Archive for September, 2009

“A Case for Wine” Exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute

September 15th, 2009 No comments

I’ve often found that wine lovers and art lovers are the same people. After all, the two are a significant portion of what makes up the “finer things” in life. This view was confirmed for me this weekend when I was in Chicago and took a trip to the newly-expanded Art Institute, where a special exhibit, A Case for Wine, is currently on display.

Wine has been an important part of the Art Institute’s prestigious collections since the beginning of the museum’s history in 1879. Some of the first classical antiques the Institute acquired included jugs for storing wine, and the first collection of Dutch master paintings they purchased included a familial scene that portrayed wine drinking.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the museum was fortunate to purchase a portion of Jacque Muesum’s collection of European glass and a similar collection that had belonged to J.P. Morgan. A Case for Wine, currently on view at the museum, features many beautiful drinking vessels from both of these collections.

What struck me the most is how skillful artists can bring new beauty to everyday activities such as drinking wine. Paintings and tapestries displaying wine drinking, winemaking and simple motifs of grapes and vines were an impressive reminder of the muse-like qualities of a great glass of wine.

The exhibit, subtitled “from King Tut to Today” also reminded me of the great heritage all wine drinkers share, as wine has been an essential part of human culture for thousands of years. I was most interested to learn about the development of the different shapes of wine bottles, and to see examples of innovations in glass technology that make wine storage possible today.

If you happen to live near Chicago, or to be visiting anytime soon, the Art Institute and A Case for Wine are both well worth a visit!

Learn more about the history of wine cellars.

The Wine Cellar: New favorite room

September 11th, 2009 No comments
Before - The Cellar

Before – The Cellar

After - The Cellar

After – The Cellar


The Stan Story

Stan’s basement was a room fit for lawn equipment, a ladder and boxes filled with holiday decorations, but hardly a place to properly cellar over 2500 bottles of wine.  Wine is a delicate matter here at Vintage Cellars and cellaring wine at an improper temperature in an uncontrolled environment just doesn’t sit well on our palates.

When Stan and I first met, we had to immediately attack some issues:  time and wine!  He was moving in soon and had to transfer his collection.  We needed to work fast but we needed to think about both the present and the future.  We needed to build out, properly vapor barrier, insulate and cool the wine cellar.  Elevate the racks and create a raised wood floor in case the basement area ever retained water.  We needed a custom wine cellar design that could handle a collection of Bordeaux, Barolos, California Cabs, Oregon Pinots, 750’s, magnums, double magnums, cases and growing/changing every year.  There were plumbing pipes that needed access, a rear door entering a crawl space and electrical lines everywhere.  After several revisions and conversations, the former basement was Stan’s (and his wine’s) new favorite room.

“Vintage Cellars did this project on time and within my budget.  It’s now my favorite room in the house.” –  S.G.

Wine and Cheese: Why and How

September 9th, 2009 No comments

Look in your wine cellar or your wine cabinet and pick out a wine…  Read this wine blog and then go to the local market and pick out a cheese.  Enjoy your evening…  I wanted to revisit the classic pairing of wine and cheese to see why it’s so popular and offer a few tips.

Consider the things that these two great tastes have in common:

  • Both date back to ancient times (Wine 10,000 years – Cheese 4,000 years).
  • Both are a product of fermentation and most producers maintain high quality standards and appellations.
  • Both are a reflection of their “terroir”, a French word that is the collective term for the conditions of climate, soil, altitude, topography. Grapes grow in the same area that grows the feed for the cows, sheep and goats that produce the milk that makes the cheese.
  • Both are alive and will continually change as they age.

It’s a matter of chemistry. Almost all wine is highly acidic and it’s the acidic taste that makes your mouth water and creates that burst of saliva and its enzymes, which help boost the flavor of food. Tannin, which is the astringent substance in the skins, stems and seed of grapes and in oak barrels, gives red wine its body and texture and allows wine to develop more complex flavor over time. However, protein (like a well-grilled steak or a wedge of cheese) can smooth tannin’s impact on the tongue, which is why wine and cheese or red wine and steak are such classic combinations. The protein and fats in the cheese or beef coat your tongue and mellow the tannic taste and the tannin keeps the cheese or beef from tasting greasy and heavy.

Today, more specialty wine shops are adding an artisan cheese section (usually next to the wine cellar with their high end wine selection).  Since good wines and good cheeses are more readily available, keep this in mind: Sweeter wine with saltier cheese. Creamy cheese will taste better with a wine with higher acidity. Other general guidelines include:

  • The harder the cheese, the higher level of tannin a wine can have.
  • The whiter and fresher the cheese, the crisper and fruitier the wine.
  • Heavy rich cheeses will partner with light reds and Chardonnay.
  • Strong veined cheeses usually demand a sweeter wine.

Set up your next wine tasting party with a few more exotic or artisan cheeses.  Pair your wine and cheese following some of these simple tips.  Enjoy…

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A Custom Wine Cellar Built for a Yacht

September 5th, 2009 No comments

A Wine Cellar on a Yacht

In late 2008, Vintage Cellars was contacted about building a wine cellar on a 124-foot motor yacht. After several meetings with the captain & the owner, we decided to take out an existing steam shower (just outside of the rec room) and create a temperature controlled wine room.

After the contract was awarded, there were still many issues and obstacles to over come:

  • What is behind the steam shower?
  • How are we going to insulate, vapor barrier and prepare the room properly (since the soon to be wine cellar was on the lowest deck down a narrow spiral staircase)?
  • How are the bottles going to remain stable in a wine cellar on a yacht that encounters rough seas?
  • Where do we get cooling equipment for a yacht with European power specs now in dry dock in San Diego?
  • How do we maximize the bottle capacity while keeping safety and the highest quality standards in mind?

The Vintage Cellars design team, wine cabinet maker and carpentry team spent the next several weeks developing a design and a plan. Due to the tight space and location on the yacht, we decided to prefabricate an interior shell in our shop. Each wall would be built out of marine grade plywood with each section vapor barriered and insulated properly. Basically, we created a modular wall, floor and ceiling to seal the room. From there, we could line the room with cherry wood to keep the high quality finish consistent with the rest of the yacht.

Cooling… well there was another mountain that we had to climb. With over 20 years experience, Vintage Cellars has developed relationships with companies all over the world. These relationships were crucial for us to secure a ceiling mounted evaporator coil and compressor with enough BTUs to cool the room properly. It took several long discussions with the yacht engineer to create a mounting bracket in the bilge to support the compressor. We finally had the proper cooling for a complete wine cellar.

As the design continued, we tested and retested ways to secure the bottles in high seas. Based on that testing, we decided building individual storage on a 5 degree cant with a horizontal spacer bar at every space. We don’t ever want to test this in action, but we believe the yacht would have to flip on its side for that wine to come out. To maximize the space, and create show storage for large champagne, we developed a horizontal display cabinet on the same 5 degree cant with a face frame to hold the bottle in place. Its amazing what you can come up with when you put your mind to it. Each piece of racking was built in high grade cherry wood with a clear lacquer finish, all to maintain the same look on the yacht.

The carpentry team had to create the look, the pizazz of the cellar. Notice the sky light on the left hand side and the glass door. Each piece was custom built with dual pane thermal insulated glass. The hardware was secured from a marine hardware company specifically to match the rest of the cellar.

All in all, this wine cellar on a yacht was a fabulous success.

Check out a video of this transformation here:

Drink it, Preserve it or…Recycle it?

September 1st, 2009 No comments

As the world moves to a greener frame of mind, just recycle wine.  I’ve been in many discussions with clients and friends about the topic of an unfinished bottle.  In my opinion, you have 3 options: drink it, preserve it or recycle it.  For the sake of argument, let’s remove the drink it option and you are left with preserve the wine or recycle it.

Use the search word “wine preservation” in Google and you’ll spend the next 24 hours looking at the vast array of wine preservation equipment.  You can spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on dispensing and preservation.  The battle is against oxygen and the oxidation of the wine.  PEK Preservation equipment uses argon gas to displace the oxygen.  The Keeper line of equipment uses nitrogen.  It’s an entirely separate debate on which is better.  You can even consider the inexpensive Vintner System which will allow you to preserve and pour wines by the glass.  These are just a few examples of available wine preservation equipment.  The least expensive option? Cork the bottle tightly and place it in the back of the fridge.  It will keep for about 2 days.  Which ever wine preservation method you choose, it’s likely the wine will lose some of the qualities you noticed when it was opened.

Personally, I prefer to recycle wine rather then preserve.  Recycle may not be the proper term, but an open bottle of red wine can turn into great sangria for the next party.  The fruit, sugar and higher alcohol content will bring a new life to the wine.  Another idea is to make red wine vinaigrette or other salad dressing.  Use it to deglaze a pan to add richer flavor to a sauce.  A few weeks ago, I used 1/3 a bottle of a great Zinfandel in a slow cooked beef short rib recipe.  Delicious!  You could simply marinade a good steak to add a new dimension of flavor.

So whether you choose to drink, preserve or recycle, there are many options available for that lonely, leftover or unfinished bottle of wine.