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Posts Tagged ‘zinfandel’

Where Not to Have a Wine Tasting

June 19th, 2012 No comments
Allen Kelsey Grammer is Frasier Crane

In an episode of “Frasier,” Doctors Niles and Frasier Crane begin the show with a blind wine tasting…

Niles:  Now, now, let’s move on to number seven.

Frasier: [while blindfolded:] Ahhh… Touch of oak, hint of currant, whisper of…

Frasier’s father enters with his dog, Eddie, on a leash.

Frasier:  …what is that?  What is that?  Oh yes, wet dog!

While amusing in a sitcom, similar scenarios have played out in real life.  Because such a big part of wine tasting is connected with a wine’s nose, tasting wine in less-than-ideal locales can unfairly color your judgement of the soundness of a wine.  Here are some places you’d best avoid holding a wine tasting…

Where the dog sleeps, cat goes, or hamster scurries:  Strong pet odors from dog beds, litter boxes, or small mammal cages can make even the most appealing nose seem foul.  If holding a tasting in your living home, make sure there are no trace animal odors lingering in the room or on the furniture where you plan to gather.

Near a restroom:  This goes for restrooms inside restaurants, too (though most quality restaurants position their restrooms a good distance from their dining areas).  Still, save yourself and your guests embarrassment and disgust.  Never hold a tasting within flushing distance.

Near livestock: Though outdoor country wine tastings have increased, tasting wine close to cattle is usually less-than pleasant.  What is more, the scent of excrement can imbue a wine’s nose with a convincing “barnyard” aroma, masking the true nose of the wine altogether.

Outside near fast food restaurants:  Exhaust from the kitchens of fast food joints, in particular, can be extremely overpowering.  It’s hard to get a decent sniff of wine if your nose is bombarded by the scents of big burgers and fries.

Near pools:  Almost all pools utilize chlorinated water.  Because our sense of smell and taste are connected, having a wine tasting next to a heavily-chlorinated pool can color the wine with a chemical taste.  This is very apparent when tasting Zinfandels.  Just try taking a sip next to the pool, then take another sip 10 feet away; you’ll be amazed by the difference.

Near smokers:  Cigarette smoke can greatly kill the nose of many wines, and can add an artificial “tobacco” hint to some wines.

Within wind distance of a garbage dump:  Refer to “Near a restroom,” above.

In a heavily perfumed area:  Unplug your whole-room air freshener before you taste.  Strong scents of pine, violet, vanilla, etc., will unfairly impact the perceived scent of your wine.

In a moldy room:  Aside from obvious health hazards, tasting wine in a pungent, moldy room will not boost its rating.

…You get the idea!  To learn more about the nuances of wine and wine tasting, visit our Wine Storage Education Center.  The next time you host a wine tasting, be sure to take a good whiff and ask yourself “Is there anything in here that really smells?”

Easter Wine Pairings

April 3rd, 2012 No comments

Easter is a time to celebrate with family and friends.  When meals are involved, the focus is often on a roasted ham or a nice leg of lamb.  But what wines go best with these dishes?  After all, hams are often prepared with a variety of glazes, aren’t they?  Read on!An Easter ham perfect with a glass of wine.

No matter how sweet your ham’s glaze may be, ham is an inherently salty meat.  Keeping this in mind, the best wines for any ham are Rieslings or  Gewürztraminers.  Both sweet wines complement the salty flavor of ham without impacting the taste of the glaze, or the taste of the wines themselves.  If you’d prefer a more buttery mouth feel to accompany your glazed ham, a slightly oaked Chardonnay is also a possibility.  For drinkers who prefer red wine, Red Zinfandel is a spot-on alternative; the bold presence of its fruit flavors will complement any sweet ham.

If you’re serving leg of lamb, consider a traditional pairing like Burgundy, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, or Merlot.  You’ll want a wine that is fruity and acidic so that it complements your lamb (a meat with big flavor!), but does not subdue its flavor.  If some guests want white wine, while others desire red, consider having two or more bottles of wine open simultaneously.  Save any left over wine with the convenient WineKeeper 3-Bottle Executive for more relaxed enjoyment later in the evening.  Cheers, and Happy Easter!

Wine and Chocolate: What Really Works?

February 9th, 2012 No comments

So, you want to get your sweetheart a special wine to accompany the heart-shaped box of chocolates you’re giving him or her this Valentine’s Day?  What wine do you select?  Unlike “standard” wine and food pairings, pairing wine with chocolate can be a bit more tricky.  However, if you pair them well, the result is truly divine!  No matter if you’re pairing your wine with white, milk, or dark chocolate, here are some tips to help steer you in the right direction…

Chocolates for Valentine's Day: Pick the Perfect Wine

Photo by John Hritz (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Try to pair lighter, less complex wines with lighter, simple-tasting chocolates.  The reverse also goes; try to pair rich, robust wines with darker, richer chocolates, including dark chocolate covered cherries.  Since dark chocolate displays more tannins, combining dark chocolate with a wine packed with tannins has sort of a “cancelation effect” on the wine’s tannins, bringing out more of the wine’s inherent fruity flavor (which is just what you want!)

Because white chocolate is more subtle than milk or dark, it pairs very well with Sherry and Moscato d’Asti.  Though some people like to pair white chocolate with red or white Zinfandel, the counterpoint of flavors can sometimes provide a dissatisfying contrast (if not “sampled” for approval beforehand.)  Our advice: play it safe and stay away from Zinfandel unless you know your mate has enjoyed such a combination before!  Milk chocolate goes well with Pinot Noir, several Rieslings, and Muscat (one of our favorites!)  Ruby–not Tawney–Port is almost always a perfect fit for milk chocolate, so we recommend serving this dessert wine when in doubt.  Dark chocolate craves to be paired with wines that also display hints of chocolate.  A good red Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon is an excellent choice for a box of dark chocolates.  Merlot and Tawney Port also pair exceptionally well with dark chocolate.

We hope these suggestions aid you on your quest to find the “perfect” wine to accompany the chocolate delights you plan to present your lover.  (Remember, there’s no harm in buying a few extra bottles of wine so you can sample some combinations yourself before February 14th, just to be sure!)  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 Review: Stray Dog Zinfandel 2006

August 29th, 2011 No comments

What a name! Stray Dog Zinfandel, though it may be a fairly new name, is crafted by a man who’s been producing quality wine for 20+ years, Mark Gendron, who recently sold JanKris winery (founded in 1990.) Mark currently owns JK Estates, and the Wildfire Cellars brand. (Stray Dog Zinfandel is released with the JK Estates label.)

Stray Dog’s interesting, earthy nose contains aromas of wild berries, blackberries, raspberries, walnuts, chocolate, slight tar, and a note of grass. On the tongue, blackberries and black cherries dominate, but this wine is not sweet like other clichéd, “jammy” Zins. In fact, its taste and body are more akin to a good Merlot than a “typical” Zin. The finish, long, powerful, and filled with black cherry, is quite striking and, again, a bit uncharacteristic of traditional Zins. All of this, coupled with good acidity and adequate tannins, make this a wine worth trying. (This wine also took home the Silver Medal at the World Wine Championships.) Plus, Stray Dog Zinfandel paris well with pork, chicken, various seafood dishes, and can even be served with chocolate desserts. With such versatility, and a unique personality, Stray Dog Zinfandel 2006 is surprisingly inexpensive. Take home a bottle of Stray, today, and give it a whirl!

Jake Checks In from Dubost Winery!

May 13th, 2011 No comments

Vintage Cellars’ own Jake Austad checks in with us again from his California wine tour, telling us all about his latest find.  “I stumbled upon Dubost on the west side of Paso Robles,” says Jake.  “Sure, the sign said tasting room open, but after a half mile trek down a one lane dirt road, I was unsure.  Once in the gravel parking lot, the only car there, I met Curt.  Fourth generation on the family ranch, Curt had to get off the tractor and take off his farmers hat to put on his wine hat and pour.”  Curt made the atmosphere of Dubost very pleasant, sharing numerous stories with Jake from his 60+ years of experience.  Of the wines he tasted, Jake found the Granache and Zinfandel to be his two favorites.  “The zin was accompanied by a story of how the family stumbled upon the 2 tons of fruit from the cushion vineyard near the now famous James Berry Vineyard by Saxum,” relays Jake.  “It was a gem of a Zinfandel for the Dubost family.”   Jake, well aware of the recent trend to label yourself “boutique” in the wine world, believes the term aptly applies to Dubost.  “The wine was the very definition of boutique. All small case lots of 100 to 200 cases were made for each varietal.”  Summing up his positive experience, Jake had the following to say: “If you want family owned where you can taste the passion in each wine, if you want to search out the very definition of boutique winery, you can find it at Dubost.”  And Jake also recommends trying their estate olive oil, too!  “It’s worth the trek down a single lane dirt road for the wine, olive oil, and stories…”

Dubost Zinfandel

Jake Tours Paso Robles

May 11th, 2011 No comments
Turley's Tasting Area

Outside of Turley's Tasting Area

Vintage Cellars’ very own custom cellar designer Jake Austad is currently touring the wine country in Paso Robles, California.  Some of the wineries is visiting include “local favorites” like Justin, Denner Vinyards, Turley, and Tablas Creek.  Jake checked in on Monday with an exciting discovery claiming, “I think we may have found the greatest $10 wine ever made!”  Apparently, this wine is not on the tasting list at Turley, but it is available if you ask to taste the “table wine.”  This mysteriously good $10 wine is actually Pesenti Red Velvet Zinfandel.  In Jake’s words, “Imagine blackberry jam on buttered toast with a smooth velvety finish.  Make this your table wine of the summer as BBQ, pizza, burgers, brats and the classic American hot dog will all shine with this everyday wine…”  Sounds good to me!  I’m very curious to see what other affordable gems Jake will find on his travels.

Pesenti Red Velvet Zinfandel

Delicious wine!

Incidentally, if anyone has been following the BBC show “James May’s Road Trip”, where a BBC documentary host and wine newbie tours wine country and learns about wine from expert Oz Clarke, the most recent episode was May and Clarke touring Paso Robles. May’s goal for the California leg of their trip (they started in France) was finding good wines that can be had for under 10 pounds (somewhere in the $20 range)…but I don’t think they tried the Red Velvet!

Ravenswood Zinfandel Vintner’s Blend 2008

April 13th, 2011 No comments

Ravenswood Vintner's Blend ZinfandelThis incredibly affordable California red zinfandel is bursting with dark berry flavor!  The Ravenswood Winery motto, “No Wimpy Wines”, certainly applies to this well-structured, rich blend.  With a nose that includes cherry, dark berry, and black pepper aromas, this wine is perfect for pairing with red meats, pasta, and well-spiced poultry.  Moderately complex, its flavors include black cherries, mint, and vanilla.  Though the initial sip presents a touch of sweetness indicative of many red zinfandels, the slightly pungent finish makes for a nice, well-balanced tasting experience.  Ravenswood’s Vintner’s blends are, however, quickly released; the wine spends less time both in the barrel and the bottle.  This “shortcut” is primarily responsible for the affordability of these blends.  Still, the Ravenswood Zinfandel Vintner’s Blend 2008 is a delicious wine not to be overlooked because of a truncated aging process.  And given its price, it’s a great red zin to try if you’re accustomed to whites!

Red, White, and One Grape for Two Zins

March 30th, 2011 1 comment

red zinfandel

Zinfandel grapes (image from Wikipedia)

Recently, the Washington Post ran an article recommending various Zinfandels.  Although the recommendations were quite good, particularly the Frog’s Leap 2008, the Washington Post piece confused many wine newcomers.  White Zinfandels are well-known and well-liked, but few non-wine-expert-folks realize that Red Zinfandels exist. 

White Zinfandel makes up 9.9% of U.S. wine sales, which is six times greater than sales of Red Zinfandel.  This could mean people prefer whites to reds, or perhaps many folks are simply unaware that Red Zinfandels exist, which has been my experience. But they are well worth getting to know! Zinfandel grapes thrive in cool, coastal locations–like California’s wine country–and arrived in this state in the early 1800’s.  Red Zinfandels are spicy, peppery wines containing complex berry or dark cherry flavors.  In my own kitchen, they have paired very well with both American and Italian foods.  Hamburgers, steaks, and hearty pasta sauces make for delicious Red Zinfandel companions!  Like Rosés, Red Zins also work well as solo summertime sippers. 

While many people mistakenly refrigerate Red Zinfandel wine, it should be served around 65 °F.  Though this is sometimes “room temperature” to folks experiencing a New England winter, the same can’t be said for the rest of the country!  To keep Red Zins at their ideal temperature, consider investing in a small wine refrigerator that has a setting for serving temperature (as opposed to storage temperature, which is around 55 degrees). 

With all that said, what’s the difference between Red and White Zinfandel if the grape used to make both is the same?  Answer: Red Zinfandel is made using the entire Zinfandel grape, while White Zinfandel is made with naked Zinfandel grapes (the skins have been removed). Skins impart color, flavor and tannins to the wine, creating the characteristic differences between red and white wines.

Which Wines Age Well?

September 7th, 2010 No comments

Some VERY old bottles. Let’s hope they have what it takes to open up well!

Aging a bottle of wine has a very distinct, qualitative effect on the contents. But it’s a very unpredictable effect. This leaves wine aficionados in a rough place–you don’t want to spend the time and the money aging a nice bottle of wine, only to open it up and find out that: a) you didn’t wait long enough, b.) you waited too long, or c.) it wasn’t a good candidate for aging anyway. Although wine aging is imprecise, there are some clues that can help you, like some psychic detective who figures out the crime in advance, determine the right bottles to cellar.

Sugar content and alcohol: A high percentage of sugar and alcohol slows the aging process, keeping the wine chemicals from reacting too fast and becoming unbalanced, or worse, turning to vinegar.

Tannins: Highly tannic wines are generally great candidates for aging. Tannins are phenolic compounds present in the skin, seeds, and stems of grapes (and thus, usually only in red wines). You know the wine you’re drinking is tannic when it gives your mouth a dry, puckering sensation that can be very unpleasant. But as tannins age, they bind to each other, losing their astringent quality and making the wine supple and smooth. They also bind to other compounds in the wine, changing their chemistry and giving the wine new, complex flavors.

Structure: Tannins don’t mean good aging by themselves. They need the proper acidity and fruitinesss to back them up.  Having great tannins or wonderful fruitiness alone isn’t enough. A wine that will age gracefully needs to have a backbone–or “structure” to it that will keep the wine from deteriorating into muddiness as it ages. A wine with good structure should have tannins backed up by distinct acidity and concentrated, nuanced fruit flavors.

Varietals that age well:

Riesling: A wonderful candidate for aging. A good Riesling can go on improving, growing rounder in flavor, virtually forever.

Cabernet Sauvignon: Cabs from Bordeaux, California, and many other places have the bold richness needed to age well. When determining whether a Cab will develop delicious secondary and tertiary flavors, ask yourself if it has the structure, tannins, and richness of fruit needed to hold up to years of aging.

Chardonnay: It depends. A rich, buttery Chardonnay doesn’t have the structure to age well and will fall apart within a few years. But acidic Chardonnays with rich mineral tastes can very well improve with aging.

Fortified wine: Port, Madeira and the like age wonderfully because their high quantities of sugar and alcohol act to slow down the aging process, meaning that they can open well after even hundreds of years.

Pinot Noir: Professional opinions vary. Many experts think that the taste of a young Pinot is so great that you shouldn’t hang on to one for more than five years. But others hold that a well-aged Pinot is the holy grail of the wine world. This grape, so unpredictable on the vine, is unpredictable in the cellar too.

Syrah: Most Syrahs age well, but only up to a limit–about 10 years.

Merlot: Merlot is a very forgiving wine. Many bottles taste great young, but will still benefit from some time in the cellar. So Merlot is a great varietal to experiment with–try a variety of ages and see what suits your tastes.

Zinfandel: Like Cabernet Sauvignon, many Zinfandels have the potential to age to greatness.

Old Italian wines: Yes, they’ve already been aging, so you might say they don’t count, but these wines can make a valuable addition to your cellar. Italian wines from the 50s and 60s age wonderfully because they were made by farmers with primitive equipment. Their wines ended up very high in tannins, making them great aging candidates.

Varietals that don’t:

Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and most Rosés: They don’t have the structure necessary for good aging.

Wines under $15: They’re made to drink now.

Champagne: Though some champagnes can age well, becoming rounder, softer, and less bubbly over time, most are not meant to. If you’re holding on to a 20-year old bottle from your wedding, you probably won’t like it.

Why age at all?

You may have heard that since most wine nowadays is drunk within 48 hours of purchase, winemakers are starting to cater to the customer who plans to open the bottle right away. There is some truth to this statement–some winemakers, for example, are tending to harvest Cabernet Sauvignon grapes when they are very ripe–almost too ripe. This results in a wine that is high in fruit, acid and tannins, meaning that you can drink it younger, but not necessarily that it tastes good. Wines like this lack the subtlety and grace of a “true” Cabernet Sauvignon, which has a richness of background flavors that makes drinking it anything but a one-note experience.

Wines that have the foundational flavors to age well–a balance of tannins, acids, fruit, sugar, and alcohol, will develop secondary and even tertiary flavors, meaning that the wine will keep surprising the palate with new tastes and aromas from the first sniff to the end of the bottle. These flavors, which can remind the drinker of smoke, leather, figs, soil, or a thousand other subtle smells and tastes, make the drinking of a properly aged bottle a completely unique experience.

Hints for wine collectors:

No one can predict the perfect age at which a wine should be opened.  If you want to come as close to perfect as possible, the best thing to do is buy a case of wine at a time, and open a bottle every so often to gauge how it’s coming along. And don’t think of it as a waste–it’s an entertaining an educational experience to see how the flavors change as a particular vintage matures. Alternatively, you can look online to find people who have opened the vintage you’re holding on to, and see what they thought of it. This is the best way to determine the right age.

Be sure to keep tabs on the ages of the wines in your cellar. Remember that there’s no use aging wines if you’re just going to let them turn to vinegar in a forgotten corner. Keep tags on your bottles‘ necks so that you can read the label without disturbing the contents, and keep a detailed record of everything in your winery, whether on paper or digitally (such as with an  eSommelier wine cellar management device). Don’t forget to include tasting notes when you finally open the bottle.