Wednesday, February 27, 2013

To Aerate or Not to Aerate?

Yes, I went there with the clichéd reference to Hamlet’s famous soliloquy written by William Shakespeare.  I have two great reasons though:  1—remember, I am an English teacher by day, and I just finished teaching this play; and 2—I really have been asked this question a lot lately!  My answer is not a question of life and death (like Shakespeare’s famous speech), but it can be an important answer to the life of a wine.   

1.       What is aeration?  Aeration is literally the process of circulating air through or mixing air with another substance.   In this case, the substance is wine.  The market today is flooded with aerators in almost any size, shape, or price.  What these cool-looking gadgets do is let the wine run through or over an object to inject more oxygen. 

2.       Not all wines need aeration.  Most white wines would not benefit from aerating.  The point of aerating a wine is to increase the contact between oxygen and wine.  For many wines, this increased oxygen is a good thing.  Air in the wine helps to bring out the aromas and flavors of a wine.  Oxygen can also soften the taste of the tannins. Red wines gain more from this process.  Many white wines that are very light bodied and delicate anyway would actually lose smell and flavor if aerated. 

3.      Only some red wines need aeration.  It is generally a personal preference if you would like to aerate a red wine.  Red wines that are very young and tannic can be softened to pair better with foods if they have been aerated.  Also, if any wine drinkers enjoy softer wines with fewer bold tannins, aerating can help make the wine more drinkable to this type of palette. 

4.      There are some wines to never aerate.  Wines that have been cellared for an extended period of time should not be aerated.  Aged wines become more delicate, and if a very old wine is aerated, the smells and flavors might actually be lost completely.  Depending on the wine, I wouldn’t aerate anything over 10-15 years aged in the bottle.  Think how disappointing it would be to open up a beautiful bottle of perfectly aged wine to spoil it by using an aerator.  (Now keep in mind, this would be different from just decanting and letting the wine sit to open up.) 

5.      Do what you like.  Ultimately, it comes down to what every individual likes to drink.  I often go through periods when I will aerate wines very often, just so I can use my fun wine toys.  I also like to drink a wine one night without aeration and then the next night with aeration, taking notes on both tastings to see which I preferred.  I also like to show friends and wine students the difference aeration makes, so I will often pour them an ounce with no use of an aerator and then an ounce with the use of an aerator.  It is fun to witness wine novices experience the difference that can be made in some wines when more oxygen is present. 

6.      What aerator to use?  This is probably the trickiest question of all!  As mentioned, aeration of wine is big business right now.  There are small gadgets for just one glass or large contraptions to aerate an entire bottle.  There are even wine glasses that do the aeration themselves!  I don’t have a particular preference, but again, it depends on the circumstance. 

This large aerator is very beautiful and makes a statement.  I like to use it at parties or get-togethers where there is a large group and beautifully aerating an entire bottle of wine for all to see is a must. 

The decanter and funnel is another beautiful, yet traditional, way to aerate an entire bottle at once.  The decanters available today are even more magnificent than the aerator selection.  One can also spend a little or a LOT (see some of Riedel’s new decanter designs).


This individual glass style of pourer is also a great way to let people aerate their own glass as they pour.
This one-glass-at-a-time aerator is a fun invention and is interesting to have set out so individuals can decant their own as they pour a glass. It is the one I keep on the edge of my wine room shelf to easily grab if I think I want aeration for that night’s wine.

The aerator that goes inside the wine bottle is very popular right now due to its reasonable price and its ease of use.  I liked and used mine often, until I used it at a class and gave it away to someone who complimented it.  I have wanted to replace it, but I just haven’t.  Mainly because I have so many other styles I can use to aerate!


So whether you aerate wines as often as Shakespeare killed off a main character in his tragedies, or whether you look at aeration with distrust like an “adder fanged,”  it can be useful to many wine drinkers.  Aeration is popular to the masses right now; let’s see if it stands the test of time like a great Shakespeare play. 


What do you think of aeration?  Do you have a favorite that you use? 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

From Coast to Coast—Style and Wine

“Fad—noun—a temporary fashion, notion, or manner of conduct, etc., especially one followed enthusiastically by a group.”  I dare say I don’t generally follow wine fads; yet, I do have my own fads of wine that I seem to follow…usually against the crowd instead of with it. Yes, I fell in love with Pinot Noir, but it was not because of the 2004 movie Sideways, even though that was the time period when my love affair started.  Pinot Noir was my style of wine for quite a period of time (and I still love--and crave--a good Pinot Noir).  Then I moved to a different fad:  Cabernet Sauvignon.  Then my next wine craze was to taste anything different I could get my hands on, and the more unique the better.  Because of this trend, I learned that I also loved Malbecs, Tempranillos, and, most recently, Merlots.  Just as the aforementioned movie Sideways didn’t make me drink Pinot Noirs, it did not make me steer clear of Merlots; however, the rest of the country and world can’t necessarily say the same.  It was reported that from October 2004 until January 2005, Pinot Noir sales in the U.S. jumped 16%; in California alone sales jumped 34%.  At this same time, Merlot sales dropped 2%.  This trend was similar in other wine consuming countries like the United Kingdom, as well.  Merlot has seemed to bounce back from its slight drop in consumer sales; it has also stayed in my favor as a wine I like to sip when I can find quality samples.  This is what caused me to open my fridge yesterday and realize I had three Merlots at one time:  two already opened and one just received from a wine club shipment.  I knew what I must do with these wines:  have a coast-to-coast faceoff tasting of Merlot.

Wine one—Dr. Konstanstin Frank 2010 Merlot (Finger Lakes Region, New York)

            Sight:  a lighter bodied, slightly translucent garnet color—very pretty.  Smell:  the ten months oak aging was evident from the smoke and cedar aromas; there was also ripe fruit.  Sip:  chocolate covered cherries with the cedar taste; smooth with a nice balance between the acids and the tannins.  An overall great example of a cooler climate Merlot.

Wine two—Balistreri Vineyards 2011 Little Feet Merlot (Colorado)

            Sight:  slightly heavier bodied, with an opaque, inky maroon color.  This wine undergoes no fining or filtering, and it shows in the deep color.  Smell:  the smell is like sticking my nose in a juniper wreath.  Very much an evergreen forest!  Sip:  the evergreen, juniper forest continues in the taste.  The overpowering green is all I get on the first attack.  There is a bit of a hot taste of alcohol, though the wine is not overly high in alcohol.  It has a very pleasant, mixed berry finish.  I love the premise of the creation of this wine.  Children at the Colorado Festival Italiano stomp the Colorado-sourced Merlot grapes that are fermented for this wine.

Wine three—Columbia Crest 2008 Horse Heaven Hills (H3) Merlot (Washington)

            Sight:  medium-bodied, opaque garnet color.  Smell:  sweet floral, almost perfume like fragrance, hint of vanilla.  Sip:  oak, earth, leather, and green pepper with slight fruit.  Smells fruitier than it tastes.  A well balanced, fairly traditional Merlot.  With a price under $15.00, depending on where it is purchased, a great value!

The “Winner” of the Latest Wine Trend:  Coast-to-Coast Merlot Tasting

            My favorite wine was the Dr. Konstantin Frank.  I loved the aromas and the flavors.  It is a wonderful sipping wine.  My two-ounce pour just was not enough; I wanted more!  I tried not to be biased by the fact that I recently visited the Finger Lakes and Dr. Frank’s winery, and loved both.  Having said that, the 2008 Horse Heaven Hills was a wonderful Merlot, and if I thought about price, this would definitely be the better wine for the money, as it is sold for under $15.00 and the Dr. Frank retails for closer to $20.00.  Ranking the Little Feet Merlot as my third choice does not mean this is a bad wine—quite the contrary.  When drinking it in direct comparison with the other two wines, it was a little too green for me and seemed less balanced.  However, I will say that when I visited Balistreri Vineyards this fall, the Little Feet was my favorite wine of the 20 wines I tasted from the winery.  It is a less traditional style Merlot than the other two, but still worth buying a bottle to enjoy…especially if you knew some of the “little feet” used to produce the wine!

            Yes, styles, fads, and fashions come and go, in clothing and in wine.  Though movies like Sideways may create trends in wine, I hope you will all keep tasting to create your own wine fads!  And when you do find wines you like, taste them, test them, and compare them; it is a great way to expand the palette and decide what styles you like…from east to west, you will find what you like best. (Wow, I just sounded a bit like Dr. Suess J…after he had a glass of Merlot!)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

By the Book

           The smell.  The feel.  The weight in one’s hands.  The sound as a page is turned.  The hardbound cover.  The dog-eared page where one last stopped reading.  From the title on the front cover to the plot synopsis on the back cover, I love all parts of books.  Books of any kind: fiction, non-fiction, mystery, thriller.  (Okay, so I’m not a huge romance fan, but other than that…).  I love books, and I love to read!  In the summer, especially, I am rarely found without a book close by.  I am such a veracious reader, that one year I made a personal goal to read 50 books in a year.  And I did it.  Beat that goal, actually, by reading 52 books in a twelve month period.  Because of this love of reading, it should come as no surprise that I have attempted to start my own small wine, reading library. 

            The first books I added were nothing but fun mystery novels by Michele Scott, set in California wine country, featuring tasty recipes with possible wine pairings throughout the plot of the book.  I read the first three in quick succession several years ago—Murder Uncorked, Murder by the Glass, and Silenced by Syrah.  Now Scott has seven total books in this Wine Lovers Mystery Series that wine, mystery, and recreational reading lovers will adore! 

            The next book I added to my collection reflected my growing love for wine and special occasions marked by wine:  Wine for Every Day and Every Occasion by husband and wife team Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher.  In this book, these two writers for the Wall Street Journal focus on special wines, but also wines made special because of the occasion when these wines are consumed.  I truly enjoyed this book because I mirror the authors’ thoughts that wine can make any event an extraordinary time, and many wines are made more extraordinary because of the special occasion.  The short chapters are pleasant to follow and leave a wonderful “finish” in the mouths and minds of readers.

            As my interest in wine became more serious, so did the wine books I chose.  After hearing so much about the history of California’s wine country in the 1970s due to the Judgment of Paris, I thought I needed more information on this subject.  Of course, the movie Bottle Shock imparted a partially fictional view of the judgment (I could do another blog about great wine movies); however, reading the book Judgment of Paris:  California vs. France and the Historic 1976 Paris Tasting That Revolutionized Wine by George Taber, who not only attended the tasting but researched the back stories of the wines and winemakers of the quintessential moment in American wine history, is a very important book to understand the U.S. wine industry.  The book is well written and informative.  Though not a narrative text, readers can follow the story as if it were.

            The next book important for wine lovers to read is The Billionaire’s Vinegar by Benjamin Wallace.  This real-life mystery has so many plotlines and characters that tell the complex story of the most expensive bottle of wine ever purchased and whether or not this wine was even worth a cent!  I enjoyed the very-early American wine history and the information about the French wines that Americans (especially Thomas Jefferson) loved.  I also really did enjoy the mystery plot about counterfeiting wines.  The many characters involved in the plot and the different time periods covered do make this book difficult to follow at times.  However, it is a story worth understanding.  I also look forward to a movie that may someday be made from this book, if the complicated legal battles can ever be settled. 

            Though California, Washington, and Oregon are still the heavy hitters in the American wine market, knowing about up-and-coming wine regions is also incredibly important.  New York State, particularly the Finger Lakes area, is an exciting part of the U.S. wine market today and has been an important part of U.S. wine history in the past.  Summer in a Glass by New York journalist Evan Dawson tells the past, present, and future of Finger Lakes wines in such a way that readers want to keep reading…and keep sipping New York wines!  True, I bought the book while I was vacationing in the Finger Lakes area, so getting to visit some of the wineries written about by Dawson was a treat.  However, the book is truly so well written that the stories of important and quality wineries leap off the page and into the hearts of readers.  (At least that is what happened for me!)

            I love the smell, the feel, the weight…not only of a good book, but also of an excellent glass of wine!  You will still often find me with a book in my hand.  Today, it is most likely to be a book about wine in one hand and a glass of wine in the other!  So cheers to reading.  Cheers to reading books about wine.  And cheers to toasting a great glass of wine while reading.  Both bring joy to hearts and minds!

Other wine books I recommend:

Wine and War by Donald Kladstrup and Petie Kladstrup
The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil
A Vineyard in My Glass by Gerald Asher

Other wine books on my “to-read” list:

A Vineyard in Napa by Dough Shafer, Andy Demsky, and Danny Meyer
The House of Mondavi by Julia Flynn Siler
Rock and Vine by Chelsea Prince

What books do you recommend for me? 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Wyoming and Wine—We’re a Frugal Bunch

Catherine Pulsifer once said:  “Being frugal does not mean being cheap!  It means being economical and avoiding waste.”  This saying applies whole-heartedly to the recently released Wyoming Liquor Division list of top wines sold in the state last year. 

Focusing on wines sold in 2012, twenty-two of the top fifty-one were box or jug wines.  Franzia was number one with its Chillable Red, with over 5,000 cases sold!  Franzia had seven of the top fifty-one wines sold in Wyoming in 2012.  Peter Vella, another boxed wine, had four of the fifty-one.  Carlo Rossi jug wine and other box wine producers Black Box and Bota Box were also represented with two each.  The state Liquor Division lists Hornsby’s Crisp Apple Cider as the second best selling wine in the state…even though hard ciders aren’t wine at all, but would belong more in the beer family.  A second hard apple cider by Angry Orchard ranked twenty-ninth in sales. 

Now, if you are reading this list of best selling, cheap, low-quality wines as proof that Wyoming has incredibly poor taste in vino (like I did at first, before I tucked away my inner wine snob), I decided to quit looking at the glass as half empty and look at the glass as half full…and maybe the bottle as half full, too!  My first silver lining to the wine sales stats was the placement of the Folie a Deux Manage a Trois Red as the number six wine.  This reasonably priced wine with its oh-so-racy name is a blend of Zinfandel, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes; it’s a dry, tannic red wine, and it impressed me that Wyoming drinkers are drinking this more “serious” wine.  The next pleasant surprise was Apothic Winemaker’s red blend.  This does not have a risqué name, but does have a super-cool red and black label and super-serious grapes:  Merlot and Syrah.  Apothic is a bold, tannic red and was the number nine seller in the state!  Yes, there was the dotting of many different producers of white Zinfandel on the inventory; however, Wild Vines Blackberry Merlot was number twenty-three.  (This was a huge victory in my eyes, as this is the “wine” that the largest number of non-wine drinkers request from me at fundraising and open house events.  I always direct them to a Moscato d’ Asti or another sweet wine.)  I was also heartened to see three Pinot Grigios, five Chardonnays, four Merlots, and two Cabernet Sauvignons in the top fifty-one wines sold.  Though these wines were all from less expensive producers like Woodbridge, Cupcake, Fish Eye, and Barefoot, it shows that Wyoming palettes may be beginning to like some dryer and more acidic wines, not just the box wines.  The fact that only two Moscatos and one Riesling made the list also shows that once Wyomingites get past the box and jug wine craze, they seem to be moving past these two, what I consider to be, gateway wines—wines consumed by novice wine drinkers that allow those wine drinkers to move on to other wines. (Riesling was my gateway varietal into the wine world more than a decade ago!)

All of this data taken together makes me have great hope in Wyoming’s wine drinkers.  Yes, they still buy more box and jug wine than anything else, but this seems to be more frugality than just poor taste in wine. When buying wines that rarely cost more than fifteen dollars, they are being economical and avoiding waste while drinking dryer reds and acidic whites made by the well-known producers of quality but less expensive wine…not necessarily just cheap!  I hope Wyoming winos (dare I spell wineaux) will continue to try the new producers of reasonably priced wines, all while being the sensible spenders they have proven to be!  Expand those palettes, Wyoming winos!