Friday, April 27, 2007

Impression of a Retail Wine Tasting

Where do college students, business people, the wheelchair bound, Harley riders and winedreamers find common ground? Yesterday, that place was a retail liquor store's wine, beer and liquor tasting. Some folks brought their wine glasses from home, others formed lines around their beverage of choice, while a few posed questions to the distributors. Those, unfortunately, were in the minority.

My biggest impression was that most of the customers were not as interested in learning about the beverages they were served. That verified what I had heard from our local independent retailer. In his experience, most come to a tasting for the free samples and door prizes.

Although this might seem disheartening, I saw it as an affirmation that my dream to educate and entertain this community is a goal worth pursuing. It just may need a more creative approach laced with "shots" of patience and persistence.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Savor Their Hard Grape Labor- II

Did I leave you fermenting for too long? Actually, the yeast Saccharomyces, needs time to transform the glucose in the grape juice into ethyl alcohol. White wines will ferment up to 13 days whereas red wines ferment in as little as 3-7 days. All this action needs to take place in the absence of oxygen so fermentation tanks are fitted with one-way valves that allow the carbon dioxide to escape while preventing oxygen from entering.

For each molecule of glucose fermented, two molecules of alcohol and carbon dioxide are produced. That means, if the grapes are harvested with 2% sugar or Brix, the wine should yield 1% alcohol. Most grapes are harvested at 20-26 degrees Brix to produce wines with the desired 10-13% alcohol level.

During the initial days of fermentation, the degrees Brix in the tanks does not drop as the yeast cells are metabolizing the trapped oxygen in the grape juice. In the second stage the fermentation goes into full swing as the density of the liquid drops which is reflected in increased alcohol and decreased glucose. The juice also warms up to near 60 degrees. Finally, the fermentation slows as the glucose is depleted, the juice cools to near 50 degrees and the yeast is fully metabolized.

Some times a fermentation can get "stuck" due to high temperatures or a lack of a specific nutrient to feed the yeast. One of the most memorable "stuck" fermentation happened in 1975 when Bob Trinchero was trying to produce a dry, full-bodied, oak-aged white wine from Zinfandel grapes. The fermentation stopped before all the glucose was metabolized and Sutter Home White Zinfandel was born. It just goes to show you that good and profitable things can come from adverse situations.

Before we go any further, step outside and enjoy spring! Or watch a movie while enjoying your favorite chilled wine. For something fun, try pairing a simple fizzy Italian Prosecco with a bowl of buttered popcorn or even fried chicken. The bubbles will cut the fat and create a memorable pairing!


Online Wine Courses- Part II

Distance wine education is available from many sources and for a variety of prices. Here are a few links to some I have either researched or taken in the past few months. (Two free courses are available) (Professional yearly membership is required for access to the courses and yearly exams are scheduled in major cities for an additional fee.) (One free course is available) (Great grape course is currently available)
(There are some courses that are not currently available and others that would require in person participation)

There is also a wealth of information online, through wine producer's websites, podcasts, talk forums and syndicated columns.

And some of the top blogs can be found at this link:

If this is all too serious, check out this fun wine game at:

Take some time to try some wine.

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Day After Resolutions

Nope, it's not January 1st, or the morning after a bachelor party, it is the day after Earth Day. Unless you have been under a rock, going "green" is all the rage and the print and video media has jumped on the bandwagon.

Let me add my voice to the fray. Just do something! Recycle, reduce and reuse. Plant a tree, walk more, change to an energy efficient light bulb or appliance, avoid Styrofoam and consider composting to add nutrients to your gardens or houseplants.(Even you city dwellers can use a worm composter for your kitchen scraps)

We might not be around to see the benefits of our efforts, but the future generations will thank us.

Wine Newsletters

Do you just want a "taste" of wine knowledge? Consider signing up for an online newsletter like one of these:

Nat Decants:
30 Second Wine Advisor:
Sips and Tips:
The Frugal Oenophile:

Remember this anonymous quote "God in His goodness sent the grapes, to cheer both great and small; little fools will drink too much, and great fools not at all."

Favorite Wine Books

There seems to be as many wine books published as there are wines produced. To take this analogy further, some are more approachable than others. If you are a novice, you may just need some basic advice to navigate the retail store or your restaurant’s wine list. Budding oenophiles may want more detailed reference books. Here are a few suggestions.

Recently, I skimmed the Secrets from the Wine Diva: Tips on Buying, Ordering and Enjoying Wine by Christine Ansbacher, after reading an excerpt in a syndicated magazine. The writer’s witty style and organized material, make this both an informative and enjoyable read. Her wine and food pairing acronym alone is worth the price of the book.

I often recommend How To Taste: A Guide To Enjoying Wine by Jancis Robinson as it guides you through the major grape varieties plus uses practical exercises to enhance the text. She also introduces you to the language of wine by describing specific characteristics you should look for when tasting. Jancis is a respected voice in the wine community, with numerous books and courses plus her column in the London Financial Times.

Once you have read these, you will not only feel less intimidated by wine but may even “thirst” for more knowledge. The next two books will act as references for your new passion (or obsession).

Windows On The World Complete Wine Course 2007 by Kevin Zraly is like going to a wine school in your home. Kevin has been an educator for 35 years and his enthusiasm for wine jumps off the pages. It will leave you wanting more.

That brings us to the next book, Karen MacNeil's Wine Bible. As the director of the wine program at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, CA, her love of the subject is infectious. The "bible" is broken down into countries and highlights not only specific wines and producers, but also the local foods and customs. Although this book was written in late 2001, the information is being updated for release in 2008.

If that is not enough information, heft the new edition of The Oxford Companion To Wine, Jancis Robinson, editor. This is a wine encyclopedia with over 3,000 entries. This is a serious reference, people.

Lastly, for the Monty Python fan and wine novice, make a good meal, invite your friends, open a bottle and rent Wine for the Confused with John Cleese.


Friday, April 20, 2007

Is It Just "Grapes and Sunshine"?

That is Sunmaid's catchy jingle for selling raisins. Fertile, moist soils and sunshine do make large crops of table grapes for eating or raisins. However, growing practices for premium wine grapes takes a near polar opposite approach.

Five distinct regions have been determined by heat summations using degree-day totals from April through October. Growers use this method to select grapes that will produce quality wines in their region. Why is this important and exciting? Just imagine taking a globe and laying it flat. You can see how latitude and longitude affect climate and why a major growing region in Chile can have a "Mediterranean" type climate.

The same is true using degree-day calculations. The Burgundy, Champagne and Bordeaux regions of France are in the same heat summation region as the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Now you know why "old world" grape varieties have been successfully planted in "new world" regions.

Also, individual macro climates are found within the vineyard by evaluating changes in slope, soil type and proximity to water. This enables the winemaker to plant blocks of grapes with slightly different growing requirements. This increases the types of wines they produce, helps stagger the bud break and harvest times and provides for blending of different grape varieties.

Next we will talk about the micro climate that surrounds the vine.
But first, it's time for a break. How about some artisanal goat cheese from Wisconsin found at
with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. What a prefect pairing!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Good To The Last Drop

Eureka! The experiment was a success! Why all the punctuation? I finally found an inexpensive wine preservation system for those partially consumed bottles of wine.

Preventing wine from spoiling requires slowing the rate of oxidation. This is accomplished by reducing the exposure of wine to the oxygen that is already in the bottle, and preventing new oxygen from entering. Oxidation will flatten the wine, making it lose its aromas and flavor. Left too long and your wine will become vinegar!

The preservation systems range in complexity from re-corking the bottle and leaving it on the counter, storing the wine in the fridge, using vacuum pumps to the final method of injecting pressurized Nitrogen or Argon (neutral and non-reactive) gas into the bottle to displace the oxygen.

We have tried all of the above except injecting gas with mixed results.

Natural cork needs to be in contact with moisture to create an airtight seal. Once you pull it from the bottle, it immediately loses it's effectiveness. This should be the first method you cross off the list.

Vacuum pumps can draw off the volatile esters or aroma components in the wine if used on a partially filled 750ml bottle. This can change the enjoyment of your future glass. We have used this method before but did notice a significant difference from the original tasting.

Nitrogen gas can impart "off" odors and flavors to the leftover wine and Argon gas is costly for the enthusiast. And, if you are a "green" home like ours, buying and tossing canisters is not an option.

The solution we found successful is to purchase some half-bottles or "splits". These can be found at a wine making supply store or by consuming a split of dessert type wine such as Sauternes. (More on those later.) Some splits can even be found in a screw-toppped closure. Wait, don't pre-judge! If you are unable to find anything else, a small screw topped wine bottle will work in a pinch.

Our experiment was with one of our favorite wine varietals, Grüner Veltliner. This fresh and fruity young wine hails from Austria and it has distinctive white pepper, citrus, lentil and tobacco aromas. It's high acidity also makes it a very food friendly wine, even with hard to pair foods such as artichokes, asparagus and eggs. It even ages well! Look for this grape varietal from the Kremstal or Wachau regions.

We enjoyed a glass with our lemon and herb grilled chicken, grilled asparagus and brown rice pilaf and then decanted the remaining wine into our two splits and used a vacuvin pump to removed any remaining oxygen. As it was a chilled white, we also placed the wine in the fridge. Three days later, we opened a bottle, poured the wine into our glasses and were very pleased. We did not notice any change in either the aroma or flavor of the wine.

Give this experiment a try in your home and post your results.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Savor Their Hard Grape Labor- Part 1

Next time you open a wine from a premium winery, I hope you recall this posting.

I admit that other than laborers picking the grapes in the field, I thought that the rest of the wine making process was mechanized. After watching some harvest videos, I have a new sense of appreciation for the finished product and an understanding of the difference in wine pricing.

Premium wineries will often selectively pick their grape clusters in the vineyard. This TLC will continue with hand sorting their grape berries after they are gently de-stemmed in a machine using rubber tipped handles. These berries are then conveyed to a crusher to gently release their juice before being pumped into the fermentation tanks.

Some winemakers will then choose to use dry ice to purge any oxygen in the tank which eliminates off odors and preserves the natural fruity flavors. This cold fermentation is used mostly in making delicate white wines although the Merry Edward's vineyard in the Russian River Valley AVA near Sonoma, CA, uses this method in making their Pinot Noir.

Yeast is then added to the juice, causing the sugar in the juice to convert to heat, CO2 and alcohol in the process known as fermentation.

This may be more information than you can "swallow" at one time so feel free to take a break and open a bottle. But don't forget to savor their labor! We will continue Part 2 when you are rested and refreshed.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Don't Let Life "Crush" your Wine Dreams

I don't know about you, but there hasn't been a journey that I have taken that did not have a few glitches or speed bumps threatening to knock me off track. They used to send me into a tailspin, wishing that just for once, everything would be "perfect". Then I realized that some of the unexpected events were serendipitous. If I focused less on the change in my plans and more on the new opportunity the change presented, I was less frustrated and more open to the adventure. And what is "perfect", anyway?

This wine journey is no different than any of those others. Take my meeting on Tuesday, please. Not to generalize, but narrow minded, small town businessmen avoid change at any cost. After all, they have been doing it "their" way for _____ years. Now is probably a good time to mention that "we have always done it this way" is my least favorite phrase.

There comes a time when you need to embrace the facts of life. It is more than just death and taxes, but change that is inevitable. And change is a lot more fun than the other two, hands down. So, this speed bump won't stop me, my thumb is still out, looking for that next ride.

I think that deserves a toast, so raise your glass and repeat after me.

"Wine improves with age. The older I get, the better I like it."

Monday, April 9, 2007

Views of a Wine Dream Through Rosé-Colored Glasses

During the last few days, encouraging but somewhat scary progress has been made towards my "quest". I wonder if Don Quixote felt both rosily optomistic and nauseous at the same time? There might be a real kinship between that gentle dreamer who tilted at windmills and myself. Time will tell. I submitted three "rough" wine columns to the editor of our local paper, contacted the adult education coordinator regarding teaching a class in the fall and set up a meeting with the one local beverage retailer that is not owned by the city. Where is the barf bag?

It also made me think about looking at life through rose colored glasses, which led me to rosé wine. And we are not talking Mateus, people.

If you haven't tried a rosé lately, you don't know what your picnics or grill are missing. Served chilled, they are delicate and dry like those from the Loire in France or big and bolder like those from the warmer climates of Spain or Australia.

There are different ways to produce a rosé. The first involves the use of red-skinned grapes that are crushed and the skins are allowed to remain in contact with the juice for a short time. The grapes are then pressed, and the skins are discarded before fermentation. Because the skins contain tannins, the finished wine drinks more like a white than a red.

The second method occurs when the winemaker removes some pink juice from red grapes at an early stage, in a process known as bleeding the vats. The removed juice is then fermented separately, producing the rosé and as a by-product, the red wine becomes more intense and concentrated because the volume of juice is reduced.

The wine chilling for our next grilled pork loin is a 2005 Chateau du Donjon from the apellation Minervois. It has 13% alcohol by volume which should mean it is medium to light bodied with enough acidity to make it very food friendly.

So, don (or down) those rosé-colored glasses. Remember, tulip shaped are best!

Friday, April 6, 2007


What is your passion? Is there a special person, a dream job or a fulfilling hobby that makes you jump out of bed in the morning? The definitions for the word passion range from a powerful emotion to boundless enthusiasm. The latter describes exactly how I feel about wine. Not only is wine a beverage I enjoy drinking, but it is also filled with history, horticulture, travel, cooking and memories with family and friends.

The best thing about having a passion is your desire to share it with others, which is exactly what I plan to do through these blogs. Learning is a life long adventure that has been shown to slow down the aging process. Since I am concerned about both our minds and our bodies, there will be just enough “education” to spark your imagination.

We live in a global, high tech community which means you have access to explore our vast world without ever leaving home. This also applies to learning about and enjoying wine. Just by opening a bottle, you can see, smell and taste the climate of that region, the distinct aromas and flavors of grapes that were used and even get a glimpse of the winemaker’s vision.

Like any consumer, I am always looking for the “best bang for my buck”. I hope to guide you to wines that are not only a good value but may make you pause for a moment to say, “Let’s write this one down!” As we all have to eat, I will also provide examples of which wines pair best with different foods and flavors.

I would love your feedback. Hope to hear from you.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Wonderful World of Wine Wisdom

"Wine World, Party On... " Oh yeah, that was Mike Myers in Wayne's World back in the day. I think I just gave away my age. :)

Today, there is a whole different world of wine information. From online wine schools, websites, forums, blogs, podcasts, web videos, e-zines and standard print media, wine is grabbing the world by the "glass". If you are a novice, enthusiast, connoisseur, oenophile or a full blown obsessive like me, there is information enough to fill up your mind and your cellar.

So, your assignment Jim, if you choose to accept this mission, is to spend some time before you head out to your nearest retailer for you next wine purchase and educate yourself. It will not only expand your palates but it will also enhance your wine enjoyment. Remember, wine should be shared with family or friends as everyone brings their own perspective, stories and laughter are shared and memories are made.

This blog will self-destruct in six seconds.....

Monday, April 2, 2007

Aging Like Fine Wine

There is nothing like a birthday to make you think about aging and any changes you have noticed about yourself since last year. This could be depressing unless you use the analogy of "aging like fine wine" which we know brings grace and complexity. Sounds good to me!

Some wines ferment in high tech stainless steel tanks, are bottled and "age" in the car coming home from the retailer. These are the wines for our fast paced, instant gratification world. They remind me of a busy New York street. Their aromas, flavors and tannins can be an assault of your senses. Sometimes, it is exhilarating and other times it drains you.

I like the methode champenoise method of aging. Careful harvesting of your desirable assets, gentle pressing to extract your essence, filtering away extraneous matter, small doses of reserve (best advice), blending with another different variety for added strength (marriage), careful handing and turning, small additions of sugar for energy, lying on your "lees" to rest and develop your character and finally, bursting out of your bottle on a special occasion to make people smile.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Wine Storage

There are numerous ways to store your wine collection and most are quite expensive. Living in a home with in-floor heat, no basement or crawl space, we have certain limitations. We had stored our wine in the garage that is kept at 55 degrees over winter but have to move it inside during the summer months. The vertical rack was away from sun and vibrations but the transfer twice a year was a pain.

Not knowing what I will consume and what I would like to age, makes narrowing down the size of the wine cellar/chiller/cooler that much more daunting.

Size, dual temperature controls and budget are big considerations. Most of the wine chillers have only a one year warranty and that leads me to my latest "find".

It is called a wine-stat and from their website,
it seems like a thermostat that you connect to any unused refrigerator, freezer or A/C unit. It also mentions that it has been sold since the mid '90's and has a 5 year warranty.

I am curious to know if anyone has tried this product or if just getting a used fridge, playing with the controls until you get a somewhat constant 55 degrees on a bottle thermometer would be just as good.

Check it out and post any replies. How do you cellar your wine?