Wine Tips and Tidbits

When serving a red wine that has not been cellared:
Always put the wine in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes depending on that day’s temperature. This will subdue the alcohol that wafts from the glass when you swirl and sniff. Alcohol is volatile and evaporates from the wine the warmer it gets, so by bringing the wine down to cellar temperature, about 55 to 60 degrees, you subdue the alcohol and allow the fruit to come out. This makes for a much more enjoyable glass of wine.

When serving a white wine:
Do not put the wine in a wine chiller after you open it. Try opening the wine, pour it around and then set the bottle on the table, the wine will open up as you drink and enjoy it. The colder the wine the more it hides its true flavors. By sitting the bottle on the table you allow the wine to warm at about the same degree as the wine in your glass warms. This allows the wine to open, breath and will enhance your experience.

The ideal temperature for serving wine is:
Whites: should be chilled to about 45 to 55 degrees F
Reds: should be slightly warmer or about 60 to 65 degrees F
Champagne/Sparkling: chill thoroughly to maintain its clean, crisp flavors.
Dessert Wine: at room temperature, except on very warm days, then slightly chilled.

When should I decant my wine?
There are two reasons to decant a wine. First, if the wine is old you would decant it to separate the sediment from the wine and enjoy. Second, and most important, it is a great idea to decant young reds that are big and bold. This allows the wine to breath and will enhance your enjoyment of the wine.

A bit of Irish Folklore:
In the olden days, the Irish believed that fairies were extremely fond of wine. Royalty and noble born would always put out a keg of wine at night during their parties for the fairies and every morning the keg would be gone. Who could have taken it but the fairies?

Did you know the word “Honeymoon” was born from wine?
In ancient Babylon, the father of the bride would supply his son-in-law with all the wine he could drink for a month after their wedding. This was a mead wine made from honey. Since the Babylonians calendar was lunar or moon based this practice was called the “honey month” which we now call the “honeymoon”. Go figure!

The noble varietals:
When you study wine you will learn that there are four grape varietals that are known as the noble varietals. These grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling. Of the four grape varietals, three are known as mother grapes and one is a hybrid grape. The hybrid grape is Cabernet Sauvignon; the parent grapes are Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc.

What is Zinfandel and where does it come from?
Zinfandel for many years has been touted as a grape varietal unique to California and at one time the California legislature was going to proclaim it as the California state grape. There were many stories as to its origin but it was not until DNA testing that the truth came out. Zinfandel came to the United States, unnamed, from the Austrian imperial nursery in Vienna by George Gibbs of Long Island around 1829. He then took the grape to Boston where it was named Zinfandel. The grape was then taken to California in 1852 during the great gold rush. Still, no one knows its origin. In the early 1990’s, after DNA testing of the grape, it was said to be the Primitivo grape from Puglia, the heel of the boot, in Italy. Later, additional DNA testing confirmed that Zinfandel was an ancient grape varietal from Croatia. Now that is Zinfandel.

To cork, or not to cork, that is the question:
Today the big question on all wine drinkers minds is the question of corks or screw tops. Let’s try to put a common sense twist on this problem. There are only so many cork trees in the world but we are producing more and more wine. So the corks are being produced with lesser quality and smaller and smaller in length. We need to find an answer to the problem. About 75% of all wine made is consumed within the first year of production. Do these wines need a cork or can we close the top of the bottle with a more viable product? I think the screw top or synthetic corks are the answer to this problem. Let’s save the cork trees to produce longer and better quality corks to be used on wines meant to be aged.

A funny note: The Cork Advisory Board calls screw tops “individually threaded closures” a novel twist on an old product.

Note worthy: Germany is now making glass tops that snap on the bottle and looks promising.

Did you Know? Portugal has 1/3 of the world’s cork forests and supplies 85-90% of the corks used in the United States.

Some quick tidbits on wine:

  • About 20 million acres are planted to grapes worldwide.
  • The #1 fruit crop in the world is wine grapes.
  • There are about 164 countries in the world that import California wine.
  • On August 19, 1873 phylloxera was discovered in California.
  • 10,450 vineyard acres have been replanted in Napa due to phylloxera in the last 15 years.
  • 4,450 vineyard acres need to be replanted in Napa due to phylloxera.
  • A newly planted vineyard will take 4-5 years before its first harvest.
  • There are about 10,000 grape varietals in the world today.
  • There are 400 species of oak but only 20 species are used to make wine barrels.
  • The average age of a French oak tree used to make barrels is 170 years old.
  • The average wine barrel holds 60 gallons of wine.
  • 60 gallons of wine will produce 25 cases.
  • The top three wine consuming states are California, New York and Florida.

What are the different sizes of wine bottles and how much will they hold?

Name: Capacity in (liters) # of 750ml Bottles
Split 187 ml. ¼ bottle
Half Bottle 375 ml. ½ bottle
Fifth (standard) 750 ml. 1 bottle
Magnum 1.5 lt. 2 bottles
Double Magnum/Jeroboam 3 lt. 4 bottles
Rehoboam 4.5 lt. 6 bottles
Methuselah 6 lt. 8 bottles
Salmanazar 9 lt. 12 bottles /1 case
Balthazar 12 lt. 16 bottles
Nebuchadnezzar 15 lt. 20 bottles

The term “mind your P’s and Q’s”: originated in English pubs. In English pubs drinks are served in pints and quarts. In the olden day the bartender would advise their unruly customers to mind their own pints and quarts.

The phrase “rule of thumb”: is an old brewer’s term. Before thermometers were invented the brew master would stick his thumb or finger into the wort, check the temperature making sure it was not to hot or cold before adding the yeast.

Thomas Jefferson and wine:Jefferson was the third president and helped stock the wine cellars of the first five U.S. presidents. As president his annual salary was $25,000.00 of which he spent $3,000.00 on wine. He was very partial to Bordeaux and Madeira wines.

The Benedictine monk, Dom Perignon (1638-1715), cellar master at the Abbey at Hautvillers, France and is generally considered to be the father of Champagne, was blind.

When Leif Ericsson landed in North America in A.D. 1001, he named it Vinland due to all the proliferation of grape vines he saw.

In the original 1855 classification of Bordeaux, there were only four first growths. They were Lafite-Rothsdhild, Latour, Margaux and Haut-Brion. Mouton-Rothschild was elevated to first growth status in 1973.

Do you know why rose bushes are planted at the ends of wine rows? Rose bushes are more susceptible to infestation from diseases and insects giving the vineyard manager an early warning system for when to spray the vines.

The world’s most planted grape varietal is the grape Airén, it accounts for over one million acres in central Spain. It is a white wine grape used to make an ordinary wine and some very good brandy.

United States wine facts:

  • Through the end of the last century United States wine consumption was 75% white and 25% Red. Since then the ratio is about 50-50.
  • In 2000 we spent $20 billion on wine, 72% was spent on California wine.
  • In 2000, there were about 847 wineries in California with about 232 in Napa.
  • In 2000, 554,000 acres in California were planted to grapevines.
  • 92% of California wineries produce less than 100,000 cases a year.
  • 6% of California wineries produce less than 25,000 cases a year.
  • In 1999 the hottest grape varietal in California was Merlot.
  • In 1949 the darling grape varietal in California was Muscatel.
  • Americans consume more wine on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year.
  • In the United States there are only three categories of wine: table, dessert and sparkling.
  • In the early 1950’s 82% of the wine consumed was classified as dessert. Today that figure is more like 90% table, 7% sparkling and only 3% dessert.

My thoughts on collecting Wine:

  • Try not to collect every vintage, there are so many great wines in every vintage you can not collect them all, let alone find them, so focus on the wines you can find and like.
  • Never buy cases of wine, except your house wine, unless you have very deep pockets, always buy 2, 4, or 6 bottles, this will help you build depth in your cellar and not break the bank.
  • The only time to buy full cases of wine is when it’s a mixed case and you are getting a discount on the case purchase, do this as often as you can
  • Buying cases will limit your selection and as you build your cellar your tastes will invariably change, so you don’t want to open a bottle from one of those early cases and ask “Why did I buy this wine?” and “Now what do I do with the other bottles?”.
  • Never hold wine too long, every wine you have should be a candidate for opening and sharing. It’s okay if it’s the last bottle you have, it can now become a fond memory and there will always be another great wine to buy and replace that one.
  • Share your good wines with people who like wine and your great wines with people who know wine.
  • Always keep an inventory. Its fun and will keep you focused on the intent and reason you started a cellar. Too often we lose focus, resulting in too many bottles we really don’t want.
  • Join one or more wine clubs. Your knowledge and enjoyment will grow and expand in direct proportion to your expanding cellar.
  • When you travel to wineries and taste wine, never purchase wine at the winery, except if it is only sold at the winery. Ask where the wine is sold in your area, the winery always can tell you. At the winery you will pay full retail but at a store in your area most likely it will be at a lesser price and you don’t have to carry it all over with you on your trip.

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