Category Archives: Wine
To be sure, champagne is the beverage of choice during the holidays, but do you know at what temperature it should be served? How should it be stored? What is the difference between vintage and non-vintage Champagne? Veuve Clicquot, the esteemed French winemaker, answers these questions and more.
What is the difference between a vintage and a non-vintage Champagne?
By law in Champagne, France, you cannot display a year on the label of a bottle unless all the grapes which make up the Champagne in the bottle have been sources from one single harvest, in one single year. This is known as a vintage. Wine connoisseurs seek vintage champagnes; non-vintage blends are not as attractive and should never go for more than 10% over the regular current price, according to Veuve Clicquot.
Why buy a magnum?
Magnums, which are twice the size of a regular bottle (750 ml), are optimal for aging wine: during the aging process, the wine is “breathing” even through the cork.
According to Veuve Clicquot, the best vintages in Champagne since the turn of the 20th century, include the following years (from most recent to oldest); 1998, 1996, 1990, 1989, 1988, 1985, 1979, 1976, 1969, 1969, 1955, 1949, 1947, 1943, 1934, 1929, 1921, 1918, and 1904.
The pouring temperature of Champagne will vary depending on the kind you will be serving. Young non-vintage champagne, with no year on the label, should be poured around 8 degrees Celsius (46 degrees Fahrenheit). Mature wines, on the other hand, such as vintage Champagne, should be poured between 12 to 14 degrees Celsius (54 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit).
Pairing Champagne with food
What can Champagne be served along with? Champagne goes well with pasta salads, sea food, oysters, shrimps, light fishes and antipasti. It also goes well with a cheese course as well as with many desserts.
How long can you keep Champagne?
Veuve Clicquot says non-vintage champagne should be enjoyed upon release, but may be stored for up to two or three years. Vintage Champagne can age longer; from 10 to 25 years depending on the style of each vintage.
How to store Champagne
Veuve Clicquot recommends Champagne be stored in the same manner as any regular fine wine. It should be kept at a cool and continuous temperature, which is ideally 10 to 12 degrees Celsius (50 to 54 degrees Fahrenheit) or at most between 7 to 15 degrees Celsius (45 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit). In addition, Veuve Clicquot recommends a high humidity (over 75%), good ventilation and darkness to create the best conditions.
What is the best way to open a bottle of Champagne?
Remove the foil and the wire cage. Next, slowly twist the cork back and forth about a quarter of an inch, while allowing the pressure inside the bottle to force it up. Do not pull the cork out of the bottle; it should be gently released.
Opening a great bottle of wine is always a huge pleasure and a tragic loss. You have been waited a couple of decades before drinking this Grand Cru Classé of Bordeaux and you will only be able to enjoy it one single night. Indeed, every time you open a bottle you are doomed to finishing it within the following hours. If you do not, the wine will get oxidized and will lose its flavors.
Coravin’s Wine Access System 1000 has just put an end to this curse. Thanks to a very accurate method, close to surgery, this revolutionary bottle opener will suck up a small quantity of wine, the equivalent of a single glass for example, without damaging the whole bottle.
The bottle opener took several years to be designed and be truly efficient. The team that made Coravin’s Wine Access System 1000 was even led by a former rocket scientist.
But how did they manage to elaborate a system enabling you to serve wine without popping the cork?
The whole system pretty much looks like an average sophisticated bottle opener. Except that the traditional corkscrew has been removed and replaced with a thin, hollow needle. When you push it into the bottle, it would release a small dose of argon inside the bottle’s chamber. This pressurizes the content to the point where the wine is forced up the needle and out of the bottle. No air could have got into the bottle during the process. When you are done, the cork would just fill up the little hole naturally. No air has penetrated in the bottle during the process. Your wine is safe and ready to be opened days, weeks or years after.
This new bottle opener arose a lot of attention in the wine-lovers community. Wealthy wine drinkers will not be afraid of the moment they will open their Château Lafite Rothschild or Château Margaux anymore. One bottle can be served on several special occasions.
Moreover, luxurious restaurants immediately showed enthusiasm. Usually, they could only serve one wine of exception to their clients. Now they can serve a larger selection of glasses of great wines to them.
Yet, the Coravin’s Wine Access System is reserved to a small community of people, since it costs about $300. But considering the current prices of Grands Crus Classés, Coravin’s Wine Access System will sound acceptable to the owners of such wines and will make them enjoy the wines way more than expected.
Not that you needed an excuse to pop a cork, but global Champagne Day is October 25. In restaurants, bars, living rooms and maybe even (evolved) offices, wine drinkers around the planet will be sipping frothy bubbles from the Champagne region of France. Which, by the way, is the only place true Champagne comes from. It’s not that other bubbly is bad; it just never tastes quite like the Real Deal.
Here are some fun facts to know about Champagne while you’re sipping:
1. The Champagne region is the easiest wine region to visit in France. Just an hour and a half train ride from Paris, and you’re there.
2. Champagne is the most northern wine region in France and the wines have unbelievable freshness and crispness as a result.
4. The bubbles in all Champagne are the result of a long, expensive process of a second fermentation inside each individual bottle. (Champagne, unlike cola or sparkling water—or even other sparkling wines—is not carbonated).
5. Champagne can only be made in Champagne, France. Sparkling wines made in other parts of France are called crémant.
6. The biggest flavor differences between Champagne and other sparklers comes down to 2 things: minerality (which is the result of Champagne’s amazing limestone soils) and creamy complexity (which is the result of the long years Champagne spends in contact with yeasts).
How do you decant wine?
Decanting wine simply means pouring it from its bottle into some other container: a carafe, a decanter, even a water jug. Here are 5 easy steps to decant wine:
- To decant a bottle with sediment, first leave it upright for about a day to settle the sediment at the bottom. When you’re ready, make sure the decanter and the mouth of the bottle are clean.
- For the actual pouring process, stand a flashlight on the table so that it shines upwards—it gives stronger light than the classic lit candle. Place the decanter beside it and pour the wine so that the light shines through the neck of the bottle. This will allow you to see when the sediment is approaching, so that you can stop pouring then.
- Discard the sediment left in the bottle.
- Leave younger wines in the decanter for about an hour or two, and older wines anywhere from fifteen minutes to a half an hour.
- Taste the wine periodically to see how it’s opening up. If you decide that the wine has peaked, but the guests aren’t due for a while, drape a cloth over the top of the decanter to slow aeration.
Why decant wine?
Wines are decanted to get rid of sediment, the organic matter that naturally precipitates from the wine as it matures. The wines that throw the most sediment are mature, full-bodied red wines and vintage port.
The second reason to decant is to let the wine breathe so that it helps to warm up a wine that’s too cold, soften any harsh tannins and open up its aromatics.
This is especially true of rough-and-not-ready reds, particularly young, full-bodied ones: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Brunello, Barolo, Bordeaux, Rioja, Shiraz, Syrah and Northern Rhone wines.
Should some wines not be decanted?
Even decanting hardliners admit that some wines just aren’t made for airing out. Delicate red wines, such as Pinot Noir and gamay, aren’t usually decanted because their subtle aromas can quickly dissipate.
The same goes for zesty whites, such as Rieslings and Sauvignon Blanc: they can lose their crisp, refreshing edge.
Others are borderline: full-bodied whites, such as oakey chardonnays and some sweet wines, may benefit from decanting, depending on the style you like.
Which types of decanters are best?
You need a decanter large enough to hold the contents of a standard bottle, with some room at the top to allow the wine to breathe.
Decanters that maximize the wine-to-air surface ratio are best for young wines, while those with narrow necks that reduce air exposure are better for older wines that just need their sediment removed.
My personal favorite decanter is the “duck” style made by Riedel and others. It allows for lots of air exposure, but is very easy to pour and distributes the weight of the wine evenly. You also don’t get that awkward moment near the end of the wine when you have to tip a decanter like the one at the top of this post almost upside down to get the last drops of wine.
This month, Chateau Montelena Winery proudly released the 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay, making this the 40th vintage of Chardonnay produced at Chateau Montelena.
Here is what our winemaker, Cameron Parry, has to say about the wine and the 2011 vintage:
“This Chardonnay shows a beautiful rich golden straw color in the glass with clean pure aromas of pear and crisp green apple, all overlaid with light tropical fruit notes and a hint of honeysuckle. On the palate, this wine has wonderful fullness and creaminess without being heavy. A clean soft entry is quickly followed by crisp acidity and a rich display of fruit including juicy nectarine and white peach along with a hint of lychee and fresh citrus. The flavors on the finish are reminiscent of pear tart while the oak contribution is well integrated throughout the profile, with just a touch of nuttiness showing through.”
After a very mild winter for much of the country, we are expecting a hot summer. But don’t think the heat will keep us from the fire – we will still be throwing everything on the grill that we can. No matter what you’re serving for dinner, we have you covered on the wine (after all who said you can’t have wine with BBQ?)
Zinfandel: When you think barbequed foods you think intense flavors. Smoky, peppery, spicy – the same words often used to describe a Zinfandel. Your backyard BBQ favorites and Zinfandel are the ideal match. Neither one overwhelms the other – they are a perfect balance.
XYZin Zinfandel 10 ($17): 100% Zinfandel. The wine offers appealing aromas of raspberry, currant and plum with a hint of sandalwood and lavender. The flavors echo the aromatics with juicy cherry and baked strawberry pie married to attractive pomegranate fruit, rounded out by suggestions of nutmeg and cocoa.
Rosé: If we had our way, every grocery store would have to sell a bottle of Rosé along with every package of grilling meat. Why? Because Rosé will pair deliciously with anything and everything you serve; hot dogs, hamburgers, BBQ ribs, sausages, pork tenderloin, chicken breasts – even the salad!
Isabel Mondavi Rose ($16): Captivating aromas of strawberry, cranberry and redapple fill the glass. Light-weight in the mouth with waves of bright red fruit that roll across the palate. Mouth watering acidity dances on the tongue complementing a juicy finish.
If neither of these choices strike your fancy, here are a couple other great options:
Luca Syrah Laborde Double Select ($25): Asian spices, incense, blueberry, and blackberry
Peter Lehmann Shiraz Cabernet Art Series ($11): Shiraz and Cabernet combine in this classic Australian blend.
Bodegas Montecillo Rioja Albarino Verdemar ($14): Well balanced, crisp and flavorful with clear notes of lychee and grapefruit, finishing long with a nice grip of acidity.
Soup can be a tricky dish to pair with. The main reason being texture; both are liquids. When it comes down to it most soups will pair beautifully with wine, but I like to make a soup with some added texture, something more like a stew. That added texture really enhances the food and wine experience.
That being said, this particular soup works well with a smooth, slightly spicy red wine; L’Encastell Marge 2009. The blend of Grenache, Merlot, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon make for a very balanced, structured wine. Plus, it works great in the recipe for some added flavor!
1 ½ lbs beef brisket, fat trimmed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups red wine, L’Encastell Marge
3 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
2 dried bay leaves
2 small shallots, diced
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1 quart beef stock
1 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2-teaspoon of salt.
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons seltzer water
2 tablespoons scallions, diced
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Special Equipment: Slow cooker
- Generously season brisket with salt and pepper. Preheat a large skillet with 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium-high heat, add brisket. Sear on both sides, 3-4 minutes per side until a deep brown crust forms. Add to slow cooker with garlic cloves and bay leaves. Cover meat with red wine. Cook on high for 4-5 hours, on low 8 hours.
- Remove brisket from slow cooker, set aside to rest. Reserve cooking liquid.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, add remaining tablespoon of olive oil, shallots and red pepper flakes. Cook until shallots are soft, 3-4 minutes. Add reserved cooking liquid and beef stock. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Shred reserved brisket with two forks or with your fingers, adding the meat to the pot as you go. Continue to simmer soup, covered, over low heat for 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning.
- While soup simmers, build dumplings. Sift cake flour, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl. Create a well in the middle and add egg, milk and seltzer water. Stir to combine. If more liquid it needed, add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time. DO NOT overmix.
- Wet your hands so the dumpling batter is easy to maneuver. Create small dumplings, no more than a tablespoon in size. When add dumplings are made, add to soup. Cover and continue to simmer over medium-low heat, 7-10 minutes, until cooked through.
- Serve in large, deep bowls and top with scallions. Enjoy!
Most people don’t think of Easter as a drinking holiday, but for us wine lovers we know the secret…every holiday is a drinking holiday. Here are some suggestions of wines to serve with traditional (and non traditional) Easter meals and what foods pair best.
Domaine Chandon Brut Rose, $15
For me, every meal should start with bubbly. This Californian example is a traditional champagne blend (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier) with some additional Pinot Noir added for color. Juicy watermelon and strawberry make it light enough as an aperitif, but as vibrant enough to pair with a small bite of seafood or shellfish.
Chehalem Dry Riesling, $22
I’m predicting a come back for Riesling over the next couple years, there are so many great producers of varying styles from Germany to Washington to Oregon. Chehalem’s (Oregon) is bone dry with stone fruit flavors and a touch of lemon zest. Riesling is such a versatile wine when it comes to food pairing, in my opinion the best white wine for food pairing. My favorite for the wine is spicy food, but given a traditional Easter menu it would be a good match for ham.
Domaine Pommier Chablis, $26
If you are going with seafood as a main course rather than ham, try your taste for Chablis. Chablis, a growing region within the French region of Burgundy, is always made from 100% Chardonnay and is often aged with little or no oak giving it complex fruit and mineral flavors without the heavy vanilla and butter. Would be a great pairing with salmon or white, flaky fish.
La Follette Pinot Noir North Coast, $25
100% Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast, one of our favorite regions of California wine country. The cooler growing conditions of 2009 and 2010 prompted the best possible weather for Pinot and the wine has delivered as well. If Riesling is my favorite food white, Pinot is my red. Pinot Noir is the universal food wine. If your ever stuck, just serve Pinot. But my favorite pairing with Pinot is pork…and for Easter is perfect with ham.
Domaine d’Andezon La Granacha Vieilles Vignes, $17
Cote du Rhone is one of my favorite value regions in France. The quality of wine you get for the price you pay is double or triple what it would be in Bordeaux or Burgundy. Most of the wines are a blend of Syrah and Grenache which provide full-bodied flavors with a nice spice and acidity to balance dishes. This wine in particular has 100% Grenache in it bolstering even more acidity and bright fruit flavors. Pairs nicely with poultry dishes, lamb, or even a seafood dish with a heavy red sauce.
Here’s what’s new and interesting in the wine industry this week….
- A new Canadian group is petitioning the government to repeal a 1928 bill that restricts individuals from bringing wine across the border. Bill C-311 was introduced to the House of Commons last Fall based on international free-trade.
- The Chinese market has been getting a lot of press in terms of wine consumption over the last two years, but a recent presentation in Sacramento revealed that we may be overestimating this market. Wine made from grapes accounts for just 10% of the wine that Chinese currently consume, and are even known to mix premium wines with Coca-Cola. For more details on the presentation, click here.
- Again some Chinese attention…while China has been gorging on Bordeaux (and driving prices up the last few vintages), the most important market to French wine production is America. The Chinese may consume tons of Bordeaux, but it is the U.S. who is recording recording buying of French wines and consuming all the other appellations.
- The National Wine School, located in Los Angeles, has recently announced that it will be issuing industry credentials to any graduate of any certified wine education program around the globe. With the explosion of wine education programs, this school attempts to coordinate all of them, make them less confusing for consumers, and offer a standardized method for employers to evaluate job applicants. The program also requires a re-test program every five years to maintain certification. More details about the school can be found at www.winecertifications.com.
- Chuck Wagner, winemaker at Napa’s famed vineyard Caymus, will receive the Professional Excellence in Oenology Award at the 15th Annual Gold Coast Classic for his contributions to the wine industry on May 3.
This blog post is a summary of the first lesson I teach in all of my Wine 101 classes, and some may argue the most important…how to taste wine.
Now there are a thousand ways to taste wine, some proper and some improper. When I’m casually drinking wine, I typically observe no set method, at trade tastings the 5S method, and for formal evaluation I use the WSET approved tasting method (this is usually when I’m taking a test or studying for a test for the WSET). Why are there such formal ways to taste wine? Wine is made primarily to be enjoyed, and unfortunately sometimes during that enjoyment we forget to pay attention to whats actually going on in our mouth. Formal tasting methods help give us a structure about what we should be looking for and how our palette is reacting to a specific wine.
The 5S method is something I’ve used for quite some time. It’s been adapted from a number of articles on tasting methods, input from trade friends and partners, and adjustments I’ve made to make it easier. Simply just follow the 5 S’s…
Begin your evaluation by looking at (and through) the wine. I often hold my wine up to a white background and look for three key things: color and clarity. The color of the wine can give you an indication not only of what grape you are about to taste but the body of the wine, flavor, and sometimes even oak treatments. The clarity will alert you to any sediment in the wine.
Swirling wine is not just something wine snobs do. It actually has a very clear purpose…to break apart the aroma molecules (by hitting them against the glass) so it is easier for us to identify those aromas in the wine.
Someone once told me that everyone has a dominant nostril. I never believed it, until I tried it. My dominant nostril is my right. In this step take a sniff of the wine. Some take on long, deep sniff…others a few short ones. I play around with each wine until I can clearly identify some aromas. My beginners tip is to always shoot for the target, not the bulls-eye when identifying aromas. It is completely acceptable (at any level) to say ‘citrus fruits’ if you can identify if its lemon or lime. Try picking aroma categories: red fruit vs. black fruit, oak vs. spice, mineral vs. earth.
Here is the fun part. First, take a quick sip and then swallow (or spit) the wine immediately without thinking about it. This wakes up your palette and prepares it for the wine. After that, I issue you a challenge. Take a sip of the wine, swirl it around your mouth and pay attention to what happens in your mouth…for a full 30 seconds. Don’t speak, don’t think about anything else except that wine. Is your mouth watering from the acidity? Is the tip of your tongue awakened from the sweetness? Are you gums drying out from the tannins? After you’ve completed your 30 second test, take another sip and try to identify the flavors in the wine. Are they the same or different from the aromas you found?
This is the evaluation part of the tasting. How long is the finish (how long the entire flavor of the wine stays on your palette)? Did you like the wine? Would you buy it again? How much would you pay for it? How would you pair this with food?
Learning how to appropriately evaluate a wine is important for wine connoisseurs at any level. After all, would you continue to buy a particular flavor of ice cream if you disliked it…correct? I’ve found the 5S method a good starting point for formal wine evaluation (and a relatively quick one). But for more detailed evaluations and resources, visit the links below.