Our Pick for National Book Day: The Wine Bible

Karen MacNeil, “America’s missionary of the vine,” (TIME), has done it again with The Wine Bible, 2nd Edition. You wouldn’t think this much wine information even exists, yet she’s managed to pack nearly 1,000 pages with maps, instruction on tasting “with focus,” and every imaginable factor that goes into making great wine – history, geography, grape varieties, soil, weather, and how they all come together for the wine.

Wine Bible_COV 20.indd

And she makes it fun. Not many wine experts are also good writers, but MacNeil knows how to tell a story. In one sidebar, “The Old Man and The Wine,” she relates how Ernest Hemingway made an annual pilgrimage to the same Rioja bodega for 25 years, usually with a bullfighter in tow. In another section she writes of her call from a monk in the Republic of Georgia, inviting her to taste wines from his monastery that had been stored in qvevri (“KEV-ree”), large clay jugs lined with beeswax and buried underground.

MacNeil tasted more than 10,000 wines in researching her new Bible (yes, that’s the correct number of zeroes), and tales of her travels, cultures that inspired her and people who taught her along the way, appear throughout the book.

Some of the info is obscure, but she wants us to know: an Oxford University professor found, for instance, that sound influences how we perceive flavor. Just as we “need” to hear a potato chip crunch between our teeth, our delight in a glass of Champagne is enhanced when we hear its effervescence. It just tastes better once we’ve heard the fizz. Who knew?

The Wine Bible, 2nd Edition is a reference and a good read, covering wine regions from Mendocino to Michigan, Priorat to Pennsylvania. Whether you know a lot about wine or wish you did, you’ll enjoy this book immensely.

[This review, written by Mary Mihaly, is reprinted from TheWineBuzz magazine.]

Wine Lingo of the Day:  Fumé Blanc“Fumé” means “smoked” in French. “Fumé Blanc” is Sauvignon Blanc wine that has been aged in toasted barrels; the term was coined by wine pioneer Robert Mondavi.

Enjoy some time with your favorite wine book today!









Open That Bottle Night: the Best Wine Holiday Ever!

If you love wine, chances are you’re keeping a special bottle in the back of your wine cellar (or, ahem! linen cupboard) that you’re saving for a special occasion. Maybe you brought it home from your first trip to Europe, or it was a graduation gift from dear, departed Aunt Florence. Or maybe it’s just expensive and you hate to…um…”just waste it.”

First, if by “wasting” the wine you mean drinking and enjoying it, read my Burgundy-stained lips: there is no such thing.

Secondly, and more importantly: THIS, friends, is the special occasion we’ve been waiting for.


This Saturday, February 27 – and every last Saturday in February – is “Open That Bottle Night.” Finally, you have a reason to crack that cherished bottle you’ve been hoarding.

The day was created in 1999 by two of my favorite wine writers, Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, whose bestseller, The Wall Street Journal Guide to Wine, was the book that propelled me to learn more. Gaiter and Brecher penned the WSJ wine column, “Tastings,” for 12 years and saw firsthand the need to uncork those bottles and let the vino fulfill its destiny.

As versatile as fine wine is, it won’t last forever, and it can’t survive in difficult conditions. The bottles pictured above are part of a friend’s collection. A ’62 Richebourg or ’64 La Tache should be worth thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, these bottles weren’t stored in ideal circumstances, and they suffered. They may not even be drinkable now – we haven’t tried them, but I’m hoping for that invitation!

Let’s open a bottle Saturday that, for whatever reason, once dazzled. It doesn’t have to be the priciest bottle in your collection, but it should be memorable. Where were you when you bought it – on a special vacation, with a special person, or just standing alone in a place you never wanted to forget? What was your intention when you bought it? Make it a night for celebrating what your life has become – what you have become – since then.

Gaiter and Brecher offer these tips for making the most of the holiday:

  • Choose your bottle now, and stand it upright so the sediment will settle at the bottom.
  • If it’s an old bottle, the cork could be brittle. Be ready with a carafe and coffee filter so you can pour the wine without getting bits of cork in your glass.
  • Unless you have that old-cork problem, the authors recommend that you don’t decant an old bottle. Too much exposure to air might shock the wine and cause whatever fruit that’s left to dissipate.
  • If the wine has turned to vinegar, there’s no hope. Have another bottle handy and toast your special bottle and the memories it created. And sometime in the next week, enjoy your expensive salad dressing.
  • Why not host a small dinner party that night? Ask your guests to bring their own special bottles, and share the stories behind them.
  • Lastly, your old wine might very well have a bad taste. Don’t pour it down the drain right away; let it sit for a while and see if it comes into its real character. Although it’s true that too much air might damage it, you might find that half an hour in the glass can bring back its best qualities (though probably not all of the fruit).

I’d love to hear about your special choices for Open That Bottle Day; please let me know in the Comments below. If you click on the Follow tab (lower right corner of your screen), you can read everyone’s remarks, and future BigSexyReds posts, by email.

Wine Lingo of the Day: Ullage = the amount by which a container, such as a bottle or cask, falls short of being full. In the bottles pictured above, the ullage is extensive due to evaporation.



Wine & Tequila? On Margarita Day, Si!

Not crazy about tequila, you say? That doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate National Margarita Day with the rest of the Jose Cuervo crowd.


This scrumptious drink is called The Devil’s Margarita – A Margarita Recipe topped w/ Wine. If your taste runs more to vino than fermented agave juice, this easy cocktail – a classic lime margarita layered with red wine – gives even wine lovers a way to party like Louis C.K. (Bet you didn’t know he was Mexican!)

(I used an earthy, slightly dark cherry-tasting Tempranillo as my red. The grape thrives in the Guadalupe Valley of Mexico’s Baja. Aha.)

I’m not the first to flavor tequila drinks, of course. Any mixologist will make you a peach margarita, or mango, strawberry, banana, or orange. You can find plenty of wine-based margaritas online, too, most made with white wine, some adding or substituting orange liqueur for the tequila, and almost all served in a salt-rimmed glass (which I decided to omit, having learned long ago that salt and red wine don’t make the greatest pairing, even with tequila in the glass).

Speaking of glasses, the traditional margarita glass is shaped like an upside-down sombrero – apropos, right? But you’ll also find bartenders serving them in martini glasses, Champagne coupes (the old-fashioned shallow glasses) or batched and sold by the pitcher. You can order them slushy-frozen, shaken (but make sure the bartender sings “La Cucaracha” while he shakes) or straight up. I found one recipe for a “wine-arita” that called for freezing red wine in ice cube trays and plunking them into a traditional margarita. I think you could get away with a regular rocks glass for that one.

If you research the margarita’s beginnings, you’re likely to find more versions of its history than variations of the drink itself. One story had it invented in 1941 in Ensenada, Mexico by a bartender who was experimenting with drinks; a woman named Margarita Henkel, daughter of a German ambassador, was the first to taste his tequila drink so he named it after her.

Another source claims the drink was created in Galveston, Texas for the late torch singer Peggy (Margaret) Lee, and still another says it was invented for a Ziegfield dancer who was allergic to most other booze.

There are more. The most accepted history: a Tijuana bartender in the 1930s decided one night to mix tequila in his drinks instead of the brandy he’d been using, and customers loved it. His drink had been called “The Daisy,” and “daisy” in Spanish is “margarita.”

The Devil’s Margarita, thanks to our friends at Yummly:

Mix 1-1/2 oz. white tequila, 3/4 oz. lime juice and 3/4 oz. simple syrup (made of equal parts white sugar and water) in a shaker filled with ice, then pour the mixture into a frosted martini glass. Slowly pour red wine into the glass, cascading it over the back of a spoon.

Click here for another photo and recipe. And don’t forget to like, share, comment and click on the “Follow” tab at the bottom right corner of your screen to get BigSexyReds  by email. Thanks!

Wine Lingo of the Day: demi-sec = translated from French, it means “half-dry,” describing wines that are just slightly sweet.












National Drink Wine Day – Cheers!

Is there a better day to launch a wine blog than National Drink Wine Day?

Frasier, from the mega-popular TV show, knew how to celebrate wine. He was an expert, and he was such an absurd, out-to-lunch character that his snobbery didn’t put us off. My favorite example is a conversation between Frasier and his father in an episode titled, “Winespeak.”

         Frasier: “Dad, tell me if you think this is too subtle for my listening audience: ‘This delightful offering is infused with the brooding, almost dangerous, presence of vanilla.'”      

          Martin: “No, it’s not too subtle. Unless you want them to know what the hell you’re talking about.”                               

Hmmm…maybe a few reruns of Frasier will be on my National Drink Wine Day agenda.

Speaking of wine expertise, at the end of this post is a tiny info-nugget I’m calling Wine Lingo of the Day. It’s just a small takeaway – a bit of wine knowledge to share.

While we’re celebrating, I notice that February is International Expect Success Month. Is there a more successful global industry than wine? Sales in the US grew 3 percent ($1.3 billion) in 2015, says a new report by Wines Vines Analytics, and they’re projected at $38 billion this year.

You’re paying for that success, by the way. Volume grew more slowly than value – in other words, you paid more for the same amount of wine. Domestic bottle prices rose by 22 cents. Boutique wineries were the real winners: those producing 5,000-49,000 cases a year shipped 1.9 million cases, while those producing half a million cases or more shipped just over 234,000 cases. I buy as much wine from the big-big producers as from the little guys, but I can’t resist taking a moment to cheer – hooray for the entrepreneurs!

Apparently, wine is a good-news story across the country: Southern Oregon’s relatively new status as a wine destination, coupled with a growing list of awards, positions the region for an expected tourism boom. In Iowa, last winter’s disastrous weather cut the harvest by almost 50 percent but this year’s higher temps and early first frost will bring a winegrower’s dream – fewer but higher-quality grapes. The folks down in Lake Keowee, SC are building a wine-centric country club.

We’re loving our wine, and it loves us back. We’ve all read that drinking in moderation boosts our health: it helps protect against Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, heart disease, and it even (thank you!) slows the growth of fat cells. But that moderation thing is key; a new study (performed on rhesus monkeys) shows that a glass or two daily boosts our immune systems enough to help keep colds away, but going overboard won’t help at all.

So we raise our glasses. BigSexyReds will celebrate wine (usually) twice a week. If you don’t want to keep checking this site, please click on the little “Follow” tab in the lower right-hand corner of your screen, and the blog posts will come to you by email. (And thanks in advance for doing that – I adore subscribers, each and every one of you, and will hold subscriber-only contests and events in the coming months!)

Please leave comments – nicely, no bullies allowed! I welcome your questions, ideas, insights. I want to know what’s happening in your wine world, and I promise to respond.

And thanks for embarking on this journey with me! As David Letterman (a teetotaler) used to say, call the neighbors, wake the kids, and let’s get this party started!

Big thanks and hugs to two of my favorite BigSexyRed drinkers, the exceptionally talented Emily and Patrick Straffen, for their design and website help.

Wine Lingo of the Day: Must = unfermented grape juice.

Happy sipping!