The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “DECANT” as a transitive verb:
1: to draw off (a liquid) without disturbing the sediment or the lower liquid layers
2: to pour from one vessel into another
What should we decant?
Old and young wines! Red and white! Decanting introduces oxygen back into the wine, which helps release more pleasant flavors and scents (it can also help remove bottle stink caused by sulphur preservatives). Most wines can benefit from a bit of aeration and decanters allow for a larger surface area of wine to have contact with oxygen. Careful though! Decanting a wine too much can ruin it.
Why do we decant?
Older wines are decanted to separate the liquid from the bitter sediment that may have formed in the bottom of the bottle, but don’t need to breathe for a long time. Older wines should be opened close to when they are being consumed. Young wines can be closed and tight on the palate, so they are decanted to aerate, soften, and open up. Younger wines, depending on how strong they are, can be decanted from as little as a few minutes to as much as 6+ hours.
How long do we decant?
There’s no hard fast ruling as to how long a wine should be decanted. Generally, the safest way to know when your wine is ready is to taste it along the way—just remember, you can always decant the wine a bit more, but you cannot de-decant it! A wine left in the decanter for too long will take on vinegar-y traits. Older wines don’t need as much time, so a good rule of thumb is 30 minutes. Full bodied wines can be decanted as long at 3+ hours and medium bodied wines should be good after about 1 hour. Too many bubbles in your young champagne? Serve it in a larger glass like for a Burgundy or coupe glass. The more surface area, the easier it is for bubbles to escape.
Your decanting: whether you should or not, and if so for how long, is up to you—basically, if it tastes good, drink it!
“Rosé is a wine that should ideally be drunk within two or three years of being made; it is not for keeping, but memories of drinking rosé tend to last much longer. On a shady terrace; around an herb-scented barbecue; outside a café on market day; before lunch by the pool – it accompanies some of life’s most pleasant moments. Perhaps that should be marked on every bottle…” – Peter Mayle, Provence A-Z
I’m not talking about wine coolers or white zinfandel, I’m talking about delicious rosés: the cool, delicate, versatile wine that can hold up to basically everything you pair it with.
It is believed that some of the first wines in ancient times were rosés because they were quickly and easily made and did not require the more modern wine-making tools (i.e. large vats, sturdy presses, etc.). Rosé juice spends as little as a few hours to a couple of days on the skins to produce its light pink color.
From deep raspberry to the lighter rose petal, a rosé’s color indicates how long the grapes have been left to macerate in the juice and skins. A darker rosé spends more time on the skins, and will have a richer, more savory tannic taste. A lighter, more mineral forward rosé could have only spent a few hours macerating before it was pressed and moved into a separate bin to continue to ferment. Another, less common, way of achieving the color is the “saignée” (bleeding) process. Some juice is taken from a fermenting red wine vat in the beginning of the fermentation process. The juice taken will be turned into rosé, while the remaining vat of fermenting red grapes’ flavor will intensify.
Winemakers, especially in France, do not have specific bottle requirements, so the bottles’ labels and shapes can appeal to our lighter more whimsical sides. You may have also noticed that a lot of rosés are screw caps…don’t be discouraged! Screw caps do not indicate cheap wine, but more so encourage the consumer to easily open a bottle of rosé on a whim (without having to worry about where that corkscrew went!).
I am a firm believer that rosé can be enjoyed year round (hey, we drink white in the winter, no?), but for the traditionalists out there, now that the weather is warming up, maybe you would like to swap your deep reds for a nice, crisp, fruity rosé!
MacNeil, Karen. “France.” The Wine Bible. New York: Workman Pub., 2001. 266, 312. Print.
“Rosé Wines of Provence: Ten Fun Facts.” Marvellous Provence. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Apr. 2016. <http://www.marvellous-provence.com/gastronomy/drink/wine/rose-wine-ten-fun-facts>
If you’re anything like me, you might have seen the word “cru” on a label and either not given it a second thought or were completely influenced by the words “grand” or “premier”. I studied French for a few years, so I can understand that “Premier Cru” translates to “first growth” and “Grand Cru” translates to “great growth”, but what do those mean?
Let’s break it down.
Remember the monks in Burgundy who had all that time to study and record their findings of the wine produced on the church’s land? Well, over time they began to recognize and figure out which vines and locations were producing consistently great wines each year. These areas became known as “crus”. Grand Cru – “great growth” – is the highest level of classification of vineyard. These wines are the “most treasured and expensive wines in Burgundy and rank among the most costly wines in the world”. There are less than 50 Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy. Premier Cru – “first growth” – is the second highest level of classification of vineyard. There are hundreds of Premier Cru vineyards. Then we have Village wines (using grapes only grown in the specified village) and Burgundy Reds and Whites (simple regional wines).
In Bordeaux it gets a bit more complicated. In 1855, Napoleon III wanted the chateau owners to rank their wines for the World’s Fair in Paris. Naturally, this caused a stir among the owners and it fell to the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce to come up with a solution. Under the Bordeaux Wine Official Classification, the chateaus were organized into groups according to their prestige and pricing. There are five classifications, starting with Premier Cru (most expensive; ie Margaux, Latour, Haut-Brion), Deuxième Cru (Second Growth)…all the way to Cinquième Cru (Fifth Growth). There is some opposition to the fact that the rankings have stayed the same since 1855. How can you judge a chateau today on the wine it was making over a hundred years ago? There have been attempts to change the system, but mostly due to the inability to agree, the classifications hold strong. The winemakers believe that “wine drinkers…will find their way to the best wines no matter what”.
So, next time you are choosing wine and looking over the label, remember that there is a deep history behind those words and maybe you can be the judge of whether these long standing chateaux deserve their Grand Cru classification.
MacNeil, Karen. “Bordeaux.” “Burgundy.” The Wine Bible. New York: Workman Pub., 2001. 127-130, 193. Print.
Peanut Butter and Jelly, Spaghetti and Meatballs, Wine and Oak…
…All things that bring out the best in each other. Scary to think, but without oak barrels, many of the wines we love would not exist. Thanks to oak (there’s no natural or manmade substitute), we are able to strengthen, deepen, and intensify our wines. Other trees (pine, cherry, chestnut, etc.) have been tested, but they do not have the same ability to transform the wines as oak does.
So, why do we choose oak barrels to store most of our wine in over man-made alternatives? Not only are they strong, supple, and leak-proof, there are also forests filled with oak in Europe and America. Wine was originally stored in clay pots, but the clay would often break and they were not easily moved. Barrels came onto the scene providing a stronger storage vessel and their already wheel-like shape made for easier transportation. An advantage to using oak is that it introduces hints of vanilla, almond, tea, tobacco, and clove into the wine. It also allows for some oxygen to slowly seep into the wine, which leads to a smoother mouth feel and increase in color.
French oak vs American oak? Good question! French oak tends to give off more subtle flavors and aromas, whereas American oak is a touch sweeter and gives stronger notes of vanilla.
New barrel vs recycled barrel? New barrels have a stronger more intense flavor imparted into the wine. After about four to six years, the oak gives off fewer flavors and can be used to store wine.
Timing in oak? There is no specific time allotment for each wine to spend in a barrel. It is up to the winemaker’s preference and depends on the grape variety and the strength of the wine going into the barrel. For example, Pinot Noir can be ready after one year in a barrel, a regular brunello di Montalcino must be aged for 4 years (two of which must be in oak by law), and Spanish Riojas can spend as much as 10 years in a barrel for the smooth, intense, vanilla characteristics Riojas are known for.
It is truly amazing how oak can affect our wine, and thankfully the winemakers out there understand the subtle art of barreling so that we can enjoy the many wonders of what oak has to offer.
MacNeil, Karen. “Bordeaux.” The Wine Bible. New York: Workman Pub., 2001. 40-45. Print.
“Oak Aging and Wine (Part 1).” “Oak Aging and Wine (Part 1). N.p., n.d. Web 21 Mar. 2016 <http://www.beekmanwine.com/prevtopah.htm>.
Located in central eastern France, Burgundy is a small region, but a prolific producer of complex, layered, and intriguing wines. To understand Burgundy, one must understand the word terroir, which having no direct English translation, can be defined as “the sum entity and effect of soil, slope, orientation to the sun, and elevation, plus every nuance of climate: rainfall, wind velocity, frequency of fog, cumulative hours of sunshine, average high temperature, average low temperature, and so on”. The terroirs of Burgundy were meticulously studied and recorded by the monks in the Middle Ages – they had the land, the time, and the literacy to be able to systematically record all of their growing and winemaking findings for centuries.
Swaths of land were donated to the church in the Middle Ages, then as time passed, reform movements took hold, and the French Revolution put an end to the luxurious relationship of the church and the dukes. Land was split and sold off, and years later, thanks to the Napoleonic Code (children inherit equally) land was fragmented even more. Nowadays, some land is split down to a few rows of vines! A group of these small bits of land is called a domaine or a “collection of vineyard parcels, often extremely small, owned by the same person or entity.” The vineyards are spread out around Burgundy, each split into multiple domaines, and each domaine makes its own wine…confused yet? Me too. It boils down to this: Burgundy has many domaines each producing small quantities of wine and each wine very different from the other (thanks to the terrior!).
There are two dominant grape varietals: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but not in your traditional sense. Burgundy’s terroir takes these grapes to another level. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are vehicles to tell the story each domaine has to tell. (Gamay, the grape of Beaujolais, is also a contender, but technically Beaujolais is a sub-region of Burgundy and is a very different type of wine!). In Burgundy, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are never blended. Next there is the problem of whether or not to use new oak barrels, and for how long, and whether or not to filter the wine…thankfully the vigneron can worry about that, and we can enjoy the end result!
- New World wines are usually named for the grape varietal used (or at least the predominant grape in the bottle).
- Old World wines are usually named after the region they were made in.
Did you know that Pinot Noir and Red Burgundy are the same type of wine? Confusing, I know!
Most wines are named in two different ways:
- The grape they are made from
- The region they are made in
The wine name depends on where you are buying your wine. For example, in the New World wines (“newbies” to the wine making traditions: United States, Australia, New Zealand), the wines are named after the predominant grape varietal in the bottle. If Pinot Noir grapes were used to make 75% of the wine, and the winemaker blended other grapes for the remaining 25%, then you are drinking a Pinot Noir according to the New World rules.
The Old World wines (think places with a long history of making wine: France, Italy, Spain) are more traditional. A wine made mostly of Sangiovese in Chianti will be called Chianti instead of Sangiovese. Winemakers in the Old World stick to regional names because they feel the region has as much to add to the success of the wine as the grape.
- Bordeaux: “au bord de l’eau” – “along the waters”
- 80% of wine produced is red
Bordeaux is the largest fine-wine region in the world. It is larger than all of Germany’s vineyards put together, and ten times larger than all of New Zealand’s vineyards. Bordeaux supplies about 700 million bottles of wine a year, 80% of which are red wines. Known for wine that can age for many years, Bordeaux’s location is a huge factor in why the wines are so well received.
Located near the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded by three rivers and many small streams, water places a crucial part in the Bordeaux wines we know and love. The name Bordeaux comes from “au bord de l’eau” French for “along the waters”. Bordeaux vines benefit from the mild and balanced weather provided by the Gulf Stream-warmed ocean and three large surrounding rivers. The waters are aided by the pine forests to the south and west which block potential frosts, cold snaps, and summer storms.
Both red and white Bordeaux wines are usually a blend of two or more grape varietals in order to get the more complex flavors associated with the Bordeaux region. Not all grapes blend well together, but Bordeaux seems to have had the best blending techniques and recipes all figured out for quite some time!
80% of the wines produced are red. There are 5 red grapes used that are usually blended: Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. The two main red grapes used are Merlot (fleshy and round) and Cabernet Sauvignon (structured). Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon balance each other nicely, and the tannins of the cabernet sauvignon help act as a preservative, which is why Bordeaux wines can age for a long time.
White Bordeaux can be a blend of Muscadelle, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Ugni Blanc. The main grapes blended are Semillon (dry and heavy) and Sauvignon Blanc (crisp and floral). Semillon is known as the “soul of white Bordeaux” and when aged can becomes creamy with a hint of honey. The Sauvignon Blanc is the opposite of Semillon: wild and zesty. Together they create a beautifully balanced and complicated white wine.
MacNeil, Karen. “Bordeaux.” The Wine Bible. New York: Workman Pub., 2001. 118-23. Print.
I have had the pleasure of working closely with the man known as The Wine Philosopher, Steve Carrizzo. An active yogi, wine aficionado, and all around great guy, Steve brings a depth of spirituality and love of history that is rarely found in conversations about wine. I was lucky enough to grab a moment of his time for my questions. Please enjoy his answers – I surely did!
What’s your wine story?
I have been enjoying and collecting wine for over 35 years. My career in the wine industry developed out of my love of wine and its history, culture and relationship to the earth. Having been fortunate enough to visit and do business with wineries in France, Italy, California, New York State, Oregon and even Greece, has deepened my understanding of wine and the people who make it.
My work in the wine trade encompasses experience at many levels: retail, wholesale, winery, and the importing segments of the business. I also provide consulting services to restaurants, organize wine and food pairing dinners, teach classes and lead tastings for retailers, charitable organizations and private parties.
Another personal quest of mine has always been to understand the meaning of life, or the lack of meaning in life. This quest has lead to the study of western and eastern philosophy, the practice of Yoga, and lots of soul searching, so friends and family started to call me The Wine Philosopher.
Favorite wine fact?
Besides changing an ordinary meal into a special event it stimulates good conversation and philosophical thought, just ask the Greek philosophers: “In Vino Veritas”.
Almost all vineyards are located in beautiful places and there is so much good wine out there that it is hard to pick just one but if someone held a gun to my head I would have to say Burgundy, not so much for breathtaking vistas because other regions are more spectacular, but because there is an underlining spiritual vibe in Burgundy that I feel is still lingering from when the Monks tended to the vines and made the wine. They believed that the attributes of a wine from a certain vineyard was a message from God and God’s messages were revealed through the terroir of each vineyard. This is why they used one grape (Pinot Noir for red and Chardonnay for white) instead of a blend because they felt a blend would muddle the message while a single grape especially Pinot Noir or Chardonnay would keep the message pure.
Favorite food/wine pairing?
There are so many good parings out there but one of classics comes to mind first and that is Chablis with oysters on the half shell.
Next wine trip you’d like to take?
Looks like my next trip will be to Burgundy to source more wines for our Cellarage Portfolio.
What wines would you serve at a party?
That depends on the people at the party, but in general it is good to have a well priced sparkling wine like a Prosecco from Italy or a Cava from Spain. For still wines I would choose a California Cab or Merlot because they are softer than many European reds and work better for sipping as opposed to a wine for a sit down dinner. As far a white wine I would go with a nice Pinot Grigio or a Macon instead of an oaked Chardonnay or a Sauvignon Blanc.
Best wine out there for someone on a budget?
Right now some of the best buys for quality wine at reasonable prices are coming from Southern Italy, Portugal, Chile, the Cote du Rhone and the Languedoc region in the South of France.
– Montalcino has 3,000 acres of vineyards (small compared to Chianti’s 41,000 acres)
Montalcino is a small medieval village located in central Italy. It flew under the radar for many years (the first paved road to the town was completed in 1960!) even though it has been producing some of the most delicious wines for over a century. Montalcino is nestled into the rocky hillside and is located about an hour’s drive south of Chianti. With warm temperatures and vines well above sea level, Montalcino provides an excellent environment to grow the sangiovese grapes needed for their delectable big bodied brunello wines.
“Brunello” is dialect for “the nice dark one”, which makes sense when you see the deep red color and taste the intense notes of blackberry, black cherry, black raspberry fruit, chocolate, violet, and leather. Brunellos have longevity unlike other neighboring wines and tend to hold their flavor, if not improve upon it, with time. We have the brunello wines we know and love now thanks to Ferruccio Biondi-Santi. In the 1870s, Biondi-Santi separated the brunello clone from the other sangiovese and planted it in his estate vineyards. He was somewhat of a visionary in his time as the popular wines of the region were sweet whites and lighter chiantis and his brunellos were rich and intense. He let the juice of the grapes sit on the skins to extract every bit of color and flavor it could. Then he aged the wines for years before releasing them.
Grazie di tutto, Ferruccio!
I spent the fall of 2014 working as the farm hand on the oldest vineyard in Carlton, Oregon. From checking Brix levels with a refractometer, harvesting and crushing buckets filled with grapes, to daily punch downs of fermenting grape caps, my days were filled with the delicious smell of Pinot Noir. There’s something about an Oregon Pinot Noir that makes my mouth water: silky and supple with high acidity, rustic and earthy to taste with blue and red fruits, leather, mushrooms, and chocolate.
By state law, Oregon pinots have to contain 90% of the grape variety named on the label. The hot days and cool nights make the Willamette Valley an ideal location for Pinot Noir. 2014 had an exceptionally long and dry growing season. The clusters of juicy grapes were ready in late September and were thankfully harvested before the rains which would have diluted them.
The wines I worked on are barely in the bottle, if not spending more time in the barrel, but here are some of our Oregon pinots that I’ve tasted and whole-heartedly approve of!