Michael Bray

Wine Columnist Michael Bray

Wine Columnist Michael Bray

Hello friends and community! I’ve missed you and I hope this finds you well. For those of you just tuning in, you can reach me at, Michael@passionvines.com or text me direct at 609-248-6065. I welcome you to contact me with any wine-related questions and I will use this monthly column to answer them.

Q: Karen from Margate asks, “How has COVID impacted wine country, namely California?”

A: According to the Wine Business Institute at Sonoma State University, the California wine industry is slated to lose $4.22 billion in revenue due to COVID-19. Nationwide, the wine industry is expected to take a $5.9 billion hit, just to put into perspective the significance of wine in California versus the other 49 states. With restaurants and tasting rooms being key pieces of the California hospitality business, restrictions have led to prolonged closures of these facilities or significantly reduced capacity, so fewer people means fewer dollars. Overall, the larger wineries (think Rombauer and Frank Family Vineyards) can stay afloat, thanks to major presence in retail shops and grocery stores. However, the small-to-midsize wineries that rely on restaurant wine list placements are having the toughest time due to the unpredictability of COVID-19 and its restrictions. The best way to help the small producers? Pick up a bottle of their wine! See your local retailer for recommendations.

Q: Tom from Ocean City asks, “I’m trying to drink wines that are lower in alcohol. What do you suggest?”

A: When it comes to finding lower alcohol wines, easy categories to gravitate to are un-oaked white wines that should be consumed within 1-2 years of bottling. Riesling, especially from Germany and New York, rarely goes over the 12% abv mark. Even better, it’s incredibly food-versatile, but it is also very refreshing on its own on a warm mid-summer day. Have a sweet tooth? Moscato is a fine choice, especially the fizzy Moscato d’Asti of Piedmont, Italy, which typically clocks in at 7-9% abv. Like the fizz without the sweetness? Vinho Verde wines of Portugal are typically around 10% abv. Fully sparkling wines, such as Prosecco, Cava, and Champagne, all require grapes with lower potential alcohol (since high acidity is crucial to quality sparkling wines), so most examples will not be produced with more than 12% abv. Red wine fans can look to Pinot Noir from Germany or Alsace, or you can venture to Austria for their fruity, homegrown reds made from Zweigelt grapes which still keep alcohol levels around 12% abv.

Q: Allison S. from Brigantine asks, “I see more wine in a can, do you recommend any?”

A: Canned wines continue to gain more steam since you can enjoy single servings without opening a full bottle; cans offer portability with streamlined packaging. Canned wines also show best when the juice inside is an un-oaked, fresh white, rosé, or even fruity red wines like Pinot Noir or Zinfandel. If you are looking for a recommendation, look no further than Sans Wine Company. The company’s mission is to source organically farmed grapes from partner growers to make great-tasting wines. Try Sans Sauvignon Blanc, a ripe and fruity Lake County, Ca. expression that is definitely not the Old World aggressively acidic style, but still retains persistent aromas and a zestiness on the palate. The Sans Rosé is a blend of Old Vine Carignan and Petite Sirah, two chewy, highly-structured red wine grapes that make for a bold and fruity Rosé. Every type of melon and red berry you can think of is present in this wine, all balanced by bracing acidity.

Q: Michael P. from Somers Point asks, “We’re getting takeout from Pork Island BBQ in Ocean City. What wine would you pair with pulled pork sandwiches and ribs?”

A: Making smoky barbecued pork certainly requires plenty of sweat, coals, wood, and time. In the end, you have a rich, luxurious platter of ribs or pulled pork that will make anyone jealous. If those ribs have some barbecue sauce brushed onto them, consider a bold, plush red wine such as Old Vine Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, or even a blend of the two. Additionally, a Shiraz from Australia is power-packed with dark fruit and savory spice that will be an incredible match with ribs. As for a pulled pork sandwich, accouterments like coleslaw and vinegar are at work here so the aforementioned Zinfandel and Petite Sirah will actually overwhelm the sandwich. This is a great opportunity to go with a New World sparkling rosé or even the Italian favorite Lambrusco, as its frothiness helps you digest a loaded sandwich, but provides a foil for the pork and a complement to the condiments.

Lastly, as always, we finish with me asking YOU a question. Email me the answer, and I’ll reply with a prize.

Q: How long after planting is a grapevine ready to produce wine?

a. Immediately

b. 3-5 years

c. 7-10 years

d. 11-15 years

You keep asking, and I’ll keep writing…

Drink Passionately,