“Is it sweet?”

This is something I get asked at least once a day. Some people are looking for sweeter wines while others are trying to avoid them. Sweetness in wines seems be something about which everyone has an opinion, but few people know exactly how to express their views.

To understand sweetness in wines, you’ll need to understand the term residual sugar (RS). RS is the amount of sugar that is left over after the fermentation process. You’ll remember that fermentation is simply the process by which yeast convert sugar into alcohol. Based on the wine and the winemaker’s desired style of wine, fermentation can either end naturally, when the yeasts have converted all of the sugar to alcohol, or stop the process early to preserve a small amount of sugar in the wine.

Talking about the amount of sugar in a wine can be difficult, in part, due to the complex wine terms that describe sweetness in wines. You can use the following terms to see the differences in wine sweetness levels.

BONE DRY: 0 grams per liter of sugar (g/L). There is no sugar at all in these wines.

DRY: 1 – 9 g/L of sugar Almost all red wines and most white wines. For most people, under 9 g/L is so low that the human tongue can’t taste the sugar.

OFF DRY: 10 – 18 g/L. This is where the sugar begins to be noticeable to the human tongue. Wines make in off dry styles include chenin blanc (often labeled as “sec”), some rieslings, and extra dry Champagne.

MEDIUM SWEET: 19 – 120 g/L. For an every-day comparison, a typical can of Coca Cola, contains about 110 g/L of sugar. This is the largest category of sweet wines, and it includes many rieslings, moscatos, and Champagnes that are labeled “demi sec” or “sec.” You’ll also find many wines made from torrontes and gewurztraminer in this category. Fortified wines, such as Madeira and Port are also in this category, though at the higher end of the spectrum.

VERY SWEET: More than 121 g/L. This is as sweet as it gets, and this category is dominated by four major wines: Rieslings, ice wines (sometimes called eiswein), the French dessert wine of Sauternes, and a Hungarian wine called Tokaji.  

Want to learn more about Shamrock Selections? Click here. 

Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.

2012 Barkan Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Galil, Israel

The Barkan Winery has been operating for over 100 years, making it one of the oldest continually operating wineries in Israel.  It was fully upgraded and modernized in the year 2000 and now farms over 2,400 acres throughout Israel from the hills surrounding Jerusalem to the mountains of Galilee. For their reserve cabernet sauvignon, the grapes are sourced from two vineyards in the Galilee region. This is the coldest region in Israel and that cool climate helps the grapes ripen more slowly and retain acidity, which is key to a balanced wine. Once the grapes are picked and fermented the wine is aged for 20 months in oak. The aroma is bright with note of ripe plums, cherries, and blackberries, along with a note of spice from the oak aging. The fruit persists on the pallet but is replaced by a distinct earthiness on the finish. The wine will improve with time in a decanter but is also delicious right after opening. As you would expect from cabernet sauvignon grilled meat is the best pairing, I think lamb chops would be lovely.

2011 Spann Vineyards Cabernet Franc Amador County, California

Amador County is located about 100 miles east of Napa Valley in the western foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. All of the vineyards are above 1,200 feet with some over 2,000 feet in elevation. This cabernet franc is treated to 27 months in 85% used and 15% new French oak barrels which allows the wine mellow and develop without picking up too much oak flavor. The result is a wine that is balanced with the classic cabernet franc note of green pepper along side a gorgeous ripe strawberry flavor. The time in oak has allowed the tannins to soften giving this wine a really pleasing texture. The wine is ready to drink right out of the bottle and it would benefit from a slight chill. I would recommend about 20-30 minute in the refrigerator just before serving. I think either chicken or pork with a cherry sauce would be an excellent pairing for the wine.

Want to learn more about Shamrock Selections? Click here. 

I’m always looking for a good book and, as I’m sure you can imagine, my reading often centers around the world of wine and spirits. Here are some of the alcohol-related books I love most! Check one out for yourself and let us know what you think!

The Wine Bible

Karen MacNeil

For many oenophiles, this is the book that started us down the path to our wine education. It’s an excellent introduction to, literally, the world of wine. Even for those who’ve read it before, it’s a constant source of wisdom. For anyone looking for a “catch all” reference book on wine, you really can’t ask for me than Karen MacNeil’s aptly named bible.

Napa: The Story of an American Eden

James Conaway

The book by renowned writer James Conaway gives a crash course in the history and politics of California’s Napa Valley. Through the stories of Napa’s wineries and the families who built them Conaway examine not only the rise of the American wine industry but also the political and familial drama that comes from ever expanding family businesses.

Judgement of Paris

George M. Taber

The Judgement of Paris was a blind wine tasting held in 1976 in which California wines were judged superior to those of France by a panel of French judges. This event sparked global interest in American wines and gave rise to the American wine industry as we now know it. Author George Taber takes us back to that fateful day examining who was there, what wines were poured, and the influence this single event had on the greater wine world.

Adventures on the Wine Route

Kermit Lynch

The name Kermit Lynch in synonymous with good wine. Known for the wine importing business, he founded, these are his own stories from traveling France in 1980’s looking for incredible wines. It’s humorous and enlightening as Lynch is able to focus on individual winemakers, their successes and failures, and their role in a fast-changing industry. For anyone who loves Kermit Lynch wines or reading insider accounts of the wine industry, this is a must-read.

The Drunken Botanist

Amy Stewart

Who knew that so many of the plants around us were responsible for such an incredible array of spirits and liqueurs! Botanist Amy Stewart breaks down plants and their spirits the world over, examining their discovery, history, and potency. She expertly catalogues a diverse range of drinks, from small, locally drunk spirits of rural Africa and Asia to globally known spirits such as vodka and gin.

Drops of God

Tadashi Agi

Of course, Japan would have a manga in which a sommelier is the central character. This comic follows Shizuku Kanzaki on a quest to find 13 of the world’s greatest wines in order to inherit his late father’s world-renowned wine collection. Of course, he’s not the only one searching for these wines, his brother and rival wine critic is also on the hunt. It’s a race against time for Shizuku, but interspersed between the family drama are unique tips for tasting wine and some great wine trivia.


Rex Pickett

Yes, this is the book the movie was based on, and yes, the book is better than the movie. Sideways follows two best friends on a week wine tasting in Southern California. Though wine is ever present in this book, the focus is on the relationships and personal goals of each character. Any wine lover find at least a shade of themselves in the book’s characters.

Three Sheets to the Wind

Pete Brown

Local beer matters. That’s the idea the compelled author Pete Brown to leave his native England and travel the world in search of great beer. Over the course of his 27 country trek, Brown gained 10 pounds and wealth of knowledge about beers from around the globe. For those looking for a more international view of how different cultures brew, buy and drink their beer, this book is sure to please.


Jason Wilson

Washington Post spirits columnist (yes, that’s a real job title) Jason Wilson wants to raise the class level of America’s cocktail by tracing back spirits to their old world origins. He champions old spirits being made the way they were hundreds of years ago and is quick to point out the name brand products that aren’t as good or authentic as they claim to be.

And a Bottle of Rum

Wayne Curtis

This book tells the story of American history through rum. Starting with the rum sailors would drink in the 1770’s and ending with the mojitos we all drink today, Wayne Curtis explores ten different turning points in American history through rum cocktails that were popular at the time.

Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.


Join us Saturday, September 10 from 1-3pm for a chance to taste these amazing wines! At the tasting you’ll be able to choose from the wines below. Also on Saturday, attendees can join Shamrock Selections at 50% off their first month!

2013 Palazzo Maffei Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore

The aromas of dark cooked fruit, blackberry, black cherry, and plum all abound. There are also hints of cedar, cigar wrapper, cinnamon, nutmeg, and tar. The fruit persists on the palette but is more dried in character. Tannin, acid, and alcohol are all on the higher side with just a hint of bitterness making this an intense experience. When I close my eyes, I almost feel transported to a tiny town in the Italian hillside. There’s a rustic quality to this wine that’s both ephemeral and fleeting, like it harkens back to a more rustic era. I imagine an Italian grandmother serving to her family with a meal of grilled meats or pasta sauce of charred tomatoes. There’s a sundrenched quality to this bottle that makes it perfect for warm nights around a table with friends.

2012 Philippe Portier Quincy

This sauvignon blanc from the small, Loire valley village of Quincy is unique is the range of subtle spices that it offers. Though the predominant fruit on this wine is mostly ripe apple and peach, you’ll find notes of Asian five spice, saffron, Indonesian satay and yellow curry. Of course, there is the seemingly essential grassiness of the varietal, but here it’s more refined that one might find in a wine from New Zealand or even California. I can imagine it pairing perfectly with a salad with goat cheese and a topping of fried prosciutto (my newest addiction). For those looking for a heavier dish, try it paired with white fish under a buerre blanc sauce.

2009 Steele Vineyards Zinfandel

Steele’s Pacini vineyard was planted in the 1940’s, meaning that those vines have moved passed the stage of being “old vines,” and are almost “ancient” (old vines are typically over 40 years old while ancient denotes vines over 70). Graphite and dried strawberries and cranberries dominate both the nose and the palate, with an ample husk of dust and earthiness encasing the wine. It was aged for a year in oak before bottling, as evidenced by the rounded tannins that glide over the wine’s finish. To me, this wine is calling for food: pizza, lasagna, calzones; all hearty things that leave a little grease on the plate.

2014 DeLille Cellars “Chaleur Estate” Blanc, Columbia Valley, Washington, USA

The nose on this wine is extremly complex. Myer lemon and golden apple combine with hints of parmesan, smoke, lanolin, clove honey suckle, and wet stone. The flavor is just as enticing. The wine is quite rich and round with a hint of tannin coming from the oak aging. This is a wine that must be served with very rich food. Lobster with butter, shrimp scampi, or even foie gras would be absolutely wonderful parings. Another couple things to note is that it will really benefit from decanting and being served around sixty degrees.

2011 Chateau Musar “Hochar” Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

The Musar winery is one of my favorite in the entire world. They make some of the most beautiful, complex, and unique wines in the whole world. The”Hochar” is named for the family that owns Chateau Musar. This is their “second wine” which is designed to be more approachable young. It is composed of 50% cinsault, 30% Grenache, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% carignan. When the wine is first opened the aroma is dominated by rich cedar and spice. As it is allowed to breathe more and more complex notes of leather, cigar, graphite, blackberry compote, dried plums, dates, lavender, and anis are reviled. On the pallet the tannin is quite pronounced and slightly rustic. The fruit is fresher and tarter on the pallet with a distinct dusty texture. The finish is persistent and drying. An excellent wine to pare with roasted lamb or barbecue. I highly recommend decanting the wine ahead of time and tasting how it evolves over the course of a meal.

2015 Seghessio Vermentino Russian River Valley, USA

It is very exciting to see some unique varietals being produced in some of California’s best wine regions. Typically known for chardonnay and pinot noir the Russian River Valley is one of Sonoma’s coldest sub-appellations. Vermentino is most widely planted on the island of Sardinia. The wine is highly aromatic with aromas of ripe peach, apricot, golden delicious apple, and lilies. On the pallet it is fresh and lively with more tropical fruits. Lime, kiwi, and more crisp apple. The wine will go great with summer salads and is a wonderful foil to this sudden hot weather. Serve well chilled.

2014 Grochau Cellars Gamay Noir Redford Wetle Farm, Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon

One thing I love about Oregon winemakers is they aren’t afraid to try new things. This Gamay Noir fromGrochau Cellars is a fantastic example of that. The winemaker, John Grochau, is using an uncommon grape and a blend of old and new world techniques to makes something that is truly unique. The aroma is bursting with bright cherry and strawberry aromas that are balanced by warm toasty notes of cinnamon and clove along with a really interesting hint of freshly cut stem and leaf. The wine is light but is rounded out by somewhat aggressive tannins. I recommend chilling the wine slightly. 15 minutes in the freezer should get it to the perfect temperature. Those tannins will be a perfect match to fattier foods like duck breast, charcuterie or even barbecue.

2103 Trimbach Riesling Alsace, France

This Riesling is totally DRY and is much more mineral driven than its German or Washington state counterparts. The Trimbach family has been at it since 1626, so they now a thing or two about how to make a good bottle of wine. I was lucky enough to meet Jean Trimbach at a tasting last summer in which we tasted through some older vintages of his Rieslings. I was absolutely blown away by the beauty and complexity of those wines and I wanted to share that experience with you. The 2013 vintage is a classic example of a Trimbach wine. Wet stone minerality dominates the nose with hints of honey, cedar, white flowers, and lemon. The palate is DRY with racy acidity and a gripping texture, like biting into a Granny Smith apple. The finish is persistent and DRY. Enjoy this wine at around 50° with classic Alsatian dishes like sausage and sauerkraut, or be adventurous and pair it with sushi or even curry.

2014 Bodegas Chacra "Barda" Pinot Noir, Río Negra, Argentina

Winemaker Piero Incisa Della Rocchetta grew up in Tuscany surrounded by the vineyards that his family owns, the same vineyards that produce the greatest of all “Super Tuscans” – Sassicaia. After his formal education and brief tenure managing one of his family’s wine estates he moved to Argentina to make wines in the Río Negro region of Patagonia. Once there, he discovered several old vineyards and set about revitalizing them through organic and biodynamic viniculture. The wine I’ve selected is called Barda which literally translates “on the ridge,” and is a blend of several of the estate’s vineyards. You’ll notice the wine is demure and elegant with ripe cherry, cranberry, and slightly earthy aromas. On the pallet the wine is extremely light with a mouth-watering acidity that’ll make you want take another dink. I recommend chilling it slightly and serving it with grilled salmon.

2014 Domäne Wachau, Grüner Veltliner, Federspeil, Austria

Grüner Veltliner is the national grape of Austria. It’s crisp and refreshing with mineral aromas, lemon, and a hint of white pepper. The wine is dry and light with a bit of a grip on the mid palate and a clean finish. Serve well chilled with green vegetables like asparagus, brussels sprouts, and artichoke.

2012 Meli Carignan, Maule Valley, Chile

After thirty years of making wine for other people, Adriana Cerda partnered with her son Eduardo Reiner to make her own wines. In 2005 she bought a vineyard planted with sixty year old riesling and carignan vines. It’s unusual to see carignan outside of southern France and even more rare for it to be bottled on its own. Meli is unique because of its growing location and the extremely old vines the fruit comes from. The product is a wine that’s concentrated without being heavy. It has complex aromas of both ripe and tart blueberries, cherries, and cranberries which are complimented by a perfumed floral note and a hint of herb. On the palate the fruit continues to dominate with gritty tannin that will help balance out fattier dishes like pork chops.

2013 Viña Maquis Carmenere

With an expressive nose containing hints of laurel, spicy clove and a pleasant note of rosemary, this wine also exudes a layer of deep red fruits. On the palate, it’s fresh, with sweet tannins and a full-bodied flavor that ends in a lovely, lingering finish.

Want to learn more about Shamrock Selections? Click here.

Where did summer go?! Not that we’re complaining, of course – we’re ready for football and cooler weather. Check out what we’re drinking while things are cooling down.

EIEIO & Company Swine Wine Richard

When was the last time I chose a red wine as my staff pick? I don’t even remember, but I’m going to keep choosing whites while it’s over 85 degrees every day. This one is a fully little blend, riesling and chardonnay, two of my favorites and two grapes you rarely see together. They work well as a team and create a wine that’s light and delicious. Its aromas are tropical with hints of pineapple, papaya, and sugar candy (I’m thinking Sweetarts or Smarties!), but its flavors are what’s drawn me back to this bottle over the course of the summer. There is fruit to be sure, largely lemon, along with candy, but there’s also a familiar quality to this wine that’s hard to describe, almost like the smell of morning, when there’s dew still on the grass. It’s delicate and powerful, and brings back a lot memories from my childhood playing outside.

– Seth

K Vintners Motor City Kitty Syrah

I’m not a Summer person- mainly because it gets too hot to enjoy massive, full-bodied, fabulous red wines. Thankfully the pumpkin patches will open soon and I can open a bottle of this gamey mishmash of black fruits, flowers, and crushed rock. Drink it now, lay it down to cellar, pair it with game meats or short ribs, but don’t miss out on this luscious winner from Charles Smith.

– Susie

Raptor Ridge Rosé or Pinot Noir

Raptor Ridge makes a distinctive style of pinot noir rose, marked by single vineyard selection and extended skin-contact. The resulting wine is dry, deeply fruity, and suitable for any number of food pairings, such as roast chicken, or moules frites.


François Feuillet Morey-Saint-Denis Clos Sorbè

I’ll always have fond memories of my birthday dinner where I first tasted this wine. It has a wonderful aroma of ripe cherries and a hint of parmesan cheese. At six years old it is just entering its prime drinking window so don’t hesitate to open and enjoy.


Domaine Du Salvard Cheverny

This is a classic Cheverny that is both simple and elegant. It is a mixture of sauvignon blanc (85%) and chardonnay (15%). The grower’s attention is focused on growing a fresh, lively wine, deeply rooted in the sandy clay, and limestone planes of northeastern Touraine just down from the river of Sancerre. It possess a crispness and zippy mineral flavors, but with a bit of a softer feel to it. The flavors continue to develop, with tangy apples and more grass following the minerals. It has a very long and dry finish, which tops this wine off amazingly.

 – Walker

Prairie Artisan Ales Prairie Vous-Français

This beer is a lighter take on the saison style from prairie artisan ales in Oklahoma. It pours a bright golden straw with a thin white head that lingers on top. Aromas of citrus and scones with a hint of brett, on the palate pale malts and a slight tartness emerges. Overall I think this beer is delicious and reminiscent of some classic French saisons. The combination of relatively low ABV and lively carbonation make this beer extremely drinkable and refreshing. Enjoy this one cold on a warm day!

– Spencer

A natural fit from the beginning, Spencer joined King Estate for the 2012 harvest. In two short years, he moved up the ranks to assistant winemaker before being named winemaker in early 2016. Spencer developed a love of wine while waiting tables in Georgia during his pursuit of a marketing degree. In 2004 he moved to Sonoma to work his first vintage with Ravenswood and three years later, realized it was truly what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. He decided to go back to school at Lincoln University in New Zealand to earn a degree in Oenology and Viticulture. Spencer immersed himself in school and hands-on learning from 2006-2008, and upon his return to the U.S., Spencer rejoined the team at Ravenswood, this time as contract winemaker. In 2009 he took an assistant winemaker position at Bargetto, the oldest winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains. It was in Santa Cruz that Spencer met his future wife whose job relocated them in 2012 to Eugene where he joined King Estate.

OL: Most people in this industry can trace their love of wine to a specific wine that ignited their passion. Do you have a wine like that? If not, how did you get interested in the industry?

SS: My first experience with a life-changing bottle of wine was when I was working in fine dining in Atlanta. The first wine that taught me the depth and breadth that wine could have was Joseph Phelps’ 1985 Insignia (it was a Bordeaux blend of cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc). I never knew wine could finish for that long. It was so rich, with layers that never stopped. Even while the bottle was open (throughout a 90-minute meal) it changed every time you went back to it.

Learning how wine varies by region and even within the same varietal, and how to pair wine with fine food all came from that fine dining experience.

OL: Have you had any mentors who’ve helped your career grow?

SS: I don’t have just one. Rather, I’ve learned something from every winemaker I’ve worked with. Everyone I come in contact with, not just winemakers, has something to teach me, and I try to absorb as much knowledge as I can from every work experience. One reason I went to New Zealand was to see different styles of winemaking. I guess you could say that everyone I come in contact with is a mentor.

OL: What drew you to King Estate and what are some of your favorite things about working there?

SS: My wife’s job at the University of Oregon brought us to Eugene, and I was fortunate that there was a well-regarded winery, King Estate, nearby that had the ability not only to take me on but to give me opportunities for growth and advancement. Once I was here I fell in love with our focus on sustainability. It is genuine, authentic and impactful. On top of that, I love being at a winery where I’m actually in the middle of the vineyard. Our setting is stunning. It’s amazing having a world-class restaurant and charcuterie right here on site. The team atmosphere is strong and I get to work with terrific colleagues.

OL: Do you feel like you have a signature style as a winemaker?

Even though I’m 12 years into it, I think I’m too young in my career to have a signature style. I’ve changed over the course of my career and am still changing and growing. With each move to a new growing region – from Sonoma to New Zealand to Santa Cruz and now Oregon – I’ve learned that I definitely can’t do the exact same thing every time. At King Estate I’m trying to make sure I carry on the impressive legacy and style of wines we’re known for. There’s been a King Estate style that has developed over 25 years. The winery has a history of knowing how to get the best out of the grapes. My thumbprint may be on the wine but I do my job within the framework of what I inherited and what I’ll eventually pass on.

OL: As a winemaker, have you ever made a mistake in a vintage? 

SS: Usually I’m very good at self-deprecation and of course I’m sure I have made mistakes. But in all honesty, I can’t think of a specific one that really stands out. I haven’t really thought about it before but now that I do, I think I’ve never considered something a mistake because it’s all part of the learning experience. Any issue I’ve ever had I’ve tried to learn from, so possibly I don’t think of them as mistakes. I’m happy to say I’ve never done anything to ruin the wine.

OL: I know that sustainability is a core focus for King Estate. How did that come to be, and how do you see this trend affecting the industry as a whole?

SS: Like anything, it starts at the top. Our CEO, Ed King, is the driving force behind our commitment to sustainability, and he and the King family have instilled that ethic throughout the company. Ed likes to point out that from 10,000 B.C. to 1945 A.D. all agriculture was organic. Many of the environmental and health problems of the late 20th and early 21st centuries are the result of modern agricultural practices. We’re becoming Demeter certified because we share the vision of healing the planet through agriculture. King Estate is family owned and farmed, and the family feels a strong sense of obligation to future generations. We think what’s good for the land is also going to be good for the wine.

OL: In what ways do you see yourself and King Estate growing over the next few years?

SS: I see nothing but blue sky ahead for King Estate. We’re celebrating our 25th anniversary this year which is a good time to take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going. The company has experienced phenomenal growth and success nationally and even internationally while remaining a local family business that is dedicated to a tradition of quality and environmental stewardship. I expect the next 25 years to bring more of the same, and I’m sure there will be some fun surprises along the way as well. For me personally, being the senior winemaker is still a new role. It’s what I set out to do and have worked for over the last 12 years. My goal for the next few years is to continue to get more comfortable in that role, to that point that I can be secure in the knowledge that I am doing the right thing at each step of the process. I want to continue the legacy of making world-class wine.