Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Muscat Love is Sweeping the Country

Sweet white wines are becoming all the rage in the U.S., especially when they are made with Muscat grapes.

Muscat History
Moscato (Italian for Muscat) derives from the Muscat family of vinifera grapes. It is one of the oldest winemaking grapes in the world, probably originating in Ancient Greece.  It is part of a family of grapes with over 200 varieties including Muscat Blanc a’ Petits Grains, Muscat of Alexandria, Muscat Ottonel and Black Muscat.  The grapes colors range from white to nearly black.

Muscat Blanc a’ Petits Grains is considered the most dignified of the Muscat grapes and one of the oldest grape varieties to still exist.  This white grape is also called Muscat de Frontignan, Moscatel de Grano Menudo, and Muscat Canelli, and Yellow Muscat. In France it is used as a blending grape.  In Italy, it is the oldest known variety of grape grown in the Piedmont region and is used in the sparkling Asti Spumante wines. This is the most popular of the Muscat grapes.

The Muscat of Alexandria grape originated in Egypt and is one of the oldest genetically unmodified vines to still exist. Legend has it that Cleopatra drank Muscat wine. This white grape is also called Moscatel, Muscat Gordo Blanco and Lexia.  It is used mainly to make sherry or muscatel wine in Australia and South Africa. Muscat of Alexandria is the second most popular of the Muscat grapes and is also sold as white raisins and table grape.  This wine is very sweet with an earthy taste.

Muscat Ottonel is another white wine grape first cultivated in Alsace in 1852.  This grape is crafted mainly into dessert wines in Romania, Bulgaria, Slovenia and Croati, and made into a dry wine in Slovakia, Hungary and Alsace.

Black Muscat is also called Golden Muscat, Muscat Hamburg and Moscato di Amburgo.  In the U.S. and Eastern Europe it use it for table wine or sparkling wine.  It may also be used as a blending grape for dessert wines. In Italy, France and Australia it is served as a table grape.  The juice is very aromatic and produces a red wine.

As you can see, the Muscat grape family is versatile and can be used to craft sparking wines, Sherry, dry whites, late harvest dessert wines, ice wines and Brandy.  It is also mixed with vodka to create unique bar drinks.

The Rise of Moscato
According to A.C. Nielsen, the sales of Moscato wines have grown over 80% in the United States within the past year. Muscat wines are now the fastest growing wines in the country, nudging Sauvignon Blanc out as the third most popular wine in the U.S. (Pinot Grigio is second, with Chardonnay coming in first.)

But times were not always so sweet for Moscato.  During the 1980’s and 90’s, Muscat grapes were not popular.  People still associated the name Muscat with Muscatel, a generic term for many sweet, cheap wines produced in California until the 1960’s.   By borrowing the Italian name Moscato for those wines made from Muscat grapes, a new wine favorite has appeared.  Experts predict Moscato has the capability of becoming as popular with wine drinkers as White Zinfandel once was. In fact, White Zin lovers are now seeking out Moscatos as their ‘go-to’ wine.

Today’s Moscato drinkers are mainly under the age of 45, with millennials' (those born during the eighties to mid-nineties) as the key purchasers of this type of wine.  Many site having been influenced by its mention in Hip-hop songs and videos as one of the reasons they’ve tried it. And this group does not relegate Muscat wine just for dessert.  They pair it with all types of food and enjoy it throughout the meal.

Gallo’s Barefoot wines introduced its Moscato in 2008.  It is now the number one brand of Moscato in the U.S., followed by Sutter Home, and Yellow Tail, taking the third position in popularity. If you’re looking to try a red Moscato, check out Beringer.  All are sweet, low alcohol and usually priced around $10, perfect for the new wine lover.

Wine Profile
So what should you expect from a Moscato wine?

• A floral, fruity or musky aroma.
• Low alcohol levels, usually 7 to 9%.  (Think wine coolers.)
• Flavors of apple, fruit, or spice.
• The color of the wine can vary from light yellow to dark amber, to red, depending on the grape used.
• This wine is best served chilled.
• Most sweet Moscatos usually sell around $10 to $15.
For food pairing ideas consider serving with a berry fruit tart, apple pie, gingerbread, milk chocolate, or Gorgonzola cheese.

This is the perfect wine for those new to wine or the wine drinker who is searching for a lighter, sweeter wine.  And Moscato is excellent as a cool summer sipping wine.

Muscat or Moscato – Regardless of how you pronounce it, this is one wine trend that will continue to make headlines around the world!  So -


~ Joy

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Blessing the Vines

Blessing the Harvest

Blessing the Vines
In the spring and the autumn, many wineries and vineyards host a Blessing of the Vines, or Blessing of the Harvest festival where clergy will bestow a blessing for healthy vines and a fruitful harvest, or offer thanks for another productive season. But where did this custom of blessing the vines and the harvest begin, and why?

In Ancient Rome, in the spring, they held a festival called Vinalia prima.  This wine festival was held on April 23rd in honor of Venus who provided humans with everyday wine, and also, to honor Jupiter, the god of weather.  During this celebration the gods were asked for good weather for the growing season, and the wine from the year before was blessed before being offered for everyday use.

Vinalia rustica
On August 19th, Vinalia rustica was held. Jupiter was the god honored during this celebration because of his control over the weather and the ripening of the grapes.  A priest of Jupiter’s would pick the first bunch of grapes, bless the first sacred pressing, and offer a lamb as sacrifice. By blessing the grapes, this also meant the eventual wine was blessed, providing abundance to the community.

A Blessing of the Vines
Today, we still bless the vines in the spring to ensure a bountiful crop.  And in the autumn, a Harvest Blessing is offered where the grapes are blessed, as are the vines that produced them, and the laborers who worked among them.

Although there are many blessings that may be offered, here is just an example of one.

Blessing of the Vines   (As translated by Rev. J.H. Schlarman, Bishop of Peoria)
We beseech Thee, Almighty God, in Thy goodness, to pour down Thy blessing on these young shoots and sprouts which Thou hast permitted to grow with due sunshine and rain, and make them to grow into mature fruit.

Grant to Thy people that they may always give thanks to Thee for Thy gifts, and fill the hungry with Thy gifts, which the fruitful earth produces in fullness so that the poor and needy may praise Thy glory.

Plan to Attend
No religious affiliation is necessary to attend a blessing celebration.  Check your local and state tourism departments to see when the wineries and vineyards in your area offer their “Blessing of the Vines” festivals.   Local Wine Events is an excellent source for wine-related events @

Blessing the Winery
Several years ago at our winery, we held a small Blessing of the Winery ceremony since we did not grow grapes. Thirty people filled our winery and witnessed the priest bestow the blessing.  People talked to me about that day for years after, remembering where they were standing when the tanks were blessed, touched when the priest not only blessed the tanks, the wine, those who made the wine, and the building, but everyone attending, and all who would partake of it.  All of us that day felt that we were a part of a never-ending circle - of wine and friends, belief and ritual, life and death.

So plan a trip out to a winery this spring and enjoy a Blessing of the Vines. Enjoy sharing in the legacy of the grapes of the past and the wines of the present, keeping an eye toward the future.


~ Joy

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Does the Wine Glass Affect the Wine’s Taste?

You may have heard that the actual wine glass affects the taste of the wine.  And you wonder, "Is that true?  Or, is it just another claim to get us to purchase a lot of pricy glassware?"

Choosing the correct wine glass is a little bit science and a little bit personal opinion.  It involves knowing something about the wine itself and which glass is said to optimize that grape’s characteristics.  But before we delve into the different beliefs on wine glass shapes, let’s consider the parts that makeup a wine glass.

The Anatomy of a Wine Glass:

The wine glass is made up of four parts:  the rim, bowl, stem and base.

The bowl of the glass should be large enough to swirl the wine when doing a tasting.  This swirling allows air into the wine, letting it releases the wine’s aromas.

The larger the bowl, the more wine that's exposed to the air, allowing the aromas to accumulate in the bowl. This is extremely beneficial for red wines.

The bowl should also taper in slightly at the top.  This shape helps to concentrate the aromas as they are released from the swirling up to the nose. Also look for a thin lip on the glass verses the thick-lipped glasses for better wine intake.

If you are holding a wine tasting with friends, then you need to use clear wine glasses.  A clear glass allows you to see the true color of the wine, and that can tip you off to several factors such as the type of grape used and the age of the wine.  If you’re just having a fun gathering, then go for the cute, colored glasses and enjoy.  As a side note, the black stemware you may find is used for a blind wine tasting where you do not want the color of the wine to influence the taster.

Although stemless wine glasses look great and break less, for tasting, it’s best to use a wine glass with a stem.  This keeps your hand off the bowl and thus the heat from your hand is not warming up the wine.  Finger smudges also affect your view of the wine.

A lot of research has gone into the design of wine glasses.  It is believed that the shape of the wine glass concentrates the flavors and aromas of the wine, emphasizing the grape's characteristics better. If you wish to accentuate the wine tasting experience, then the glass does matter. 
It is worth mentioning here the belief that different areas of the tongue pick up different flavor such as salty, sweet, sour and bitter has been disproved.  But the wine glass shape most definitely does affect the bouquet of the wine, allowing for the flavors to develop as aeration occurs.

Lead Crystal 
The debate as to whether lead crystal glasses are safe or not has been going on for years.  Why would you consider a lead crystal glass?  Lead crystal allows for better refraction of light, which allows you to see the color of the wine better.  Plus the lead crystal surface is microscopically rougher than glass, which allows the wine more air when swirled.  For Champagne glasses, this creates even more bubbles.  The choice is yours.

Three Basic Wine Glass Shapes
For red wines, use a glass with a larger bowl. This lets the wine receive more air on the surface allowing it to “breathe.”  That means the dense aromas of a red wine have a chance to mix with air and create those wonderful aromas in the glass. It is usually suggested that red wines be served in a 12 to 16 oz glass, filling it about 1/4 full for optimal swirling and aeration.

For white wines use a glass with a smaller bowl to allow less air onto the surface to the wine. The smaller bowl shape helps contain the aromas and keeps the wine cooler, longer. The narrow glass also directs the aromas directly up to your nose.  White wine glasses usually hold 10 to 12 oz of wine.

For sparkling wines or Champagne use a flute shaped glass.  This shape helps keep those bubbles bubbling the longest since the surface of the wine isn’t exposed to the air too quickly.  It also keeps the aromas concentrated.

Red Wine Glasses
Bordeaux Glass – (Cabernet Sauvignon/Syrah)
This glass is large with a longer bowl and taped at the rim.  The large bowl allows for plenty of swirling, which lets air into the wine and releases the aromas.  The tapered sides pull that aroma up for a full nose and the wine is directed to the back of the mouth.

Burgundy Glass – (Pinot Noir)
This glass has a wider bowl than the Bordeaux glass to allow more air to enter the wine. The slightly angled sides help create a full bouquet and direct the wine onto the tip of the tongue.

Chardonnay/Chablis Glass -
This glass has a much smaller bowl than a red wine glass.  This helps to keep the wine chilled.  White wines do not need aeration like reds, so the mouth opening is much smaller.  The narrow rim delivers the wine directly to the front of the tongue.

Sauvignon Blanc/Pinot Grigio Glass -
This glass has a narrow bowl that leads the aromas straight to the nose.  It also directs the wine directly to the sides of the tongue where the full crisp taste can be enjoyed.

Sparkling Wine/Champagne Glass -
This glass is tall and narrow so that the bubbles keep coming.  The narrow opening helps keep the wine chilled and the fizziness enjoyable.

If you don’t want a glass for reds and a glass for whites, you can always use an all-purpose wine glass.  This is also used as a water glass.  It has a short stem and large round bowl.

Glasses to Consider 
Riedel is an eleventh generation Austrian crystal maker that has produced lead crystal wine glasses for over 250 years. Riedel also produces glasses that are machine blown and free of lead.

Bottega del Vino crystal wine glasses are hand blown, yet sturdy enough for restaurant use. The Bottega del Vino’s slogan says, “If the wine matters, so does the glass.”

Spiegelau (now owned by Riedel) produces machine-made wine glasses in Germany.  These glasses are certified ”extremely dishwasher safe.”

Ravenscroft is the world leader of lead-free crystal wine glasses.  They offer close to 30 different hand blown wine glass styles, crafted at their European factory.

Vivant wine glasses are made by Riedel for Target.  These glasses are machine-made but much easier on the pocketbook and are dishwasher safe.

Crate & Barrel wine glasses are one of the best values out there.  Great price, nice designs, and durable.  If you’re just starting out with wine, this would be my choice.

If you drink only Merlot, you may want to buy high quality glasses made just for Merlot wine.  But if you enjoy a variety of red wines, save yourself some cash and purchase a high quality line of Bordeaux or Burgundy wine glasses.  You can enjoy your Merlot, Cabernet, Syrah and Malbec all in the same glass. (Just not at the same time, please ; )

Care of wine glasses:
Wine glasses have always been best handled by hand washing in only hot water, especially if they are delicate or expensive.  But more and more glass companies are offering quality wine glasses that can be machine-washed.  Just be sure the glasses are clean of soap and residue after washing.

Still Can’t Decide?
Do a glass comparison of your own.  Buy a couple of high quality wine glasses and compare the same wine in them and a lower quality, mass produced glass. Or check online to see if a glass comparison wine tasting is being held in your area.

Remember, wine is a subjective experience. It is still personal opinion if the glass affects or improves the wine’s taste.

If you want to experience all of the nuances of a wine – go for the glass created for it.  However, this does not mean you have to purchase a different glass for each wine you like. You can decide to buy a high quality Bordeaux glass for reds and a higher quality Chardonnay glass for whites and be amply covered.  Just remember, the best wine glass is the one that makes the wine taste the best to you!


~ Joy