Master of Wine Ron Washam has funny post where he focus on the challenges of ordering wine in restaurants. What makes it even funnier is it’s actually true.
Some memorable quotes:
“Order the second cheapest wine. It won’t be as good as the cheapest, but at least it will get the sommelier to leave you alone”
“What about wine by-the-glass? Are you kidding me? Why not just order steak by-the-bite?”
Enjoy the reading! :)
On our second installment of “Host in Style” we are going to talk about hardware, specifically one of the most important items when it comes to drinking wine - the glass. You’ve probably seen wine glasses of all shapes and sizes, with and without stem, thick and thin, you name it.
Still, when it comes to wine glasses, I always remember the movie Sideways when Miles is drinking the super expensive and special 1961 Cheval Blanc at a fast food restaurant out of a plastic cup following Maya’s suggestion that just opening it makes it a special occasion.
You can enjoy wine out of any glass, including a fast food plastic cup. However, proper wine glasses like these ones offer some advantages:
- Style - We are talking about hosting in style, and wine glasses are pretty. So if anything else, do it for the style.
- Aroma - The tulip shape of wine glasses helps concentrate the aromas on the top, making it easier to smell them. The size makes it easier to swirl, and swirling brings more aromas to your nose.
- Temperature - The stem (assuming you’re holding the glass by the stem) helps keep the wine temperature on the glass, which is more important for white wine. Not pouring too much also helps ;)
Now some recommendations when it comes to wine glasses:
- Don’t go broke - If your dinner parties are anything like mine, you’ll usually be 1 or 2 glasses down after. Accidents happen, and with wine glasses even more. You can buy perfectly good wine glasses for not so much. Ikea sells them for less than $5 apiece, and other stores offer plenty of affordable options.
- Don’t pour too much! Honestly, I keep fighting this at restaurants. Servers pour a lot because they think they can sell more. I don’t think that’s the case. When you pour too much the wine gets warm, which makes me drink less, not more. Don’t do that at home. Plus, you don’t want people spilling wine when they try to swirl it.
- Don’t worry about the shape. Experts will kill me for telling you this, but likely you’re not an expert. Therefore the actual shape of the wine glass is not so relevant. As long as it’s tulip shape (like these) you’ll be fine. By the way, champagne glasses are skinnier to improve the bubble activity in the glass but if you don’t have them, use regular wine glasses.
That’s it. Enjoy!
Today we’ll start a series of posts to help you host dinner parties in style, particularly when it comes to wine. We chose decanting for our first topic because it’s cool, easy, and flashy. It’s a great way to make an impact on your guests, and in the process to look way more knowledgeable about wine ;)
First off, what is decanting? Simply speaking, it is the process of pouring the content of a bottle into a bigger recipient (usually glass), called decanter. Decanters don’t have to be expensive, although some of the most gorgeous ones are. You can easily buy a beautiful decanter at Amazon for around $30.
Why? We decant wine for 1 of 3 reasons (recycling some material from our Q&A sessions):
- Sediment. If a wine has been aging for several years, hopefully laying horizontally to keep the cork moist, most likely it’ll build up sediment. Deposit is bitter and unpleasant so you want to get rid of it. If the wine is old (20+ years old), decant it right before serving to not spoil the wine (old wines don’t like too much air)
- Release flavor. Unlike old wines, young wines like oxygen. Oxygen accelerates development, enabling flavors that otherwise would be hard to detect, and releasing all the wine’s awesomeness. Decanting a young wine is as easy as pouring a whole bottle into a decanter. Young wine can (and should) be decanted several hours before serving.
- Coolness. Let’s be honest, decanters are gorgeous, and the whole ritual of bringing the decanter to the table, and the bottle and cork next to it, and explaining why you did it, that’s cool!
How? For young wines, simple pour the bottle into a decanter. Some people even say you should give the wine as shock treatment, turning the bottle upside down and pour it as fast as possible. For older wines (with sediment), you want to pour it slowly, as horizontally as possible (tilting both bottle and decanter), and with lots of light so you can see the sediment coming and stop before pouring it.
I thinks this short video makes it pretty clear:
If you’re attending a Super Bowl party and you’re not a beer drinker, you are a minority. But you shouldn’t settle for Bud Light. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen and we know the recipe for success: cheap delicious wine that is refreshing, light and easy to drink. Oh! And in case your team wins, we also added a champagne so you can celebrate in style. Enjoy!
2008 The Winery of Good Hope Chenin Blanc Stellenbosch ($3.95) - It’s the second time we’re running this deal here but it’s so good you can’t pass on it. This South African Chenin Blanc is on the down curve but it’s a great light refreshing white that you can keep on drinking (for 3 hours or more). For less than $4!! Sold at The Wine House (Potrero, SF).
2008 Grange de Rouquette Syrah/Grenache Vin de Pays d’Oc ($4.99) - This French red blend is fruity and juicy, very bright and not tiring. Ideal for a long party. Sold at K&L (SOMA, SF).
If you’ve ever been there, you know what it feels like. It’s the morning after a special event (or maybe not so special), and even after 12 hours of sleep you can’t get rid of a terrible headache. You can swear it never happened before so you need to find a scapegoat. For sure, the problem was all the vino you had the day before. You’re so positive you can even feel it in your mouth. It was white, which only makes things worse. Right? Wrong!
Let’s talk a little about wine, headaches, and hangover mythology.
#1 - Does too much wine cause headaches? Yes! Just like too much vodka, too much beer, or too many mimosas (yes, mimosas cause headaches). It contains alcohol and alcohol “has a dehydrating effect by causing increased urine production (diuresis), which causes headaches, dry mouth, and lethargy”. That’s from Wikipedia so it must be right.
#2 - Does wine cause worse headaches than other types of liquor? Not really. You might have heard people complaining that wine contains something that causes headaches, even if you just have 1 or 2 glasses. People are usually talking about sulfites, which are used in wine (and more so in white wine than red wine). However, the amount of sulfites used in wine is too low to have any meaningful effect.
#3 - Does bad wine cause worse headaches? Probably. We go back to sulfites. Modern winemaking techniques reduce the amount of sulfites needed. Bad wine (the very cheap type of bad wine) typically contains too much sulfites (although there is a legal limit), which does cause bad headaches, even if you only drink a couple of glasses. Again, once you go over a certain limit sulfites are really a non-factor (see #1 and the alcohol effect).
So next time you wake up with a headache, don’t blame the wine itself. Oh! And if you think sulfites are a problem, most dried fruits contain 6x to 10x more sulfites than wine.
Have you ever wondered why servers at restaurants pour a tasting before they pour to the rest of the table? They do it to give the host (or whoever ordered the wine) an opportunity to taste the wine and check if it’s good or not.
And have you ever wondered why people return a bottle of wine? You usually do it for 2 reasons:
- The server recommended a wine and you don’t like it (that’s easy)
- The wine is faulty (not so easy)
So how do you know the wine is faulty? It’s tricky but I think there are 2 things you should look for:
- Cork. By far the most common fault, it’s usually caused by a faulty cork (therefore the name). A corked wine smells like cardboard (seriously!). Get a piece of cardboard and smell it. If a wine smells like that, return it.
- Oxidized. You probably know what vinegar and nail varnish smells like. If a wine smells like any of those two items, return it.
If a wine is faulty, by all means return it and don’t let the server convince you otherwise. There are many other wine faults but I find these two to be the most prevalent. In any case, if a wine just doesn’t taste “right” you should complain. For the most part I find servers helpful and they will tell you if it’s a wine feature or a fault.
I hope this is helpful. Cheers!
Image: Creative Commons, chrisgriffith
We’ve all been there. Family special occasion, you have a bottle of Champagne (excuse me, Sparking Wine) in hand, and the room is looking at you expecting for the moment when the cork is going to pop. And you’re terrified because you know that thing is going to come out like a rocket, hit your uncle in the eye, and then a wave of bubbly wine will flood the house like a torrent. Wake up from your nightmare! We are here to save you. Here is the ultimate guide to opening and serving Sparkling Wine.
The first thing you want is to have all tools in place. Supper chilled bottle? Check. Actually, that’s the only thing you need and that’s the beauty of this type of wine. No cork screw, just a bottle and your hands. Optional, a bucket with ice and a white linen cloth to clean the bottle neck after you open (or to minimize floor damage in case of an accident).
Here’s the classic method. Get rid of the foil (that should be easy) and then remove the wire, holding the bottle neck. For the cork, you don’t want to make a big splash; the goal is to pop without hardly hearing any noise. Hold the bottom of the bottle with one hand in a 45-degree angle (the angle is important), and the cork with the other, then rotate the bottle (yes, the bottle, not the cork) very gently. You are going to feel the cork coming out and you want to hold it firmly, almost pressing it against the bottle, so it doesn’t pop freely. You’ll hear a light “pfff”. Mission accomplished. If you do exactly what I tell, after this process you should have the cork in your hand and see no single drop coming out of the bottle. However, just in case, I would point the bottle away from people, glass, and light features. Wipe the bottle neck with the linen cloth (if you have it) and you can now hold the bottle upright. To serve, first pour just a little and let the froth settle, then pour the rest (until 2/3 of the glass). Done!
That was the class method. If you want to be the showman, there are a couple other options you might consider, neither of them are floor-friendly. My favorite is sabering champagne. It looks as awesome as it sounds and if you have 4 minutes, watch this video. It includes the words “do not attempt this yourself” and “injury” so I would take it seriously. If you do attempt this yourself, I would also recommend practice before you do it in public. It’s not as easy as it looks.
The second showman option is what I call the race car driver method. In this method, shake the bottle like you’re making a Cosmopolitan cocktail. Turn the bottle away from people, glass, light features, frames and anything that’s not bare wall. Get rid of the foil and the wire. If you have time, give the cork a little push. Most likely, by the time you’re removing the wire the cork is already popping out. Watch 2/3 of the wine coming out of the bottle lively straight to your floor. The rest of the wine is going to be flatter than a Bud Light so serve it without restrictions or, in great race car driver fashion, drink it straight from the bottle.
Leftover wine is probably not your top concern right now. But it’s never good when things to to waste, especially when you can do something better with them. And if you ever wondered what to do with that leftover wine you didn’t want to drink and will likely get stinky before you throw it away, here are some ideas that might make you feel better.
- Make it live longer. How? If you have those vacuum wine pumps, use them. If not, try to find a smaller bottle and pout the leftover wine into it (a plastic bottle is fine). Put the leftover wine in the fridge - it’ll last a little longer.
- Sangria! What else? You can try “The Best Party Sangria Recipe” or just add some oranges and lemons, lemonade, soda and sugar.
- Use it for cooking. If you keep the leftover wine in the fridge, you can usually use it for over a month. Just make sure you don’t accidentally drink it. It won’t be tasty :(
- Vinegar. Ok, maybe this is not the easiest option. But if you’re really into homemade stuff, check this homemade wine vinegar video.
- Freeze it. You heard me, make frozen wine cubes and then use them for cooking anytime you want.
- Glühwein, aka Mulled Wine. The German love it and everyday can be a Christmas day. Just make sure the wine is not 2 months old.
So now you have 6 alternatives to wasting wine. You’re welcome!
Image: Creative Commons, TheGirlsNY
How do you make rosé wine? Is it a mix of white and red wine? Or, if white wine comes from white grapes and red from red grapes, does rosé come from rosé grapes?
Rosé is actually made of red grapes but the juice has only limited contact with the grape skins. The inside of a red grape is not really red, so the red wine color comes mostly from the skin, and specifically from the time the juice is in contact with the skins. So the more time the skin is in contact with the juice, the more intense the wine color will be.
We can also make Rosé Wine as a byproduct of red wine. The method is called saignée. In this case, in the middle of the red wine fermentation process, you bleed the vats to get rid of some of the juice. The juice you get rid of will make Rosé Wine, whereas the remaining will make a more concentrated red wine.
Finally, you can actually make Rosé Wine by mixing red and white wine but this method is only marginally used and mostly for Champagne.
Rosé Wine can be very versatile, as it is refreshing and acidic, but complex at the same time, so you can pair it with fish or meat alike, or even drink it by itself.
You probably have been through the ritual. You just selected a wine and you’re feeling confident about your pick, you just nodded at the waiter to let him know that’s the bottle you picked, and all of the sudden he gives you the cork. Ha!
What do you do with the cork? What to do with the stupid cork you have in your hand?
Drop it! You heard me, drop it. Don’t make the mistake of smelling the cork. I’ll tell you a dirty secret: it smells like cork. The cork ritual is one of those that makes no sense today. In the old days, when wines had no labels and bar codes didn’t exist, people used to inspect the cork for 2 purposes: check the producer (good winemakers would print their brand on the cork, as most do today), and make sure the liquid was actually wine. Most people will tell you that you should smell the cork to check if the wine is faulty. No wine expert that I know can accurately do that.
Nevertheless, you can (and should) visually inspect the cork. The one thing you should check for is if the top of the cork is dry. If the cork is wet all the way to the top, bad sign. It means oxygen has now a highway to the inside of the bottle and most likely some (or a lot of) oxidation has occurred, which makes wine turn brown or brick
So now you know. Check the cork with your eyes but please, no sniffing.