Signing copies of Nose, Legs, Body! at the Santa Barbara Vintners Festival this Saturday in Buellton.
First award given to Nose, Legs, Body! was the Benjamin Franklin Digital Silver Award, from the independent Book Publishers Association. Next, a QED “Seal of Approval” was earned from the Digital Book Awards. Today, I thank the Non-Fiction Authors Association for giving Nose, Legs, Body! a Gold Award!!
~The format of the book is advantageous to the non-wine drinker, because it basically answers questions asked by other wine novices. Each questions is answered with a brief summary, followed by a more in-depth and expanded definition. Answers are then followed by an application to action, or specific vintage recommendations to reinforce the concepts explained therein. Terms that may be new to people in the wine arena are helpfully bolded for easy reference, and the entire book is written in a very conversational style. Napolitano defines unfamiliar terms in a way that is open to understanding, making you feel that he truly wants people to learn about wine, not just show off his own wine knowledge. Especially helpful are the glossary and appendices, which make for quick reference when standing at the liquor store in front of hundreds of intimidating choices.
~Written in Q&A format, this isn’t a book that will collect dust on the shelf for want of time to read page after page. It will be utilized immediately, regardless of the level of knowledge of the reader; in fact, the chapters indicate varying wine personalities and affinity for wine. A quick peek at the label—the Table of Contents—does plenty to reveal what this book has to offer. From terminology to table service, it is bound to romance the wine lover and rekindle a relationship with those who prefer other spirits. Buy a couple and give it instead of a bottle next time you go to a party of someone who already has a corked collection.
~If you’re not a wine ‘expert’, Len Napolitano will make you one. Even if you think you know all there is to know about the subject, this book will surprise you. Not a drinker myself, I thought “why would I want to read a book about wine?” Wrong. This little book is jam-packed with down-to-earth advice (“How important is the pairing of wine with food?”) to how to navigate the complex world of wine grapes and styles, how to make the most of a wine tasting, the proper way to open and serve sparkling wine (I had no idea!) and more. Written with humor and charm, this book would be a great addition to any wine lover’s book collection.
Thank you Non-Fiction Authors Association!
–Reviewed by Dan Clarke http://tastecaliforniatravel.com
It’s a shame that their perceived lack of expertise keeps so many folks from enjoying wine. While it’s true you can spend a lifetime in wine and not know everything about it, a basic grounding in the subject isn’t all that hard to come by.
Nose, Legs, Body! is a great introduction to the subject. It provides a comfort level that will blunt the apprehension a novice may feel and take him in directions that will more quickly lead to happy experiences. The author has given a nod to three general categories of wine observation (nose, legs and body) and incorporates another body part in his subtitle, “know wine like the back of your hand,” a recurring definition to the summaries concluding each chapter of the book. The lessons are simple (without talking down to the reader) and convey a lot of information in an easy-reading style. People in the wine business may forget how many bits of knowledge they take for granted that may flummox newcomers (how many people have purchased a bottle of wine that is said to show aspects of berries, plums, cedar and even “cigar boxes” and wondered, “but I thought wine was made from grapes?”). Len Napolitano is a wine writer and wine educator and has been a fixture on TV’s Fine Living Network. Like all good teachers, he respects his audience and would rather invite them to the party, than to intimidate them.
A quick read will do much to raise the confidence of fledgling wine fans and the glossary and appendices will be valuable for those questions that come up later.
First, match the recipient’s lifestyle to a wine style; then choose a
wine from a small, maybe even a local, producer. Quality generally
increases with price, but differences become noticeable beyond a 20%
With wine, generally you will get a higher quality as you pay
more, but the jump in price has to be significant, say, more than
20%. Prices differences within 20% of each other will probably
not make noticeable differences in quality. If you know little or
nothing about the gift recipient’s specific wine preferences, try
choosing a wine based on his or her personality or lifestyle. Here
are some ideas:
• Champagne and Sparkling Wines: Safe as a gift at any
time. They symbolize celebration, happiness, good times,
and also serve as a pre-dinner beverage. The original
sparkling wine, French Champagne, tends to be the most
expensive sparkling wine (major brands start at around
$25) while American sparkling wines made in the French
traditional method are more affordable—and many
are just as good. If you prefer to give a more affordable
imported sparkling wine, look for Italian Prosecco or
Spanish Cava—they usually come at lower prices than
• Pinot Noir: An extremely nuanced wine, but also a
versatile wine that is appreciated by devotees of both red
and white wines. Pinot noir tends to cost a little more,
on average, than other varietal wines, so expect to spend
more than $25 if you want something of quality and true
varietal character. Choose a wine from a small AVA in
either California or Oregon, or from New Zealand.
• Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot: Two classic, medium-to
full-bodied, single-varietal wines appropriate for
someone who tends to be more traditional in their
food selections—perfect for the meat-eater. Choose a
sub-appellation of either Napa or Sonoma Valley in
California, from the Columbia Valley in Washington, or
the Coonwarra region of Australia. American Meritage
blends are also good options. Expect to pay $20 and up
for Meritage or single-varietal wines.
• Bordeaux or Burgundy, white or red: A good choice for
the scholar of world history, or lover of European culture.
Also, for someone who frequents fine restaurants in big
cities, entertains guests or clients, or dabbles in gourmet
cooking. (These are not wines to use in cooking!). Pricing,
on average, will be higher than domestic wines from
comparable varietals, but that won’t go unnoticed by the
recipient. Prepare yourself to pay at least $30 for a bottle.
• Chianti: Nothing says “amore” better than an Italian
red wine from the heart of Tuscany. Furthermore, if you
upgrade your selection to the category of Chianti Classico
(a small, sub-appellation of Chianti) the gift says you pay
attention to detail. For the very special person, however,
look for the Riserva term on the label—it indicates the
wine was aged in barrel longer than non-Riserva wine,
adding to its harmonious taste and romantic symbolism.
Always a great gift for anyone who loves Italy and Italian
Another gift-giving approach is to choose a wine that has
some personal meaning to you. Because today, remarkably,
every American lives in a wine-producing state, you can give a
wine from your state if your recipient is from out of state. And,
because most of these wineries are small, they typically won’t have
nationwide distribution, which reduces the chance the recipient
will already have the same wine. Or, give a wine from producers
you’ve personally visited. The wine has more meaning if a story
about your personal experience is behind it.
If you are in search of a location to hold a special event, meeting, family reunion or wedding, I suggest checking out Holman Ranch in Carmel Valley, CA. Its classic mountain location, complete with gorgeous landscape, extraordinary views and
delicious estate-grown wines make for an unforgettable experience. Holman Ranch wines define handcrafted small production, with a specialty in cool-climate pinot noir and chardonnay. Gracious hosts Nick and Hunter work with you in planning your event and pairing their wines with the food served up by a caterer of your
choice. And though they have overnight accommodations for only about 30 guests, they can take large groups of around 200 for meetings and weddings.
While you are there, arrange to get inside the wine cave and do a barrel tasting. In addition to chardonnay and pinot noir, try their sauvignon blanc and pinot gris.
If you don’t have an immediate need for a location like this, you can still enjoy Holman Ranch wines. All are available to taste and purchase at the Holman Ranch tasting room in Carmel Valley Village at 19 East Carmel Valley Rd. 831-659-2640.
For more info, go to: http://www.holmanranch.com
Knowing when to pick grapes requires a combination of timing,
measurement, tasting, and gut instinct. Stretching out the length
of time grapes hang on the vine requires deft skill at managing a
balancing act of unpredictable weather along with almost daily
changes in sugar, acid, color, and flavor of the grapes.
You might think hang time refers to how long you stick around a
tasting room bar and sample the entire list of wines. Serious wine
country travelers take pride in their hang time.
In the business of grape growing, however, getting more
hang time means waiting longer for grapes to reach maturity
and optimal ripeness; in other words, stretching out the growing
season. Physiological grape maturity is determined simply by
tasting grapes and observing the color of their seeds. Ripeness
is determined by testing grapes for sugar and acid content. If
maturity lags behind ripeness, grapes might need to hang on the
vine longer than usual. But, like the hours spent inside a tasting
room, adding hang time is not without risk.
The balancing act begins in August, when sugar levels from
grape samples start getting regularly measured in “degrees” on
a scale called Brix, and acidity is measured on the pH scale.
Testing gives growers and winemakers an indication of ripeness
and a rough idea how close they are to harvest. However, as warm
daytime temperatures increase sugar development, acid levels
drop. Waiting days, or weeks, to reach higher sugar levels with
potential for greater flavor and alcohol in the wine also means
gradually losing acidity, a vital component giving wine freshness
and lively fruitiness. A wine with insufficient acidity is doomed
to be flat and dull.
Grapes are typically picked at Brix readings between 22 and 28
degrees, depending on grape variety and desires of the winemaker,
many of whom define hang time as the time grapes remain on the
vine after they reach ripeness of 24 degrees Brix. (By the way, a
final Brix reading multiplied by a “standard” conversion factor of
0.55 estimates final wine alcohol content. Thus, grapes picked at
24 degrees Brix make wine with around 13.2% alcohol.)
Wine regions with naturally long growing seasons, like
California’s Monterey County, benefit from longer hang time
without much risk. They have consistently warm days with few
heat spikes, and cool afternoons and evenings. Measured by their
early budding and late ripening dates, their entire growing season
may span up to a month longer than most other California
Stretching out the growing season allows grapes to develop
more intense flavor, color, and complexity—all characteristics of
great wines. These qualities are especially easy to appreciate while
stretching your own hang time in a favorite tasting room.
Variations in regional climate, differences in vineyard soils, and countless individual choices made by the winemaker create a producer’s style. Each factor influences lightness or richness, sweetness or dryness, uniqueness or conformity in the wine—and the overall impression it leaves with you.
There are over 7,500 wineries throughout the U.S. Over one-
third of them make chardonnay. Close to half of them—3,437—
produce cabernet sauvignon. Makes you wonder, does the country
really need that many chardonnays or cabernets? How much can
these wines, made from the same grape, differ from one another?
Actually, every one of them is unique.
Why? The foremost reason is climate. Grapes grown in a cool
climate retain a higher level of acidity than the same grape variety
grown in a warm climate. The high acid component produces a
crisp freshness on the palate, whereas the warm climate grapes
lose most of their acidity but develop more sugar. Higher sugar
means higher alcohol potential. Higher alcohol adds weight
to the wine, lending an impression of sweetness. Chardonnay,
for example, grown in these two disparate environments may
produce two very different wine styles. This difference in crispness
verses weightiness is a difference in mouthfeel, a combination of
viscosity with astringency or acidity.
Vineyard soils also influence a wine’s flavor profile. Soil
types vary greatly throughout California and around the world.
Chalk, limestone, clay, sand, gravel, loam, mineral components,
or volcanic deposits in soils each make unique contributions to
wine. Two examples:
• Grapes grown in the gravel, sand, loam, and volcanic-
deposit soils of the Rutherford area of California’s Napa
Valley are said to produce wines with an identifiable
“Rutherford dust” character, described as a unique
• The limestone-rich soil of the Chablis region in France
is a big reason why chardonnay grapes harvested there
produce wines of a steely, flinty quality.
Another factor is how the winemaker applies oak. The use of
oak in fermentation or the aging process brings more presence
to a wine’s mouthfeel, along with sweet flavor and aroma. The
greatest impact comes from new oak barrels filled with wine for
the first time. So, choose an “un-oaked” chardonnay, for example,
if you prefer a crisp, lighter mouthfeel. Conversely, if you like
a soft, buttery style with a hint of vanilla, look for chardonnay
aged with at least 40% new oak, or made using one or all of these
• Barrel-fermented: Chardonnay fermented inside an oak
barrel absorbs toasted oak compounds from the barrel
as fermentation progresses, mostly adding weight to the
wine but also a touch of sweet aroma.
• Aged-on-the-Lees: Lees are tiny dead yeast cells that
settle at the bottom of a wine barrel, or tank, after
fermentation is complete. About every other week during
aging, they are manually stirred to mix more with the
wine and create a rich, creamy mouthfeel.
• Malolactic Fermentation: ML is a secondary
fermentation, caused by injecting the wine with a natural
lactic acid bacteria that converts tart, apple-like acid into
softer, milk-like acid, creating chardonnay with a rounder
Many choices made by winemakers contribute unique style to
a wine, differentiating it from others made with the same grape
variety. One decision is whether or not to combine it with wine
made from other grapes…