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WineSpeed with Karen MacNeil | Quintessa

Veteran wine writer Karen MacNeil shares insights with subscribers in her weekly newsletter, WineSpeed


(Rutherford, Napa Valley) $175 (750ml)

So there I was at the annual Rutherford “Day in the Dust” blind tasting of just-released 2014 cabernet sauvignons. The wines were good—right up until number 5. Five knocked me out. Its beauty was classic. There was richness without weight. It (already) felt like satin—something that usually doesn’t happen with young cabernet. This was a wine that had what the old British wine writers used to call “breeding.” I could have drunk the whole bottle right then and there. But that would have been a mistake because this wine will be EVEN BETTER with some age. Buy it now and give it to someone later this year as an exquisite holiday gift. (14.6% abv)

94 points KM

Available at Quintessa

What is a Grand Vin?

  • A. The top classification for a red Burgundy wine
  • B. The French term for a wine from a large, historic château
  • C. The term in Bordeaux for a producer’s top wine
  • D. One of the five top wines in Bordeaux, as determined by the 1855 Classification

Scroll down for the answer!

“Wine and cheese are ageless companions, like aspirin and aches, or June and the moon, or good people and noble ventures.”

—M. F. K. Fisher, American writer (1908 ~ 1992) whose many books on food and wine are considered seminal


The term commune is used in France to denote a wine village, as in Burgundy’s commune of Chambolle-Musigny or Bordeaux’s commune of Margaux. But a commune in France isn’t necessarily related to wine. In fact, communes are the lowest level of administrative division in France, and as such, the equivalent of incorporated cities in the U.S. Communes have revolutionary beginnings. Following the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789, and the start of the French Revolution, the first commune—Paris—was created. The idea was to do away with the burdens of class and tradition and create a perfect society—one where everyone was equal, and reason, not tradition, ruled. Indeed, the word “commune” comes from the medieval Latin word “communia” meaning “a small gathering of people sharing a common life.” The actual size of a commune, however, can vary from millions, as with Paris, to a dozen or more. There are currently close to 38,000 communes throughout France—and their structure remains largely the same today as when they were set up more than two centuries ago.

From the Oh No! Files

Now that it’s National Ice Cream Month, the pressure is on to answer a fundamental question: What wine is best with ice cream? Being something of a traditionalist, I’m going with vanilla ice cream and PX Sherry, one of the gastronomic gems of Spain. But that was before I heard of Golden Opulence, a $1,000 (that’s not a typo) sundae now being served at the New York ice cream shop Serendipity 3. Golden Opulence consists of three scoops (imagine!) of Tahitian vanilla ice cream infused with Madagascan vanilla beans and covered in 23K edible gold (ok, that’s impressive), placed in a Baccarat crystal goblet (of course it is) and drizzled with Tuscan chocolate from Amedei (the Amedei Chuao chocolate is said to be from beans grown off the coast of Venezuela). There’s also some accompanying Parisian candied fruit, Swiss chocolate truffles and a gold-plated sugar orchid. A tiny bowl of Grande Passion caviar—a dessert caviar sweetened with passion fruit and Armagnac (finally some wine!)—is on the side. I think you get to keep the 18K gold spoon that the sundae is served with. Ok, wine friends, what would you drink with this?


A shallow stone or cement trough in which grapes are trodden by foot (usually for several hours) in order to crush them and mix the skins with the juice. Treading grapes by foot, an ancient method, is still widely practiced in Portugal, where many wineries have ancient lagares.

C.Grand Vin is a term used in Bordeaux for any château’s top wine. The top classification for a red Burgundy is Grand Cru. And each of the top five Bordeaux wines in the 1855 Classification (Château Margaux, Château Latour and so on) are known as a Premier Cru.


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