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November 30th, 2015

Learn About Wine Blog

Learn About Wine Class at Eat Drink Americano, Downtown, LA

By Amy Shuster

I am often perplexed when it comes to the subject of wine. In restaurants, it’s usually an “eeny meeny miney mo” type of situation and I end up blindly guessing, hoping that I’ll like what I order.

What if there was a class that aided in taking all the guess work out of drinking wine? What if there was a way to learn more and get drunk have fun at the same time?? I think you know where I’m going with this… cue, Learn About Wine.

Lucky for me, stop #2 on my Eventbrite tour of LA was an Intro to Wine class through Learn About Wine downtown at Eat Drink Americano, in the old Cafe Metropol location.

I had so many questions. What is the proper way to taste wine? Do I smell then swirl? Or swirl then smell? Why must I aerate and for how long? How does one go about picking out a nice bottle for oneself or for a birthday gift perhaps? How important does region or origin play in the taste? Does a newer year = cheap wine? Do my purple lips = cheap wine??

Our Instructor, Ian Blackburn was chock full of information about wine and was equally quite entertaining, providing interesting facts and even a few bits of light comedy.

Every bottle we sampled truly had a story of its own, and the two hour long seminar flew by like a good movie.

I was really into it… as you can tell from all notes I took!

Although I wrote a lot down, I never once felt like I was overwhelmed with information. Ian does a good job of getting into the specifics about each of the wines’ origin, grape size and taste difference. He gives you a detailed history about the grower and how long they’ve been around.

We sampled a nice variety of six California wines and one crisp and delicate French Burgundy. We discussed everything from the color (hold a white napkin behind it to see more clearly!) to the aroma, to the mouthfeel, and we compared a few side by side.

Did you ever notice how you can tell a wine’s alcoholic content just by smelling it? Basically the stronger the wine, the bolder the aroma will be. If you can get your whole nose in there and the smell is still very light, (like the Chardonnay Bourgogne Blanc Burgundy we sampled – below left), you can almost bet there is less alcohol content in it. (Ah, so THAT’s how the French are able to drink every day and not be wasted all the time…).

You now know le’ secret!

Then we observed the Duckhorn, Merlot from Napa Valley. It’s very dark in color, it’s made from grapes with thicker skins and has a HEAVY tannin. In other words, make sure you get a lyft after drinking this one cause it is quite strong. Bold, good, and STRONG. It’s also a $45 dollar bottle so you’re probably not drinking this one every day. (below – right)

Of our 15 or so person class, there was a good mix to the group; some teachers, filmmakers, wine novices and repeat students. There were couples on dates and one young lady came with her mom. It was a casual and fun afternoon and as we listened, we leisurely snacked on dried cherries, apricots, chocolate and gourmet cheeses which paired nicely with the wines.

I completely recommend this course for anyone wine-curious. It’s a great way to spend an afternoon and is a most definately a great date idea!

Although this was an “Intro to Wine” class I felt I got a lot more from it than just the basics of wine. Plus, by the end of the class, I was happily sauced, a bunch more wine savvy, and I left eager to return again and learn more.

Lucky for me I have the LA Wine Festival this weekend as the next stop on my Eventbrite blogger tour!

Thanks for a great afternoon Ian!


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Hello Burgundy and Bordeaux: A Little Education on the Wines of France

By Kat Thomas

Being an American trying to learn about French wines is like being a Muggle trying to learn the game of Quidditch: the rules are extremely old and complicated, you’ll never completely feel like you’ll ever totally understand them, and you’re constantly chasing the potential of catching a piece of flying gold that always seems just out of your reach.

But just like in Harry Potter where it all really came down to the Gryffindors and the Slytherins (‘cause really at the end of the day the Hufflepuffs and the Ravenclaws were really just window dressing) in the world of French wines it’s really all about Burgundy versus. Bordeaux. I was lucky enough to attend two different events hosted by Ian Blackburn’s in the last month (one hosted by Le Cercle Rive Droitean organization that has brought together the most prestigious chateaux from “The Right Bank of the Gironde” estuary in the Bordeaux region of France, and the other a Burgundy Master Class hosted by Vintner, Owner, and Operator Albert Bichot of Burgundy) each highlighting these two extremely different (though distinctly French) wine regions.

So with that in mind here’s a basic Quidditch primer on these two opposing teams!

Bordeaux (the King of the Blends)

Bordeaux is a port city on the Garonne River located in southwestern France. With a population of 242,945 inhabitants, the city of Bordeaux is the 9th largest city in France. Bordeaux wasn’t always part of France, after the marriage of Henry II to Eleanor of Aquitaine it was under English rule from 1154 to 1453, giving the city an anglophile spin that still exists today.

Several rivers run through the Bordeaux region: on the Left Bank (facing the sea) are the Médoc and Pessac-Léognan appellations (which is primarily Cabernet Sauvignon based) and the Right Bank includes St.-Emilion and Pomerol (where the Le Cercle Rive Droite is located and pretty much dominated by Merlot).

Bordeaux is best known for its Red Blends. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot-based wines, blended with support from Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. White Bordeaux, or Bordeaux Blanc, is primarily a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Sémillon. The dessert wine Sauterne also come from Bordeaux, such as the famous Château d’Yquem.


Burgundy (the Original Pinot Noir and Chardonnay)

Burgundy is a region in eastern France in the valleys and slopes west of the Saône River, a tributary of the Rhône. Although Bordeaux produces five times as much wine every year (only 5% of French AOC production comes from Burgundy), Burgundy’s estimated 74,000 acres of vineyards are considered to be of equal importance, producing some of the most exclusive wines on the planet.

Burgundy is known equally for its white and red wines. The main grape varieties are Chardonnay (aka White Burgundy, Burgundy is actually the birthplace of Chardonnay!) and Pinot Noir (aka Red Burgundy). There are approximately 4,300 estates in the Burgundy region with the average size being 16.25 acres. On a whole, Burgundy is not a big fan of blending wines.

Burgundy wines come from several sub-regions each with their own particular characteristics (just like the Houses of Hogwarts!). Four of these are located in the heart of Burgundy in an area of land starting at the town of Dijon and running 75 miles to the town of Macon these include: Cote d’Or (which includes the Code de Nuits and Cote deBeaune), the Cote Chalonnaise and the Maconnais. Chablis is located in an isolated pocket of limestone hills in the northwestern section of Burgundy and produces wines so distinct they’re usually treated as specific region in its own right. 130 miles south of Chablis is Beaujolais, another wine so distinct (made pretty much exclusively with Gamay) it is treated as a sub-region of Burgundy (even though its technically in the Rhone-Alpes region).

So now that you know some basics about these two magical French wine regions look for a couple more posts focusing on some more detailed Factoids (Factoids, factoids, factoids!!!) about each of them!


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Finding the Right Bank of Bordeaux By Cori Solomon


When you think of Bordeaux you typically think of the Châteaus on the left bank but the real secret and what I would call the hidden gems are those on the right bank. At LearnAboutWine’s Le Cercle Rive Droite From Barrel to Bottle luncheon and wine tasting I experienced some exceptional Bordeauxs.

By far my favorite wine of the event was the 2005 Château Boutisse. This was the first vintage for Marc Milhade, son of winery owner Xavier Milhade. This St. Émilion is soft, smooth and balanced. It was not just the wine that impressed me but also the exuberance that Marc exuded as he spoke about his wines. Marc truly loves what he is creating. Like many a wine maker who wants to make his mark of distinction, Marc is doing just that. Many of the Châteaus have a Merlot only philosophy. Beginning in 2010, Marc made a change to Château Boutisse wines by adding 5% Carmenere. Marc says, “This rounds out the wine”. Carmenere originated in Bordeaux but has become a very popular varietal in Chile. This addition appears to enhance the softness and balance of the wine.

I was equally impressed with wines of Baronne Guichard. The enthusiastic Paul Goldschmidt inspires one to taste this Château’s wines. The winery has been in his wife’s family since 1832. I thoroughly enjoyed sitting next to Paul, as like myself he is a dog lover and insisted on showing us a picture of his dog prior to tasting the wine. Paul’s dog, Babouche a Rough Coat Jack Russell Terrier is a cutie. Paul also shared a story that speaks both to Paul’s ingenuity and creativity. While on a tasting trip back east, Paul was taking a train from New York to Baltimore for a wine tasting event. The train broke down several times delaying the trip for about five hours or so. Thinking outside the box and knowing he would miss the wine tasting, Paul decided to have a private tasting with the passengers on the train. For those who have experienced delays on both trains and planes, one can only image the fun these passengers had tasting wines from Bordeaux on the cuff especially if they were the wines showcased at Le Cercle Rive Droite. Château Vey Le Prieure Saint Émilion Grand Cru 2010 was wonderfully layered with soft, subtle and smooth flavors. This was my favorite of Baronne Guichard. The 2010 Château Vray Croix De Gay Pomerol had hints of cherry. The grapes for this Pomerol were picked three weeks early. I was also able to sample the 2012 yet to be released wines and the 2012 Château Siaurac Lalande de Pomerol will be a winner as it is soft and very palatable. As a special treat I was permitted to try Malbec that was not on the tasting agenda. Keeping in the tradition of Malbecs it was big and bold.

Other wines worth mentioning are the 2005 Château Fontenil Fronsac with its hints of Violet, the 2000 Château Moulin Haut Laroque Fonsac, a very smooth, silky and velvety Bordeaux and the 2012 Château de Pressac Grand Cru Classic from the barrel, a well rounded, bright and full-bodied Saint Êmilion. The 2012 Clos Du Clocher Pomerol was smoothly balanced and very drinkable. The 2012 Château La Rose Perriere is befitting to its name, emitting floral aromas of roses.

Comparing these wines to Le Cercle Rive Droite’s event last year definitely proves that the 2012 vintage from the right bank of Bordeaux will be outstanding.

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Bordeaux vintners show their finest as they “Le Cercle” Beverly Hills

By Joe Hilbers






The reputation for quality of Bordeaux wines can be measured in centuries rather than years. Famed English authors like Anthony Trollope and Arthur Colon Doyle wove French Clarets into their stories. The word Claret is rarely used today but in former times it signified the classic vintages of Bordeaux.

What still applies is that many of the world’s red wines continue to be judged by the vintage standards of Bordeaux appellations like Pomerol, Saint-Emilion, Fronsac and others located on the Right Bank of the Gironde Estuary.

It was this Writer’s good fortune to once again experience these classic wines when Learn About Wine conducted a seminar, luncheon and tasting at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.

Participating with their wines were 32 wineries, all members of the Le Cercle Rive Droite de Grands vins de Bordeaux. Founded in 2002 it includes 143 of mostly family wineries and vineyards on the Right Bank of the Gironde Estuary, long renown for the quality of its merlot vineyards.

The seminar was conducted by Dr. Alain Raynaud, Le Cercle President; and Robin Kelley O’Conner, New York Wine Specialist and Writer. The seminar, while tasting wines, touched on Right Bank subregions, diverse soil types and the maritime climate as well as member wineries producing ‘haute couture’ varietals.


Then it was time for lunch on the hotel’s Verandah Terrace. Sitting at my table was charming Camille Poupon, communications and marketing manager for Chateau La Perriere, also Journalist Barbara Hansen, Pierrick Bouquet, president of Able, Social Media Marketing and Wine Writer Robin O”Conner.

Soon the bottles of wine began to arrive at our table and I took a photo of Camille holding the 2008 Chateau La Rose Perriere. And they continued to arrive: Chateau La Villa Cure Fronsac 2008 and 2006 Chateau Grand Corbin Manuel to name a few.. Lunch opened with a Mixed green salad topped by shaved vegetables and pinenuts, then chicken breast with Mascarpone polenrta tomatoes, sweet corn and chicken jus. Assorted cheeses and crackers were presented to aid the tasting of more vintages.

Following luncheon the serious tasting took place with all 32 wineries present. The Right Bank is famous for its merlot and all the wines we tasted were blends with that varietal as the major component with other varietals in smaller amounts including Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon. Memorable for us was the 2000 Chateau Moulin Haut-Laroque from Fronsac. Produced by the Jean-Nel Herve Fanmily the wine was 65 per cent Merlot, 20 per cent Cabernet franc, 10 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon and 5 per cent malbec.

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Bordeaux Review on

Reported by D.R. Stewart

Ian Blackburn once again gathered the Grape Groupies to another tasting at the venerable Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills. April 22, Monday saw Learn About Wine’s event co-hosted by Le Cercle Rive Droite and their Bordeaux buddies, the best Chateaus the region has to offer. If the French language is a distant memory from those movies you pretended to like in college to get a shot at the art majors, lemme help you — these are wine-makers from the Bordeaux region who are based on the Right Bank (Rive Droite) of the Gironde estuary.

How do you find the gems among so many diligent winemakers?  You ask the winemakers what they are drinking, if not their own. All pointed me towards Chateau Dalem.  It had cool caché in that it was a one-woman operation (Brigitte Rullier-Loussert) and its 2012 had pulled a 90-93 off of Wine Spectator.  Good whoosh to it, which is the only way for me to describe that French wine characteristic of not having heavy notes which stop the flow of the liquid blowing through you.  But I demand more of a French wine now, and I feel that another Chateau’s wine I tasted much later was closer to admitting that the California wine aesthetic is worth replicating in small doses.  Back at the Dalem station, I tried their 2010 — the true gem, as really all the Chateaux 2-tens were.

The event was intended to show-off the 2012s, but a lot of folks brought their 2-tens with them. Don’t take it from me, hear what oenologist Michael Rolland had to say: “Thanks to exceptional weather at the end of summer and into autumn, 2010 Merlot and Cabernet grapes had a flavor quality that has rarely been as good.” Rolland got the first sips from the vintage and proclaimed “The aromatic characteristics are excellent, encouraged by pH levels that bestow firm acidity, accentuating freshness. Here is a vintage we have dreamed of, given to us by nature.”

Getting back to a French wine which supports the whoosh and the berry bottom of the Cali-aesthetic — Chateau Siaurac. Their 2010 checks in at a mere $35 a bottle, which was 1/2 the price of the Le Prieure they were pouring. The Chateau Le Prieure had the coveted blast of French purity, but the Siaurac tied up the package with some California sunshine.  This table was packed, and owner-manager Paul Goldschmidt was besieged by business people wanting to get on board with this bold new adventure.  These wines can be found at

California influences could also be noted in the Chateau Moulin Haut-Larogue, which dared to show some of the spice popular in our Paso old vine Zins. There will always be the two aesthetics practiced to their extremes in France and California, but this current climate of you-got-your-peanut-butter-in-my-chocolate blending is exciting for the palates that are willing to risk the new.


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LAW Facts

A horizontal tasting compares wines of a given region or grape variety for a single vintage. Contrast this term with a vertical tasting.

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