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The Wine Tutor

How Many Types of Wine Glasses Do I Need?

Good question! If you believe the ads from wine glass companies, you might come to believe you need a dozen different types of wine glasses. And although you can find some (very subtle) differences in the wine drinking experience by using different glasses, it’s far too subtle for everyday drinking.

Since most people are watching their budgets very closely, I’ll describe the minimalist approach to wine glasses.

Basic Wine Glass

Basic Wine Glass

If you only buy one kind of wine glass, get one with a large bowl where the opening is narrower than the widest part of the bowl. The glass volume should be somewhere around 20 ounces. Only fill the glass to the widest part of the bowl—about 5-6 ounces of wine. That size and shape allows you to swirl the wine and keep the aromas in the glass so that when you drink the wine, you get plenty of the esthers from the wine. As you may know, most of the “taste” of wine is mostly smell. So you want as much aroma as possible.

White Wine Glass

White Wine Glass

The one glass will work for red wine, white wine and even some semi-sparkling wines (such as Lambrusco). If you can afford a second wine glass, you can use the first glasses for red wine and also get different glasses for white wines. White wine glasses should be a bit narrower and more “tulip” shape (the opening about the size of the widest part of the glass. This keeps the relatively colder white wine from warming up too fast. You still want a large volume so you can swirl and smell!

Sparkling Wine Glass

Sparkling Wine Glass

If you like sparkling wine, flute glasses are common. These keep the wine in a narrow column to concentrate the bubbles—they’ll last longer that way. Although aroma is important for all wines, most people prefer to keep the sparkling wine bubbling as long as possible. Fine sparkling wine flutes also have a line etched in the bottom to make sure the bubbles have the imperfection in the glass required for them to form.

Other “specialty” wines (for example, Port, Madeira, Ice Wine, etc.) have their own glass styles too. However, your favorite wine glass will work just fine as long as you pour a smaller amount (about 2-3 ounces is one serving for most specialty wines).

Many wine glass manufacturers now make “stemless” glasses. Lots of people will debate whether a stem is good, bad or indifferent. In my opinion, wine glasses with stems are better for two reasons. First, if you hold the glass by the stem you’ll keep fingerprints off the bowl. Second, if you hold the bowl of the glass, the warmth of your hand may warm up the wine which affects its taste. This second issue is mainly a concern at parties where you hold your glass all the time. Dinner parties don’t usually have this issue.

You don’t have to mortgage your house to buy nice wine glasses. And for everyday wines, just one style will suffice. If you get the chance to go to a wine and wine glass tasting (where you can sample wines in different glasses) you’ll understand some of the subtleties a little better. But wine is best enjoyed with people so keep the glassware simple.

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What Type of Wine is Pinot Noir?

What type of wine is Pinot Noir? It is both the name of a wine grape and the name of a red wine. These wines are world famous and grown world-wide. And, it is a notoriously difficult grape to grow and wine to make.

The Grape Pinot Noir

Of all commercial wine grapes, Pinot Noir is the most susceptible to common wine grape diseases and maladies including frost, mold, and rot. Pinot Noir has a relatively thin skin making the berries vulnerable. This thin skin also affects the wine making process.

The Pinot Noir grape vines are just as finicky as the grapes. They tend to be thin and are prone to mildew, mold, viruses and are susceptible to a variety of grape vine pests.

Due to the sensitivity of the Pinot Noir vine and grape, there are perhaps a thousand clone varieties worldwide. Compared to Cabernet Sauvignon, which only has about a dozen clone varieties, Pinot Noir is one of the most diverse wine grapes in the world.

The Places of Pinot Noir

Keep in mind that although most New World wine labels will list the grapes in the wine, many Old World wine labels only list the place. The most famous Old World place for Pinot Noir is the Burgundy region of France (in French: Bourgogne [boohr-go-ny]). But you’ll also find Pinot Noir wines from Italy (where it’s called Pinot Nero [pee-no neh-(l)ro]) and Germany (where it’s called Spätburgunder [spayt-boo(r)-g(oo)n-deh(r)].

In the New World, you can find many Pinot Noir wines from the USA, Chile, and New Zealand. Less common, Australia, Argentina, and South Africa produce fine Pinot Noir wines as well. The Willamette Valley in Oregon produces world-class Pinot Noir wines. Its relatively cool climate and rolling hills mimic the terrior [the-hrwahr] (soil, geography, climate, etc.) of Burgundy allowing the finicky Pinot Noir grape to fully mature and a cool region for the wine to properly ferment and age.

Perhaps because Pinot Noir is a notoriously difficult wine to make, prices of the wine are sometimes quite high; especially from famous regions like Burgundy, France or Willamette Valley, Oregon. Look for value-priced Pinot Noir wines from New Zealand and Chile. They make some great wines without the “great” (high) prices!

The Wine Pinot Noir

As mentioned, the Pinot Noir grape has a relatively thin skin. Since the color in red wine comes from the skins of the grape (the juice is lightly colored to almost clear), it can be difficult to achieve and keep the expected red color through the wine making process. Wine makers usually intensify the color by drawing off some of the juice after the grapes are crushed in order to increase the ratio of wine skins to juice during a process called maceration (soaking the juice with the skins, seeds, and stems). Wine makers must also pay close attention during fermentation and aging to avoid a loss of color before (and after) bottling.

Single varietal Pinot Noir wines (those not blended with other grape varietals) have several classic attributes:

  • A light red color
  • Aromas and flavors of cherry or strawberry
  • Often earthy aromas such as mushrooms or what is often called “barnyard” (in other words, it may stink!)
  • Acidity that is well balanced by fruit flavors and light tannins in the best Pinot Noir wines.  

Like all wines, the aromas and flavors of Pinot Noir can vary significantly from vineyard to vineyard, wine maker to wine maker, and vintage to vintage.

Pinot Noir and Food

Because Pinot Noir wines have lighter body with complex aromas and flavors, they best compliment foods that won’t overwhelm the wine. Grilled or broiled salmon, prime rib, lamb and duck are all great meat choices. Any mushroom dish works really well. But go lightly on the spices which may mask the delicate flavors of Pinot Noir.

Although Pinot Noir grapes are difficult to grow and the wine making process finicky, several regions of the world produce amazing Pinot Noir wines that are great with food or just with friends and conversation. Some also age well; ask a knowledgeable wine steward before purchasing one for that purpose.

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Pairing Wine and Chocolate!

Wine and chocolate are a romantic and tasty combination. With the recent focus on dark chocolate and “percent cocoa,” how do you choose the right wine for the chocolate you painstakingly picked out?

Just as I recommend pairing wine and food, match the weight of the chocolate with the weight of the wine. Strong chocolate that’s not sweet goes well with a powerful and robust wine (think Cabernet Sauvignon). As chocolates get sweeter, sweeten the wine–a bit more than the chocolate! As the chocolate gets lighter (e.g., white chocolate) go with fresh and flavorful white wines.

For dark or bittersweet chocolate, match with big wines with their own hint of chocolate. Powerful and robust Cabernet Sauvignon from California or Washington and Zinfandels work perfectly with rich, dark chocolates. But don’t forget the big blended wines; they come from the US, Australia, South America, France, and Italy and they can complement the roasted bitterness of these chocolates.

Milk chocolate–a medium weight chocolate–needs a smooth medium weight wine. For a great white wine choice, go with a fresh and flavorful Riesling. A slightly sweet Spätlese would be ideal. Our own Oregon Pinot Noir-a smooth and fruity red wine-works beautifully too. And, of course, Muscat or late harvest wines (specialty dessert wines) work very well with milk chocolate.

White chocolate is made primarily with cocoa butter but no other cocoa products and has a buttery, mellow taste. Try a Moscato d’Asti sparkling wine from Italy or a sparkling Muscat from France for a great match. The nutty taste of Sherry from Spain also goes well with the creamy texture.

I also like chocolate combined with fruit and nut flavors. Smooth and fruity wines like rich Merlots and Zinfandels enhance the fruit flavors. While Ports, Madeiras, and Sherrys taste wonderful with nutty flavors. There are even specially blended wines of Port with chocolate and Sherry with hazelnuts–absolutely heavenly with chocolates … or without!

No matter what, I always advise people to drink the wine they like! If you love Cabernet and want to drink it with white or milk chocolate, I say “go for it”!

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5 Popular Northwest White Wines

Similar to my post on 5 popular red wines from the Pacific Northwest, I’ll list the 5 most popular white wines from Washington and Oregon based on sales (in number of bottles sold) over the past 6 months at my store, Taste of Wine.

Once again, we’ll start with the 5th most popular and include the same wine description we provide our customers.

#5. Milbrandt Vineyards 2006 Riesling, Wahluke Slope, Washington, $15

The textbook floral aromas of orange blossom, apricot, and white peaches are well supported by the firm acids and hallmark “evergreen minerality.” The palate is lush, but lively; the finish is long and silky. (90 points, Wine Spectator)

#4. J. Scott Cellars 2007 Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $17

The wine displays beautiful pineapple and mineral aromas that persist through the long, full finish. This wine is a perfect accompaniment to seafood, domestic fowl, or light pasta dishes.

#3. Cloudline 2007 Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, Oregon, $18

Peach, melon and citrus aromas lead to crisp flavors of lemon and green apples. Lean and slightly grassy with excellent acidity. The epitome of Oregon Pinot Gris!

#2. Pine & Post 2006 Chardonnay, Washington, $8

Inviting pineapple and honeysuckle aromas draw you in. Peach blossoms, apricots and light citrus fill your mouth with a hint of caramel on the finish. Lingering peach and integrated oak flavors leave you wanting another glass.

And #1. Zerba 2007 Chardonnay, Columbia Valley, Oregon, $19

A light-bodied wine with pleasing aromas of apple, honey, and citrus along with subtle hints of oak and vanilla. It has refreshing flavors of pear, lemon, and apricot that meld beautifully and then stretch into a lingering coating finish. (Special note: this wine will soon be very hard to find. The winery is out of stock and they aren’t growing Chardonnay anymore. Get it while you can!)

Let me know how you like them!

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5 Popular Northwest Red Wines

You’ll find lots of blogs, articles, newsletters and other media that will tell you the author’s favorite wines. This post will bring you something a bit different. I’ve looked at the sales (in number of bottles sold) of Pacific Northwest wines over the past 6 months at my store, Taste of Wine. Sure, there a a lot of wines from the Pacific Northwest and we don’t carry them all. But at least you know these wines were enjoyed by quite a few people.

Here is a list of the five most popular red wines from Washington and Oregon wineries starting with the 5th most popular. I’ve included the same description we give our customers. Find some of these wines and check them out for yourself!

#5. Abacela 2006 Tempranillo Estate, Roseburg, Oregon, $37

Drink with a fork! Black fruit, plum, earth, and oak leap from the glass. Complex spices, flint, and pepper coat the tongue to deliver chewy tannin, leather, and tobacco. Lingering finish.  Red meats and strong cheeses will beg for more.

#4. Elk Cove 2007 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Oregon, $29

This opens up with a lovely, expressive nose laden with cherry blossom, plum, vanilla, and butterscotch.  The core of sweet raspberry and cherry holds steady into a moderately tannic finish.  A rich, silky Pinot that’s easy on the wallet too! (90 points, Wine Enthusiast)

#3. Anam Cara 2006 Nicholas Estate Pinot Noir, Chehalem, Oregon, $34

Elegant and full bodied with soft tannins. On the nose are hazelnuts, milk chocolate and warm black fruits. Ripe plum and black raspberries emerge on the palate. Sounds like the produce of Oregon, doesn’t it?

#2. Velocity Cellars 2006 Velo, Rogue Valley, Oregon, $18

Bright, sophisticated aromas of plum and black cherry play off fresh raspberries with notes of cocoa, vanilla, and baking spices. Generous palate: dark, rich, and smooth. Finishes with lively fruit and a food-friendly structure that invites another sip.

And #1. Waters 2007 Interlude, Walla Walla, Washington, $28

With aromas of herbs, cedar, and bittersweet chocolate, what’s not to like? Medium-bodied palate of cherries and currants gives way to a generous finish with a hint of smoke and minerals. Find a complex dish to serve with this complex wine.

Stay tuned for the 5 most popular white wines from the Pacific Northwest in a future post.

Cheers!

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Wines for Summer

As the summer heat finally arrives many wine lovers look for a wine that won’t weigh them down. But what to choose? There are so many wines, and not enough time!

Of course there are the classics:

  • Light and crisp Pinot Gris (Grigio) and Sauvignon Blanc
  • Fresh and flavorful Riesling
  • Full and rich Chardonnay

These wines are wonderful when served cold for sipping on the patio. (By the way, “cold” is ideally 45-55°F.) But if you’re looking for something different, there are still a world of choices.

In the light and crisp category, Sémillon [pronounced say-mee-yo(n)] provides a different twist and unique flavors. A grape from southwestern France, it has found a niche in the New World. Australia, Chile, and Washington State all provide good examples of this dry, golden-colored wine often with aromas of honey and orange.

Another white that you may want to try is Viognier [pronounced vyo-nyay], a warm-weather grape often used for blending in white and red wines. Some Viogniers are light and crisp while others are fresh and flavorful depending on the wine maker’s style. Many wine stewards can help you choose one that fits your tastes. No matter which Viognier you pick, a cold glass with friends fits perfectly into your summer activities.

Another favorite of ours for summer is Rosé. Some people mistake Rosé wines for the similar looking White Zinfandel. No matter how you feel about White Zinfandel, Rosés are different. They’re very dry and range from light to medium body. Many are from the south of France (Provence) as well as California, Oregon, and Washington.

Red wines are still “in” for summer. For outside sipping, you might try a light-bodied red wine such as Beaujolais [pronounced bo-zho-lay] from France or perhaps a Valpolicella [pronounced vahl-po-lee-chehl-lah] from Italy. Served colder than usual (close to white wine temperature) they make an easy and subtle red wine for a hot day.

We’re often asked for recommendations for matching wine with food. So what about summer barbecues and picnics? The best wine-food pairings match the weight of the wine with the food. Since many summer foods forego heavy sauces, lighter wines like the ones we’ve suggested work well. But if you’re grilling a steak and want a powerful and robust Cabernet Sauvignon, we say go for it! Whatever you like is what’s important.

If you’re looking for a wine to go with your neighborhood clam bake, we’d suggest an earthy Sauvignon Blanc… unless they’re prepared spicy-Cajun style; then go for the Gewuztraminer!

No matter what tastes you enjoy in your wines, have a wonderful sipping summer!

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Resveratrol May Improve Quality of Life

A recent study of resveratrol found that the compount kept mice healthier as they aged.

The chemical is a natural compound found in grape skins and red wine and provide cardiovascular benefits, better motor coordination, reduced cataracts, greater bone density and better kidney function.

“From a health point of view, the quality of life of these mice at the end of their days is much better,” said Rafael de Cabo of the National Institute on Aging.

It’s important to note that the length of life was not increased, only the quality of life. De Cabo also cautions that the amount of resveratrol used in the study is unobtainable through normal eating and drinking habits.

(Source: Wine Spectator, Sept. 30, 2008.)

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Best Wine Serving Temperature

Generally, American wine drinkers drink their white wines too cold and their red wines too warm. Compared to their European wine-loving cousins, that is.

Unfortunately, kitchen refrigerator temperatures designed to keep food from spoiling (about 35 degrees F) makes white wine so cold it loses much of its flavor. Normal room temperature (about 70 degrees F) makes red wines seem flat too.

Ideally, most white still (no bubbles) wines should be served at approximately 45-50 degrees F. Some might argue for a few degrees warmer or cooler for specific wines but let’s face it, as soon as you pour it in the glass it’s going to begin warming up. (By the way, always hold the wine glass by the stem so the warmth from your hand doesn’t speed the warming of the wine!)

The ideal red wine serving temperature is about 60 degrees F. That’s about 10 degrees cooler than room temperature. See if a nice cool red wine doesn’t taste brighter and richer in the mouth.

But how can you get the right temperature without buying very expensive wine chillers? Just use your refrigerator! For white wines, take the bottle out of the fridge about 30 minutes before serving. For red wines, put the bottle in the frige about 20 minutes before serving (or the freezer for about 7-8 minutes). You may have to experiment to find the right amount of time.

For sparkling wines, most should be served quite cold. Refrigerator temperature is close enough. Let the bottle warm up for 10 minutes or so before popping the cork. Lambrusco and some other dark sparkling wines should be served at red wine serving temperature–use the same technique as for red wine. Personally, I like Lambrusco quite cold on a warm day!

At first you may find the taste quite different when your favorite wine is served at these recommended temperatures. Try it for several days to see how it compares.

You can serve your wines at proper temperatures without fancy equipment; just a little planning and some time will help you get maximum enjoyment from your wines.

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“Buttery” Wines

Did you know that the “buttery” taste in classic California Chardonnay comes from a process called malolactic fermentation (MLF)? Winemakers and those in the know simply call it “malo” (as in “how much malo has this wine been through?”).

To make normally crisp (acidic) Chardonnay wine more full and rich tasting, wine makers add bacteria to the wine during alcohol fermentation. This bacteria converts malic acid (the same thing that makes green apples taste sour) into lactic acid (found in milk and butter). The bacteria is filtered out of the wine before bottling.

Malolactic fermentation may be  done only partially in which case the process is stopped before all the malic acid is converted. The process can be stopped by cooling the wine down (killing the bacteria).

Some wines go through multiple malolactic fermention processes to convert as much of the malic acid as possible. It’s all up the winemaker and his goal for that particular wine.

White wines and red wines can both have malolactic fermentation (or not) depending on the taste the winemaker is trying to achieve. The richer the taste, the more malo the wine has been through.

More recently, the trend in New World Chardonnays has been to reduce or even eliminate malo leaving the wine with a crisp, even tart finish. In France, there has always been a variety of styles depending on the traditions of each region. For example, in the north of Burgundy, the Chablis region traditionally produces very crisp Chardonnay wines. While further south, regions like Montrochet produce wines with some MLF to produce richer tasting wines.

There is now a spectrum of taste from totally crisp to completely “malo” depending on your taste preference.

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Mmmm: Fortified Wines!

I’m not talking about “Thunderbird” or other cheap wines to which distilled alcohol has been added for a quick buzz. We’ll leave those to college frat parties.

I’m talking about elegant and prized wines often enjoyed as an aperitif or with dessert. Fortified wines are created with special processes whereby the winemaker adds neutral brandy to the wine. Neutral brandy (also called grape spirits) is distilled wine which has not been aged in toasted barrels.

Some regions of the world are famous for this process such as Portugal (Port) and Spain (Sherry and Madeira). The extra alcohol (and sugar for sweet wines) also mean these wines can last for a very long time in the bottle. They were favored by our Founding Fathers because they could survive the long ocean voyage without damage.

If the winemaker adds the neutral brandy during alcohol fermentation, the brandy kills the yeast and stops fermentation leaving residual sugar resulting in a sweet wine. Port and some Sherry wines use this approach.

If the winemaker adds the neutral brandy after fermentation is complete, it results in a dry fortified wine. Dry Sherry and Madeira wines use this method.

Because of the brandy, fortified wines have higher alcohol content, usually around 18-20% by volume. Because of this, they are served in smaller portions than regular wines (usually about 2-3 ounces versus 5-6 ounces for regular wines). Many regions have even developed traditional glassware for their fortified wines which emphsize the character while keeping portions reasonable.

Strong fortified wines usually go best with foods with strong flavors. Sweet desserts, dried fruits, roasted nuts, and “stinky” cheeses (Bleu cheese, Gorgonzola, etc.) are often associated with these wines whether they’re sweet or dry.

Try out different combinations to see which types of foods you like best with fortified wines.

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