Archive for July, 2011

Wine Bottle Art

July 29th, 2011 No comments
Richard Pim's wine bottle stained glass dome structure in Pembroke, England

Richard Pim's wine bottle stained glass dome structure in Pembroke, England

Ever been captivated by the beautiful mosaic of colors in stained glass windows?  Are wine bottles not, also, often made of colored glass?  Mesmerized by the similar, beautiful glow, retired geologist Richard Pim decided to create a dazzling stained glass window-like structure using wine bottles.  According to Richard, “One day I sat in the garden drinking a glass of wine, and as I held the bottle up to the sun it made an amazing sparkly effect. I thought ‘that’s it, I will make it out of wine bottles’.”

Richard’s structure, an eleven foot high dome, rests in his garden (open to the public) in Pembridge, between Leominster and Kington in Herefordshire, England.  Pembridge’s recorded history goes back over 800 years, and it has often been called called The Jewel in the Crown.  On a bright, sunny day, Richard Pim’s wine bottle dome looks just like such a glorious jewel.   When asked about how he obtained the wine bottles necessary for the project, Richard replied, “I had no problems getting hold of bottles. Most of Herefordshire knew what I was doing, so I have had lots of donations. I have also drunk a good few myself.”  Though the structure is predominately emerald green, bursts of red, yellow, blue, and other colors abound.  “The bottles are all different colours, but the hardest to get hold of are blue ones,” reported Richard.

In the United States, The Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel in Wilmington, North Carolina was created from 4,000 bottles.  (The bottles, however, are not limited to wine bottles.)  Though not as translucent as Richard Pim’s construction, the Chapel, built by Virginia Wright-Frierson in 2004 as a retreat, attempts to mirror the natural light, color, and shape of its surroundings.  The interior even contains a sculpture of a tree.  If a visit to England is not in your immediate timeline, the Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel is certainly a closer sight.

So, the next time you finish a bottle of wine, have a look at the bottle.  Perhaps it may inspire you, too, to create a shimmering work of art?

The Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel in Wilmington, North Carolina

The Minnie Evans Bottle Chapel in Wilmington, North Carolina

Cool It! Time to Check Your Wine Cooling Unit

July 27th, 2011 1 comment

Summer is in full swing!  And during the summer, increased temperatures often cause wine cellar cooling units to work longer and harder hours.  While most cooling units are expected to last five years if running continuously, the majority of cooling units (those run only when needed) function for many, many years beyond this grave estimate.  However, the time may eventually come when you will need to replace a cooling unit in your wine cellar or cabinet.  How will you know when this is so?

WhisperKOOL Platinum 4000 Fully Ducted Split Cooling SystemThere are three types of cooling systems, each with their own particular design: through the wall (e.g. CellarCool CX Cooling Units), self-contained/ducted (e.g. Wine Guardian Fully Ducted Systems), and split systems involving a condensing unit and fan coil (e.g. WhisperKOOL Split System Cooling).  If your system is not operating properly, first refer to your owner’s manual.  You’ll often find a tip in the “troubleshooting” section that will miraculously solve the problem. If the problem persists, clean your cooling system while referring to the same manual.  For through the wall systems, vacuum and clean the vents. If this does not fix the problem, or if you have a split systems or self-contained/ducted one, you may need to call your local HVAC contractor to come out and test the coolant, pressure level, and provide general service to the system.  They’ll also make sure the issue is really the cooling unit and not a problem with the thermostat, especially if there was a recent power outage.

For wine cabinet cooling units: Many times you can purchase replacement cooling units made specifically for the model of your wine cabinet.  This allows you to replace them easily, without having to fuss with modifying a cabinet.  Although cooling units can last for many years, it’s a good idea to have them tested and serviced every year.  This way, they will keep running as efficiently as possible, and will oftentimes last longer than if they were never serviced.  Just like taking your car in for routine tune-ups, giving your cooling unit yearly “check ups” helps it stay in tip-top shape.

If you think your cooling unit might be ready for retirement, give the Vintage Cellars wine storage experts a call. They can help you figure out whether you need to replace the unit, and if so what cooling system will best suit your needs for the future. Even in wine cooling, new technology happens all the time! So the unit that has served you well for years may actually be inefficient (ie, expensive to run!) or noisy in comparison to the up to date cooling systems available.

Cellar Space for Wine Cases

July 25th, 2011 No comments

If purchased by the case, most people want to keep their wines stored in their original cases.  Unpacking and storing identical bottles on regular racks can be a waste of precious bottle space.  Therefore, if you plan to purchase wine by the case, it’s important that your wine cellar be able to accommodate wine cases.  Because wine cases vary in size, shelving units that are adjustable, like those with movable brackets, are a necessity.  Although the average wine case is 8 ”x 14”x 22” some cases are larger, and wine cellar designers have observed a trend that wine packaging is becoming more creative, and that wines are being put into unusual bottles that are visually striking with greater frequency.  This means the frequent appearance of “average sized” wine cases could be diminishing, making the need for adjustable shelving all the more apparent.  Cellars can be constructed with drawer slides on lower shelves for cases that get moved around frequently and upper shelves that are adjustable to accommodate different sized cases. It’s important, if you’re designing a custom wine cellar, to let your cellar design team know if you plan on storing cases of wine.  If so, there’s no need for good cases to be piled on the floor when an elegant, easy-to-adjust shelving solution would look so much nicer!

blueprint for custom made wine cellar and wine storage

Vintage Cellars can design a custom solution that will hold your cases (or large bottles, or split bottles, or whatever you have) beautifully and efficiently. Or, if you’re looking for a ready-made racking system, you may want to select one like this case and bottle rack that can hold a mix of bottle sizes and cases.

Musical Wine Glasses

July 22nd, 2011 1 comment
Benjamin Franklin playing on the glass harmonica

Image courtesy of

When was the last time you ran a moistened finger along the rim of a crystal wine glass, making it sing?  Perhaps, after reading this post, you’ll give it a try tonight! Concerts of “glass music” produced by this same technique used to be all the rage in Europe.  There were even performers, like the blind Marianne Kirchgessner, with entire careers that consisted of playing musical glasses.  Benjamin Franklin, after attending such concerts in London, invented and perfected the “Glass Harmonica,” an instrument made of concentric glasses mounted on a rod, turned by a treadle, the size of each glass determining its pitch.  Touching the rims of the turning glasses produced audible notes, and several glasses could even be touched simultaneously to produce chords.  Although it was something of a novelty instrument, many prominent composers wrote music for it, including Beethoven and Mozart.  In fact, Mozart’s Adagio for Glass Harmonica, K.365, is one of the last pieces Mozart composed. But, like the clear beverage craze in the early 1990’s that faded by the middle of the decade, the glass harmonica’s popularity came to an end around 1815, with few instruments built after 1820.  Today, there are special manufactures who do make glass harmonicas, but professional glass harmonica players are very rare.  Still, the ethereal, haunting, otherworldly sound of the glass harmonica can be heard in several films, including Interview with the Vampire,  Mesmer,  Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and popular recordings like Björk’s “All Neon Like”.  If you want to know what this instrument sounds like, all you need to do is run your finger across the rim of a wine glass.  Crystal wine glasses, like those produced by Riedel, often work best.  Be sure, however, that you use a glass with a stem, otherwise the hand holding the glass will stop the tone.  Have fun!

Riedel Wine Collection Shiraz/Syrah Wine Glasses

A Healthy Red Wine and Veggie Dish

July 20th, 2011 No comments

For those of us working hard to incorporate more veggies in our diets, here’s a fun recipe that uses a variety of tasty produce as well as your favorite dry, red wine.  Think veggies and reds don’t mix?  Think again!  Here’s what you need:

  • 1 potato chopped into cubes (each about 1”)
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion (white), chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely-chopped (or minced)
  • 1/2 lb of sliced mushrooms
  • 4 cups pinto beans, cooked
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 1/2 cup water (for later)
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 1/2 cups of your favorite dry, red wine

In a big pot, cook the chopped onion, browning slightly (if desired), while adding 1/4 cup water gradually.  Next, add the chopped carrot, potato chunks, tomato paste, thyme, bay leaves, and 1 1/2 cup water.  Bring the pot to a boil, stirring frequently, and let it continue to boil uncovered until the potato and carrot pieces soften, approx. 20-25 min.  (Note: If the water level gets too low, add more H2O so the veggies remain submerged and do not burn.  This may vary depending on elevation.)  After the potato and carrot are done, add your favorite dry red wine, the pinto beans, chopped onion, salt, and garlic.  Bring the pot back to a boil, then let it simmer over low heat an additional 10-15 minutes.  Take out the three bay leaves; they are for flavor, only, and not to be eaten!  While the pot finishes simmering, brown the mushrooms over low heat in a greased frying pan.  Once they are done, stir them into the pot!  Now, it’s time to eat!  Bon appétit!

Have a favorite wine recipe you want to share? Tell us about it in the comments!

ETL-Certified Monterey WineKeepers: The Safest Way to Preserve & Dispense Wine

July 18th, 2011 No comments

ETL Product logo

Several of Vintage Cellars’ products are ETL-certified (see our Education Center article about ETL for more information about the certification), but three of the new Monterey WineKeeper products are our first WineKeeper Wine Preservers & Dispensers to be tested and approved by Intertek‘s Electrical Testing Labs!

Feel confident that our Monterey 4-Bottle ETL WineKeeper, Monterey 8-Bottle ETL WineKeeper, and Monterey 12-Bottle ETL WineKeeper offer the safest way to preserve and dispense wine in your restaurant or bar. These products can cool several bottles of wine at once and they make dispensing both reds and whites a snap, especially during parties or wine tasting events. Monterey ETL WineKeepers keep your wine tasting fresh for weeks, so you never have to worry when you’re too tired for more than a single glass of wine before bed, and they reduce the risk of you filling up your fridge with half-consumed bottles.

So, consider an ETL-Certified Monterey WineKeeper. You’ll know that Intertek independently tested it for safety, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how perfect each and every glass of wine will taste and feel.

ETL Magnum 12 Bottle Wine Keeper

Great Wines for Grilling

July 15th, 2011 No comments

It sometimes happens that we get fantastic wine recommendations we just have to pass along, and here are two by Natalie Maclean, the creator of the useful app Nat Decants we reviewed in May.  In a recent a e-mail, Natalie suggested we try the 2010 Sileni Estates Sauvignon Blanc Selection, and the 2009 Perrin Les Cornuds Vinsobres

Here’s what Natalie had to say about these winners:

“2010 Sileni Estates Sauvignon Blanc Selection, New Zealand: Vibrant lime and chive notes with some lemongrass zest on the finish. Pair with grilled veggies and seafood. $15.95  Score: 89/100”

“2009 Perrin Les Cornuds Vinsobres, Rhône, France: Juicy, chewy and satisfying, this full-bodied red is the Ultimate Barbecue Wine for steak and hamburgers. $15.00  Score: 90/100”

Needless to say, we were not disappointed with Natalie’s recommendations, hence this posting!  (And Nat is “right on” when she dubs the Perrin Les Cornuds Vinsobres the “Ultimate Barbecue Wine.”)  Enjoy!

What’s Up With Tannins?

July 13th, 2011 No comments

Recently, we recommended serving a Cabernet with steak and butter-rich foods, partly because of the wine’s tannins.  But what are tannins, actually?

Tannins are polyphenolic compounds naturally found in plants that bind to proteins and other organic compounds.  In other words,  they are naturally found in the skins, stems, and leaves of grapes, and they are attracted to proteins, like those in meat.  Thus, pairing highly-tannic wines with protein-rich dishes makes them seem less astringent, much smoother.  The wine’s tannins race toward the meat instead of your saliva!

Grapes that have very thick skins, like Cabs, naturally give rise to more tannic wines, as do juices that spend more time sitting in their skins after being pressed.  This is why red wines have a greater tannic content that whites; juice from white grapes is not kept in lengthy contact with the skins after pressing.  A wine’s texture is also impacted by the volume of tannins.  An astringent, dry, tart-like quality can be “felt” in youthful reds with high tannic content.  Because tannins mellow over time, however, older well-aged reds do not possess this feisty quality.  (This is one reason why aging wine appropriately is important.)

Because tannins are produced naturally, you may not be surprised to hear that several of your favorite foods also contain them: walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, cloves, cinnamon, red and white beans, smoked fish and meats, and chocolate liquors, just to name a few!  Tannins have even been known to display antibacterial properties, according to a study conducted by Hisanori Akiyama, Kazuyasu Fujii, Osamu Yamasaki, Takashi Oono and Keiji Iwatsuki.  For more info about tannins and related topics, check out the article “The Science of Aging Wine” in Vintage Cellars’ Wine Storage Education Center.

bowl of strawberries and blueberries, fruit with tannins

Image courtesy of

Slow Cooked, Summer Ribs in Red Wine

July 11th, 2011 No comments

Here’s a spectacular, summertime recipe for slow cookers & Crock Pots–an alternative to firing up the grill on a hot day. With just a few minutes of prep time (followed by 8 hours simmering in a slow cooker) you can prepare a delicious mix of red wine and flavorful ribs that seem to melt in your mouth! All you need are 2 or 3 pounds of boneless short ribs, 4 tablespoons of flour, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 2 packets of brown gravy mix, 3/4 cup beef broth, 3/4 to 1 cup red wine, 1 1/2 teaspoons of your favorite meat seasoning, and 1 cup of freshly-chopped onion (white).

slow cooked ribs with red wine sauce and onions

Image courtesy of

Combine your favorite meat seasoning with the flour. Mix well! Thoroughly coat the ribs with the flour mixture, then heat them on medium in a pan coated with the olive oil until all sides turn a light brown. Next, move the ribs to your slow cooker and top them with the chopped onion. In a bowl, mix together the brown gravy mix and beef broth. Cover the ribs with it. Finally, pour your favorite red wine evenly over the ribs! (Dry reds tend to go better with this dish.) Cover your slow cooker, letting the ribs sit cooking for 8 hours. Serve with potatoes, corn on the cob, or other farm-fresh veggies. And since the ribs take a while to cook, why not preserve the remaining wine and serve it with the meal?  Consider using The Keeper Wine Preservation System for short-term open bottle storage. Enjoy!

Should You Decant Port?

July 8th, 2011 1 comment

“Do you decant Port?” is a question that often arises in whispered tones.  Though literature on the subject of decanting this special wine is extensive, most folks aren’t aware of it, and those who are are often scared off by the seeming complexity and effort such decanting–and timing– entails. Person pouring with Riedel Tyrol Wine Decanter
The other night I enjoyed a fantastic glass of Dow’s Late Bottle Vintage Port from 2000.  Though bottled in such a way to avoid getting sediment in the bottle (and supposedly not requiring decanting), this “meant to be enjoyed immediately” quasi-vintage Port underwent a decanting miracle.  With a complex bouquet of wild berries, floral notes, and even a hint of caramel, this rich, full-bodied wine was a symphony of plum, black cherry, fig, apricot, and even dark chocolate on my tongue.  Providing a satisfying, long-lasting finish, this exceptional wine made quite the impression! Interestingly enough, my friends who brought the bottle over were astonished that this was the same wine they selected; it was one of their favorites, too!  Apparently, they had never decanted their Port before, and were experiencing its magical transformation via decanting for the first time.

Decanting Port is often of greater importance than decanting other wines.  Port wines that age in bottles such as Late Bottled Vintage, Crushed Port, and Vintage Port, as opposed to those in casks, are not filtered before they are bottled.  This means that there are more deposits that will form in the bottle.  (Tawny Port, up to 40 years, has its deposits filtered before bottling so it won’t continue to age.)  If you’ve ever been turned off from Port because you once had a glass that contained solid, bitter sediment, your Port was not properly decanted.  But decanting, in addition to removing this safe-yet-unpleasant sediment, is essential to opening up a Vintage Port to bring out its bouquet and flavor.  Because such Ports contain a bit of sediment, it’s often suggested you stand a bottle upright a day or two before opening to get the majority of deposits to sink to the bottom.   Once you’re ready to open your Port, experiment until you find the tool that makes the task easiest for you.  There are a number of tongs, screw pulls, lever pulls, etc. to help you remove the old cork.  Beginners often find Port tongs the most difficult to master, and screw pulls the easiest.  (Many times, because of its age, the cork will break. Do not be discouraged; decanting will help you remove bits of cork that may have fallen into the bottle.)

Once opened, slowly and calmly pour your Port into the decanter of your choice being careful not to stir up the sediment at the bottom by moving the bottle back and forth too much.  Do this in a well-lit area, and with a clear decanter such as a Riedel Vinum Magnum Wine Decanter, so you can see what you’re doing.  When you observe the deposits rising to the neck of the bottle, stop pouring.  If you’re insistent on drinking the little bit of remaining sediment-rich wine, an unbleached coffee filter can be used.  With practice, your decanter will be filled by a majority of sediment-free wine.  Once in the decanter, let the wine sit for a few hours.  Typically, Vintage Port less than 20 years old should be decanted for 2 hours more more before drinking.  Vintage Port less than 10 years old requires more oxidation and should be decanted for three or four hours.  Older bottles are more difficult to gauge because of numerous variables.  That said, 40 year old bottles should receive one hour of air time, and older bottles can be decanted and served immediately.  Opinions on the proper amount of decanting time do differ, but I find these guidelines appropriate for the most common circumstances.  In short, decant your Port!  You’ll be amazed at how good it can be.

Riedel Vinum Magnum Wine Decanter