Archive for July, 2010

Wine Review: 2007 Atteca Old Vines

July 30th, 2010 No comments

I’m a big sucker for Spanish wines, and when I’m perusing a restaurant wine list, I often find myself flipping past the Pinot Noirs and Merlots in the hopes of finding a nice Tempranillo or Rioja.  Last night at JRDN Restaurant I tried a great Spanish red wine that I couldn’t wait to share with you: the 2007 Atteca Old Vines.

This is a Garnacha, or as we Americans call it, a Grenache.  The Grenache grape is one of the most planted wine grapes in the world.  It produces wines that are deep in fruit and spice flavors, yet easy-drinking.  It is most often seen in blends, such as Syrahs and almost all wines from the Rhone region.  It’s also often blended with whites to make Rose.  So I was excited to taste this pure Granacha and see how these usually second-fiddle grapes would stand up to scrutiny all alone.

The 2007 Atteca Old Vines is made from 80 to 120 year-old vines and aged for 10 months in seasoned French oak barrels.  It has a full fruity flavor highly redolent of blackberries, but fell short of being jammy, a quality I sometimes find cloying in wines.  It has subtler flavors of vanilla and smoke.  While it was tannic enough to have the full body needed to pair with red meat, its tannins were soft and the wine was light on the palate.  This just-rich-enough quality makes it a great summer wine and one ideal for pairing with many different dishes.  Try it with pasta dishes, full-flavored fish, or grilled meat.

The 2007 Atteca Old Vines Garnacha is a very decent drinking wine.  It’s one that would really benefit from some years in the cellar, which would bring out its spice flavors.  At about $15 a bottle, it’s also a good price.  Cheers!

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Wines for Grilling

July 26th, 2010 1 comment

Summer’s here and that means grilling season.  When the summer days mean it’s too stifling to cook over a hot stove, I loveto take the kitchen prep outside and cook as much as I can over the open flame.  Not only does it keep the house cool, grilling outside lets me enjoy the warm summer evenings, and offers the delicious reward of smoky, crisp-on-the-outside-juicy-on-the-inside grilled food.  There’s nothing that says summer as much as grilling.  But where do wines fit into this?  Does enjoying the tasty experience of grilled summer food mean that you have to trade your wine glass for a beer can?  Not unless you want to!

Grilled foods’ unique, strong flavors offer their own unique set of pairing challenges.  Luckily, there are many wonderful wines that are up to the test.  Here are a few of our favorites:

Zinfandel has a reputation as the quintessential grilling wine, and deservedly so.  Zinfandel‘s full-bodied character makes it the perfect accompaniment to rich grilled meats like steaks, burgers, and lamb.  It also has a unique fruity-yet-spicy flavor that matches perfectly with the rich, spicy sauces that are so often seen on barbecued food.  But be careful: you want the flavors of your wine and food to complement, not compete.  So pairing a spicy Zin with an especially spicy barbecue sauce might make the spice flavors overwhelm the dish.  If you’re cooking something especially spice-forward, try a Merlot–its fruity characteristics will let the spice shine without masking the subtler flavors of meat and smoke.

Speaking of smoke, another great grilling wine is Syrah, because it is characterized by smokey notes that go perfectly with grilled foods like sausage, brisket, and just about any red meat.  Syrahs from the Rhone region are especially known for their smokey characteristics.  Syrah also has very fruit-forward flavors and soft tannins that make it an easy-drinking wine perfect for sharing around the picnic table.

Rosé is a great choice for lighter grilled foods because its red wine notes match up to the intense charcoal flavors the grill imparts without overwhelming more delicate foods.  Try it with fish, chicken, or grilled veggies.

Chardonnay is a great wine for summer grilling because its strong oaky notes allow it to stand up to the rich tastes of grilled foods better than most whites.  Its buttery flavors make it a fantastic accompaniment to things like grilled fish with a buttery sauce.  And for a little slice of heaven, pair a Chardonnay with fresh grilled corn on the cob with plenty of butter.

Sauvignon Blanc is another great grilling wine, but for a different reason–its citrusy, herbaceous nature is a great foil to the opposingly strong, rich flavors of grilled food.  It refreshes the palate and makes those grill flavors shine through even more.  Try Sauvignon Blanc with fish grilled with lemon or anything marinated in herbs.

As always, remember that pairing wine with food is an art, not a science.  Don’t be afraid to break the rules a little, pairing a nice red with grilled chicken or experimenting with a brand-new varietal.  Play to your tastes and enjoy the summer grilling season!

Wine Review: 2006 De Canal Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

July 25th, 2010 No comments

Recently, a wine bar opened up in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego.  It’s called Enoteca Adriano, and I’ve been eating there a lot because of the great pasta, intimate atmosphere, and of course, the great wine list.  One of my favorite wines they offer also happens to be the least expensive on the list–the 2006 De Canal Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Abruzzo is an Italian wine-growing region east of Rome.  Although they grow a variety of grapes, including Sangiovese, the most popular wine grape from the Abruzzo region is the Montepulciano grape.  In order for a varietal to carry the name Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, it must be at least 85% Montepulciano, with the remainder Sangiovese.  Its Riservas need to be aged at least 2 years before release, with 6 months of that time in wood barrels.

Montepulciano grapes are big, juicy, and produce good quality wines even when grown in large quantities–an unusual characteristic for a wine grape, and a special boon to the historically poor Abruzzo farmers.   The wine it produces is a deep, rich color.  Its tannins are mild and the wine is low in acidity, making it a soft, drinkable wine that pairs well with a variety of foods (making it a great choice for sharing).

The 2006 De Canal Montepulciano d’Abruzzo at Enoteca Adriano is $18.  If you have trouble tracking it down online, try other Montepulcianos–most are reasonably priced, and many can be found for around $8.  Pair with Pasta Bolognese or roast pork and enjoy!

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Love Champagne but Hate the Price? Try Cava.

July 20th, 2010 No comments

I love to drink champagne.  It doesn’t have to be a special occasion, in fact, sometimes I’ll make one up just to have an excuse to celebrate with the bubbly stuff.  Whether I’m toasting to a job well done or a job I didn’t quite get done, champagne always puts a smile on my face.  But what doesn’t make me smile is the price: champagne isn’t cheap!  So today on the VC blog, let’s talk about a delicious and more affordable alternative to the fancy french stuff: cava.

I discovered cava on a recent trip to Spain.  It’s a Spanish sparkling wine, and something that Spaniards take quite seriously.  Spain is renowned throughout the world for their excellent wines: they are known especially for the care they take in growing wine grapes perfect for their different regions.  Their wines are generally excellent and highly regarded throughout the world.  Not as popular in the US, but just as important to Spaniards, is cava.

Cava is produced in the Catalonian region of Spain, concentrated in the northwestern Penedès area.  130 million bottles of cava is produced each year by 250 Spanish cava makers.  The grapes they use are predominantly Macabeo, Xarello, and Parellada, which give cava light, bright, and perfumed characteristics.

Cava is made in the traditional French method used to produce champagne: méthode champenoise, and in fact was called champán or xampany after true French champagne until champagne was given Protected Geographical Status.  In fact,  there are very strict rules governing what can and cannot be labeled a cava (just as there are such rules for champagnes) and one of them is that it’s not a cava unless it is made in the proper méthode champenoise. Thus, in terms of production at least, it’s really no different than a true champagne.  The same, of course, can’t be said for its grapes and growing conditions, but Spain’s reputation in these categories definitely makes cava a tough competitor.

Because cava isn’t as well-known as champagne, you can generally get significantly more bang for your buck by reaching for the Spanish, rather than the French stuff.  Be aware that cava comes in different degrees of sweetness, with Brut Nature being the driest (no sugar added) and Dulce being the sweetest (more than 50 g/litre of sugar added.)  Also be aware that not ever sparkling wine from Spain is a cava (and those that aren’t are not subject to the same production quality regulations).  Here’s an easy way to tell: all true cavas have a 4-pointed star on the cork.

So, fellow champagne lovers, get out there and try some cava, and let us know what you think!

Wine Events in Your Area

July 18th, 2010 No comments

I’m constantly on the lookout for wine events happening in San Diego, the home of Vintage Cellars.  But it’s not always easy to find out everything that’s going on, and I’m always disappointed when I find out I missed out on a great event.  So I was very happy when I recently ran across, a website that does just what its name promises–provides an extensive list of wine events going on all over the country, with handy links to more information.  They include everything from wine tastings to classes, and from wine dinners to special events.

If you’re in San Diego, click here to see a list of wine events going on right now.  If you’re anywhere else, click the website link above and stop missing out!

Wine Storage Tips

July 16th, 2010 No comments

1. If the conditions aren’t right, the wine will rot.  There’s nothing worse than opening a bottle after years of storage, only to discover that instead of aging gracefully, it’s turned to vinegar.  Keep the temperature of your wine cellar, wine refrigerator, wine closet, or wine cabinet between 50 and 65 degrees F for red wine and 45 to 60 degrees for white wine.

2. Here’s a nifty trick: since heat rises, and white wines need cooler conditions than reds do, keep white wines close to the floor and red wines closer to the ceiling.

3. Maintain a relative humidity between 50 and 70%.  Click here for our discussion on the importance of the right humidity for wine aging.

4. Keep bottles out of the light as much as possible.  When you do need to flip the switch to read the labels, make sure you’re using incandescent, not florescent—the extra UV light from florescent bulbs can penetrate the glass and interfere with the wine’s aging process.

5. Store bottles on their sides to keep the cork moist (a too-dry cork can shrink or even crack, letting in too much air and ruining the wine).

6. Use racks specifically designed for wine storage.  Certain types of woods and treatments can impart undesirable tastes to the bottles or can not rot in the damp, cool climate of your wine cellar.

7. Since you want to protect your wines from temperature fluctuations, and the areas nearest the door of your wine cellar are most vulnerable to temperature and humidity shifts, keep the younger wines that you plan to drink soon near the door, and the investment bottles that you want to age in the back corners.

8. Protect your wines from vibration.  Put your wine cellar in an appropriate place (a professional can help you find one), and avoid picking up the bottles.  Hang wine tags on the necks of your stored sideways bottles and write the label information on them.  This way, you can browse through your collection without disturbing the bottles.

9. The best way to ensure your collection is organized is to keep a regularly updated database of what’s currently in your cellar.  You can use a book or even a computer spreadsheet.  There is also some nifty software built for managing wine collections. Your records should note when you bought the wine, its name, region, producer, vineyard name, price paid, estimated value and future value, and leave space for tasting notes—the most important part!—for when you finally drink it.

Sustainable Wine Storage

July 9th, 2010 No comments

Aerial view of a forested town

This town and the surrounding forest have benefitted from sustainable practices. (from wikipedia)

As we’ve previously discussed here on the blog, green is in! More than ever, people are looking for environmentally friendly alternatives to the products they use in their daily lives. Using sustainable wood products is an important part of this effort. The forests of our planet are our oxygen factories, and we can’t live without them. Dwindling forests make for poor air quality, leave land open to being washed away by rainfall, and reduce the habitats of animals and humans.

Not using wood is an option, and if you want to go that route with your wine racks we have great metal wine racks available, including sideways racks that will display your wine labels. But many people strongly prefer the traditional look of wood, and for some applications there’s no good substitute. So what is the environmentally conscious person to do?

SFI Initiative

Sustainable Forestry Initiative

In recent years, several non-profit agencies have formed to certify the sustainability of wood suppliers. Their goal is to ensure that forests will continue to supply our needs for wood products, oxygen, animal habitats, etc for the present and future. Various agencies have different standards for certification, but they all share the goal of keeping our natural resources sustainably available. You can make a statement to forestry companies and make a commitment to the environment by purchasing wood products that come from sustainable-certified forests.
Here at Vintage Cellars, most of our wood wine racks are made from materials that are certified by either SFI or FSC, two major agencies that certify forests as sustainable. Click here for a comparison of these two agencies (PDF). Most of our Vintner wine racks, Designer wine racks and Redwood wine racks as well as our commercial wine racks are made from wood that is certified by one of these agencies.
More information on sustainable forestry is available on SFI’s site or you can get the Wikipedia overview here.

Wine Storage Solutions for Small Spaces

July 8th, 2010 No comments

You love wine.  You spend a lot of time drinking it, thinking about it, and buying it.  You’d love to start a real collection rather than stashing the bottle haphazardly on a rack in your kitchen, but you live in a small loft apartment.  There’s hardly enough room for your stuff, let alone enough empty space for a wine cellar or even a wine refrigerator.  Your dreams of a great wine collection have been dashed against the rocks of your cramped reality.  Right?  Wrong.

Avanti Wine Cooler for built-in or freestanding use

This Avanti wine chiller holds 52 bottles and can be built into your cabinetry.

A lack of space doesn’t make collecting wine impossible.  You just have to get creative.  Many reputable wine refrigerator manufacturers also make small wine cabinets that are perfect for the collector with big dreams and small spaces.  These wine cabinets are just like their full-sized counterparts: they are outfitted with high-tech humidity and temperature controls designed for wine storage.  Storing your wine in the proper environment is what makes it age well.  The right climate will provide a cool, moist place for your bottles, letting the reactions between the chemicals in the wine, which give properly aged wine its rich, nuanced flavor, a chance to happen.  Wine cabinets keep these same chemicals from being adversely affected by light, humidity fluctuations, and vibrations, thus protecting your investment and helping ensure that when you finally open that bottle of Cabernet, it will have been worth the wait.

There are a variety of different wine cabinet sizes out there, each one perfect for a unique storage situation.  There are wine cabinets out there that hold 200 bottles or less.  For sincerely limited storage space, there are even wine cabinets that can fit under the counter in your home or restaurant—they’re only about 30 inches high, and they hold 30 bottles.  Avanti makes several wine refrigerators with a compact design that can be freestanding or be easily installed under a counter.  They have a sleek, modern look and digital controls that allow you to adjust the conditions inside the cabinet with the touch of a button.

Vinotheque Franciscan Credenza

This wine credenza by Vinotheque holds over 200 bottles

Another option for the space-challenged is a wine credenza.  A credenza is a long, low cabinet that is usually seen in a dining room.  Some companies make credenzas in luxurious woods with beautiful detailing—you can place them alongside a wall in your dining room and they are both a practical and beautiful way to show off your collection.  Since the credenza performs double duty, it is a great way to save space.  The top of the credenza can be used as a sideboard for serving food, as a bar area, or as a place to display your fine china or other kitchenware.  Vinotheque makes some of the most functional and aesthetically pleasing wine credenzas out there.

Moral of the story: don’t be deterred from collection because you don’t have the space.  Think outside the cellar and check out some of the great solutions for wine storage in small spaces that are out there.

Humidity in Wine Cellars

July 6th, 2010 No comments

We know that wine has to be kept at a low temperature in order to age well.  It’s logical—we keep our perishable items cool so that they don’t spoil as quickly, and wine is, of course, a perishable item.  But what’s with the humidity thing?  Does wine really need to be kept at a certain level of humidity in order to keep from spoiling and aid aging?  Or is that just a useless feature that wine cellar makers have convinced us we need?  Bottom line: what does a wine refrigerator have that a regular refrigerator doesn’t?

The reason we need a humid environment in which to store wine mostly has to do with the cork.  So let’s talk about cork and it’s role in wine storage:  Cork comes from cork trees, which are mostly grown in Europe, and so is an organic substance.  (Incidentally, cork growing is a completely sustainable type of farming, since the tree is not killed to harvest the cork, and cork forests across the world protect many rare species of plants and animals, not to mention the cork farmers that rely on the trees for their livelihood.  Click here if you want to read our argument in support of keeping corks natural.)

Cork is the ideal material for sealing wine bottles, because it can expand and contract as its environment changes.  This is particularly useful for wine, because the glass bottles wine is kept in change their shape with the weather—cooler temperature cause the silicon dioxide molecules that make up glass to squeeze closer together, shrinking the bottle.  Warmer conditions cause them to spread out, expanding the bottle.  Although you want to protect your wine from temperature fluctuations, it is naturally and unavoidably exposed to a variety of environments (when it’s being bottled, when it’s being shipped, and when you’re taking it home from the store, for example).  The plastic nature of cork means that it expands and contracts with the glass, maintaining a tight seal between your wine and the outside world.

So, corks are very important for maintaining stable conditions inside your wine bottle.  And humidity is essential to maintaining the integrity of a cork.  Too dry, and the cork shrinks, letting in too much oxygen and causing cork taint (when a cork is so dry it cracks when you pull it out, the wine is almost certain to be ruined).  Too wet, and mold can form on the corks—it can rot them out and taint your wine.  (However, a little mold on the outside of a very old bottle’s cork is perfectly normal, as long as the mold is only on the dry side.)

The ideal humidity level at which to store wine is 50%-70% relative humidity.  The best kind of humidifiers are generally separate from the cooling systems, although if you live in a humid area or have a certain type of cooling system, you might be ok.  Through-the-wall humidifiers are the most heavy-duty choice.

Wall fountains are an artistic way to add humidity to your wine cellar.

A wall fountain is one way of adding humidity to a wine cellar.

Another very cool option is a fountain humidifier.  These work by circulating water through a fountain, allowing it to evaporate into the air and humidify the environment.  These wine cellar humidifier fountains can be a unique and aesthetically pleasing part of a wine cellar, and they are sure a conversation starter—no one expects to see a fountain among the dusty bottles.  Fountain humidifiers, however, don’t provide as much humidifying power as through-the-wall humidifiers, so if you live in the desert, one might not be an option.

You can learn more about humidifying a wine cellar and types of humidifiers here in our Education Center.

The humidity factor is what differentiates a wine cellar from a refrigerator.  The right humidity is crucial to the success of your wine aging endeavors.  Humidity needs change from area to area, and humidifiers require that your wine cellar is properly insulated and sealed to work properly, so make sure you contact a wine cellar professional about your specific humidification needs.