Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Wines for Summer

With the arrival of Memorial Day comes our readiness to plunge into summer!  For the next three months, we’ll search for all things cool and comfortable – including our wines.  Now’s the time to relax, kickback, and enjoy a fresh, crisp wine - and there are several types to consider.

White wines are judged to be the mainstays for summer.  Their crisp, acidic flavors go well with white meats and those summer specialties, potato salad, veggies, even Gazpacho! 

We usually expect summer whites to be chilled and cool, but go don’t go overboard and freeze them.  Lightly chilled will keep the wines fresh, crisp, aromatic, and cool – perfect for hot weather drinking.

Summer time is salad time and, yes; there are wines that pair well with a salad.  The first thing to consider is the dressing you’ll be using.  One with a lot of acid and vinegar will compete with a wine.  Look for a more mellow dressing and pair the wine according to what’s in your salad.  Topping that salad with fruit?  Check out a Riesling or Traminette.  Fresh berries?  Head for a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.  Is your salad heavy on the herbs?  Select a wine with herbal-notes like non-oaked Merlot or Sauvignon Blanc.

If you’re grilling white meat, chicken, pork or fish, and want a white wine, consider a lightly chilled bottle of Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc, both go well with white meats and veggies. 

If you’re grilling bold flavors, be sure to match your wine to the main flavor profile.  This could be the meat itself or the sauce or marinade you’ll be using on it.  If it’s a BBQ burger or a steak, go for a robust red, a non-oaked Shiraz or Malbec can handle this.  If you’re grilling chicken or chops but want a red wine, check out a Merlot or Pinot Noir.  Both offer a softer red flavor without overwhelming the white meat.

If you want to pair a wine with chips and dips, try a young sparkling wine.  Those fresh, crisp bubbles help cut the greasy chip taste away.

If you’re looking for a ‘one size fits all’ wine for summer – consider a Rosé.  It’s a food-friendly wine and can be served room temperature or chilled.

Or make your own Sangria!  Cool, refreshing and another great summer wine option.  Light, fruity flavors beg to be enjoyed during the summer.

And don’t forget, a light, sparkling wine can make a summer afternoon more bearable. Have it with cold food, hot food, or just because you've finished cutting the grass!

Here are ten great summertime wines, perfect for steamy days and sultry nights:
1) Sauvignon Blanc, 
2) Chenin Blanc 
3) Traminette
4) Merlot
5) Pinot Noir
6) Rosé 
7) Sangria 
8) Muscato 
9) Vidal Blanc
10) Sparkling wines   

Use these to experiment with, then dive in and discover what you like.  Find a great pairing?  Let us know! Just remember to keep it fun and light - After all, it’s summer – Enjoy!

~ Joy

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Cheers to National Wine Day

This Friday, May 25, 2012 is National Wine Day in the U.S.  Although the origins of the holiday are unclear, the purpose is self explanatory, a day set aside to celebrate wine!

Wine has been enjoyed throughout the world for centuries. The earliest known production of wine dates back to around 6000 BC.  Evidence was found near the boarders of what is now Georgia and Iran.  The oldest known winery was discovered in a cave in the mountains of Armenia.

The earliest wine production in Europe, dates back 6,500 years ago, and was discovered at an archaeological site in northern Greece near Macedonia.

 Wine was very common in Ancient Greece and Rome, playing an important part in religion.  Wine was known as the "Juice of the Gods.” (And rightly so ; )

For the Greeks, Dionysus was the god of wine and revelry.  Dionysus was worshipped from c. 1500 – 1100 BC.  He is a popular figure of Greek mythology and religion, and his festivals were the reason for the development of Greek theatre.

Bacchus was the god of wine for the Romans.  He reigned over the grape harvest, winemaking, and the resulting frenzied festivals that occurred.  Bacchus was believed to be a divine being who could communicate with both the living and the dead.

Apparently the Romans also knew how to bottle wine.  A 1,650 year old bottle of wine, the oldest one ever to be discovered, was found in 1867 during a dig in Speyer, Germany. It was located inside a Roman stone sarcophagus. The bottle has been on display at Germany’s History Museum of the Pfalz for over one hundred years.

During this early ‘wine period,’ winemaking technology improved tremendously in the ancient world.  The wine press underwent great changes and barrels were developed for storing and shipping wines.

Even in Egypt, wine played an important part in daily ceremonial life and became a part of the Egyptians recorded history.

By the Middle Ages, wine was the common drink for all social classes.  It was used for the celebration of Catholic Mass, with the Benedictine Monks producing most of the wine for this purpose.  Housewives made their own wines and served them at every meal.  Wine was watered down with 4 parts water to one part wine for everyday use.

Throughout history, Europe has always been known as the premier wine region.  In fact, American wines were looked down upon throughout the world until 36 years ago.  It was during the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, when French wine judges selected, during two blind wine judgings, American wines as the winners in both competitions!! (See Bottle Shock,, the movie.) Thus began the serious consideration, and appreciation, of American wines by the rest of the world.

So plan to lift a glass and celebrate National Wine Day this Friday.  Visit Local Wine Events, to see what’s going on in your area this weekend. Or check with local wineries and vineyards to see if they have any events planned.

Every bottle of wine has a story to tell – so this Friday, listen carefully as those celebrated grapes tell all!  And while you’re at it, rent the wine movie, Bottle Shock and celebrate the arrival of American wines on the worldwide stage – again!!



Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wine Diamonds Are (Not) Forever

If you’ve ever opened a bottle of white wine and noticed small flakes or crystals on the bottom, these are known as wine diamonds.  Also called tartrates by those more scientifically minded, ie: winemakers.

These ‘diamonds’ are actually potassium bitartrate crystals, and occur naturally in wine. These crystals can resemble faceted diamonds, shards of glass or snowflakes in a bottle.

They usually occur in white wines and are completely harmless.  In fact, the wine industry has been the largest supplier of potassium bitartrate crystals for years. You see, in cooking, potassium bitartrate is known as Cream of Tarter!

In Germany, these crystals are known as Weinsteins (wine stones) and are viewed as an indication of a quality wine; One that has been fermented slowly, and crafted from mature grapes, thereby allowing the wine’s personality to develop even more.

While wine diamonds do not adversely affect the wine’s quality or taste, you can find two schools of thought about them.  There are those who believe tartrate dropout is disconcerting, they find it unsightly, and feel that it affects the wine’s mouthfeel by making it ‘crunchy.’ 

Another group views wine diamonds as an added bonus, indicating a wine that was fermented more slowly, resulting in a better aroma and flavor.

Many American wineries find the crystals unsightly and will cold stabilize their wines in order to minimize tartrate dropout in the bottle.  Cold stabilization is the process of cooling a wine down to near freezing, over a short period of time, so that the tartrates fall out more quickly. The crystals then cling to the sides and bottom of the fermentation tank and the wine can be pumped out and filtered to remove any remaining crystals.

You will notice wine diamonds mainly in white wine.  They also occur in red wines, but not that often and are not noticeable except at the bottom of bottle and sometimes on the wine cork.

If you find that you have a bottle containing flakes, you have some options – one is allow the crystals to settle to the bottom, then pour your wine carefully, letting the diamonds settle in the shoulder of the bottle.  You can also strain the wine through a coffee filter or cheesecloth to remove the crystals. 

Just remember, this is a natural process of winemaking.  Wine diamonds will not affect the flavor or spoil the wine.  At a wine festival one year, our winery had a Chardonnay that had developed wine diamonds.  When a festival attendee asked about the flakes in the bottom of the bottle, I held it up for all to see and replied that only the fortunate few get to enjoy a wine with true wine diamonds in it.  We sold out of Chardonnay that afternoon! (It's all in how you spin the bottle ; )


~ Joy

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

How to Enjoy a Public Wine Tasting

With the arrival of summer, comes a surplus of public wine tasting events throughout the country. Wine tastings are available at wine festivals, wine shops, grocery stores, even convenience stores, and at wine classes.  All of these venues can offer an excellent chance for you to try new or different wines, and to explore wines you are not familiar with.

Wine tasting events are designed to allow the wine lover a chance to try several types of wines at the same time and compare.  They also offer you a chance to discuss the wines with fellow tasters, garner opinions, and learn as you go.  These events are not for the pretentious. Wine drinkers from beginners, to intermediates, to advanced, enjoy these gatherings and love to share information.

You might go to a Cabernet tasting at a local wine shop and get to try four or five excellent Cabs in a seated environment with other wine lovers.  The presenter should be able to answer your questions and steer you toward something you will like.

Grocery stores may offer a flight of wines, ranging from dry to sweet, along with cheeses from their deli that will pair well with each wine.  These are enjoyed at a tasting table with the products available right there for purchase.

Wine festivals abound!  There's Vintage Indiana, the Music and Merlot Festival, the New Orleans French Quarter Wine Festival...  Usually the name will indicate what types of wine you can expect to find. Before heading out, decide what kind of information you want to gain from attending the event. Are you looking to learn more about a certain grape, a type of wine, a wine region, or just looking forward to an outing with friends?  All are great reasons to attend, just clarify to yourself what you hope to gain and make the most of the event.

But before you go there are a few things to keep in mind when attending an event, based on my experience in front of and behind the tasting counter; we'll call these Joy's Ten Suggestions for Attending a Wine Tasting Event.

1)  Eat before you go. Yes, there may be food pairings offered, but these are only samples, and the purpose is not for you to make a meal out of them.  These tiny ‘appetizers’ are there to help you with pairing ideas, and to help your body absorb the alcohol so you can enjoy the event without getting drunk.

2)  No heavy aromas.  In other words, if you really want to taste the wines – no smoking, no heavy perfumes or after-shave lotions.  Don’t wear, or do anything that will affect your sense of smell and taste. And yes, this includes chewing gum, going heavy on the garlic, or chewing tobacco!  (And he wondered why all of the wines tasted like mint….!)

3)  Plan what you’ll wear.  If it’s an outside event, wear something cool and comfortable.  No heels - think about it..., No black – too hot.  No white – unless you don’t mind getting wine stains on it.  (I know, you’re very careful, but the guy tasting next to you, ummm…not so much.)

4)  Keep hydrated.  Wine shop tastings will usually have water available.  If you’re attending a wine festival, carry your own.  Don’t expect the booth to provide it for you.  The water they have on hand is for rinsing glasses.  Grocery tasting?  Grab a bottle at the register.  While you may not feel that you’re getting dehydrated, play it safe by drinking a glass of water for every glass of wine consumed.

5)  Move away from the table after you’ve received your pour.  There is usually a line of people waiting behind you. Please be considerate and get out of the line of action.  You can always get back in line for another sample or to ask a question.  Basic guidelines:  Don’t hog the table and don’t cut in line.  Wine lovers are affable people – as long as you don’t keep them from their wine unnecessarily ; )

6)  Don’t be afraid to ask questions, but please make them relevant to the wine and not just chitchat.  This is your opportunity to speak with the wine maker, wine shop manager, or (hopefully) someone who knows something about the wines they are pouring.  Have a question about the wine you just tried?  Get in line and ask.  The pourer may have an answer, a suggestion, or an idea that gives you more ways to enjoy the wine.

7)  Take advantage of the tasting notes offered.  Read the wine’s description and then taste.  Can you find the same flavors described?  Or do you taste something different?  Note on the sheet or in a designated notebook what you experience.  Later, you can discuss your findings with friends who also tried the wine, or remind yourself why you bought three cases of it.

8)  Ask if any ‘specials’ are being offered at the tasting.  Many times wine shops and grocery stores will offer special prices on the wines you’ve tried.  At wine festivals, 6 bottle and case (12 bottle) discounts may apply, along with a percentage off of one-bottle purchases.  It never hurts to ask and you may find yourself with some great bargains.

9)  Go prepared to purchase by taking your own wine carrier bags.  You may have decided that you would only buy 6 wines –but once you get there and start tasting, six can change to 12 or 24 very quickly.  At a large event, empty wine boxes can be hard to find because everyone needs one to carry their purchases.  Be prepared and you won’t have to wait for a carryall.

10) Remember the 3E’s!  These are the musts for any wine tasting event – Explore, Experience, and Enjoy!

Even if you don’t live near a large grocery, wine shop, or wine festival location, you can still enjoy a wine tasting.  Attend a Twitter Tasting and take part in the questions and comments as you sip and savor along with other participants, worldwide.

The weekend is coming – now get out there and

~ Joy