Through the Grapevine

Wine and Serving Temperature

February 20, 2013

Wine is a game of pleasure, taste, smell, texture – an experience in each bottle. If by serving wine at the correct temperature we can measurably increase the quality of that experience, then why is it so prevalent in America today that we are consuming wines that are warm and flabby or cold beyond recognition? Wine served at the wrong temperature, even a few degrees warmer then optimal, makes a huge difference in the quality of the taste. To further illuminate the point, when professionals analyze the quality of white wines it is quite accepted to taste them warmer then at optimal temperature as a method to expose flaws as colder will tend to hide them.

Having spent over twenty years in the hospitality business, I am not at all beyond laying a challenge at the feet of that industry to demonstrate more leadership in offering best practices for the proper service of wine, including serving wine at proper temperatures. In America today, most of our finer restaurants do very little when it comes to serving wines at proper serving temperatures.I predict, as the American consumer becomes more wine savvy, restaurants will ultimately become more conscientious about the temperatures at which they serve wine.

The idea that wine should be served at room temperature comes from medieval Europe. During that period of European history when winemaking knowledge grew and people began passing around texts of their knowledge, a chateau or estate’s “room temperature” was most likely in the range of 50-60 degrees. (Remember this is centuries before furnaces, heat pumps or air conditioning.) No wonder wines served in a castle tasted so good! Like most Americans, I do not live nor regularly wine and dine in castles. Therefore, drinking wine warmed to the cozy temperature of my living room or yours is not the optimum wine consumption temperature! 

I, like every consumer in the marketplace, expect to drink good wine and want to experience the very best of every bottle I purchase. Here are three things that you can do today to increase your enjoyment of wine:

·         Buy a temperature-controlled storage unit for your home. 

·         Use a simple practice of taking white wine out of the fridge 15 minutes before serving and placing red wine into the fridge 20 minutes before serving. 

·         When you go out to eat, ask the manager or service staff the serving temperature of the wines you would like to order. If they can answer the question with confidence, give them support and explore their wine offerings with the same confidence. If they give you a deer-in-the-headlights look, do not buy their more expensive offerings on the wine list. Chances are they are not being stored properly.


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The Decanting of Wine

February 12, 2013

Have you ever ordered a bottle of wine in a restaurant and noted that the last glass tasted much better than the first? Or found that the wine was really starting to come together just when the dessert was being presented and your server was trying to steal away your glass? Have you ever opened a bottle of red wine at home and found it drinking much better the next day, improving overnight like yesterday’s pizza? 

Decanting wine is an effortless task that delivers measureable extra pleasure by opening up the taste of the wine and softening aggressive tannins in younger wines. So why are so few people in this country bothering to do it? Could it be partly because the practice of decanting wine is rarely offered or available at restaurants and wine bars? As the American wine consumer becomes savvier about their enjoyment of wine, I predict that this lack of decanting service in commercial establishments will change. While this article probably won’t herald the revolution, I encourage you to add the simple exercise of decanting to your home wine-drinking routine to elevate the quality of the wines you are already consuming without adding any new cost.

Big reds and even those rare aged white wines would be good candidates for decanting.  Many wine writers, such as author Karen MacNeil in the book The Wine Bible, advocate decanting for the purposes of aeration, especially with very tannic wines like Barolo, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, Port, and Rhône wines while noting that decanting could be harmful for more delicate wines like Chianti and Pinot Noir.

(Photo by: Zonin Store USA)

If you’ve participated in a serious wine tasting, then you’ve experienced decanting properly executed. For any wine professional whose career depends on buying and selling, the decanting of wines is a rule not to be broken because any one transaction after a tasting could cost thousands of dollars and more. The wine enthusiast at home will not need to work that hard. No longer is it important to light a candle so that you can see and capture every speck of sediment while pouring, have the perfect white linen backdrop, or crank a bottle slowly to prevent – heaven forbid – residue from falling into the glass.

A simple funnel and decanter are all that's required.

Simply pace your pour properly to avoid spilling over the side of the funnel. You will find all shapes of glass being used as decanters, but any decanter with a wide base that exposes more wine surface to oxygen will do. I found one of my favorite decanters on the clearance shelf of a big box store for two dollars. If you have leftover wine that you wish to keep for another time, refill the original bottle from the decanter and vacuum the bottle to suck out the extra air, or try blending leftovers to fill the bottle to the top and experience blending yourself in the process.

The goal while drinking wine is to expose the wine to oxygen. The goal while the wine is stored is to eliminate oxygen. Think about what happens when the insides of an apple are exposed to oxygen for too long and then imagine that happening to your lovely wine in the bottle.


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Willamette Valley Parts 3 and 4

January 21, 2013

Today, I conclude my four part series from the highly acclaimed Willamette Valley of Oregon by sharing my experience from my third and fourth visits with world class American wine producers. 

My third stop on this research trip was to visit Ted Casteel of Bethel Heights Vineyard Winery.  While he would tell you he and his twin brother Terry are from the 2nd generation of pioneer Pinot Noir producers, he is doing so out of a regional and polite deference to those that preceded him by only a few years.  In my view, the Casteel Brothers are part of the impressive 1st generation of distinguished Pinot Noir producers, nuances notwithstanding. 

Bethel Heights sits in the Eola Hills of the Willamette Valley, and is mostly planted in Pinot Noir vineyards dating back to 1977.  At that time, US wine consumers were very few in comparison to today, and the Pinot Noir consumers were an even smaller market who mostly enjoyed French Burgundy.  Please note that Bethel Heights was planted a full 27 years before a bellwether event.  Mainstream American wine consumers began jumping aboard the Pinot Noir bandwagon following the surprising effect of the now considered cult film “Sideways”.  (Data shows incidentally, that this film’s impact ended up moving the Pinot Noir markets globally; since impacting the huge global US consumer market has that kind of net global impact.)

Michael Etzel (Photo by: Beauux Freres Winery) Michael Etzel

Ted and his family-run business have an authentic commitment to responsible and sustainable wine growing.  He co-founded “LIVE" a certification standard (Low Impact in Viticulture and Enology), and these estate wines also carry the "OCSW" logo (Oregon Certified Sustainable Wine). 

My focus is to identify the best in class vineyards in the USA, and to duly recognize the producers making authentic wines from them.  (This is the mission of The American Grand Cru Society).  The benchmark for American Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is, of course, Burgundy.  The Eola Hills in the Willamette Valley of Oregon offer prime vineyard areas for these noble varietals, and considering the cost of top tier French Burgundy…well you already know what I think.  Yes, World Class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay has its own rich heritage of authenticity in the Eola Hills of Oregon!
My 4th and final visit was to Beaux Frere Vineyard up on the Ribbon Ridge of the Willamette Valley.   This visit honestly was a last minute, half-day extension of an altogether too short trip to the region.  Beaux Frères was on my radar and even on my initial short list of targets, but one that I was originally planning to forego.  Funny, but this was the case, even though the wine it produces was in fact one of my personal introductions to American world class Pinot Noir.  My hesitation, to be candid, stemmed from an honest feeling that I will share, but that in the end was really unwarranted. 

The reason for my hesitation was that Beaux Frères is already quite well-known in the trade and with most serious American Pinot Noir consumers.  It’s funny how we can get stuck with ideas at times, that aren’t always well-reasoned.  Since this estate makes such a limited amount of production each year, I am not so sure if most wine consumers have really ever had the pleasure to know about or try these truly great wines.  So, in the end, I decided to include them in my research. 

(Photo by: Beaux Freres Winery)

The term, “Beaux Frères” comes from the French term for brother-in-law.  Michael Etzel is the wine maker and managing partner at Beaux Frères.  To further explain my hesitation, I should disclose my initial bias is due to the fact that Michael is also the brother-in- law of Robert Parker - arguably the world’s single most famous and influential wine critic with his ratings and publication Wine Advocate.  In addition, Parker is reportedly a business partner at Beaux Frères, and thus, the root of my bias.  After this visit my conclusion was that the association really has no bearing on the amazing American Pinot Noir wines that Michael Etzel produces other than, perhaps, a bit more niche consumer awareness.  The wines produced here at Beaux Frères are wonderfully representative of this impression vineyard estate and ones that should provide the US consumer with a collective national pride. 

As American wine consumers, we should be both proud of our winemaking accomplishments, and appreciative of the cost value relationship in purchasing our best in class wines particularly as compared to benchmark wines from Burgundy. 

(Photo by: David Reamer)

Now on to some highly recommended wines from Bethel Heights and Beaux Frères!

Bethel Heights:

2009 Carter Vineyard Pinot Noir $50

2009 Justice Vineyard Pinot Noir $50

2009 Flat Block Vineyard Pinot Noir $58

2011 Estate Grown Chardonnay $25

Order online at www.bethelheights.com –or call (503) 581-2262

Beaux Freres:

2009 Beaux Frere Vineyard Pinot Noir $90

2009 Beaux Frères, Upper Terrace Pinot Noir (Magnums) $200

Order Online at Beaux Freres  or call 503.537.1137

 

To your good health and happiness!


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