Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Katie Finn

Death. Famine. War. Pestilence. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are a macabre thought indeed, but the stories from our history that tell of grim times are some of the most captivating.

Wine is no different. One of my favorite aspects of wine education involves the untold stories about the grapes, the regions and the people who are behind our favorite bottles of wine—and those stories, quite often, are rather grim.

I was recently asked to host an educational wine-tasting featuring the unknown regions of France—the places beyond Burgundy, Bordeaux and Champagne. I love exploring this region with people, because the wines and stories are so surprising. However, even I didn’t know just how surprising the entire story was.

While doing my homework, I came across an article titled “The French Wine Riots of 1907.” The what? After 20 years as a sommelier, I’d never heard of the French wine riots of 1907? I needed to know more. I soon discovered that in 1930, Algeria was the largest producer of wine in the world. Algeria. I didn’t know Algeria produced wine commercially, let alone Algeria was once a wine powerhouse. In 1960, Algeria was still the fourth-largest exporter of wine in the world. Mind. Blown.

You may be saying, “This is all great, Katie, but what does this have to do with the undiscovered regions of France?”


After a decade-long battle in the mid-1800s, France colonized Algeria. Right across the Mediterranean lies the sunny and warm shores of Algeria. Vacation, anyone? So the colonists—with a small military to protect the borders—made Algeria their home. They settled in with vine-cuttings and winemaking ambition. Just because you’re in Africa doesn’t mean you go without your wine.

Then, in the 1860s, tragedy struck France: That little louse named phylloxera started to voraciously and indiscriminately feast on the roots of grapevines—to the point that French wine production was in ruin. Families watched generations-old vineyards die right before their eyes. With little hope of recovery and no end in sight, they were faced with imminent poverty.

But wait! They’re making wine in Algeria! It’s estimated that there was a mass exodus into Algeria in the late 1800s of some 50,000 families. Whoa. These ex-pats brought what vine cuttings they could, along with their expertise, and Algeria soon became a thriving wine empire.

However, many winemakers remained in France—devout Frenchmen, men and women who would never leave mother country. Determined to revive their heritage and livelihood, they began to replant. Slowly and surely, they would nurse their vineyards back to health and regain their position as the No. 1 wine-producing region in the world.

Meanwhile, back in Algeria, the warm weather, the mild Mediterranean climate and the long growing season were creating wines with the kind of depth, concentration and power of which French wines were never capable. Marry that with the fact that they were so cheap that they’d make Two-Buck Chuck look spendy, plus they were technically French (or so the label said)—and the market was falling all over itself to get its hands on this “new” French wine! The French government decided to indeed promote these Algerian wines as French so as not to lose their place in the export market to Italy or Spain.

Back in France, the devout Frenchmen who stayed, replanted and started over had re-created vineyards were healthy and producing quality fruit that, in turn, was making damn good wine … that they couldn’t sell. They couldn’t compete pricewise with their French counterparts in Algeria—and by 1900, Algeria was producing 130 million gallons of wine annually.

But here comes the straw that broke the camel’s back: The French governor general to Algeria partnered with a British businessman in 1905 to sell 1.3 million gallons of wine to London wine merchants, with the advertisement declaring that this was French wine, because Algeria was an integral part of France. Oops.

Farmers with torches and pitchforks stormed the streets. How could their government do this to them? How could they hang them out to dry? No, sir—these were men who would not take it anymore. They demanded that the government implement laws that clearly state where these wine came from. Under duress, the government agreed.

Over the next seven years, boundaries would be determined and clearly identified on the wine label, creating what is known as the AOC system (appellation d’origin controlee). It’s probably the single most important part of French wine law—created as a result of the uprising by underrepresented French countrymen who previously had no voice.

Unfortunately for the French, just as Two-Buck Chuck is still a staple in some people’s homes, the allure of cheap and palatable wine was just too good. In 1930, Algeria was producing 500 million gallons of wine a year. Some 30 years later, that number was closer to 300 million, with 280 million of that being exported. That made Algeria the fourth-largest exporter in the world, after France, Italy and Spain.

It took a while, but this great boom eventually ended with an epic bust. A few more crippling French wine laws were passed; a couple of world wars did damage; and the final blow came when France gave Algeria its independence. Buh-bye.

A mass exodus—this time from Algeria back to France—left the African country without enough people to care for the vines or make the wine. Politicians and government agents make lousy winemakers, and the country became predominantly run by Muslims, which means wine is a no-no. Just as quickly as it arrived, the wine business in Algeria all but vanished—and just like that, France regained its crown.  

My question is: How is a story like this so unknown? How are we not sharing these epic tales at the dinner table while sipping a wine from the very place where parts of this story happened? This is how we connect with wine as something greater than just a beverage.

Someone get a Hollywood producer on the phone—I’ve got a blockbuster.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A lot of interesting conversations happen in a wine shop when customers aren’t around. Sometimes we sit with wine-sales representatives and have a friendly game of one-upmanship regarding who had the better meal with the better bottle of wine on Saturday. Sometimes the conversation is a bit more, ahem, colorful, and we discuss politics, and tariffs, and the infuriating notion that restaurants will always get better prices than retailers.

I recently had one of the most thought-provoking discussions I’ve had in years at the wine shop. An experienced wine importer and former general manager of one of the most-famous restaurants in California had just presented an incredible lineup of wines he hand-picks from various countries to distribute in the U.S. We tasted a sensational gruner veltliner/dry riesling blend called Tatomer Hinter der Mauer from the Central Coast of California. He said it was a Gemischter Satz.

I said bless you.

It was explained to me that a Gemischter Satz is an old Austrian custom of planting different but complementary grapes that are then all harvested and fermented together. It was my first time having a Gemischter Satz-style wine, and even though this one was not from Vienna, it had that signature crisp and zippy acidity, with beautiful white flowers and a layer of exotic fruits. You’d better believe it’s going to find a home in the wine shop.

Next, he poured us a couple of wines from Basilicata, Italy. Both were Aglianico del Vulture, but they came from different vineyards and were fermented in two totally different styles. The first one was bright and fruity with a slight tart and underripe edge, after being fermented in stainless steel; the fruit came from young vines. The other aglianico was from older vines, fermented and aged in French oak. We marveled at how different the outcomes were based on just a few choices the winemaker made—almost like comparing two siblings who grew up in the same house but are completely different from one another.

We swirled and sipped and chatted about the regions and the producers, telling stories of our favorite wines and experiences from these places. That’s the beauty of wine: It connects people. And the next thing ya know, the conversation took another turn—and we were on to a much-more hot-button topic.

Our importer friend began telling us about a wine-industry comrade who will only drink pinot noir. Now, he’ll drink pinot noir from anywhere, but he prefers Burgundy. Occasionally, he’ll accept a gamay, and in rare instances, he’ll imbibe a chardonnay. But that’s where the buck stops. Cabernet? Not a chance. Sangiovese? Nope. How about an enchanting blend from the Cotes du Rhone? Forget about it.

So, there we were, having just tasted three obscure wines that are beautiful and thought-provoking. We all began to contemplate: Is this guy missing out on the wonders of the wine world? Or is he becoming an expert on what he loves?

It was an interesting perspective. On one hand, I could understand; who wants to consume anything they don’t enjoy? Life is too short to voluntarily make yourself miserable. Besides, COVID has provided enough misery for even the most-masochistic people to be satiated.

But then I began to think about our palates. I began to think about my kids. I began to think about people who won’t eat certain things, because they taste “yucky.” Sure, everyone is entitled to their food and beverage preferences, but I also know that the more you expose your taste buds to certain flavors, textures and spices, the less “yucky” they become.

When I was a kid, I hated onions. I didn’t like how they took a dish that was supposed to be rich and creamy and added an unexpected “crunch.” Worse yet, I couldn’t always see them (those translucent little bastards!) so when an onion snuck onto my fork and made its way into my mouth … well, let’s just say that instead of getting to enjoy mac and cheese the way God intended, my mother went and ruined everything with an onion. The grand irony is, of course, that now I cannot fathom cooking anything without onions. But that’s because my palate matured. The older I got, and the more exotic dishes I ate, the more I appreciated all the different textures and flavors. Wine is no different.

How could you possibly know how much you like one wine if you’ve never had anything with which to compare it? How could you, as a wine-lover, deny yourself the hedonistic pleasure of discovering new flavors? It’s what I live for. I’m a flavor-craver. I taste everything. No, I don’t love everything, but I taste it.

They say everyone starts out drinking sweet wine—Boone’s Farm, or Ripple, or Mateus, or Bartles and Jaymes. Then we “graduate” to reds with high alcohol content and syrupy sweetness that masquerade as dry red wines. From there, everyone moves forward a little differently. But one thing is for certain: The person who tastes more is going to have a better palate than someone who is stuck on one wine.

Our conversation about Mr. Pinot Noir ended with some pretty cool analogies. My co-worker likened it to someone who would rather watch the same re-run television show every night than go out and see a live performance. I thought about steak. Could you imagine declaring that you were only ever going to eat steak for dinner? And not a variety of cuts, but you were only going to eat filet mignon? No rib eyes. No carne asada. No slow-braised beef short ribs over creamy mushroom risotto when it’s cold and rainy outside. It makes me sad just thinking about the depravation.

In short, we all agreed that the only way you can truly become a master of something as complicated as a beverage that can have 20,000 aroma compounds is to expose your nose to as much as possible.

So, here’s to all the wine warriors out there who continue to sip and explore and find their new favorite. I raise my glass to wine thrill-seekers. To those about to taste something new, I salute you.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

It’s fall in the desert. Businesses are gearing up for season. Restaurants are training their staff and hiring new faces. Golf courses are being reseeded to unveil new, lush green fairways. Retail shops are stocking up in anticipation of the snowbirds’ arrivals. The airport will soon be packed full of people escaping the northern winter doldrums in exchange for Palm Springs’ idyllic temperatures.

Or not.

Maybe that was then. Maybe those standard-operating procedures no longer apply. Maybe the freefall into the unknown continues.

In any case, life goes on. In my house, we’re talking about Halloween and what that will look like this year. I asked my husband, “Does it really look any different than the last seven months?” But actually, real life is downright terrifying, and everyone is already wearing a mask, so as far as I am concerned, 2020 has been one long and super-icky version of Halloween from which I can’t seem to wake up.

Fall was always my favorite time of the year in the desert. There was always a collective sigh of relief when the temperatures finally dropped: We had survived another summer, and the blissfully perfect days among our scenic backdrop would soon be in that spectacular technicolor filter. You wake up one day, and the sky is so bright blue, and the mountains are so chiseled, and the grass is so green, and the fronds of palm trees sparkle in the sunshine. It doesn’t look real. Thankfully, we still have all that.

Oh, and we also have comfort food and heavy, dark, robust wines to look forward to. That’s where I’ve set my sights—on bowls of homemade chili, braised short ribs and pot roasts, paired with full-bodied cabernets, velvety syrahs and rich red blends. If you, like me, are ready to ditch the light, bright whites in favor of brooding and intense reds, here are a few wines I suggest drinking to snap you out of your own summer/COVID doldrums.

At the risk of sounding like a broken record, Elisabetta Foradori can really do no wrong, in my book. In the summer, I drink her skin-contact pinot grigio called Fuoripista like water. Her nosiola, a gloriously concentrated white wine bursting with citrus, raw almonds and fresh cream, is magic with fresh springtime fare. And in the fall? Well, that’s when we break out the teroldego. This is an indigenous grape in the Dolomites, where she calls home. The grape had been badly abused and mistreated, but Elisabetta knew better. She knew how to resurrect this grape from relative obscurity and a general unpleasantness to create a wine that is so delicious and layered and drinkable that you’ll ask yourself: Where this beauty has been all your life? Think Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. All it takes is someone who sees potential and has the know-how. You get the picture. Teroldego is a grape that offers up intense dark and rich black fruits with a suede-like texture on your palate. It’s both invigorating and comforting at the same time.

While we’re talking about northern Italian wines that are ideal for fall, I need to introduce you to lagrein. Yes, it’s obscure. Yes, it can be a little pricey. Is it worth it? Absolutely! It’s a wine from the far northern portion of Italy, called the Alto Adige, that is intensely concentrated, feels like velvet on your tongue, and tastes like dark-chocolate-covered cherries. Think you might like it? Duh. There are a handful of producers making insanely delicious lagrein—but finding it is the challenge. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t feel bad; no one else has, either. Some producers worth seeking out are the famous monks of Abbazia di Novacella. This Augustinian order makes some of the best Italian wine on the market. Their lagrein is deeply colored and beautifully perfumed on the nose, with hints of pepper and just-baked blueberry pie.

I also fell in love with the lagrein of St. Michael-Eppan. Coming from the beautiful foothills of the Alto Adige, this weighty red coats your palate with an intoxicating mix of savory herbs, wild boysenberries, licorice and that tell-tale chocolate finish. I decided there was definitely not enough wine at the end of the bottle.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my ideal smoky, gamey, meaty, cooler-weather wine: pinotage. That underrated grape from South Africa, which—as I mentioned last month—has a reputation for being an utterly awful wine, is one of my fall favorites. Trust me when I tell you that if you have a negative opinion of this wine, it’s because you just haven’t had the right one. In the course of the last month, I’ve tasted several producers of this red-headed stepchild of a wine, and I continue to be pleasantly surprised at its reinvention—and the fact that we are now starting to see the great incarnations of these wines reach our shores. Painted Wolf winery creates a pinotage called “The Den” from the Western Cape region, and it strikes the perfect balance between weight and depth, while being bright and juicy. However, the Lievland pinotage from Stellenbosch is unquestionably the best example of this grape I’ve ever tasted. Pinotage is a cross between pinot noir and a grape the South Africans call hermitage—we know it as cinsault—and the Lievland manages to put the flavor profiles of both these components in the spotlight. It’s elegant and silky with bright red fruits like a pinot noir, while also being spicy, floral and smoky, which is classic cinsault.

So maybe we’re still at home. Maybe we’re on the couch, in our jammies, still eating takeout. Maybe there won’t be any snowbirds this year. Who knows? But the good news is: There is still wine.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

When the going gets tough, the tough get going—straight to the liquor store. And the not-so-tough are right behind them.

If there has been one consistent thing during this pandemic, it’s alcohol consumption. While curling up with a bottle of cabernet might not be the best coping mechanism, if you’re of drinking age, you’re free to self-medicate away.

But that has not been the case in South Africa for much of the pandemic: South Africa has twice banned booze, meaning all sales and consumption of alcohol were considered a crime. The first ban was put into place on March 27 and lifted on June 1. Without warning, a second complete prohibition was put in place on July 12, and lifted on Aug. 17.

Rightly or wrongly, those bans have had a devastating impact.

The idea was simple: If people don’t drink, people can’t get knee-walking, commode-hugging drunk, and that reduces the amount of alcohol-related injuries. No more drunk drivers. No more bar brawls. A reduction of domestic violence and child abuse. Who wouldn’t be on board with that?

Perhaps this was an easy decision for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, given the staggering number of coronavirus cases there, and the unhealthy relationship and history the country has with alcohol. For years, laborers were paid with leftover wine or any unsavory hooch laying around. Drinking your wages was an easy way into rampant alcoholism.

But was the cure worse than the disease? The impact of these extreme restrictions will be felt for years. More than 1 million jobs were affected, and the revenue loss is in the hundreds of millions. The economic partnership between South Africa and the European Union was fractured. More than 500 liquor stores were robbed, and the boom in illegal alcohol production spiraled out of control, with modern-day Al Capones seizing an opportunity to supply the thirsty masses. As the United States learned during our own decade-long Prohibition, where’s there a will, there’s a way.

Even with the ban lifted, restrictions remain. Alcohol can be consumed inside restaurants and bars, but only until 10 p.m. If the citizens of South Africa want to purchase libations to enjoy at home, they can do so—but liquor outlets can only be open Monday through Thursday, during daytime hours, and citizens are subject to a curfew.

Meanwhile, pineapple sales have gone through the roof. It’s an easy fruit to ferment and turn into alcohol in the privacy of one’s own bathroom. Home brewers are discovering all kinds of new ways to create their own happy hour.

But the police minister was having none of it. He enthusiastically and proudly promoted extreme methods of enforcement, proclaiming he’d destroy the infrastructure where alcohol is sold. He encouraged his police task force to use any measure of prosecution—including the beating to death of a man caught drinking alcohol in his own backyard.

The devastation doesn’t stop there. Mirroring the sentiments in this country, there is a fierce debate going on regarding the importance of lives versus livelihoods: Teetering on a catastrophic recession, with huge unemployment numbers, the South African wine industry has been on the verge of collapse. This breaks my heart.

Small, family-owned and family-operated wineries are facing the biggest risk of extinction. They are dependent on local consumption and tourism, both of which have been nonexistent. Many of them have limited access to exportation or distribution, and those that do are being impacted by trade agreements that require reciprocity.

What’s more is that a lot of these wineries are Black-owned. The idea that a Black person could own land, much less be a winemaker, was a concept that was unthinkable 30 years ago.

In 1997, Charles Back, of Fairview Winery, created the Fair Valley Workers Association. This was an amazing step toward equality: For the first time, Black workers had the opportunity to acquire land and make their own wines. In 1999, the country saw its first wine produced by a female Black winemaker, Carmen Stevens, who was just 27 years old at the time. Since then, more than 40 wineries have been established by Black entrepreneurs.

That’s South Africa for you. During the area’s 360 years of wine production, the country has proven time and again that you can knock her down, but she gets right back up. For every step back, South Africa becomes even more determined to take two steps forward. This is why I love this country and its wines so much: Not only do they have undeniable, unapologetic flavors and aromas that are unique and thought-provoking; the industry has always seized opportunities to modernize and advance. It is a powerful force and will not go quietly.

The good news is that we can help: The next time you’re out running your necessary and essential errands, pick up a bottle or two of South African wine. Explore different grapes and regions. See what chenin blanc from Paarl tastes like. Try a Rhone-inspired red blend from the Franschhoek area. Be daring, and open a bottle of the country’s signature wine from a grape called pinotage. Encourage your friends to find some South African wine, and have a virtual tasting.

While the United States doesn’t exactly have a healthy relationship with alcohol, either, at least this time when we drink South African wine, we can drink for a good cause. I think this calls for a lovely bottle of Graham Beck Brut Rose.


Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Hello? Australia, are you there? Can you hear me? I completely forgot about you and your wines!

And so did a whole lot of others.

In Australian wine’s heyday, stores couldn’t keep up with the demand we had for deep and inky Barossa Valley shirazes and Coonawarra cabernets. Inexpensive wines with full-throttle flavors and cheeky names sent Americans into a frenzy. It was the height of bigger-is-better wines—and Australia was at the top of the heap.

And then … it all stopped. All of a sudden, no one was looking for those cute little labels with the koalas, or the kangaroos, or the little penguins on them. It was as if it happened overnight. Americans woke up one morning with complete Australia amnesia.

Of course, it didn’t help that there was a new kid in town. The Aussie shiraz lovers looking for a juicy, high-octane red that was less than $10 a bottle were quickly enamored by a grape they’d never had, from a region they knew little about: Malbec, from Argentina, was the new darling of the dollar store.

I got to thinking about how Australia’s wines fell from grace so quickly and so completely. It turns out that while we were busy finding our next new wine obsession, Australia was dealing with crippling drought and scorched vineyards—while at the same time trying to manage massive overproduction. The business sides of these endeavors had been so focused on catering to the fickle U.S. and British markets that they abandoned their own domestic drinkers. From a sommelier perspective, the over-extracted, alcoholic beasts that commanded a huge price tag were the last things I would recommend to pair with someone’s dinner. Wine experts began to favor lighter, more-food-friendly options. The perception of Australian wines was that they’d become a one-trick pony, and that one trick just wasn’t doing it anymore. The very attribute that shot Australian wine into superstardom was the very thing that turned around and shot them in their foot.

So, whatcha been doin’ for the last decade, Australia?

Turns out Australia has been very, very busy. There is an exciting new wave of winemakers, with a focus on natural wines, organic wines, biodynamic farming and experimentation with European varietals. Lower alcohol levels, a lighter touch with oak aging, and grapes that are better-suited for the changing climate are all contributing to this Phoenix rising from the proverbial ashes. Australian wine-makers have been steadily gaining traction with their own domestic fans—and subsequently turning the heads of millennials (that is, once they look up from their iPhones) who previously scoffed at the wines from Down Under. What’s more, there is a booming wine scene in the urban sprawls of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, where wine bars and sommelier-led bottle shops are popping up in support of their home-grown wines.

In the last six months, I’ve tasted more great wines from Australia than I had in my entire career up to that point—wines like Brash Higgins Amphora Project Nero d’Avola from the McLaren Vale; Robert Oatley’s rose of sangiovese from Mudgee; Frankland Estate riesling; and a truly exceptional pinot noir from Moorooduc Estate.

I was introduced to the wines of Patrick Sullivan and his unbelievably fresh and thirst-quenching Jumpin’ Juice Sunset, a blend of skin-fermented sauvignon blanc (aka orange wine) and cabernet sauvignon. Wait … what?! Did I hear that right? Yup, and it is quite literally the color of a Sedona sunset, with flavors of crunchy red raspberries, tangy Mandarin oranges and pink lemonade; you almost forget this is a wine and not a glass of freshly squeezed something or other.

I also had the insane pleasure of tasting the Mac Forbes wines. This guy is a pioneer in the Yarra Valley and makes some of the most beautiful, elegant, silky and expressive pinot noirs and chardonnays I’ve ever tasted. The cool hills of the Yarra Valley are the perfect canvas for his grapes, and you really get a sense of place when you stick your nose in the glass. Mark my words: He will become known as one of the greatest winemakers in Australia.

The beauty of this diverse wine country is that the hidden gems aren't really hidden at all. Producers like Yalumba, Tyrrell’s, Henschke and Tahbilk have been producing wines of uncompromising quality, balance and elegance for more than 100 years. These are wineries that have stayed true to their roots, crafting wines that perhaps didn’t fit the fad 10 years ago, but continue to stand the test of time. Along with seven other wineries, these producers make up Australia’s First Families of Wine, a collaboration of generations of wine experience with people who are looking to change the negative narrative about this region and its blunders, and put the spotlight back where it belongs—on tradition, not trends.

If you’ve never had Tahbilk’s 1927 Vines Marsanne—from some of the oldest Marsanne plantings in the world—or Yalumbas’ stunning Roussanne or iconic cabernet-shiraz blend called The Caley, or Tyrrell’s Old Patch shiraz, coming from a single vineyard planted in 1867, one could argue you’ve haven’t really tasted Australian wine.

So while you’re sitting at home contemplating what to do with yourself now that everything is closed again, why not reintroduce yourself to Australia? Explore your local wine shop for an interesting bottle (or two) you’ve never had before. See what a decade of reinvention looks like.

It’s been a while, Australia. I’ve missed you. Thanks for answering the call.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

July is the month when we celebrate our independence—the time of year when we come together in sweltering heat to grill up hot dogs and wait patiently for the sky to illuminate with a dazzling display of color.

But not this year. Not this July.

Instead, most of us will be celebrating our freedom by staying home. Seems ironic.

Because this is the month when we look back at how this nation was founded, I thought we could celebrate the grape that is uniquely all-American, and the region where our winemaking roots (pardon the pun) were first established.

If I were to ask you what the most historically significant wine region in California was, you probably wouldn’t think of little old Lodi. Lodi wine country has this “red-headed stepchild,” undesirable-neighborhood reputation. I get it. The Central Valley of California does not exactly conjure up images of a bucolic, vine-terraced countryside. Anyone who’s driven up Interstate 5 can tell you that the areas surrounding Fresno and Modesto don’t inspire dreams of a wine-soaked holiday—but Lodi is an underestimated and overlooked gem.

This region offers its visitors an unpretentious, rustic charm with a unique chance to taste history—an opportunity to see what vines look like that are 160 years old, and to step on soil that was resistant to an insect that destroyed vines everywhere else on Earth. These are vines that are gnarled with fragile, twisted trunks, and fruit that is healthy and vibrant.

Taking the time to learn about Lodi, how it was created, what challenges it faced and how the farmers and families learned to overcome them makes this place all the more endearing.

This is a region that was destined to be agricultural. Grapes that were planted there in the 1800s were all but forgotten about, yet the area would become one of the most historically significant and culturally important wine regions, not only in all of California—but in all of the United States, and even the world.

In a little area called Mokelumne, a Miwok word loosely translated to mean “people of the river,” lies the Bechthold Vineyard. Planted in 1886, these 25 acres of gnarled, head-trained vines make up the oldest, continuously farmed vineyard in Lodi. These vines produce Cinsault grapes, and this little vineyard, planted 134 years ago, ungrafted on its original rootstock, is not only still producing fruit—but the vines are healthy and thriving. What’s more, this might be the oldest Cinsault vineyard in the world.

Let that sink in. Cinsault is a French varietal that has been grown in the southern Rhone for centuries, but the oldest producing vineyard might be right here in Lodi. Whoa.

Lodi can boast that it has more than 120 varietals planted in its sandy soils—grapes like Aglianico, Tanat, Nebbiolo, Vermentino and Picpoul—on vines planted by intrepid immigrants nearly two centuries ago. Germans and Italians who ventured into the Wild West in the hopes of discovering gold soon realized their future would rely on their skills as farmers and viticulturists. But of all the grapes planted and cared for in this vast expanse of farmland, one reigns supreme: zinfandel.

Lodi zinfandel is unapologetically hedonistic. Rich, concentrated and high in alcohol, these wines tend to have polarizing opinions surrounding them. Many sommeliers scoff at the over-the-top flavor profiles, while lovers of the bold California style can’t get enough. One thing is for certain: Whether you love or hate these Zinfandels, they are a fascinating piece of our wine history.

Zinfandel has been proven through DNA testing to be a Croatian grape called Crljenak Kastelanski. Now how in the world did a Croatian grape that no one has ever heard of make its way to California in the 1800s?! No one knows for sure, but the speculation is that it traveled from Croatia to Austria, where it was called Zierfandler. Once it arrived in Boston, like so many European names that were misspelled and mispronounced, Zierfandler became Zinfandel.

This little grape flourished in the Central Valley, and even during Prohibition, it was the grape of choice for the home winemakers. Fun fact: There was a loophole in the Volstead Act where families could produce 200 gallons per year of fruit juice. Soon, wineries in Lodi and the surrounding areas were selling bricks of concentrated Zinfandel with a warning on the top: “Caution! The addition of sugar and a gallon of water, left in a cool cupboard for 21 days, will result in alcohol.” But you didn’t hear that from me.

Fast-forward 100 years, it’s amazing that these old-vine Zinfandels still exist. While some wineries survived Prohibition, many did not. The threat of phylloxera was avoided due to the sandy soils in which the insect cannot proliferate. They also survived World Wars, the Great Depression and a bulk-wine industry that left many thinking of Lodi as nothing more than a place that makes cheap swill.

Old-vine Zinfandels were on the verge of being ripped out in favor of orchards or other cash crops when something miraculous happened: white Zin. That’s right … that sweet, pink, cheap wine saved the future of Zinfandel. When Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home tried to make a white version of Zinfandel, the fermentation got “stuck.” The result was a wine where there was still sugar present, and the skins had imparted a pale-pink hue to the juice. He made the decision to bottle and sell it anyway—and if you were born any time before 1980, you know that everyone, and I mean everyone, was drinking the stuff. Just like that, Zinfandel was in demand again. It wasn’t long before world-class Zinfandels were being made from these once-forgotten about vineyards.

Now, winemakers are experimenting with lighter, fresher styles that are lower in alcohol and downright refreshing. But the dark, brooding Zins with a silky texture and a powerful profile are still the style du jour.

So this month, I encourage you to take some time to do your own exploring of a region and a grape that defines what this country is all about—perseverance, dedication and a sense of adventure. Something surviving against all odds and coming out better for it.

The next time wine country calls, and you hit the open road, maybe you’ll stay on the 5.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

I have kids, so I therefore watch a lot of Disney movies. In the movie WALL-E, the Earth has been destroyed by pollution, so all the humans have been put on a spaceship and blasted out to a far-away galaxy. They all sit in their own private floating chairs, watching their personal little TVs, eating and drinking to their heart's content. They are, for the most part, completely unaware of the people around them. On a side note, they also become tragically obese and barely able to walk.

Geez, Disney.

When I’m curled up on the couch and watching movies like this with my kids, I have these moments when I think everything is OK. I’m busy at work. People come into the wine shop, and I pour them a little something I have open. I get to chat with wine-sales reps and interact with customers and my co-worker. Aside from the whole mask-wearing thing, it feels a lot like business as usual. And for that, I’m eternally grateful.

Then I have moments of sheer panic. I begin to think about WALL-E and our society, and how we are disconnecting from each other. I think about social gatherings—and more specifically, my wine tastings—becoming plagued with trepidation and fear. “Did he just cough?” “She sneezed near my wine!” Check, please!

Luckily, for now, we have found a new way to look at one another while we sip our wine du jour—and that webcam is giving us some solace. It’s a convenient and simple way to feel like we’re engaged, and makes the distance between us a little more palatable.

But for me, the Zoom wine parties, while an acceptable substitute for now, will never compensate for actual human interaction. I crave the energy at wine events that people give off when they are looking you in the eye and telling you a story. I love eavesdropping on the side conversations that break out when people who just met are making a connection—a connection that was formed through a mutual appreciation of wine (or whatever!) and a desire to be surrounded by other warm and friendly strangers.

I’ve seen the most beautiful friendships form at the wine bar during our weekly tastings—between people who may never have crossed paths had it not been for these little social events during the week. It is so important to me that these bonds not be broken that I began our own Zoom wine get-togethers. Much to my surprise, they are a blast! It’s undeniably fun to play with technology in a new way and create conversations through an unexpected medium. Even with all the kinks and quirks, we manage to make it work.

Imagine if I told you three months ago that the only way you would be able to have a glass of wine with friends soon would be through the computer. You might have politely laughed, or worse, assumed I’d gone off the deep end and sent me directly to Betty Ford. But here we are, clamoring for socialization to the point that staring into a little black dot is giving us just enough hope to carry on. But I’m not gonna lie—sometimes, it makes me sad.

Is this going to be the new normal? Is this the point where we throw our hands up and say, “Oh, well, I’ll just pour myself a glass of wine, get in my jammies and FaceTime with my BFF. I mean, who wants to get all dressed up and go out when I can sit on my couch and not waste gas or risk getting a DUI?”

I would like to think I’m being overly hyperbolic, but when I think back—well before this isolation occurred—I clearly remember that you could walk into any restaurant, and somewhere, seated at a table, were two people. These two people consciously made an effort to get dressed, get in their cars, and drive to a public place in order to physically spend time with one another. And those same two people were spending the entire time together looking at their phones, barely speaking to each other—no pandemic needed.

It seems we had already begun our path to social distancing.

It’s a little-known fun fact that the reason we clink glasses before we take a sip is so we can involve every one of our senses during the tasting experience: The clink happens so we can also engage our ears. This concept got me thinking about drinking wine socially with another person versus drinking by yourself. Isn’t there an old adage that warns of the dangers of drinking alone? I wonder if the danger is the potential for the drink to mean more than the company, or maybe the concern was that without others present, it was no longer a social experience, but a necessary outlet. Is Zoom giving us permission to drink alone? Was there an underlying motive to clink our glasses so we were sure to be in the company of others when we were drinking?

This is not to say I think Zoom or FaceTime will replace real-life human interaction. It won’t. And for that, I’m also grateful. But I don’t want complacency. I don’t want people to choose comfort over connection. I don’t want this situation to change our mindset where we focus more on disconnecting and separating than we do on embracing friends and community. I don’t want to become a society where instead of it being just one table with two people cut off from conscious interaction, it’s the whole damn place.

At the end of WALL-E, two chairs accidentally bump into each other, causing the occupants to break their trance and actually notice one another. Incidentally, they also fall on the floor and roll around like barrels, unable to get up. In spite of that, it’s actually a pretty touching moment. They realize they’ve wasted all this time, so close and yet so far apart.

When all this is over, please choose togetherness. Please choose joy and human connection. Choose glass-clinking, good food and wine, and laughter, and conversations that don’t require buffering or Wi-Fi.

Be well, and I’ll see you soon.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Here we are, still at home—eating and drinking away another day in the confines of our own kitchen. And while you’re sitting at home wondering what to make for your third lunch or second pre-meal dinner, may I suggest you harness your boredom by turning your kitchen table into a personal food-and-wine experience?

I mean, why not? What else are you doing today?

I keep hearing people talk about their well-intended goals for this time of quarantine. Meanwhile, I’m over here, like, what wine can I pair with my P.F. Chang’s lettuce cups that will blow my mind? (By the way, the answer is the Union Sacre Belle de Nuit dry gewürztraminer. Ahhh … sublime.)

So if you love the idea of food-and-wine pairings, but you’re not sure about all the “rules” and/or don’t know where to start, here is my take on how to have your own food-and-wine pairing adventure.

I should start off by saying that any “rule” regarding what you should or shouldn’t pair with certain foods can almost always be debunked. Anyone who claims you can’t have a red wine with fish has clearly never experienced a light and bright Italian schiava with an herb-roasted branzino with tomatoes, olives and potatoes. Or if someone tells you that you can’t have a white wine with a steak, pop a bottle of Blanc de Noir Champagne, and gleefully down it with a tender filet mignon. Then tell them they can’t have any.

The point is: Some of the best food-and-wine pairings come in the most unexpected ways. My favorite pairing—the one I request for my birthday every year—is a bucket of fried, greasy chicken paired with a bottle of Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Champagne. If you have never experienced the bliss associated with bubbles and fried food, you truly have not lived.

A lot of people avoid attempting to pair their dinner with an “appropriate” wine, because the idea of food-and-wine pairings seems overwhelming and complicated. There are countless books written about how to create the perfect pairing—how to bridge ingredients to match your food with your wine’s flavor profile. That’s a lot of pressure. I admit I’ve been part of the problem: At times, when a customer has come into the shop and told me they are having XYZfor dinner, and asked what I recommend, I’ve tried to explain a wine’s effect on salt, spice, fats and acid. Once I realize I’ve gone too far, I remind myself: “Down, girl. This isn’t a chemistry class. They just want to know what’s gonna taste good with their meal.”

Rest assured: There is no such thing as a “perfect pairing.” There is no one ideal wine for one specific dish. Just as there are countless ways to tweak a recipe, there are countless grapes from every country in the world, in various incarnations, that can and should be explored with a meal.

Now, that being said, here are a few tips to help you on your journey to food-and-wine matchmaking.

When I talk to people about the flavors and aromas they detect in a specific wine, the adjectives are all over the place. This should make sense, because wine is subjective, right? You’re going to taste what your brain tells you to. So, instead of trying to pair food and wine based on flavors, it’s much easier and, frankly, much more practical to pair a wine to a dish based on weight, texture and volume. Think of it like this: Much of the protein or meat’s power comes from what it’s served with, the sauce that’s covering it and the way it is cooked. I wouldn’t pair a New York strip covered in melted blue cheese with the same wine as a filet mignon topped with asparagus, crab meat and béarnaise sauce. A wine wouldn’t pair equally with chicken parmigiana and kung pao chicken.

If you take anything away from this, it should be that the protein is relatively unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Instead, look at how loud the dish is. Think about how heavy or rich the food is. Capellini pomodoro would be considered a light and quiet dish that calls for a light and quiet wine—like a pinot grigio from Northern Italy. A good example of a quiet but heavy dish would be butter-poached scallops with mashed potatoes. A comparable heavy but quiet wine would be an unoaked chardonnay. Heavy and loud? Let’s go back to that steak with blue cheese. That’s about as heavy and loud as it gets, and a great match is an equally heavy and loud wine like a California cabernet, an Argentinian malbec or a tannat from Uruguay.

Also, there is an old adage that’s pretty hard to beat: If it grows together, it goes together. For example, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better wine match for pasta covered in a San Marzano tomato sauce than a Sangiovese-based wine from Tuscany. If you’re feeling your inner Julia Child and cooking up a French cassoulet, it almost begs for a syrah from the Northern Rhone. And I can’t imagine firing up a pan of aromatic paella without having a layered and fragrant bottle of albarino from the Rias Baixas in Spain. Sticking to tried-and-true classic pairings is such a fun way to explore a country, its cuisine and its wines—from your own dining room table.

Of course, there are going to be tricky dishes, perhaps from regions and countries that don’t have a wine culture where you can pair the indigenous grape to the local cuisine. There will be dishes that are somehow light and loud and heavy and quiet all at the same time. I am, of course, speaking about Asian food. At some point, you’ll find yourself knee-deep in a Thai recipe—all 84 ingredients prepped, diced, plucked, marinated, shaved, julienned and minced—and you’ll ask yourself, “What wine do I open with this?” Here’s my short answer: Riesling. Try that gewürztraminer. You also won’t go wrong with a beer.

And remember: If all else fails, just drink Champagne.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The sun is shining. The weather is getting warm. The patio furniture has been brought out of hibernation. For wine lovers, this means one thing … rosé season has arrived.

As I began to write this piece, I was all set to recommend my favorite pink beauties and perhaps touch on the strange new mindset in which some people refuse to drink rosé that’s more than a year old. But … instead of celebrating the arrival of the newest, freshest wines, and the arrival of springtime in the valley—with all the amazing events, and parties, and social gatherings—life has been put on hold. We are being told to isolate ourselves while COVID-19 takes its toll on society.

Writing about wine in light of everything that is going on seems, well, trite.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the notion of keeping calm and carrying on might be exactly the thing to do. After all, I’m no expert on the coronavirus or economics, so writing about how all of this will affect the wine industry, or our health, is way out of my area of expertise.

What I do know is wine. And I know that even though, right now, things are uncertain, we can’t stop living life (even if we’re living it at home), and we should not stop doing the things we can to that bring us joy. And drinking rosé brings me great joy. So, in the spirit of moving forward, let’s talk about pink wine, shall we?

It wasn’t all that long ago that the sight of someone drinking a glass of something pink meant that they were wine novices, and their blushing beverage had to be sweet, cheap, white zinfandel. Fast-forward a decade or so, and there is such a glut of bone-dry rosé on the market that you’d be hard pressed to find anything even remotely resembling the Boone’s Farm or Sutter Home of days gone by.

But even with this increase in popularity of rosé and dry pink wine, I’m still amazed at the amount of confusion and the misconceptions regarding just what this wine is.

If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many different hues and varying shades of pink—from pale salmon to deep magenta—it will help to understand just how rosé is made.

In the simplest possible explanation, rosé is created with any red-wine grape that ferments on the skins for a very short period of time. It’s the skins of the grapes that provide the color in a wine, so the darkness and thickness of the grape’s skin, and the length of time you leave the skins in with the fermenting juice, will dictate how pigmented the final product is. Even white zinfandel is really just red zinfandel—the big, hearty wine you know and love—that was taken off the skins early.

Like all things that become popular, everyone in the wine industry was eager to jump on the pink bandwagon and get a piece of the pie. So, with every region on the globe, and every red grape imaginable, offering a pink counterpart, how do you choose?

For me, I always love going directly to the source. In France, specifically the southern Mediterranean region, these wines were created around the sixth century. Called vins de soif or “wines to quench thirst,” these wines were always meant to be deliciously drinkable and, at the same time, sophisticated and every bit as serious as the other wines created across the rest of France.

The two names synonymous with exceptional Provencal rosé are Domaine Tempier and Domaine du Gros’ Noré. These are the crème de la crème of French rosé and worth every penny: If you want to experience the most sophisticated incarnations of pink wine, look no further. Of course, names like Domaines Ott and Chateau Miraval are well-known and elegant wines in their own right, if not a little over-exposed.

If drinking esoteric wines is your thing, then you and I probably already know each other and drink wine on the reg. But if, by chance, we haven’t met, I’ll share with you my favorite rosé’s that are off the beaten path.

The Massaya rosé of cinsault from the Bekaa Valley, Lebanon, is a truly special wine. It’s owned and operated by Lebanese brothers who returned to their homeland after the civil war and revitalized their family’s winery, which had been ravaged by the war. They partnered with three of the greatest French houses—Cheval Blanc, Vieux Telegraphe and Chateau Angélus—and create stunning wines. The rosé has beautiful flavors of sour cherry, fresh strawberries and cracked pepper.

The wines of Corsica are also making a big splash, and Clos Alivu is presenting itself as one of the best producers on the island. They create a rosé from the region of Patrimonio using an indigenous grape called nielluccio. Turns out nielluccio is what the Corsicans call sangiovese, so perhaps it’s not that strange after all. With flavors of sweet cranberry, honeydew melon and raspberries, you’ll wonder why you’ve never heard of it!

California remains a source of beautiful rosé, but finding a style that fits a specific palate can be a little more challenging. The rosés made from pinot noir coming from the cool Sonoma Coast appellation are crisp and vibrant. I adore the Jax Vineyards Y3 rosé, with its low alcohol, bright acidity and layers of fresh strawberries, rosé petals and watermelon.

The Bedrock “Ode to Lulu” rosé is a blend from historic plantings of mourvedre, grenache and carignan, from heritage vineyards all across California. Peaches, cantaloupes, fresh herbs and a touch of salinity make this rosé incredibly thought-provoking and unique.

Maybe this time of solitude can be used to learn more about ourselves. Maybe we’ll connect with our families, or maybe we’ll finally fix that broken drawer, or leaky faucet. Maybe we can sip wine from far-off places and imagine ourselves in a beautiful wine landscape. However you choose to use your time, please always try to fill it with joy.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

You should drink whatever wine you like!

All that matters is what you like!

The most important part of drinking wine is that you enjoy it!

There isn’t a wine professional alive who hasn’t uttered these words to a consumer. And all of these statements, to an extent, are lies.

On one hand, we tell people that the only thing that matters is whether or not they personally like the wine—and they should never feel embarrassed or question their choices. That’s a good rule to live by, no matter the topic. On the other hand, while we are assuaging people’s wine fears, we are also dumbing down wine, and stripping away the very things that make us love wine in the first place—all the elements that a single vineyard, from a single year, from a particular type of fruit, influenced by specific weather patterns, and tended to by loving stewards of the land, can so articulately express in such a small form.

So … why do we wine professionals tell people these things? Is it so we’re not the wine bad guy? Is it because we’re just grateful people have put down their Cosmopolitan martinis and are drinking wine, no matter what it is?

What’s equally as problematic is the underlying suggestion that wine professionals would rather have people drink what they know they like, as opposed to trying something new. I mean, heaven forbid someone tries something and doesn’t like it! That would go against all that matters!

Yes, of course I want people to drink what they like. I don’t think there’s a sommelier or “wine expert” who wants to deny people the innate joy of drinking their favorite bottle of wine. After all, wine’s very existence is rooted in pleasure, and it’s meant to enhance life. This is part of what makes wine so wonderful. I will also contend that enjoying a glass of wine shouldn’t always require a scholarly effort in order to understand what’s in the glass. Sometimes, a wine's greatest gift can be the sheer gulp-ability of it. But it’s important not to confuse a pleasurable wine with a quality wine, or conflate the notion that our own perception of the wine is the only one that matters.

When I was studying for my advanced sommelier exam, I had the privilege of tasting with a master. As I began to analyze the first wine—swirling, sniffing and tasting—he asked me to tell him about it. I proceeded to say, “I like it.”

That’s when the flogging began. He looked me dead in the eye and said: “Katie, I don’t give a (expletive) what YOU think about this wine. Your opinion of it doesn’t matter. I asked you to tell me about it. Identify its qualities. Is it balanced? Concentrated? Seamless across your palate? Does it have a sense of place, and does it show typicity?” These were the important factors in determining the wine’s quality: Regardless of personal preference, these are the universal elements that designate a wine’s caliber. I wasn’t tasting the wine for my own pleasure; I was looking for its place among all the other wines. It was my job to look for and identify what the average wine consumer can’t see.

Once I learned to take myself out of the equation, I was able to be an advocate for wine-lovers to discover new gems they didn’t know existed—wines of great quality and value. I would be able to help change preconceived notions that just because one wine tastes a certain way, that does not mean all wine tastes that way.

I recently offended someone by writing in a newsletter that I gained immense satisfaction and joy from introducing someone to a wine that surprised them—something this person unexpectedly enjoyed when the person previously thought it was a grape or region for which he or she didn’t care. I couldn’t understand how this could possibly be offensive, and the look on my face prompted my victim to further explain his outrage. He proceeded to tell me that he should be able to drink whatever he likes without some “wine know-it-all” trying to change his mind.

Yes, I whole-heartedly agree. Just like I would never try to convince a Pepsi drinker to switch to Coke, or explain to a skeptic that the Grand Canyon is more than just a big hole in the ground, I would never want to make wine overly important to someone who merely sees it as an alcoholic beverage.

When it comes to simply selecting a wine du jour, there are plenty from which to choose. Every grocery store and big-box wine retailer is stocked floor to ceiling with wines that are crafted and manipulated to be void of regionality and varietal correctness. Most wine today is made in a homogeneous style, meant to be crowd-pleasing, without any discernible features or identifiable traits: These wines are often ripe, luscious and drinkable, with ample alcohol and just enough sugar to be detectable without being “too sweet.” These are the wine equivalents of Stepford wives. No pontificating or analyzing required—it’s just a pleasant, nondescript glass of wine.

I’ll end with this: I’m not here to judge you or your wine preferences. I never want to offend anyone. It’s not anyone’s job to use wine as a weapon to bludgeon someone for choices or for some sort of perceived inferior wine knowledge. But I’m also not here to tell you what you want to hear. I will never tell you that just because you love a big Napa cabernet, it will make a fine pairing with that hamachi hand roll. I will never tell you to only drink what you know you like.

I am here to make wine more enjoyable for those who care to know. I believe that learning the history and story of where the wine comes from can lead to a more-satisfying experience. I believe that we should constantly be tasting new and different wines—and that by doing that, we can discover more about what we like and don’t like.

It’s my job to show you there’s a whole world of wine out there. You just have to want to see it.

Katie Finn is a certified sommelier and certified specialist of wine with two decades in the wine industry. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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