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Good Wine for Auld Lang Syne

December 29th, 2011 No comments
Champagne glasses on New Year's

Photo by Mike Gifford

Sung to celebrate the stroke of midnight which begins each New Year, Robert Burns’ poem is a New Year’s staple, and so is the tradition of toasting to the hour with Champagne, or other sparkling wines.  Are you hosting a New Year’s Eve party?  If so, what do you plan to toast with?  Here’s some basic info to help you out!

Champagne and sparkling wines are categorized (and, thus, labeled) according to their sugar levels.  “Brut” is probably the most popular seller.  It’s dry, crisp, and pairs well with lots of finger foods.  “Extra Brut” is especially dry.  If your wine is labeled “Extra Dry” it’s actually (oddly enough) a bit sweeter than the common “Brut” which makes it a terrific aperitif.  This might be a wine to consider toasting with, especially if it’s being served on its own.  “Demi-sec” wine is very sweet, and often benefits from being served with fruit like strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and desserts.

The Vinotheque Alegria 240 NS

The wine you choose will probably also be labeled as “vintage” or “non-vintage” (often abbreviated as “NV” on the label.)  Sparkling vintage wines come from a single year, while non-vintage ones are blends from many different years.  While vintage Champagne is usually pricier, the majority of sparkling wines are NV.

Always remember that sparkling wines are meant to be served chilled (i.e. usually between 42°F to 50°F), so don’t let your bottles sit out at room temperature before you pop their corks!  To achieve just the right serving temperature, a wine storage cabinet like the Le Cache Mission 1400 wine cabinet, or the Vinotheque Alegria 240 NS cabinet, is far more precise than putting bottles of Champagne in your fridge. Cheers to your successful party!

 

And  very happy new year to all our blog readers, customers and fans!

Champagne: a Holy Toast

December 27th, 2011 No comments
A Stained Glass Window of a Monk Examining Champagne

The important history of monks and Champagne is captured in a stained-glass window.

Named after the Champagne region of France, Champagne was first bottled by French monks.  But where do the bubbles come from?  The process of making the bubbles needed for this sparkling wine was invented by two Benedictine monks and cellarmasters: Frère Jean Oudart (1654–1742) from the abbey of Saint-Pierre aux Monts de Châlons, and Dom Pierre Pérignon (1639–1715) from the abbey of Saint-Pierre d’Hautvillers.  Since the Champagne region has a very cold and short growing season, Champagne grapes must be harvested very late in the year.  Because of this they have less time to ferment, and cold winter temperatures often halted the fermenting process.  To counter this, the monks introduced a second fermentation procedure that takes place in the bottle during the spring.  It’s this second fermentation that creates the much-loved bubbles that are Champagne’s calling card.  Thank you, Brothers Oudart and Pérignon!  For more information about the process and actual chemistry of aging wine, check out the Vintage Cellars Science of Aging Wine page.  Cheers!

Wine for Christmas

December 22nd, 2011 No comments
wine in a gift basket

With Christmas and other holidays fast approaching, stores are packed with last-minute shoppers.  If you are among them, consider giving a loved one something very special this season: a basket of assorted wines.  Unlike socks, ties, and bolder clothing items that can be gambles (and unlike gift cards which, according to recent statistics, are rarely used in full), wine is a gift that virtually everyone of legal age can enjoy.  What is more, if some wines in your assortment do not suit your recipient’s fancy, she or he will often gladly open them for company.  (This means that none of your present goes to waste!)

A Polish Fruitcake

Polish Fruitcake, photo by Alina Zienowicz

Since some wines given at Christmas are opened the same day, it’s good to include a couple bottles that can pair with various holiday dishes like roast duck, turkey, beef, mashed potatoes, stuffing, various pies, chocolates, peppermints, fruitcake, prune cookies…  In other words, be sure to include a couple wines like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc that will not clash wildly with the barrage of disparate food items they may be stuck accompanying!  Because some odd dishes do appear during the holiday season, perhaps it’s not too off the mark to include a bottle or two of a novelty wine?  For example, consider cranberry wine.  This sweet, curious wine will certainly generate conversation.  Like comparing apples to pears, it can’t be adequately described with the same terms used for grapes.  This wine goes well with poultry, fried chicken, and chocolate among other foods, and can also be sipped by itself.

On the more potent side, you may want to consider a plum wine.  This wine ranges from tart to sweet, and can nicely complement a variety of pies.  If you’re unsure about what wines to include in your gift basket, you may want to include a few reds and a few whites.  One example of a nice variety of wines is as follows: Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Gewürztraminer.  You could also substitute a bottle of port for one of the reds, or gift a bottle of port with two whites.  No matter what you eventually select, rest assured that someone will enjoy your gift! To encourage them to enjoy your gift right away, consider including in your gift basket a Rogar Estate Bronze Wine Bottle Opener. Cheers, and Happy Holidays!

Rogar Estate Wine Bottle Opener

Wine: The Perfect Last-Minute Gift

December 20th, 2011 No comments
Last-minute shoppers looking for gift ideas

Shoppers on Dundas, photo by Ian Muttoo

Shopping for gifts at the last minute, again?  Does what to get for a certain loved one have you stumped?  If you continue to suffer from the daunting task of gift selection, here’s a gift that is always appreciated: wine!  What is more, shopping for wine is much easier than sifting through racks of ties, perusing packages of festive socks, or combing the entire hardware section of Sears.  And unlike jewelry that may not see the light of day once fashions change, or knickknacks that may have just a two-week shelf life, wine will always be popular and appreciated.  You need not break the bank when purchasing wine (there are good bottles in every price range), and its affordability allows you to easily put together decent gift baskets for less than $50.  Single bottles can even be given as gifts; special “artistic” bottles created by vineyard artists make excellent showpieces after they have been enjoyed, and most retailers offer gift bags, boxes, and wrapping services so your present will look extraordinarily presentable!  Because gifted wines often get opened around a broad array of holiday foods, at least one wine to include in a gift basket is a Pinot Noir since it pairs adequately with most foods.  Equally good is a sparkling wine, which is always associated with festive times.  For variety’s sake, you may want to gift one of each– white, red, and sparkling wine –so that your recipient has options to choose from.  Also, you may want to consider including a rosé; though this wine is often associated with summertime, it adds a breath of fresh air to winter dinners.

Red and white wine served at dinner

Photo by Adrien Facélina

When serving wine at your holiday dinner, make sure you use proper wine glasses, and keep your wine bottles at the proper serving temperature.  It is especially important to make sure your sparkling wines are adequately chilled.  (No one likes warm Champagne!)  Whites should be chilled properly, too, but most reds can be served at cellar temperature.  To be sure your wine reaches its ideal serving temperature, consider using a Le Cache European Country 1400 wine cabinet, or a Vintage Series 2 door single-deep credenza in your dining room.  No matter the occasion, the gift of wine is one that will always be welcomed.  Happy Holidays!

Blueberry Port Sauce for Duck and Goose

December 15th, 2011 No comments

This winter season, tantalize your taste buds with a delicious port wine sauce that’s perfect for roast duck, goose, and even turkey.  Easy-to-make, and with a welcomed reference to summer (i.e. the blueberries), this unique treat could possibly become a holiday staple.

Roast Duck Breast

Roast Duck Breast Meat (photo by Chensiyuan)

Here’s what you’ll  need:

  • 1 heaping cup frozen blueberries
  • 1 1/4 cups tawny port wine (or ruby port)
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. redcurrant jelly

Thaw the frozen blueberries.  Pour the port, jelly, and half of the blueberries into a saucepan.  Heat on medium-high and simmer for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mixture becomes thin.  Remove from heat and add the remaining blueberries.  Stir in mustard.  Keep your port wine sauce warm until ready to serve.

Enjoy this unique blueberry port sauce with your favorite roast poultry dishes.  For an exciting variation, try substituting boysenberry jelly.  Enjoy!

Natalie MacLean’s New book: UNQUENCHABLE

December 13th, 2011 No comments

Natalie MacLean poses for the cover of her new book UNQUENCHABLEA fascinating, fun and exciting romp through the world of wine, Natalie MacLean’s latest award-winning book UNQUENCHABLE: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines, has hit the shelves!  Named the World’s Best Drink Writer by the World Food Media Awards, and winner of four James Beard Foundation Journalism Awards, Natalie’s prose is passionate, witty, honest, and informative.  In UNQUENCHABLE, you’ll meet several intriguing real-life wine personalities, all personally interviewed by Natalie in a variety of exotic locales.  Natalie’s journey takes you to wineries across the world in search of the best value wines, and her findings are summarized conveniently at the end of each chapter.  And just as you’d expect from the inventor of “Natalie MacLean Wine Picks & Pairings”, the fabulous food and wine pairing app for smartphones and “touch” devices, the book abounds with mouth-watering recipes for you to savor as well.  Filled with history, wine history, culture, current events, tips about cooking with wine, plus food and wine pairing suggestions (and additional wine trivia), this entertaining read is a must for wine lovers.  UNQUENCHABLE: A Tipsy Quest for the World’s Best Bargain Wines is published by Perigee Trade.  Available from your favorite book distributors, and even offered as an eBook, its 13-digit ISBN is 978-0399537073 (for easy searching!).  Maybe a great gift for a wine lover in your life?

The Allure of Tokaji Wine

December 8th, 2011 No comments
A portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

A portrait of Beethoven holding the "Missa Solemnis" by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Children are often amused to learn that, years before Kraft Foods, Ludwig van Beethoven’s favorite dish was macaroni and cheese!  For adults–even those of us who still enjoy mac and cheese–it may be more interesting to note that one of Beethoven’s favorite wines was a white dessert wine from Hungary’s Tokaj region.  Situated northeast of Budapest, the Tokaj region is nestled in the Zemplen Mountains.  The region’s soil consists mostly of clay, with an underlying volcanic layer.  Sun filled summers and dry autumns help to nurture the precious Aszú grapes used in this wine.  (These grapes possess an unusually high concentration of sugar, and are picked and painstakingly sorted by hand at harvest time, which is rather late.)  In fact, the Tokaj region was Europe’s first ever classified wine region.  Today, some distilleries exist where select Single Malt Scotches are put into former Tokaji wine casks for a few years, imbuing the whisky with a hint of the delightful aromas (and a hint of the characteristic sweetness) of Tokaji wine, itself.

Considered a prized wine of nobility, Tokaji wine was also adored by Franz Joseph Haydn, Beethoven’s one-time instructor with whom he had a falling out.  Franz Schubert, an early Romantic composer who idolized Beethoven, also had a preference for Tokaji wine.  Schubert set numerous poems by Goethe, Heine, and Schiller to music, and each of these famous authors, incidentally, had a passion for Tokaji.  After his early death at age 31, Schubert’s music was championed by several prominent pianists, including Franz Liszt, and Liszt–a descendent of the pedagogical lineage of Beethoven–also happened to like Tokaji wine.  (We do not know if he also liked mac and cheese!)  Liszt’s personal philosophy regarding the contemporary music of his time also contains a reference to wine: “new wine requires new bottles.”  In short, this motto can translate as follows: new music will require new forms.  Liszt’s quotation is also a nod to Luke 5:37: “And no one pours new wine into old wineskins.  If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined.”

Painting of Louis XV

Louis XV, by Maurice Quentin de La Tour, 1748

Exploring the history of this much-loved wine outside the musical community, we learn that Louis XV of France once presented a glass of Tokaji as follows: Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum.  (Wine of Kings, and King of Wines.)  Louis XV’s father, Louis XIV, probably introduced Tokaji wine to his son after receiving several bottles as a gift from Francis Rákóczi II, Prince of Transylvania.  Since then, this beverage became a staple in the Court of Versailles.  American connoisseur Thomas Jefferson had several bottles imported for his presidential feasts in the early 1800’s, while yearly on her birthday, Queen Victoria received numerous bottles of this very wine from Austrian Emperor (and Apostolic King of Hungary) Franz Josef.  Even Napoleon Bonaparte purchased barrels of Tokaji for his Court on a yearly basis, and King Gustav III of Sweden would not drink any other wine!

Given its rich history, why is this wine so little-known, today?  In short, several prominent Hungarian vineyards were ravished by phylloxera in the late 1800’s and did not recover quickly.  Couple this with the onslaught of WWI, the deterioration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the advent of WWII, followed by the ascent of Communism, and you have a recipe for run-down vineyards!  Only recently has the wine enjoyed by Beethoven, Goethe, Louis XV, and Thomas Jefferson been reproduced after a long period of hibernation.  Will it regain its former glory and win over the artisans and world leaders of our day?  Only time will tell.  For more information about wine and history, check out Vintage Cellar’s Wine Storage Education Center r check out our “Wine History” category here on the blog.  Cheers!

How Red Wine is Made, Today

December 6th, 2011 No comments

Today, most red wines are produced using a process similar to this one…

First, a vintner decides when the grapes are ripe.  This is done by taste, concurrent with today’s technology of taking accurate sugar readings.  The grapes are then harvested and placed into a machine that removes their stems.  The machine also crushes them (without pressing them) so that A) the grapes become exposed to yeast and B) the skins will color the wine.  The yeast then transforms the grape’s sugar into CO2, heat, and alcohol; this is fermentation.  The crushed grapes and liquid then sit (macerate) until it is decided that the taste is ideal.  During this process, the grape skins often float above the liquid.  Since these skins must remain submerged, for best results, they are repeatedly pushed back into the liquid, or the liquid is mechanically pumped over them to continually submerge them.  If the grapes sit for too long in this state, the wine will taste bitter.  If they do not sit long enough, the wine will taste too weak.  The vintner determines when enough time has elapsed.  Once the decision has been made, the liquid is removed and the solids are sent to the press.

Mechanical Wine Press

A Mechanical Wine Press (image from Wikipedia)

A mechanical press squeezes out the remaining juices in the solids.  This, too, is a delicate process; pressing too firmly or too frequently produces a poor quality wine.  After this, the wine needs to settle; transferring the wine from barrel to barrel after settling helps to separate/filter out solid matter and other particles that may cloud the wine.  Following this, a malolactic fermentation stage is often the next step in red winemaking.  Here, a wine’s malic acid is converted into CO2 and lactic acid.  Basically, the process reduces a wine’s acidity by organic rather than chemical means.  (Certain wines like Gewurztraminers, Reislings, Ehrenfelsers, and others that depend upon malic acid to enhance their flavors do not go through this step.)

After an aging process, the length of which is determined by the type of wine, fining and filtering processes remove sediments from the wine.  The wine is then bottled carefully to avoid contact with the air. (And, as we know, many of the best bottled wines are stored for several years before they are released to us!)  For more fascinating information about winemaking and wine technology, check out Vintage Cellar’s Wine Storage Education Center.  There, you’ll find more tantalizing trivia and wine storage tips to think about.  Cheers!

Don’t Blame the Oak

December 1st, 2011 No comments

Oakiness: you read about this quality on some wine bottles, along with acidity, tannins, and sweetness. How long a wine ferments in oak barrels does impact its taste, nose, and texture, but a lot of winemakers don’t like to discuss this part of the aging process.  In recent years, they’ve become afraid people will jump to conclusions that their wines are too “oaky”, meaning that the grape flavor is overpowered by heavy oak flavors.  And winemakers have good reason to fear; oak aging is often wrongfully blamed for wines that are too dry, dull, tannic, or thick.  (The real cause behind such wines is almost always unripened grapes, not oak aging, however!)

Oak Wine Barrels

Oak Wine Aging in Barrels, photo by Sanjay Acharya from Wikipedia

While inferior wines aged in oak are abundant, so are several of the world’s most prized, quality wines; these gems possess an intriguing degree of complexity (plus have a fantastic shelf life) because of the oak aging process.  Wines that benefit the most from oak aging are Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay.

When discussing such wines aged in oak, words like leather, cedar, mushroom, and vanilla may be familiar to you.  These flavors have been perfected over the years by fantastic winemakers who still produce oaked wines.  (Do a little field research, i.e. tasting; they are out there!)  You can usually tell a quality, oak-aged wine with ease: enhanced by the oak, it tends to be much smoother, more rich, softer on the tongue, and better balanced than a non-oaked wine.  Of course, you will taste some oaked wines that miss the mark entirely, but remember that in these instances the reason for the wine’s failure was not the oak, but rather the initial grapes.  Think about the old computer programming phrase “garbage in, garbage out,” (abbreviated as GIGO).  With computer programming, as well as winemaking, the final product is only as good as the quality of the initial input, or grapes, in our case!  For more information about the science of aging wine, visit the Vintage Cellars Wine Storage Education Center.