So you want to lose a few pounds, but you don’t want to give up your evening glass of wine? I am with you! Never fear, there is a way. It does involve moderation though…or failing that, seeking out low calorie wines.
The calories in wine come from wine’s alcohol and its sugar content. Alcohol actually contributes more calories than sugar; 7 calories per gram of alcohol, compared to just 4 calories per gram of sugar. So, you want to pay particular attention to alcohol levels. Want to learn more about the best low calorie wines + great tips and tricks to keep your wine consumption moderate? Just click on the video, and if you like what you see, consider subscribing to my channel so you never miss a weekly episode!
The Burgundian fog hung thick and relentless in the air as I guided my flashy fiat along the A6 southward to Givry. Exiting the highway at Chalon-sur-Saône, I was amazed to see how quickly I found myself ambling along tiny country lanes, crossing sleepy farming communities
At the top of a steep and winding path, I came across the hamlet of Jambles; part of the Givry appellation. I had arrived at my first visit of the morning: the Domaine Michel Sarrazin & Fils.
The Côte Chalonaise lies due south of Burgundy’s famed Côte d’Or. Aligoté, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir vineyards dot the landscape, but here they are interspersed with a variety of other crops and grazing land. From north to south, the top growing areas are: Bouzeron, Rully, Mercurey, Givry, and Montagny.
Apart from the nervy, elegant Aligoté from Bouzeron, the white wines of the Côte Chalonnaise are rarely lauded. The red wines, while often decidedly rustic, can achieve a vibrant fruitiness and silken texture in the right hands, on the right vineyard sites.
The commune of Givry is primarily devoted to red wine production, and is considered by many to offer the most elegant, fragrant Pinot Noirs of the region.
The commune of Givry is primarily devoted to red wine production, and is considered by many to offer the most elegant, fragrant Pinot Noirs of the region. My host for the morning, Guy Sarrazin, is certainly of this opinion. “Givry has a lovely, fruity expression”, he explained, “while Mercurey is generally earthier, and Rully often lacks weight”. There are no Grand Cru vineyards here, but several excellent Premier Cru sites exist.
The Sarrazins have been growing grapes in and around Givry since the 17th century. The Domaine Michel Sarrazin was established by the current generations’ father in 1964, and it was at this juncture that the winery began bottling and selling their wines. Brothers Guy and Jean Yves are now at the helm, and have gained critical acclaim in France and abroad for the great value and consistent, high quality of their range.
Domaine Michel Sarrazin consists of 35 hectares in the appellations of Bourgogne AOC, Bourgogne Aligoté, Maranges, Givry, and Mercurey.
I was shown into a cool, dark cellar used to stock boxed, ready-to-ship orders. The tasting bar was tucked into the corner of this charmless room. Surveying my surroundings and my gruff host, I wondered what what I was in for. Thankfully as the morning progressed, Guy warmed to his subject and the twinkle in his eye was undeniable as he poured his finest reds.
Today, the Domaine Michel Sarrazin consists of 35 hectares in the appellations of Bourgogne AOC, Bourgogne Aligoté, Maranges, Givry, and Mercurey. The brothers produce 25 different wines ranging in style from crémant, to white, rosé, and red. The estates’ top wines hail from their Givry 1er Cru vineyards dotted through out the appellation. The vineyards are farmed according to the French lutte raisonnée system (literally translated as “the reasoned fight”, basically meaning that chemical sprays are strictly limited; used only when absolutely necessary).
All of Sarrazin’s wines, from the most humble to the grandest are matured in top quality French oak, sourced exclusively from the François Frères cooperage. Sarrazin believes that judicious oak maturation brings the structural lift and flavour complexity he seeks to enhance the individual expression of each terroir. The duration of ageing and percentage of new barrels used depends on the vineyard.
Overall, the wines were a revelation for me. The earthiness and rusticity of certain wines served to heighten complexity, underscoring lively fruit, floral, and spiced aromas. I was treated to a lengthy tasting, covering the majority of Guy’s range.
The fantastic value and dangerous drinkability of Guy’s Bourgogne AOC wines impressed me. Sarrazin’s Givry 1er Crus showed how versatile the wines of the appellation can be, from the elegant Champs Lalot, to the weightier, firmer Grande Berge.
Tasting notes from my favourite wines below.
Bourgogne Aligoté “Les Charnailles” 2017
Aromas of white flowers, lemon, grapefruit and anis hints feature on the nose. The palate is defined by its nervy acidity, light body, tangy citrus fruit flavours, and saline mineral notes on the lifted finish.
Givry 1er Cru “Champs Lalot” Blanc 2017
Though quite restrained on the nose, this medium bodied white comes into its own on the palate. Fresh, with attractive yellow apple and pear flavours, mingled with buttery notes, and hints of green almond. The subtle phenolic grip on the finish boulsters the structure nicely prolonging the lemon-infused finish.
Bourgogne Rouge Vieilles Vignes 2017
Pretty red cherry, raspberry and earthy nuances appear with aeration. Light in colour and body, this brisk red is brimming with juicy red berry flavours. The finish is smooth and rounded.
Givry “Les Dracy” 2017
Quite a light, lifted style of Givry, with restrained red berry and mossy, forest floor notes. Smooth and linear on the palate, with tangy red fruit flavours and lovely, silky tannins.
Givry 1er Cru “Champs Lalot” Rouge 2017
Very elegant, with a heady violet perfume underscored by raspberry, red cherry and cedar nuances. The palate is incredibly tangy and firmly structured, with lively acidity, medium body, tart red fruit flavours, and fine-grained tannins.
Givry 1er Cru “Les Bois Gauthiers” 2017
Discreet, with an earthier, less fruit forward expression than Champs Lalot. The palate is weightier, with quite firm, chewy tannins and lingering herbal, red berry notes.
Givry 1er Cru “Grande Berge” 2017
Intially restrained, the Grande Berge gains quickly in intensity, with intriguing exotic spice, red berry, red currant, and cedar notes. Crisp, vibrant acidity is matched by a very taut structure on this medium bodied red. It finishes quite earthy, with firm tannins and lingering mocha flavours.
Givry 1er Cru “Grande Berge” 2015
The 2015 vintage of Grande Berge is highly aromatic, with intense red cherry, black plum, and raspberry notes. Still tightly knit, but far weightier on the palate, with an abundance of ripe red berries, mocha, and spice. The tannins are broad and ripe.
My week in Burgundy started off with a resounding bang. Tasting the wines of Domaine Trapet is an experience to be savoured. I would have appreciated it all the more if I hadn’t gotten lost…an impressive feat considering that the winery is on the main street and I drove straight passed it before turning off to meander along the side streets.
I was received my Madame Trapet (senior). There can be no greater positive publicity than having your mother pour your wines. With quiet pride and great dignity, Madame Trapet related the estate’s history finishing her tale with the feats of her talented son, Jean-Louis, and his equally skilled wife, Andrée.
Domaine Trapet is an 18-hectare estate with impressive vineyard holdings in and around Gevrey-Chambertin; notably five Premier Cru sites, and three of the most sought after Grand Crus: Chapelle-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, and the mighty Le Chambertin.
Domaine Trapet is an 18-hectare estate with impressive vineyard holdings in and around Gevrey-Chambertin; notably five Premier Cru sites, and three of the most sought after Grand Crus: Chapelle-Chambertin, Latricières-Chambertin, and the mighty Le Chambertin.
Seven generations of the Trapet family have tended the estate’s Gevrey-Chambertin vineyards. In the 1920s, the Trapets had amassed one of the largest vineyard holdings on the Côte d’Or, but it wasn’t until the 1960s that the family began bottling their wines. In 1993, the winery – until then known as Domaine Louis Trapet – was divided to allow a new generation to go their separate ways. It was then that the estates of Domaine Rossignol-Trapet and Domaine Trapet Père & Fils emerged.
It was also around this time that Jean-Louis Trapet, now at the helm of Domaine Trapet Père & Fils, decided to farm the estate according to biodynamic principles. Madame Trapet chuckled at this stage of the story, as she explained how the young Jean-Louis, fresh from his viticultural studies, announced the news to his father. “We had no idea what he was talking about” she said. It took some persuading, but Jean-Louis was adamant, and within a few growing seasons, the elder Trapets were convinced.
The vineyards of Domaine Trapet are certified biodynamic. “We are so much more in tune with our vines since making the switch”.
“We are so much more in tune with our vines since making the switch”, explained Madame Trapet. “They are healthier, hardier, and give far more expressive fruit”. The vineyards of Domaine Trapet now hold the Demeter biodynamic certification.
Winemaking practices have also evolved dramatically over the past 25 years. Once known for its heavily extracted, lavishly oaked style, the wines of Domaine Trapet are now the epitome of Burgundian elegance, purity, and finesse. Vinfication techniques depend on the vintage but generally consist of a brief period of cold maceration, followed by fermentation in open top wood fermenters with partial inclusion of stems (30 to 50%). Maceration is long and slow, with delicate extraction via punch-down and then gentle pump-overs in the later stages. Regional and village wines see 20% new French oak over 12 months of ageing, while Premier and Grand Crus are matured 18 – 20 months in 35 – 50% new French oak. Sulphur is added only at bottling, in minute doses.
Our tasting centred around barrel samples of the 2017 vintage. I was treated to another of Madame Trapet’s radiant smiles as she spoke of the 2017 harvest. “It was a summer marked by heat waves, and blessed with beneficial rains late August” she said. 2017 gave a desperately needed bumper crop to the grape growers of Burgundy. After a string of growing seasons ravaged by frost, hail, and wet weather, 2017 was a blessing. ‘The wines are really approachable with ripe, rounded tannins”.
The wines of Domaine Trapet are the epitome of Burgundian elegance, purity, and finesse.
After a brief, enjoyable chat with Jean and then Jean-Louis, we proceeded to taste. My notes below.
Many thanks Madame Trapet for giving so generously of your time. Your exquisite wines could not have been poured for a more appreciative palate!
Bright red currant, red cherry, and black plum aromas on the nose, underpinned by mossy, forest floor notes. Lovely tangy acidity on the medium weight palate, with moderate depth of juicy red and black berry flavours. Silky tannins frame the fresh, lifted finish. Very approachable.
Wonderfully fragrant, spiced nose, initially showing lots of crushed raspberry, blackberry and cassis fruit. Earthy, cedar notes develop upon aeration. Quite brisk on the palate, medium in body, with a fairly firm structure giving way to surprisingly velvetty tannins and subtle oaked nuances. Hints of wet leaf and black berries linger on the finish.
Gevrey-Chambertin “Ostrea” Vieilles Vignes 2017
Ostrea refers to the oyster shell fossils found in this Gevrey-Chambertin vineyard boasting 60 to 90-year-old vines. Similar in fragrance and freshness to the precedent Gevrey-Chambertin, but fleshier and far weightier overall. Fine depth of tangy red berry and cherry flavours mingle with notes of spice, tobacco, and cedar. Firm, yet ripe tannins and subtle cedar, spice define the finish.
Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru “Capita” 2017
The Capita bottling is a blend of three Premier Cru sites: En Combottes, En Ergot, and Les Combottes. Seductive ripe black berry and black cherry aromas , with underlying violet, tobacco and cedar nuances. Really vibrant and dense on the palate, with a highly concentrated core leading on to ripe, chewy tannins. Brisk through out, with a lifted finish featuring tangy fruit and cedar hints.
Chapelle Chambertin Grand Cru 2017
This outstanding cru lies in the southern part of Gevrey=Chambertin, on a gentle slope just below the Clos de Bèze. Incredibly elegant, with a delicacy and intense florality that recalls top Chambolle-Musigny. Highly complex on the nose with vibrant red berries, spice, underbrush and cedar underpinning the enticing flowery perfume. It starts quite soft and reticent on the palate but quickly develops an expansive nature that crescendos to a powerful finale with broad, fleshy tannins. Pronounced yet harmonious toasty, vanilla notes from 18 months’ ageing in 50% new French oak frames the lengthy finish.
Le Chambertin Grand Cru 2017
The most famed cru in Gevrey, to which the village paid hommage in 1847 by affixing the word Chambertin to the official town name. Trapet’s 2017 Le Chambertin displays impressive density, concentration and ripeness. The aromatic range seems endless, with red cherry, red plum, crushed raspberry, mocha, exotic spice, tobacco, and gamey nuances all revealing themselves in a well-articulated, harmonious manner. Very firm and weighty on the palate, with brisk acidity, heady fruit and marked, yet fine-grained tannins underscored by finely integrated toasted oak. Incredibly persistent, with lingering hints of leather, tobacco, earth and wet leaf.
On a cool and blustery day late December, I was speeding along the route nationale 74 in a rented, mint green Fiat 500. My destination? Gevrey-Chambertin to kick off a few days of wine tasting in Burgundy. I smiled as I passed the blink-and-you-miss-it village of Prémeaux-Prissey and a flood of memories assailed me.
I arrived in Burgundy in 2004 to study International Wine Commerce at the CFPPA de Beaune. I didn’t drive stick, my French was lousy, and my only acquaintance was an elderly widow. To make matters worse it was November – the month where a thick, grey fog descends over Burgundy and rarely lifts before the following March.
To say that my first couple of months were challenging is a vast understatement.
I had found accommodations at Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron in the sleepy town of Prémeaux-Prissey. Slowly but surely my French improved. I made friendships that I cherish to this day. And I drank some incredible wine. If someone had told me back then how lucky I was to be drinking top Burgundy on a regular basis, perhaps I would have sipped it more slowly and thoughtfully.
It has been 12 years since I called Burgundy home. After my formation and a two-year stint sourcing small lots of high-end Burgundy for North American private clients and importers, I moved on, to South Africa, then Avignon, and eventually home, to Montréal. I make the pilgrimage to Beaune most every year though. The siren song of Chambolle always lure me back. And there is nothing quite like popping a warm gougères in your mouth, washed down with a taut, tangy Puligny.
On this particular visit mid December, I was on a fact-finding mission. I have been drinking Burgundy in a fairly nonchalant way these past 10 years. But with the Master of Wine tasting exam looming (and not my first stab at it….sigh), it is time to get serious.
I had tastings lined up at excellent estates from Marsannay all the way down to Givry. The goal was to re-visit Burgundian wine styles and winemaking practices.
Much has changed in Burgundy since the early 2000s. Wine producers are far more ecologically conscience, wines are handled less reductively pre-fermentation, and the percentage of new oak – even at the Grand Cru level – has decreased significantly.
The resultant wines are, for the most part, silkier, lighter, and more ethereal than I remember. The difference between appellations is also less clear cut. Individual winemaking styles and the unique expression of each climat (vineyard plot) distinguishes the wines far more distinctly today.
The following series of articles covers my visits, tastings, and impressions from a few days’ intensive wine tasting in Burgundy.
Pinot Noir is one of the most beloved red wine grapes on the planet. Curious to know what makes Pinot Noir special ? Check out this quick video guide to learn about Pinot Noir, what it tastes like, where to find the best Pinot Noir, and how to serve it.
If you love Pinot Noir and want to try other, similar grapes, here are some great options: Gamay (Beaujolais), Dolcetto (Piedmont), Cinsault (Central Coast of California, or Swartland in South Africa), or Nerello Mascalese (Mount Etna, Sicily).
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How long does an open bottle of wine last? You want to drink moderately, but you don’t want your leftover wine going bad too quickly! So how do you go about keeping wine fresh and how long does wine last after opening? Check out this wine 101 video for great tips on how to preserve wine after opening.
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If you have been into a wine bar or trendy wine-focused restaurant in recent years, you have likely come across natural wine. Perhaps you were surprised by the colour or the flavours. Maybe you loved it, potentially you hated it! Still not sure exactly sure what is natural wine?
Learn all about natural wine in the short wine education video below where I break down: what is natural wine, and why wine experts have such fierce, conflicting emotions about this unique new wine style.
The recent passing of one of the wine world’s legends, Gerard Basset, has been on my mind a lot recently. Not because I knew him personally, though I wish that I had had that privilege. It was the remarks that people made about him being a mentor; someone who inspired wine enthusiasts to become scholars, and wine scholars to pursue ever loftier academic goals.
His death also made me re-visit the brutal realities of cancer.
I had such a teacher once. A man that instilled his passion for wine in me long before I could (legally) imbibe. A self-proclaimed ignorant farm boy from Saskatchewan who read every tome on wine grapes, vintages, regions and producers religiously. A man who carefully purchased the best vintage Ports of each of his children’s birth years to drink with them at their weddings.
Except that he only made it to one wedding, at a time when his Port drinking days were long passed.
The Christmas of 2006 started off with a bang. I was finishing up a job in Beaune and preparing to leave for a winemaking stint in South Africa early in the New Year. I had just flown home for the holiday. My father was standing over my open suitcase, watching with child-like glee as I pulled out all the smelly cheeses and pâtés that I had smuggled over. With our bounty on display and the week’s menus in mind, we headed down to the cellar to mull over the wines.
This was how it always went. He adored the ceremony of opening his carefully aged treasures (generally Bordeaux, red Burgundies, and Mosel Rieslings). He would pour a small glass, sniff, taste, and then, when the wine was good, a slow smile would spread across his face. He would say, “not bad, not bad at all” and then pass the glass over to me.
When I first decided to pursue a career in wine, he said to me, “You will have a wonderful time. You won’t make any money, but you’ll have a wonderful time”. On the eve of my initial departure to study wine commerce in Burgundy he pulled out a bottle of 1982 Léoville-Las Cases that I will remember to my dying day.
And then, on Christmas day in 2006, everything changed in an instant. We had just finished gorging ourselves on turkey and fixings, and were happily slumped in our chairs, paper hats askew, when my father suddenly became so ashen, he looked as though he had seen a ghost. The episode passed and he shrugged it off, though I won’t soon forget the nervous look on his face as he sipped his postprandial dram.
It was cancer. More specifically lung cancer that had already metastasized to his brain. The location of the 7 different brain tumors made any curative treatment impossible. I went off to South Africa, blithely ignorant of his fate. He didn’t tell me until my return because he so wanted me to enjoy my experience.
When I next saw him, the shrunken man in front of me with the big, haunted eyes seemed almost a stranger. On my mother’s urging (and bankrolling), my sister and I had arrived with 12 bottles of top Burgundies. I had even found a bottle of 1930s Nuits-St-Georges from an old, long deceased wine producer friend of my parents.
I brought them out with such pride only to be faced with a watery smile. Though he was able to share a few bottles with us, his ailing body soon couldn’t face wine’s acidic bite. His brilliant mind remained to the end though, and he continued his love affair with wine vicariously through me to the end.
Today would have been his 77th birthday. Tonight, I will open the finest treasure my paltry wine cellar has to offer and raise a glass to you, Ronald Cole, and to you, Gerard Basset, two wine lovers taken from their families and all those they inspired, far too soon.
The ultimate wine lover’s dream is a large wine cellar – with perfect temperature and humidity conditions – laden with treasures from around the wine producing globe. Unfortunately, not all of us have the space or the budget to make this fantasy a reality. But, if you love to drink wine regularly, and to entertain, it is still nice to have a small stock of “house wines” to avoid last minute rushes to the wine store.
Not sure what to buy? Keep reading!
I recommend having at least one bottle of these seven different styles of house wines on hand. They should cover the majority of wine drinking occasions.
***Side note: I have also made this post into a YouTube video. To watch, just scroll down to the bottom & click play. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing to my YouTube channel so you never miss an episode of my weekly wine education series.
2 Sparkling Wines (yes, you need two!)
First up, sparkling wine. When I moved to France a number of years ago, I discovered something incredible. Small growers in Champagne were selling excellent non-vintage fizz for 12 – 15 euros! At the time, only the big Champagne houses were making it to the liquor store shelves in Canada, and their basic bubblies were five times more expensive than these little gems. I started drinking Champagne regularly. I always had a cold bottle ready for any piece of good news – big or small. Every little triumph was a reason to drink Champagne. Those were the days…
Back home in Montréal, my budget doesn’t quite extend to weekly bottles of Champagne. This is potentially for the best though, as I have been forced to branch out and discover the wide world of excellent sparkling wines outside of France.
I recommend stocking two types of bubblies for your house wines: a more affordable version for the every-day celebrations, and a finer bottle for the big moments.
For your first bottle, even though you are spending less, you still want something you’d enjoy drinking. I suggest seeking out the higher quality tiers of budget-friendly sparkling wine regions. If you like delicate fruity aromas, soft bubbles, and fresh acidity, try Prosecco at the Superiore DOCG level. If you prefer the more vigorous, firm bubbles of Champagne, with hints of brioche, biscuit-type aromas, go for Cava at the Reserva or Gran Reserva level. Crémant wines, made through out France, will also provide a similar experience.
In terms of your fancier fizz, Champagne is obviously the classic choice. If you want to go all out, look for Vintage Champagne or a Prestige cuvées of a non-vintage wine. Don’t forget however, that really top-drawer sparkling wine is cropping up all over the world – potentially in your own backyard – and drinking local is awesome! Look to England, parts of Canada, Tasmania, Marlborough if you want something with that really racy acidity of Champagne. If you want something a little richer & rounder – try California or South Africa’s top sparkling wines.
To learn more about premium sparkling wines, click here.
An Aperitif-style White Wine
Ok…on to your every-day house wines. I enjoy drinking a glass of white wine while I am cooking supper. I want something fairly light in body, crisp, dry and generally un-oaked at this juncture of the evening; a wine that is easy-drinking on its own and as refreshing as lemonade on a hot day. These are also typically the kinds of wines I would serve at a dinner party as an aperitif, or with light fare such as oysters, grilled white fish, or salads.
An easy go-to white wine grape variety is Sauvignon Blanc (more elegant, restrained styles from Loire, more pungent grassy, passion fruit examples from New Zealand) or dry Riesling (try Alsace, or the Clare and Eden Valleys in Australia). If you would like to try something a little different, look for the zesty, peach-scented, mineral Albarino grape from Spain, the crisp, dry, herbal, lemony Assyrtiko grape grown mainly on the island of Santorini in Greece, or finally firmly structured, brisk, peach/ grapefruit/ earthy Grüner Veltliner from Austria.
A Richer, Fuller-bodied White Wine
If you are cooking poultry, fattier fish, cream-based sauces, or serving soft cheeses, you will need a weightier, more textural white that can stand up to the heavier food. Chardonnay wines, notably those aged in oak, work well here. Be careful however, because Chardonnay runs the gamut from quite lean, citrussy & mineral to very broad, heavy & tropical – check with store staff before buying to make sure you get a style that suits your palate.
Interesting alternatives to Chardonnay include white Rhône Valley blends featuring grapes like Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier. These can also be found outside of France, with fine examples made in Paso Robles, California and Victoria, Australia. Pinot Gris from Alsace, notably the Grand Cru versions, also have a lovely textural weight, depth, and vibrancy of fruit that will shine in this category.
A Light-bodied Red Wine (or Rosé)
Sadly, not all of your guests are going to love white wine (I know…it is a shock to me too). The perfect host will not be flustered by this set-back. They will simply trade out the white for a crisp rosé, or a light, juicy red wine. Pale, dry rosé works well for pre-dinner drinks. Rosés with deeper colour and more depth, or pale, fresh red wines will marry well with those fleshier fish or poultry dishes.
Pinot Noir, Gamay, and lighter styles of Cabernet Franc are excellent light-bodied red wine grapes. Look for cooler climate origins, as the hotter regions will likely verge into the medium to full bodied category, with more baked fruit flavours and higher alcohol. What you are looking for here is tangy acidity, a delicate structure, and fairly silky tannins.
For a more exotic option, try Etna DOC wines, made from the Nerello Mascalese grape, on the slopes of the famed Mount Etna in Sicily.
An ‘”All-Rounder” Red Wine
Between the delicate, tangy light reds and the big, bold ones, I always think that it is a good idea to have a more versatile red in your house wines arsenal. A wine that is medium in body, fresh (but not overly acidic), subtly fruity, smooth and rounded on the palate. These wines tend to pair with the widest range of foods making them a great option for your every-day fare.
Côtes-du-Rhône red wines (made from a blend of Grenache and Syrah) are a fantastic choice here. If you like the style, but prefer a wine with a touch more body and depth, look for the Villages level of Côtes-du-Rhône. Valpolicella from the Veneto in Italy is also a lovely, fruity option, or – if you like the vanilla, spice flavours of oaked reds – try a Rioja Reserva.
A Full-bodied Red Wine
When you are barbecuing steak, preparing a heartily flavoured stew, or serving pungent, hard cheeses, you need a wine with equally bold flavours. The tannins from these more powerful reds also binds with and softens proteins in meat, intensifying their rich savoury flavours, and in turn, reducing the astringency of the wine.
A wide range of options exist. Classics include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot blends (with more vibrant, tart fruited examples from Bordeaux vs. more lush, ultra-ripe fruited versions from the Napa Valley), Malbec and Syrah are also great traditional choices. Looking a little further afield, you could try Portuguese blends from the Douro region, or Grenache, Carignan blends from Priorat region of Spain.
In France, the dessert is sometimes accompanied by a sweet wine and it is common practice to offer a digestif (literally a wine/ spirit to help you digest) after the meal. The French really know how to live. Sigh…
There is a vast world of amazing options out there but, for most of us, after-dinner wines tend only to be served on special occasions. Unless space permits, you don’t necessarily need to stock these in advance.
I hope that this helps you a little with your next trip to the wine store. If you have any questions, or comments on any of the wines, write me a comment and I will happily respond.
One of the main questions I get asked when I mention my profession is: why do I get headaches from drinking white or red wine? Before I have a chance to answer, the asker generally presents me with a few explanations they have read or heard about. These theories are often misguided. So I decided to review current literature and let you know why wine is giving you headaches.
***Side note: I have also made this blog post into a three minute YouTube video. To watch, just scroll down to the bottom & click play. If you enjoy the video, consider subscribing to my YouTube channel so you never miss an episode of my weekly wine education series.
Let’s start with sulphites. Sulphites are a group of sulphur-based chemicals, which include sulphur dioxide. They are a naturally occurring by-product of wine fermentation. Sulphur is also added to many wines over the course of the winemaking process as it is a highly effective preservative against spoilage and oxidation. For these same reasons, sulphur is an ingredient in many processed foods like fruit juice, jams, flavoured yoghurts, pickled foods, mustard and dried fruits.
The European Union legal limit for total sulphur dioxide at bottling ranges between 100mg/L for organic dry red wines and 200mg/L for non-organic dry white wines – with all other organic and non organic dry wines falling between these limits. These are the maximum amounts, and most conscience winemakers are using far less nowadays. The majority of health professionals agree that, at these levels, the sulphites in wine do not cause headaches. Dried apricots can contain up to five times the sulphite levels of wine, and yet you rarely hear anyone insisting that dried fruit gives them migraines. It has been found that in roughly 1% of the population, generally people already suffering from issues like asthma, sulphites can cause breathing problems, but not headaches.
The tannin in red wine acts as an anti-oxidant, meaning that red wines generally contain less sulphur than white wines. If your wine headaches come primarily from red wine consumption, then there is even less likelihood that sulphites are to blame.
So why is wine giving you headaches? Several culprits have been identified by researchers:
People never seem to want to hear this but alcohol is often the problem. Many types of headaches are caused by simple dehydration. Alcohol is a diuretic, meaning that it makes you pee more frequently. This causes the body to lose more fluid and become dehydrated. Happily, there are lots of simple ways to avoid alcohol-related dehydration:
Drink moderately (health officials advise limiting consumption to 1 – 2 glasses of 120 – 150mL per day, depending on sex, weight, and tolerance)
Try switching to lower alcohol wines
Avoid sweeter wine styles (the combination of sugar and alcohol in wine is said to dehydrate the body even faster)
Drink lots of water while drinking wine to make up for the fluid loss (a good rule of thumb is one glass of water for each glass of wine)
Never drink on an empty stomach (food will help dilute the effects of alcohol)
Histamines are compounds found on grape skins. These same chemicals are released by the body during an allergic reaction and cause symptoms like headaches, a runny nose, or dry, irritated eyes. Red wines tend to have have higher histamine concentrations as they are fermented with their grape skins. White wines are pressed off their skins before fermentation. So if red wines make your head throb, histamines might be to blame.
Why would histamines bother some wine drinkers and not others? Because certain people lack sufficient levels of an enzyme that breaks down histamines in the small intestines. If histamine levels are too high in the blood, they can dilate blood vessels and cause headaches. If you suspect that you might fall into this category, you could try taking a histamine blocker before a glass of red wine that has previously caused you a headache. Obviously, this cannot be your long term solution for continued red wine consumption however!
Tannins are also naturally occurring compounds, or plant chemicals, found on grape skins, stems and seeds. Just like histamines, they are present in far higher concentrations in red wine. Tannins have been found to release serotonin in the brain. At low levels serotonin gives a sense of well-being and happiness. However, at high levels, it can cause some people to develop headaches.
Highly tannic wines, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or Nebbiolo, have a very firm, astringent texture on the palate. If you get the sense that these types of wines are causing you headaches try switching to white wine, or lower tannin reds like Pinot Noir, Gamay, or Grenache. Keep in mind though that many beverages and foods, like strong black tea and dark chocolate, are high in tannin. If these things don’t bother you…tannin is probably not your issue.
The Good News!
You don’t need to stop drinking wine altogether just because you are getting headaches. There are thousands of different wines and wine styles out there. It is unlikely that they will all give you a headache. Use the tips I mentioned above, and when you try a new wine, start with a small amount then wait to see the effects (usually within 20 minutes or so) and continue – with moderation – if the headache doesn’t come.