(Priorat, Spain) $55

Every time I taste this wine, almost no matter the vintage, I love its peaty, rich, licoricey blackness, and the way its rocky firmness yields ever so gently to the violet notes that dance through the flavors. Priorat wines can be so monolithic that they’re not easy to drink. But with Scala Dei, power and deliciousness are beautifully entwined (and it doesn’t hurt if there’s a grilled steak or lamb chops in the offing).  The wine is–as all top Priorat wines are–comprised of old vine garnacha (grenache) and cariñena (carignan). It’s named after the famous monastery of Scala Dei (“God’s stairway”) founded in 1163 by Carthusian monks on the spot where a local peasant witnessed a miracle sighting of angels ascending a staircase to heaven. The name of the wine, Cartoixa, means “charterhouse,” which is itself another name for a Carthusian monastery. 15% abv

93 points KM

Available at Westgate Wine

The WineSpeed Blog

A. Semillon

B. Marsanne

C. Chenin blanc

D. Pinot noir


In Burgundy, during the early Middle Ages, chardonnay arose as a seedling―a natural cross of the noble red grape of Burgundy, pinot noir, with the white grape, gouais blanc (GOO-ay BLAHNK) , thought to have been brought to eastern France by the Romans from Croatia.  DNA testing in 1999 uncovered the unorthodox parentage, a shock to the international wine community at the time, as gouais blanc is considered so mediocre that several French districts tried to ban it and it is no longer even cultivated in France.

Answer: True.

In 2015, China overtook France as the second-largest wine grower in the world by vineyard area (Spain is still in first place).  In the early 1950s, China had only about 8000 acres (3,200 hectares) of grapes. By 2016 it had two million (847,000). This 250% growth has been helped by technological advances as well as climate change. According to data from the Chinese Meteorological Administration, average temperatures in China have risen 0.5-0.8C in the last century, making it possible to cultivate wine grapes 60-100 miles further north.  In the arid mountainous region of Ningxia some 550 miles west of Beijing, for example, the government has reclaimed desert-like expanses, irrigated them with water from the Yellow River, and planted them with cabernet sauvignon, marselan, and merlot.  Ningxia has been called “The Napa Valley of China.”


The Spanish name for “butts”–600-liter (160-gallon) American-oak casks used in Jerez for aging Sherry.  Botas are usually painted with a water-based, jet-black matte paint, which is not only aesthetically striking, but makes it easier to spot leaks.  Botas used to age Sherry are never new but must be “envinadas” or seasoned with lesser quality wines, and many are over a century old.  As a side note: a bota bag is a traditional Spanish wineskin crafted from goat hide.

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Fermenting Inside Out

In honor of Beaujolais Nouveau being released next Thursday, November 21st, here are a few words of explanation about carbonic maceration. Carbonic maceration is a type of fermentation in which bunches of uncrushed grapes are placed whole inside a closed tank. The weight of the bunches on top crushes those on the bottom, releasing juice that ferments in the standard manner. For the intact bunches on top, however, fermentation takes place inside each grape, also known as intracellular fermentation, leading to an extremely juicy style of wine. Carbonic maceration is used extensively in Beaujolais, where it heightens the wine’s already grapey flavor.


Cost (in U.S. dollars) per pound of a 500-pound batch of 20-year-old Wisconsin cheddar from Hook’s Cheese Company, making it the most expensive cheddar in the U.S.  Most cheddar for sale is 3 to 12-months old, with only the sharpest aged for as long as four years.  Cheese-aging pioneer Tony Hook says as cheddar ages, “it starts smoothing out like a fine wine.”


Altitude (in feet) of the Ao Yun winery and vineyards in the Himalayas, near Tibet. Owned by LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy), Ao Yun was begun in 2008 with the goal of creating one of China’s first luxury cabernets. The name Ao Yun means “Flying Above the Clouds.” In honor of Chinese New Year tomorrow, you can buy the 2014 vintage at K&L Wine Merchants in San Francisco. It’s $300 a bottle.


Percentage that Oregon pinot noir sales are up compared to 2.5% for the entire U.S. category. According to Nielsen data, the state’s wine sales growth is eight times that of national table wine, and the average price per bottle of Oregon wine is double the national average.

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