Michael Bray

Wine Columnist Michael Bray

Welcome back to this month’s, “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.

This month, we mix it up by answering questions about varietal alternatives, product recommendations and price point type questions:

Q: John L. from Brigantine asks, “My wife loves Rombauer Chardonnay, but we’re looking for an alternative for less money. What do you recommend? “

A: John, your question is a good one and one that we hear a lot at Passion Vines. Rombauer Vineyards, still family owned and operated, offers that rich, creamy and vanilla profile that so many of us love in a Chardonnay. But, at $38 per bottle, it’s nice to have an alternative. I have two suggestions: First, Au Bon Climat Chardonnay Santa Barbara County ($23) or Artesa Chardonnay Carneros ($19). Both of these are from California and will provide the body weight you’re use to, while offering hints of vanilla, lemon and apple notes. Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Q: Sharon S. from EHT asks, “I drink Pinot Grigio, but my kids make fun of me for drinking the same wine all the time. What do you recommend that is similar?”

A: Love, love, love this question and not because they’re making fun … Sharon, there are over 10,000 grape varieties in the world, and while Pinot Grigio is one of the top selling, we can certainly find something similar in style (with perhaps a bit more character). When it comes to a Pinot Grigio replacement, I often refer to the “3 V’s” of Italy: Verdicchio (Marche), Vernaccia (Tuscany) and Vermentino (Sardinia). Light bodied, refreshing acidity and perfect for summer! At a price point between $10 to $15 per bottle, I highly suggest you seek these varietals out. In addition, if you have trouble locating these varieties and/or you want to explore further, I would love to see you experience the following: Pinot Gris from Oregon, Albarino from Spain, Sauvignon Blanc, Soave from Italy and Gruner Veltliner from Austria. Good luck and, once again, thank you for your question.

Q: John B. from Ocean City, “I need a recommendation for one red and one white, under $15, that will be suitable for a July 4th party.”

A: OK, John, I have two answers. If you’re willing to pour 1.5 L bottles, I would suggest La Playa Cabernet and La Playa Chardonnay (Chile). These wines offer the best value in a large-format bottle I have tasted. If you would rather pour the traditional 750 ml bottle, I would suggest Silk & Spice Red Blend (traditional Portuguese red blend) and Harbor Town Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand). While I wish I could ask you a few more questions to narrow the scope, both of these wines offer serious value when it comes to planning a larger scale event.

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

Q: When someone refers to “traditional Rhone blend,” what grape varieties are they most likely referring to?

a. Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir

b. Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre

c. Zinfandel, Charbono, Carignan

d. Cinsault, Cabernet Franc, Malbec

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

You keep asking, and I’ll keep wriing…

Drink Passionately,


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