Five Wine Tasting Terms You Need to Know

woman tasting

Let’s talk about how we talk about wine.

No, not the outlandish, flowery stuff of wine reviews, a category so obviously absurd that it’s given rise to more than a few mocking and hilarious tasting-note generators (here, here and here, for example).

What we want to focus on, instead, is terminology that gets used frequently and legitimately but that might not be precisely understood by non-wine pros or geeks. These are terms you could encounter in reading about wine, or when talking to a sommelier or a wine merchant. Knowing how they’re used and how to use them can help ensure that you end up with wines that meet your preferences. For instance, there’s….

Acidity – Acids are a natural component of fruit that differ in level depending on the grape variety, but that generally diminish as ripening proceeds. Winemakers carefully monitor acid levels when deciding when to harvest their grapes. Acidity lends a tart, zesty element to wine, ensuring the wine doesn’t become flabby and helping keep it in balance.

Balance – This is the holy grail of winemaking, signifying a wine whose components fit together into a harmonious, seamless whole. Think of balance like a dish that you love for its spectrum of sensory delights, and yet you struggle to pick out any particular herb or spice. It all comes together. Balanced wines are ones that have the right combination of flavor and structure.

Structure – Structure is a bit of a buzzword in wine, but it’s a pretty good one. It’s contrasted with the flavors of a wine, and more about what a wine feels like in your mouth, how the various tactile components of wine mesh to present the wine’s flavors. So acidity is a factor, as is alcohol level. And a really big factor is tannin.

Tannin – Another natural component of grapes, like acidity, and sometimes confused with acidity. But there are key differences. First, tannin is largely absent in white wines, in part because their skins and seeds naturally contain less tannin, and because white wines are rarely fermented with their skins and seeds. Whereas acidity brings brightness, or tartness, tannin brings astringency, or grip. Done right, tannin can be a pleasing counterpoint to lush, ripe fruit. Overdone, tannin can leave a wine feeling excessively dry. And speaking of dry….

Dry/sweet – OK, this is two terms, but because they play so closely off each other, we’re lumping them together. Technically, dry and sweet refer to how much residual sugar is in a wine after fermentation, the process that transforms natural sugars into alcohol (and carbon dioxide). But here’s the thing: How dry or sweet a wine tastes is as much dependent on other factors – like acidity and alcohol and tannin – as it is on residual sugar. A red wine with virtually no residual sugar made from very ripe fruit with low acidity, little tannin and high alcohol very well could strike you as sweeter than a German Riesling that balances its residual sugar with piercing acidity. So better to describe the kind of wine you’re seeking, than to rely on the simple dry/sweet dichotomy.

Renegrade Craft Fair Vendors Who Made Us Swoon

rcf chicago

Wow! We had an amazing time at the Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago last weekend. Everywhere we looked we found artists, designers, crafts people and plenty of visitors who shared our passion for bringing beauty into their lives.

As we look back at Chicago – and look forward to seeing what’s in store when we join the Craft Fair at its stop in Brooklyn this coming weekend – we’re reminded of what our designer, Mark Eisen, said about his inspiration for the protea bottles: “I wanted to help create something beautiful. I loved the concept of making the bottle more of an object of beauty.”


In Chicago, the work of 3-Switch, with their glassware, decanters and serving trays, was near and dear to our wine-loving hearts. And as you can see in their Instagram picture above, they got a lot of attention. We’d never seen anything like their Revolving Wine Glasses before. Check ‘em out:

wine with base and  box

Makes swirling easier than ever!

Another favorite was Yao Cheng Design, whose booth is shown below in a picture she shared on Instagram. Yao Cheng is a young Columbus, Ohio, artist who, as you can see, creates lovely painted tea towels, pillows and other home goods that would be great for parties or as hostess gifts. And here’s some good news: Like us, she’ll be in Brooklyn this weekend, too, as will Betsy Olmsted, who also favors water color with much of her work, and whose “wares are produced as sustainably as possible by sourcing, sewing, and printing domestically, using minimal waste inkjet technologies and non-toxic pigments and dyes.”

yao cheng chicago

Another vendor who caught our eye was Late Sunday Afternoon, who take sustainability in a direction we’ve grown familiar with – upcycling. Late Sunday Afternoon uses 100 percent upcycled fabrics to make scarves, kerchiefs, bandanas and more. They’ll be in Brooklyn.

paz sintes

Oh – and we can’t forget Paz Sintes, who makes extraordinary textile jewelry, like the Italian retro guipures shown above. As one of our team members commented, “I thought some of their stuff looked like protea designs in jewelry form!” Look for Paz in RCP Brooklyn as well – and be sure to stop by the protea gazebo to say hi and try our wines!

Protea Red Featured in Apartment Therapy’s ‘Kitchn’


The season is turning, and sommelier Jayme Henderson, writing on Apartment Therapy’s “the kitchn” website, is advising readers to “Stock Up Now for Fall Drinking With These 10 Wines Under $20″ — including the protea Red.

Henderson, a Denver-based Sommelier, says her picks are “delicious, yet budget-friendly wines that pair perfectly with the season’s transitional weather and savory fare.” Here’s her note on the protea Red:

Protea Red, Cabernet Sauvignon Blend, Western Cape, S. Africa, 2012, $18 - Another wine from South Africa rightfully made this list. This savory wine delivers a smooth, lush, rich finish, supported by notes of coffee, black pepper, and ripe blackberry. I paired it this past Sunday with Weekend Pot Roast.

You can see Henderson’s entire article here on the kitchn.

Have Gazebo, Will Pour

We loved Renegade Craft Fair’s Chicago Mini Market so much back in June, we’re going back for the big show, the 12th Annual September Market this weekend in Chicago – and we’ll be there in style.

Thanks to Green Mountain Gazebo, a small family business out of Vermont, we’ve got an awesome new platform to share the protea story and our wines. Check it out:

protea gazebo

We’ll have protea samples at our booth, and full pours will be available at the RCF bars. With something like 65,000 visitors expected to attend the fair, held along six blocks of Division Street in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood, we know this will be a first exposure to protea for a lot of people. So how about a brief introduction to our two wines?

protea Chenin Blanc
Chenin Blanc, planted most extensively in France Loire Valley as well as in South Africa, is a grape variety noted for the wide range of styles of wines that come from it. The great wine writer Jancis Robinson calls it “a chameleon of a white grape.”

In the Loire, the colder climate leads to powerful acidity, and the wines can be bracing and bone dry – but some winemaker’s reach for a richer style, and there are Chenin Blanc wines made everywhere from a little sweet to very sweet. Sparkling wines are common as well.

Protea winemaker Dawie Botha says that for the protea White, nature wins out over nurture. That’s because he sources Chenin Blanc from what in South Africa are known as “bush wines,” With no wires to neatly array the shoots, leaves and fruit, bush vines do their own thing, kind of flopping about, and in the process self-limit their output. The result, Botha says, is “fruit that is more concentrated, bigger with personality.” Botha says it’s these qualities that endow the protea White with the depth and lovely aromatics that go along with crisp refreshment.

For food pairings, we like a Thai green chicken curry that’s not too hot – Bon Appétit has a wonderful and simple version here. Alton Brown’s Seared Scallops also work. And with all that late-summer zucchini in the garden, you might want to follow a suggestion for Chenin Blanc offered up by Lauren Buzzeo of the Wine Enthusiast: Zucchini Soufflé with Baked Goat Cheese and Pancetta Cream.

protea Red
There’s something about Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot –  the two just seem to be meant for each other. You get the intensity and depth of Cabernet Sauvignon, complemented by the bright and supple Merlot.

For the protea Red, the precise blend (if you’re into such geekiness) is 53 percent Cab, 47 percent Merlot. Each variety is fermented separately and aged in concrete vats for 18 months before bottling. The result is a wine that’s plenty big and rich but with a juicy quality that makes it more versatile.

So, yes, you can pair the protea Red with a grilled steak, but it could also go well with roasted chicken. And as we wrote last year, the protea Red is remarkably vegetarian friendly, pairing nicely with dishes such as Red Wine Risotto with Roasted PumpkinEggplant Ricottta Bake or Vegan Crockpot Chili.

See you at the fair!

Everything You Need for the Perfect Labor Day Party

One thing we’ve always liked about Labor Day is that we don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying it purely as a day off. What better way to pay tribute to the hard work we all put in, day in and day out, than to enjoy a little rest and relaxation?

Still, there’s often a feeling of melancholy attached to Labor Day. After all, it’s the end of summer. Even if you didn’t spend much or even any of the past three months beachside lazily working your way through a pile of novels, or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, or in the bleachers at Wrigley or Fenway – or whatever exquisite vision of summer resides in your imagination – Labor Day can presage a return to a reality that’s a little less bright and hopeful.

All the more reason, we say, to pack your Labor Day with as much summer as possible – summer food, summer drink, summer fun. Call it a Farewell to Summer Party, a last sunshiny fling that will not only end the season on a high note, but inspire you to welcome fall and its abundant charms.

First, you need a great festive look. We’ve got that covered with a ton of cool decorating ideas on our Pinterest Page, but one easy way to give your table a colorful spark is by turning empty protea bottles into vases (it’s the simplest upcycling idea) for your centerpiece, like this:


What’s on the menu? We’ve scouted out some great recipes from around the Internet:

Guacamole hummus from Martha Stewart
Summer corn chowder from Food52
Barbecued spiced shrimp and tomato salad from Food & Wine
Summer fruit with wine and mint from Giada De Laurentiis
Blueberry cobbler from Real Simple

There’s one more recipe we love for the Farewell to Summer Party – shish kabobs that your guests can then assemble according to their own taste. The building blocks include vegetables galore, as well as three proteins: citrus-tarragon chicken and lemon-garlic shrimp, each of which would pair nicely with the protea Chenin Blanc; and a Dijon-rosemary steak to go with the protea Red.

Meanwhile, it wouldn’t be summer without play, so be sure to have the badminton, bocce or croquet going – and if your party is thick with kids, check out these party ideas for keeping them busy and smiling.

Have fun!