Archive for the ‘Tasting Wine’ Category

Some Dry Red Wines

June 5th, 2012 No comments

Are you new to the world of wine?  Unsure what wines are considered to be “dry?”  Read on!

Quite simply, dry wines have the greatest alcohol content; their juice ferments until almost all of the grape’s sugar is utilized.  Thus, dry wines contain little residual sugar and are not “sweet.”  What common wines are considered dry?  Here’s a little list for the eager wine student:

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  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Pinot Noir (the wine that “goes well with everything”)
  • Merlot
  • Sangiovese
  • Shiraz
  • Tempranillo
  • Red Zinfandel (it’s the White Zinfandel that’s the sweet stuff!)

Keep in mind that some of these wines may taste “fruity,” but do not confuse a wine’s fruitiness with its “sweetness.”  Fruit flavors often naturally balance a wine’s absence of sugar.  Also, don’t confuse a wine’s tannins with how dry it is.  Tannins can give sweet wines a “drier mouth feel,” but their abundance does not make a wine dry.  Remember: it’s all about the sugar!  Curious about how these wines taste?  Why not buy a bottle of each and host a few mini tastings, yourself?  You can easily save any leftover wine with the WineKeeper 4-Bottle Showcase preservation system. Cheers!

How to Swirl and Sniff Wine Like a Pro

May 29th, 2012 1 comment

At tastings, many newcomers to the world of wine are unsure about the proper etiquette surrounding swirling and sniffing wine.  Is there a right way to do it?  Or is it a little like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup slogan: there’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s?

wines lined up and ready to taste in proper wine glasses

Wines lined up and ready to taste! (Image from Wikipedia)

Since wine’s scent and taste are both key elements of any tasting, swirling and sniffing are encouraged in order to get the best overall sense of a wine.  While most newcomers think taking a single long, drawn out sniff from their glass completes the process, that’s only a beginning part!  Before even smelling your wine, you should be swirling it.  Swirling aerates wine, opening it up so that its inherent scents and flavors are brought to the fore.  You can swirl your glass while it is on the table, or you can hold your glass by the base or stem to swirl it.  What matters most is that you actually do swirl your wine!

Once your wine is swirled a bit, put your nose into the glass as far as it will go. (Don’t submerge your nose in the wine!)  Inhale deeply for a couple of seconds.  Use your diaphragm (your “belly”) to take in a full whiff of the wine’s aroma.  Swirl your glass a little more, then inhale again, smelling the wine a second time.  Swirl, sniff, swirl, sniff, etc.  See if you can identify the scents you are smelling.  Do you smell the wine’s fruitiness?  Do you smell berries, cherries, or figs?  Do you smell lemon, grapefruit, peach, or mango?  Observe how swirling and aerating your wine helps bring out a variety of curious scents hidden, before, in your wine.

While there are several quality wine glasses to choose from, wine glasses made specifically for the types of wine you’re tasting often allow you to perceive that wine’s aromas to the fullest.  For red wine tasting, consider using Riedel “O” stemless glasses, available as a mixed set, designed to enhance the main red varietals.  For white wines, consider a glass designed for your specific varietal, like a Riedel Vinum Classic Sauvignon Blanc wine glass for tasting Blanc fumé, Fumé blanc, Rotgipfler, Sancerre, Sauvignon blanc, Sémillon, Spätrot-Rotgipfler, and Zierfandler.  Breathe in, and enjoy the experience!  Cheers!


Dare to Mix Red and White Wine?

April 10th, 2012 No comments

mixing red and white wineBefore reading further, please understand that wines like rosés are not just mixtures of red and white wines.  They are made by a process similar to red wine, but the skins of the grapes are removed before they fully turn the wine a deep shade of red.  (Read more about the process of making rosé wine in our previous post How to Choose a Great Rosé.) That said, some experimental wine drinkers delight in mixing red and white wines, producing curious concoctions that either intrigue or disgust  (This is the adult equivalent of the way kids mix multiple sodas together at fast food restaurants).  While purists will have no part in such playing, some wine drinkers delight in making their own mock blends of “signature” wines this way.

Is it possible to mix red and white wines to create new blends of your own?  Yes, it is.  Will they be any good?  While there’s no guarantee, if your palate is discriminating enough you may just very well be able to come up with a custom mix that suits your fancy (We can’t speak on behalf of your guests, however!).  And while your blend will not be a real rosé, it may still exhibit an interesting, rosé-like appearance.

How should you go about mixing red and white wines?  If you want your results to be drinkable, follow these simple steps:

  1. Decide on the two wines you want to mix.
  2. Fill a glass halfway with whichever wine has the weaker flavor.
  3. Add half a shot glass full of the stronger wine.
  4. Stir!
  5. Sip, and see what you think.  If the flavor is too weak, repeat to steps 3-5.

If you’re lucky, you may have discovered a personalized blend you’re absolutely crazy about.  Then again, you may have Frankenstein’s monster on your hands!  If so, discard your glass and use a wine preserver like the Napa 4- bottle wine dispenser to keep the unused, untainted portions of your two opened bottles fresh for another time to be enjoyed on their own!  Good luck, and happy mixing!

The Importance of Champagne Flutes

January 3rd, 2012 No comments

Did you ring in the New Year with a flute of Champagne? Honestly, we wouldn’t blame you for hiding your nice flutes from rowdy NYE party-goers, but for quieter occasions there’s no substitute for a lovely flute.

Aside from simply looking elegant, drinking from the right glass enhances your experience of the wine.  Because Champagne and sparkling wines are served chilled, it’s very easy for the heat of your hands to warm them prematurely.  Champagne flutes with long stems allow your beverage to stay cool longer because your hand makes contact with the stem of the glass; it does not cup the wine itself.  Furthermore, the bowl of the glass is specifically crafted to maximize your beverage’s bubbles; the opening is narrow, meaning the surface area is reduced, which makes the bubbles last longer.

A Riedel Champagne Glass

A Riedel Champagne Glass

While Champagne saucers are frequently found at wedding celebrations, their large surface area causes bubbles to dissipate rather quickly.  While this may be okay for sweeter sparkling wines, these saucers tend not to do justice to the more-common, drier ones.  Some people also prefer to drink sparkling wine from regular white wine glasses (mainly for the benefit of experiencing its nose.)  Usually, however, good Champagne glasses, like a set of the Riedel Wine Collection Champagne glasses will be perfect for your sparkling beverage.  If you’ve got a good wine, why not use a good glass to enjoy it to the fullest?  Shall we toast?

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.

French & American Oaks for Aging Wine

November 10th, 2011 No comments

Aging wine in oak barrels is expensive.  A single, 55-gallon barrel can easily cost more than $1,600.  Barrels made from oak found in the forests of Allier, Nevers, Limousin, and central France are worth even more.  What makes these barrels so costly?  Are wineries paying for the quality of wood, craftsmanship, or both?  The answer is: both; wineries pay for exquisite craftsmanship plus the flavor-enriching properties of good wood.  Because every forest (Allier, Nevers, Limousin, etc.) produces wood of unique, variable density, oaks from a given forest impart a wine’s flavor and aroma with that forest’s distinct nuances.

Oak leaves and acorns

Over 600 Species of Oak Trees Exist (image from Wikipedia)

Because French oaks tend to have a tighter grain and a less watertight nature, coopers split the wood along the grain.  American oak is often serrated, allowing more of the tree to be used (thus, it’s better for eco-conscious folks).  American oak also provides quick oxidation–relatively speaking–which allows wines to soften faster.  It produces wines rich with tannins and textures that are sometimes considered to be a bit too “raw.”  French oak, on the other hand, produces wines containing more refined tannins, and with slightly sweeter fruit-like flavors.  Sometimes, however, wines from French oak can be a little too subtle.  Scents of peach and rose are often present in wine because of French oak, while stronger fragrances like vanilla are more common in wines from American oak because the wood contains up to four times the number of lactones.

What is very exciting is the growing trend of blending wines aged in both American and French oak.  Is there really such a noticeable difference from blending the two oaks?  Actually, there is, and wine produced from this dual incubation is curiously impressive because of what each oak offers.  The aging and combining of wine from both barrels is an attempt to literally capture the “best of both worlds.”  Has it been successful? According to numerous tasters, it certainly has!  If you’re curious, the next time you’re out and about, keep an eye open for wine aged in both French and American oaks.  Have a sip, and see if you can taste the unique result!  Cheers!

Death to Breath Mints

September 20th, 2011 No comments

While good food and wine pairing is always to be encouraged, even the best wine can be reduced to ruin on one’s tongue under certain conditions.  Here are six things to avoid before sipping on what would be a delicious glass of vino:

common restaurant breath mints

Courtesy of

1. Breath mints.  We all want to have fresh breath, especially on dates, but sucking on or chewing a handful of strong peppermints will unfavorably color any wine you taste for about 10-20 minutes afterward.  The same goes for brushing your teeth before a meal.

2. Hot chili peppers.  These are found in many salads, but even a mild chili pepper makes all the wine you drink afterward taste dull and even a bit diluted.

3. Drinks from the bar.  Cocktails work quickly to dull your perception of a wine’s subtleties.  3-star chef Fernand Point even warned that, “After one cocktail, or worse yet, two, the palate can no more distinguish a bottle of Mouton Rothschild from a bottle of ink!”

4. Vinegar. Again, it’s a popular salad topping (think “oil and vinegar”) but its high acidity blocks the tongue’s ability to taste the subtle flavors hidden in many high-quality wines.

5. Asparagus.  Sometimes this great veggie can turn a sip of wine into a V8 commercial.

Asparagus tied together

Courtesy of

6. Eggs.  Yes, hard-boiled, they often appear in salads.  (Sounds as if I’m dissuading you from having a healthy dinner!)  But egg yolks can leave a thin coating on your tongue that also insulates you from experiencing a wine’s more delicate flavors.

The above “wine blockers” are often why, at a dinner where everyone’s dish differs, some people–all with the same taste in wine–really enjoy the table’s bottle of wine while others don’t.  Food, mints, and cocktails have more say in wine perception than most people think!  So the next time you order a bottle at your favorite restaurant, try skipping the pre-dinner mints, drinks, salad additives, and asparagus.  The wine you try next might just be one of the best you’ve had with a meal!

Vivino: a Free Wine App

September 5th, 2011 No comments

Happy Labor Day! Hope you’re all enjoying your day off. We’ll be sipping some wine and enjoying the remaining summer sun. Right now, though, we’re reviewing an app that will let you keep a few notes on the bottle you’re enjoying without taking up a lot of time.

Vivino v1.1

If you want a quick, simple way to remember a good wine on the go, Vivino, a free app, is for you!  Simply use your smartphone to take a picture of your wine, and give it a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” for future reference. You can go into greater detail, too, and rate and review your wine, if desired.  You can even share your wine experiences on Facebook and Twitter.  With a growing database of 400,000 wines, the application utilizes the latest image mapping technology to auto-match the picture of your wine bottle, instantly providing you with the wine’s facts, ratings, pairings, and more!  These at-a-glance “stats” will even help you make better informed decisions at your favorite wine store.  While not a massive, all-in-one app, this easy-to-use wine tool is extremely convenient.  (When viewing a wine’s statistics, the app is almost like a digital “baseball card” of the wine.)  Plus, it’s free.  Vivino is compatible with the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.  (It requires iOS 3.2 or later.)  It’s also available for Android, BlackBerry, and Windows 7.  Check it out!

Corkbin Version 2.0.2

August 19th, 2011 No comments

Almost a year ago, we wrote a blurb about Corkbin, an easy-to-use app that lets you make tasting notes and share them with your friends.  Originally for the iPhone, the app now works with all iPhones, iPod Touches (iOS 3.0 or later), and Android phones. The latest version supports new features for friending: “share your wines with your friends and see what they think.” 

If you’ve ever had a really good wine, but later on forgot what it was, Corkbin is for you!  With Corkbin, simply take a picture of a wine you want to remember, jot down a note about it, and (if desired) share it with your friends!  Copies of your wine images and notes remain in your mobile device, so you’ll be creating an ever growing visual record of all the wines you’ve tried.

The latest Corkbin versions boast improved graphics (with support for the Retina display), improved usability and consistency of the user interface, new privacy features, stability, and more.  At the time of this blog, the current version is 2.0.2.  For 99 cents, Corkbin v.2.0.2  is available in both Apple’s App Store and the Android Market.  Cheers to that!


Corkbin Screenshots

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