Category Archives: Tips + Tricks

Dos & Don’ts of Visiting a Winery

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I was barely a wine professional when I visited my first winery. The year was 1975; I had just started buying wines for my family market and been married for a year. Our Gallo representative set up a tour and tasting for me at Sebastiani Winery in the town of Sonoma. I was really excited but had no idea what to expect.  My first experience exceeded my expectations. Why?  I followed the rules, paid attention to the hospitality and enjoyed the ambiance of the area. Visiting wineries is more than just tasting wines at a bar; it can become a foray into the surrounding countryside. The Napa Valley is one of the most toured places in California. In 2012, Napa Tourist spending hit $1.4 billion. (Source: Napa Valley Register.com, April 26, 2013). Folks go beyond wineries – they enjoy landmarks, recreation and restaurants. The end result is an experience of memorable proportions.
What are the dos and don’ts for winery visits?

DO plan
Planning is where it begins. With so many options, one must make the most of the opportunities. What is the most important? The wine, the vineyards, the restaurants in wine country, some scenic point, everyone in your party has a magic button. Once the basics have been covered, you are on your way to a grand time. In my 40 years as a wine pro, I have visited a lot of wineries and whether you are an everyday consumer or a well-schooled professional, I have learned that preparation is the key to enjoying and getting the most out of visiting a winery. While serendipity often occurs at wineries (i.e. OMG, the grapes are just coming in or the owner wants to bring an old wine that is not on the list for you to taste), planning provides the underlying structure to a successful winery visit.

DO be respectful
So now you have arrived at your destination? What now? If you are a walk in, understand that you and your party are guests and will most likely be taken care of by the winery’s hospitality team. If you made a reservation, as some wineries require, then the most important thing is to be on time or inform the team of any changes (you are late or the number in your party has changed). In this way winery and restaurant reservations are quite similar. You would not be 30 minutes late for a reservation at the French Laundry without calling them.

DO thoughtfully taste wines – remember, it’s not a bar.
DON’T be afraid to spit.
DON’T drive if you have had too much wine! Lots of great buses, drivers, taxis to get you home.

And finally… DO enjoy yourself :) It’s wine country after all.

 

 

Aussie Wines Rocking My World

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What do we really know about Australia and the wines made there? Maybe less than we should! Not only is Australia a huge country (sixth largest in the world) but it’s also the source of some of the world’s most spectacular wines. If you still equate the country with large-production value Shiraz and not much else, it’s time to take a closer look.

I got a full immersion into the wide variety of Australian wines when I judged in the Sydney International Wine Competition in 2012. As one of three Americans, I was treated to an Australian wine education by the Aussies, Kiwis and Brits. I was just a bit surprised by the complex methods used at this judging. The organizers brought in a top level chef to create dishes to match the categories. We were asked to write complete thoughts as well as recordings of our findings on tape.  In addition to participating in an incredible  judging event, we enjoyed wines from the cellars of many of the participating judges.

In the last month I’ve had two exciting Australian wine encounters that rocked my world. First, Michael Twelftree – Proprietor & Managing Director of Two Hands Wines – visited the Wine.com offices. Listening to him as we tasted his wines was simply amazing. The intensity and passion he conveyed made the tasting an experience of a lifetime. I learned that Twelftree was very adamant about producing wines of integrity and elegance in order  to shed the preconception that Aussie wines are mostly big and brawny. Three weeks later, I attended a presentation by Sue Hodder – Senior Winemaker of Wynns Coonwarra Estates – and found the wines equally remarkable; they were wonderfully rich and well-balanced. Both winemakers had succeeded in convincing me that their country produces truly world class wines.

While Shiraz remains high on my charts of Australian wines, I am taking a new path and seriously looking at Cabernet Sauvignons. Two of my current favorites are the super-rich 2012 Two Hands Sexy Beast and the elegant yet persistent 2012 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. Try either of these wines with a juicy steak and prepare to have your world rocked by Australia too!

Happy Bastille Day: Classic Bordeaux

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People often have the wrong idea of Bordeaux. While the names of Latour, Margaux and Pétrus dance so gracefully off of our collective tongues, these are not the wines that “regular” folks drink. Those of us who are more value drinkers are more in tuned with Bordeaux AOC, Bordeaux Superiore and Bordeaux Rosé (pink has risen up to the top of consumer awareness and is now being sought out).

In a recent trip to Bordeaux, those are the wines that I drank; never did one glass of the “big” name classifieds crossed my lips. Not that I would not have enjoyed a glass of Lafite, instead I ended up drinking what most everyone enjoys on a day-to-day basis and guess what? There was no less enjoyment to be found; the everyday Bordeaux took care of my needs quite nicely.

So what should we be drinking in everyday Bordeaux? Château Bonnet Blanc has been one of Bordeaux’s top white wines for more than a decade. Vintage after vintage, the wine shows pure fruit and crisp acidity as it finishes with a food pairing bite. The Château Bonnet Rosé is another winner, showing a shading of salmon and pink in its color; crisp and bright, the wine asks for a lightly grilled salmon. On the red side, I recommend the 2013 Domaines Baron Rothschild Reserve Speciale Rouge. The wine is straight-forward and delightfully balanced; perfect with grilled hamburgers.

Let us celebrate Bastille Day and liberate Bordeaux from the shackles of its high priced profile. Yes, the classifieds (1st to 5th growth) are wonderful, but mainstream Bordeaux values provide an everyday enjoyment that we can afford.

A serious pink that is a lot of fun!

11_09_13 Billecart-Salmon@Aleander's_640_BlogIn the world of pink (wines) no one can deny that Billecart-Salmon Champagne Rose is one of the kings of the wine world. Elegant, stylish and more fun, this serious wine is one of the world’s most renowned Champagnes. Made from Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, the winery actually positions this as a red wine. So don’t call it pink to their face, you may be the one who ends up blushing. An incredible food-pairing wine, I have often chosen this one with sashimi (yellow tail, red tuna, tuna belly…way yum).

The house of Billecart-Salmon goes back seven generations and is situated in the charming village of Mareuil-sur-Ay. Currently represented by the 6th generation, Francois and Antoine Roland-Billecart, this independent house seems to be in excellent hands. Chief winemaker, Francois Domi has been at the helm for nearly 30 years; the man has a great track record. Denis Blee, Director of the vineyard, has 20 years under his belt. With such a great production team, the vines cared for and respected. #champage #champagnerose #Billecartsalmon

Preparing Wine for Big Holiday Gatherings

Following up from our post from Omaha Steaks blog post share, we wanted to share some of our own wine tips for your holiday gatherings!

2 glasses– Have enough wine! The cardinal rule is never run out of wine, so always get a bit more than you expect to use. Make sure you get something you enjoy so that you can continue to drink the leftover bottles well after the party – my parents are still drinking the awesome sparkling wine we served at my sister’s wedding last year because we over-bought. But unlike ordering too many appetizers, the wine never goes bad, and you won’t hear them complain!
– Pre-chill. Make sure those bubbles and whites are well chilled before the event. Though ice buckets can be useful and fast, they can also be messy. If everything is well chilled, the bottles can be out a bit in room temperature and not get too warm, without you having to soak them.
– Pre-open. Here’s where I love screw cap wines – they are perfect for parties. For cork closures, make sure you open a few (especially for large gatherings) so you don’t have to take time away from checking on any food cooking.
– Make sure you have enough glassware, and make sure it’s clean! pre-count, make sure you have enough, and for large gatherings, have some wine charms to get you through the evening.
– Finally, don’t indulge too much. Hosts should be relaxed, but not too much so!