Monday, December 31, 2012

Wine Tip of the Week - Open that Bubbly with Style!

Are you on tap to open the bubbly for tonight's New Year's Eve celebration?  Impress your friends, not with a loud pop and your beautiful wine spraying everywhere, but with the slightest release of carbon dioxide from the bottle, and a perfect pour that will help guarantee a great start to your 2013.

Here is a video from YouTube to help illustrate. The guy has a French accent, so he MUST know how to do it correctly!!! But seriously, he does show the best way to open the bottle, not only to impress your friends - but to help you get the most out of your wine.

Enjoy and Happy New Year to all!!!

Friday, December 28, 2012

Nice Sparkling Wines to Toast the New Year

Looking for something to toast in the New Year? Here are a couple of nice Sparkling Wines that should be easy to find - and are a nice alternative to Champagne.

The first is Roederer Estate L'Ermitage Brut. This was my first splurge wine for New Year's Eve many many years ago, and I have purchased many times since and have never been disappointed. At $50 or so, it is not cheap, but a really good wine for the money.

If you are looking for something close to $20 a bottle, then I suggest this Spanish Cava - Segura Viudas Brut Heredad Reserva. Cavas like this are made with the same process as French Champagne, just using different Spanish Grapes.  Plus this Cava has a super cool bottle to impress your guests!!!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Happy New Year - Deciphering Those Bottles of Bubbly

As we countdown to 2013 it is time to break out the bubbly to raise a glass in celebration and remembrance. The number of choices can be daunting, so here is some info to help you in picking out a bottle. As always, your local wine shop owner can also point you in the right direction.

Types of Bubbly
Their are a number of types of Sparkling Wine - although Champagne is the one that you probably hear about the most often.  Champagne is sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. Any wine not from the Champagne region should not be called Champagne.  The way in which Champagne is made, with a secondary fermentation in the bottle, is referred to as "Methode Champenoise" (i.e. Champagne Method). Non Champagne sparkling wine can identify they do make their wine in the same method as Champagne by including Methode Champenoise on their label.   Champagne or wines made in the same method tend to be more expensive because it is a painstaking and time consuming process to make the wine.

Want to know more about Champagne? - Here is a short video that describes the process. I think it is ingenious how the sediment is removed from the bottle.  Just think that this process was figured out back in the 1700s by none other that the monk Dom Pierre Perignon (sound familiar??)

Types of Sparkling Wine that can help in your celebration include:
  • Champagne is the stuff from France made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir (yes a red grape!), or a combination of both (occasionally made include a grape called Pinot Meunier).
  • California Sparkling.  There are many, many examples of California Sparkling wine. I recommend two things - look for bottles marked Method Champenoise or Traditional Method. It is also a safe bet to go with a California wine made by a winery with connections to French Champagne, such Louis Roederer - here is one of my favorites. There are other methods to make a sparkling wine, so as the wine gets cheaper, the bubbles get bigger and the wine a bit more harsh.
  • Spanish Cava. A delicious and typically more economical option is Cava from Spain. Made in the same method as Champagne, but using Spanish grape varieties such as Parellada, Xarel-lo, and Viura. If your looking to try something new - give Cava a shot.
  • Italian Asti (or its cousin Moscato d' Asti) and Prosecco. Asti wines (yes from Aste Spumante fame) from Italy are made from the Moscato Bianco grape and are usually quite sweet and better for pairing with a dessert. Prosecco wines are made from the Glera grape and are typically dry or extra dry. Prosecco is not made in the Champagne method, but instead is carbonated in large stainless steel tanks (the Charmant method).
  • Australian Sparkling Shiraz. Australia specialized in making a red sparkling wine from the Syrah grape. I have tried a few of these without much luck. If you find a good one, please leave a comment with the info and let us know!
Dry or Sweet?
Sparkling wines come in a number of dryness/sweetness levels that can be confusing.  Some wines may say just "Dry" or "Sweet", but many will use the Champagne terminology. You will notice that there is some overlap in the amount of sugar left in the wine. The more sugar the sweeter the taste while drinking, and the more of a sweet aftertaste the wine will leave: 
  • Extra Brut - is "extra" dry - we're talking bone dry.  
  • Brut – dry - the most popular one for toasting and for food pairing.
  • Extra dry – middle of the road dry, with a bit of sweetness (great as an aperitif)
  • Sec - now we are heading towards sweet, less for toasting, more for desserts.
  • Demi-sec – pretty sweet, good for sweeter desserts (remember, always serve a wine that tastes sweeter than the dessert).
  • Doux - very sweet.
I would stay away from the "extremes" of Extra Brut and Doux, and then it comes down to individual taste.  Brut is the most popular, and the level I recommend to ring in the New Year.

Know of some good sparkling wine - please share with us by posting a comment - Thanks!!!

Whatever you choose to toast 2013, I hope you have a happy and safe New Year!!!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Wine Tip of the Week December 24, 2012

This week's tip is a simple but important one - I want you all to have a happy, safe holiday. If you do decide to imbibe in wine or other adult beverages, please do so responsibly and safely.  I very much look forward to what 2013 has in store for us!

Happy Holidays to All.

Wine Gift Idea - Gifts under $50 - Scotch Whisky for a Wine Lover

OK - It's now the last last minute to shop. If you have a wine lover in your life that also enjoys a good Scotch - try Glenmorangie and their "Extra Matured" Whisky.  They take their single malt scotch, and put it in barrels previously used to make wine. This process adds some really interesting flavor notes. Your local liquor shop can help you find the one you want, but the ones I've tried include Whisky that was extra matured in:
  • Sauternes Casks (An unbelievably good dessert wine)
  • Port Casks
  • Sherry Casks (Not the cheap stuff that Grandma drinks - good Spanish Sherry)
  • Super Tuscan Wine (Wine made in the Tuscan region of Italy that brings us Chianti, but the Super Tuscans are made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.)
Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holiday Gift or Treat for You - Trentatdue Chocolate Amore Port

If you want to give a dessert wine as a gift, or get a good bottle to enjoy after your holiday dinner - this Merlot based port with a touch of chocolate is awesome. Trentatdue Chocolate Amore Port.

Outstanding by itself as a sweet treat, or also goes nicely with a dessert. Just remember - your wine should be sweeter than the dessert you serve with it, or the wine will end up tasting dull.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Gift Ideas - Last Minute - Muga Spanish Wines

A bottle of wine from your favorite wine shop is a great last minute gift. Muga wines from Spain have great wines at different price points, all are great - and the more expensive ones are worth the extra $$$.

First up: Muga Rioja Seleccion Especial. Made from the Tempranillo grape. Excellent to enjoy by itself, and as with most Spanish wine - a great companion to food. Especially some Spanish Cheese and Spanish Chorizo. This wine is aged 28 months in oak barrels and 12 months in the bottle.  You should be able to find this one for around $40.
Wine Advocate - Rioja, Spain - " A glass-coating opaque purple color, it offers up an alluring perfume of sandalwood, pencil lead, incense, espresso, black cherry, and blackberry. Dense, rich, structured, and savory, on the palate spice notes and terroir aromas make an appearance"

Next up: Muga Gran Reserva Prado Enea. This wine is made from grapes that are left on the vine longer in order to ripen more, and then the wine is aged longer (36 months in oak barrels and 36 months in the bottle) to develop the flavors of the wine. You should be able to find this wine for less than $60.

Wine Advocate - Rioja, Spain - "The 2004 Prado Enea Gran Reserva is not quite as dense as the 2005 but is more expressive on the nose and rounder on the palate. It is a complete effort that should prove to be one of the best Prado Eneas Muga has produced."

And finally - the best of the best - Muga Rioja Torre Muga.  This wine is made in a more international style (bigger, fruitier) and spends 18 months in new French oak (hence the greater cost). You should be able to find this one for less than $90. More expensive, but well worth it.
Wine Advocate - Rioja,Spain- "Purple-colored and made in a more international style, it presents a bouquet of pain grille, mineral, scorched earth, incense, and blackberry. Massive on the palate, the wine has tons of material, great density, and 6-8 years of cellaring potential."

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!!!

Weekly Wine Review - Italian Red - 2009 Alta Luna Phases

For my very first wine review, I picked the one and only wine I had in the wine fridge that made the Wine Spectator Top 100 for 2012. At #52, this wine ranked nicely for a $12 wine (for comparison, #60 was a $135 Cabernet Sauvignon from Washington State). The wine is a red blend from Northern Italy, and it contains two grape varieties that I've never tried before: Teroldego (40%) and Lagrein (30%).  These two grape varieties are used almost exclusively in the Trentino-Alto Adige region of Italy) Rounding out the blend is 30% of good old Merlot.

So... on to the tasting!  As a reminder - here is how I rate wines.

Wine: 2009 Alta Luna Phases
Region: Italy (North Eastern) - an IGT wine from Trentino-Alto Adige
Obtained from: Purchased online from Ultimate Wine Shop
Price: $12
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.
Cork Condition: Natural Cork in very good - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Clear, with an intense inky purple color.
Aroma: Fairly subdued on the nose. Dark Fruit like Blackberry,  Coffee, smokey with a hint of something green and herbal.
Taste: Nicely balanced, fruity, with some acidity and some tannin. A fairly long finish that consists of fruit, but also a dry sensation in the aftertaste perhaps from some harsh tannins (this is sometimes a sign that the wine needs to age a bit).  I would compare it to a new world Syrah.

The Grade: I give this one a B. The lingering aftertaste is a bit harsh, but overall a good wine - that might just get even better with some aging.  May be a wine that is better to have with a snack or a meal rather than just as an everyday wine to sip. (Hey, there's an idea - who's bringing the snacks next week???).  I am a bit surprised that this wine made the Wine Spectator 100, but for a $12 wine I would recommend giving it a try. 

If you get a chance to try this wine - let me know what you think!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea - You will be Loved! - Caymus Cab

Looking for a nice wine to gift as the clock ticks down to Santa's arrival? This Cabernet Sauvignon is awesome, and is my go to bottle at any Steakhouse that carries it (a shout out to Gibson's Steak House in Chicago!!).  You will be loved if this bottle is waiting in someone's stocking!!

2009 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine Enthusiast - Napa, CA- "A flashy, opulent Cabernet. You could even call it sexy. It's so soft and luxurious in blackberry, blueberry and cassis flavors. Absolutely delicious by any standard, yet the dry structure maintains elegant balance."

Aeration Part II: Gadgets

In a previous post I got on my soap box (or wine box) to give you my pitch for wine aeration. Below are links to some gadgets out there all designed to provide wine aeration. I have seen a recommendation to throw the wine into a blender for a while (I haven’t tried this as my wine may end up tasting like margarita’s or pesto). The choice of what to use is yours, as long as it aerates, there really isn’t a wrong choice.

The Aeration Gadgets - It’s All About the Accessories

Gadget #1 - The Decanter. The use of a decanter is something that wine geeks like to argue, and some geeks would disagree with my opinion that aeration is vitally important. The process of decanting a wine, or pouring it into another vessel, gives you an opportunity to pour the wine through a stainer to remove any sediment that may have formed in the wine as it aged in the bottle. It is perfectly normal to have some sediment, especially if the wine label identifies it as an “unfiltered” wine.  Your wine may or may not need to be poured through a strainer, but another benefit of decanting is that it helps aerate the wine.  In fact, many decanters like the one pictured below are designed with a super-wide bottom to expose your wine to the maximum of air. The wine will get some aeration from being poured into the decanter, and some additional aeration if your decanter is shaped like the one below, but I also like to give the decanter a swirl every 10 or so minutes to help promote even more aeration (this may take some practice, but don't be afraid to give it a good swirl). I use and recommend the flat bottom model (wasn't that a Queen song?) - like the one pictured on the left below:

Gadget #2 Wine Aerator. With a name like this how can you go wrong - this thing Aerates!!!. With these gadgets, you pour the wine through the aerator, either as you pour into the glass, or even as you pour from the bottle into a decanter, thus achieving multi-gadget status. There are different brands, the one I use and really like is the Vinturi. If pouring into a bottle, you just hold the aerator above the glass. For a decanter, the aerator will fit in the neck of most wine decanters so you don’t have to hold it. It take a little work to pour wine quickly enough so that it doesn’t come out of the aeration holes, but slowly enough that it doesn’t overflow out the top. Practice a bit with water until you get the hang of it. I see on Vinturi website they now offer a separate aerator for white wines and one for spirits. I’m not sure about spirits, but using the same aerator for both red and white is absolutely fine. 

There are aerators that fit in the neck of the wine bottle. I have not tried this type, and while I am sure they are easer to use, the amount of aeration will likely be less. I would classify these as better than not using an aerator, but would suggest something like the Vinturi.

Gadget #3 Breathers.  I have seen these gadgets being promoted at some wine events, but have never tried one. The idea is to add air bubbles to the wine either by a hand pump, or through a battery powered pump like the one pictured below. I have not personally used one of these, but I don't believe they would be effective, as very little of the wine would be impacted by the bubbles.  I may be wrong - so let me know if you've had a good (or bad) experience with one of these gadgets!

Gadget #4 The Wine Whisk. I do not have one of these, but I really do need to get one and at our next restaurant outing, surprise my wife by whipping this bad boy out and giving my wine a good whisking!!! If you want a whisk - you can get one here
Right Wine Glasses Can Help

Good wine glasses do actually make a difference in helping to achieve aeration. Lead Crystal glasses have a microscopic texture (wow - didn’t I say I would go easy on the wine geek stuff and I’m already talking about the microscopic textures of wine glasses - oops!!!) that help to aerate the wine as you swirl. Wine glasses that are truly made out of glass do not have this feature. In future posts I will talk more about wine glasses and other benefits of crystal, but for now I’ll just say that crystal is better for enjoying your wine, but you definitely don’t have to buy the most expensive glasses to realize the benefits.

Temperature Matters

In an upcoming post I plan to talk more about temperature’s impact on wine (drinking and storage), but since we are trying to open up our wine and get the aromas released, it is important to note that temperature does matter.  The colder a wine is the more muted the aromas will be. Wine that you keep in your regular food refrigerator will be too cold to release much in the way of aromas.  If you have a glass of wine that feels very cold, the good news is that you possess an effective wine warming gadget already - your hands. Just hold the glass in your hands, and your 98.6 degrees will start helping your wine show all it has to show - aroma-wise anyway!

Bottom Line

Aeration will help most all types of wines, however you achieve it - by getting your swirl on or by using one of the myriad of aeration gadgets. If your are ordering a red in a restaurant (especially something “big” like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah or a Red Zinfandel), don’t be afraid to ask your server to decant it - just remember this is one of the ways you get the most out of your wine purchase. Also, most restaurants that have wine decanters will bring them to your table. You can watch the technique of the person serving you wine to pick up some pointers for decanting at home.

Just remember - Enjoy that wine and keep swirling.

- Wino4 Life

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Holiday Poll - What Will You Be Drinking with your Holiday Meal?

Comment below to let the world know what you be eating and what you will be drinking for your Holiday meal this year. Even if  (**GASP**) it isn't wine! 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Wine Tip of the Week - Restaurant BYOB if you can.

One eye-opening thing I learned as I started to get more familiar with wines and their retail price was how much extra you pay to buy and enjoy a nice bottle of wine in a restaurant. The markup on the cost of wine does go to the cost of training staff on wine service (from just the servers in some restaurants to multiple sommeliers in some restaurants) , providing glassware, storage of wine - basically funding the restaurants wine program.  I do agree that the extra costs must be factored in to the cost of a bottle of wine, but sometimes the markup seems extreme.

To provide an example I looked a the price list of a local chain Italian restaurant and picked a nice Italian Super Tuscan wine - Villa Antinori (a good rule of thumb for wine pairing - with Italian food).  

A bottle of this will set you back $44 in the restaurant with your all you can eat salad and breadsticks.  This same bottle just down the street at Total & More... $13.99!!!

I may be able to make up the difference in free breadsticks - but that's over 300%!!!

One option available to some (sadly not available in Arizona) - is to take advantage of restaurants that allow you to bring your own wine. The restaurant will charge you a "corkage" fee of typically $10 - $20 to open and serve the wine you bring.  I was a little hesitant at first when I first brought a bottle to a restaurant, but if restaurants do offer this - they don't mind at all.  Even outside AZ, I doubt your local chain Italian restaurant offers corkage, but something to keep in mind as you dine out.

Holiday Gift Idea - Wine Making Kit

Know someone who might want to try to make their own wine? Maybe someone like me who dabbled in making beer, and also gave making wine at home. It was fun, educational, and the results was pretty tasty!
There are several different sizes of kits - this one is the Deluxe which gives you all the equipment you need, plus a choice of many different types of wine to make.  This set is $290 at Homebrewer's Outpost.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Holiday Poll - What's the Best Bottle of Wine You Received as a Gift??

Share your story about your favorite gift of wine!  It doesn't have to be a great wine - great memories are just as good!  For me it was a bottle of Sunstone Merlot that a client at my IT job gave me several years ago around Christmas time (I gave him a bottle of Derose Viognier). It was a very good Merlot, but mostly I remember that Christmas we actually spent in the part of Arizona that does have a white Christmas - beautiful Pine, AZ!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea - Under $50 - Rechargeable Wine Opener

A corkscrew that looks good enough to display - looks especially good next to those stainless steel appliances! These rechargeable wine openers do work well, and this one from Waring also includes a foil cutter - a handy tool to use to open the wine like a pro!

There are many different brands - this one is available on Amazon for about $40.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea - Spanish Wines from $30 to $150

The Alto Moncayo line of wines from Spain includes three levels of quality. All are great and will make great gifts - big fruity wines more in the new world style than many Spanish wines. The more expensive ones are worth the extra money. The top level wine is one of my all time favorite wines.

Alto Moncayo Veraton Campo De Borja. Made from 100% Grenache (Garnacha in Spanish). Available for about $30 from Total Wine & More.

Alto Moncayo Alto Campo De Borja. Also 100% Grenache (Garnacha in Spanish). A bit more full bodied than the Alto Moncayo Veraton, this one can age for a few years. Available for about $45 from Total Wine & More.
Moncayo Aquilon Campo De Borja. This Poppa Bear of the Alto Moncayo line is fantastic!  This is definitely one of my top 5 all time favorites. Like the others, this wine is also 100% Grenache (Garnacha in Spanish)  This one can age for several years - up to a decade if you are so inclined. Available for about $150 from Total Wine & More.

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Holiday Gift Idea - Under $100 - Rapid Wine Chiller

Temperature of wine is vital - too warm and the flavors will be out of balance, too cold and the flavors and aromas will be muted.  Food refrigerators are not a good place to store wine for several reasons.  Here is a great item that can help you get your wine down to a good serving temperature, without the need for a separate wine fridge. There are many brands and versions available - here is a nice one from Crate and Barrel for $90:

Holiday Gift Idea - Under $100 - Darioush Wines

For those special people in your life that you want to spoil with a nice splurge wine, you can't go wrong with Darioush. Outstanding wines from Napa, and I highly recommend visiting their beautiful winery in Napa if you get the chance.

Darioush Signature Shiraz. They call their Syrah "Shiraz" as both a nod to the Persian roots of the owners, and they make this one very much in the Australian fruit forward style.  I am anxiously awaiting today's delivery of our bottles of this one from the Darioush wine club - it is one of our favorites!  Likely priced around $80, not cheap - but really an excellent wine.

Darioush Signature Cabernet Sauvignon.  Know someone who loves a good medium rare steak? You can't go wrong with a fantastic Cab like this one. A nice, full bodied Napa Cab. This one is closer to $90, but remember - it is better to give (great Napa Cab) than receive!

Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Holiday Gift Idea - Under $20 - Charles Smith Wines

Charles Smith is a rock and roll type of winemaker who rocks out his wines in Washington State.  The tagline on his website is "It's Just Wine - Drink It".  He makes great wines at all price levels, but here are some great ones in the under $20 Category:
Kung Fu Girl Riesling. A great, versatile white.  Pairs nicely with spicy food! You can usually find this for about $12.
Eve Chardonnay. A bit richer white wine to go with fish or chicken. Also a great everyday wine. This one should also be in the $12 range.
Boom Boom Syrah. Besides a great name, this is a great "fruit bomb" wine that is great just to drink everyday. This one is our go-to wine to for Famous Dave's BBQ!. This one is closer to $20, but you will not be disappointed.

Enjoy - let me know how you like them...and Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea - Under $50 - Foolproof Corkscrew

One of the most frustrating parts of enjoying wine at home can be a broken cork, a million little island of cork floating in you wineglass, or turning the cork into dust without being able to remove it.  We have used a Tupperware (yes folks, good old Tupperware) corkscrew for many, many years, and it is consistently easy to use, and will get that cork out safely every time. Not the most glamorous gadget, but gets the job done!.

Amazon has the Tupperware Corkscrew for under $25.

Here is a YouTube demo of this gadget in action. A little long and overly serious - but it gives you an idea of how it works:

Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday Gift Idea - Under $50 - Awesome Wine Glasses

The right wine glass does make a difference in you enjoyment of your favorite wine.  Crystal glasses help to aerate wine as you swirl, and the thin rim of the glass helps to maximize the flavor as you take a sip. Wine glasses can be outrageously expensive - but here are my favorites. Nachtmann Vivendi Bordeaux Glasses, 25.75-Ounce.  These glasses are made by a division of Riedel Glassworks. Riedel makes some of those wonderful, but very expensive glasses. These are a good size, their "Bordeaux" design is good for all types of red wines.  Not that I've ever done it, but you can fit a half bottle of wine in one of these with lots of room to swirl!

Amazon has a set of 4 of these glasses for less than $30.

Holiday Gift Idea - You Choose the Cost... Gift Cards?

Gift certificates/ gift cards sometimes get a bad name as a gift selected without a lot of effort. However, picking out a wine is sometimes a highly personal thing, and getting someone a bottle of wine as a gift can be difficult unless you happen to know their likes/dislikes.  Part of the journey of learning more about wine is building a relationship with a good wine shop to not only provide you the coveted product, but also to find a trusted place to go to get help in selecting a wine for whatever your occasion.  If you have a favorite, locally owned, wine shop - and you are looking for a gift for someone who lives reasonably close to that shop - why not give a gift card along with a note saying that you like this spot and you think the lucky recipient will as well. This adds a bit of a personal touch to the giving of ye olde gift card. Hey, I have nothing against giving a gift certificate from one of the giants of wine, like Total Wine & More - they are fun to spend, and you know that the person receiving the gift should have no problem finding something they like.  Plus - with gift cards you can decide how much you want to spend.

Holiday Gift Idea - Under $20 - Drop Stop Pour Disk

An inexpensive but super-useful little item, the Drop Stop Pour Disk are plastic film disks that you roll up and put in a wine bottle before you pour - and boom, no more wine dripping down the side of the bottle leaving wine colored stains on your furniture and/or guests!

Amazon has a pack of 5 of these Drop Stop Pour Disks for under $8.

Holiday Gift Idea - Under $20 - The Wine Skin

Do you have a friend or loved one who travels and occasionally wants to bring home more than the TSA allowed 3 oz of wine?  Buying wine in airport gift shops can be outrageously expensive, so here is something that can help protect a wine bottle, and protect the stuff in your checked luggage in case some breakage occurs.

Say hello the Wine Skin (available on Amazon - a two pack is less than $8).

We use these all the time and love them. Who knows, it may help encourage a friend or family member to bring you back a bottle next time they travel??