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A Toast to Champagne!

December 31st, 2009 No comments

Happy New Year from the crew at Vintage Cellars!  We’d like to remind you that tonight, when you’re raising your glass with family and friends, to not forget a small, personal toast for that beverage of celebration: champagne!  If you’re looking for a great new bubbly to try, here’s the San Francisco Chronicle’s 100 Top Wines list, headed by seven great champagnes.

In honor of New Year’s Eve, we bring you a few interesting tidbits you might not have known about the world’s most beloved sparkling beverage:

  • Champagne was associated from the beginning with the anointment of French kings.  Since then, the word “champagne” has been synonymous with luxury and power.
  • Contrary to popular belief, Dom Perignon did not invent sparkling wine.  It was invented by English scientist and physician Christopher Merret in 1662, when he presented the Royal Society with a paper in which he detailed the “méthodePicture 6 champenoise,” basically, how to add sugar for a secondary fermentation that produces bubbles.
  • In France, the first champagne was created by mistake.  Accidental secondary fermentation caused bottles to spontaneously explode from the pressure of carbonation.  Because of this, the French called champagne “the devil’s wine.”
  • Champagne was always sweet until 1876, when Brut was first created.
  • Bubbles occur when the liquid contacts small imperfections in the glass.  These “nucleation points” are often added to champagne glasses with acid, a laser, or a glass etching tool.
  • Bottling champagne in magnum-sized bottles is said to produce a higher quality beverage, as there is less oxygen in the larger bottle, and the volume-to-surface area ratio creates bubbles of a perfect size.
  • Champagne corks are originally shaped like cylinders.  Pressure forces them into their distinct mushroom shape.  The longer champagne has been in the bottle, the more mushroom-shaped the cork.
  • Champagne is usually served in a champagne flute.  The shape of the other common glass, the Victorian flute, with the wide, short bowl, is said to have been modeled from the breast of Marie Antoinette.
  • When opened correctly, a bottle of champagne won’t make a loud popping sound, as this means you might be spilling-and wasting!  The sighing sound of a properly opened cork is called “le soupir amoureux” (the loving whisper).

How to Taste Wine

December 27th, 2009 1 comment

We’ve all tasted wine, whether at a winery, a wine bar, or after ordering a bottle at a restaurant.  We swirl and slurp, but do we really know what we’re doing?  Following these few simple steps can help you get the most out of your wine tasting experience.

  1. Look at the wine.  Yes, wine tasting starts with the eyes. Tilt the glass to observe the color gradient.  It’s helpful to hold the glass against a white background,Picture 4 like a white tablecloth or white napkin.  Though color isn’t necessarily indicative of quality, it can tell you something about the age of the wine.  White wines become darker with time.  Red wines tend to become more brownish in color as they age, and can sometimes collect a small amount of harmless sediment.  An older red wine will also be more translucent than a younger one.  Check for bits of cork floating in the wine–if they are there, they could indicate that the wine is corked, or has oxidized and gone bad.
  2. Smell the wine.  Smell is actually a large component of what we sense as taste, so of course wine tasting includes the use of your nose! Take a quick whiff to get a first impression (and make sure it hasn’t gone bad).  Swirl the wine and take another sniff, observing if the aroma changes as the wine oxidizes.  If you’re trying to teach yourself to better appreciate wine, it’s helpful to use descriptive adjectives.  They don’t have to be the ones you always see on the backs of wine bottles.  Use whatever comes to mind, whether it’s “woodsy,” “mushroomy,” or “kinda-like-Mom’s-pot-roast-y.”  Smell again, this time with your nose deep in the glass.  Note your second impression.  Swirl and take another deep sniff.  Did the aroma change as you smelled and swirled?
  3. Taste the wine.  There are three phases to the actual tasting: attack, evolution, and finish.  First, take a small sip and roll it around your tongue, exposing the wine to all your taste centers.  The attack phase is the initial impression the wine makes, built of four parts: alcohol content, tannin levels, acidity, and sugar.  A good wine is balanced, meaning that one of these parts will not strike you as dominant over the rest.  Take another small sip.  This is the evolution phase, the wine’s actual taste on your palate.  If you’re drinking a red wine, you might start to notice fruit tastes, like fig, berry, or plum, spices like cinnamon or pepper, or other tastes like wood or smoke.  If it’s a white, you might notice tastes of apple, pear, flowers, butter, herbs, or honey.  Do describe the wine to yourself.  Don’t be limited by the words you think are wine-appropriate–go with your instincts.  Finally, experience the finish–the lasting impression the wine leaves you with.  How long does the taste linger?  Was the wine light-bodied (thin like water) or full-bodied (thick like milk)?  Most importantly, does the finish make you want another sip?
  4. Note your overall impression of the wine.  Write down a few of the adjectives you thought of.  Rate it from one to ten.  Notes which foods the wine went well with, or foods you think it might go well with.  Keeping a small notebook can be a great help the next time you’re planning a dinner party or pondering the wine aisle. You might even get inspired to host a blind wine tasting party for your next gathering.
  5. Enjoy the rest of the wine.  You didn’t open that bottle for three sips!

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A Wine Bar Party

December 20th, 2009 No comments

We at the Vintage Cellars blog have been bringing you lots of holiday party ideas lately.  If you missed them, make sure you check out our guide to hosting a wine and cheese party and a blind wine tasting party.  But what if the last thing you want is your house full of mess-making guests?  Especially if you have family staying with you this season, it might be time to take the party outside–out of the house, that is.

A wine bar is a great place for a casual get-together.  At a wine bar, you don’t have to worry about catering to the taste of each guest–let everyone chose their own wines.  A wine bar also takes care of snacks (some ever offer dinner) and of course, it will do the dishes for you.  A wine bar is a great place to learn about wine and enjoy some quality time with the ones you love…all while keeping your house guest- and stress-free.

If you’re a local San Diegan, you might want to check out signonsandiego’s list of choice San Diego wine bars, located here.

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Host a Blind Wine Tasting Party

December 16th, 2009 No comments

Looking for something a little different to host this holiday season?  How about a blind wine tasting party?  Blind wine tastings can be a great way to learn about wine while having some bonding time with the ones you love.  A blind wine tasting can help you discover new favorites and inexpensive bottles with expensive flavor.  A blind wine tasting can help you decide what to serve at an upcoming dinner, party, or even wedding.  And best of all, a wine tasting is a great party catalyst, giving your guests something to talk and laugh about.

The powers of perception and expectation can play surprisingly large roles in our judgement of wine.  Studies have proven thatPicture 2 people will rate a wine they were told was more expensive as better than the same wine labeled as a cheap bottle.  A white wine will be judged as “fresh” and “clean,” while the same wine dyed red will be judged as “bold” and “spicy.”  Think you’re immune to this kind of fooling?  Test yourself and your friends with a blind taste test!

Gather 6-12 wine lovers (any more and you’ll have to buy two bottles of wine for each tasting) and pick out a few bottles of several different grape varietals, from different price points.  Bag each bottle, making sure the bag is long and loose enough to conceal the bottle’s shape (remember those powers of expectation).  Group the bottles by grape varietal, and taste away.  For serious wine connoisseurs, you can pass out pens and paper for note-taking, but for a more fun and casual atmosphere, let your guests chat away, and have everyone rank the wines in each group.  You and your guests might be surprised by your choices!

A few tips for a perfect blind wine tasting:

  • Tape or rubber band bags to bottles so they don’t slip during pouring. (You can cover the tape or band with ribbon to make it more festive.)
  • Serve something for your guests to nibble on, but choose a snack that won’t interfere with the taste of the wines.  Mild cheese and crackers is a good choice.
  • Label your wines A, B, C etc, so you can tell them apart during discussion and ranking.
  • Organize your tasting so that your guests move from sparkling, to white, to red, from sweet to dry, and from light-bodied to full-bodied.

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More Great Gifts from Vintage Cellars

December 12th, 2009 No comments

As the holidays draw closer, it’s time to get serious about shopping.  Here are some more great gifts by leather company Mulholland, available from Vintage Cellars:

Mulholland Leather Wine Case

Picture 2Mulholland is a maker and purveyor of fine leather products.  Their goods only improve with age, and will last for generations.  Mulholland’s line of leather wine bags was developed for the true wine connoisseur.  They are perfect for carrying wine to a party, a picnic, or even across the country.  Mulholland makes wine carrying bags to hold one, two, or six bottles.  The six-bottle carriers are also available in a rolling style perfect for transporting your beloved bottles through busy airports.  All carriers are made with a semi-rigid insulated nylon liner that maintains the temperature of chilled whites and champagnes, and protects red wines from temperature extremes.  Each comes with a handle and shoulder strap, and all are shipped with a free stainless corkscrew.

Mulholland Leather Flask

Picture 4For the wine lover who also enjoys fine liquor, Mulholland makes flasks from their premium leather.  These flasks are stainless steel and wrapped in one of Mulholland’s two leathers: the Lariat or the Latigo.  The Lariat is a strong, honey-brown leather that ages beautifully, acquiring a surface etched with marks from daily wear.  The Latigo is a rich, dark leather cured with natural vegetable extracts.  Its distinctive sheen makes it a beautiful material for all of Mulholland’s crafts.  Flasks are available in 4 or 6 oz styles, and include screw caps that are hinged to the flask’s surface, ensuring they will never be lost.  Mulholland’s flasks are crafted with the finest workmanship, and make stunning gifts.

Mulholland Leather Golf Bag

Picture 3It’s no secret that many wine lovers are avid golfers.  The ultimate golfing gift?  One of Mulholland’s all-leather golf bags.  Handcrafted from the signature leather that has made the name “Mulholland” synonymous with “fine leather,” a Mulholland golf bag is a gift that will last a lifetime.  Made of only the hardiest, most durable leather, a golf bag by Mulholland will acquire a unique patina of scrapes and scratches that will tell the story of your golfer’s years on the links.  These golf bags are divided into three sections and come with several accessory compartments, as well as adjustable shoulder straps, leather trunk handles, water-repellant rain hoods, and umbrella holders.  Consider gifting the golf lover in your life with the ultimate in beauty and function: a leather golf bag by Mulholland.

A Cheery Holiday Wine Drink

December 8th, 2009 No comments

Looking for a new holiday drink to add to your party repertoire?  How about one that combines your love for delicious holiday cheer with your love for delicious wine?  Try this recipe for Hot Mulled Wine, similar to the traditional German Glühwein.  Bonus: since you’re changing the flavor anyway, you don’t need to use an expensive bottle.  Also, the recipe isn’t strict: you can vary it depending on taste, so if you don’t have one of the spices on hand, don’t sweat it.

Recipe for Hot Mulled Wine:Picture 2

1 bottle of red wine

3 cinnamon sticks

4 whole cloves

4 whole allspice

2 whole star anise

2/3 cup sugar

Peel from an orange and/or lemon

1/2 cup dark rum or brandy (optional)

Directions:

Combine all the ingredients except the rum or brandy.  Bring to a low simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes.  Do not boil.  Remove from heat and add the rum or brandy.  Strain, serve, and garnish with a cinnamon stick or orange wedge.  Enjoy your mulled wine!

Tips for Wine and Cheese Pairings

December 5th, 2009 No comments

As the holiday season draws nearer, we find ourselves meeting friends and family to drink, be merry, and forget how much money we’re spending on Christmas presents.  Whether you’re hosting a party or attending one, it’s a good bet that sometime this month you’ll be faced with that eternal challenge: the wine and cheese pairing.   A wine and cheese pairing can be a perfect gift for the host or a great way to start off your own party, but a good one takes planning.  Here are a few tips for doing one right:

1.  Don’t be intimidated.  Matching wine and cheese perfectly isn’t easy; even the experts disagree on what tastes good with what.  Rather than second-guessing yourself and adding to your holiday stress, just remember this: if it tastes good to you, it probably tastes good to your friends too.

2.  White wines are safer than reds.  White wine pair well with soft cheeses and stronger flavors.  Many cheese, especially the soft, creamy (and I might add, delicious) kind, contains fats that interfere with the flavors of red wine, making them seem to lose their deeper flavors.

3.  If you do want to go for a red (and don’t be afraid to!), stick to the hard, milder cheeses like swiss.

4.  Sweeter wines, dessert wines, and champagnes generally fair well with a wide range of cheeses.  The carbonation in champagne actually helps break down the fat from soft, creamy cheeses, and the mild flavor prevents it from interfering with the taste of most cheeses.  If you’re bringing wine to a wine and cheese party, champagne or sweeter wines like Gewürztraminer might be your best bets.

5.  If your harbor a love for the soft and stinky varieties of cheese (I know I do), pick big, bold wines to back them up.  Cabs and Bordeaux have flavors that can handle strong cheeses.  If you’re looking at a Bleu or other moldy or blue veined cheese, a sweet dessert wine is your best bet.

Good luck with your wine and cheese pairings!  Remember that food is supposed to be fun and pleasurable: don’t let picking a wine and cheese pair add to your holiday stress.

Why We Store Wine

December 1st, 2009 No comments

Recently after a long day shooting wine cabinet education videos, selling cooling units and putting the finishing touches on some wine cellar designs, we needed a refresher course on why we are in this crazy business. In an after hours discussion of the business, new cooling units on the market and recent wine trends, we broke out 3 wines from the Vintage Cellars wine room.

We started with a 1999 Altagracia Araujo Estate Napa Valley Red. It was amazing that after 10 years in our wine cellar, it could still use a few more. We tasted and discussed the elegance of this wine. Plump, sweet, pure black currant fruit and black cherry are a few terms we threw around. A long complex finished followed with a hint of licorice.

The second bottle had 10 more years of proper aging, 1989 Château Pichon-Longueville Baron. Intense dark fruit forward aromas from the moment it was poured into the decanter. This vintage had a fantastic nose of plum, raspberry and tobacco. The final grade: this wine is full of Bordeaux magic and this is why you age and store wine properly.

The last was a palate turner to a Spanish dessert wine, Alvear Solera 1927 Pedro Ximenez. The dark amber color almost maple syrup appearance stands out upon first pour. We discussed different ways to use this wine including poured over fresh berries and vanilla ice cream. It’s like crème brulee in a bottle topped with candied Bavarian nuts.

Yes, this is why the Vintage Cellars crew spends hours everyday talking wine and wine storage. If you store wine properly, great wine experiences will follow.

VintageCellars.com Wine Tasting

VintageCellars.com Wine Tasting

3 More Great Wine Gift Ideas for Wine Lovers

December 1st, 2009 No comments

Looking for the perfect Christmas gift for that special wine enthusiast?  Look no further: Vintage Cellars has tons of great wine gift ideas.  Make sure you check out last week’s wine gifts post, and stay in touch for the next installment!

Creative Wine Rack

Delia wine rackDelia Wine Storage makes unique, artistic wine racks with metal and glass.  These racks add a conversation-starting touch to any wine collection.  Many are small, and so are ideal for wine lovers in tight spaces.  If you know someone whose apartment won’t fit a wine refrigerator, or a wine collector just starting out, a Delia rack might be an ideal choice.  But these beautiful wine storage sculptures aren’t limited to those in small spaces.  They can also be used to spruce up a kitchen or add an interesting element to an existing wine cellar.

Delia makes a wide variety of wine racks, from wine trees to wine tables to wall mounts.  Their elegant, modern designs add a unique touch to any wine collection.  These artistic storage options are a great wine gift idea for anyone who appreciates functional art.  Make sure to check out full line of Delia wine racks.

KleanKanteen Wine Karafe

KleanKanteen

Picture this: you’ve hiked to the top of a forested mountain with your loved one.  You spread a blanket and relax to watch the sun set over the gorgeous panorama you’ve worked so hard to see.  You reach into your backpack and pull out your water bottle.

Something’s missing, right?  Life’s great moments deserve to be celebrated with a toast.  But those special moments don’t always happen near a kitchen.  What’s a hiking, camping, or picnicking wine lover to do?  Meet the KleanKanteen.  No more pretending your sports drink is Chardonnay or worrying about your wine bottle shattering in your backpack.  The KleanKanteen is a high-grade, virtually unbreakable container specifically designed to hold a standard 750 mL bottle of wine.  This food-grade stainless steel is free from all toxins. Best of all, it doesn’t retain or impart flavors like a traditional plastic beverage container, so it can carry a Pinot Grigio or a Zinfandel with equal ease.  The KleedKanteen Karafe can even be purchased with an insulating tote to keep wines at the correct temperature, even after a long walk on a hot tropical beach.

For any wine enthusiast who would love to take her passion outdoors, the KleanKanteen Wine Karafe is the perfect gift.

Know a wine purist who rejects “fancy” openers, preferring the subtle artistry and show of skill that comes with opening a bottle with a traditional Sommelier Knife? This professional wine tool and leather case by maker of fine leather Mulholland might be the perfect gift. This ages-old corkscrew design includes a knife, pull, and corkscrew, perfect for opening that bottle that’s been aging for 50 years the way it was meant to be opened. This Sommelier Knife comes encased in a pouch made of Mulholland’s fine leather.
Corkscrew and leather caseMulholland makes most of its luxury leather goods in two colors. The first is the “Lariat™,” known for its honeyed surface known for its uniqueness: each product acquires marks and scratches from use that become part of the beauty of the material. The second is the “Latigo™,” a darker stout color cured with vegetable extracts and polished with a high-speed glass cylinder. For the Sommelier Corkscrew and Case, Mulholland makes a third color: a rich, medium “Bridle Tan.”
For the wine collector who would love a high-quality tool that will last for generations, the Mulholland All-Leather Sommelier Corkscrew and Leather Case is a great gift.