Finding a wine fitting your taste is not only a challenge for the enthusiast, but also connoisseurs. While there are many factors that determine wine styles, the vast diversity of the world’s climate and thousands of wine grapes growing across the globe bring the most variety in the taste and body style.
Climate describes what weather conditions (temperatures, rainfall, sunshine) are expected in a typical year. Climates suitable for wine production are generally divided into hot and cool climates. Broadly speaking, a region’s climate is determined by the latitude or, more simply, how close it is to the equator. The closer a region is to the equator, the hotter the climate: Think of South Africa versus Germany.
Elevation also has an influence. A region at high elevation will have a cooler climate than one closer to sea level even if they share the same latitude. The oceans also influence a wine region, depending on the temperature of the water. Consider the warm ocean current of Western Europe, and many wine regions of California, Chile and South Africa are cooled by cold ocean currents.
A general rule: Hot climate wines will generally be higher in alcohol, fuller body, with more tannin and less acidity. Cooler climate wines will generally have less alcohol, lighter body and more acidity.
Hot/warm climate regions — Argentina, Australia, southern Italy, California, central Spain, central Portugal and Southern France.
- 2015 Pascual Toso Malbec Mendoza, Argentina (about $15 retail)
- 2015 Penfolds Bin 28 Shiraz, Australia (about $32 retail)
Cool climate regions — Oregon, Washington state, New Zealand, Northern France, Germany
- 2015 Chateau Ste. Michelle Gewurztraminer, Washington (about $12 retail)
- 2015 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $33 retail)
With so many wine bottles lining the retail shelves it can be easy to miss new or emerging underrated wines. It’s easy to stick with the familiar, but there are so many unfamiliar wines out there to explore. Some are made with grapes you may not have heard of.
Portugal may be the most underrated wine region in the world. For centuries Portugal has been famed for its Port style wines. But this southern European country has a 300-year history of winemaking and boasts 250 indigenous grapes including touriga nacional, tinta roriz and touriga francesa. In the past, wines made in Portugal, other than Ports, rarely made it to the export market. Port producers considered the valuable grapes as worthy only to be made into luscious, sweet fortified wines. The grapes of lesser quality or those left over were used for local consumption. Today, Portugal’s wine industry is bringing unique value-priced and quality-driven wines to the world market.
- 2015 Silk and Spice Red Blend, Portugal (about $13 retail)
- 2015 Twisted Douro Tinto, Portugal (about $16 retail)
When it comes to obscure wines, I’m not sure you can top the distinctive aspects of the Nero d’Avola, a grape indigenous to Sicily. Talented producers are proving this grape’s quality and potential. Sicily has an ideal climate and geography for growing grapes, mountains for hillside plantings, low rainfall, poor soils and the intense summer heat ideal for ripening grapes. The Nero d’Avola undoubtedly has the potential to become a rising star in the wine market. It is capable of offering wines with great richness, texture and longevity, and has an easy drinking style that many wine drinkers seek.
- 2015 Stemmari Nero D’Avola, Sicily (about $10 retail)
- 2015 Planeta la Segreta, Sicily (about $16 retail)
Cremant de Limoux can easily rival the world’s best Champagne house and is a best kept secret for those who enjoy bubbly but are looking for a value. Cremant is made like Champagne with the “traditional method” using a second fermentation taking place in the bottle. The dry style is my favorite, with its rustic yeasty characters. Some of the styles made from the indigenous grapes of mauzac are also known as blanquette. The remainder of the blend generally uses the more known grapes, chardonnay and chenin blanc. For all of those celebrations or just the craving for bubbly, Cremant de Limoux will not disappoint.
- NV Calvet Cremant de Bordeaux, France (about $17 retail)
- 2015 Thomas Jefferson Gerard Bertrand Cuvee, France (about $24 retail)
Wine glasses come in all shapes and sizes, but there is really only one factor of vital importance: material. It doesn’t take an expert to know wine tastes differently from a glass than it does from a Styrofoam cup.
But, before this discussion, it’s important to understand the anatomy of a wine glass. A glass consists of three basic parts: the rim, the bowl and the stem.
The rim is the top edge of the glass, where your mouth meets the wine. The best glasses will have a very thin, smooth rim. If you have ever had a fine wine out of a thick banquet style glass you already know the experience is not as enjoyable as it is from a thin-rimmed glass.
The bowl is what holds the wine. Shape varies by glass, but most are narrow at the top, widening and rounding to the bottom. The shape of the bowl can accentuate specific characteristics of the wine. Some offer depth to bring out aromas while others show off bubbles.
The stem is the long thin part that makes it possible to hold the glass without altering the wine’s temperature or leaving smudges on the bowl and disturbing the visual experience.
For the overall makeup, quality glasses are made of two materials: crystal or glass. For most of us enjoying a glass of wine over a weeknight dinner, we may not be able to discern the difference. But there is a difference.
Depending on the brand, crystal is glass with lead monoxide, also called lead oxide. Many manufactures also produce lead-free crystal with zinc and magnesium oxide. The most important reason for this addition is the minerals cause the glass to have light refraction, giving stemware its sparkle. If you hold the glass to the light it will capture a prism and create a rainbow effect. Another way to know if it is lead is to wet your finger and run it around the rim, with lead you usually hear a slight musical quality or when tapped using a utensil, crystal will generally ring.
Crystal and glass have advantages. Price generally is the main reason behind a consumer purchase. Glass is less expensive and easier to care for.
When it comes to washing and durability, crystal is more fragile and it’s generally not a good idea to throw into the dishwasher.
But when it comes to enjoying the taste of fine wines, crystal stemware provides the best experience.
This is an excellent choice for everyday durability. It uses a trademarked, thinner glass, making it stronger, with a laser-cut rim that makes it thinner. It’s durable, dishwasher safe and made lead-free.
- Libby Signature Kentfield Estate All Purpose Wine Glass (about $32 for a set of 4)
This glass offers an elegant everyday glass. It has the tulip shape bowl for capturing red and white wine aromas, is lead-free, and it’s the ideal size to manage on a dining table. The laser-cut rim also gives the exceptional experience in tasting. And it’s durable enough that it could go into the dishwasher.
- The Riedel Vinum Zinfandel/ Riesling Grand Cru (about $50 for a set of 2)
Punch is back.
The crowd-friendly concoctions are appearing on celebration beverage menus and are more hip than ever. But today’s punches aren’t the old-style sherbet punches or the stereotypical renegade in the movies spiking punch bowls with Everclear.
My inspiration came from not only the many bartenders around the world holding “punch” competitions much like the “cocktail” rivalries but from books like David Wondrich’s, Punch and Dan Searing’s The Punch Bowl.
In the books, we walk through the history and the reasoning behind the re-birth of this drink. The challenge is modernizing recipes from the 18th and 19th century. These punches were often made to serve army regiments and other large groups of hundreds of people or more. Many of these early recipes include directions with phrases such as, “place in trough to serve” and “mix with a wooden paddle.”
Punches are a tasty hassle-free option for entertaining a large group. And if you stick with low alcohol wines as your main ingredients, punches offer a sipping treat for a long evening of celebration versus heavy, high-alcohol cocktails.
To make serving easier have your punch mixed, chilled and ready to serve several hours in advance.
Remember, when making a punch the wine will be mixed with other ingredients so you will be modifying the wine’s distinctive flavors. With that in mind, I suggest using good quality but value wines. Save the expensive bottles for when they can shine on their own. Your goal is a well-made wine with good acidity and structure.
I generally use Spanish cava, California sparkling wines or French cremant. These wines not only have the key to the structure of the punch but are also excellent value prices for large groups.
This is a recipe I have used several times and always receives rave reviews from my guests.
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup pomegranate juice
3/4 cup chilled late harvest white wine
2 (750-mL) bottles chilled sparkling wine
2 oranges thinly sliced crosswise
1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
1 cup diced fresh pineapple
In a punch bowl, dissolve the sugar in the pomegranate juice stirring vigorously. Add the wines, and then fruit. Chill well before serving. Serve over ice, if desired.
- NV Toso Brut Sparkling, Argentina (about $10 retail)
- NV Gloria Ferrer Brut Sparkling, California (about $19 retail)
When it comes to wine and entertaining for the holidays everyone seems to have the same concerns: how much to have on hand and exactly what to serve.
Quantity seems to be the most pressing issue when entertaining. As we all know, and as I have observed, people’s capacity and consumption of alcohol varies enormously. My advice is always play it safe with too much on hand rather than turning up short. A good rule of thumb is that one (750-milliliter) bottle of wine will equal about five (5-ounce) glasses. For dinner parties and evening affairs that will last several hours plan on 2 to 3 glasses per person throughout the evening. For lunches and afternoon gatherings you can scale back to 1 to 2 glasses per person. You can never buy too much — just save the excess for your next party and remember that running out of wine can swiftly change a festive mood.
Start with what I like to call “entrance wines” or the drink offered to your guests as they arrive. These should be simple, refreshing and most importantly lower alcohol. These wines can also be used for large gatherings when only offering appetizers. Champagne and sparkling wines are ideal because not only do they check all the boxes but add an even more festive, celebratory feel to the occasion. For budget-friendly alternatives to expensive French bubbly consider sparkling wines from Argentina and California.
Nonblubbly wines to consider include unoaked chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio, chablis or viognier.
For large gatherings the key is to keep it simple. This is not the time to bring out your expensive cellar collection wines. For anyone who has cleaned up after large parties or as guests are being seated to dinner it can be heartbreaking for your prized wines to be found in glasses only half drunk on a living room table.
- NV Pascual Toso Brut, Argentina (about $16 retail)
- 2016 Calera Central Coast Viognier, California (about $38 retail)
Wine with formal dining is something most of us don’t do day-to-day considering our everyday meals generally involve one dish, one wine and one utensil. So, with multi-course dinners it can be confusing and awkward. Start with your budget. If this is where you want to impress your guests buy the most expensive wines you can afford. Or open one of those special occasion bottles you have been saving. This is that “special occasion” to share with friends and family. Depending on your dinner menu, if you’re planning to serve multiple wines over the course of the evening, a general rule to serve wines “from lighter to fuller bodied wines and younger wines to older wines.” For example, salad or soup course with a light bodied white wine, main entree with a full-bodied red wine and dessert with your prized sweet vintage Port.
- 2016 Bell Lake County Sauvignon Blanc, California (about $17 retail)
- Ramos Pinto 10 Year Tawny Port, Portugal (about $48 retail)
And finally, the most important entertaining tip: be sure to have designated drivers or call a car service or taxi for any guest who has overindulged. Just as you planned each aspect to ensure your guests the perfect evening, do the same by seeing that only safe drivers leave your party.
Finding the perfect gift this holiday season is easy when you know the recipient enjoys wine. There are plenty of wine-related gifts to find. The wine world has been revolutionized in the past decade with technological advancements that are not only much needed solutions to common wine problems, but are also much-appreciated gifts.
Vacu Vin is an inexpensive but trusted preservation system. It literally is a wine saver. I consider this one of the best values to preserve wines. It’s a vacuum pump that extracts the air from the opened bottle, when you’ve reached the optimum level it will click and reseal the wine bottle with a reusable rubber stopper. A simple process — but one that works by slowing the oxidation process. Price: $5 to $9, depending on gift sets and plastic versus stainless steel.
Serving temperature is vital in the taste of your wine in the glass. An easy solution for those without an extensive cellar system is the Menu Fahrenheit Wine Thermometer or the Plastic Cased Alltemp Infrared Wine Thermometer. The first attaches around a wine bottle much like a belt and within minutes you can read the temperature on the digital display. The Infrared is a hot gift for the tech lover. This compact tool looks like a pen, but measures the temperature digitally on the outside of the bottle. Cost: $14 to $35, depending on styles.
One of my favorite wine preservation tools is the Coravin. It comes with an indulgent, bank-busting price tag but it’s well worth the investment for a serious wine collector or drinker. In the past, this tool was available only in the restaurant industry and the price is becoming more approachable. The Coravin allows you to drink from a bottle without pulling the cork, meaning expensive wines can be enjoyed slightly more frivolously as you no longer must commit to opening the entire bottle when you want one glass. The Coravin features a super-thin needle that penetrates the foil and cork to extract the wine, while argon gas pressurizes the bottle, allowing you to siphon out a single glass. As you remove the needle the cork reseals itself, returning the wine to its unopened state. Everyone gets to drink exactly what he or she wants and you can offer a variety of options because unopened bottles will not spoil. Cost: $200 to $500, depending on color and accessories.
Page 2 of 77«12345...102030...»Last »