September 30, 2008

Cleaning out the Wine Cooler

On day ten of our collective mourning we decided it might be prudent to clean out the wine cooler to make room for the home made malbec that will need to rest on its side for the next four months (at least) at a constant 70 degrees. Any straggling bottles--mostly forgotten dessert wines--were relocated and just as I was reaching in to check the temperature gauge, something way in the back caught my eye. I recognized the bottle instantly and held my breath. Fully expecting to find a more current vintage, I slid the bottle out and rotated it until my eyes beheld a wondrous surprise. I was holding a bottle of Dom Perignon Brut Vintage 1988. A great year in Champagne.
Another gasp. Could it possibly be good? Was it stored properly? Did he receive it as a gift? These were questions that could never be answered and so at my urging, we decided that this bottle, divine or vinegar, would be our celebration of life.

We popped the top rather unceremoniously and proceeded, in silence to take in the color, the aroma and the expectation we each had for this wine. In all honesty, I assumed it was probably cooked. In my mind, this find was too good to be true.

But what I experienced was intensely golden-hued, and at first, remarkably tropical. Lots of creamy pineapple and coconut, which mellowed after a few minutes into less fruity, more yeasty. The thread of minerality was still quite present as well as a very subtle hint of citrus. An altogether sublime experience, I had refilled my glass three times before I remembered I had to share.

My one great take-away from that evening was: if you've been holding on to a special bottle/vintage, or you come across one that you think might be past its prime but you're afraid to try, OPEN IT! Pour it. Share it with friends. Life is too short to keep it stashed away for the "right" time. The right time is now. Enjoy it.

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September 30, 2008

Missing Wine Writer Found in Sleepy Florida Town

My apologies for going AWOL these past few weeks. I left town rather suddenly due to a death in my family and though I have been out of touch, and trapped in the cocoon that surrounds a grieving family, wine was on my mind quite a bit during this hiatus. So before we resume our Back-to-Wine-School lesson plan, I would like to share with you why.

You see, the person I lost was the first to introduce me (at the tender age of 12) to the world of wine and its unlimited fascinations. By all accounts he was rather snobbish and old fashioned with regard to wine, and until very recently maintained the opinion that a decent bottle could not be had for under $20. He relished the idea of wine as a luxury item and thinking of it as such increased his enjoyment. This was only one of many of our differing philosophies.

So I was surprised--no, shocked--to learn that earlier this year, he decided to make his own wine. And not at some hoity-toity wine estate, but at local place, a store-front, no less, where he made wine with a group of strangers over the course of a few months. And I was honored to have been asked to bottle and label his wine.


And that is how I came to find Vines to Wines, one of many micro-wineries cropping up in cities and towns across the country. This one is smaller than I imagined, but I think just the right size for the Village of Wellington, Florida. I only participated in the bottling part of the process, but I'll try to give you a brief run down of what you get for your money.

The first step, of course, is to choose your wine. They have an interesting list of regional varietals--Washington pinot gris, Stag's Leap merlot, Argentine malbec, South African pinotage, to name a few. The juice arrives, already pressed, in bags. Some of the reds, such as the malbec and pinotage, are bagged with the skins, which in theory adds more depth and interest to the finished wine.

After you choose your varietal, you are partnered with someone who chose the same. You collaborate through the fermentation stage and, depending on the varietal, you share a barrique for several weeks. In the meantime, you choose your desired bottle shape--or you bring your own recycled bottles if you're feeling green--and you decide on a label. They have pre-designed versions that you can customize, or if you prefer, you may create your own original art.

Much to my surprise and delight, I handled the malbec. After fermentation and a little time in the barrique, I arrived to work the bottling machine. The bottling process was pretty basic. You place six bottles on a machine (two at a time) that is pre-calibrated for your bottle type and the bottles are filled automatically. Once your wine is bottled, you are instructed on the finer points of the corking contraption.

A little elbow grease and a steady hand will see you through corking and then you choose a capsule color and style for your wine. After that, you affix your label and are sent home with 30 bottles and strict guidelines on how to store them and when to enjoy them.

Though my experience was limited, I can tell you that Vines to Wines does quite a bit of repeat business. They have a lot of corporate customers who brand the bottles and distribute them as gifts, as well as wine-loving families who keep coming back to try new varietals. Many of them say you just can't find anything better in the $8-$12/bottle range.

If you live in the West Palm Beach/Wellington area, you should check it out. Ask for Molly or Danny.

12020 Southshore Blvd
Suite #400
Wellington, FL 33414
561.792.6922 (p)

Tues, Wed, Thurs Noon - 7pm
Fridays 3pm - 9pm
Sat. 11am - 6pm

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September 19, 2008

Techie Wine Bottles Using Digital Thermometers

winelight.jpgIf there is one thing that still stresses me out about buying wine, it is that great unknown: Has my bottle been cooked en route? Finally, the winemakers are covering their tushies and finding new ways to let you know if your wine experienced sub-optimal temps during its long journey to you. Check out this bit, courtesy of Gizmodo:

You may have paid $100 for that fancy Cab, but little did you know, its tannins have been seared crispy like hashbrowns in a semi left to sit in the sun. So just for you, dear learned consumer, wine makers are fighting back with a new digital thermometer that can tell buyers whether or not the bottle fell outside its ideal temperature after shipping from the vineyard.

The size of a sugar packet and sitting on the bottle's neck, if everything was OK, an embedded light (LED, we're sure) blinks green. If things went wrong, it'll blink yellow. The system even records the temperature for downloading to a computer spreadsheet by suppliers.

The catch is that these thermometers run about $1.60 apiece. Obviously intended for better wines, it's still tough to swallow that all that many vineyards will adopt the technology in an era when traditional corks are dying to cheaper screw tops and rubber stoppers. But hey, who are we to question progress? [AP] By Mark Wilson

Via Gizmodo

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September 19, 2008

Wine 101 - Ee is for Entre-Deux-Mers

g_bor_map.gifLiterally translated, entre-deux-mers means between two oceans or seas. And in lovely, scenic Bordeaux this identifies the appellation situated between the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. There are 37 appellations in Bordeaux, all of which are situated along the Dordogne, the Garonne and the Gironde which flows from the Atlantic ocean and splits to form the other two. On the map above, entre-deux-mers is represented by the large green area in the middle of Bordeaux.

I'm not sure I could clearly explain Bordeaux in one little post so I'm going to send you on a jump, to Wiki land. The Wiki page offers the clearest, most thorough condensation (I've found) of the region as well as a handy numbered map for reference. It also clearly defines terminology associated with Bordeaux wines (ie. Left bank, Right Bank, Graves etc).

Back to the task at hand... Wine from the entre-deux mers appellation can be red, however the reds are fairly nondescript compared to its haughty left bank/right bank kin. Most often when you see entre-deux-mers on a label, it is on a white. Typically, they are sauvignon blanc based and blended with semillon, muscadelle and occasionally, ugni blanc. Vivacious and dry, they can run the gamut from stark and simple to lovely and layered, depending on on the blend, of course.

Start investigating the wines available in your area and buy 2007 vintages whenever possible... Or if you need a few suggestions, check these out:

etiq_23.jpgChateau Bonnet Entre-Deux-Mers 2006
50% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Semillon, 10% Muscadelle
The higher proportion of sauvignon blanc in this blend provides a crisp, acidic backbone. While the sturdy dose of semillon softens the edges with ripe tropical fruit notes.


La Foret Blanc Entre-Deux-Mers 2006 $12
40% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Muscadelle, 20% Sémillon
Much softer than the Bonnet, the La Foret benefits from an equal split of sauvignon blanc and muscadelle. The latter providing lovely aromatics and playful, almost floral notes. Not to be forgotten, the semillon provides a little depth and richness.
Bordeaux map via Great Wine Capitals

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September 15, 2008

Decanter... or Glass... or Both...

m_67625.jpgOr maybe it is a lovely piece of art. I think it might be a bit of all three. Another great gift idea from MoMA:

A unique gift for the wine enthusiast, this bottle with a wine glass inside is meticulously hand crafted and mouth blown from a single piece of glass, making no two identical. $125
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Wine 101 - Dd is for Decanting


To decant... or not to decant...
That is often the question:
Whether 'tis nobler to suffer the woes
Of aged wines so rife with sentiment; or
To pour the crusty juice from its vessel, its home
Into another to clear the wine of sediment...

Well it isn't exactly Shakespeare, but it does present two interesting topics for exploration: What is the difference between DECANTING and AERATING? And why are they important?

bormiolodecant1.jpgThe decision to decant a wine is purely personal, of course. But if you've ever opened an aged wine, say an old cabernet cauvignon that you've been saving... Well, when you remove it from the cellar - or from the back of a closet if you're a city dweller - you may notice a proliferation of what looks like dark crust on the inside of the bottle. That is sediment. Bits of particles that have separated over time. So if you don't want those bits to end up between your teeth or stuck to your tongue when you taste, you can ever-so-gently pour the juice into a decanter for serving and temporary storage.

Aerating, on the other hand, is the process of adding air to an otherwise "tight" wine to allow it to soften and open up a bit. Particularly useful for softening structured, tannic, big wines such as cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot and most big Italian reds, it is not a recommended practice for delicate older wines such as aged Burgundian pinot noir.

31rPfS+PosL._SL500_AA280_.jpgThere are a number of methods and tools for aerating wine. If you are enjoying a glass alone, you may not want to aerate the entire bottle. In that case, I would grab the best tasting glass you own and pour an ounce or two into the glass and let it sit for a few minutes. If you're sharing with a large group, you have a number of options. You can gently pour the entire bottle into a decanter made especially for aerating or you can use a bottle top aerator which is just a tool that affixes to the top of a wine bottle (or sometimes into the neck of a decanter) that provides more air exposure for the wine.

Of course these two terms are not mutually exclusive. You may need to remove sediment and aerate. Rest assured, there are accessories that cover all the bases. Here are some of our favorites:

Selection Decanting Pourer and Aerator $20
Attaches to bottle, oxygenates wine during pouring

Magnifico Decanter with Punt $25
Inexpensive, elegant design and diswasher safe

Bormioli Esperienze Decanter $35
Made from lead-free crystal, decanter with concentric rings that provide aeration

Vivid Wine Decanter & Aerating Funnel Set $70
Lead-free crystal, easy to pour, includes funnel to filter sediment

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September 11, 2008

Wine 101 - Cc is for Cava

reserva-heredad-bottle.jpgDEFINITION Sparkling wine from Spain; made in the champagne method, which means that secondary fermentation occurs in each bottle versus in one large tank.

During the 1860s, the head of Cordoniu (which up to this point made only still wines) made a sales trip through Europe. While in France he traveled to Champagne and fell in love with both the region and its signature wine. He returned home to Spain with Champagne equipment and the knowledge to make Spanish sparklers with indigenous grapes.

By law, Cava can be made in any of the six main wine regions of Spain. However at least 95% of it is produced in the Penedes which is in the Catalonia region of north east Spain.

Regulations also dictate which grapes may be used for production. Cava must be made from one or more of the following five varietals: parellada, xarel-lo, macabeo, malvasia and chardonnay. It is most commonly made with the first three, but there are increasingly more producers experimenting with chardonnay as it adds a fuller, richer component that one finds in new world bubblies as well as in French sparking wines.

This is the really exciting part. Cavas are quite inexpensive! So you don't have to wait for a special occasion to enjoy a little bubbly. You can find really good Cavas in the $8 - $20 range and great ones for under $30. Though if you're going to drink it every day, I say stick to the $8 - $15 bottles.

Recently my favorite subject... You certainly can substitute Cava for Champagne, but they are stylistically quite different. Because it is made with a combination of red and white grapes, Champagnes tend to be richer and more complex. HOWEVER, and I do mean a BIG however, who says you need to drink complex bubbly every day? The Spanish really get this right. They make a crisp, fruity, easy to drink sparkler that is really meant to enjoyed every day with every-day food. This is not a champagne and caviar mentality. Rather, it is a Cava with fried chicken (really, you must try it), or Cava with bruschetta, or Cava with sushi, or Cava with just about anything way of life.

Cristalino Cava Brut NV $9
The color of pale golden sunshine; soft and fruity with lots of bright pear and apple notes.
Montsarra Cava Brut NV $15
Light and zippy with subtle fruit and bright citrus crispness.
Marques de Gelida Brut 2003 $20
Soft yet crisp, Chardonnay adds a layer of depth to this estate-bottled stunner.
Segura Viudas Cava Reserva Brut $23
Rivals any top French bubbly; rich and toasty with lots of creamy vanilla and soft pear.

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September 8, 2008

Wine 101 - Bb is for Beaujolais

chaizebojo.jpgDON'T stop reading because I mentioned the dreaded B word. PLEASE. Just give me a few minutes and you might be pleasantly surprised. I know, I know what you're thinking... Of all the great wine 'Bs' out there, why would I choose Beaujolais? And I shall tell you. There are, in fact, a plethora of fascinating grapes and regions that begin with the letter B -- all the Bs from the Boot: Barolo, Barbera, Brunello, Barbaresco would surely make an interesting and tasty post. So true, my friends, but alas only a handful (mostly Barbera) are suited to the "cheap" part of our cheap and fun profile. The rest are left for special occasions and Swanky Wine Fridays.

So here we are.

And here are the Top 5 Things You Might Not Know About Beaujolais:

1. Beaujolais is from Burgundy! However, this southern area of Burgundy and its light and fruity wines bear little resemblance to its more refined brethren of the north.

2. Beaujolais is made from Gamay grapes which have black skins and white juice. They tend to be much less tannic and fairly fruit forward.

35561-1.jpg3. There are 3 categories of Beaujolais (not including Nouveau): Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Beaujolais Cru. Chances are, if you hate Beaujolais, you've probably only tasted Beaujolais or maybe a Beaujolais Villages. Most of those are, as you experienced, overly fruity and devoid of character or finish. That is because they are--for the most part--made by negociants. The grapes are sourced from the lesser vineyards and blended then bottled. The resulting wine is a mish-mosh of mediocrity. The Beaujolais Crus, on the other hand are from 10 specific villages. These wines are produced more traditionally as estate bottled wines and found much less frequently than its cheaper brothers, but possess much more character and interest.

4. Beaujolais should be served slightly chilled (but not cold!). About 15 minutes in the fridge does the trick. Think of it as a darker rose. Its quaffabilty and lack of tannins makes it just about the most food friendly wine on earth. But drink it within two years. Gamay, with its lack of tannic structure does not make wines that age well.

5. Beaujolais Nouveau is NOT the same thing. The Nouveau is a special Beaujolais that is released every year on the Thursday before Thanksgiving (the second Thursday of the month, I think). It is intended as a celebration of the harvest and as such it is very young--usually only 7-9 weeks old. I often celebrate its release--who doesn't enjoy a good excuse to throw a wine party? But I almost never drink it. I'll buy a bottle for my guests to try a tiny taste and raise a toast, but the rest of the night we celebrate with mostly the Crus.

If you want to continue this lesson, here are a few crus to peruse. Every one is a winner and completely expressive of what Beaujolais should be. Look for them locally but if all else fails, you can find them on

Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais 2007 $10.98

Chat De La Chaize Brouilly $10.98

Domaine Chanrion Cote De Brouilly 2006 $16.98

Clos De La Roilette Fleurie 2006 $15.98

And your homework is to read Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer's Tour of France by Kermit Lynch, wine merchant extraordinaire and my beaujolais hero.
There will be a test on Monday.

Noël Wallace Permalink social bookmarking

September 3, 2008

Wine 101 - Aa is for Albariño

Albariño is the primary grape used to make dry white wine in the Rias Baixes area of the Galicia region of Northwestern Spain. Considered by many to be Spain's premier quality white wine, Albariño is also known in Portugal as Alvarinho and often used as a component of Vinho Verde.

condesdealbarei.jpgWeather conditions in the Rias Baixes are generally cool, windy and rainy. Vines must be trained high and open to allow winds to dry them out and avoid the ongoing threat of rot, mildew and other fungal diseases. Notably, Albariño grapes develop thick skins here, contributing to their intense aromas.

Typically, wines made from Albariño are very aromatic, often described as having scents of almonds or almond paste, apples, peaches, citrus, and flowers or grass. Albariño wines are particularly suited to seafood due to their bracing acidity This grape's inherent tartness should be embraced in youth, for wines made from Albariño do not age well, and the vibrant aromas begin to noticeably fade within months of bottling. (from Professional Friends of Wine)

As with all varietals you can find Albariños that range from thin and watery to ripe and lush. I would advise selecting one that has been recommended to you to avoid encountering the former. Also, be sure that the vintage is within a year or so, as these wines are meant to be enjoyed young. One of my favorites is from Adega Condes de Albarei. From the first whiff of citrus blossom, pineapple and melon I am completely enamored. Though it does maintain the vibrant and crisp characteristics true to the varietal, I find this Albariño to shape-shift on my palate with bursting flavors of ripe white peach, juicy grapefruit, tropical fruit-- all tempered with a clean subtly mineral finish. It is pretty tough for me to locate so I often look for substitutes. But I have yet to find another that is as interesting in the $12-$15 price range.

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September 2, 2008

Back to Wine School - Wine 101

Well, summer is officially over and for many, that means time to head back to school. We here at CFU believe that learning is a lifelong pursuit - particularly when it pertains to wine. After all, the more you drink, the more you know.

So we will be spending the month of September exploring some wine basics - everything from varietals, to regions, to wine making techniques and just about everything in between. And for those of you who are already quite wine-savvy, we'll still be providing lots of new wine reviews and recommendations. So get out your pencils and paper and feel free to ask questions or suggest topics.

oxfordwinecompanion.jpgI know most folks prefer to use online reference materials these days, but if you are like me and still like to peruse a good paper and ink volume now and then, I have to recommend Jancis Robinson's The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition It is incredibly, thorough and thoroughly enjoyable to read. A great addition to any wine reference library or coffee table.

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September 1, 2008

August Monthly Roundup

General News

Red Wine

Swanky Wine Fridays

White Wine

Wine Accessories

Wine Tasting Notes

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