Category Archives: Wine Education

Why do we swirl wine?

Just Somme Stuff I Think About:  Why do we swirl wine?

Everyone does it – people at restaurants, wine bars, tasting rooms -even the Sommelier at that fancy restaurant does it.

We all know it makes you look like you know what you are doing, a clear cry of, “no newbie here!”

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But swirling wine is not just a way to look important; the action of swirling a wine in the glass does several things.

  • First off, the non-obvious: swirling the wine in the glass enables some evaporation to take place and the more volatile compounds will dissipate; these include sulfides (matchsticks), sulfites, (rotten eggs) or even some rubbing alcohol Why Do We Swirl?smells.
  • Second, it allows the wine to breathe. Swirling allows oxygen to attach itself to the compounds that make up tannins, and rounds them out, giving them a softer nature; this is also why a young wine should be decanted or run through an aerator: Oxygen helps it open up!
  • Third and most important, the swirling of the wine glass activates esters and aromatizes them, which allows you to smell more of the wine, and thus enjoy it more! This is why having a tulip shape glass helps – it concentrates those aromas up to your nose.

But of course, the most important thing to know when swirling wine is to look good while doing it. Make sure you practice at home and when you get to the restaurant you will look like the ultimate pro!


The 2 best ways to look like a pro:

professorThe Professor: Hold by stem with base firmly situated on a flat surface and give it a swift swirl for 4-5 seconds, then breathe intensely while using the phrase “that will do” repeatedly with a seriously academic look on your face. (bonus points for glasses near the bridge of your nose)

Wine visualThe Sommelier: Hold by base with thumb and forefinger lean ever so slightly so that the wine spreads out toward the rim; evaluate the color while making non-verbal low volume grunts of approval or consternation. Bring the wine up and in front of your face change grip to thumb and forefinger around the stem, and swirl counterclockwise for at least 10 seconds. Then breathe in audibly, and say the phrase, “ok, you can pour it,” but pretending that you are doing the server a favor by not sending it back.


All kidding aside, swirling is a good thing and helps you enjoy a great glass of wine!

Cheers!

 

 

How did wine bottles get their shape?

Just Somme Stuff I Think About:

How did wine bottles get their shape?

Take a deep breath in, and now blow it out. The total amount of air you just blew out is the amount that a glass blower needed to make one wine bottle!

A lungful of air from an experienced glassmaker could blow up a bottle to a volume between 700ml to 800ml depending on the person. And if this sounds somewhat familiar, it’s exactly why in 1979, the US standardized the bottle at 750ml.

Obviously, wine has been stored in various containers used for both storage and transportation, from the ancient amphorae found in shipwrecks to straw encased bottles from Chianti, called a Fiasco.

antiqueonionbottleThe coal furnace was first invented in the 1500s, and with better versions in the 1700s, glass blowers could affordably heat up silica to 1500 degrees and make the production of wine bottles, using forms, a standard practice. At the same time, wines were being stored for longer periods and needed a bottle to store on its side – something the traditional onion shape or tear drop shaped bottle (see below) would not allow.

Now the questions begging to be asked is since we have standardized the amount wine that goes into a bottle, and we have started to store them longer, why do we have so many different bottle shapes? Why not just use one standard bottle?
Bordeaux being the most expensive wine at the time had the greatest need. The Bordeaux bottle is tall with “shoulders” so it will lie down easily for ageing and when pouring the “shoulders” will hold the sediment inside the bottle.

Burgundy was at once thought to be cheaper than Bordeaux and of course wouldn’t require such an expensive bottle so the round fatter “soft shoulder” bottle was used because the glassblower could make it quicker and cheaper.

The Alsatian flute so ubiquitous with Rieslings was invented by the Germans so that it would fit into their packaging crates evenly, no other reason, and is now the only bottle permitted by law in Alsace!

Now it is a matter of tradition that Cabernet will come in a slender shouldered bottle and Chardonnay and Pinot comes in a burgundy shaped bottle. No law (outside of Alsace) is stated that demands it, but sometimes the old ways are comforting and old habits are hard to break!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Garnacha! An education

041 EL CIERZOGarnacha, also known as Grenache, is one of the world’s oldest and most widely planted wine grapes. Due to its long growing season and affinity for heat, it is the perfect Mediterranean grape. It has proliferated from its ancient homeland in Aragon to as far as Lebanon in the East, most of North Africa and throughout most of the new world. It’s luscious, fruity, intense and very diverse. Although most Garnacha is used to create blends – think Chateauneuf-du-Pape – it is starting to come into its own as a varietal wine, ready to take the worldstage with Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

A grape for all occasions, Garnacha encompasses red, white, rosé, and sweet styles. The grape is very expressive with a wide range of aromas depending on its originating terroir. Red Garnacha wines are fruit forward, lush and soft on the palate, with a good balance between sweetness, acidity and tannins. Key aromas and flavors include red fruit and spices. Garnacha rosé delivers aromas of strawberries, rose flowers and a sweet berry finish; these wines are perfect for hot weather. White Garnacha produces white wines that can range in style from fresh and mineral-driven to rich and lush.

In Spain, as a result of great attention to terroir, major investment in quality, modern winemaking techniques, and old vineyards, a new generation of winemakers is producing Garnacha wines of exceptional character and concentration. We’re pretty excited about what they are doing! 

The 5 most important P.D.O. (Protected Designations of Origin) for Garnacha in Spain are Calatayud, Campo de Borja, Cariñena, Somontano, and the eponymous Terra Alta.

Calatayud is known for its high altitude, rugged terrain and a rich variety of soils. These impressive natural conditions produce a diversity of high quality Garnacha wines.

Campo de Borja is known as the self-proclaimed “The Empire of Garnacha.” It was the first to explore and fully develop the concept of modern varietal Garnacha wines, and produces some of the most renowned examples in the world.

Cariñena is the oldest P.D.O. in the region of Aragon. Known as “El Vino de las Piedras” (“The Wine of the Rocks”) for its rocky and compact soil that holds water exceptionally well, Cariñena is also the largest of the P.D.O.s, with 14,513 hectares of vineyards and 1,600 growers.

Somontano has positioned itself as a producer of “luxury” wines since it became one of Spain’s most modern P.D.O.s in 1984. It has been a pioneer in taking a New World, varietal approach to wine production. Although only about 5%
of the vineyards are currently planted with Garnacha, the region is committed to the varietal and expects to double plantings over the next few years.

Terra Alta is the white Garnacha specialist. It became a P.D.O. in 1982 and produces around 80% of all the white Garnacha in Spain.

It should noted that Garnacha can also be fortified (as it often is in Australia and in the vins doux naturels of Roussillon), for delicious Port-like wines.

Pick up some Garnacha today to see why this is a fantastic, and affordable, varietal wine!

Just SOMME stuff I think about: Oregon

drouhinIt seems to me that Oregon Pinot Noir wines are becoming more and more popular everyday. Larger wine companies are taking interest and buying up properties that were once thought of as novelty. Foley Family Wines recently purchased the Four Graces Winery, following the in-roads that Kendall Jackson and Louis Jadot laid out with their recent purchases. And this got me thinking… what does anyone really know about the Willamette Valley in Oregon? The pioneers David Lett and Dick Erath blazed a trail and proved that amazing and long-lived wines could be made and grown there, but I doubt anyone really knows what any of this juice tastes like. One thing I’m always tasked with as a Sommelier, is telling people what different wines taste like in addition to what you should eat with them. So I am going to greatly generalize the Willamette Valley and the individual AVAs below, so that when confronted with a list you will be prepared to order a wine you love.

downloadDundee Hills:
Light ruby to cranberry in color with perfumed aromatics that will also include raspberry, black cherry and cola. The palate seems to have a sweet fruity core even though the wine is dry with spices, cola, earthiness and truffle.

Food Pairing: roasted porcini mushrooms and polenta

Sokol Blosser Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2011

Yamhill-Carlton
Deep and dark ruby color with a rich, round mouth feel and silky tannins; this is a big wine. Big aromas of spices like anise or cloves then blackberries, blueberries, and roses. The palate will have the bramble fruit characteristics with espresso and clove developing into tobacco and cedar.

Food pairing: Roasted Duck Breast with berry glaze

Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee Pinot Noir 2011

Ribbon Ridge
The most age-worthy of all the wines but bordering on a rustic personality; this Pinot exhibits medium-plus to high acid, fine-grained tannins with a ton of earth and chocolate. What fruit you do find will be black cherries and plums.

Food Pairing: Chicken with Morels and Tarragon Cream Sauce

Bergstrom Silice Pinot Noir 2012

Chehalem Mountains
Due to high variance of soil and elevation this is a little harder to generalize but… they are either lighter and have a lot more red fruits like cherry and raspberry or dark cherries and dark plums. They all tend to have a lot earthy mushrooms and brown spices like allspice.

Food Pairing: Pasta with Mushroom Cream Sauce

Chehalem 3 Vineyard Pinot Noir 2012

Eola-Amity Hills
These are full-bodied Pinots yet very elegant and even feminine in nature. Bright red fruits like raspberry or cranberry with plums and dark cherries notably high in acid and minerality but with a good structure that brings balance. These wines tend to be the bright and fruity Pinots of the Willamette, with a spicy finish.

Food pairing: Cedar Planked Salmon

Evening Land Eola-Amity Hills Seven Springs Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011

McMinnville
These are the big boys on the block: the darkest in color and the most tannins, these wines tend to exhibit huge flavors of black fruits and earth. The fruits on the palate range from fig, cherry, mulberry, plum, olive or any combination thereof. The earthy components range from wet forest floor, mushrooms, truffles and dried leaves. Generally referred to as massive.

Food Pairing: Roasted Pork Loin with root vegetables

Brittan Basalt Block Pinot Noir 2010

Obviously, this doesn’t cover elevation, soil components or individual winemakers. Every wine is different from year to year, too. I only hope that this will serve as a rough guide to help you enjoy the world of Oregon Pinots from the Willamette Valley. Also: don’t forget the whites and Rosés!

 

 

Champagne 101

’tis the season… for Champagne of course!

Champagne reigns as the gift-of-choice during the holidays, and for good reason.

True Champagne, the real stuff from the actual region of Champagne; there is nothing like it. Just drinking it ignites all of your senses. It reflects joy, celebrations and happy gatherings of friends and family.

Should you choose to stock up on Champagne this season (and I hope you do) think of this as your cheat sheet on buying the ideal bottle, whether it is for you or for a gift.

The facts about Champagne & tips on how to read the label

The grapes
There are 3 grapes used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Some wines have all 3 grapes, some have only one or two.
On the label you may see the following:
Blanc de Blancs – means “white of white” and is made only of Chardonnay; lighter in style & crisply delicious – this is a great apperatif or with seafood. A great producer is Salon
Blanc de Noirs – means “white of black” and is a white champagne made from either Pinot Noir or both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (both red grapes); usually fuller-bodied than blanc de blanc, this style enjoys the ability to match with a variety of foods.
Rose – could be only one grape or all three, but must contain some % of a red grape – that’s where it gets the pink color! Also a great match with food – and good for any reason you might be in the mood for pink.

Non-Vintage vs. Vintage
Non-vintage wines are exactly what they say they are – not from a particular vintage. They are blends of a few wines from different years. Remember, Champagne begins as a blend of still wine. If the Chardonnay of 2011 is not acidic enough, they’ll pull some of the 2010 or 2009 Chardonnay and blend it in for acidity. The goal is consistency. So that the NV of Veuve Clicquot you buy this year will be consistent with the one you bought last year. Most NV Champagne represent a house “style” that the winemaker tries to maintain so that the consumer knows what they are getting. NV wines should be drunk within a year or two of purchase.

Some years the vintage is so delightful that the houses of Champagne declare a vintage year. The blend is made only from grapes in that vintage – no adding of back vintages allowed. Vintage wines are low in supply and high in demand, and therefore a bit more pricy than that NV. Most vintage champagnes can age about 10 to 15 years, sometimes longer. Some houses don’t even release their Champagne until 10 years later because of the amount of bottle aging they prefer – Dom Perignon released their 2004 vintage about the same time Krug released their 2000.

Other label tid-bits
Premier Cuvee or Tete de Cuvee – means the top of the top, the best blend of the house. Some good examples include Krug’s Grand Cuvee, Bollinger’s Grand Annee and Charles Heidsieck’s Champagne Charlie
Premier Cru and Grand Cru – Some vineyards in Champagne, like other areas of France are labeled Premier Cru or Grand Cru vineyards. If a house purchases all of its grapes from grand cru or premier cru vineyards, they may put that on their label.

Levels of Sweetness
Extra Brut – Bone dry
Brut – very dry, but with more dosage
Sec – Still very dry, but with a hint of sweetness
Demi-Sec – technically means “half dry” but really is half sweet
Doux – sweetest of the Champagne, more rare, often more expensive, and a delicious balance of sweetness and acidity.

And now, our favorites!

Under $40
Ayala Brut 
Pommery Brut Royal

Under $70
Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee
Louis Roederer Brut Premier
Gosset Grande Reserve

Under $100 
Beau Joie Champagne Brut
Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut

And of course, my all time favorite…
Champagne Krug Cuvee

Cheers!