September is almost over, and fall has arrived. The leaves are turning, the days are getting shorter, and the temperatures are beginning to cool down. Soon, the holidays will be here; have you thought about what gifts you’ll be giving this season? It’s always a problem, albeit a fun one, to choose gifts for friends and family they’ll appreciate and enjoy. Then there are those gifts for people you don’t know all that well, but feel obligated to give a gift – your husband’s boss, a healthcare professional or caregiver, or a teacher. Have you considered giving these folks a bottle of wine?
Wine is a venerable beverage. One of the earliest known traces of wine was found in modern-day Georgia (the country, not the state) around 6000 BC. This is two thousand years before the wheel was invented in Mesopotamia, and five thousand years before the Trojan War. The earliest wines were made from wild grapes and berries; grapes weren’t domesticated until the time of the first dynasty in Egypt – around 3200 BC. Wine has been prized for pretty much its entire history; in ancient Persia, wine was considered a divine gift. Wine grew up with the world; by the Middle Ages, wine was served at every meal, both red and white. Granted, it was watered down a good bit – after all, one couldn’t spend every day drunk as a skunk. It was also not aged during this period, as consumption threatened to outstrip production. Aging of wine began at a later period. Wine’s history continues to the present day, where it is a global industry now, not just a French one. The major wines of the world still originate mostly in France, but wines from the New World are gaining in acceptance.
Before giving wine as a gift, you need to know if the recipient likes the idea. Giving a bottle of Dom Perignon to a teetotaler is not the best idea in the world. Gourmet cheese or chocolates would be better suggestions in this case. If your intended recipient does drink wine, knowing their level of expertise in the subject is useful; if you give a gift of rare vintage to a newbie, it’s not going to be appreciated as much as it would be to a genuine oenophile. Conversely, giving the oenophile a bottle picked up at the grocery store will fly like the proverbial lead balloon. So, first know if the intended recipient drinks wine, and then learning about their level of expertise is a good start. Finding a good wine shop with an expert sommelier on staff will help prevent gaffes.
Before choosing a bottle as a gift, you need to know how much you can afford to spend. A gift for a true oenophile can cost a bundle, so let the person helping you choose at the wine shop know your range before he starts making suggestions. A hostess gift can be purchased at the grocery store – some stores have really good wine sections – or at a package store. A gift for ̀someone you want to impress, you should look at a store dedicated to wine.
The genre of wine you select depends on the recipient, you, the time of year, do you intend for them to use it immediately, or did you buy it for their cellar. Reds are investment wines; they get better with age, and better translate to more valuable. Reds can be bought for the recipient’s cellar, if they have one; any good Bordeaux works here. Whites are also good for long-term storage; be sure to know if your recipient likes whites, and if they store them. Roses are not intended for aging; your recipient may like one anyway, but if you’re looking for a cellar item, skip these wines. Where your recipient lives is also a factor; in some large wine producing countries, such as Argentina, wine is considered too common for a gift. However, other wine-producing countries, such as South Africa and Portugal, consider their wines as superior, and would not appreciate a gift of French wine, for example.
Wine is always a good gift idea, but you need to know a few things about your intended recipient before purchase. Wrap it in pretty paper, or put it in a gift basket with other wine-associated items, such as cheese, crackers, and chocolate. You can find a wine to suit both your pocketbook and your intended recipient, and this, as Martha would say, is a good thing.
There is nothing more decadent than enjoying a glass of wine, paired perfectly with a scrumptious meal. Wine has an indescribable way of extricating the most subtle flavors from the cuisine you’re enjoying and from the spirits themselves. Traditionally, white wine is served chilled, whereas red wine is presented at room temperature. Red wines don’t typically fall under the umbrella of refreshing, chilled beverages. But did you know that some reds actually benefit from being chilled? Some reds, such as Pinot Noir, Boujulais, and some Zinfandel’s taste wonderful and more robust when sipped chilled.
Years ago, wine cellars and natural room temperature is what determined the febricity of wine. White wines were served at cellar temperature, or perhaps chilled in an ice bucket just prior to drinking. Reds were served as is, without tampering with their temperature. However, today castles and wine cellars are few are far between. Consequently, white are served at refrigeration climate, which is generally in the 40s. On average, a centrally heated apartment or home is likely to be in the mid-70s range, so most red wines end up being too warm and white are too cool.
Why not enjoy both reds and whites chilled? Chilling both wines can bring out luxurious flavors and enhance your wine drinking experience. But careful, you don’t want to get them too cold, or it can kill the flavor. Follow these steps for chilling your wines for the ultimate in wine satisfaction!
Full-bodies reds like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Bordeaux exhibit their flavors well between 60° and 65 °, however, if you serve it a bit colder, the acidic and tannic flavors surface even more, releasing all kinds of hidden flavors. Store your red wine at room temperature, but simply lay it in the fridge for 15 minutes before serving to enhance the flavors. More tannic reds like Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon should be a bit warmer, but with Pinot Noir and Merlot, go ahead and chill them down an extra 15° to 20°. Don’t fret if the wine gets chillier than you intended because it will warm slightly as you hold it in your hand. If you’re serving chilled red wine at a party or dinner, just lay it on top of an ice bucket in between drinking, but not plunged into the ice. This will keep it relatively cold, without dropping its temperature too far.
White wines are a smorgasbord of flavors when they are served chilled. They pair harmoniously with lighter fare, such as chicken, turkey and fish. The best way to chill white wine is to fill a bucket ¾ full of ice mixed with water. Simply bury the bottle into the ice, base first, and let it sit for 20 minutes. Whites can also be chilled in the refrigerator but it will take a solid three hours to get cool enough. Never put a bottle of wine into the freezer thinking that you’ll speed up the chilling process. The freezer will alter the flavor of the wine, essentially ruining it. Place the bottle back into the ice bucket in between serving to maintain its temperature.
Whether you’re in the mood for light and fruity white, or robust and bold red, you can enjoy the opulence and richness of either wine, chilled to perfection! View our info-graphic on chilling both red & white wines and visit us as www.vintagecellars.com, contact us or call 800-876-8789 for personal service.
We wine lovers can be a bit, well, snobbish! Or perhaps a politer way of describing us is, discerning. Not for us the $4.99 jug of alcoholic grape juice stacked up at the end of the supermarket aisle. No, we have refined palettes, educated tastes and we wouldn’t dream of sullying our favorite indulgence.
Actually, that’s not true, is it? ‘Fess up, we all have a secret passion for mixed drinks made with wine. And there is absolutely nothing at all wrong with that; the fact that we enjoy a wine based cocktail is not in conflict with our appreciation of wine in its pure form.
Here are some of our favorite wine based mixed drinks. If you haven’t tried these, go ahead, indulge!
A spritzer is a mixture of white wine and something sparkling – generally soda water. The trick is to find an inexpensive white wine, preferably one with plenty of fruit, and to serve the whole thing very cold. Half and half is the right proportion, and top off with a slice of lemon or lime. Spritzers are perfect for very hot weather or for parties. They are thirst quenching, have a summery feel, and yet allow the flavor of the wine to be enjoyed. Alternatives to soda water are ginger ale and lemonade, but, most wine lovers feel this is a flavor too far.
This classic cocktail was invented in Harry’s Bar in Venice, a favorite haunt of Ernest Hemingway. It combines champagne and peach, and is just a perfectly delicious concoction.
You take a third of a glass of peach purée or juice, preferably fresh made from perfectly ripe Italian peaches, and two thirds of a glass of champagne. Add the champagne to the peach, and stir with a swizzle stick. Garnish with a slice of peach on the edge of the glass.
They can also be made with raspberries or apricots, but be sure the fruit you choose is fresh and full of flavor.
Bellinis are rather decadent, and are an excellent choice for a wedding where some of the guests are non-drinkers. Everyone gets to drink something lovely to toast the bride and groom, the virgin version uses sparkling apple juice instead of champagne.
This time our wine is red, and served warm. One of my most cherished memories is of the annual carol services at a thousand plus year old church in rural England. Unheated and candlelit, the entire village packed into the ancient church, where they read and sung the traditional nine lessons and carols. All the while, at the back of the church, the wine was being mulled and the mince pies were being warmed. The perfume of wine and spice and pastry was indescribably tantalizing, and at the end of the service, all gathered to make merry and drink the delicious brew.
Put all the ingredients into a non-reactive saucepan, bring to just below boiling and simmer for at least 20 minutes. Don’t let it boil, as this will evaporate the alcohol. Serve in glass mugs or heavy wine glasses, with Christmas cake, mince pies or gingerbread. It’s Christmas in a glass!
There is a tendency among those who know no better to serve every kind of drink at as close to sub-zero temperatures as possible. What do you say to your dear friend who, when you arrive at their house for dinner, takes your proffered bottle of fine claret and declares, “Don”t worry, we’ll put that straight in the fridge, it’ll be nice and cold by dinner time!”
Yes, there are many heathens among us. We just have to remember, that when it’s red wine, you can at least allow it to stand in the glass until it has reached an acceptable temperature. And very few people don’t realize that white wine should be served cold.
When we taste, we taste four main elements – sweet, salty, sour and acid. (Eastern cultures add one more, savory.) To enjoy all the subtleties of flavor, we need our olfactory organ, in other words our nose. Wine doesn’t release its full array of flavor unless it is served at the temperature at which it releases those fragrances and aromas best; it’s that simple.
In general terms, we talk about reds being served at room temperature. But which room? A Scottish croft heated by a dim peat fire on a snowy February night? Or a veranda on a summer’s day in tropical South America, where at twelve noon, the natives swoon, and no further work is done?
It’s not worth being obsessive, although when you are enjoying fine wine in private, a little obsession is acceptable. When serving red wine in company, or drinking it in a restaurant or bar, the wine should be served just a few degrees lower than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Allow it to warm very slightly in the glass, enjoy the aromas that develop, and then start to sip when it has warmed up a couple of degrees. Sweeter red can be a little warmer, sparkling reds a little cooler, roses a little cooler still.
Warm white wine tastes flat and dull, quite horrible. Whites are nicest served at around 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Much colder, and they will have no discernible bouquet, and you may as well drink water or fruit juice. So, keep white wines in the refrigerator for several hours before you plan to serve them, and if they have got too cold, allow the temperature to rise a little by taking them out before you intend to serve them.
If you live in a hot climate, and are enjoying some of fresco wine drinking, then it is by no means foolish to lob a few ice cubes into your wine to keep it at a drinkable temperature. We are of course talking about quaffing wines here, not fine wines. Plastic ice cubes can be used if you are concerned about diluting your wine, but, as you are likely to be drinking at a fairly steady pace when it’s warm, you might actually appreciate a little water in your wine, as is traditional in all wine producing countries on informal and family occasions.
The history of American wine making goes back to the very first settlers, who arrived to find that there were wild grapes growing which could make wine of a sort. In fact, it’s possible that indigenous people were making wine long before this, but unfortunately we don’t have any reliable records to prove that.
The wine that was made from wild grapes was not pleasant to European taste, and experiments began to grow the more familiar vitis vinifera, the first plants of which were established as early as 1629 near San Antonio, New Mexico.
Until the 19th century wine production continued at a low level, but then came the discovery of a native grape, Catawba, which made a very decent hock like wine. Vineyards of Catawba were established in Ohio, and a wine was produced which was said to rival Champagne. Unfortunately, these vineyards were wiped out by a fungus, but wine making continued in other areas, particular around Lake Erie and in New York State.
One of the driving forces of wine making was the need for communion wine, but the influx of Europeans from wine drinking countries meant that there was also a ready market for good home produced wine for the table.
The Californian industry was established in the mid eighteenth century, the need for communion wine being again the driving force. The local wild grapes made poor wine, so root stock was imported from South America, the Criolla grape. This made acceptable but relatively moderate quality wine.
An immigrant from Bordeaux, France, Jean-Louis Vignes, decided to try and improve the quality of wine produced, and imported vine stock from his home country. By the mid nineteenth century his vineyards were producing a thousand barrels of decent wine a year.
Because of its more suitable climate and soil, Californian production moved to Sonoma Valley, where General Mariano Vallejo became an important producer. The real boost to quality wine production in California came when Agoston Haraszthy, considered to be the father of modern wine making in California, purchased dry sloping land and advocated a no irrigation technique which produced grapes with excellent flavor and concentrated sugars. Eventually he was tasked by the US government to bring quality vine root stock from Europe to develop the American wine product, and so began the rise in quality of American wines that we so enjoy today.
California became the center of the wine industry by the late nineteenth century, but due to natural disasters such as insect plagues, the San Francisco earthquake (which on its own destroyed thirty million gallons of wine) the Great Depression and of course, prohibition, the industry fell on seriously hard times. It survived by producing communion wine, which was not prohibited, and producing wine in small “home-made” quantities, which was also legal during Prohibition.
When the wine making industry was re-established after Prohibition, American tastes had coarsened, and the demand was for sweet “dago” wines. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the entire industry took a turn for the better, with the establishment of American Viticultural Areas. With the encouragement of the University of California, Davis, the Californian wine industry in particular began to improve its vineyards, introduce better varieties, and work on producing the world beating wines which we enjoy today.
Interestingly, arguments rage as to what was actually the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. You need to take account of inflation. There are private sales which are just rumored, of fabulous, near mythical wines which never reach the open market. Then of course, we need to make a distinction for size, and between red and white, and perhaps, discount those wines which have interesting associations, such as having been owned by a famous person, where the association is more important than the wine.
Here then are some of the contenders:
The Penfolds Ampoule
This is a limited edition of 12 handmade bottles offered by Australian store LCBO. The wine contained within the handmade bottle, which is itself contained in a meter high wooded case made from rare Australian hardwood, is a 2004 Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon; a delightful wine indeed, but worth $168,000? Three bottles have so far been sold, and it seems unlikely that the wine will ever be poured from these extravagantly crafted, hermetically sealed bottles, looking for all the world like a plumb bob, made from gray glass. An ordinary bottle of this vintage sells at around $1000 – look like a bargain, doesn’t it?
Chateau Lafitte 1787
A bottle of Chateau Lafitte 1787 was sold in 1985 for $156,450, which considering that the bottle life of red wine cannot be more than fifty years at most, is a lot of money to pay for vinegar.
But wait! This bottle came from the cellar of one Thomas Jefferson, a dedicated wine lover who learned about good wines whilst doing as stint as ambassador to France. And this bottle has the magic initial Th. J etched into it, giving it provenance.
Jeroboam of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945
This bottle of what is considered to be one of the world’s finest clarets sold for a massive $310,700. So why isn’t it the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold? Because it’s not a bottle, it’s the much larger jeroboam, so in fact, this is pretty cheap, working out at approximately $8,630 a glass, which according to those who have had the privilege of tasting this vintage, is worth every penny.
Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1941
Another bargain at a mere $24, 675, this is the most expensive American made wine ever sold. Yes, wine making was alive and kicking in 1941, and this is considered one of the finest wines ever made in the US. According to Francis Ford Coppola, who now owns Inglenook, the wine had flavors of violets and rose petals; he was lucky enough, and of course, wealthy enough, to be able to actually open a bottle and drink it.
At $21,200, this is the most expensive bottle of champagne ever sold. And perhaps it’s surprising that champagne doesn’t top the list of most expensive wines. We are used to thinking of champagne as a luxury wine, but, it doesn’t seem to evoke the depths of passion that the clarets and Burgundies inspire. And I think we’ve all been to clubs that seem to sell champagne at roughly that price!
For an entertaining account of the Thomas Jefferson bottle, check out
“The Billionaire’s Vinegar” by Benjamin Wallace.
It’s a common dilemma. Your wife has planned a special meal, and is determined to offer her famous Chocolate Truffle Surprise for desert. Or you are dining at a great restaurant, and you just have to try their renowned chocolate mousse. You want to carry on drinking wine through the desert course and on to the cheese, but, wine and chocolate fight, right?
Well, yes and no. Wine and chocolate can be an exciting and intriguing pairing, but you need to choose the right wine. A delicate flowery white is going to be crushed, as is even the most well-muscled dry red.
The Chocolate Must Be Good
Start with the chocolate. That stuff Hershey makes is a confectionery, it isn’t chocolate. Also, white “chocolate” doesn’t contain cocoa. Good white chocolate has its place, but for the purposes of this article we are just looking at milk and plain chocolate.
In your home, and at a fine restaurant, chocolate used in cooking is likely to be real chocolate, organic, and with a high percentage of cocoa; not loaded with cocoa butter, sugar, or heaven forbid corn syrup. If it contains milk, it will be good quality whole milk.
At home, you have the benefit of forward planning, so you can taste the chocolate in advance, and gauge the sweetness of the finished dish. Then select a wine which is sweeter than the final desert will be. At a restaurant, ask the commelier for his advice.
Your search will very likely send you to fortified wines, port, sherry or Madeira, and to high octane sweet red, perhaps one with some sparkle, for example, a Moscato d’ Asti, as well as to your favorite desert wines.
Generally an altogether milder, sweeter taste and a smoother feel in the mouth than a full on dark and bitter chocolate, milk chocolate and milk chocolate confections call for the sweetest wines, but ones with a yielding quality which matches the gentleness of the milk chocolate’s taste profile. You could experiment here with a Pinot Noir or even a Riesling.
A favorite desert in our house is fresh garden picked strawberries dipped in melted Goss milk chocolate, which we get from Belize, and which is then cooled in the fridge. The chocolate dipped strawberries are served with a glass or two of Bollinger. Sybaritic luxury.
This is really the king of chocolate, and must contain a minimum of 35% cocoa to qualify as dark, although I prefer around 50%. The more cocoa, the less sweet and more complex, is the flavor of the chocolate. You don’t need sweet wine to drink with truly dark chocolate, but you should choose wine with a truly robust complexity of flavor and plenty of tannin if the multiple layers of flavor in the chocolate won’t simply swamp your taste buds.
Select a Californian Zinfandel with plenty of fruit, high alcohol levels and lots of spice, and just see how the wine and the chocolate sing to each other. Pinot Noir and Merlot can also come into their own here, but again, choose one with plenty of fruit and structure.
Perhaps the very best wine of all to pair with chocolate is Banyuls, from the south of France, made from the Grenache grapes. This delightful wine has hints of chocolate in its own flavor, and is possibly the ideal pairing with chocolate.
It’s fun to spend time figuring out your own favorite wine and chocolate pairings. Remember, for this exercise, you shouldn’t be eating ordinary mass produced chocolate. Instead choose brands such as Lindt, Green and Blacks, or seek out chocolate from small artisanal makers such as my favorite, Goss from Belize.
Opinions on whether you should decant fine wine run the gamut from never to always. As is typical with this kind of charged subject the answer will depend on your understanding of what decanting does for and to fine wine. Once you understand the reasoning and the process you can make intelligent decisions concerning the wines in your cellar.
Reasons For Decanting Wine
The most common and obvious reason for decanting wine is to reduce or eliminate the sediment that develops as some vintages age. Occasionally a younger wine also exhibits sediment if the winemaker chose not to filter the wine for taste or coloration reasons.
Sediment is a problem for both flavor and mouth feel of any wine, young or more mature. The solids in the bottle will impart a bitter, astringent taste to the wine, a real distraction from what might otherwise have been a delightful or significant taste experience. It is also unpleasant to have the bits of grape or lees, which are yeast particles, in a mouthful of wine.
While the need to avoid or at least minimize sediment rarely encounters argument, the other reason offered for the decanting of fine wines is to add oxygen to open up the flavors of the wine. Often suggested for younger wines that are prone to tasting sour or tight in at least the first glass, some wine experts feel that allowing the wine to experience the gentle agitation of decanting results in a more nuanced, complete wine taste.
You will recognize this second rationale as the common explanation that the wine needs to breathe. Particularly with wines bottled with screw caps, including both high end and low end wines, the theory is the wine needs to mix with oxygen to remove the unpleasant smells that affect your enjoyment of the wine. The components that have these odors are called thiols, and oxygenation through decanting causes them to create different compounds humans are not usually able to detect by nose.
If you are contemplating drinking a young wine, decanting will probably not have a deleterious effect, although some aficionados frown at the practice with certain wines like Beaujolais. In fact, if the decanting does allow the flavors to develop before the rim is put to the lips many would be all for the practices.
Some actually advocate decanting and holding a younger wine in the decanter for an hour or more before serving. This will obviously be a matter of taste and can be an enjoyable experiment for you as you compare the nose and taste of your younger wines as they mature in the decanter.
The situation becomes complicated when considering older, more fragile fine wines. Although these highly anticipated vintages may benefit from decanting with regard to sediment there is more than a little concern that decanting can damage the wine. A real worry is that the burst of fruit many venerable wines offers in the first sip may be completely dissipated during decanting.
Consequently if it appears that sediment will be an issue with an older vintage decanting should be done, if at all, with an immediate pour into a glass to be enjoyed. You can also use one of the suggestions below to minimize the harm decanting may do to a delicate older bottle.
If you are fearful that the subtle nuances of an older bottle will be forever lost if overly agitated, take the following steps.
Another option is to decant a small portion of a bottle, recork the remainder, and taste the decanted wine to check for nose and flavor. If the decanting was successful, the remainder can be treated in the same way. On the other hand, if the wine seems to have suffered, the rest of the bottle can be used without decanting.
If possible check out the process ahead of the time you will be serving the wine to family or guests. Experiment and follow your own instincts. Remember you are the final judge of how your fine wines taste best to you. You are your most important wine expert.
And remember also, that however you handle your wine when it’s time to drink it, if it hasn’t been stored correctly, it will hardly be worth the bother of trying to bring out its best by decanting. So if you want to find out about state of the art wine storage, why not check out our Wine Guardian system on
When is a bottle of wine more than just something you open at dinner parties? When you use it as an investment vehicle. If you’re contemplating investing in wines then you probably already know the advantages, especially the not-so-small detail that there’s no Capital Gains Tax on wines. What you’re possibly not as sure of is exactly which vintages you should choose to invest in. With a staggering array of vintages to choose from, it can seem to be an impossible choice at times. No worries. Below you’ll find six suggestions, and we’ve included something in every price range.
2005 Domaine de la Romanée Conti La Tâche
Let’s start at the top of the price chart and work our way down. Recently selling for $6000 USD, this wine has nowhere to go but up, price wise. Why? Not only is it often regarded as one of the finest wines ever produced, but the fact is that there just isn’t much of it left. All told, only a few cases worth, scattered about the globe. If you can get your hands on even a single bottle, do so.
2001 Château d’Yquem
Seen recently on the market for $700 per bottle, or $8400 per case, this wine received perfect scores from both Parker and Wine Spectator. It ages beautifully, which is only going to enhance its value. Some predict that a case of this vintage could sell for more than $100,000 in 20-25 years.
2005 Château Troplong Mondot
Recently priced at $450, this is considered by many to be a steal. The vintage received a staggering 99 points from Parker, making it the second highest scoring wine in what was a truly excellent year. Oddly, you can find wines that received lesser scores selling for a higher price. Simply put, this one is under priced.
2003 Château Montrose
This vintage was recently seen selling at $350 per bottle, and like others on this list, earned a perfect score. It’s currently selling for half the price of the 1990 vintage, and savvy investors are predicting that the price could double in as little as five years.
The 80’s and 90’s were good decades for California wines, and savvy investors have been snapping up this particular vintage because it is selling at a discount as compared to many of its peers. Better hurry on this one though. It was recently priced at $300 a bottle and in my view is poised to move higher.
2007 Giuseppe Mascarello Barolo Monprivato
Hailing from the Piedmont region of Italy, this wine was recently seen priced at $120 and is expected to climb higher given the shortage of Burgundy in 2010 and a few bad years for Bordeaux. The smart money says this is one to watch.
And there you have it. A broad cross section of wines with excellent investment potential. Wine is an sound investment, but it is unconventional, and it attracts unconventional investors. If that describes you, then you came to the right place. With selections to fit every tastes and budget, you’re sure to find something here that speaks to you. And, should the worst come to the worst, remember that you can’t drink stocks and bonds!