The Most Expensive Bottle of Wine Ever Sold

August 25th, 2014 Comment

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

Penfolds AmpouleThis 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.

Krug 1928

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.

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Which Wine Goes With Chocolate?

August 19th, 2014 Comment

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 GoodWine2

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.

Milk Chocolate

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.

Plain Chocolate

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.

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Should You Decant Fine Wine?

July 31st, 2014 Comment

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

Decant Fine Wine

  • Sediment

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.

  • Smoothing and Mellowing the 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.

The Dilemma

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.

Some Compromises

If you are fearful that the subtle nuances of an older bottle will be forever lost if overly agitated, take the following steps.

  1. Stand the bottle upright for a couple days before pouring. The sediment will migrate to the bottom of the bottle.
  2. Carefully uncork to minimize debris.
  3. Place a filter, specially made for wine or even a clean tea strainer, over the rim of the glass or glasses.
  4. Gently and slowly pour the wine through the filter.

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.

Final Words

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
http://www.vintagecellars.com/wine-guardian?

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Six Wines With Outstanding Investment Potential

July 25th, 2014 Comment

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.

Investment Potential

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.

1991 Dominus

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!

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The World’s Top Three Most Luxurious Wine Tours

July 21st, 2014 Comment

The world’s best wines come from France. This is indisputable, although other regions of the world are growing in popularity. However, ninety percent of the world’s investment wines come from the Bordeaux region of France. So, the three tours listed here are all in France, through the areas of Bordeaux and Burgundy. The finest vintages of these wines are grown and bottled here at estates which are centuries old. You will enjoy five-star accommodations at hotels, or at the chateaux themselves, accompanied by Michelin five-star cuisine, and experience wine tastings at the vineyards, while learning about wine from the masters. All of these tours are handled by French Wine Explorers, the top-rated tour agency, and are rated at the top of Travel & Leisure magazine’s list of great tours of the world.

Bordeaux Prestige TourMost Luxurious Wine Tours

The first tour on our list is the Bordeaux Prestige Tour. The tour is six days and five nights, staying at the Château Clément in the village of Vals-les-Bains, located in the Médoc area. Tour highlights include tasting all five First Growth chateaux wines from the Médoc, a fine Sauterne from Chateau d’Yquem, and First Growth wines from St. Emilion and Pomerol.

6-day Private Estates of Burgundy and Bordeaux

This is a new tour from French Wine Explorers, and it covers both the Burgundy and Bordeaux areas. Tour highlights include a visit to the 13th century monastery of Clos de Vougeot. This monastery is now owned by the Confrérie du Tastevin, the famous wine brotherhood of Burgundy. While touring this ancient and uncannily atmospheric place, you will learn how wine was made in the Middle Ages, and see an actual wine press from the 13th century still in action.

Enjoy Grand Cru red wines while staying at a local estate in the Côte de Nuits, and stroll the renowned vineyards of the Domaine de la Romanée Conti. Travel to the Côte de Beaune and savor legendary Montrachet wines. Journey southward, to the Graves region and experience great tours and tastings at Château Smith Haut Lafitte or Château La Louviere, then move on to the sweet dessert wine area of Sauternes where the chateaux Guiraud or Suduiraut await.

Move on to the Médoc region, and the ‘Routes des Châteaux’ through the villages of Margaux, Pauillac, and Saint Julien. In Pauillac, the best known appellation of Bordeaux, taste three of the five great First Growths: Château Lafitte, Château Latour and Château Mouton-Rothschild. A special treat awaits you on this day of the tour – a private wine tasting lunch at one of the best estates in the region. Finish off this tour in St. Emilion and Pomerol. Some of Bordeaux’s oldest vineyards are found in St. Emilion, and they produce well-structured wines made by blending three of the best known grapes.  Pomerol is considered the premier area for Merlot wines in the world. Tour the medieval village, and then head homewards with many great memories to share.

Grand Cru Tour of Burgundy

This tour concentrates on the Burgundy area, and gives you the opportunity to sample every single of of the thirty-two Grand Cru wines made in this region. Offering the best of the beautiful and dream like Côte d’Or, you will stay at the renowned Hotel le Cep in Beaune, take guided tours of Hospices de Beaune and Clos de Vougeot, and enjoy wonderful meals at Michelin-rated restaurants.

These tours offer you the opportunity to visit the vineyards where the best wines in the world are produced.   It’s as if the pictures on the labels of your favorite vintage French wines come alive, and you are walking in the midst of them.    For the wine connoisseur, these are simply dream vacations come true.  And of course, wines that you especially like can usually be shipped home for you.

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Why Different Glasses Matter for Different Wines

July 15th, 2014 Comment

Wine GlassesThe vast majority of the wine-drinking public are blissfully ignorant of the fine details of wine. Most are happy to drink wine out of any glass, regardless of the size, shape, or thickness, and don’t have a clue about why a wine glass should have a stem. There are those in this majority, however, who do have a glimmer about the details of drinking wine. For these people, explaining why different glasses enhance the experience of drinking wine is a revelation.

The best wine glasses are clear.  Colored glasses interfere with judging the color of the wine accurately. Cut crystal may also interfere with the color, as light reflects off the prismatic facets in the glass.

Leaded Crystal, Non-Leaded Crystal, or Plain Glass?

There’s no gainsaying it – wine tastes best out of fine, leaded crystal. Having said this, other factors come into play, like whether or not you have fine, leaded crystal in your china cabinet, where you will be serving the wine, and whether or not your audience will appreciate the difference the leaded crystal makes in the taste.

If you’re serving the wine at a large dinner party, leaded crystal is not a good idea. Non-leaded crystal, while still not cheap, is nowhere near the cost of the leaded product. Using a non-leaded crystal will impact the experience of drinking wine, but use it anyway if your audience isn’t likely to notice the difference. Should you be serving the wine at an event, or perhaps at a picnic, plain glassware of the appropriate shape, size, and thickness is the common sense way to go, and chances are you will not be serving your finest, carefully stored vintages from your home cellar.

Stems, or Stemless?

Proper wine glasses are called stemware for a reason; they have long, thin stems ending in a round, flat base. The glass is meant to be held by the stem, to keep the temperature of your hand from affecting the wine in your glass. Stemless wine glasses are becoming more popular, however; they protect the wine from your hand by having a thick base at the bottom of the glass, thinning out as the glass rounds. Stemless glasses are cheaper than the stemmed version, and the stems do present unique challenges, as they tend to break while being washed by hand, and it may or prevent them from being loaded in the dishwasher.

Antique Or Modern?

There are some exceptionally beautiful modern glasses available on the market today, and it’s worth seeking these out to add to your drinking pleasure.  However, many people who have the luxury of an extensive home cellar also enjoy collecting antique stemware.  It makes an elegant display in a subtly  lighted cabinet alongside your cellar, and it’s enjoyable to drink a fine wine from a collectable glass.

If you are entertaining friends and colleagues who are appreciative of the details of wine, show them you both know and understand wine yourself, by serving them wine in glasses of appropriate size, shape, and thickness. Whether or not you use stemmed or non-stemmed glasses is a matter of personal preference and taste, as long as the glass is appropriate to the wine.

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Real Men Do Drink Champagne

July 8th, 2014 Comment

I’m going to spend the next few minutes convincing you of the truth of this article’s title, and I’m going to do it using two real life men and two fictional characters.

Carefree Couples Partying Hard

Before we start though, some men might not even know exactly what champagne is.  In a nutshell, it’s wine, but wine from one very particular part of the world – Champagne, France.  Only sparkling wine produced in this region can call itself Champagne.   There’s nothing else quite like it in the world, which is why it gets its own designation. Light and bubbly, usually pale gold or pink in color, and with deliciously complex flavors of fruits and notes of vanilla, spices and biscuit,  it is in many ways the perfect drink.   Slightly sweet or bone dry, it can go with almost any meal, including intimate breakfasts, and is known the world over its association with both celebration and seduction.

Champagne is for lovers

Let’s talk about seduction for a moment, because that’s something that real men do. Some of our most beloved manly characters in movies are archetypes for people in the real world. Sort of a pumped up version of what all men wish they were.  So my first fictional “real men” witnesses are James Bond, the devastatingly attractive secret agent 007,   and Nickie Ferrante, the lead character from the movie “An Affair To Remember,” which is widely referred to as the most romantic film of all time.

Yes, I know that many people have played James Bond, but let’s face it, there’s only ever been one real Bond (Sean Connery) and one fairly close second (Daniel Craig). Both of these men are regularly seen sipping vintage champagne, usually before and during the seduction of a beautiful woman. It’s not hard to connect those dots.

In the case of Nickie Ferrante (Cary Grant), has there ever been a man more perfectly suited to drinking champagne? And pink champagne no less.  Cary Grant, and Sean Connery provide an authoritative yes to the question of whether or not real men drink champagne.

But I hear you. Those are both fictional characters after all. Archetypes, yes, people we men maybe wish we could be, but fictional nonetheless. What about real men who have actually walked the earth and loved champagne? Are there any examples?

Macho champagne drinkers

There are actually countless, but I’ll give you two. It would be hard to describe the author of The Great Gatsby as anything other than a real man, not to mention a towering literary genius, and when F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife weren’t enjoying Gin Rickeys, they were lifting glasses of sparkling champagne in celebration.

Maybe you don’t regard Fitzgerald as manly enough though, and if so, I’ve got the nuclear bomb of manliness for you. Ernest Hemingway.  He’s at least as well known for his drinking as his writing. They don’t get manlier than Hemingway.  Do you know what his favorite drink was?  A Mojito.

You might be thinking that his favorite drink has nothing to do with champagne, but you’d be wrong. In order to punch it up a notch, he was in the habit of subbing out boring club soda with champagne.

You read that correctly, Hemingway was an ardent champagne drinker. Next time someone tells you that real men don’t drink champagne, show them this list. Then order a bottle of beautifully chilled vintage Dom Perignon, raise your glass at your beautiful companion, and just smile.

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The Exciting World Of Wine Auctions

July 1st, 2014 Comment

If you’re interested in improving the breadth and depth of your wine collection by buying fine wines at auction, this piece will give you a brief overview of how to get started, what to expect, and who the major players in the US market are.

Wine Auctions

A Little Commerce, A Lot Of Theater

Participating in a wine auction has been described as one part auction, and two parts theater. The atmosphere of an auction room where historic and important wines are being sold at astronomic prices is heady, to say the least, especially at those glamorous evening dress affairs where the complimentary wine has already been flowing.

It’s not for everyone, and unless you’re familiar with fine wines, you run the risk of making a bad investment, but due diligence is all part of the fun. Do your homework, and you will be able to buy some thrilling wines which would never otherwise be available for you to buy. As they simply move from private collection to private collection.

Major Wine Auction Houses In The US

  • So they have Wine, New York – With a lineage that dates back to 1744, this name is familiar even to those who aren’t collectors. Probably the best known auction house in the world.
  • Christie’s, New York – Headquartered in London and with offices around the globe, Christie’s lineage dates back nearly as far as so they having been founded in 1766. Although more people are familiar with so they have Christie’s is actually the largest auction house in the world.
  • Acker Merral & Condit, New York – Founded in 1820, this is the oldest American wine auction house, and a respected name in the business.
  • Brentwood Wine Company, West Linn – A relatively young company and new entrant in the world of wine auctions. Although Brentwood has only been around since 1998, they’ve developed a sterling name for themselves, and a reputation for quality.
  • Heritage Auctions, Beverly Hills – Not long after it was established in 1976, Heritage became the world’s largest collectables auction house in the world, a position it retains to this day. Of course, wines are an important part of their business.

Of these five major houses in the US market, one thing that jumps out at you immediately is that three of those are in New York. That’s not an accident, and clearly outlines where the hub of the wine market is located. It may be far from actual wine country, but New York is where much of the action is.

More Dynamic Than You Might Think

The world of wine auctions might seem a bit staid to the outside observer, but it’s actually got its fair share of shocks, upsets and surprises. The most recent of these took place in 2008. Previous to that time, the Hongkong market imposed a staggering 80% import tax on wines. Once it was stripped away, the market saw a tidal wave of interest from Hong Kong. At an auction in that city in 2010 three bottles of Lafitte Rothschild that were expected to fetch around $8,000 USD apiece, instead wound up being sold for a staggering $232,692 apiece.

The market has cooled since the days immediately after the import tax was abolished, but moves like this ripple through the wine world on a fairly regular basis.

Bidding At Auction

There are really only three keys to successful bidding at a wine auction. First is to do so responsibly. Set a budget you can live with, and don’t be swayed from that mark. Second, know the actual value of the wines you are bidding on. You’ll likely not get a bargain that sits much below estimate, but it happens. Third, and this is in some ways most important because it drives the other two, don’t let your emotions rule you.

Auctions have a strange effect on people. Caught up in the thrill of the chase or the emotion of the moment, they sometimes forget themselves and get carried away, bidding for a particular bottle long after it has gone above a price they’re comfortable with. Especially if you’re considering wine collecting as an investment, you must learn to control those impulses.

However, the important point to remember is that, much like paintings by a long dead artist, the supply of fine and historic vintage wines is finite, and actually decreasing as precious bottles are consumed. Many of the oldest wines are actually undrinkable, and are not really bought to be drunk, but to be possessed, rather like a lovely dream that can never be fulfilled.

Look For Smaller Auctions At First

You can of course find excellent, less prestigious wines at small general wine, and sometimes even estate, auctions, and here is the place to cut your teeth. These general wine auctions are more akin to wholesale than retail sales, and it’s here that you might find a surprising bargain or two.

And of course, once you have purchased those precious vintages, it’s vitally important that you store them correctly. One of the leading makers of specialized wine storage environments is Wine Guardian. To find out more about how you can preserve and protect those very special wines,

go to http://www.vintagecellars.com/wine-guardian

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Syrah v Shiraz

June 19th, 2014 Comment

Battle of the Giants

The average wine drinker in America is not a connoisseur;  in fact,  far from it.  Most Americans who drink wine drink it because they like it  and they really don’t care about the factors which give wine its taste and body.  Most people can’t relate the price of a wine to the quality they can expect and because they are uncertain, tend to rely on name brands which they recognize.

In recent years, people seeking a big fat red wine have often opted for Syrah or Shiraz and both have their supporters. But there is something very interesting to learn about these two wines.

Syrah Grape

The Syrah Grape Story

The Syrah grape originated in the Rhone region of southeastern France. The grape has a long, documented history in the area, but its point of origin was up until recently in doubt, owing to several legends about how the grape made its way from Shiraz in Persia (now Iran) to the Rhone.

In a study undertaken by the University of California,  researchers used DNA typing and extensive material from the viticultural research station in Montpelier, France, to determine that the Syrah grape was the offspring of two grapes from differing regions in France – the Dureza grape, from the Ardeche , and the Mondeuse blanche, from the Savoy region. The parent grapes have almost disappeared, but the offspring has become one of the most planted varieties of grape in the world.

Syrah versus Shiraz

The grape used to produce both Syrah and Shiraz wine is in fact the Syrah, but in many parts of the world the name has in modern times been changed from Syrah to Shiraz by wine producers in Australia and New Zealand.

The grape is used primarily for the production of red wines, and the flavor of the wine is dependent on the climate and soil where the grapes are grown. In moderate climates, such as the Rhone region of France, or the Walla Walla region of Washington State, the Syrah wines produced tend to be medium to full-bodied, with medium to high levels of tannin. The wines have blackberry and mint flavors,  with black pepper highlights.  Syrah is often used as an element in Rhone style blends.

In hot climates, such as that of Australia, the grapes produce more full-bodied wines, with softer tannins, jammier fruit, and the spice highlights are licorice, anise, and earthy leather.

The grape, and the wines are called Syrah in France (the country of origin), Europe, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, New Zealand, and most of the United States and Canada. The grape was renamed Shiraz in Australia, and the wines from Down Under are also called Shiraz. The differences in the wines are due to the differences in the growing climates. How a wine is made can also make a difference in its flavor, and this comes down to the differences between vintners.

Who Wins?

Nobody wins, and nobody loses – both styles of wine are excellent, and both wines are enjoyed by the both the everyday drinker, right up to the fine wine connoisseur. Which one you like is a matter of your personal taste, and which one you serve to your friends and guests depends on the food you’re serving. A wine should complement a meal, not overwhelm it, so if your entre is not a bold one, stick to the quieter, slightly less assuming Syrah. If your dinner is out there in flavor – perhaps with a heavy hand on the spice, try a Shiraz with the entree – most will stand up boldly to vigorous competition.

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Santa Lucia Highlands AVA and Pinot Noir

June 16th, 2014 Comment

Santa Lucia Highlands AVA and Pinot NoirAs most wine connoisseurs are well aware, the Santa Lucia Highlands have been receiving a great deal of positive attention over the last ten years in spite of the fact that the region is a relatively small part of California’s immense AVAs (American Viticultural Areas).

The Santa Lucia Mountains separate the Salinas Valley from the Carmel Valley within sight of state Highway 101 and the Santa Lucia Highlands consist of a narrow strip of around 5,900 acres of vineyards and 34 growers. The vineyards are centered around the picturesque town of Soledad and the region was awarded AVA status in 1991. The Santa Lucia Highlands AVA area has received most of its recent attention for its Pinot Noir, which happens to be the area’s most dominant grape.

Exciting Pinot Noir Flavors

Many wineries outside of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA which focus on Pinot Noir have been buying grapes from this region in light of their excellent quality. In addition, many of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA vineyards have become well known to connoisseurs and have been producing wines which score extremely high with many major critics. A number of high-ranking wineries have grown up in the region, making it a source for some of the best Pinot Noir grapes as well as an intriguing and attractive wine tasting destination.

Californian Pinot Noir has a great price point when compared to the burgundies of the Côte de Beaune or Côte d’Or.   Santa Lucia Highlands AVA  Pinot Noir is known for its big, full-bodied fruitiness, with cherry and red fruit overtones.   The majority of the Pinot Noir from the region is lively in the mouth, the main flavor being cherry,  with mixed secondary flavors of chocolate and vanilla.

Some favorites from Santa Lucia Highlands AVA

2010 Lucia Vineyards Pinot Noir Santa Lucia Highlands, at around $40 per bottle, sourced from Gary’s Vineyard and Pisoni Vineyards fruit.   It has a depth of  cherry and black berry fruit, gripping tannins and secondary spice notes, in particular, cinnamon and cardamon.

Pisoni Vineyards’ 2010 Pisoni Estate Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, at about $65 a bottle, is a darker, deeper ruby red with crushed black cherry overtones, with just a hint of fresh flowers and vanilla. This Pinot Noir tastes lively and would benefit from decanting, as it is a bit tight straight from the bottle, even after being chambered.

2010 Testarossa Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir at around $39 really hits its mark.  Again, a deep ruby glassful with overtones of ripe cherry, herbal notes, and light spice for a balanced juicy finish underscored by cinnamon and leather.

Roar Gary’s Vineyard is a small-lot specialist with a single Santa Lucia Highlands AVA vineyard and their 2010 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir  can be found at about $52 a bottle.  Deep ruby red, a big black cherry nose, with berry undertones, this strong and supple wine has subtle flower and herb notes, even a touch of woody mushroom.  Well worth seeking out.

Something special at any time of the year

Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir wines are amongst our favorites  for their robust flavors, and their ability to surprise us with subtlety and wit.  These are wines that you can select without hesitation to accompany rich, flavorsome foods such as beef and duck – they will more than stand their ground.  We love them also for their understated class.  In the summer we are often drawn to frivolous whites and frolicsome roses.  How nice it is, in the evening, to pour out a glass of one of the many choices of Santa Lucia Highland Pinot Noir.   To slowly savor the complexities of a truly rewarding glass of outstanding red wine.

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