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Life By The Glass

Carefully Curated. Completely Engaging.

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A Few Tips for Hosting Your Own Wine Tasting


Having a wine tasting in your home can be fun and enjoyable way to spend the evening. Here are a few tips and thought-starters to make the night a bit easier and more entertaining.


Except for choosing delectable wines, good wine glasses are the most important part of your tasting. It is easy to go crazy with glasses made to go with specific grapes and, granted, I have many! But, filling your cabinet with a dozen different glasses for a dozen different wines and trying to figure out which wine goes with each isn’t exactly the same as hitting the easy button. So, I suggest having one or two quality wine glasses for starters.

The size of the glass is probably the single most important factor. Glasses should hold at least 12 ounces. Personally, I prefer upwards to 20 ounces, especially for reds, which are typically served in larger glasses then whites. Pour the glasses about a fifth of the way to allow room for swirling and –to develop the aromas.


A standard bottle of wine holds 25.4 ounces. With the intent on everyone trying each wine, one bottle of wine should serve eight guests or a 3-ounce taste. Divide the number of guests you have by eight and round up. This will tell you how many bottles you will need for the tasting. Remember to add more bottles if you are also serving a meal.


Most Americans drink white wines too cold and red wines too warm. Overly chilled whites or too warm reds mask the aromas and flavors plus, alter the wines structure. Try serving whites around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and reds around 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. This may seem too cool for red wines and not cool enough for whites but give it a go. You might be pleasantly surprised. Remember, wine is all about pleasure. So, if you end up preferring your wines cooler or warmer, enjoy them as such.

Wine Order

Normally wines are served from lightest to fullest, whites before reds and, of course, dessert wines last. Our palates usually taste better when we progress in this order. To do it inversely would be like eating a steak and then a light seafood dish.. If you are tasting Sonoma-Cutrer wines, I suggest you try this order: Chardonnay- Russian River Ranches, Sonoma Coast, Les Pierres and The Cutrer; Pinot Noir- Russian River Valley; Sweet – Late Harvest Chardonnay.

Scott Harper, MS
A Certified Wine Educator, Scott is one of 135 professionals in North America and 214 worldwide who have earned the title Master Sommelier.


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Malo what…?


While tasting another delicious bottle of Chardonnay you noticed a flavor, a flavor you haven’t really picked up on before. You aren’t sure how to describe it. It is not quite popcorn, maybe it is cream…then all of a sudden someone says butter. The flavor is butter! This flavor is not present in all wines. Wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling or Pinot Grigio, just wouldn’t taste right with it, but in Chardonnay it is a flavor nuance made in heaven.

So where does this flavor come from? It is a natural or induced process called malolactic fermentation or secondary fermentation. This is sometime listed on the back of wine bottle labels but, rarely explained. In reality, it is quite simple. The process changes the harder Malic acid, which is an acid found in apples, especially green apples, into the softer rounder lactic acid, which is the acid found in milk. A by-product of this process is Diacetyl. Diacetyl has an intense buttery flavor. -This helps create a wine with a creamy, softer texture.

The key to success in this process is that the buttery flavor does not dominate. Any wine that goes through malolactic fermentation will have a component of this tasty flavor, but the key is that it is in balance with the other flavors like the fruit and oak. Using malolactic fermentation is a brilliant way to enhance the complexity of balanced, flavorful Chardonnay.

The next time you taste your favorite Chardonnay see if you detect the nuance of malolactic fermentation.

About The Author

Scott Harper, MS is a Certified Wine Educator, and is one of 135 professionals in North America and 214 worldwide who have earned the title Master Sommelier

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Chardonnay and Croquet

Every spring, the lively sounds of mallets clacking, glasses clinking and guests laughing signal the start of Sonoma-Cutrer’s Chardonnay and Croquet events. The popular annual tradition is held on the winery’s pristine croquet greens once a month through summer.

The only winery in the world to boast professional quality croquet lawns, Sonoma-Cutrer plays host to the country’s best croquet players every year at The North American Open. And while the talent level at Chardonnay and Croquet may not be quite as impressive, the event offers plenty of spirited fun – along with fabulous Chardonnay.

If you can’t make it out to Sonoma-Cutrer for croquet this season, consider hosting your own event. A fun change of pace from a backyard barbecue or traditional dinner party, the game is a great way to encourage your guests to interact, and a little competition can liven up any gathering.

Croquet is, after all, a social sport. While it dates back to the thirteenth century, when French peasants knocked wooden balls through wickets made of willow branches, the game didn’t truly take off until the 1870s. Popularized in England, it was the first game that men and women could play together outside – generally in a lovely garden setting.

Not sure your guests will know how to play? Don’t sweat it. Loosen up your friends with a glass of wine, and allow ample practice time. Then split everyone up into teams of two or three, and have each group come up with a team name (mandatory – this is the fun part). Keep things simple with an easy-to-follow game of “golf croquet.”

Games should only take around 30 minutes, so you can easily host a little tourney.

Between shots, keep the competitors fueled up with cheese, crackers, dried fruit and nuts. As for beverages, nothing compliments this warm-weather activity better than a nice, crisp white. We’re partial to Sonoma-Cutrer’s Russian River Ranches and Les Pierres Chardonnays, but any nice white will do.

So break out the wickets, don your traditional whites (or don’t – as long as you’re comfortable) and uncork your favorite Chardonnay for a little alfresco fun.

For the complete rules on setting up and playing your own croquet game, please click here.

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Host a Chardonnay Tasting Party

Sonoma-Cutrer Lifestyle

Chardonnay is one of the most famous white wine grapes on the planet, and yet its personality in any given bottle matters entirely on the winemaker’s whim, from austere, minimalist handling, to employing all the flavor bells and whistles available in modern winemaking.

Everyone thinks they know it. Many love it—or at least a certain style. Some hate it—or at least they think they do, based on a certain style. But, do they really understand its range of possibilities? How about hosting a “Blind-Tasting Party” with your friends — presenting all of the bottles wrapped in brown bags or aluminum foil — showcasing various styles of Chardonnay alongside wines with similar style profiles? While few white wines possess the power, richness and complexity that Chardonnay does, there are several that can easily play understudy for the great diva of grapes. Here’s how to do it:

The Set Up:

Before guests arrive, chill all of the wines. Then, wrap each bottle in a brown bag tied at the neck with string or aluminum foil. If you need to further chill the wines until guests arrive, you could put them in ice buckets, putting those in brown bags in a plastic bag first to keep it dry; those in foil will be fine in ice. Remove the capsule that covers the cork completely. With a marker write a number on each bottle, from one to six (or as many as you’re pouring). If you’re serving multiple bottles of the same wine for a large crowd, be sure they are numbered correctly. Then, on a spacious bar, table or countertop, set up six stations featuring a large, lined notepad and a pen. On each pad write “Wine No. 1,” “Wine No. 2,” etc. for the number of wines you’re serving. When you’re ready to serve the wines, place each bottle in front of its corresponding notepad. Without guests seeing, pull the corks and taste each bottle to make sure they aren’t corked (or taste off, like moldy cardboard). Don’t forget to hide the corks, because they often display the wine’s logo or other info that might give them away. Now, invite guests to taste the wines in any order, and then write their name on each notepad as they taste, along with their guess as to which type of wine they are drinking. Is it Chardonnay? Is it something else? Take a guess!

Here’s what we’ll pour from our six bottles, but we won’t tell our guests what’s in them until everyone has savored a sip:

Wine No. 1: (Chardonnay from Chablis)

While practically everyone knows Chardonnay, not everyone knows that it hails from the Burgundy region of France, where it’s known as Bourgogne Blanc, or white Burgundy. You will almost never see the word Chardonnay on a bottle of white Burgundy, but rather the region, village or vineyard name. While most white Burgundies are made in oak barrels that impart flavor to the wine, those from the Chablis region are unique, because most are made without oak interaction, vinified in stainless steel tanks. Chablis’ cool climate yields wines with high acidity and distinct “flinty” notes, and less of the apple-y fruit we often identify with traditional Chardonnay. This is as unadulterated as it gets.

Wine No. 2: (Minimally-Oaked California Chardonnay)

Many value-priced Chardonnays (under $15, let’s say) possess qualities that you’ve come to expect: buttery, toasty, creamy nuances, with a touch of vanilla and a kiss of citrus. They represent an overtly oaky style—often called “California Style”—that was popular 25 years ago, when America was just starting to fall in love with Chardonnay. Today, makers of high-quality California Chardonnay strive for balance, crafting fruity wines that are also lean and crisp. Ask your retailer for a Chardonnay that’s “minimally-oaked,” like Sonoma-Cutrer’s Sonoma Coast Chardonnay, whose creamy richness is balanced with bright, mouthwatering acidity and highlighted with flavors of apple, pear and lemon zest.

Wine No. 3: (White Bordeaux)

The word Bordeaux is instantly recognized as one of France’s great wine regions, and for most Americans it also means a great red wine. However, Bordeaux is also known for its delicious, if not-well-known white wines, hiding in plain sight in your best wine shops. The grapes to know in this region are Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon, which are blended together—and you’ll never see their names on the label, only “Bordeaux Blanc,” or, if they are from a specific district, you’ll see that name, too. Ask your retailer for a Bordeaux Blanc from Graves, or, even better, from Pessac-Léognan, where the wines are made in oak barrels, but not with a heavy hand. You might be surprised by how much they remind you of that minimally-oaked Chardonnay in bottle No. 2.

Wine No. 4: (Cotes du Rhône Blanc)

Cotes du Rhône is another one of those French wine names that immediately brings to mind red wine, but like all wine regions around the world, both red and white wine grapes are grown. In the case of the Rhône, there are many, many types of grapes grown, and a lot of them end up in the final blend of the wines, as is tradition in this part of France. By French law, in fact, white Cotes du Rhônes must contain a minimum blend of 80% Clairette, Grenache blanc, Marsanne, Roussanne, Bourboulenc and Viognier. Ugni blanc and Picpoul blanc may be used as secondary varieties. These wines possess fruity, citrusy qualities, coupled with a distinct richness that might trick some guests into thinking it’s a minimally-oaked Chardonnay, like the one in bottle No. 2.

Wine No. 5: (Viognier)

One of the grapes in bottle No. 4’s Cotes du Rhône Blanc is Viognier, which plays a supporting role throughout the Rhône Valley, but is the star in bottles labeled “Condrieu.” These tend to be very, very expensive—and very, very delicious, possessing honeysuckle aromas and flavors, and a distinct unctuousness that might remind some wine lovers of the richness of full-bodied, heavily-oaked Chardonnay. But you can also find far more affordable styles of Viognier from Australia, California and Washington. While its inherent lusciousness may remind tasters of Chardonnay, the giveaway that its not is its highly aromatic bouquet, often brimming with, in addition to honeysuckle, also pears, peaches, and even violet flowers.

Wine No. 6: (Classically-Oaked California Chardonnay)

The employment of oak in the making of great Chardonnay goes back centuries. When applied judiciously, the wine takes on a richness and depth of flavor that would otherwise be impossible to achieve. The problem for the word oak in the context of Chardonnay is that as the grape (and wines made with it) grew ever-more popular over the past quarter-century, techniques to deliver oak-imparting character without actually using oak have grown, too. Which is why many value-priced Chards taste more or less the same. But, if you raise the bar, and invest in a world-class Chardonnay, you may fall in love with this style all over again. Ask your retailer for a “classically-oaked California Chardonnay,” something like Sonoma-Cutrer’s ‘Les Pierres’ from Sonoma County, a wine whose deep, complex aromas of lime, grapefruit and lemon mixed with the flinty, mineral notes that are a defining characteristic of Grand Cru Burgundy, is accented with hints of caramel, fresh cream, nutmeg and honey.

Next Steps:

After all of your guests have tasted the wines, and written their guesses down, unwrap the bottles and let guests see if they guessed correctly or not. Then, open some more bottles, open the buffet and rediscover these new wine discoveries again with food. If one guest guessed the wines particularly well, perhaps you might even offer them a prize: one of those delicious Sonoma-Cutrer bottles to take home.

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Chardonnay Trends Catch Up to Sonoma-Cutrer

California Chardonnay has traveled a storied journey through the decades, from The Judgment of Paris wine tasting in 1976, when a California Chardonnay beat out four French white Burgundies, to the heavy oak and butter-laden styles of the nineties that led to the unfair backlash dubbed ABC (Anything But Chardonnay).

Throughout all of the fads, from butter bombs and big oak styles to crisp, fruit-forward unoaked varieties, Sonoma-Cutrer has stayed the course. Our unwavering vision has always been the same: produce the best Chardonnay possible by combining Old World craftsmanship with New World innovation.

From the beginning, our terroir-driven Grand Cru approach has married traditional Burgundian winemaking methods with state-of-the-art technologies to produce elegantly structured Chardonnays that are deeply rooted in a sense of place.

So what does that mean, exactly?

For one, it means that barrels used at Sonoma-Cutrer are made of fine French oak that we handpick from forests in the heart of France and then have crafted into barrels at generations-old family-owned cooperages in Burgundy.

It also means that innovation has always been part of the equation. Take, for example, our cellar. Rather than digging into a hillside, we removed an entire hill in order to create the perfect cave-like conditions for aging, then reconstructed the hill around our 20,000-square-foot cellar.

This meticulous approach infuses our wines with subtleties and nuance not always found in Chardonnay. In Sonoma-Cutrer’s early days, when many popular California Chardonnays were anything but complex, this refined style was rather revolutionary.

Today, Chardonnay is finding its way back into the spotlight once again as more winemakers embrace food-friendly styles that balance fruit and oak, much like our own Chardonnays. And whether it’s a trend or more of a movement (though it certainly feels like the latter), the current emphasis on more elegant Chardonnay is one we embrace.

No matter what the future holds for the world’s most popular grape, we’ll be right here making our Chardonnay the way we always have – in our own uniquely Grand Cru style.

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How to Create your Own Home Wine Collection

Sonoma-Cutrer Lifestyle

Have you ever been driving home from work knowing that, in order to enjoy wine with dinner, you’ll have to make an extra stop at the local wine shop? While casually perusing the shelves is great when you aren’t in a hurry, it becomes a chore when you don’t have time to contemplate the enormous selection, or consider what will pair with dinner and match your guest’s preferences.

Having a wine collection at home can alleviate this hassle and is wonderful for every wine aficionado. -Enjoying a bottle of wine at the drop of a hat, without a trip to the wine shop, is an accessible luxury. A wine collection does not have to- be 2,000 bottles; a nice wine selection can be 50 well-chosen bottles.

To set up your home collection, you will need to consider a few select details. First, you need a place that will remain cool (50- to 60°F) and has good humidity (50- to 75°). There should be no direct light, vibrations or off odors. It is also important to have the ability to keep the bottles resting on their sides. Wines age best when they are kept at a constant temperature under these conditions.

Any good collection will have multiple varietals and several bottles of the more popular wines like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Choose wines that are your favorites, pair well with food and you know your guests will enjoy. Two Sonoma-Cutrer wines that I suggest be a part of any home collection are the 2011 Les Pierres Chardonnay and the 2012 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.

Creating your own personal home collection is not only fun, but useful. Enjoy!


Scott Harper, MS

A Certified Wine Educator, Scott is one of 135 professionals in North America and 214 worldwide who have earned the title Master Sommelier

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