Skip to main content









Donation Heart Ribbon

All About Wine


The festive, sophisticated, magical mystery of wine is explored in a new monumental book, OPUS VINO. The book traces the expanding interest in wine, and the unusual places that now boast successful wineries. We'll also talk about San Diego's vintners, and our exceptional selection of local wines. Before you make the final selection for your holiday table join us for our wine hour.

Wine used to intimidate people. Many of us used to think of it as a foreign, complicated drink only understood by the initiated. But those days seem long ago.

The American wine palette has expanded, matured and grown very, very thirsty. And now, of course, California wine-makers are among the finest in the world.

A new monumental book documents the modern era of wine growing, tasting and appreciation. It's called OPUS VINO - it looks at more than 4,500 individual wineries, identifies each region's top producers and its rising stars. It's publishers call it the wine reference for the 21-st century.


Jim Gordon is the editor of OPUS VINO. Gordon has not only written about wine for 25 years, formerly as managing editor of "Wine Spectator" and currently as editor of "Wines and Vines." He but is also celebrating his 20th vintage as a winemaker.

Sara Hanson is a wine rep with Angeles Wine Agency and co-author of the wine blog, The Sarkus.

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Wine used to intimidate people. Many of us used to think of it as a foreign, complicated drink only understood by the initiated. But those days seem long, long ago. The American wine pal at has expanded, matured, and grown very, very thirsty. And now, of course, California wine makers are among the finest in the world. A new monumental book documents the modern era of wine growing, tasting and appreciation. It's called opus Vino. It looks at more than 4500 individual wineries, identifies each region's top producers, and its rising stars, its publishers call it the wine reference for the 21st century. Joining me now is my guest, Jim Gordon, he is former managing editor of wine spectator, current editor of Wines and Vines, and he is the editor of Opus Vino. [CHECK AUDIO] also celebrating his 20th vintage as a wine maker. And Jim, good morning, welcome to These Days.

GORDON: Thank you, great to be here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We invite our listeners to join this conversation. What are your favorite wines? How much do you think you have to know about wines to appreciate them? Call us with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. Jim, in the introduction to really massive book, opus Vino, you wrote 30 years ago one person could do the work, taste, review all the fine wines on the market. But today this book is the result of 38 authors with different specialties. So aside from the growth in the number of wineries, what are some of the more notable changes in wine making that you've witnessed.

GORDON: Well, the whole thing has evolved dramatically since I got into the subject almost 30 years ago. The biggest changes really come from the way the grapes are grown and the way that wines get to market that enable people to have such a much broader selection of wines to choose from. So the quality, the proof quality of wine that's happened over the last generation and continues to accelerate, I would say stems really from the farming of the grapes. And on the other end, it's the getting them to market that is the second biggest revolution, I would say.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, what's driving the change in wine making? Is it a chicken and egg situation? I mean why so many more wineries have the tastes -- have American tastes just exploded for wine? Or has the growth in wineries caused an explosion in American tastes for wine?

GORDON: Yeah, I think it's hard to say of it's a chicken and egg, definitely. But I think -- well, I would say it's really from the quality of the wine improving.


GORDON: And people getting more familiar with it. So maybe those are two different things. But the wines so different in our society now than it was 25 years ago. And it continues to change pretty rapidly. Now it's accepted. I think everybody knows somebody, people's parents drink wine, your friends drink wine. It's common place. When I was growing up, special in the midwest, nobody drank wine unless it was a little sweet wine. And then you started to see Lambrusco appear in some stores and some sweet wines from Europe that finally started to turn people onto wine. Eventually California wines got wider acceptance than just the west coast, I would say.


GORDON: And everything just steam rolled.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, the first section of this book, Opus Vino, is devoted to California wineries. What is special about the wine making technique here that has allowed it to grow so significantly over the years?

GORDON: Well, really the secret to California wines our basically sunny weather. We have great natural weather for growing grapes and making wine. Many parts of the world, where they make wine, they have to struggle to get the sunshine, to ripen the grapes properly, the growing season can be wet, damp, and rainy and cloudy, and that United States cause mildew and other kinds of problems in the vineyard. We have this Mediterranean climate where it's dry, basically, during all the growing season, [CHECK AUDIO] and there's plenty of blue skies and sunshine, which the grapes love.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My guest is Jim Gordon [CHECK AUDIO] 4500 individual wineries around the world. Its publishers call it the wine reference for the 21st century. And we're taking why are calls to talk about your favorite wines and how much you think you have to know about wines to appreciate them. The number is 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. You know, just to give listeners an idea of the scope of this book, you include wineries in some very unexpected places. Some throughout north America, but others in Croatia, in India, in Japan. What can we expect from wines in these places that aren't well known wine making regions?

GORDON: Yeah, it really was one of the emphases in the book exploring what we're calling the new world of wine. Because it's not just the old world of Europe, it's not even the newer world of California, Australia, which I le. [CHECK AUDIO] and there's other sort of brand-new places making would be like India, China, Japan, some of the South American countries you wouldn't have thought of. And every country in eastern Europe makes wine now. So the whole thing has exploded. And I forget your exact question.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I'm wondering what we can expect from wines. In other words, if we see a wine from India in our local market, is there an Indian wine or --

GORDON: Okay. Yeah. That's a good question. Basically, the -- a lot of the wines that you're gonna see from some of these countries have an international taste. They're not gonna be that odd, because the first goal of a lot of these countries, if they wanted to start exporting wine, was to make wines that were commercially acceptable for the export market. So that means if you get a Chardonnay from India or Japan or China, it's going to remind you of a Chardonnay you've had from California, or burg 18ed, for example. [CHECK AUDIO] but when they can go beyond that and maybe use some of their indigenous grape varieties that may have grown there for hundreds or thousands of years and come up with their own little twist on wine growing, wine making that wine a certain personality, a national character to their wine, then they've really made it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What countries have been able to do that or what wineries?

GORDON: I think Greece and -- Greece is a good example of that. Obviously the Greeks were making and drinking wine thousands of years ago.


GORDON: And they've continued to make wine all throughout history, but most people in America, western Europe, etc, haven't been drinking them very often. But in the last 10, 15 years, they have gone through this change in the vineyards and the wine making where they did the international varieties, they make Chardonnay, etc. Etc. But they make a lot of wines where their own, old, ancient varieties now that have really distinctive flavors. And I'm probably not gonna be able to mention what they are right now.


GORDON: But that's the type of thing.


GORDON: I didn't write the Greek section.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I understand. It is a massive book. We're talking about the new book, opus Vino, I'm talking to his editor, Jim Gordon, and we're taking your calls about wine. The number is 1-888-895-5727. Let's take a call from Mary in Escondido. Good morning, Mary, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. I have a question about the comparisons between the European wines and the American. I am from the Netherlands and I'm -- I grew really appreciative of the French wines and I'm always trying to find equivalent here of the California wines but it's kind of hard. So I wonder if you have any suggestions for that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Them's fightin' words, Mary.

GORDON: What is it that, like what do you taste in California wines that you don't like? Or what do you miss about European wines?

NEW SPEAKER: I have a feeling that the European wines are a little smoother, and for example the Chablis, I like the Chablis very much, and for red, the bore does, and I'm always trying to find a similar taste which I haven't found so far. So --

GORDON: Uh-huh, yeah. I think many other people notice these differences too. The main defense is -- you know, comes from the climate, the weather during the growing season in Europe is generally a more northern location with more of a continental climate where you have rain and clouds during the summer. And you don't have as much wine shine or heat as the west coast wine regions do here in America. So the wines are not quite as -- they're not quite as rape, not quite as much sugar in the grapes, so which it's made into wine, they have somewhat less alcohol and somewhat less vibrant flavors of I would say in a way they're more moderate, and in some cases kind of austere which can be great with food at the dinner table. So the flavors are a little more bodied and the flavors are a little more moderated. [CHECK AUDIO] which are riper, bolder, more vibrant, I'd say.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are there any of the California wines or varieties that are more closely attuned to the tastes that you would find from a French wine.

GORDON: Yeah, good point. Those from cooler regions. The coastal regions, you know, like Anderson valley and Mendocino county, Russian River area, Sonoma, parts of Napa, like Carneros, that section that overlaps the lower Napa valley is cooler, a lot of places in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo county, and even Temecula, I'm sure.


GORDON: Have not quite the kind of heat that you would find in the big central valley, the San Joaquin valley of California where about 85 percent of California wines made. Those are you know, conditions are quite different. [CHECK AUDIO] largely grown in the big central valley, and those tend to be softer, less crisp, whereas the coastal wines are more crisp, more balanced and more European than in the really hot areas like the central valley.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, what types of wine -- by the way, Mary, thank you so much for that phone call. What types of wines are popular in the U.S.

GORDON: Well, over all, Chardonnay I think is the leading varietal sold, cabernet is close second, maybe Merlot is third. Those are, like, the big three. And 1015 years ago, it still would have been white Zinfandel, maybe blended reds like hearty burgundy. And things like that. So it's definitely on the classic European varietals, largely those made in California. Because Americans drink about two thirds domestic wine, and of that domestic, you know, U.S. produced wine, about 90 plus [CHECK AUDIO] is made in California.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's interesting. So we only market about ten percent of the wine -- internationally, we only market about ten percent of the wine grown here in the United States.

GORDON: Yeah, we don't export very much.


GORDON: Yeah, because the U.S. is such a big country and it keeps becoming a better and better wine market, people drink more wine basically each year. The per capita consumption has been growing, and as the population grew and wine became more acceptable, most wine makers haven't found a big reason to try to export because there's plenty of drinkers here.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Home grown consumption.


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm speaking with Jim Gordon, he is the editor of Opus Vino, which is a massive new book documenting over 4500 individual wineries around the world. And we are going to continue talking about wine and taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727 after this short break. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.

I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. And we're talking about wine. Our conversation is paced on a new book called Opus Vino, one of my guests is the editor of that monumental book, Jim Gordon. And I'd like to welcome a new guest as well, Sarah Hanson is a win rep with Angeles wine agency, coauthor of the wine blog, the Sarkus. And Sarah, welcome to These Days.

HANSON: Thank you, thank you for inviting me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: You'd like to invite our listeners to call in, and we're asking things like, how much do you think you have to know about wines to appreciate them? Do you think you have to spend a lot of money on wine to get good quality? Call us about, perhaps, your favorite bargain wine. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. Of Sarah, what a wonderful conversation to have this time of year, by the way. I'm really enjoying this. Do you find that San Diegans know a lot about wine?

HANSON: Actually, no. I don't find San Diegans to be particularly wine savvy.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And I wonder why that is.

HANSON: I'm not sure. They -- I see them as definite value hunters. And kind of trend followers. But there's definitely not a lot of studiousness, I think.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is there an interest of learning about wines once that kind of wine bug bites?

HANSON: Absolutely, absolutely. There seems to be quite a bit of interest. Of and quite a good turn out at wine tasting events, you know, throughout the city. So I think people, they want to be educated, and they want to be able to make informed decisions.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What kind of -- do you talk a lot about the regional wineries that we have around San Diego and Southern California?

HANSON: I think as San Diegans, as far as Southern California goes, really the area to focus on is the southern part of the central coast.


HANSON: So Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Paso Robles. It's a great region, it's very up and coming, there's a lot of young, innovative wine hangers, and I think the concept of growing partnerships has really helped people with talent and skill to come forward. You don't have to have, kind of, millions of dollars anymore to buy a vineyard to make wine, to partner with growers. And I think that's helped the central coast to really maintain reasonable pricing as well as to be forward [CHECK AUDIO].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jim Gordon, that's one of the things that you talk about as well, so many more people are getting into the business of growing wine sometimes as a second career. Tell us a little bit about that.

GORDON: Yeah, it's -- people get bit by the wine bug, or the fascination with wine, and a lot of them end up wanting to do that for a living. There are 3300 plus wineries in California now. And there -- this is according to our wines and vines database, where we track all this stuff at our magazine, and there's something like 7300 across north America, including Canada. And you know, that's triple what it was 15 years ago. So people all the time are kind of giving up their career, maybe they think they're semiretiring to the country, but they're actually working harder than they ever have. Of.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a rude awakening.

GORDON: But who couldn't want to -- if you could do it, who wouldn't want to have a nice property in the country, have your own vines, have some land, make wine, share is it with your friends of it's great if you can do it. But then I like the point that you don't have to be a multimillionaire and buy an expensive vineyard anymore. You can be a wine maker in an urban setting, you can buy grapes from Santa Barbara, make wine and sell it, and put your little stamp on it in the winery. So there's a lot of ways that people are getting into it, and it doesn't have to be approaching it with $20 million.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a very good point. Exactly. We're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. George is calling us from El Centro. Good morning, George, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Ah, good morning. I'd like to say I really love your show, I listen to it all the time.


NEW SPEAKER: I have a couple of just observations, I guess, and I guess, like, a question as well. I'm from a border town obviously here with a Mexican -- the Mexican border in Baja California. I lived in Ensenada for a year, and when I was living there, I became kind of a wine enthusiast. Cause of all of the great wineries that are there in Baja California that I don't feel don't get enough mention on both an international level, and I feel they're coming out, but I still feel they're not getting the actual reps they deserve.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, let's get -- sure, George, thank you for that. And let's get a take on that. And Jim, what about Baja California? What about Mexican wine?

GORDON: There's some excellent Mexicans. And I agree, from basically the northern Baja region, there are a lot of outstanding wines. We have a section in Opus Vino, several pages about Mexico, and recommend the individual wineries or, you know, properties. I've had some -- especially red weans from the area there, outstanding. They're making a lot of different Rome varieties, Italian varieties, so you might find a Grenache or a Mourvedre, you might find a Nebiolo, which is originally Italian, and they're not getting the attention they deserve, probably, but they have a lot of computation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah, that's very true. Sarah, ever a lot of these wines making it across the border into San Diego?

HANSON: Some. Of I would agree they're not getting quite as much recognition necessarily as they deserve.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Is it because of the competition here?

HANSON: I think so. You know, the market is very saturated right now.


HANSON: Yeah, in California. And there's so many California wines that are fantastic to buy, as well as Washington and Oregon, and to cover all of your bases on the list, you also want to cover usually France, Italy, etc. So Mexico doesn't always make it onto a list. But I have seen it.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you both, let me start with you, Sarah. What do you tell people who come to you, and as I say, you have a coauthor of the wine blog, the Sarkus, and they say they want to develop their palates? What do you tell them to do?

HANSON: Well, I think it's important not necessarily drink but taste as much wine as possible. The first thing you need to learn how to do is not necessarily swallow everything, but getting a spitting technique and be able to taste for a lot of different wines.


HANSON: Because until you experience a lot of different flavors and regions and profiles, you don't really know everything there is out there to compare it to. So that's the first important thing. The other thing is to always surround yourself with people who know more than you. Of.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's good for anything.

HANSON: I learned that as a musician later in life. And start learning through other people. And pick up a couple books, maybe Jim's new book.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Indeed. And I'm wondering, Jim, anything you want to add to that?

GORDON: One thing that I did when I was first learning about wine, I had a few friends and coworkers who were getting into it, this is before I even worked at wine spectator, but we formed a monthly wine tasting club. And it was very casual. Of each person, it was like six people or couples, each person would bring a bottle, everybody would bring their own glasses, you could go to somebody's house, and we'd do a blind tasting where we'd cover the bottles with bags, we'd pure the wines, we'd taste them, talk about them, eat some cheese and food and bread, other things, and have a great time. And then at the end, we would unbag them and see what the wines were. And it was always interesting to see if people liked the cheapest wine best, which they often did.


GORDON: And blind tasting, it doesn't have to be some laboratory thing, it's a fun kind of game you can play, which I recommend people doing that to educate their palette, so to speak. It's sort of BS, but it learns to mean what you really like yourself and not go by strictly what the experts are telling you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to remind our hundredors issue we're taking your calls the 1-888-895-5727. I want to jump onto something you said Jim, because just recently a report that was heard on KPBS, it was the authors of Freakonomics, they did this report on marketplace, they examined whether more expensive wines actually taste better to people, and they found that people only preferred the more expensive wine when they knew it was more expensive. What is your take on that?

GORDON: Yeah, I've read maybe not that report, but similar things, and I think it's true. People who -- I mean, if you have the connoisseur or somebody who's really into wine who's gone to a lot of different tastings as Sarah was describing, or if they're professionals, they're wine stewards, or work at a winery, then you get an elevated knowledge, and yeah, those people are gonna be able to pick out the expensive wines because they've sort of within trained to like those. That's why I say price is not that important to a lot of people. And that's why you have to try know array of wines to find out what you like. If you like something that's 6, $8 a bottle, then great. So you know, I think those studies are true in a lab typesetting. I'm sure that those are valid finding.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating, Sarah, because based on ideas like that, research like that, some people say that a trained palette could be more trouble and could be more expensive than it's worth. Tell me your thoughts on that.

HANSON: You know, I see both sides. But I think ultimately I disagree. For the most part, everyone has likes and dislikes and ways that their own palettes are either tickled or displeased. I know for me, personally, what initially drove me to study and learn was that I was realizing there were certain things in wine that I really disliked. And I didn't understand what it was. And then I would keep buying a bottle, and be, like, shoot, this is another one of those wines that I don't like. Of and I don't know why. Or situations similar to that. So I think the more one knows about any given topic, the more one can make informed choices and purchases, and kind of stop you from making the same mistakes over and over because you might think, you know, it's the varietal you don't like, maybe you purchase a central coast Syrah, and then you think oh, well, I just don't like central coast Syrah. But maybe it was just totally over done in American oak. Maybe you don't like American oak. Maybe you would love a central coast Syrah done in French oak. So things like that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's fascinating. Because I know exactly what you're talking about, saying I don't really like this, but I have no idea why.

HANSON: Right. You just don't [CHECK AUDIO].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Jim, do you hear that a lot?

GORDON: Yeah, it's a common thing. And this goes to the liking or disliking of really expensive wine, is that many of the coast expensive wines are designed originally or, you know, conceived to age for many years. So, you know, the $300 bore doe or the $150 California cabernet sauvignon, for instance, have a lot of tannin in them, especially when they're young. So you taste it, and it's Astringent, it's biting, it's kind of drying on your palette. But if you have had a 20-year-old version of that wine, you know, oh, that's gonna change with time, it's gonna mellow, it's gonna be fabulous. And when you have it with a rich grilled wrack of lamb or something, that sensation of dryness goes away. And the pairing of the food and wine making it acceptable. Or you know, delicious. But that's one reason why high priced wines are hard to like because many of them are not designed to be drunk at the age at which they're sold.

THE COURT: I see, I see. This is all very fascinating, and there are a lot of people who want to join the conversation. Let me remind people we're taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And Van is calling from Carlsbad, good morning, van, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning. My questions are related to, you know, to comments about the so good inexpensive wines of California. I have been drinking wine for ages. And I drink a lot of Charlie Shaw in fact, because that way, being retired, I can have them -- tons of them at only home.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Charles Shaw you're talking about, Two-Buck Chuck?

NEW SPEAKER: Yeah, especially the reds and Nouveaus, I like them quite a bit. And I am amazed, they are so, you know, they are much better than many of the table wines from Europe. And I'm amazed at how they can sell it at so row a price. That's my question.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, Van, thank you very much. Anyone want to weigh in on that Charles Shaw phenomenon? Jim?

GORDON: Well, I have a little insight about how they can make them at a low price.


GORDON: The company that makes Charles Shaw is Bronco, it's owned by the Franzia family, and they own thousands of acres of vineyards and have for a long time. So they don't have a high coast of having just bought a vineyard. And it's in the lower priced real estate areas of California in the San Joaquin valley. Where it's relatively inexpensive to grow a lot of grapes that you can make a lot of wine with. Of in addition, over the last recent years, there's been basically an over supply of grapes in California. More grapes are grown than wine makers want to buy them or convert them into wine. So the price of the grapes goes down. And somebody like the Franzia family takes advantage of that and buys other people's grapes and sometimes bulk wine at a very low price, blends it and -- with other wines and comes up with a very pleasing product for the price.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Sarah, what do you think of two buck chuck?

HANSON: Honestly, I've never had it. I don't know if I should admit that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A new experience awaits.

HANSON: Maybe merry Christmas to me. I'll go out and get a bottle of two buck chuck.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call, Augusta is calling from Rancho Santa Fe. Good morning, Augusta. Welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Thank you. What are we gonna do with all these beautiful bottles? It's a sin, they're throwing them away in the garbage cans of the soft drink purchasers have been forced to do something about reclaiming them. [CHECK AUDIO] they just want them to be used again.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Okay, well, Augusta, have you any ideas?

NEW SPEAKER: No, well, Ron co used to have a little device, you cut the head off and make drinking glasses, but I never heard how that turns out.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for your call. I appreciate it. Well, Augusta's concerned about us reusing wine bottles. I don't know if you have any thoughts about that. Do you?

HANSON: I have seen one company in San Diego, I can't remember the name of it right now, but they're collecting all of the recyclables from local bars and restaurants, liquor bottles, beer bottles, and I think wine bottles too. And they're making vases out of them, and selling them at the farmer's market. So I think there's probably a lot of little innovative companies like that to come, that's just one that I've seen. But I'm sure that other people are jumping to that idea as well.

GORDON: Yeah, I can add. Obviously you can recycle them.


GORDON: Hopefully she lives in an area where you can recycle your bottles. You can take them to a recycling center if nothing else. They do go -- almost all that recycled glass gets back into glass making again. So they really do reuse it. And I agree with Sarah, there are other things you can do. There are a few wineries in the northwest, in Oregon and Washington, I believe, that are actually taking the bottles back and cleaning them and reselling them like Coca-Cola used to be done in the '50s and 60s.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's interesting. You know, I don't want to leave Augusta's comment without commenting, Jim, on the fact that a lot of these bottles really are gorgeous. A lot of the marketing goes into the presentation of the bottle Tuesday. . Have you -- what kind of thought goes into that when people are deciding to market their wine?

GORDON: Well, it runs the gamut. I mean, a lot of family wineries just design it themselves. It seemed easy, you know, in the '70s and '80s when the California wineries were just starting. You just allowed them to use the same type face, and more or less did the same thing with a little illustration of their vineyard or winery. But now it's become an art and a science. And there are focus groups, and many design groups that specialize in label design. It's become quite a focus in the marketing departments, especially of the big wineries with budgets to fund to. And things like that.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Because if you don't know a lot about wine, a lot of people maybe their choices, me, according to what the wine bottle looks like. Is that true?

GORDON: Yeah, if you see -- if you're walking down, shopping in the supermarket, there's so many labels, the number of selections is staggering and confusing and the right label can draw you in and reassure you that, wow, this is going to be good or not too expensive or whatever. They communicate a lot of messages through the label.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: My guests are Jim Gordon and Sarah Hanson, and we are talking about wine, and taking your calls about wine for the holidays. We're gonna be starting to talk specifically about holiday wine and food pairings, and taking more of your questions and comments at 1-888-895-5727. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.

Welcome back, I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, you're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guests are Jim Gordon, editor of the new book, new big book, Opus Vino, it looks at more than 4500 individual wineries, and individuals each region's top producers and rising stars of also joining me is Sarah Hanson, she is a wine rep with Angeles wine agency, coauthor of the wine blog the Sarkus, and we are taking your calls about what you're putting on -- what wine you're putting on your holiday table, how you make that selection. Any questions or comments you might have at 1-888-895-5727. Sarah, holiday meals, we're talking about the holidays, I promised to do that. They tend to have a lot of flavors going on, more flavors than perhaps the average meal. What are some nice wines that might compliment a meal like that?

HANSON: Well, since it is such a wide variety of flavors and you never know, you know, Thanksgiving's more traditional, people are following usually a few different recipes. Everyone's having turkey.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Everybody's having Turkey.

HANSON: But you know, around Christmas time, everyone's making something different. And I always say to be safe, sparkling goes with everything. Bubbly goes with no food, it goes with appetizers, it goes with the main course, it goes with desert, it goes with postdesert partying of it's just to be safe, I think, a really nice choice.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And what a wonderful way to be safe. Jim, there's been this boom in sparkling wines upon tell us a little bit about that.

GORDON: Yeah, there's a lot of selections. I mean, champagne from the champagne region of France is the original. All the other wines that are bubbly, we tend to call sparkling wine. You have great options from California. Many of the French owned companies in California that make sparkling wine are excellent. One of my favorites is road river estate from Mendocino county. And then you have I great selection of bubblies from Spain which are relatively in-- actually sometimes very inexpensive. They call it Cava, but it's made in the champagne upon style in the bottle and aged. Another type that's rather newly popular in the U.S. is Prosecco from Italy, which is a traditional sparkling wine there, but it's rather low alcohol, the effervescent's a little softer, not quite as acidic and sharp in flavor and texture as some champagnes. Those are really popular now, and you can get a good one for 10 or 12 options. And I say here, here to the sparkling wine recommendation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Especially at this time of year. There are a number of people who do want to join the conversation. I do want to mention 134 things from some callers who couldn't wait on the line. One caller wanted us to let everyone know about bottle hood, which is a way to donate your wine bottles, and they turn them into art. And I'm wondering, one of our callers said any suggestions about wines with people with allergies? He didn't specify what allergy, so I don't know if there's anything this either of you might be able to comment on about that.

HANSON: I think, I mean, with allergies with wine, it seems like it's usually a sulfites deal. Organic wines tend to have fewer sulfites, also if it says contains sulfites on the bottle, you know, all wines have sulfites, obviously, but if it actually says it on the bottle that means that there's more than other wines. So --

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So if you have that kind of allergy, obviously you would stay away from that.

HANSON: Maybe not get the bottles that actually say contains sulfites, and try to go organic. I don't know, Jim, do you have any suggestions.

GORDON: It's true to a degree, but there are almost no wines available that don't contain sulfites of it's really hard to find them. There are a few wines of many wineries now make wine from organically grown grapes, and there are very few that make it organically in the winery. And in the U.S. that means you can't add sulfites during wine making. But having said that, you might be able to find a few of those. But the sulfite levels in wine are much lower than they used be to. I was looking at an old text and they used to recommend up to 350 parts per million for wine makers to have in their wine. And now it's if you have ten parts for million or more, you have to put contains sulfites on the label.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wow, so that is a big drop.

GORDON: [CHECK AUDIO] or les. So it's -- allergies, people do have allergies to sulfites, but usually that's in much higher concentrations. The type that they used to spray on the, you know, the lettuce in a salad bar. Of those were serious allergic problems for a few people and asthmatics. But I think the thing that people are more allergic to is the alcohol. If you drink too much, that's the main problem.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. We continue to take your calls at 1-888-895-5727. If you'd like to post your comment on line, it's Days. Of and Valerie is calling from San Diego. Gorge, Valerie, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Oh, good morning. Thank you so much for taking my call. I really appreciate your show.


NEW SPEAKER: And I've been listening for carefully. I just want to make a couple comments here. First of all, I'm French. And I grew up drinking wine age 14 and on. Sorry for the law in California, 21.


NEW SPEAKER: But I grew up two hours away from bore doe area in the south of France, and my parents always had wine, and was exposed at a very young age, etc. I mean, with obviously reason.


NEW SPEAKER: But I just want to make a comment, and it's interesting, I've been living now in California for 20 years. Of and it's interesting, like a person like Jim, which I respect very much, because I think he's truly a connoisseur, I didn't know about him, but reading and also listening to his comments, I think he's truly a connoisseur. But he also, what I want to mention about that is that the last 20 years that I've been observing, you know, drinking wine pretty much my youth and coming to California, there's a lot of marketing exaggeration, it's a lot of the snobbism about wine that it's not necessary. A lot of wannabe connoisseurs or the newcomers, the nouveau connoisseur, whatever you want to call it, I think is a little bit overwhelmed. Now, granted like I say, 20 years ago when I first got to San Diego, I went to Temecula and Napa.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me interrupt you, Valerie, if I may. Do you like California wines?

NEW SPEAKER: I do, I do of that's my point I'm coming to. No, no. I'm not anti. Absolutely not. But I just want to make a comment that 20 years ago, when I went to Temecula area and Napa, coming from bore doe and drinking bore doe pretty much at a young age, it's interesting like the lady made a comment earlier how I couldn't find quite the taste that I was acquainted with. And very familiar with. And yet that was 20 years ago. And now I can see right now how California particularly is coming very, very much along and really is catching up with the train.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Valerie, thank you so much, I'm sorry I have to cut you off. There are so many people who want to comment. And so Valerie, Jim, Valerie is thinking that will California wines are really sort of -- I mean, we know that they are challenging French wines. But even with the actual similar taste of French wines.

GORDON: Yeah, in some cases, they're quite similar. It's not uncommon for a California winery to do a tasting for members of the wine trade and the media of wine tasting their wine versus top wines of Bourdeaux, let's say. And often they score similarly of so they can be quite similar. But I think what makes wine most interesting is when wines have a unique taste associated with their region, [CHECK AUDIO] if everybody tries to make their wine alike or to be just like a Bourdeaux, then that defeats the purpose. One of the fascinating things about wine is that you can travel through wine tasting. You can travel the world through wine, and if everyone tries to make them the same, you lose that travel.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Great point. Thank you for that. Christopher's calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Christopher, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: How are you doing today?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Great, thank you.

NEW SPEAKER: I'm a young wine lover, and I've been purchasing some wines when I was 25, hoping to drink [CHECK AUDIO] maybe areas of California specifically or wine varietals that'll age well over time.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ah, great question. Jim?

GORDON: Sure. There are -- it's -- you can look, there's a lot of information, but Napa valley cabernet sauvignon, the well made ones, the wineries that have been doing it for 20 or 30 years, many make wines that [CHECK AUDIO] and many of them go 20 and 30 years. There are unusual wines here and there like mountain grown Chardonnay from Hanzel, from a few other sights around California where the Chardonnay can age for 20 years and improve and be fantastic.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And let me ask Sarah.

GORDON: Maybe Sarah jumps in more about Southern California.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Any good wines that are gonna age well?

HANSON: I mean, I agree with Jim a hundred percent. And it's, you know, the central coast is a little bit different. The cabs coming out of central coast certainly aren't known for being as big, and as tannic. They're a little bit softer. But I also think there's some Syrahs that are coming out that are definitely worth aging. And I think it kind of just depends. The wines that are being made, like I said, on the central coast, so differently now. And you know, some people are releasing wines with big tannins and a lot of structure that are meant for age, and some people are really going for kind of a more whimsical, fresh, young wine.



Q. And it doesn't always depend on the varietal, cabs and Syrahs, and more tannic wines tend to need more aging so the tannins can precipitate out over time.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How is an average wine buyer supposed to know the difference in what's a good wine to open tonight and what's a wine that is perhaps better saved?

HANSON: Well, that's a combination of factors. Again, varietal. If you're going for a cab or a Syrah or I Nebiolo or a big, tannic, red wine, that's something where you want to consider, huh, what's the vintage on this?


HANSON: Does this need to be shelved? That might be Google time. Or hey, is this just [CHECK AUDIO] that is meant to be drank right now or sauvignon blanc obviously you don't age for the most part. So there's a little bit of knowledge involved, when you're shopping, that's something you can ask any of the [CHECK AUDIO].

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ray is calling from San Diego, Ray you're gonna have to make this very quick.

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, thank you for taking my call. I'm a New Yorker, just a quick background, I'm be very fast, essentially, I love French wines I love Californians, I love wines from around the world of one of the problems that I have with California vintages just trying to determine vineyards is the fact that there's no control over certain grapes grown in any certain estate. So what ends up having you have thousands and thousands of vineyards. And next door to each other, Paso Robles is an example. And you get extraordinarily different bottles from a next door neighbor from one vineyard to another.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Ray, thank you for the call. Of is that a problem, Jim.

GORDON: That's my opening -- of Opus Vino from DK publishing. We've done a lot of that work for you. [CHECK AUDIO] we're recommending the best wineries so you can know that the brands and the winery names to look for am.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So, now, that was nice of me to do that for you, wasn't it? I'm gonna ask you both really quickly, what are you drinking right now that you love, Jim?

GORDON: Let me know. Pinot noir, Russian River valley of I've gone to a couple tastings lately, Russian River Pinot noirs, and I revisited William [CHECK AUDIO] winery for the first time in years I have a bottle of that waiting to be opened tonight.


HANSON: Well, I've been on a Beaujolais crus kick ever since Thanksgiving.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's all we have time for. I want to thank you both so much Jim Gordon, editor are of the new book, Opus Vino. Thank you.

GORDON: Oh, you're welcome.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Sarah Hanson, wine rep with Angeles wine agency, check out her wine blog,


MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Thank you for listening, and please join us again tomorrow. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.

Want more KPBS news?
Find us on Twitter and Facebook, or subscribe to our newsletters.

To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.