Category Archives: Wine Education

Synthetic Corks – please don’t make me use them!

synthcorkFaced again with the difficult task of opening a bottle of wine sealed with a synthetic cork, I truly would like to know the benefit of these closures. I can easily list what I don’t like about them. It is a hassle and huge effort to get the corkscrew into them. It takes a good amount of elbow grease to pull the “cork” out of the bottle (think holding the bottle between your knees while you pull on the corkscrew with all your might), and then, God forbid you do not finish the bottle (which I must admit is usually not an issue) and you want to put the “cork” back in, you are faced with a square peg/round hole situation.

Synthetic corks are not only a hassle to pull out, but also can allow oxidation as they do not mold themselves to the glass as it changes temperature. Yes, most wines are meant to be consumed young and you won’t find one of these closures in a wine meant to age. But even for those wines with an expected shelf life of less than a year, a good way to shorten that life even further is to finish the bottle with synthetic cork.

I understand why a winemaker may use them. First, to avoid TCA (cork taint). TCA, the taint that can affect wines closed in cork is something to be avoided – it gives the wine a musty moldy smell at its worst, and at its least, dulls the wine’s fruit, leading a consumer to think they just don’t like the wine. Second, because of cost. It is more expensive to use a natural cork rather than a synthetic cork, though not by much.

And what about the screw cap? They protect the wine from cork taint and are becoming more widely accepted as closures for quality wine. They preset a higher cost up front as a winery much change the bottling machinery and types of bottles used. I know some are still worried about consumer views of screw caps, but I think many wine consumers would prefer a screw cap wine to one closed with a synthetic cork. It preserves the wine much better and requires less energy to open. And sometimes we need to get to our wine fast!

Though I love screw caps, if a winemaker prefers a cork like closure, please just continue to use the cork. My corkscrew and I will thank you. What closure do you prefer?

Zinfandel. A History

May is National BBQ month, and what better wine to go with BBQ than Zinfandel!  So with that, a little history of Zinfandel

Origin: Croatia
Hot Spot: California, Southern Italy
SynonymsPrimitivo, Plavac Mali

Zinfandel is often touted as the ideal grape for 4th of July BBQs and even Thanksgiving dinner as it is the quintessential “California” grape. So how did a grape variety from Croatia come to be known as the “California Varietal?” Wine grape historians (not their technical name but we’ll call them that) traced the variety back to the 1820s, when it was imported from an Austrian nursery and found a home somewhere on the east coast of the US.  About the time of the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s, Zinfandel found its way to the west coast.  By the late 1800s was the “it” grape, partly due to its productivity and sturdy constitution. Even during prohibition, Zinfandel remained popular for home winemakers, which is one reason you see such very old Zinfandel vines.

In the 1960s, researchers recognized that Zinfandel and Primitivo contained the same “grape” DNA. Then in 2001, researchers did some “fingerprinting” on a few old vines in Croatia. Turns out that Zinfandel is a version of an ancient grape called “Crljenak Kaštelanski.”  And yet, it is still known as the classic California grape. You may see some plantings in Australia and even Europe, but for the most part, Zinfandel has stayed true to its California base.

And what about White Zinfandel? Zinfandel is a red grape – always has been – but in the 1960s and 70s, Americans preferred white wine. So in 1972, Bob Trinchero launched what turned out to be one of the largest successes in the wine business. Using free run Zinfandel juice, with a little added sweetness and occasionally some more aromatic white varieties, White Zinfandel skyrocketed in popularity and sales.  The craze for this slightly sweet, lightly pink wine brought awareness to Zinfandel, even the original red kind. Advocates of the grape began to protect the vineyards, particularly the old vines from before prohibition.

Defining Traits: Big, bold, jammy, spicy, brambly
Depending on where it is grown, the age of the vines, and the methods of the winemaker, Zinfandel can vary in its flavor profile. It’s a sturdy grape, so its rare to find a “light-bodied” Zinfandel, but you’ll find a range of styles, from elegant to spicy to brawny to jammy. Typical characteristics include spice, jam, all sort of wild berry flavors, pepper, leather and sometimes a bit of oak notes.

So we raise or glass to the American grape from Croatia – To Zinfandel!

Wine Quotes for fun!

Another re-post of some of our favorite wine quotes. Feel free to share your own!

“I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.” – W.C. Fields

“Quickly, bring me a beaker of wine so that I may wet my mind and say something clever.” – Aristophanes

“One of the disadvantages of wine is that it makes a man mistake words for thoughts.” – Samuel Johnson

“I love everything that’s old: old friends, old times, old manners, old wines.” – Oliver Goldsmith

“It is well to remember that there are five reasons for drinking: the arrival of a friend; one’s present or future thirst; the excellence of the wine; or any other reason.” cheers
– Latin Proverb

“Here’s to the man
Who owns the land
That bears the grapes
That makes the wine
That tastes as good
As this does.” – Omar Khayyam

And my personal favorites, as I love Champagne and Thomas Jefferson

“I drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” – Madame Lilly Bollinger

“Wine is a daily necessity for me.” – Thomas Jefferson

What is fining?

Fining a wine is the process of clarifying and stabilizing a wine by adding a specific material to the wine that will attract and absorb unwanted particles, removing them from the wine.

Sound confusing? A bit. After wine finishes the fermentation and ageing process in the winery/cellar and before it is bottles, many wine makers will use a material or fining agent in the wine to absorb molecules that may make the wine unstable. The materials used can range from egg whites to fish bladder to bentonite (a specific clay material), but very few traces of the materials remain as their job is to simply pass through the wine, removing the unwanted molecules. Fining materials are not left in the wine itself.

So why is fining used? For young, inexpensive, ready-to-drink wines, fining helps clarify the wine quickly, so it can be bottled and not turn hazy or cloudy, as well as not have any unwanted tartrates or bitter tannins. Some of these particles will naturally fall out of the wine, but only with time, so wines bottled young are typically fined. Fine wines, those that need more ageing and have more complexity and character, are often not fined. Fining removes those unwanted particles, but it often removes the wanted particles that add complexity as well. Many of the unwanted or unstable particles naturally go away just by allowing the wine to age and sit before bottling.

Fining agents include: egg whites, isinglass (proteins acquired from the bladders of sturgeon), casein (a protein found in milk), and bentonite, a form of clay.

If you run across an “unfined” wine, it does not imply that the wine is brimming with bacteria. In fact, it may mean you have a very complex and interesting wine on your hands, and one worth trying.

Top Underrated Wine Regions

There are a plethora of underrated wine regions and grapes in the world. That is to say that the wine geeks know and love them, but the general wine public do not. Could be because they are hard to pronounce, or the labels are confusing, or they are not as hyped up or available in stores. Whatever the reason, the wine geeks will continually try to push these underrated wines onto the everyday wine drinkers until they become popular, and then we will move onto something else. So, in the effort to educate, here are my top picks for underrated regions in the wine world:

Alsace: Hands down, one of the best regions for white wine ever. Pinot Blanc is refreshing trimbachin its simplicity, Pinot Gris is rich and round, blends are unique and complex, and the Cremants (sparkling) from Alsace are devine. Not to mention affordable. In all, a region producing an array of whites – from sparkling to dry to sweet - that are ideal for food and easy on the wallet.

Loire: Wait, did I say Alsace was hands down best for whites. Hmmm… I take it back. Because there is also the Loire. Another French region so often overlooked, the Loire produces food-friendly whites, reds, rose, sparkling and sweet wines, with a huge range of flavors, from refreshing Muscadet to steely Sancerre to off-dry Vouvray to light and fresh Chinon (a red wine).  And it’s all so damn good, with one underlying aspect: acidity! These wines are all crisp and perfect with food. So if you love acid, buy a bottle (of anything!) from the Loire. Your palate will thank you.

Western Australia: Australia gets lots of love, but Baroassa Shiraz, Clare Valley Rieslings and Yarra Valley Pinot are diverse and all, but you have to try Margaret River wines to leeuwin vineyardstruly understand the depth of Australian wine. All the way across the country, Margaret River is a region with a climate similar to Bordeaux, which results in incredible Cabernet and Cabernet blends. For whites, they make some of the best Chardonnay I’ve had, definitely the best in Australia. Just give Leeuwin Artist Series or Cullen a try. You’ll be in heaven.

Austria: I’m hesitant to even put this on here because Austria is gaining some ground in hype and availability of its wines. Gruner Veltliner is obviously the top white to try (one of the best to pair with those vegetables that never pair well with foods), and then you have a whole line up of hard-to-pronounce reds like Zweigelt and Blaufrankish. They won’t be your typical Cab/Merlot/Pinot flavor profile, but they are interesting and.. you guessed it. Food friendly (do you see my theme here?).

So give some of these wines a try – for the ones you can find – and broaden that palate. You’ll be well on your way to wine geekdom.