James the Wine Guy Interview Series: Tina Caputo

I had the privilege of being on a press trip with some very fine and insightful wine writers.  I was so glad to have been on the same trip with Tina for the Champagne Harvest tour this past September (2016).  I knew we would be friends when we both appreciate the love of a fine wine like Champagne and the irresistible power of potato chips in the same sitting.

Tina is a superbly friendly person and is a very talented wine, food and lifestyle writer and a great depth and breadth of experience in this wonderful world of wine, food and lifestyle.

Here are the questions I asked in a recently interview with this Northern Californian now based in Washington, D.C.

I enjoy this series because I too learn more about the people I am interviewing.  I hope you enjoy this interview as much I do.

Q. How did you choose your subject matter (lifestyle, food and wine writer)?

A. I grew up in an Italian family (my dad came to the U.S. from Calabria in the 1950s), so good food and wine have always been a big part of my life. To my dad, wine was like water—something you drink every day—and we kids were welcome to taste it if we wanted to. I didn’t start really enjoying it until I was in college, though, when I worked in restaurants. That’s when I began learning about wine.

Q. On your move from West Coast to East Coast—what is the difference in wine culture?

A. The move has been really interesting. With easier access to Europe from the East Coast, there are a lot more imported wines in D.C. than on the West Coast. Living in Sonoma and the Bay Area, I was surrounded by North Coast wines. They’re less common out here. That’s fun for me, because I’m getting to know new wines from other parts of the world. It’s also fun to taste the wines from Virginia—some of them are really good, especially the Viognier and Cab Franc.

Q. Do you find a greater assortment of import wines versus domestic wines in your home base of DC?

A. Yes! There’s a wine shop called Cleveland Park Wine & Spirits that has an incredible selection of wines from all over the world—including places like Brazil, Bulgaria and even lesser-known U.S. regions like Arizona and Michigan. There’s a lot to explore.

Q. DC is proximate to Virginia wine country and there is quite a number there—will there be more Virginia wines that are sent beyond VA, MD and DC?

A. I hope so. There are some very good producers in Virginia (Linden, RdV, Boxwood and Barboursville, to name a few), and they deserve a wider audience. Unfortunately, I think people outside the region (and even within the region) still need convincing that wines from Virginia can be just as good as wines from California, and other major U.S. regions.
Q. What was your first bottle of life changing wine?

A. My first wine industry job was at Wine Institute in San Francisco, in the early `90s. At Christmas time, all the employees received an assortment of wines left over from events held during the year, and in my stash one year was a bottle of Chateau Woltner (now Ladera) Chardonnay. It was so different from the fat, buttery Chards I was used to, it really opened my eyes to what great Chardonnay could be.

Q. What is your favourite restaurant town in the world?

A. There are so many, it’s hard to choose! Some of my favorites are Barcelona, Lisbon and Rome. Anywhere I can have fresh-from-the-sea fish and shellfish with great wine is my happy place.

Q. What do you miss about the West Coast?

A. Two things: I miss the easy access to great wineries and producers, and the local grocery stores. In D.C., I have yet to find a great independent grocery store that sells the kind of fresh produce, seafood and local meats that, say, Oliver’s or Petaluma Market have. I’m sorry to say I took them for granted!

Q. What is your favourite destination for food and wine? I can’t list just one, so I’ll give you two: Sonoma County and Spain.

A. What wine region is the most under realized? I recently visited the Snake River area of Idaho and was really impressed with the wines—especially Syrah and Tempranillo. This is a region to watch.

Q. What is the most under appreciated wine variety?

A. It’s not exactly under the radar, but I’d like to see Sauvignon Blanc get more love. It’s such a beautiful variety and has so many different expressions, depending on the region, it’s a shame that it sometimes gets overshadowed by Chardonnay.

Q. How has wine writing changed especially during the digital age?

A. There are so many more voices in wine writing today than when I started out—and that’s a good thing. Before widespread Internet access, you were limited to handful of publications if you wanted to learn about wine. If you couldn’t relate to their writers’ tastes, or found the publications to be stuffy… well, too bad! Today there are so many alternatives to the traditional media outlets, people can have a bit more fun with the topic and cover it from all sorts of angles and perspectives. A lot of very good writers, who are both passionate and knowledgeable about wine, now have a platform. The downside is that it’s harder to get paid. (:

Q. What is one wine region that you have not visited but it is top on your list?

A. I’d love to visit New Zealand. Two of my favorite wine varieties are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, and the scenery looks absolutely gorgeous.

Tina Caputo Biography:

Tina is a Washington, D.C.-based wine, food and lifestyle writer, and the producer and host of the podcast “Winemakers Drinking Beer.” Most recently, she was editor-in-chief of Vineyard & Winery Management magazine, and was previously the managing editor of Wines & Vines magazine. Her articles have appeared in dozens of publications, including Sonoma magazine, the San Francisco Chronicle, Zester Daily, Wine Review Online and many others. Websites: tinacaputo.com and winemakersdrinkingbeer.com.




James the Wine Guy

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© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

Photo is courtesy of Tina Caputo

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Reims – A Gateway to Champagne – James Melendez


Reims looms large in my mind.  I have always been a fan of history and in awe of the historical record.  Reims for me is important in terms of French history and for the history of Champagne.  My pulse quicken when I was on the TGV en route from Charles de Gaulle in September of this year (2016).  As all transatlantic journey’s are long the tiredness of the physical does not affect the soul.  I kept thinking of seeing the historic Reims Cathedral and putting foot on ground to visit Domaines that I have never visited before.

Reims is where Clovis I united the Franks fifteen hundred years ago.  He was baptized near a small church where the present Abbey of Saint Remi is located.  Subsequent kings of France have been crowned in the Cathedral of Reims or more accurately Notre-Dame de Reims which was completed in 1275.  A magnificent cathedral that is impressive in it’s silhouette as it is it’s endurance.  I looked in awe and in reverence to this cathedral that was bombed severally by the Germans in World War I.  When you visit the cathedral the stained glass windows are unique–one showing the wine trade and another special set by Marc Chagall.

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Reims is a crossroads of France to Germany and The Netherlands both an historical blessing and curse. It is a great trade route and yet the crossroad has hit the heart of this historic city.  And the endurance is the story that I can only feel admiration for Champagne and the proud people who too have kept endurance as a tradition.  WWI was particularly devastating to the region and certainly the wine region was not spared from this war.  WWII end was signed here in the Musée de la Reddition.


Champagne is something that shouldn’t exist at least in it’s current form.  The endurance of the Champenoise is impressive.  Why did Champenoise continue to seek a way to develop it’s region’s wines from something as non-impressive to a world class wine.  Other wine regions have great climates and the struggle to create great wines is always there because viticulture is utterly dependent on weather.  Most wine regions are not as challenged as is Champagne.  Even with the auspicious privilege of crowning all the kings of France what the spirit that kept the movement to development this region’s wine?  Unparalleled spirit?  Quixotic dreams?

While I can mythologize and only be in awe—I think there are logical steps that made Champagne what it is today.  The answer lies in incremental improvement–blending wines, bottle design improvements (capability of holding several atmosphere’s worth of pressure is essential in bottle’s not breaking) as once a near majority of all Champagne bottles never saw the light of day literary.  And there are many other innovations that made Champagne a wine of evocation and a wine of endurance.  Champagne and Reims success certainly lies in it’s human capital–creating wines that were not only passable but of elegance, grace and prestige is through endurance and belief and it is also through good old fashion rolling up of many sleeves.  Champagne not only had to create great wines through many innovations but also marketing and promotion which has been happened for longer than many regions on the planet.  No matter how you look at it –it is something that is absolutely worth visiting and experiencing yourself.

Reims is a city that is easy to visit and to walk through.  There are a good number of Domaines to visit when you visit (you can of course visit Domaines further afield in addition to Reims).  Be sure to look at websites as they may require an appointment prior to arrival.

The Domaines in Reims

G.H. Mumm

34 rue du Champ de Mars
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 49 59 70


Champagne Charles de Cazanove

8 place de la République
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 88 53 86

Champagne Lanson


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66 rue de Courlancy
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 78 50 50

Champagne G.H. Martel

17 rue des Créneaux
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 82 70 67

Champagne Pommery

5 place Général Gouraud
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 61 62 55

Champagne Ruinart

4 rue des Crayères
51100 Reims, France

Champagne Veuve Clicquot

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1 place des Droits de l’Homme
51100 Reims, France
Phone: 03 26 89 53 90

Historial Sites to Visit

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Reims

Place du Cardinal Lucon
51000 Reims, France

If you can wait to visit in September when the Cathedral is a show case for Rêve de Couleurs each September the light and music show is magical.  The Cathedral feels like it is moving and each story harkens to some aspect of this sacred place.  I was in awe and I hope to return to see this stunning show.


Basilique du Saint Remi

53 rue Simon
51100 Reims, France
Musée de la Reddition (Museum of Surrender)

12 rue du Pdt Franklin Roosevelt
51100 Reims, France

Cheers, happy and safe travels to you!



Also, published in James the Travel Guy

Thank you and Santé,


James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

I do not own the image from the movie Pretty Women – Touchstone Pictures Silver Screen Partners IV.

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Wine Vlogging is A Tough Job – James Melendez

Vlogging is a tough job.  Not complaining because I choose to do it. I think sometimes I am made more human about taking on the back end of what I do. I did a video in response to a recent comment I had on my wine YouTube Channel – ‘You Don’t Seem To Dislike Any Wines You Taste’ – Episode #2419 James Melendez 

The comment was as I take it a positive one overall.  Some ideas for future videos and a large part of the comment was that all of my reviews are positive.  I did explain and I will talk a bit here.  Creating video content is not my only job.  Though it is another job that is one where I don’t get paid–I have only monetized a few video–especially those that I have paid for the wines out of my own pocket.

Not only do I have limited time–I just don’t have time to drink or review mediocre or even bad wines.  I guess I could as a one-timer.  In general, my tasting table is bursting with so many amazing wines — I would rather take my time to review good to great wines.  I also have limitation on what I won’t review.  And like any other wine reviewer I do not promise to review every bottle I get.

I have tried different approaches to reviewing wine since I have such limited time such as on occasion do a single bottle review for a special wine.  I do think a weekly round up might help–a longer show but something that I can do in a weekly format.  I am still toying with this ideas.  Ultimately when I have done a toe deep instead of optimizing my time I end up spending more time.  Editing is essential especially for today’s modern audience.  I had a comment that I edit too much.  In the old days I would often edit during the take – i.e. keep re-recording until it was without flaw—so so very time consuming.  I decided to take a practice that many YouTube producers do today and that is to edit.  I have to edit–it would be unwatchable if I did not.

I wish writing about wine and being a reviewer was my full time job–I think even if I had the opportunity I would still struggle for time but less so than today.

I love the video media and unlike Casey Neistat giving up on his highly successful daily vlog as well as Gary Vee’s wine show to me is a dis-satisfaction with YouTube and video.  I think Casey’s daily vlog and this was his living can be exhausting but I think the normal cadence is a weekly one.  Gary, I speculate gave up on wine and video on YouTube because the click rate is modest at best.  I think it is important for a producer like myself to promote videos that I publish.  I also think it is the fine art of cultivating an audience.  “Build it and they might come promote it and you are better offer than my doing nothing.”  Doing nothing for video’s on YouTube is a great way to collect dust.  I think that the wine category is special and it requires diligence and nurturing.  I also think that wine producers, public relations groups and others should also be there to promote what is published about their wines on YouTube and elsewhere.

I have been dissatisfied if a producer doesn’t given an acknowledgement.  A like a retweet even a follow.  I do think that many producers are no always engaged in their social media backyard.  This is a backyard like any other that requires cultivation and the investment of time and beyond that there is no additional cost.

I have been trying to pair down the number I produce.  I have to in order to get to many other content demands I have to fulfill.

I would like your comments and questions.

Thank you and Santé,


James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

I do not own the image from the movie Pretty Women – Touchstone Pictures Silver Screen Partners IV.

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James the Wine Guy Interview Series: Jameson Fink


I was delighted this year to not only see Jameson not just once but twice this year.  We both attended the Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 in Lodi.  I appreciate the panel that Jameson was on and his responses.  His responses were candid and honest and something I could relate to.

I was on a press tour of the Champagne Harvest Tour this year.  Jameson had a lot of wit and it was actually the best press trip I had ever been on–my fellow journalists are exceptional.

I had been interviewed before by Jameson and my intent here is to not repay that interview with one of my own but to capture his great experience.  I too came from an off-premise background and loved his experience and of course enjoy reading the wit and knowledge from his articles on his blog and Wine Enthusiast.

I love doing these interviews because I can focus on people that I know and those that I don’t.  Even if I ‘know’ someone well I always learn more about them and of course I love sharing the great people I have meet.


Q: You have had a great set of experiences with wine—how did you get involved in the wine trade?

A: Taking classes with the International Sommelier Guild while I was living in Chicago. (Early 2000s.) A fellow student was the manager at a wine shop, Randolph Wine Cellars. She was looking for weekend help and, even though I had a full-time job, I decided to jump at the chance.

Q. Why did you start writing about wine?

A. Right around the same time I started working at Randolph Wine Cellars, in 2004. Someone, and I wish I could remember who it was so I could thank them, was listening to me talk about wine and segueing back-and-forth between multiple random subjects. S/he said, “You should start a wine blog.”

Naturally, my first question was, “What’s a blog?”

Q. What was your first wine region you fell in love with?

A. The Loire Valley. My first love was Vouvray. The second iteration of my blog’s name was “Sparkling Vouvray.” In the mid 2000s you could probably access every online account I had by guessing “Vouvray” was the password. (I have since moved on to more secure passwords.)

The region is such an embarrassment of wine riches, from Muscadet to Sancerre and everything in between. Loire Cab Franc is my favorite red. Oh, and legendary sweet wines. Going there in 2011 was definitely like someone took a page/pages out of my wish book.

Q. Do you have favourite varieties that you keep going back to?

A. For whites I would say Sauvignon Blanc because it’s so available and reliable. Every time I drink a great Sancerre or a zesty Chilean Sauv Blanc I’m reminded of the grape’s memorable and lively pleasures.

For reds the aforementioned Cab Franc. And Frappato, which makes my favorite still red wine for pizza.

Q. What are you favourite wine regions?

A. Besides the Loire Valley, my love of Frappato is a great segway into mentioning Sicily. There’s a perfectly titled book by Bill Nesto and Frances Di Savino, The World of Sicilian Wine. Perfect because the variety of indigenous grapes, the climate, geography, food, history (and more) make Sicily seem like a world unto its own.

Q. What is a wine grape variety that deserves more recognition?

A. Gamay, particularly grown in Beaujolais. The wines can be everything from a bistro delight served cool out of an earthenware pitcher to serious Cru Beaujolais that scratches a Burgundy-esque itch for a lot less money.

Q. You have travelled extensively—any particular highlights?  Favourite regions to travel to?

A. In addition to Sicily and the Loire Valley, a couple of islands: Santorini and Tasmania.

Santorini, it’s just so damn blue contrasted with the bright white buildings. Looking out at the caldera and thinking about all kinds of volcanic and Atlantis shit while drinking Assyrtiko is a distinctly mystical pleasure.

And Tasmania, just look at its Instagram account and try not to book a flight ASAP. Unmatched beaches plus mountains and so much more. Also great sparkling wine, Pinot Noir, and aromatic whites. I was only there a few days but I’m excited to be going back for a week in March.

Q. What are your next travel destinations?

A. Well I went to Provincetown, Lodi, and Champagne over the summer and fall. Right now things are a little on the quiet side travel-wise. But work is really ramping up and with the upcoming holidays there are like a billon wine events in New York City.

The biggest trip is my aforementioned Tasmanian adventure where I’ll be spending a week with my mom. (She lives in Reno, not Tasmania. I would not, however, be opposed to her buying a second home in Tassie. Mom, are you reading this?)

Q. What is your favourite restaurant town?

A. Wildair lays claim to best food I’ve eaten (so far) in the city. I want everything on the menu. Even though I’m very old man about restaurants (noise, crowds, boo!) its cramped, raucous atmosphere is entirely appropriate and encouraged.

I don’t think I’ve gone to a restaurant in the city more than Marta. I mean, Champagne and pizza, ok?

For quick eats, I’m obsessed with two places in a couple neighborhoods I did a stint in: Four Tacos (East Village) and Schaller’s Stube Sausage Bar (Yorkville). Important: both have beer.

Q. You have moved from West Coast to East Coast US – what is the most positive aspects of being based in New York?

A. I’ve been vagabonding between Manhattan and White Plains (I work up in the boonies in Westchester) while I figure out where in NYC I want to settle more long-term. Here are two of the most positive things I’ve noticed:

The vast majority of people I encounter are open, friendly, and inquisitive. It has been a delight to go into random places where you don’t know anyone and striking up a conversation.

People are very no-nonsense. One thing I’ve learned navigating the streets and the subway: Always. Keep. Moving. You have to be decisive and fast-paced or you’ll get trampled and/or receive a few choice words. Don’t stop and gawk or dilly-dally.

Q. What do you miss about West Coast?

A. Particular to Seattle: Lack of soul-crushing heat and humidity. Especially the latter. Roasting on subway platforms is one of the circles of hell. The coffee scene. Certain familiar spots in Capitol Hill. Many people.

Q. How is the wine assortment varied east to west coast?  More import wines East Coast? Etc.

A. New York is the center of the wine world, period. There is no better city in which to be an enthusiastic drinker of wine. Cult wines, classics, back vintages, weird esoteric shit? It’s all here. Not to mention a constant stream of winemakers coming through town, crazy dinners, loads of atmospheric wine bars, and funky wine shops. (The latter are especially choice since grocery stores cannot sell wine.)

One thing that strikes me as funny is I’ve drank way more California wine since moving clear across the country. (Lieu-Dit Melon would be a good example of this, tip of the iceberg.)

Q. How is online wine writing changing?

A. This isn’t about writing per se, but most of my online wine discoveries come through Instagram. Things are very scroll-driven when it comes to finding new things.

As a reader rather than a scroller, I am more drawn to personality-driven, narrative, longer-form wine writing. And, in general, the pendulum now seems to be swinging back towards featuring content like that online. It’s important to look at the time people spend on a post and if they stick around to explore.

In the realm of food writing, what Eater is doing with “Life in Chains” is something I really admire and is a good example of how food writing can be a platform for all kinds of expression.

Along those lines, I was really thrilled with an online piece in Wine Enthusiast written by Ashley Rodriguez about sommeliers who compete in marathons. It’s really a work/life balance, health and fitness story. (Sidebar: reading this piece makes my excuses for not working out extremely lame.) The more recent post by Lauren Mowery comparing her personal journey to become a lawyer versus a Master of Wine was excellent and really resonated with people.

Q. What in addition to writing is important with respect to wine?  Podcast? Video? Instantaneous video – Periscope, etc?

A. I was on a panel at the Wine Bloggers Conference and one of the things I mentioned regretting was not jumping on video earlier. I mean I can still do it.. There’s polished, produced, and professional content to more DIY stuff via Facebook Live, Instagram Stories, Snapchat. I enjoy the informal reviews, the in-the-moment content you can do on your phone. But to have someone operating the camera and providing direction would be sweet.

Podcasting is great because you can digest information anywhere: gym, car, airplane, etc.

Really, I need to take my own advice more on this stuff. You are causing me to look in the mirror, James.

Q. What is the most difficult thing about writing about wine today?  (more labels, more to write about-less time to write?)

A. Keeping it fresh and not repeating yourself. Even with the mind-blowing number of grapes, bottles, and labels available at your fingertips, it’s sometimes a challenge not to feel a bit robotic. But, then again, I’d never get tired reading about pizza and tacos, so if it’s something people feel really passionate about (food, cars, wine) you have to accept the challenge as a writer to constantly reinvent the wheel.

It really depends on what your goal is. I’ve actually morphed into more of an editor than a writer, specifically over the last year. (Though I’ve written a bunch of pieces for the magazine and online, and will continue to do so.) It’s given me perspective, from the nitty-gritty of copy editing to framing and expanding pitch ideas. That makes me a better writer. Sometimes it’s good to step back from your own words and absorb, critique, and contemplate what other folks are doing. Though, at some point, you do have to pick up your pen and get cracking.


Biography: Jameson Fink is Senior Digital Editor at Wine Enthusiast. A two-time SAVEUR Blog Award finalist, Fink launched his wine blog and began a retail wine career in 2004. Fink has been a wine editor at Foodista, Grape Collective, and msn.com. He relocated from Seattle to New York in 2015 and is passionate about enjoying Champagne with popcorn.




James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

Photo is courtesy of Jameson Fink

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‘You’re Obviously in the Wrong Place’ – One of My Experiences – James Melendez


I have seen the Gere/Roberts movie several times and I could never forget the line ‘You’re Obviously in the Wrong Place’ and I also think of the commentary of Romy and Michele as they watch this scene in Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion.

I have had an amazing 2016 and 2015 – not all years are like these great pairing of years – I cannot even count on one hand let alone another finger where I have had such a superb year as this year.   Was it a perfect couple of years?  No absolutely not and I am okay with that.  When I look at this year 90% was amazing and 10% was not.  I can’t argue with an “A” average as it relates to life and living I have never had that before.

I always want to point out the positive not just in others but in me as well.  I am writing this piece because I have been to over 10 countries this year and visiting both amazing wine places and also places where wine was not the reason I was visiting

I found a picture of this scene from Pretty Women and had to both laugh and also hark back to an experience this year in Napa Valley.  I was in many a Chateau, Palazzo and Palast and was treated so well every where I went except for Napa Valley experience I had.  I was in Napa with a friend we had some extra time on our tour and I thought I would call a winery and see if they had an appointment.  The only thing was that I had no cell reception I said let’s just pass by and see if they have an opening.  If not there are many other places to visit.

I am not going to list the name of the winery here.  I have been to hundreds of wineries that are both open to the public and many that are not open to the public.  I had never had a wine tasting room personnel come out to my friends car and before we could step foot on ground we were asked “do you have an appointment”  I said we just wanted to see if you had availability……   “No we don’t…we are all booked.”  This was my Pretty Women moment of being cleared away from the “store.”  I felt l had to apologize for being there and I had to say several times “we were just checking….” I felt we were going to get a “please leave.”

I think by my many visits I am not on any black lists that I know.  I am actually low maintenance and appreciative.  I have been turned away before and I was okay with that.  I was not chased away, treated rudely or worse “greeted” at the car.  I write about this because being half way around the world I have only been welcomes wherever I was visiting.  In my “neighbourhood” of Napa Valley at this producer I felt shunned and ashamed for even being physically present.

I have also had one media event in Sonoma County where I felt I was inconvenience to have.  Everyone was invited to bring their partners and I asked if I could bring a friend since I do not have a partner.  It was a big deal and in my usual style was “no problem” I can forgo coming.  I think incidences like this are rare and I too would never review or visit this producer again.  I think of a media event is to show what you do well and to be inclusive.

I think that I may not be the only one who has received this royal treatment.  I think that this is a watch out not just for Napa Valley other regions as well.  I think there is a right way and a wrong way to handle one’s visiting customers.  I think that Napa Valley and other wine regions have a lot riding on a path of hospitality, inclusion and good old fashion grace and style.  I am not berating all producers–overall I have been treated well.  For me, this specific producer is a wine I will not review or taste and will certainly not visit under any circumstance.  It is hard to have such an experience and not knowing what you might encounter next time you arrive. There is so classical condition responses and frankly I don’t need to worry about a repeat of this experience.

I hope you do not experience and certainly register your complaints with the producer if you encounter that.  I did but I certainly didn’t know it was a canned response or if it was genuine.  I don’t loss sleep over these things — I stay away and for people who ask for my recommendations this producer will never be on my list.

Wishing you only a good experience and hope you never have my experiences–you deserve only the best.



James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

I do not own the image from the movie Pretty Women – Touchstone Pictures Silver Screen Partners IV.

James the Wine Guy also on Facebook, Twitter and most major social medias.

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The Great Cornucopia of Thanksgiving Food and Wine for Your Holiday – James Melendez


I love Thanksgiving – I love it obviously for the food and feast and I love it for sharing a wide variety of wines with those closest to me.  Thanksgiving as I see it is an opportunity to have the cornucopia of white, red and sparkling wines and to do so with people who want and hope for superb wines.  I know have been to Thanksgiving dinners where there was Pinot Noir, Zinfandel or Beaujolais.  I like these varieties and and I also the unexpected–on my Thanksgiving table I have a lot of pressure to have outstanding wines but you know what it isn’t that difficult to do.

I always serve a roasted turkey and I also serve something in addition a pork loin, tamales (yes, tamales) or roast beef.  Given that I serve a variety of dishes that means there is a great possibility of choices with respect to wines.

I have guests ask what they should bring–I make a few suggestions and I let them know when I will be serving to give ideas.  I want to start by serving Champagne–it must be Champagne and I like to serve with a large variety of dishes: charcuteries, crab cakes, smoked salmon or trout dip.  Given a nice appetizer spread I want several styles of Champagne – Rose, Blanc de Blanc, Extra Brut, and Brut Nature styles–I taste a bit of every Champagne but always settle for Extra Brut or Brut Nature–so apt for food and I might add by themselves too.

And after having the starters and begin with salads and soup. I serve Chablis and Vermentino—Chablis with salad is a must on my table.  I vary another white wine depending on the soup — a cream based soup is an excellent opportunity to have a Sauvignon Blanc, Vermentino, Arneis, and/or Pinot Blanc.

For the Thanksgiving meal I will serve wines that are somewhat traditional and somewhat not traditional wines: Gamay Noir, Grenache, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Plavac Mali.  I know some people like to serve Zinfandel, Beaujolais Nouveau, Pinot Noir and Bordeaux Varieties.  I look at my list and I want a great sense of diversity and wines that match a patchwork quilt of dishes.  I also know that there is such a great diversity of food that I am going to serve.  Most of which I make myself and that I insist I making.  I will serve a roasted turkey, French bread stuffing, Madeira gravy, velvety mashed potatoes, cranberries, sweet potatoes, Tamales and green beans.  I think that one wine is not enough and I want a bit of several wines to bring harmony to the table, delight to the feast and excellence in wines to bind the my souls at one table.  I have always served a diversity and I think in many ways people walk and way and learn something new—it is a wine that perhaps someone might not have heard about like Plavacs Mali or perhaps the producer of a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

I may wait a little while between eating the main courses and dessert.  I always make a pumpkin pie and either an apple or pecan pie.  I like to have a dollop of heavy whipped cream and something ethereal like a vintage Port or Madeira–to imbibe slowly.

Be adventurous and serve a whole host of wines and ask your friends or family members that are coming to your house for Thanksgiving to bring a specific variety or region.  If you are invited and going to someone else house be sure to bring an interesting wine that someone might not consider bringing.  Below are some suggestions for wines for your Thanksgiving celebration – I tried giving a larger selection in case you couldn’t find some of these wines in your marketplace.

Appetizer wines:

  • Champagne Drappier Grande Sendrée Cuvée
  • Champagne Devaux Grande Réserve NV
  • Champagne Louis Roederer, Brut Nature ”Phillipe Starck Design” 2006
  • Champagne Jacques Selosse Brut Blanc De Blancs Initiale Disgorgement 2014
  • Champagne J. de Telmont OR 1735 Brut 2002
  • Champagn Larmandier-Bernier Brut Rosé de Saignée

img_6222 img_6392 img_6425

First and second course wines:

  • Domaine Samuel Billaud Petit Chablis
  • Domaine Louis Moreau Chablis 1er Cru Vaulignot
  • Cooper Mountain Reserve Oregon Chardonnay
  • Bethel Heights Willamette Valley Chardonnay
  • Calera Central Coast Chadonnay
  • Mancini Vermentino di Gallura Vermentino
  • Vietti Arneis Roero
  • Ponzi Willamette Valley Arneis
  • Domaine Cherrier Père & Fils Sancerre
  • Groth Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc
  • Troon Vermentino Sauvignon Blanc
  • Trimbach Alsace Pinot Blanc
  • Gustave Lorenz Alsace Pinot Blanc
  • Domaine Chignard Juliénas Beauvernay
  • Maison B. Perraud Fleurie
  • Villa Poggio Salvi Brunello di Montalcino
  • Baricci Brunello di Montalcino
  • Il Molino di Grace Chianti Classico
  • Fratelli Barale Barolo Chinato
  • Flavio Roddolo Nebbiolo d’Alba
  • Domaine Drouhin Laurène Dundee Hills Pinot Noir
  • Domaine Borgeot Santenay 1er Cru
  • Gramercy The Third Man Columbia Valley Grenache
  • Borsao Tres Picos Campo de Borja Garnacha
  • Dingač Vinarija Plavac Mali

Dessert Wines

  • Rare Wine Company Historic Series New York Malmsey Madeira
  • Churchill Quinta da Agua Alta Vintage Port 1992
  • Quinta do Vesuvio Vintage Port 1994



James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

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A Flood of South American Wines on my Tasting Table – James Melendez

Every year I chart out what I want to taste for the year ahead–actually I start planning in December.

My goal is to complete my racetrack of wine tasting.  I borrowed this term from a business operational tool.  I want to make sure I anniversary all wine regions, styles and varieties.  It is something I do on a conscious level to do in order to not over assort in one regions or style or variety.

Just One Portion of a Racetrack

Most years I do not taste enough or even some French, Australian, all central and eastern European wines.  This year I am way over assorted in South American wines; I had to turn away South American samples and I should say it is not all of South America – it is Argentina and Chile.  I also decided to not review some as I was both over assorted in terms of variety and region (I have one more South American wine to review as it is my yearly queue and then I am done with reviewing any more Argentinian or Chilean wines for the remainder of 2016).  I think that perhaps I am on all the PR agencies, marketing and importers list who specialise in Argentina or Chile.  Or perhaps there has been an even greater charge by producers of Argentina and Chile to promote even more heavily.  I suspect it is the later.


I know my readers and viewers fatigue and I do too when I review from only one region.  I have made a conscious choice to not be a regional wine specialist.  I do see some intrigue and fascination but for me bottom line it is an anti-intellectual thing for me to do.  I need to and I feel better when I have the whole scope of the wine world to consider for my painting of words.

I have tasted no Uruguayan wines this year and also no South African wines.  It was this month (November 2016) that I tasted my first Australian wines?!?!

I also want to be clear and not misquoted I still love Argentina and Chilean wines–nothing against the fine wines of these nations but I need to have a greater diversity in my tasting portfolio.

Here is a list I have published in the past and I am preparing for 2017.

Also this year I have taste very few Spanish wines; I have been lucky to taste from so many regions from Italia.  Also no wines this year from Greece.

I am a big believer in tasting wines from all regions and to not just taste but to have on and off-premise in every city.

Let me know your thoughts on wines you see in your market place–do you think your market has an over saturation of any specific regions?



James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

Racetrack and South American graphics courtesy of the following under creative commons usage and cited down below – these images I do not own and only using under CC creative commons usage terms.

English: First turn as mandated by FIA
Date 3 September 2011
Source Own work
Author Ronny Astrada

South America image

Source Own work
Author TownDown

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My Top Wines of 2016…. Not Quite Yet – James Melendez


A point score I have never issued; I may never use

I decided to publish this article as I am not quite ready to publish my top wines of 2016 because it is too early.  I saw that James Suckling published his list top 100 on 20-October-2016 which is comparable to retailers setting holiday promotion months ahead of an actual holiday.

I have many more wines to taste and I have a long list to go through.  I am not the traditionalist wine reviewer that gives a ranking that represents the number one wine is a perfect or 100 point wine.  I took off my foot on the gas peddle and I list them alphabetically and I saw that all the wines represent a lot of great wines.  One could infer that highest ranking score is the best of the year.  I shy away from this because I fell it is too difficult to assign a score and say that say a South African Shiraz at 94 points superior to say a 93 point Mosel Riesling.  Well what I do not want to do is have SA Shiraz compete against a Mosel Riesling–they are different varieties and regions and a higher score should not say something against a lowered scored wine.

I also escape from using the word typicity as it picks one style over another — I get the term and the need to sometimes recall it sometimes.  If I had 10 Cabernets from around the world typicity is not representative as place does matter.  One style is not meant to out rank other types or styles.

I feel that a lot of 100 wines is a more positive way to look at a highly ranked group of wines.  I don’t believe in 100 points unlike… well several people and institutions.  I am not a perfectionist…. well maybe a little.  But I do think that a 100 point wine represents a professed perfection.  It is a slippery slope…. it is a near impossibility…. why because if we saw or tasted perfection well not everyone would agree.  The problem with perfection is that we truly wouldn’t know what it is….  I want to re-package and re-review what score means.

I struggle to produce my list each year.  It is never easy– but that is a good thing. I like to challenge myself.  My top 100 is not just an easy exercise of recalling high to low–it is something more meaningful and it represents my whole view of calibration and fairness with respect to scoring.

Stay tuned for my top 100 to be published in December.



James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

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Scent – A Gift and A Curse – James Melendez


I was recently in Denver and I was there for one of my first cousins birthdays–we were actually born within a week of each other.  While I was in the Mile High City I was with another cousin and I asked about his experience with Colorado wine. The conversation went immediately to my nose-palate and I hadn’t thought about that in a while.  My cousin gave me a very nice complement of my palate.  We then talked about food likes and dislikes–clearly for me–eggs are not a friend of mine.

JPM at Coors Field

What don’t I like about eggs?

Well let me start –why I don’t like eggs:

1) the taste

2) the smell and then

3) texture – in any state.  So without a doubt I don’t like eggs.  And when I say I don’t like eggs to almost anyone–it is a big deal “you DON’T like eggs?!?!!!”  I get it only me and a handful of people on the planet don’t like eggs.


It was up until half a decade a go that I started to eat cheese.  And well…it was the smell for the most part and in some cheeses — the taste–anything too strong was hard for me to swallow.  I am surrounded by wine and cheese became something I forced myself to eat.  I don’t eat the ripe or strong smelling kind.  I like the more mild kind.  And I know it is abnormal I really don’t crave cheese.

Fast forward to this week (first week of November 2016) I had dental work planned.  I have a very fantastic dentist and team and they did do a great job to bring my fears down.  My fear on this visit was The Drill.  Not worried about the anesthesia (actually I am impressed how amazing it works), not worried about vibration or sound or splash of water….  I am nearly terrified of ….. you guess it SMELL.   There are inorganic smells at the dentist office– while not a favourite–it is manageable.  What lifts me out of my seat is the organic material from drilling.  This is a smell that I cannot take–it makes me nauseous.  I alerted my dentist and his assistant and they assured they would keep a good supply or water and draining and voila – it worked.

Smell good or bad is something that is a gift and a curse.  When I think of the dental drill I think back to when I was 4 or 5 having dental work and the dentist’s drill is smell that I dread and something that I cannot forget hence the curse.

But the gift is many fold–and luckily this story is on the positive side.  I have an aunt who has a plum orchard and in the Fall time I remember when I was 7 and I walked her orchard.  The sun was in the east as it was a clear, very cool morning, the crisp and golden leaves gave texture and sense of place and some of the fallen fruit melds with the earth and help to create a unique scent.   The smell was evocative… and lingering.  It was a scent that haunts me to this day.  It was a scent of spice, leather, underbrush, cardamom, and dried flowers.  I thought this is the prototypical smell of autumn and the country.

I told my aunt that a rich vocabulary on scent is important especially as it relates to wine and I told her what her orchard means to me.


My mother’s rose garden is particularly important to me… no… hauntingly important.  My mother’s rose garden faced the western and sunny skies of New Mexico.  I would water the roses nearly every afternoon in the dry summer heat.  I noted that each rose bush and especially the darker flowers–the rich reds ones were the spiciest and most evocative.  When I think of the wine descriptor that I use of red rose petal I am actually referring to the beautiful deep red roses from my mother’s rose garden.  They gave a hauntingly beautiful scent–and the scent would change through warm afternoon becoming cool summer evening.

I appreciated the good scents of my development but I also assumed everyone treasured what I treasured or even perceived the scents that I perceived.

I was in Champagne in September of this year and the smell of cave is both subtle and impressionable.  Each cave of it’s chalk interior, moisture and large ensemble of bottles is an environment that creates a rustic, moist and over all very pleasant smell.

Scent from wine is so variable and rich and I love that I can smell the complexities of many wines and varieties.  Smelling place and style are also part of the equation.  And I think for me at least it is to continue and explore the world of scent and to create that cognitive map of pleasant smells and create a library so to speak of these references.  I like Ian Cauble reference to Mosel Riesling’s scent of being like a freshly opened can of tennis balls.  Or James Halliday referencing Australian Shiraz as smelling like boot polish.  I dig both reference and get it and appreciate it.

While I don’t need to get the tour of a wine making facility —I still love stepping into a cave or barrel room–it’s a reunion of scents that are always welcoming—never tiring.

What are your thoughts on scent?



James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

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My Initial Thoughts On My Travel to Champagne During Harvest 2016 – James Melendez


Champagne has always meant something to me… looming large and lovingly in my mind and always with a lot of intrigue. I am writing a series of articles of my journey to Champagne during harvest time this year (2016). I scanned my many notes and I knew immediately that I could not cover in one article but only with several would do justice to this journey. This article is primarily to give some initial thoughts prior to departing to France and to give some overview whilst on this trip.


Champagne is a region and it is also the wine of the same name. I know some people have a hard time applying the word “wine” to the word “Champagne” as if it is another category of beverage. I get the point and the confusion but Champagne is a noble wine with an intriguing history unmatched by almost any wine region. Champagne was not born with instant recognition or acclaim—it is where Champagne had to be refined and over time become recognized.

Dom Pérignon is the left book end in the time continuum and Madame Barbe Clicquot is the right side of the book end (and I should emphasize there are actually no bookends left or right as many people before and after have contributed to what is Champagne today). Perignon and Clicquot are very important historical figures in how Champagne became a wine of acclaim and the epitome of the sophisticated.


Pérignon was a methodical Benedictine monk who didn’t drink but had a higher calling of creating a wine that was not just passable but to make an extraordinary wine—his chief contribution is the art of the blend. Clicquot refined Champagne by riddling bottles, placing bottles at an angle (riddling rack) to capture the used yeast.

Champagnes chief city of Reims has been a crossroads for at least a couple of millennia. Reims has been the city where French kings have been crowned since Clovis. No other city in France has had that glorious distinction not Beauvais, Amiens, Chartres or even Paris. Having wines on par with such a distinction has been a historical aim of Champagne.

To spur Champagne to finesse was not a mere generation or two’s scope of work it was a half a millennia to go from those pesky bubbles to awe those glorious stars in the glass. But while it was important to have an outstanding wine from Champagne—the Kings of France were not the only reason. There is something more fundamental. What persists is to get the wine just right it not was a labour of love but something more core about belief in the wine and the region.

Hopping in our time machine and if we were to visit Champagne before Perignon we would find cloudy, sweet and of course those pesky bubbles.

Champagne historically has always been challenged as a place to grow Champagne’s official grapes of Chardonnay, Meunier, Pinot Noir and to a lesser extent Arbanne, Pinot Blanc and Petit Meslier. Very cool climate, challenging weather conditions, early frost and even with global warming has not changed the unpredictability—it remains the constant. There is a common perception that global warming is changing wine grape cultivation in terms of more northerly regions will eventually be great places for Bordeaux and Rhone varieties and other warmer weather grapes. I remember reading an article in Wired magazine where a non-wine writer postulated that Zinfandel and Petite Sirah will be produced in more northerly climates reserved primarily for cool climate grapes like Okanagan Valley in Canada. This article, I interpreted is that there is a straight southerly to northerly affect for wine grape cultivation. I took away that this meant that global warming would change all regions evenly and it was just look north for where grape success would be found.


I digress… I know.

I bring this out in that while Champagne is not excluded from global warming trends. Simply at least for the near and mid-term most likely there will not be a vintage every single year—instead there might be more vintages per decade?   But I think Champagne will still have more of the same–unpredictability with respect to the weather.

Champagne’s acclaim is it’s complex combination of history, experience with varieties, circumstances, self-regulation, and protection of it’s name and tradition and blending of wines, use of reserve wines, and refining styles of Champagne to fit every palate and mood.


I am still awe inspired with challenge that makes this wine not just a passable wine but a wine of great elegance and evocation.   There is a reason we are not drinking still Pinot Noir or Chardonnay or Meunier from this region—it is apt as a blended, sparkling wine.   I have tasted many a vin clair, a base wine, which simultaneously resembles what the Champagne might taste like and it is also tastes nothing like Champagne that you know from drinking a finished bottle.

I loved being on the ground in Champagne—simply because I know I would not just taste a fair number of wines I would be tasting a great ensemble of Champagnes and the styles that I don’t get to taste that many of and I might add my favourite styles: Extra Brut and Brut Nature. I have rarely had access to so many Brut Nature’s and I thought I would appreciate them when I would taste them—instead I fell in love once more.


On this harvest experience I was looking forward to not just tasting styles but from many producers and producer types – Négociant Manipulant (NM) and Récoltant Manipulant (RM) and to pair Champagne with food.  Also walk through many caves, vineyards and to talk with cellar masters. What I didn’t expect and should have expected was the profound sense of history that I would walk into and through. Being based in Reims and me being a student of history was a profound sense of a history that is utterly extensive and brings Champagne into context—gives the fuller story of this amazing wine and history.

Champagne’s refinement is not by accident but through centuries of incremental improvement, and that a non-stop belief in this magical land. Stay with me as I write up more of my journey this past September (2016)





James the Wine Guy

Demystifying Wine…One Bottle at a Time from all wine regions around the world.

© 2016 James Melendez / James the Wine Guy— All Rights Reserved – for my original Content, logo, brand name, rating, rating graphic and award and designs of James the Wine Guy.

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