Not a fan of the high seas? Try a riverboat (wine helps)

Visting Chateaux Siaurac in Pomerol. Later we dined on the expansive lawn under tall shade trees.

I’ve never been comfortable about being on the high seas, so when my wife suggested we take the first ship cruise of our 26-year marriage, I balked. Then our friends suggested a wine riverboat cruise to Bordeaux — an idea that seemed enticing. The rivers, they said, are mostly shallow. There are no waves, no seasickness and no huge crowds on board.

I was sold. Of course, what pushed me across the goal line was that I love wine, and a visit to Bordeaux — the créme de la créme of the wine world — has always been on my Bucket List.

So, in December 2016, we signed up for the eight-day Viking’s Wine Riverboat Cruise to Bordeaux and added a three-day trip to Paris, also handled by the Viking Crui...

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‘Evita’ aside, Malbec is Argentina’s claim to fame

Trivento Reserve Malbec 2015 ($11)

“What’s the first thing that pops into your head when I mention Argentina?”

That’s the question I asked the Wine Goddess, my wife Mary Lee, and she replied, “Eva Peron, the Broadway musical, and the song ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina!'”

It’s a good answer, but not the one I was expecting. So I refined the question.

“Think wine and Argentina,” I said.

Without hesitation, she tickled me pink with her response — “Malbec.”

Ah, yes, Malbec. It’s a great-tasting wine of the old world (Cahors, in southwest France) and the new world (Argentina, Chile), delivering intense dark berry, spicy traits on a smooth frame.

When the weather turns cool in September and October, it’s prime time for drinking Malbec and grilling steaks.

So, last weekend, I teased the Wine Butler...

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Mellasat Vineyards’ white Pinotage is turning reds

The Wine Novice says Mellasat Vineyards Pinotage exceeded his expectations.

The Pinotage red grape and wine are unique to South Africa.

Pinotage is also one of the least understood — and appreciated — wines in the world, and for good reason.

Early vintages of Pinotage, created in 1925 as a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, were not very good. Critics complained of its poor taste and aromas, which some equated to “nail polish remover.” Ughh. No wonder the wine rarely received safe passage out of Cape Town to the rest of the world.

While numerous winemakers turned their backs on Pinotage for European stalwarts like Cabernet Sauvignon, several others bucked up the grape using innovative and sustainable farming techniques, replanting root stocks and improving production methods...

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From Verona with love: Agricola Cottini Valpolicella

John Maisano, left, of Bachus Imports and winemaker Bruno Cottini at a recent tasting at Wine ConneXtion in North Andover.

Bruno Cottini is a fourth-generation family winemaker at Agricola Cottini, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I knew from the first time my father sat me down in a tractor I would be doing this,” said Cottini, 33. “I love working with my family, in the fields, turning the grapes into wine. Even when I went to school, I knew there was only one job for me.”

It’s true in Italy that la famiglia comes first, and Bruno works side by side with his father Sergio and siblings Giorgio, Laura and Michelle, in the family’s two small vineyards — Agricola Cottini in the hillside of Valgatara and Tenuta La Falcona near Lake Garda.

It’s a beautiful spot, in the province of Verona...

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Grill and thrill with these hearty red wines

Cline Old Vine Zinfandel 2015 from Lodi, Calif., $11.99

Cool September evenings are geared for grilling steaks, sausages and burgers on the grill and washing them down with big, hearty red wines.

The best values this time of year are the Cabernet Sauvignons, Old Vine Zinfandels and Malbecs, which produce juicy, savory flavors that bring out the best in grilled fare.

Over the Labor Day weekend, the Wine Goddess — my wife Mary Lee — fired up the grill (she doesn’t trust me around propane tanks), and then handed me an apron. She said I’d be grilling several sirloins, Italian sausages and a burger or two. She said the Wine Butler, Mike Pigeon, would be stopping by alone, since his wife Judy was on a vacation cruise with her girlfriend...

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4 wines to make summer last

Members of the Mill City Oenophiles Club from left, Rick Sobey, Chris Lisinski, Amaris Castillo and the Wine Novice, Jim Campanini sample a wine with a pizza from TreMonte in downtown Lowell. SUN/JOHN LOVE

The calendar says summer is over, but it doesn’t mean you should put away your summer palate.

There are still plenty of wonderfully warm and cozy September and October days ahead, so don’t put away the cool sipping rosés and white wines just yet.

Fattoria Sardi Toscana Rosato 2016, $22

Recently, the Mill City Oenophiles Club held its monthly wine-tasting seminar and sampled four wines — three whites and a rosé — that fit the bill for fall and beyond...

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Hail Caesar! And let’s not forget the family winemaker!

John Campanini, arborist/winemaker/ Yankees fan/twin brother of the Wine Novice

John Campanini, arborist/winemaker/ Yankees fan/twin brother of the Wine Novice

You won’t find Leg X wine on any store shelves or online distributors. It’s a special red Zinfandel crafted by my twin brother John in his Providence, R.I., garage.

This is his sixth vintage.

Most every Italian, Greek and Portuguese family I know of has a winemaker dangling in the family tree. John is the third generation, following our grandfather Onorato and Uncle Frank.

This column honors all the family winemakers out there who enjoy the passion of their work.

John, who has a master’s degree in plant pathology and entomology, has thankfully elevated the family process to the modern era. He uses a large, mechanical handpress to crush the grapes...

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Michael Mondavi wines express spirit of Napa Valley

Emblem Chardonnay

Emblem Chardonnay

I’ve tasted quite a few Sauvignon Blancs in my wine exploration, and few have captured my imagination like Animo Heritage Sauvignon Blanc from Michael Mondavi Family Estate in Napa Valley.

It’s a premium white, costing $65 a bottle, and only 132 cases were produced in 2015. I prefer less expensive bottlings, simply because I know there are many quality Sauvignon Blancs out there that fit my working man’s budget. However, if you love wine like I do, it’s great to get an opportunity to taste the best in class — and in my modest palate’s opinion, Animo sets a standard of excellence in this category.

Animo, which means spirit in Italian, draws its name from Mondavi’s Animo Vineyard, which is located on high, rugged ground in the prestigious Atlas Peak appellation...

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Two inexpensive Italian wines that play to the crowd

wine-2If you are looking for two fun wines for your next summer deck party, I recommend my two new Italian companions — “Rubio” of Il Bastardo Sangiovese di Toscana and “Blanca” of La Bastarda Pinot Grigio Terre di Siciliana. Both 2015 wines are expressive, food friendly and sell for $9 or less at most wine outlets.

The label designs are eye-catching, too, featuring a chubby Rubio on his Vespa and a glamorous Blanca at the beach.

But it’s what’s in the bottle that counts!

"Blanca" of La Bastarda Pinot Grigio Terre di Siciliana

“Blanca” of La Bastarda Pinot Grigio Terre di Siciliana

I enjoyed La Bastarda this past week with a salmon dinner made by the Wine Goddess. I found it to be light, refreshing, crisp and pleasantly zesty, like grapefruit zesty...

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Doubleback to Four Oaks for Bledsoe’s ‘beauty’ of a wine

Former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, left, at a wine-tasting at Four Oaks Country Club in Dracut last December with, from left, Michael Kuenzler Jr., of Dracut, Micky Ward of Lowell, and Michael Kuenzler Sr., owner of Four Oaks. SUN FILE PHOTO

Former Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, left, at a wine-tasting at Four Oaks Country Club in Dracut last December with, from left, Michael Kuenzler Jr., of Dracut, Micky Ward of Lowell, and Michael Kuenzler Sr., owner of Four Oaks. SUN FILE PHOTO

Michael Kuenzler is walking around with a big smile on his face these days, and who can blame him?

Last December, the owner of Four Oaks Restaurant in Dracut made a big bet on Drew Bledsoe’s 2014 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon becoming one of the best premium wines of the year. He purchased a dozen cases of the wine, sold off many at an evening hosted by the former New England Patriots Hall of Fame quarterback, and promptly restocked his cellar, planning to sell Doubleback to dinner guests out for a special occasion.

It’s a challenge for any rest...

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