Allen Balik is a noted wine collector, educator and recognized authority on the wines of California and Europe, sampling more than 1,500 wines each year as a member of the trade and numerous tasting groups. Allen has toured wine growing areas around the world and tasted extensively throughout the United States, Europe and South America.

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On my first visit to Napa Valley in spring 1979, I was fortunate to meet two icons of the growing California wine scene, Mike Grgich and Charlie Wagner. I often reflect on that momentous visit as I was also unknowingly introduced to a pivotal concept in fine wine. Without really understandin…

In the early 1980s, when I was first learning about wine, I attended a Wine Spectator’s Wine Experience event in San Francisco. I didn’t know what to expect as this was the first event of its type I had ever attended. And I was unsure how to navigate my way through all the seminars and Grand…

Our Napa Valley is truly a special place. As timing would have it, I wrote this week’s column before the devastating fires we experienced this week struck, rendering so many monumental losses. I debated holding the column for a future date, but decided that nothing can permanently destroy th…

I’ve often heard it said that a specific year was the culmination of a true “winemaker’s” vintage. But oddly enough, and creating some confusion, I’ve also heard two diametrically opposite explanations expressed.

Looking back on our two-week Portugal odyssey last month, it’s hard to say whether the greatness of the wines or the history and majestic nature of the places we visited played the greater role in our total enjoyment of the trip. So we’ll call it a tie!

Last month, my wife Barbara and I escorted a group of 19 friends on a tour of Portugal where we discovered a deep sense of history and culture rooted in many ways to wine, religion, architecture, exploration and conquest.

More often than not when we hear somebody describing a particular wine, terms such as cherries, blackberries, green apple, bell pepper and the like are the first ones heard. Then earth, depth, powerful tannins, bright acidity and complexity may follow. While these descriptors are all relevan…

When most people talk about an inferior vintage it’s usually the reflection of a critic’s view and not stemming from personal experience or exploration with the wines of that particular year, varietal or growing area.

Greatness, greatest and great (all by itself) account for some of the most overused terminology in the world of wine. And for that matter, the same is true when seen as descriptors relating to many other treasured aspects of our lives including art, architecture, music, sports, literature, d…

We’ve all experienced it — perhaps some more than others. You’ve been planning a special night out with family and friends and eagerly await the transcendental experience of dining in a majestic restaurant.

Often when talking about wine with friends who appreciate its pleasures but are not really interested in the backstory or breadth of the subject, I hear comments about “comfort” levels relating to specific favored varietals or brands but not much about the desire to venture into something ne…

I have written about and often referred to terroir in past columns. But the question regarding what it really is and if it’s a true component of fine winemaking, continues as a topic of conversation when I’m leading groups on a wine country adventures or tastings. As I’ve said many times, te…

This week, my column is a bit of a departure from the norm, as it does not deal directly with wine or winemaking areas. Instead, I’d like to look at the very important aspects of customer service we have grown to expect when visiting a tasting room, wine shop or restaurant in search of that …

Is the image of Beaujolais experiencing a rebound? Or will these noble wines always be negatively linked to Beaujolais Nouveau and in the consumer’s perception, held in lesser regard?

Looking back at more than 35 years of collecting wine, I know I’ve made some mistakes. But I’ve certainly made some good decisions as well with several of my earliest purchases still alive in our cellar today.

When discussing fermentation, the conversation usually centers on the yeast-driven conversion of sugar to alcohol and carbon dioxide (CO2) as a by-product. But if we dig a little deeper, we find it’s not really that simple. A winemaker’s world is one of constant choice based on experience an…

Burgundy is most famous for its impeccable and highly regarded pinot noirs (reds) and chardonnays (whites) but little attention is paid to the smaller plantings of other varietals with official status in specific areas within its Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC).

My wife, Barbara, and I have been visiting Vail for 35 years and returned a few weeks ago for our annual ski vacation. Although the dining scene in Vail has always been outstanding, recently it has become even better with new restaurants and adventurous menus appearing each season.

In response to my last column “Bordeaux: Something for everyone” that discussed my experience at the recent Union des Grands Cru de Bordeaux tasting in San Francisco, I received many questions and comments about the area and its history along with several on the wines themselves.

The wines of Bordeaux are among the world’s finest, most popular and, in some cases, also the most expensive. It is the largest wine-producing area in France, and the city of Bordeaux is second only to Paris as the country’s most visited. Depending on the source, there are more than 700 mill…

While enjoying a glass of cabernet the other night with my wife Barbara, I was caught off-guard when she asked, “How in the world can this superb liquid be described as dry?”

As the calendar shifts from one year to the next, I find myself reflecting on the superb vinous adventures I’ve experienced during 2016 and the many outstanding wine pairing meals I enjoyed.

Tasting wine can be easy and enjoyable. But understanding what we are tasting, while absorbing the various sensory elements, can be difficult to comprehend given all of the complex underlying interactions taking place. But the big question often arises: “Are all these descriptors necessary j…

Continuing our adventure in Italy’s Veneto region, we boarded our coach with driver Paolo for a three-hour journey to Tuscany and the wonderful Relais & Chateau property Il Borro that would be our home for six days.

My wife Barbara and I are in Tuscany winding up a truly amazing visit to two of Italy’s most dramatic and treasured winemaking areas.

Internationally, merlot is one of the world’s most revered varietals. But over the last decade, it has come under intense fire in our domestic market for its perceived lack of “personality” and not living up to the “standards of a great California wine.” Why has all this negativity been dire…

It’s never too early to make our holiday entertainment plans. It won’t be long before the season is upon us as we are deluged by the many ads for Christmas lay-aways and other special offers.

Earlier this month, I wrote “Another look at terroir” examining this very elusive term and its meaning in the wine vocabulary. In that column, I commented that, “Terroir, widely considered by wine professionals, collectors and authors alike as the most important force in making distinct wine…

From the time I became seriously interested in wine (following my initial trip to Napa Valley in 1979) I have participated in many different tasting groups.

Terroir is one of the most commonly used and least understood words in the vocabulary of wine mostly because it is derived from the French “terre” meaning land, but with no precise translation to English.

Today, spicy flavors are all the rage in the culinary world given a never-ending variety of chilies now available in the market and a greater than ever selection from home gardens. But for wine lovers, the question of what wine to choose often represents a dilemma. All too frequently, the de…

On July 16, the Robert Mondavi Winery hosted one of the most inspiring and well grounded anniversary celebrations I can ever recall attending. This “50th” was a massive reunion of former and current employees, local dignitaries and many fans of Mondavi, the man and the winery. Following the …

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I have known Master Sommelier Kevin Vogt for more than 10 years both professionally and personally, and am always amazed by his far-reaching knowledge of wine along with his impeccable palate and ability to conceive enchanting pairings with a wide array of culinary delights.

Two weeks ago, the Coombsville Vintners and Growers (CVG) hosted their first media tasting in the sprawling new caves of the magnificent Covert Estate. This tasting marked a big step forward for the Coombsville AVA, and will sharpen the focus on the newest, and for many, the most individuali…

For most people, their first impression (and often their lasting impression) of a wine is taste. Little attention is directed toward the wine’s aroma and even less to its texture and balance. And virtually no notice is given to the components responsible for these very important elements and…

Quite a few years ago, I co-authored a book with the stated goal of “de-mystifying” wine to make the entire vinous experience more enjoyable rather than intimidating.

I would be hard pressed to recall how many times I’ve heard the exclamation, “I’m saving this wine for a special occasion,” when someone spoke of a specific bottle just received as a gift or discovered while meandering around the cellar. We’ve probably all said it at some point, but what doe…

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This October, my wife, Barbara, and I are leading a group of wine-loving friends on an in-depth visit to two of Italy’s most productive and beautiful wine regions: Veneto to the northeast and Tuscany to the northwest.

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I am a lover of music and was excited several years ago to join Chamber Music in Napa Valley (CMNV), so expertly orchestrated (pun intended) by John and Maggy Kongsgaard. Together the Kongsgaards bring celebrated soloists and chamber groups from around the globe to Napa for intimate performa…

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Since 1990 my wife, Barbara, and I have produced a large annual charity wine tasting and auction benefiting the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s research and care programs, raising more than $28 million since the event’s inception. “A Culinary Evening With the California Winemasters” treats our …

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For many, white wines are reserved for the seasonal warmer weather of spring and summer with some consumers disparagingly saying that a “white is something to drink while waiting for the reds to appear.” But that’s not the way it’s always been. And with a new generation of adventurous wine e…

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Last weekend, my wife, Barbara, and I once again attended the Relais & Château GourmetFest in Carmel. This is the third annual GourmetFest under the direction and planning of our good friend and host “extraordinaire” David Fink, founder and CEO of Mirabel Hotel & Restaurant Group.

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There has long been a somewhat unspoken belief by wine marketers in the U.S. that “Americans tend to think dry but prefer to drink sweet.” This explains the many sweet or semi-sweet wines achieving high sales volume in the market while bearing varietal names such as chardonnay, merlot, zinfa…

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Chardonnay ranks No. 5 in wine grape plantings worldwide and No. 1 in the U.S. It is planted in more winemaking areas of the world than any other varietal and is produced in diverse styles. Some are more representative of the growing area (terroir) while others are more expressive of the win…

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Several weeks ago I was conducting a tasting for a group visiting Napa Valley, and as we were enjoying a broad range of local wines the conversation turned to the frequently heard (and often misunderstood) descriptor “complexity.” We are all familiar with the term (and its adjective form “co…

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In the June 1992 issue of Decanter magazine, Hugh Johnson, OBE (a world-renowned wine authority and longtime writer for this heralded publication), expressed his view of wine tastings. “Wine is not only for tasting, nor analysis (let alone scoring). It is for living with, discussing and drinking.”

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The wine market is a constantly moving landscape driven by ever-changing demographics on the consumer side as well as new discoveries in wine-grape growing areas and little-known varietals on the production side.

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I often hear the comment, “I’m confused when reading wine labels and wish they could be more easily understood.” Sound familiar? Have you had this experience?

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Last week, our son Randy joined us in Napa with his family and several friends from Southern California. And just for fun, we hosted them all at our home on Sunday for a wine tasting and dinner. Everyone in the group loves wine but is more familiar with younger wines and the more recent vintages.

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As the holidays approach, I begin thinking about interesting and new vinous delights to share with friends and family for all the different celebrations and culinary diversity that marks this festive time of year. And I tend to look for a range of choice rather than perfection in a single pairing.

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Two weeks ago, I was invited to a lunch hosted by Tânia Branco Oliveira of the noted port producer Sogevinus. During lunch Tânia led our group on a port adventure by treating us to 14 different ports produced by Sogevinus, from aged white ports to a dashing 2010 Kopke Vinhas Velhas (an old v…

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There is probably no subject involving wine that is more often discussed by oenophiles and novices alike than “vintage” and the range of sub-topics surrounding it. Vintage is not only the date on the bottle but an expression of all that occurred during the growing season in a specific area a…

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We naturally expect excellent food and service when dining out for a simple meal or to celebrate an important occasion. And rightfully so. But why are the same standards not always applied to wine service even at some of the most renowned restaurants?

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Tasting notes on wine have been written for centuries with very simple descriptions going back to ancient Greek and Roman times. In the 17th century more advanced notes contained added detail and explanation. But it’s only since the late-1970s that tasting notes and reviews including various…

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When wine professionals, serious oenophiles and critics taste wines either blind or open, they are often looking for different characteristics. The question frequently arises as to whether it is more important that their impressions are true to the grape or to the wine.

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When spring and summer approach, we read many articles extolling the greatness of dry rosé and its compatibility with these warmer seasons. Now that summer is winding down, many of us “automatically” begin looking to the more robust wines we’ve become accustomed to for the cooler months ahea…

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A few weeks ago, I was talking with a friend and fellow collector who has a beautiful cellar spanning many vintages and prized labels from around the world. I have always admired his collection and the breadth of wines he enjoys. Our conversation gradually shifted from some of our favorite w…