Follow these simple rules for wine tasting. Hold the glass by the stem, not the bowl so you don't heat up the wine. Start with dry wines and/or white wines first and move on to the reds and sweeter wines. Stick your nose inside the wine glass and take several small sniffs (not one big one). Then take a 10 second break, swirl the wine in the glass and repeat the last step. Check out the wine color in the light, and make sure the wine is clear and not cloudy. Then take a small sip and swirl it around in your mouth, and swallow (don't gulp). If you are tasting a large number of wines, pour the rest out rather than swallowing it. Make sure you write down the name of the wine and any comments or evaluations after each sample, otherwise you will forget them!
Be Kind to Your Wine!
Please make sure to store your wine so that it maintains it quality and taste. NEVER put ANY WINE in a hot trunk for extended periods of time. If you plan to transport, buy or drink wine when traveling, bring a cooler. Some of the newer coolers that can be plugged into your car's electrical system work really well. Also, when at home NEVER store your wine in a room that goes above 72 ℉, or in any room that is extremely dry. In these types of environment, the cork can either dry out or is likely to "push" and your wine may leak out altogether. Keep the wines away from sunlight and heat exposure; store them in cool cellars, a wine fridge, and/or temperature-controlled rooms. Wide fluctuation in temperature will damage the wine and the cork. Whenever possible, try to store white wines at 45 to 55 ℉ and reds between 50 and 55 ℉. Also, since wine bottle leaks are sometimes unavoidable, never store your wine in an area that may stain your carpets, rugs, furniture or other valuable assets.
If you have a case of the "frizzies" don't despair! Sometimes you may open a bottle of wine and notice that it fizzles like soda or a sparkling wine. This often occurs in late spring or summer. If the bottle is already opened, try to re-cork, put in the fridge for about 24 hours and then drink it. If you don't have this option (e.g., if you need to drink it right away), try to decant it into another container and let it "breath" for about 10 minutes. This will often solve the problem. Some of the largely available wine aerators work really well for this purpose, especially for red wines. Likewise, if you notice that a bottle of your favorite stored wine is starting to "push" the cork, simply try to push the cork back in if you can. Then put the bottle in a cooler environment like a temperature-controlled wine cooler, or the basement. As a LAST resort to avoid losing the wine altogether, a normal refrigerator will work. HOWEVER, if you put it in a normal fridge, you will need to drink the wine as soon as possible. In this case, take it out about an hour before you plan to drink it, and decant it as described above.
Serving Our Wines
As a general rule, all of our wines are made to be drunk soon after leaving our tasting room, or at least within six months after purchase. Most of our red wines have already been aged for two years or more, and our whites have been aged for about a year, so they are ready for immediate use. There are a few exceptions to this rule. Wines that are high in tannins often taste better with aging. We have found that our Cab Franc, Cab Sauvignon, SR#3, Merlot, and Spectacullari will improve with further aging if stored under the right conditions. Even with these wines, I would suggest drinking them within a year of purchase. If you do store our corked wines for more than a few months, make sure to use a wine rack or at least keep them on their sides so that the cork does not dry out. Although we do not currently use screw caps, these types of closures DO NOT need to be stored on their sides. Our fruit wines may last for several months without degrading, but they are meant to be drunk soon after purchase and there is no advantage to aging them. WE SUGGEST THAT YOU PUT OUR FRUIT WINES IN A WINE COOLER AFTER PURCHASE, or in a room that is cool (below 65 degrees F), and away from sunlight. Please note that any wine stored in temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or temperatures that fluctuate widely are at risk of spoiling. If you are serious about aging your wine, consider buying a wine cooling unit. They are actually fairly inexpensive, and they will keep your wines at a constant temperature. Also, most of them are very energy efficient.
As some of you already know, we try to keep our sulfites levels (S02) in all of our wines down to a minimum. This is another good reason NOT to store our wines for any long periods of time. Most of our customers say that they can drink our red wines without getting a headache. To be honest, I'm not sure whether this is due to lower levels of S02 or not. Dried fruits contain much higher levels of S02 than any red or white wine does. If you eat these without getting headaches, then S02 in red wine is NOT the reason you get headaches. In fact, red wines USUALLY contain less S02than white wines.
Be careful how you transport your wine purchase. If possible, DO NOT PUT ANY WINE IN THE TRUNK. Put it in an air-conditioned section of the car. If you buy and transport a lot of wine, consider buying a travel cooler that you can plug into your 12 Volt outlets. DO NOT let any wines sit in a hot car or expose it to strong sunlight for an extended period of time. Also, as a general rule, wine does not travel well, so you should let it rest for a day or so before serving after it’s been on the road. The same rule holds if you are bringing some wine as a gift for a dinner party. In fact, some people prefer to bring the wine to the guest a day or so earlier if the plan is to serve it with the meal. A general rule I follow is to bring one or more bottles of wine for the meal and one extra for the host.
If possible, try to store your wine in a cool, dark area such as your basement where the temperature ranges between 50 to 68℉ year-round. Note that any temperature change should always be gradual. Sudden temperature changes can reduce the quality of the wine. This is why a kitchen is NOT a good place to store your wine. Also, the refrigerator is typically NOT a good place to STORE wine because the temperature is often too cold and also because the vibrations due to cooling may hurt your wines. The exception here is for wines that you plan to drink soon. The room where you store wine, should allow air to circulate, and should not be either too dry or too humid. Optimal humidity levels for storing wine are between 70% and 80%.
Serving wines tends to vary depending on personal tastes. As a general rule, I like to serve white wines at about 55℉, rose or sparkling wines at about 50℉, full bodied reds at about 65 degrees and light or fruity reds at about 55℉ to 60℉. However, on a really hot day, it’s best to serve reds at a slightly lower temperature, and I also prefer my “young” wines to be a bit more chilled. Cooler temperatures will probably be better for most cheaper whites or reds. Some people use the two-hour rule if they forget to chill their whites or if their reds are too cold. If your white wine is warm, put it in the refrigerator for about two hours. If your red wine has been in a refrigerator overnight, let it sit out for two hours before serving. Generally speaking, refrigerators tend to cool wine about 2 or 3 degrees every ten minutes, so you can estimate how long you will need to keep your wine in there for a proper temperature. Probably the best way to chill bottle of white wine is to put it in a bucket of ice and water for about a half an hour. Whites and rosés do not require any "breathing" time before serving. A good rule of thumb for most reds is to let it breath for about a half hour before serving, but very young and tannic wines may require longer periods (up to two hours) in some cases. Here's a tip for our Port-style dessert wines: put them in the freezer for two hours before serving!
How long can you keep wine after opening it? This again tends to very subjective, but both red and white wines can be kept for at least a few days without any significant loss of flavor. Once a bottle of wine is open and you don't drink the entire bottle, feel free to cap it and put it in a regular refrigerator, or better yet, a wine cooling unit. If you store it on its side, make sure it doesn't leak. Actually, once a bottle of wine is opened, there is really no reason to store it on its side. Our dessert wines usually will last much longer than our other wines due to their higher alcohol level. Also, sweet wines tend to last longer than dry wines after opening. We recommend that you use a wine vacuum when you store your wine bottles after opening them. It is a very useful and inexpensive accessory. These can be purchased in our tasting room. If you routinely have a lot of wine left in a bottle after opening it, ask us for our free used 375 ml bottles. You can the pour the wine from the larger bottles to these smaller ones so there is less air space. When in doubt, taste the wine before throwing it away. Even if it no longer tastes that good, you can always use it for cooking!
REMEMBER: A WINE IS A TERRIBLE THING TO WASTE!
Our visitors sometimes ask us why some bottles have a punt or kick up on the bottom of the bottle and why some do not. There are actually a number of different explanations for this. One is that it makes the bottle stronger and less likely to break. However, nowadays, because these bottles use more glass, some wineries are starting to eliminate bottles with punts in order to be more environmentally friendly. The punt also makes the bottle a little more resistant to tipping over, so it can be a wine saver at times. Perhaps the most widely held theory of the purpose of a punt is that it is designed to capture the sediment of wine and make it less likely to be poured and drank. Some of you may be wondering how this works given that aged wine bottles are usually stored on their sides. When getting a bottle of wine from your cellar, it is a good idea to get it out a few days before you want to serve it and let it stand upright so that any sediment that collected on the side of the bottle falls into the punt. If the wine does have a lot of sediment, it is a good idea to decant it before serving. To do this, light a candle so that its light shines through the wine as you are decanting it into another container. As soon as you see the wine getting a bit cloudy from the sediment, stop pouring it and discard whatever is left at the bottom of the bottle. This can be both romantic and at the same time make the wine taste better!
How Much Wine Do I Need?
Are you planning a party or other celebration and wonder how much wine you need? Well of course, this depends on a lot of factors such as the number of guests, how many of them drink alcohol, whether you are serving dinner, will there be other drinks (alcohol and non-alcohol) and so on. As a general rule, you can expect to get 5 servings from a typical 750 ml bottle of wine. Figure on one drink per person per hour pre-dinner. If you are serving dinner, add two more drinks. If you plan on a late evening, add two more drinks. So, for example, if you are having a dinner party, and are meeting early and plan to stay late, get one bottle of wine per person. I know this sounds like a lot, but it really isn't. And if you have some wine left, well that's even better! What about large groups such as a wedding? If you are using wine to make a toast, get about 20 bottles per 100 people. If you are supplying your own wine for the dinner, get one bottle of white and one bottle of red per table of 8-10 persons.
Want to Try Something Different?
How about mulled wine? It's delicious! Here's our recipe. Add 750 ml of Simple Red #1, one bottle of Big Apple, two lemons (or oranges or limes), 10 cinnamon sticks, 12 whole cloves, 1/4 tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/4 tsp allspice. Mix it altogether and heat it (don't let it boil) in a slow cooker or microwave. Sweeten to taste. You can also add these ingredients to our Big Apple wine, but skip the oranges and lemons and cut the quantities in half.
Fill a chocolate dessert cup with just a few drops of Hershey Chocolate syrup; add about 1/4 to 1/2 ounce of Coco Nostra; add a cherry and whipped cream and sprinkle with a bit of grounded red cayenne pepper.
People often ask me what the difference is between wine and Port or similar wines like sherry, vermouth and Marsala? These wines were developed hundreds of years ago in order to help preserve them during the long ship voyages to the “new world”. Many of these wines are fortified with a neutral tasting brandy which is why their alcohol percentage is typically between 16% to 20%, as opposed to a normal (unfortified) wine, which may be between 10% and 14% alcohol by volume. However, sometimes, special yeasts are used which can withstand higher levels of alcohol. In some parts of Europe, by law fortified wines must have at least 17.5% alcohol. In the US, many of these wines are referred to as dessert wines, because they are often sweet and typically used after dinner. Because of various trade treaties between the US and Europe such as the Protected designation of origin (PDO), US wineries are not allowed to use the terms such as Port or Sherry, unless they were using such names before the most recent trade agreement. Thus, Port must come from the Douro Valley in Portugal, and Sherry must come from a region of Spain near Jerez.
If we take Port as an example, it is usually red and sweet, but it can also be dry or even white. The difference between a sweet or dry fortified wine typically relates to when the higher alcohol brandy is added to the wine. For example, if the brandy is added before a full sugar fermentation has been completed, then the resulting wine will be sweet because higher levels of alcohol will kill the yeast that normally will convert sugar to alcohol. The sugar that is left will make the wine taste sweet. Typically, yeast will die when the alcohol level reaches 12 to 13%, which is why most everyday wines have this level of alcohol. If the brandy is added after sugar fermentation is complete, then the resulting wine will be dry because almost all of the sugar will have been converted. Often, Port-style wines are also aged for many years which has a similar increase in alcohol. For example, a wine aged in a barrel for many years will lose a lot of its water content, and thus the remaining wine will have a higher alcohol content. Because we can now produce yeast that is very more resistant to alcohol than the older varieties, we can make normal wines that are much higher in alcohol content than previous wines, as well as Port-style wines without adding spirits such as brandy. In the case, additional sugar is added after the previous sugar content has been converted, and the alcohol level is slowly raised in this manner.
Other wines that are similar to Port are Marsalla, which comes from Sicily (Italy), and Vermouth, which also comes from Italy but is different from the others wine discussed so far because it has herbs and spices such as cinnamon, wormwood or other ingredients which may be trade secrets. Another wine similar to Port is called Madeira. This wine shares a similar history as Port in that it was often shipped to the new world. On such voyages, which often exposed the wine to very high temperatures and oxygen, the way the wine tasted often changed dramatically. Some people decided that they liked this change, and thus, this wine was later produced by intentionally raising its temperature to about 140℉ and exposing to higher levels of Oxygen. Because of the higher sugar and or alcohol content of these types of wines, they may be stored, even after being opened and used for many months if not years without a significant decrease in quality.
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