Monday, December 29, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - All that Sparkles Isn't Gold

OK, so that's not quite the old cliche - but when I need to talk to you about sparkling wines I get to use some artistic license! It's time again for celebration of the New Year, and that means sparkling wine.  There are a few things you need to know before you head out to buy sparkling wine for your celebration so that you end up with some "gold" - the type of wine you want for the price you want to pay.  Unless you are already comfortable with the lingo and brands of sparkling wine, I recommend heading to a wine shop for this purchase. Your local grocer will be stocked up on sparklers for the season, but won't have the knowledge about the products to help you out when you need it.  (Plus, grocery stores can have crazy markups on wine).  

The first thing you need to know is to call it sparkling wine vs. Champagne, unless wine from the Champagne region of France is exactly what you want.  You local wine shop can show you options from other parts of France (Cremant), Cava from Spain (one of my favorite choices), and sweeter options from Italy (Prosecco, Asti Spumante). Plus, there are a lot of great sparkling wines being made in California, New York, and even New Mexico.

If you do decide on Champagne, you also need to decide if you want a bone dry version, or a super-sweet version. The sweetness is measured by the amount of left over (residual) sugar in the wine that is not fermented into alcohol.  The levels of sweetness of Champagne are below:

  • Brut Nature (or Extra Brut): Bone dry (0-0.5% residual sugars). You won't find many of these, and this level of dryness is probably more intense than you are used to drinking.
  • Brut: Dry (0.5-1.5% residual sugars).  If you are looking for the equivalent of a dry white wine this is the level you want. The bit of sweetness adds balance to the wine, but it won't taste sweet.
  • Sec: "Sec" in French means dry, but at this level you will start to taste some sweetness in the wine. A great choice if your guests like a bit of sweetness, or if your toast is at the end of a meal. (1.5-3.5% residual sugars).
  • Demi Sec: "Semi-Dry" Champagne gets even sweeter, and broaches into dessert wine territory. 3.5-5.0% residual sugars
  • Doux: Sweet! (above 5.0% residual sugars). These will also be very hard to find and are equivalent to a syrupy sweet dessert wine. Not the choice for your New Year's toast!

So... lot's of styles of sparkling wine from different countries means lots of choices - and your local wine shop staff can help you navigate the choices and find you a great one (or two) for the amount you are wanting to spend. 

Have a safe and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

 Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All!
Careful with those corkscrews, you could poke an eye out!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: Restaurant Tipping for a Bottle of Wine

Tipping for food service in a restaurant is typically in the 10% to 20% range (of the pre-sale tax amount), depending on the service provided. The question is -  does this rule also apply to the bottle of wine you've ordered - regardless of the price? You are likely already paying a hefty markup of 100% to 200% over retail for that bottle of wine - do you need to pay the markup and tip on the marked up price too???

The simple answer is yes, at least to a degree. The markup on the wine is just a reality of restaurant dining and goes to cover the costs of providing wine - wine storage, maintaining inventory, stemware, staff training, perhaps a sommelier, spoilage, etc - plus (rightfully so) some profit for the proprietor.   Tipping is about the service you have received, and for servers in the restaurant industry it is how they make their living.  So when deciding what to tip, ask yourself how much service related to the wine did you receive and was it good quality?

- Did a sommelier take time to discuss and present the wine list, help you choose a wine or wines, and check back with you? Did he/she listen to what you like and dislike and helped you pick out something yummy in your desired price range?  If so - you should tip closer to the upper end of 20%.  

- Did you pick your own wine from the wine list, didn't get any help from the server, and had to refill your own glasses during the meal? Although there may not have been anything wrong per se - you didn't receive much service, so closer to 10% is appropriate.

- Many of your actual experiences will probably be in between these two examples - so may land in the 15% level.

For those ordering wines on the OMG expensive side, it is OK to taper off the tip as the price increases.  For a great sommelier-assisted wine experience, a $40 tip on a $200 bottle of wine doesn't seem crazy, but a $400 tip on a $2000 bottle of wine does seem quite extreme. Use your judgement and try and come to a fair tip - if you can throw down a couple grand for a bottle of wine - please be sure and give your server a little bit of love when tip time comes!

Just keep in mind that those fine folks providing your food and beverage are trying to make a living, so don't forget to take care of them at the end with an appropriate tip on the food and wine portions of your bill - based on the quality of service of course.  

Most of all  - just enjoy!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Last Minute Gift Idea... (Drum Roll Please) ...WINE!!!

Well, you've put it off about as long as you possible can - but there are a few wonderful people on your gift list and you have a big old zilch to give them.  It can be intimidating to pick out a wine for someone, as tastes vary so much - and you may not even know what your friend or family member likes. Don't fear though - the act of picking out a wine for someone as a gift can be a great gesture - even if it isn't a wine they would pick for themselves.  Pick out a wine, and let them know WHY you picked that wine for them, and suddenly a white wine lover may enjoy a nice bottle of red because someone special picked it for them.  Your local wine shop owner can help you - just let them know how much you want to spend, and what you know about the recipient's wine taste, and let them do their magic.  Most importantly - give wine proudly!!

Happy holidays to all!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - California Zinfandel - 2013 St. Amant Winery Zinfandel Mohr-Fry Ranch Vineyard

When the weather cools off a bit (dipping down into the 80s in December in Arizona) it is time for some bigger red wines. We'll call them comfort wines! Today is an old vine Zinfandel from Lodi, south of Sacramento.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Holiday Gifts Under $100 - Cork Umbrella!!!

OK, by this time on the holiday calendar you may have someone on your list that literally has EVERYTHING!  Well, they might not have this! 

The Cork Umbrella You already know cork is Waterproof! This manual Umbrella made of cork fabric with curved handle made of wood and metal sticks and rod. 

Happy holidays to all! Cormetal sticks and rod. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Holiday Gift Idea - Saber that Champagne Safely!

Sabering Champagne is not something you do everyday, but a very cool flourish on that special occasion. If you know someone who loves a good flourish, this makes a unique gift. Not at all a saber, but that makes it all the more unique!  Not cheap at $150, but definitely a special gift for that special person!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Holiday Gift Ideas Under $50 - Aerator and Carafe Gift Set

Aeration is very important to help you get the most out of your wine.  
I own one of these Vinturi aerators and use it all the time.  You may read how an aerator like this isn't good for all wines... and that is true. So for that bottle of 50 year old Burgundy, just gently decant it to remove sediment, but for the thousands of other younger wines (that don't cost thousands of dollars), aeration is awesome!

So give your red, white, rosé (but no sparkling please!) a boost - and do the same for that wino or wanna be wino friend of yours with this great gift!  Happy holidays!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: Holiday Gift Idea Under $100

For just about any craft, the right tools are the key. For a wino, a great corkscrew makes an awesome gift.  This one from Wine Enthusiast  is absolutely gorgeous. At $70 it is not cheap - but what a beauty with a knife, and double hinged which makes removing corks much easier. Stay tuned for more holiday gift ideas!

A Beauty!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Sonoma, CA Zinfandel - 2012 Avenel Cellars Zinfandel

When the temperatures drop a bit (here in Arizona our highs have dipped down into the low 70s!), it's time to look for some bigger, bolder, "comfort" wines like Red Zinfandel. Actually we drink Red Zinfandel all year long, it was just a chance for me to brag about our weather!!! You can get even with me in the summer and brag about your weather when we are ridiculously close to the temperature on the sun. Anyway... now for the review!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - What's Up With that Cork Chunk???

Don't you hate it when you've just opened a beautiful bottle of wine, poured a glass for yourself or maybe yourself and your significant other, only to see one or even many chunks of the cork in the bottle... UGGG!!!  You can "personalize" your glass of wine by dipping a big ole finger in the wine to chase the chunk of cork around the glass, or even better you can try to avoid this calamity all together.  

One of the biggest culprits of wine chunks is your choice of corkscrew. A good corkscrew needs to have a fairly thin "worm" (the spiral part) with a very sharp tip. We're talking draws blood when you touch it sharp. You want the corkscrew to pierce and glide through the cork, not bore through and pulverize it.  My motivation for this week's tip was the gradual appearance of more and more chunks in our wine. My trusty go-to Tupperware corkscrew (really, they are foolproof and I highly recommend them) had been called into service so many times that the tip had grown dull, and started kicking out cork chunks. Sadly, it was time to retire that corkscrew (I've never worn one out before!) and replace it with a younger, sharper model. 

Let's all be cork chunk free in 2015!!!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Rosé Wine Taste too Bitter?

Rosé wines are made from the same grapes used to make red wine - the juice just doesn't get much contact time with the grape skins so only a hint of color is imparted.  

Like red wines, the temperature you drink the wine will impact the flavor. Some Rosés can be served quite cold to refresh on a hot day - but it you have a Rosé that tastes too bitter - just let it warm up in the glass a bit, and the bitter taste will diminish.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Washington State Red Blend - 2007 Brian Carter Cellars Byzance

My fun and mostly rewarding experimenting in the world of red blends continues with a blend of Rhone Varietals from Columbia Valley in Washington State. This particular wine caught my eye because of the Counoise grape included in the blend. Although only a tiny 2% of the blend, it is one of the grapes allowed in Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, and is used to add a peppery character and acidity to a wine blend.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Searching for Treasures, Avoiding the Traps - a Visit to Bar Zazpi in San Sebastian, Spain

Shrimp (Gambas) to Die For
San Sebastian is a wonderful food mecca in the beautiful Basque country of Spain. If you are a foodie or thinking about becoming one, I highly recommend visiting San Sebastian at least once - and if you’re like us, it will immediately become a regular stop on your vacation itinerary.  A big part of the attraction of San Sebastian for me is that there you can find everything from a simple, but life changing Shrimp Pintxo (the Basque version of Spanish tapas) for 2.50 at a little spot call Goiz-Argi in the Parte Vieja (Old Part) of San Sebastian, to all the Michelin starred restaurants you could ever want. In fact, San Sebastian is one of the top cities in the world for total number of Michelin stars per square meter - outdoing even Paris, France.  Not quite sure yet? How about a beautiful piece of seared Foie Gras with Apple Compote at another spot in the Parte Vieja, La Cuchara de San Telmo?  Just being inside (pintxos served only inside!) and listening to the crowd make their pintxo orders, as the servers yell orders back to the kitchen…”Luis… Dos Foie!”, “Luis… Cuatro Foie!, Dos Ravioli!” and hearing Luis shout the orders back was all part of the great experience there.

Luis! Dos Foie!!

Martin Berasategui
We have been lucky enough to dine at Martin Berasategui (three Michelin stars) this year, Mugaritz (two Michelin stars) a few years ago, and hope to visit Arzak and Akelare (each with three stars) sometime in the future. Our experience at these restaurants have been consistently awesome, you just need to pack a suitcase full of cash and expect to pay between $500 - $1,000 for a meal for two plus wine… and you really need to drink the wine! Each time we go to San Sebastian we typically stay 3 nights/4 days and plan to hit one of the heavy hitter Michelin star spots. Past trips have also included one of my all time favorite places - Asador Etxebarri, which is actually about 1 hour outside of San Sebastian. That leaves us three-ish days to enjoy the more reasonably priced offerings of the area.  

It’s super easy to Google Michelin star restaurants in order to find restaurants to try in a particular area, but the toughest part is actually getting a reservation.  Tourists, foodies, and travelers from all over the world are googling the exact same thing and trying to get the exact window table for two that you are hoping to score.  The challenge is finding those other places that offer wonderful food, great service, and a memorable experience in a town where food options are very plentiful.  With any destination that draws a large number of tourists each year, there are plenty of “touristy” spots that are easy to find near tourist attractions, probably recommended by your hotel staff, have lots of tables with very little waiting for impatient tourists. In short, everything you don’t want to look for if you are a foodie.  Will you be able to eat at these places? Of course - but do you really want to visit such a food haven and eat uninspired food, designed not to challenge or confuse the palate of the tourist crowd, and designed to be cranked out in a manner valuing quick over quality?  I do realize that the world has those who look at food as “meh, eating is just something we have to do.”  Like vegans, I know they exist and have seen them in the wild - but do not understand the point of view at all!

Wine Tip of the Week - Return that Corked Wine!

A reality of drinking wines from bottles sealed with natural cork is an occasional case of cork taint.  This syndrome is caused by a chemical substance called trichloroanisole, referred to as TCA.  If present, the substance is most often introduced to the wine through the cork - and if you drink enough wine you will eventually run across a tainted bottle.

If your wine is devoid of the fruit and other aromas, and smells only like musty wood or even like wet cardboard (for me it's often the musty smell of my grandmothers basement when I was growing up) - you may be the victim of TCA.  What should you do?  Push the cork back in the wine and return it to where you bought it. Return policies may differ, but a good wine shop should have a reasonable return policy.  Remember - this is a bottle by bottle occurrence, so give the wine another try. You don't want to miss out on a great wine just because you were unlucky enough to have one corked bottle!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Central California Syrah - 2010 Wrath Syrah KW Ranch

During a wonderful long weekend in Napa, we stopped off at the Oxbow Market (a wonderful collection of food shops and restaurants in downtown Napa) and I found a great Wine & Cheese shop. Yes we needed some wine even though we were hitting 9 or 10 wineries  as most of the wine we bought was getting shipped home.  This bottle was recommended by the wonderful person manning the wine section - big and bold was the promise and that sounded great to me!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - HOGAN!...Be Careful How You Clink!

A little known fact about Colonel Klink from the 1960s TV comedy Hogan's Heroes was that he was a wine fanatic. 

OK, maybe that's not true - if the Colonel or you invest a chunk of change on nice wine glasses, you don't want the delicate crystal broken by good intentioned friends or family raising their glasses - and clinking them together for a toast.  

Typically you will see people tilt the glasses toward their clinking partner. This however means the glasses will strike each other a the rim - the most delicate and fragile part of the wine glass.

Keeping your glasses upright for the clink will allow the clinking to occur further down on the globe of the glass, where it is a bit stronger. So clink away (HOGAN!) but be careful out there... especially with your nice wine glasses!!!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red Blend - 2009 Angosto Almendros

I have started sampling the spoils of the most recent "Cheapskate Marathon" from Wine Til Sold Out ( - everything under $25!.  Today's wine is from Valencia, Spain - and is a blend of Garnacha (a.k.a. Grenache), Syrah, and a grape I'd never heard of before - Marselan. Marselan is a grape that is a cross between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Red Blend South Africa - 2011 Neethlingshof Estate Caracal

Tried any wines from South Africa? They do have a bit of history making wine, actually dating back to 1659 - when the Dutch East India Company established a supply station in the area now known as Cape Town. Today's wine is a Bordeaux style blend from one of the most famous South African regions - Stellenbosch.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: What to Eat with your Big Cab

Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the red wines that people new to red wine often try - mostly because of familiarity with the varietal. Hey - it is the red that put Napa (and some parts of  Bordeaux, France) on the map right? 

I believe that some mishaps with food pairing and Cabernet Sauvignon may tragically scare some newbies away from the fantastic wonders of red wine. So here are some dos and don'ts for your consideration to help make sure you get the most out of your wine.  Cabs can be VERY expensive, but no matter how great the wine - team it up with the wrong food and it's not's not funny!

Cab Pairing Dos.  Cabs tend to be big and bold - tannic, high alcohol, and typically made with plenty of time in oak barrels.  With bitter tannins you need food with a bitter element to fight fire with fire.
  • Grilled red meats - cooked to no more than medium rare.  The char from grilling adds a bitter taste for the tannins. The bigger and more tannic the wine - the rarer the meat should be. Like your meat closer to well done - go for a Pinot Noir or other lighter bodied red.
  • Bitter side dishes - some bitterness in your side dishes, will also go nicely with your big cab - think bitter greens like mustard or collard, radicchio, or a grilled vegetable that will also get a good char - like eggplant.
  • Black Pepper - on almost anything will provide a bitter component to go with your Cab. Have a companion that doesn't like bigger Cabs but you do? Have them order something like a pepper crusted steak, or a Steak Au Poivre and the wine will taste less tannic to them. Cool right???
Cab Pairing Don'ts. These are food pairing don'ts that could ruin the flavor and balance of your wine or overpower the food - and none of us want that!
  • Hot and spicy foods - the capsaicins that create the heat in dishes will accentuate the alcohol and tannin levels in your Cab and make a good wine taste just gross!
  • Delicate fish dishes - Cab can work with heartier fishes like swordfish or shark, but you are better off with a lighter red or a heavier white like a Chardonnay.
  • Cheeses - Cabs can pair with some cheeses, and various experts disagree on what cheeses go well. With the right Cab, I absolutely love a reasonably strong blue cheese - but others say this is blasphemy.  My advice is to stick with Pinots, Spanish Reds, and other lighter style reds for your cheese - just in case.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Monday, October 20, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Wine for Halloween Party

October is slipping away but there is still enough time for a fun filled Halloween party.  Of course you'll want to serve some great wine, but how about some wine with that Halloween theme built right in the name?

Here are just a few!

Owen Roe Sinister Hand
Rhone Blend from Colombia Valley, Washington State

Charles Smith Velvet Devil
Merlot from Washington State

d'Arenberg The Dead Arm
Shiraz from Mclaren Vale, Australia

My Personal Fav for this Year...
True Blood Pinot Noir
from Carneros, California

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Australian Shiraz - 2013 Mollydooker The Boxer

I decided to try a couple of Mollydooker wines during my last shopping excursion. Today we'll take a look at "The Boxer" Shiraz and later I'll be tasting "Two Left Feet" - their blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.  First up, let's put the gloves on...although it does make swirling the wine quite a challenge!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: Some Leisurely Reading Material

Looking to read up a bit to jump start your wine knowledge? A trip to your local bookstore (you should visit while there is still such a thing!) or searching through Amazon will provide you with a multitude of choices.  While I have not read them all - there are two recommendations I have for good reads.

Recommendation #1 - Don't be Afraid to be a Dummy.

The first book I picked up when I wanted to learn more about wine was Wine for Dummies.  I have read other "Dummies" books and really like how they are organized - easy to read from front to back or to skip around and read up on specific topics.  After polishing off Wine for Dummies, I went right for Red Wine for Dummies and White Wine for Dummies.  I highly recommend books from this series - there are other titles I haven't read, but I would guess they are as useful as the titles I have read.  From a quick search I just did, it looks like you can still get Wine for Dummies, but the others may be out of print.  A quick check on eBay and I found all these titles.  The iTunes store also had a "All in One" edition that appears to combine Wine for Dummies with some of their regional wine titles (e.g. French Wine for Dummies).  

Recommendation #2 - Food and Wine Pairing.

There are not so many books out there about Food and Wine Pairing. My recommendation for the first book you read is the first book I read - called Red Wine with Fish by by David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson.  It is a great book because it tackles some of the legendary rules of wine tasting, explains why the rule came about, and identifies great pairings that break these legendary rules (e.g. Red Wine with Fish!).  The bad news is this book is out of print. Years ago I had to find one on eBay, and it was not cheap. If you are interested  in this book, shop around before you buy to make sure you get a reasonable price.  A second choice that is more available and maybe more affordable, but also an awesome book - is Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier's Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food by Evan Goldstein and Joyce Goldstein.  Lots of great advice on wine and food pairing, examples, recipes - including red, white, sparkling, and dessert wines.

I have just started to read the follow up book Daring Pairings: A Master Sommelier Matches Distinctive Wines with Recipes from His Favorite Chefs.

Have a Favorite Wine Book? Share with us in the comments below.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red - 2006 Muga Aro Rioja

In May 2013 this little beauty traveled in the relative luxury of a suitcase full of dirty clothes back from Spain after we purchased it at the Muga winery (an excellent winery tour that I always recommend, especially since they make their own barrels!). This baby could probably age 10 more years in the wine fridge, but I'm just not that patient. So let's decant for 8-ish hours and enjoy!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Halloween Your Wine

In other Halloween tips I've suggested wines that are great to serve at an (adult) Halloween party like POIZIN Zinfandel.  But what if you have wine you want to serve your guests that doesn't have a "scary" name or come from a "scary" winery?  How about do-it-yourself?

Check out this site for labels you can download for free. You will need to get some labels at your local office supply store - but then boom! (or boo!) you have you own Halloween wine!

Here's an example:

There are more to choose from, most of which aren't as gory as this one - but this was my favorite.

How about these from Amazon?

Enjoy and Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - California Red Blend - 2012 Dirty Pure Project F-Bomb

I will admit that what made me pick up this bottle at our local gourmet grocery store was the name - The F Bomb.  What made me want to try this wine was that the wine is listed as a "California Red" which means the grapes could come from anywhere in California, and you will see this designation on many cheap and not so good wines. This wine however was listed as a small batch project with only 3,000 cases made which wasn't consistent with a bulk producer of low price/low quality wines. Hmmm.... let's give this a try!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week: Taste the Wine, But Don't Forget to Experience the Wine

While perusing the Fall 2014 edition of Wine & Spirits magazine I came across a quote that I really liked and decided I needed to share it.  On the cover of this issue is "Nose, Tongue, & Cheek, The Art and Science of Wine Tasting," and the magazine is chock full of articles about various aspects of wine tasting. One article "Learning to Taste" consisted of wine professionals sharing their experiences of learning to taste wine.  The quote that most caught my eye came from Talia Baiocchi, editor-in-chief of Punch, an online wine and spirits magazine.  She shared her story of staring to learn more about wine and shifting from collecting her impression of wine for the more structured analysis that is typically taught when you learn to evaluate wine.  In the article she says "In a way, approaching wine from a purely evaluative standpoint is like wandering through a neighborhood with your face buried in a GPS, never looking up to experience where you are."

What a great analogy! It is necessary to learn about the components that make up a wines aroma, taste, and structure, so it is important to understand the role of acid, sugar, and tannins as well as the different aromas of different wines. All these elements help us in selecting food and wine pairings,  and help us in suggesting wines for others based on their personal preferences.  But knowledge of these elements are just the GPS of the wine world - they will help you along the way, but your goal should not only to be to arrive at the final destination,  but to enjoy the ride and truly experience the destination once you arrive.  For different people the destination may be different things - finding a great wine, buying a great wine for a gift for a picky drinker, creating a great food and wine pairing... the list goes on.  So, taste the wine - but please, please don't forget to also experience the wine.  On your next vacation would you ever dream of driving for hours under the guidance of your trusty GPS, only to arrive, and immediately head back home? No way! The same for wine, don't forget the element more important that acid or tannin levels or if the wine smells more  like red apples or green pure enjoyment! 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Australian Red Blend - 2011 Thorn-Clarke Terra Barossa Cuvée

My meanderings through some interesting red blend wines continues today with a Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Petite Verdot team up from Australia. This winery also offers many single variety focused wines, so if this goes well then I may need to try some of those in the future.