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.

Q: Lauren from Ventnor asks, “What have been the most popular wines this summer?”

A: I’ll answer this from both an actual product perspective, as well as category. From the latter, this has been the summer of canned wine — rose wine, sparkling whites and reds (think Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo) that you can put a slight chill on. Especially with the heat we’ve experienced this summer, twenty minutes in the fridge will do the trick! As for actual producers: Scarpetta (a collaboration between a master chef and master somm from Italy); Whispering Angel and Miraval (both from Provence) continue to drive rose sales; while Bele Casel Prosecco continues to dominate the sparkling category. One note: these are the most popular, however, there are many other examples to explore.

Q: Kirk from Absecon asks, “We’re heading over to The Clam Bar in Somers Point for dinner, what do you recommend. We’re big into shellfish, clams and oysters.”

A: Kirk, great spot! I would drink Muscadet. Pronounced moos-cah-day – it is a dry white wine from Loire Valley France on the central western coast. A key point to remember, “old world” wines are labeled by place, whereas “new world” wines refer to a grape variety. So in this case, Muscadet refers to the place, the “appellation,” whereas the grape variety is Melon de Bourgogne. Look for hints of apple, citrus and a kiss of their maritime influence (saltiness). Most commonly paired with seafood, its “Sur Lie” aging (a fancy wine term that makes a wine creamier, fuller and richer) allows it to pair beautifully with lighter chicken dishes, pastas and roasted vegetables too. Enjoy!

Q: John from Somers Point asks, “Someone recently brought me a bottle of Tempranillo. Is this special?”

A: Greetings, John. Tempranillo refers to the (noble) grape variety of Rioja, Spain. It’s hard to answer your question without knowing the producer. Like Cabernet, prices can range from $10 to $100 (and higher). You will find flavors of strawberries, spices, leather and fresh tobacco, with an ability to turn savory and earthy with bottle-aging. For those new to Temrpanillo, there’s no better place to begin your journey than in Rioja with, Lopez De Heredia Vina Bosconia. Believed to have received its name from the Spanish word “temprano” (meaning, “early”), Tempranillo is an early-ripening variety that can perform in an enormous range of climates and soils. In fact, due to this versatility, you may find Tempranillo under several monikers across Spain’s outstanding wine-producing regions. For example, The DO of Toro calls this grape, perhaps not coincidentally, “Tinta de Toro.” Catalunya (or Catalonia) is the DO near Barcelona, where there are several sub-regions experimenting with different Tempranillo-based blends, where the grape here is called “Ull de Llebre.” If you’re a Cabernet drinker, I highly recommend Toro. If you prefer more rustic, lighter in body, I would check out Rioja first.

Q: Jason from Marmora asks, “What whites are you drinking right now?”

A: I’ll give you my Top 3:

(1). Aperture Cellars Chenin Blanc: Led by winemaker, Jesse Katz, this 100% Chenin delivers flavors of quince, apple and stone fruits. Perfect for seafood.

(2). Maison Gustave Lorentz Riesling: A brilliant example of what (dry) Riesling can achieve. This Alsatian white is a delicious pairing for sushi, while offering bright acidity, citrus fruit, minerality and great structure.

(3). Le Ragnaie Toscano Vino Bianco: coming from the highest vines in Montalcino, creating a vibrancy that is perfect for summer, this is a Tuscan blend of Trebbianno and Malvasia. The best part, due to skin contact, the wine appears orange in color.

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

Q: What does “reserve” mean on a U.S. wine label?

a. It’s aged in oak for two years

b. The grapes are better

c. Nothing at all

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