Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Building a Wine Stash at home – What Should You Have?

Thanks to the folks at, I can tell you than right now my private wine stash (or if you prefer, the wines I have “cellared” – (though we live in a two story townhouse with no cellar!), is exactly 179.   I can also tell you that I have 134 red wines, 27 white wines, 1 rosé, 17 and dessert wines.
Top Countries represented are the US with 124 wines and Spain with 23 wines. Varietal winners are Cabernet Sauvignon at 25 bottles, Pinot Noir at 24 bottles, and Syrah/Shiraz at 20 bottles.
Before we became winos, we would buy wine as needed – usually at the grocery store along with other food supplies for the weekend.  Fairly quickly we started to build up some bottles of wines from purchases after wine tastings, while on vacation, and from joining wine clubs.  Our first purchase was a wooden wine rack that we kept in a closet to store the extra bottles, and I would chill a bottle in the food refrigerator for a while (depending on white or red) before serving.  As I learned more about wine and how important storage temperature is for the wine, and realized how much better it would be to have wine at a temperature ready to serve, we decided we need a wine refrigerator.  We started off with a Haier 30 bottle unit, and fairly quickly added another identical one. One unit was used for red wines, and kept at about 55 degrees, while the other was used for white wines, and kept at about 48 degrees.
My current setup includes a large Vinotemp refrigerator for red wines and dessert . The unit was advertised to hold about 200 bottles, but in reality holds closer to 150 wines because of the various bottle shapes. The top shelves of the unit are a bit warmer, which is good for aging reds (about 60 degrees), while the bottom shelves a bit colder for keeping everyday wines ready to serve (about 53 degrees).   

We also have a small Whytner unit (21 bottles) for white wines (no pun intended...I think!) that need to be stored and served at much colder temperatures.  When we moved from our previous house, I tried to downsize to just the Vinotemp from the large Vinotemp and the two smaller Haiers (one for whites, one for everyday, the Vinotemp was for aging and for my better wines), but the lower temperate required for whites impacted the ready to serve temperature of my everyday reds, and would slow down the aging process for reds that need more time before opening.  So quite quickly I added the a unit for whites, and more recently have stolen some space in the office closet and put some wooden wine storage crates for overflow.

Do we really need this much wine at home? Of course the answer is no, but their are great advantages to having a wine stash at home. You will have the flexibility and spontaneity of being able to choose from a variety of wines right on hand - all at temperatures ready to serve. You will be able to secure and age wines from wine clubs, most of which may need two or more years of aging before being ready to drink. You will also be able to store the spoils of wine you may have purchased on a wine vacation to Napa or any other wine region.  
If you want to start up a home wine stash - I suggest you start off small.  Think about buying a small wine fridge, something in the 20-30 bottle size, and consider paying the extra for a dual zone cooler so you can store red and whites in the same unit. A cheaper option is to start out like I did, with a wine rack in a closet, but remember how important temperature is to the storage and serving of wine.  If you end up expanding, this smaller unit can be used for all whites like I do, or you can you it for your longer term aging wine or other good stuff. You may also be able to sell the smaller unit to another wino who wants to start up their stash, while you invest in a bigger unit...that's what I did with our Haier coolers!
When picking a wine fridge, keep in mind various bottle sizes.  My Vinotemp was a smoking deal from Costco, however to get maximum bottle capacity you need to have all Burgundy/Rhone shaped bottles of regular size and thickness.  My friends at VGS make a great Syrah, but in an odd shape bottle, and my friends at ONX Winery bottle all their reds in a similar odd-shaped bottle.  Read up on the capacity and what type of bottles your fridge can actually hold.
You will also need a way to keep track of your stash. If you are young and have a great memory, you can rely on that, but as your stash gets bigger you will need to be able to see what you have.  At first I kept spreadsheets with bottle locations, and later switched over to, where you can record the wine you have, its location, what you paid, and even public or private tasting notes.
Another important factor for your wine stash is to maintain a balance based on your wine drinking habits.  Keep at least 1/3 of your capacity available for everyday and weekend wines, so you will have a good selection ready to drink when you need it. The remainder of the fridge can then be used for wines that need aging, and any good stuff/splurge wines that you want to keep on hand.  Not interested in wine clubs or not planning any wine vacations in the near future... then fill that baby up with your favorites...just make sure to keep a balance that works for you in mind. Also, reserve a few spots to make sure you have variety available. Even if you drink 99% red wine, you will want a white wine or two on hand for a guest or to serve with a beautiful fish dinner.  Here in the desert we also reserve spots for some nice rosé, which is very tasty on a 110 degree day.
What is Wino4life's current score on keeping this balance in his wine stash? Probably a C+ (and and "F" for writing about myself in the third person!). I have a lot of Pinot Noir that is not ready to drink. Thicker than typical Burgundy bottles mean fewer can be stored in my Vinotemp.  I waited for years on waiting lists for wonderful wines like Kosta Browne, Sea Smoke, and Kanzler, but while I’ve cut my recent purchases to minimums, I  will still need to cut out one of the three next year (gasp!).  Also have a lot of dessert wine, and unless we have guests we seldom have any dessert wine. 
Lastly, like any good inventory – you will also need a good "reorder" process. Keep track of what you consume, what's left in the stash, and what you need to buy. Keep the fridge as full as possible as that will help with keeping things at a constant temperature and keep the power bills lower. If you are like me and order quite a bit of wine online, you'll need to stay on top of your reordering so you can place orders when the weather is amenable to shipping wine (not too hot, not too cold... juuuust right!).

Monday, April 28, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Watch for Live Tweets on Saturday from Wine Spectator Grand Tour!

I will be live tweeting from the Wine Spectator Grand Tour at the Mirage in Las Vegas on Saturday 5/3. If you are attending please say hello! You'll be able to find us - just check out my tweets @wino4lifeblog. See you there!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red - 2008 Alto Moncayo Aquilon

A special occasion that calls for a "Splurge Wine" can crop up at just about any time. For us, the special occasion was our impromptu viewing party for the second installment of Gordon Ramsey's Kitchen Nightmares visiting Amy's Baking Company right down the road in Scottsdale, AZ.  If you have not seen or heard about Amy's Baking Company - just google it, and make sure you have some time to read, watch videos, read Yelp... and be shocked and amazed. 

For this special occasion I turned to one of my all time favorite wines - Alto Moncayo Aquilon. This bottle is a 2008 that I've had aging since I bought a couple bottles back in June, 2011.  With some great Spanish cheese and chorizo, let the viewing party begin!

Wine: 2008 Alto Moncayo Aquilon
Region: Campo de Borja, Spain
Grape Varieties: Garnacha (Grenache)
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $120.00
Wino4Life Category: Splurge Wine
Aeration before tasting: Decanted for aeration - about 6 hours.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Dark, dark purple with a pinkish rim.
Aroma: Wow! When I first decanted the wine, the dark fruit aromas and vanilla were already showing strong. As the wine decanted, the wine showed blackberry, lots more vanilla, chocolate, and spices.
Taste: Absolutely delish! Fruit, vanilla, chocolate, and more vanilla. Tannins are there, but very soft and smooth... also a nice amount of acidity that paired nicely with our cheese and chorizo snacks.  Then there is the finish - long, long, long, and amazing.

The Grade: I give this one an A+. I love this wine. While not cheap at $120, it is a GREAT wine for $120.  The only wine I've had and liked more was a Penfold's Grange... which costs 4 times as much, but is only a bit better.  If you are looking for a splurge wine, or a great gift - this is your wine!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wine Spectator Grand Tour 2014 - The Wino4Life Winery List

A couple of weeks ago in my post titled Wine Spectator Grand Tour 2014 in May - It's Planning Time! I described my process for planning for this great event. With over 200 wineries available and only three hours, the way to get the most out of your not inexpensive ticket is to go in with a plan in mind. 

With a week and a half until it's "Vegas Baby" time (May 3), I present to you my list of wineries that I plan to visit at the Grand Tour.

If you are going to attend, I suggest you take the time to make a list more in line with your wine preferences, making sure to try some new wineries, some new types of wine to expand your horizons - while mixing in some old favorites along the way. 

We typically do not make it to ever winery that I have on my list - we always leave the flexibility for some game time (drink time?) decisions based on recommendations from other Grand Tour guests or from another winery - or just a booth that seems particularly hopping with excitement.  Also, at some point in the night the palate becomes overloaded, and it's time to find one of those Craps machines to make a donation to those starving Vegas Casino owners!

So without further delay, here is Wino4Life's 2014 Grand Tour Winery List!

New Wineries to the Grand Tour
  • Adobe Road (Napa, California) - maker of small lots of hand crafted wine.
  • Black Kite (Sonoma, California) - artisan Pinot Noir (can't pass that up...right?).
  • Bodegas Cepa 21 (Ribera del Duero, Spain) I have had their wines once or twice, and really liked them.
  • CVNE (Rioja, Spain) - yes folks, you can find us in the Spanish aisle most of the night!  This is a winery we might tour on our next trip to Spain, so we want to drop by and say "hi"... and "can I have some wine, please!"
  • Inglenook (Napa, California) - This winery is the one Francis Ford Coppola purchased. I want to stop by in case they are pouring Rubicon...or anything else interesting!
  • Paul Jaboulet Aine (Rhone, France) - this winery makes Parallel 45, one of my favorite value Cotes du Rhone wines. Interested to try some of their "better" stuff.
  • Dr. Loosen (Germany) - I've had lots of their wine, but interested in seeing what they will be pouring at the Grand Tour.
  • Merry Edwards (Sonoma, California) - I'm curious if Merry Edwards will be there, and based on the map looks like they will be pouring some white wine.
  • Pinitia (Toro, Spain) - Toro is another region that makes great wine from Tempranillo, although they call the grape Tinto de Toro.
  • Round Pond (Napa, California) - Highly rated Cabs...always on the lookout for a great wine to have with a great steak.
  • Torbreck (Barossa, Australia) - a Shiraz producer that I have not heard of before...and am anxious to try!
  • Val de Flores (Argentina) - High rated Malbec, one of my favorite varietals.
Old Favorites
  • Alto Moncayo (Borja, Spain) - One of my all time favorite wineries, we visit them every year.
  • Dominio de Atauta (Ribera del Duero, Spain) - A wine we tried for the first time last year and really enjoyed.
  • Chateau Margaux (Bordeaux, France) - need to at least visit Spain's neighbor to try some good Bordeaux!
  • Muga (Rioja, Spain) - We have befriended the wonderful folks from this winery, and have toured the winery in Spain several times. A big winery with worldwide distribution - but still a "family" feel to the operation.
  • Charles Smith (Washington State) - One of the great characters in the wine business, I am always up to try his stuff.  They typically bring something really... really... good!
Trying Something New
  • Bersano (Piedmont, Italy) - I'm not sure what they'll be pouring, but they make wine with all different Piedmont varietals so I'm hoping for something unique.
  • Braida di Giacomo Bologna (Piedmont, Italy) - Another winery working with interesting Piedmont varietals.  I'm hoping they pour a Grignolino or something else I've never tried before.
  • Merus (Napa, California) - on my list last year, but we did not make it to their booth. Highly rated Cabs I hope to try this year.
  • Famille Perrin (Southern Rhone, France) - trying to visit at least a few French wine spots, and Rhone wines are some of my favs.
  • Quinta do Crasto (Douro, Portugal) - I have been trying to experiment more with dry wines from Portugal, and have found some great wines and great value.
  • Sigalas (Greece) - Both new to the Grand Tour and something new to try for me - I have tried some Greek reds in the past, but am not familiar with Greek white wines.
So you can see it's going to be a busy night - but it should be a great night.  I highly recommend this event as a great way to dive deeper into becoming an epic wino! You will try some great wine, but also have a chance to learn a lot... and put the "know" in "wino"!

See you there! (In the Spanish aisle!).

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Start a Wine Notebook

What wine was that we liked? What was the wine we had at that restaurant that time?  Do you find yourself with these questions and wishing for a better memory?

As you sample more and more wines, keeping track of what you liked, and what you didn't like becomes critical - but also something of a chore.  Consider starting a wine tasting notebook that you can use to record the information on wines you try, and if they earned a smiley face or a frowny face (or however you choose to rate them).  

These days, you don't have to rely on a pencil and paper - most smart phones and tablets will have at least some type of note taking app, or you can look for a wine note taking app like Wine Notes for the iPhone (oh yeah...and this app is free!).

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red - 2010 Bodega la Milagrosa Ribera del Duero Senorio del Tallar Vendimia Seleccionada

Ribera del Duero in Spain is home to Tempranillo wines that tend to be bigger and bolder (and more expensive) than Tempranillo wines from Rioja. Today's wine is from Ribera del Duero, AND under $20 - a potential great bargain for this type of wine!

Wine: 2010 Bodega la Milagrosa Ribera del Duero Senorio del Tallar Vendimia Seleccionada
Region: South Australia
Grape Varieties: Shiraz (Syrah)
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $18.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear, dark purple at the center/core with a pinkish rim.
Aroma: A bit of dark fruit like blackberries, but very much pronounced oak and cedar.
Taste: Some fruit but fairly harsh tannins on the finish, tastes out of balance.

The Grade: I give this one a C (possible cork taint).  I did a bit of research on other tasting notes for this wine because I was surprised at the unpleasant aroma and disappointing taste of this wine. From this tasting I would give it a C or worse, but other reviews have had a quite different experience, leading me to believe this bottle may have suffered from some cork taint. The oak/cedar smell may have turned to wet cardboard if the cork taint was worse.  Bummer, a good sub-$20 Ribera del Duero would be a great find... not sure if I'll try another bottle in the future or not.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

I Only Come Here Seeking (Wine) Knowledge – So Now What Do I Do?

Feed Me!
I know I am stating the obvious when I say I find the world of wine to be incredibly interesting, dynamic, complex, and a rewarding use of time to learn about and to share my knowledge with the readers of this blog.  I wouldn't be writing 100s of blog posts about something that I didn't find fascinating enough to study and to want to share knowledge with others who may share my passion.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with just popping a cork (or twisting a cap, or opening a box) of wine, and sitting back to enjoy.  But if you are like me and are intrigued with the history of wine, intrigued with how a wine can smell like gasoline but taste like apples (some Rieslings) or can smell like raw bacon but taste like blackberries and spices (some Syrahs), and maybe even intrigued by the process that brings you this wonder in a glass…then you may need some hints on how to expand your wine knowledge. 
Where Ya Headed? - Set Some Goals
My first recommendation is for you to define where you want to go… or as a self-help book may say “begin with the end in mind.”   Take a minute to figure out your goals in becoming more educated about wine. Some of the many possibilities are:
  • Know enough to make good choices when buying wine.  You can rely on what you like now, or you can rely on your local wine shop to make suggestions, but with a little additional knowledge you can take your fate into your own hands when selecting wines.
  • Know more about how to pair wine with food.  Do you like to cook or do you perhaps cohabitate with someone who does?  Great food paired with great wine is something that can elevate both and turn your meals into a whole new experience (OK, maybe not breakfast – but Rioja with scrambled eggs and chorizo is pretty darn good!).
  • Gain some general knowledge on a breadth of topics. It may be to woo your friends or just converse knowingly with the winos in your life, but knowing a little about a lot of things (grape varieties, wine regions, winemaking, food and wine pairing) can be very rewarding.
  • Geek out.  If you’ve read the other options, and thought “sounds good…but I want MORE”, then you may be ready to begin your journey to becoming a wine geek.  It takes some time and devotion, but things that are worthwhile always do.

Not That Kind of Goal!
Whatever your personal goals are, I have some suggestions for gaining more knowledge.  The amount you want to geek out (or not geek out) will drive how much time you devote to increasing your knowledge. 
If You Read It, They (Brain Cells Full of Wine Knowledge) Will Come
Magazines.  There are quite a few choices out there, and they will all contribute to your wine knowledgebase.   You will just need to try an issue or two of a particular one to see what you like. For me, my favorite magazine is Wine & Spirits. Wine & Spirits is not the biggest one out there, but I like the variety of topics, the fact they focus on a bit on spirits as well, and that they have a listing of wine events throughout the US.  The wine snob level is pretty low, which I like as well. My other favorite, coming in a close second is Wine Spectator.  
The wine snob level of Wine Spectator can at times be off the charts, but if you look past that you will find a lot of information on a lot of topics. I also trust their wine ratings more than most other magazines.  Some other magazines seem to rate a LOT of wines as 90+ points, and I am suspicious that they know this gets them a lot of little cards on wines and on wine shelves saying “Wine Blah Blah Blah Magazine Rates this Wine 92 points.”  In the world of wine these days it seems like a 90 point rating is magic… you must buy it, and you must love it, while anyone who bottles an 89 point wine might as well give up and start making grappa.
Books. A quick search on Amazon for wine books will net you 104,978 hits to sift through.  There are certainly enough choices, but how do you pick out a book that fits your needs?  I have polished off a few wine books in my time, so will share some of my favorites, but in your search do what I do… read those reviews.  Throw out the ones that are way too positive (the authors mom, aunt, who knows who else) or too negative, but read through enough to get a sense of what type of information other readers found, and how successfully it was delivered.

Wine for Dummies.  This set of books is where I first started. It seemed a little generic to go to a Dummies book, but the Dummies people selected some very good authors, and these books had a ton of overview information that provide a great base of knowledge.  Reading books like this early in your wine education (wine-ucation?), may help you figure out what areas you are most interesting in for further study.  I have read Wine for Dummies, Red Wine for Dummies, White Wine for Dummies, Champagne & Sparkling Wine for Dummies, Italian Wine for Dummies, and French Wine for Dummies. Some of these may be out of print… so head on over to eBay and you might find them at a bargain price. Start with Wine for Dummies and see if you like it before shelling out any cash for the others.
Red Wine with Fish. This one is an oldy but a goody. You may (gasp) have to actually find this one as a real live, old school book – book, and not an ebook.  This book is out of print, so eBay is a good bet to find a copy.  Right after the Wine For Dummies series, this was the next book I read.  It was very memorable to me, because as the title implies, it is as much about breaking the rules in the wine world  (red wine with fish), as anything.  The book effectively defines many of the “unbreakable” rules that you will hear about when it comes to wine, and will explain why the rule exists, and why (and if) the rule should occasionally be broken.
Perfect Pairings and Daring Pairings.  Writing about food and wine pairing can be a difficult undertaking. If you are going to provide more depth than just “do this” and “don’t do this” lists, you need to be able to successfully present a lot of information about the elements of wine, and the elements of food and how they interact. Perfect Pairings is a book that I read many years ago, and still refer back to it often.  It provides great information on pairing food with the better known types of wine. Daring Pairing is a follow up book, that delves a bit deeper, covering some lesser known wines and more “daring” combinations.  Daring Pairings is one of the many books I am currently reading, and have not been disappointed. 
Websites.  Read…next topic please!  But seriously though folks, my biggest goal with this blog is to provide understandable and relatable information about wine to a world of winos and wannabe winos, so come back often!  A few other websites do seek to provide wine information as well, so I will respectfully include them as potential (but secondary!) sources of information.
  • Wine Folly. A definite "wow" site - great articles, great original wine prints, maps, graphics. 
  • Vinography. One of the very first wine bloggers, Alder Yarrow has been writing about wine since 2004. You know you are doing it right when you become a regular contributor to the website of wine heavyweight Jancis Robinson.
  • Dr. Vino. The tagline says it all..."Wine Talk that Goes Down Easy."
Live (to Taste) and Learn
If the bookworm route just isn’t for you, or you want a break from reading your tenth wine book, wine tastings are a fun (hopefully) and educational (again, hopefully) way to learn about wine.  You do need to choose carefully, as a wine store pouring a few wines from its stock may be a sales opportunity for them, but not much of a learning opportunity for you.  You may not know until you try, and you may find a particularly knowledge wine shop owner. You may not know until you try some different tasting opportunities and even if one turns out not to be super-educational, at least there will be wine!
Your best bet is to look for tastings with a visiting winemaker, or perhaps from a distributor that may have a good deal of knowledge about wines.  This was the case with me; our local wine shop had several excellent distributors that would present the wines for tasting each week.  If you happen to find the right wine shop, like I did when I first became a wino, you may become a regular and it may be an excellent way to expand your wine knowledge! 
Check out a website like to find a listing of tasting opportunities in your area!
Learning on Vacation Can be Fun!
What??? I’m not talking about booking a week at a Physics retreat; I’m talking about a vacation to wine country!  If it is education that you seek, you will want to look to visit wineries that offer more than just a standard tasting.  Avoid those high traffic “night clubs” type spots where people stand around waiting for a spot to open up at the tasting bar… instead look for smaller wineries that offer tours and require appointments.  At those wineries you are much more likely to have a host that is highly knowledgeable and that can help further your wine education.  In the high volume wineries, I have been served by perfectly friendly staff that did a great job of pouring and telling you me basics about the wines – but if you try to delve deeper into the topic you will get a blank stare, or even worse a made up answer that may be far from accurate!  Also, look for wineries that specialize in different types of wines…sparkling wine made in the classis Champagne method, white wine, red wines, fortified wines.   A visit to each type of winery will give you some specialized information about what it takes to grow the grapes, and make and age the wine.
Don’t forget your wine education if you are travelling internationally.  From my experience in Spain and Italy, visiting a winery in another country is a much different experience.  A winery tour in Spain is typically at least 2 hours and will be a bit of history of the winery and the wine region, an in-depth tour of the winery, and perhaps other cool features like their own barrel making (in the case of one of our favorite wineries in Spain – Muga).  Depending on where you go, you may or may not be able to visit any wineries, but there will probably be an opportunity not that far away if you search them out!
Also, keep in mind major wine events like the Wine Spectator Grand Tour that can turn into a mini wine vacation. The Grand Tour is help for one night in usually three different cities – this year in Las Vegas, Washington D.C., and New York.  On a site like, you can look for events all over the US.
Pay to Play
If you have decided you are in full wine geek-out mode, or have exhausted other avenues for information, it may be time to consider taking a formal wine course.   There are options that you can complete in a (very intensive) weekend, or others that take months to complete.  If you search hard enough you should be able to find something that meets your needs.  Many classes like this are designed for professionals in the food and beverage industry, but they are just as appropriate (and welcoming) to wine enthusiast like us!
The wine education organizations I am most familiar with are the following:
International Sommelier Guild (ISG).  I have earned a Level 2 Sommelier certification from ISG.  With this certification I am able to move on to their Sommelier certification program even though I don’ t have experience in the food & wine industry (I’m not sure if two years at Godfather’s Pizza in college would count… I think they had wine???).  These courses were offered at the Art Institute of Phoenix, and every Sunday for about 4 months I spent the day learning about and tasting wine.  The course was divided into two parts – the first few weeks were a Level 1 introduction, which concluded with a multiple choice test and an extra credit blind tasting of one wine.  At the end of the Level 2 portion there was a three part test: multiple choice, essay, and blind tasting of four wines.  This effort was an investment in time for sure, but a great one for me and I have since been trying to continue my education with ISG’s Sommelier certification, but year after year they do not have enough students sign up so the class gets cancelled. 
International Wine Guild (IWG). When I decided to pursue wine as a second career, I wanted to brush up on what I had learned from my International Sommelier Guild studies. I found that a nearby Total Wine & More had teamed up with the IWG to offer an intensive weekend wine course where you could become a Certified Cellar Manager (the title for those not working in the food & beverage industry).   I was scheduled for the class, but was not able to attend, and my attempts to reschedule weren’t successful (more cancellations from not enough students).  I cannot tell you any detail about this course, but an option that only takes up a single weekend may be a good one for many of you – so check it out!
Society of Wine Educators (SWE).   After too many iterations of signing up for classes only to have them cancelled, I decided to go with the self-study route and am currently a member of the Society of Wine Educators.  I have started to study for their Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW), and am also interested in their Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS), but have not had enough recent free time to study at the level needed to pass these tests.  There are courses where if you pay the toll, you will end up with some type of certification at the end. These classes are not like that – and there is a pretty sizeable failure rate with these tests. So if you are going to invest the money to buy the study materials and pay to take the test… make sure you are able to devote the time it will take to study, study, study!
There are some other options I have heard of, but have no personal experience with:
Local Culinary Schools.  If you happen to be in a city with one or many good culinary schools, there may be a wine education program offered outside of their culinary degrees.
Court of Master Sommeliers.  These guys are host to what some consider the world’s toughest test – the Master Sommelier Diploma exam.  Don’t believe it’s tough – watch the movie Somm and see if that changes your mind.  They offer four tiers of courses, but they are really geared toward building up to the Master Sommelier certification rather than providing overall education.  But take a look – what they offer may appeal to what you want in a wine education.
Certified Wine Expert. Funny story…really!  A guy I used to work for in my Information Technology career gave me the contact information of an acquaintance that had started a wine business, and who had also published a book on wine.  One of the things I was trying to decide at the time was the next certification I wanted to pursue.  I was fairly familiar with most of the options, but had only just heard of the Certified Wine Expert (CWX) certification. I was about to send an email message to ask this contact about the CWX, when I read that she was in fact the person who developed the CWX!  I assumed her response would be positive about CWX, so I didn’t bother sending the email! OK, it was funny to me! Anyway, one of the newer options out there – worth looking into for sure.
If you do choose to pursue some type of formal class, they can be pricey – so make sure you can devote the time needed to get the most for your money. If you do, the experience can be extremely rewarding (and you will get a cool certificate to hang on your wall, and maybe an acronym for your business cards!).
Screw Misery… Wine Loves Company!
Do you have family or friends that are winos or have potential to grow into one a good wino? Gather with your loved (or liked) ones to share your love of wine, and maybe some knowledge as well.  Host a wine tasting gathering – have your guests bring some wine and be ready to discuss the wine, why they brought it, and what they know about it.  
Gather up and visit a wine bar or a wine tasting to make your learning communal… it takes a village to become a great wino!
Just Do It
Whatever your goals, and whatever you path you take to accomplish them, if you have any interest in learning about wine – just set aside some time in your busy schedule to expand your knowledge.  Who knows, there may be a future wine maker, wine shop owner, or wine blogger inside you just waiting to get out!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - It's Easter Time... Cadbury Egg Pairing

If you look forward to this time of year because you will see the annual reappearance of the creation that is a Cadbury Egg - then you may also be looking for something to pair with this treat.

If you are not familiar with this Easter classic, it is a thick milk chocolate shell, filled with a white and yellow fondant-like substance which is supposed to mimic the white and yolk of a real egg.  The two types of sweet - the chocolate and the filling provide a bit of a challenge for pairing - but try a good Tawny Port like a 10 year old Taylors... Enjoy!

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Italian Red - 2010 Albino Armani Ripasso della Valpolicella

Looking for a little variety in an everyday wine, I wandered down the Italian aisle at my local Total Wine & More, and browed the wines from the Veneto region.  This region is the one that brings us Amarone, the wine made from Corvina grapes that are partially sun dried to intensify the flavors in the wine. Grapes leftover from making Amarone are added to regular Valpolicella red wine during fermentation in a method called Ripasso.   This process gives us a wine, usually in the "Everyday" price range, with a nice level of flavor complexity.

Wine: 2010 Albino Armani Ripasso della Valpolicella
Region: Valpolicella, Veneto, Italy
Grape Varieties: Corvina
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $17.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear, red in color with a water white rim.
Aroma: Complex array of fruit aromas - cherry, blackberry, and plum.  Also notes of spices, and a hint of something green - maybe green pepper.
Taste: Lots of fruit in the taste, a nice level of acidity that gives a crisp, clean finish. A hint of tannins as well - very well balanced.

The Grade: I give this one an A.  A really nice, lighter bodied red wine with a nicely complex flavor. Nice as a wine just to sip, or to serve with a meal where you would usually select a Pinot Noir. do like Ripasso wine - and based on this one I will be trying some more of these very soon!

Weekly Wine Review - Australian Red - 2011 Schild Estate Shiraz

Syrah/Shiraz is one of my favorite grapes, yet somehow I often forget about Australia (how can I do that???).  On my last trip to Total Wine & More I spent a good amount of time in the Syrah aisle, and came up with this as one of my choices (cool label..right?).

Wine: 2011 Schild Estate Shiraz
Region: Barossa Valley, Australia
Grape Varieties: Shiraz (Syrah)
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $17.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Screw Top - no defects or issues.
Appearance: The wine is clear, dark purple at the core/center with a pinkish rim.
Aroma: Lots of dark fruit like blackberries, some cedar, and another element that I can't quite put my finger on... oh well that happens sometimes!
Taste: Lots of big fruit, not very tannic for such a young wine. A complex and pleasant finish. A bit of heat from the high alcohol, but not enough to detract from the wine.

The Grade: I give this one an A.  Very much what I am looking for with an Australian Shiraz, and this one comes at a great price. Delicious!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Wine Spectator Grand Tour 2014 in May - It's Planning Time!

It is almost time for one of my favorite events of the year - Saturday May 3, 2014 brings us the next installment of the Wine Spectator's Grand Tour.  The Grand Tour is an annual event where over 200 wineries from all over the world come together - this year in Las Vegas, New York, and Washington D.C.  A fantastic opportunity to try new types of wines, new wineries,  and maybe even try the latest offering from some of your favorite wineries. 

I don't have the exact count, but after a quick mental review I think this will be the eighth time that Wino4Life Wife and I have tackled this event.  The first three times we went the Tour was at one of the ballrooms at the Venetian.  Now the Tour is at the Mirage, and has been for several years... a major upgrade!  The space is much larger, allowing you to easily roam the rows of friendly faces with wine to serve to you, better food, more tables to take a break and enjoy that food.  Also, although the hotel rooms at the Venetian are awesome, we typically stay at the Mirage whenever we go to Vegas, as I find the hotel rooms to be a really good value when compared to the other hotels in the same area of the Las Vegas strip.

The first couple of times at the Grand Tour, and we would just wander around - marveling at all the choices.  There is typically a good amount of familiar names, and many, many new names.  There are so many to choose from - sparkling wines, white wines, red wines, dessert wines...wines,wines, and more wines! Even with just a sip, you cannot put much of a dent in the more than 200 wineries who attend the event. 

Now that I am pursuing a second career based on my love for wine, this event is more to me than just a whole lot of fun - I do approach it as a "work" event... just work that is awesome and involves drinking!  I want to make sure and try new wines, visit winery booths to see people we've gotten to know over the years, and really make the most out of a great night.

So with that I wanted to share how I approach planning for this event.  You definitely do not need to go through this process to enjoy the Grand Tour, but if you become a repeat visitor I highly recommend having some plan of attack. A plan will help you to get the most out of your money, and help you to experience new types of wines from all over the world... where you just may find a new favorite.  

Step 1 - The Winery List
At least two months prior to the event, Wine Spectator will announce the participating wineries on their website.  This comes in the form of a list of winery names - no information on the winery or the wine they will be pouring, just all 200+ names.

When looking at a list this huge,  you need to have a plan.  Even with just a small taste of wine, you will have trouble hitting more than 30 spots in the three hours of the event.  That means you will need to have a way to focus on about 15% of the wineries, and eliminate about 85%.  Based on the types of wine you like, and the reasons you want to attend an event like this, decide on your goals:

  • Try a bunch of new wines?
  • Try the latest offerings from familiar wineries?
  • Try wines from specific countries?
  • Focus on mostly reds or mostly whites?
  • Focus on a particular grape, like Cabernet Sauvignon from around the world?
  • Wineries with cool names?
  • Wineries with un-pronouceable names?
It doesn't much matter what your goals are, you just need something to help you focus in on wineries that will help you achieve your goals.  For my planning purposes, my goals are a bit of a mix:
  • A good portion, close to half, of the wineries will be new to me. This event is a great way to try new things. 
  • Not only reds. Reds are by far my favorites, but I want to make sure and try some new white or sparkling wines, a white wine from a grape I've never tried or a region/country I've never tried. Trying new whites and sparkling wines helps build up my playbook for food and wine pairing.
  • Spain.  If you are going to attend a Grand Tour, you will most likely find us in the Spanish wine row.  Here is where we sample the latest offerings from some of our favorite wineries like Muga, Alto Moncayo, and El Nido. Wino4life wife's fluent Spanish, and the fact she grew up in Northern Spain make us quite a hit in this area!
  • Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Syrah is one of my favorite grapes, as it can produce very different wines whether made in an old world (France) or new world (USA, Australia) styles... and can have aromas such as raw bacon or smoked meat.  Cabernet Sauvignon with a great steak is one of my favorite pairings in the world. I am on the lookout for new and amazing examples of these wines.
  • Burgundy.  Good French Burgundy is just so darn expensive!  Any chance to drink an amazing red Burgundy will probably make the list.
  • Recruit more Winos. If we have any cohorts joining us for the Grand Tour, I also want to factor in wines that they will like, and at the same time challenge them to try new things.  Hearing things like "I don't like white wine, but this one is excellent"* when trying his first Italian Soave tells me I've succeed at this goal."
* Actual quote from actual cohort at the 2012 Grand Tour

A lot of goals to keep in mind, but these give me some direction when looking at the list. I next update a document that contains the list of alphabetized wineries that I use every year.  For each winery I research to at least find out the country, and if the winery specializes in a particular type of wine.  For the wines, I use a shorthand for the grape variety - like PN for Pinot Noir, CH for Chardonnay, etc.)
My Winery Notes
I also update my winery list with the following:
  • Strikethrough - a winery that attended the prior year, but was not on the list for the current year.
  • Bold - new winery that did not attend last year.
  • Highlighted Yellow - The contenders - based on my set of goals, the wineries I'd like to try. At this point I don't worry too much about the total count, that comes later in the planning process. Just make sure you are closer to 30 wineries rather than closer to 100 wineries. 
So you can see from my list for this year's Grand Tour there is a new winery called Adobe Road from Napa that makes small lots of Cabernet Sauvignon; a new winery called Bersano from Piedmont Italy; and a new winery from Sonoma that makes artisan Pinot Noir that all made the list. Also on the list are a favorite from Spain in Alto Moncayo, and another from Spain that we have not tried in Dominio de Atauta. 

I create a PDF from this file and put it on my iPhone so if there is a winery we are interested in at the event, I can pull up the list and at least see some information on the winery and its wines.

Step 2 - The Map
A couple of weeks before the event, Wine Spectator will email out the map of the wineries. Typically the layout will have white, sparkling, and dessert wines on the far left, usually taking up the first 3 rows or so. Next comes reds, reds and more reds, roughly organized by Country. 

The Plan of Attack Map
Here is where I make the final determination based on the highlighted wineries from my list.  I note on the map the wineries we want to visit,  if they will be pouring white vs. red vs. dessert wine, and note the likely type of wine they will be pouring.  Wine Spectator does not provide a list of the wines that will be offered, I just make my best guess based on my research into the winery.  I will circle more wineries than I know we can visit during the event, identifying the "must see" ones with an asterisk.  These extras give us some options during the night depending on how things are progressing and our mood at the moment.  

I also save this document as a PDF and put it on my iPhone. This is the document I refer to most throughout the night as our guide to the Grand Tour.

Step 3 - The Attack
The plan of attack is simple, typically left to right... sparkling, then whites, (skip the desserts for now), then the reds, then back for dessert wines.  This approach is good for the palate, to make sure you can enjoy the subtle flavors of the lighter wines before diving into any monster red wines. 

When updating the winery map, I also make sure and identify at least one extra sparkling wine stop, because these wines are a great way to reset your palate after a bunch of red wines, or after enjoying the buffet.  Who knows... your palate cleanser may turn out to be a great find!

Wrapping it Up
Is all this planning overkill for the Grand Tour? Maybe, but I was an Information Technology Project Manager for a lot of years, and still dabble in it part time - so it is the way I know to attack a complex (but fun!) problem - how to choose a reasonable number of wineries to sample, and what order to approach it.  Like any plan, this one is just that - a plan. If we see happy people gathering around a particular winery, or anything else that catches our eye, we will give it a try... and then get back to the plan later. I encourage you to do the same... lot's of happy wine drinkers can't be wrong!  But I do recommend you have a plan to make the most of this great opportunity, but treat it as that... just a plan. Opportunities to meet and chat with winemakers, make new friends with other winos, all these are very important and are part of what makes the world of wine so awesome.  Just think a balance of fun, learning, exploration 

Oh and did I mention that it's the weekend for the Kentucky Derby?  Head to the sports betting area of whatever casino you happen to be in during the race - if you like crowds and lots of yelling.  I will share with you my highly scientific process for picking a horse to bet on, as the Grand Tour is typically in Vegas on Kentucky Derby weekend. I look for horses with wine related names!  A few years ago... Barbaro... sounds a bit like Barbera, so I bet and ... winner!  In 2012, there was a horse called "I'll Have Another." Not exactly a wine term, but a drinking term for sure... so I bet, and .... winner again.  This year, a couple contenders may get a bet from me, "Wildcat Red" or "Albano" (close to Albariño) or even "Hopportunity" to add a beer term to the list... we'll see when the final list of horses is published. Wish me luck as I will be betting big... $5 or even $10!

I hope to see you there! Look for the wife and I in the Spanish wine row!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Wine Tip of the Week - Try One of These, BLT Bloody Mary at Hash House a Go Go

Today we're not talking wine, we're talking a cocktail. We're talking a cocktail of epic proportion.  When you are in Las Vegas, proceed to Hash House a Go Go at The Quad (formerly known as the Imperial Palace) and try the BLT Bloody Mary.
This was the best Bloody Mary I've ever had (I had a regular one too just to verify). Garnished with a big ole' slice of yummy bacon, tomato slice, lettuce, and even a piece of toasted bread... This drink rocks!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Weekly Wine Review - Spanish Red - 2010 Bodegas Breca Garnacha Old Vines

Not much of a story behind today's wine review... I was at Total Wine & More... Saw a Spanish wine I've never tried... bought it! Doesn't need to be more complex than that!

Wine: 2010 Bodegas Breca Garnacha Old Vines
Region: Calatayud, Aragon, Spain
Grape Varieties: Garnacha (Grenache)
Obtained from: Purchased at Total Wine & More
Price: $18.00
Wino4Life Category: Everyday Wine
Aeration before tasting: Just a swirl or two, no special aeration.

Cork Condition: Natural Cork - no defects or issues.
Appearance: Wine is clear, dark (dark) purple core/center with a pinkish rim.
Aroma: Dark, cooked fruits like black cherry.  Also some licorice, cola, oak, and a bit of pepper.
Taste: Lots of big fruit flavor.  A good amount of tannins with nicely balanced acid. Full bodied - this one comes in at over 15% alcohol - but doesn't taste too "hot" from that level of alcohol. A nice long finish, quite delicious. 

The Grade: I give this one an A.  This is a wine that could stand some more aging or a day's worth of decanting. Assuming that would tame the tannins and accentuate the big fruit flavors, I think this is a great wine, especially for under $20.