

Q: Don K. from Margate asks, “I recently went out to dinner and the sommelier talked about Northern Burgundy containing all the best wine within Burgundy. Almost a little too pushy. Is this true? How do you know if a wine is from Northern Burgundy and not Southern?”

A: Don, I love your question and the region of Burgundy! The somm has a point, however, I don’t like when anyone dismisses the rest of a region (any region) as “inferior” and not worth exploring. Context matters, so I’ll refrain from judgment. To answer this appropriately, we have to discuss a little French wine law. Within Burgundy the classification system is as follows, in increasing order of quality: Regional ($) > Village ($$) > Premier (1er) Crus ($$$) > Grand Crus ($$$$). Burgundy itself is broken into four main regions, south to north: Maconnais > Chalonnaise > Beaune > Nuits. Generally speaking, Northern Burgundy would include Beaune and Nuits, whereas Southern would be Maconnais and Cholannaise. Grand Cru does not extend south of Beaune. In short, you can see why someone may say the best wines are in the north. Yes, they are technically classified as the best, and yes, they fetch far greater prices, as noted above. But, allow me to make a quick point: within Maconnais, the southernmost region, there are no 1er Cru or grand Cru vineyards. However, Maconnais is home to Pouilly-Fuisse, Saint-Veran and Vire-Clesse, to name a few. These are absolutely stunning wines. If you don’t believe me, take a look (and a taste!) at Steve & Cookie’s of Margate wines by the glass. You’ll be greeted by Collovray & Terrier Saint-Veran. Lastly, the only way to know if a wine is from the north vs. the south, is to commit to memory — the four major regions and the classification system. From here, you’ll begin to see Burgundy from a deeper perspective. But in many respects, we’re just scratching the surface. Don, Burgundy is a one of the most complicated regions to understand and there’s no way we can unpack it all here, but the fact that your curious says you’re well on your way.

Q: Sharon N. from Longport says, “We recently ordered a bottle of wine on the recommendation from the restaurant owner. The wine was served and none of us liked it. We were embarrassed to say anything and so we didn’t. But overall, it kind of tainted the experience. What is the appropriate thing to do and or say?”

A: Sharon, I feel you, as I’ve been there. To speak up, or not to speak up — that is the question. My short answer is this — do it. Tell the truth and discuss it with them. Naturally, like all feedback, how you deliver the feedback does matter. I would not recommend saying, “this wine is terrible, can I have something different.” Rather, consider something like, “we all tasted the wine and we’re not enjoying it, is there a chance it could be bad?” Or, “is there something in the way of a little education that may allow us to appreciate the wine from a new perspective?” Listen, it is an honor for any restaurant to select a wine on your behalf. It signals a moment of trust in the relationship. All the good ones take this moment very seriously and really want you to enjoy it and not fake it! After all, it can make or break an evening, as you so learned.

Q: Sarah J. from Ocean City asks, “What’s your favorite Cabernet under $20?

A: Currently: 2016 Borne of Fire Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State.

Q: Bob L. from Brigantine asks, “I need a 1.5L to serve at a family BBQ. They are not big wine drinkers.”

A: La Playa Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile and La Vielle Ferme white or rose from France.

Q: Denise D. from Linwood asks, “What’s something cheaper than Caymus, but similar in taste?”

A: COHO Headwaters Red Wine at approximately half the price of Caymus. (I 100 percent guarantee it.)

Lastly, we finish with me asking you a question. Email me the answer, and I’ll reply with a prize.

Q: What is a Super Tuscan wine?

Next month, stay tuned for a special Q&A with some of our region’s top restaurateurs and wine experts.

Drink passionately,


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