Category Archives: Wine Tips

Shop Like a Pro!

It’s time to up your game and shop like a pro.  So here they are – a few tips to help you pick out the best of the best and, bottle by bottle, transform yourself into the oenophile your parents always suspected you’d become.    

Tip #1 Old to New

This first tip has very little application outside the wine world.  In fact, I discourage it for most other life scenarios, especially when shopping for milk or meat.  Find the oldest one on the shelf!  I always sort the 90 under $20 wine list by “Vintage:  Old to New.”  These lonely bottles are forgotten once newer, shinier bottles make their way onto the site.  That’s a shame because these wines are exactly what makes wine unique, they improve with age!  A little mellower, a little more complex, a little more integrated – a lot more interesting. 

Tip #2  What the heck is that!?

Txakolina? Try it, you’ll like it.  Lesser known varietals like Torrontes, Graciano, Godello, Txakolina, Falanghina and Mencia, may not be as popular as Chardonnay but, ounce for ounce, these wines are some of this category’s top performers.  Complex, affordable and, best of all, unlike anything you’ve tried before.  They are a great way to expand your palate and the breadth of descriptors you use to describe wine.  Do you want to see why people describe Torrontes as smelling like Juicy Fruit gum or experience what a truly high acid wine feels like?  Then try a bottle of Torrontes and Txakolina.  Best of all these wines will blow your world of wine pairings wide open.  So experiment.   After trying some of these you’ll be loath to plunk down twice as much money for a more popular varietal.

Tip #3  Swoop in for Savings

Sort by savings!  You can sort our 90 under $20 list by savings and order a few killer $30-$40 wines for under 20 bucks.  Not only will these wines give you the most for your money, but they typically also offer the most in terms of cellaring potential.  The higher price can be an indicator that, unlike a $10 bottle, it’s a keeper and the winemaker put an extra level of care into ensuring it will develop over the years. That $30 bottle of Pinot Noir with 93 points from PinotReport is good now, but will also be good in another 5 years and you got it for just $19.99!

I’ve shared some of my top picks and my best tips on finding wines, now I’m curious to know about your favorite 90 under $20 wines.

How to preserve or use leftover wine

As a member of the “empty bottle” club, leftover wine is rarely an issue in our household. However, there are times that a nice bottle goes unfinished and half (or more or less) of the bottle needs to be preserved for another time or put to use elsewhere.

If it’s a wine you want to save, there are a few ways to go about it. One of the most successful is one you may have not yet tried. Pour the remaining wine into a smaller container, such as a plastic or glass water bottle and seal it. Then place it in the fridge (even if the wine is red). The less oxygen/surface area ratio as well as the cooler temperature will help preserve the wine. If it is red, just take it out of the fridge an hour or so before planned consumption. The second option is the wine preserver spray, Private  Preserve, a container filled with inert, safe gas that, when sprayed into the wine bottle, blankets the wine and protects it from oxygen, the evil gas that can lead to a wine’s ruin. Just spray and re-cork and stick it in the fridge. Finally, there is the Vacuvin Vacuum wine saver. Though not the most effective, it is probably the most popular. This device sucks all the oxygen out of the bottle (or tries to) in order to protect the juice from ruin. If you do use this option, do stick it in the fridge for best results.

Sometimes a wine not only tastes different the next day (or two days later), it tastes downright bad. This is because oxygen, which can benefit a wine in small doses, is the element that puts wine on the path to becoming vinegar.  A wine starts to oxidize the minute it sees oxygen and the transformation can be quick or slow, depending on the wine.  Luckily, there are a couple of other ways to re-use this wine, other than pouring it down the drain.

- Make a marinade – While you can buy wine made for cooking, it’s usually best to use a wine that you’d actually drink. Most wine recipes cook-down a wine until the alcohol is gone and the flavors are concentrated, which is a perfect fit for leftover wine. Here are some great recipes from Real Simple magazine for using leftover wine.

- Turn it to vinegar – Though wine naturally, eventually turns to vinegar, it is a long process. The process can be sped up using a bacteria called “mother of vinegar,” which can be found at some random hardware or wine equipment stores. When you add “mother” to the old wine, it helps to speed up the process of vinegar transformation. After it’s done, you discard the “mother” and strain the vinegar. You can read a first hand account of how this works here.

If you’re not in the empty bottle club yet, hope you try one of the above suggestions to preserve or put your leftover wine to good use. Cheers!

This summer, you should drink more…. Riesling!

Most wine aficionados reach for a bottle of Riesling when temperatures rise (and many other times for that matter), and when I ask the favorite grape for summer, those who know the grape happily respond – Riesling. Unfortunately, that is only the answer from those familiar with the variety. Poor grape. It's so often misunderstood!

Riesling can conjure up images of sickly sweet, low quality wine, yet Riesling is a noble grape variety and has been making wine for centuries. It's one of the only white wine varieties that can make extremely age worthy wines, as well as some of the most highly sought after sweet wines. Perhaps that's why sweet and Riesling are too often deemed a pair. But what many don't realize is that most Rieslings are actually dry.

Riesling has high aromatics and high acidity – two perfect attributes for summer drinking, as well as for food pairing.
Which wines should you try that will help introduce you to the delicious world of Rieslings? Here are some suggestions.

You like dry, mineral-driven wines, like New Zealand or Chile Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio
Try Australian Rieslings – these wines display intense aromatics of lime, mineral notes and stone fruit. Very crisp, very dry. We love the Pewsey Vale (on sale for $9.99 right now at WineShopper) as it is a great value that displays all these characteristics. Look for the excellent Riesling examples from Clare Valley and Eden Valley.

You like fruity white wines and blends like Conundrum or Evolution
Try Washington State Rieslings. These wines have the same steely acidity, but with a bit rounder, riper fruit and occasionally a touch of residual sugar, though usually with a very tangy finish. We love the Eroica (even served it at my wedding!) and the Pacific Rim Wallula Vineyard (made with biodynamnic farming practices). Eroica has a bit more residual sugar, while the Pacific Rim has a touch of petrol (this is a GOOD thing) in the nose that makes it vibrant and a bit tangy. As I taste more Rieslings from the Pacific Northwest, I learn how perfect the region is for this grape. And Washignton State – as well as Oregon – are making some stellar Riesling.

You like sweet wine
One of the reason's Riesling is so good as a sweet wine is because of its excellent acidity. German Rieslings are probably the way to go on the sweet side, although Austria and Alsace are other excellent regions. Look for terms like Spatlese and Auslese on the label, which indicates a bit more residual sugar (usually). Maximin Grunhauser and JJ Prum are fantastic producers. There are plenty others though, so do some research.

For more, read Alma's take on reading a Riesling label! It's definitely helpful.

So this summer, try a Riesling. It's a diverse grape and there are sure to be some that fit your style!
And please do share your favorites.

When to use a decanter

Poor decanters. Most of them sit on a lonely shelf, looking pretty, gathering dust, its owners occasionally looking at the empty container wondering, when am I supposed to use that thing, anyway? The answer? Often! You don’t need a 30-year-old wine full of sediment to use and enjoy a decanter. Even if you are drinking something as simple and youthful as Two Buck Chuck, a decanter sure does make it look nicer on the tadecanterble!

There are two main purposes of a decanter:

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    1. 1. To remove sediment from a wine
    2. 2. To aerate a wine

For the first, as a wine ages, it can throw a sediment, which collects at the bottom of the bottle. The decanter allows one to remove the wine from its sediment by slowly pouring the liquid into the decanter, keeping the sediment in the bottle.

How is this done? First, a day before you plan to drink an older bottle, gently stand it upright (it should be lying on its side in the cellar) and let it stand for a day. This way the sediment will slowly fall to the bottom of the bottle. Then, open the bottle and carefully and slowly pour the wine into the decanter. Towards the end, you will want to carefully watch and stop pouring once you get to the sediment. In formal restaurants, sommeliers use a candle under the bottle to help see the sediment. For your purposes, I’m sure any good lighting will do. Some older wines should be drunk right away while others benefit with some more cellar time.

You will most likely have many more opportunities to utilize a decanter for the second purpose – aerating a young wine. We are often eager to drink a wine right away, even when it is very young. To help it loosen up a bit, you need to let the wine breathe. Opening the wine does not qualify – that one inch diameter of wine that sees air thorough the bottle neck doesn’t do much ! Pouring the wine into a decanter allows much more of the wine’s surface area to see air, opening up a young, tight wine. The air helps the aromas and flavors open up, allowing you to enjoy more of the wine. This is the way to enjoy a young Bordeaux or California Cabernet – or any big wine for that matter.

So take the decanter off the shelf, and use it. It will enhance your wine drinking experience and always look pretty on the table.

Also, remember that a beautiful decanter makes a great gift for the wine lover – either to use, or just look pretty on the shelf.

Best way to quickly chill a bottle of wine


In the heat of summer (extreme heat if you’re in the NW), we often find ourselves wanting a cold glass of wine, but realizing we lacked the foresight to have put one in the fridge earlier that day. In which case we need some fast measures to chill that bottle. Here are some of my favorite ways to do that.

Ice bucket & water – The most effective method is to fill a bucket with ice and some water and submerge your bottle in it for 10 – 20 minutes. Ice won’t cut it – you must add water to make it work and work faster.

Frozen bottle – You may be lacking ice or bucket or both. For these cases, keep an empty wine bottle in the freezer and pour the new wine into that (or at least enough for a couple of glasses). It won’t be ice cold, but it will cool down in about 10 minutes.

Ice Jacket – Invest in an ice jacket or two. Keep them in the freezer and when your need to chill that bottle down, slip it on the bottle AND put the bottle in the freezer (with jacket on) for about 10 minutes.

Ice cubes – It may seem wrong, but remember that wine is mostly water, so if you’re not digging deep into the cellar, throw an ice cube or two into that glass to cool it down. Think of it this way – If it’s not a wine you can put an ice cube in, it’s worth the wait to cool down…