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. 

Enjoy! 
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!!!