Ray Isle’s Greatest Wine Tips (and Some Shenanigans, Too)

In February 2005, a man named Ray Isle – then the managing director of Wine & Spirits – made his debut on the pages of Food & Wine in a piece entitled ” Mallorca is for Wine Lovers.” Dana Cowin, the editor-in-chief of the magazine at the time, sent out a release on the 5th day of the month announcing that Ray would be moving permanently to the publication. She also told the opening of a new tasting room. As executive wine director, Ray taught Food & Wine’s readers, the attendees of the Food & Wine Classic at Aspen, and his colleagues how to purchase, taste, pair, and enjoy wine without the intimidation factor.

Ray’s new book World in a Wineglass – The Insider’s Guide to Sustainable, Extraordinary Wines to Drink is now out in November. This makes it the perfect time to give you a taste of why he is the one we go to for the perfect tipple.

 Tinfoil Swans

Pairing potato chips with other foods can be a great way to learn.


“Here’s what you need to know.” Wine and food pairing is easy because it just works. Wine and food pairings are generally not bad, although there are a few exceptions.

It’s a good way to learn about pairing food and wine. This is because they are a great way to isolate simple tastes: saltiness and tartness, sweetness and spice/heat. Ray Isle

Your joy will come when you are free.

Ray is the one who has freed me up to pair anything. In the article [ pairing wine with potato chips], he mentioned this. He called it the 10% rule. 10% of pairings is mind-blowingly amazing. 80% of pairings are good. Only 10% of the mistakes are truly horrendous. Once I realized that, I was a lot more confident. Ray’s not dogmatic nor a snob. He is a wine enthusiast. He’s a wine enthusiast. It’s an amazing gift. He also loves to use the word “elide .’)” — Dana Cowin.

She says that there are many travel stories and wine-tasting guides, but Dana calls Ray’s tale on Patagonian pinot “unforgettable.”

Chardonnay is a great wine!


Chardonnay is the grape that divides wine lovers more than any other. Some have loved Chardonnay for years, while others will not touch it. Ray Isle was the perfect spokesperson for Chardonnay in Spring 2022, given its ability to divide a crowd. Isle writes, “It’s become more and more clear that Chardonnay, unlike any other grape variety, is a chameleon as the years go by.” He explores Chardonnay’s ability to change from a linear, zippy wine aged in stainless steel to a rich, buttery one with lots of vanilla and coconut flavors from new oak. Ray Isle goes undercover to California tasting rooms and talks Chardonnay. It’s no surprise that tasting room visitors have strong opinions about Chardonnay. He is witty, intelligent, and knows an awful lot about Chardonnay. — Lucy Simon, assistant editor

What’s your Chardonnay?

Shop smarter


Overwhelmed. Baffled. Bewildered. Most people are confused when they shop for wine. Ray posed as a wine seller and revealed seven solutions, from choosing the right salesperson to using your phone wisely. Karen Shimizu, executive editor of the magazine, says this is one of Ray’s best works.

Just Barolo With It


“To paraphrase Fight Club’s first rule, Piedmont’s first rule is that you cannot truly know Piedmont until you are Piedmontese. I like this in a travel destination.” This is why Hunter Lewis, editor-in-chief of Ray Isle, considers this Ray Isle adventure to be one of his favorites.

Can I help with the wine list?

Ray posed as a sommelier in three restaurants across the country to better understand how customers are confused by wine lists. He came up with seven suggestions for making the wine list less intimidating — and was nominated for a James Beard Award.

Root yourself in history.

In 2014, Ray received the same award for his story about people who are trying to save some of California’s older vines. Tegan Passalacqua believes that vineyards such as Salvador are not only old but also historic. Their value goes beyond the cost per ton of their grapes. He says that they remind him of the fact that we are in agriculture and not agribusiness.

This idea — that vineyards such as Salvador have cultural significance and are, in a sense, living links to California’s past — was one of the reasons Passalacqua, along with several other winemaker and vineyardist friends, founded the nonprofit Historic Vineyard Society, Inc. in 2011. The Historic Vineyard Society has cataloged over 200 vineyards in California, many of which could disappear. Many important old vineyards have already disappeared. In some cases, new owners have ripped out vines and replaced them with more popular varieties.”

Punk rock and Pinot


“But after spending my youth in mosh pits, I would say that there is very little in common between a Chenin Blanc in any country and being elbowed by a sweaty, angry skinhead. Connotations matter: “Punk” implies outsider, rebel, and fighting for power. While “violence” conjures up intensity, power, and surprise.

For a wine to truly be cool in restaurants today — and there are cool and uncool ones — it must have a hint of transgression. The music analogy works well. Ray Isle

This story is the reason I love Ray Isle. He is a rebel and champion of weirdness and one of the most consistently compelling, educational, and smile-inducing authors I know. — Kat Kinsman, executive features editor

Prioritize pleasure


When Alvaro Palacios doesn’t make wine in Rioja or the Priorat or jet off to conferences or tastings or distributor meetings in any of the 90 countries where his wines are sold, when he’s not doing all of this — which is almost never — he loves to ride his horse Califa in the hills of Alfaro in Rioja.

When he’s not working, Palacios enjoys riding his horse. Another thing he enjoys doing is hanging out with childhood friends and eating delicious food, as well as drinking wine. A Saturday where he can do both is rare. “My friends ask me when are you going back to Alfaro?” he replies, as he unbuckles Califa’s saddle and removes the heavy girth. The sun is hot, the hills are steep, and the horse is drenched in sweat. They’ve been riding now for three hours. “I must tell them, not this week, nor the next or the following… but this is what I love — drinking wine with people I know.” Ray Isle

The 40 wines that changed the way we consume wine


What was the first wine?” It’s impossible to tell, but the oldest winemaking evidence dates back to 8,000 years ago, in Stone Age villages south of Tbilisi. We owe a great debt to the person who made the first wine, whether it was a woman or a man, a priest or a peasant. Some wines are great, others are not so good. But a few — like the first — are truly special. They may shatter our preconceptions of the potential of a particular grape or region, or shock us with an entirely new taste or flavor. Here are 40 wines that have made a significant difference.” Ray Isle


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