Ask a Somm: Your Questions Answered

The truth is that for most people, wine can be pretty confusing. It’s our job, of course, to change that and to show people just how amazing the world of wine can be.

‘Ask a Somm’ is your chance to ask all of the alcohol related questions that you’ve always wondered about. Have a question? Ask it using the form at the bottom of the page. 

Now that we’re in August and it’s the end of tomato season, I find that I’ve been eating tomatoes every day. I’ll do salads, or make fresh salsa, or a tomato sauce for pizza or pasta. Is there a specific wine that goes best with tomatoes? - S. Davis

I think an easier question would be ‘what doesn’t pair well with tomatoes?’ The key here is all in how you’re preparing your tomatoes. If you’re doing a simple salad, try a Sauvignon Blanc from France or California. For tomato soup, you could stick with the Sauvignon Blanc or do a lighter red like Barbera from Italy. For something a little heartier like lasagna, you can go with a bigger, bolder wines like a Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon or any of the wonderful rustic reds from Italy. Tomatoes are such a versatile food with endless preparation possibilities, so whatever you choose to drink, it’s hard to go wrong!

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Is wine vegan? - M. Adkinson

This is a more complex question than you might think. When you look at a bottle of wine, you don’t see an ingredients list or a chart of nutrition information. That’s because the federal government classifies wines (and all alcohol) as a “controlled substance” and not as a “food,” which would require those labels, making it hard to know when wines are produced organically or are vegan.

One of the final processes a winemaker undertakes before bottling is called “fining,” which clarifies the wine. Two common fining agents are fish bladders and egg whites. Other fining materials include seaweed, activated charcoal, and even clay. As the fining agent sinks to the bottom of the tank or barrel, the proteins in wine that make it cloudy are attracted to the agent leaving the resulting wine clear.

Unfortunately, most producers do not list what fining agents they use so it can be difficult to tell exactly what went into your wine. We recommend looking for wines from producers who skip the fining process altogether or wineries that specifically market their wines as vegan.

I’m visiting Northern California with my family in September and want to visit Napa Valley. What are the “must see” places that you would recommend? - T. Tollison

I’ve been lucky enough to visit several wine growing regions in multiple countries, yet upon visiting them, none of them seemed to have quite the same air of excitement that Napa has. The first question you should ask yourself when visiting is what do you like to drink? Visiting Napa is a great time to visit the producers whose wines you love or to try wines that you’ve heard of but never purchased.

Some of my favorite producers to visit include Chappellet with their beautiful views from the top of Pritchard Hill and Darioush which is housed in a winery fashioned to look like an ancient Persian temple. I also love stopping by Round Pond Estate, especially if I have time for a meal at their on-site restaurant. With some of the world’s best wineries and restaurants at every turn, it’s hard to go wrong at Napa!

I've always heard that South America was a good place to look for good value wines. Is this actually true or have times changed and should I look for wines from somewhere else? - L. Kaplin

Well, to answer your first question, yes, South America is still a great place to look for some great wines at great prices. Personally, Spain has become my go-to for great value reds, with some great bottles coming from northeastern and southeastern Spain. In all honesty, I think every country produces some great value wines, but the key is knowing where to look to find them. This, of course, is where our staff steps in to help…Some of our favorite values are below to look through.

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