Categories
Articles

How To Tell If Riesling is Dry or Sweet

Riesling is one of the most misunderstood and arguably under-appreciated varietals in the modern wine world. And I’m really talking about the perceptions of your general everyday wine buyer. Not the wine geeks.

I heard a quote recently about Riesling that I thought really summed it up right. It went something along the lines of “everybody may not like all Rieslings, but there’s a Riesling for everybody.”

The challenge with Riesling is that many of the regions that produce the varietal in its finest forms, Germany and France’s Alsace in particular, confuse the heck out of wine buyers with complicated classification systems and either too much or too little digestible information on the label.

Furthering complicating matters is that Riesling can run the gamut from super sweet to bone dry and everywhere in between. When you find a selection of German Riesling, all you see are labels that say Dr. so and so, and words like “spätlese,” “auslese” and “kabinett.” So what’s inside? Why would I buy this wine? What can I expect?

The fact is that when I say there is a Riesling for everybody, there really is. If you like white wine then regardless of the body, character, style, or sweetness of the wines you like, there’s likely a Riesling for you. You just need to find it.

And you can either start hunting through the bins for a catchy label, or some notes from a wine critic that may cryptically tell you what’s inside the bottle. Or you can use the easiest trick in the book, which I wish I had known many years ago.

Look at the alcohol percentage.

It’s as easy as that. The alcohol percentage for Rieslings will be all over the place, from 5-6% to 14-15%. The lower the number the sweeter the wine is; and conversely for higher percentage wines. A good breaking point is 11%.

If the wine is less than 11% it is likely more on the sweet side, the degree of which you can gauge by how far the alcohol percentage is from 11. Likewise, wines that are 11% – 14% are going to be on the dry side.

I’m not here to tell you what wines are best. That’s up to you to decide, but I’ve shared with you an easy system, and one that I guarantee you will remember for determining one of the key characteristics about the wine inside. From there, you need to experiment with different regions, different producers and different styles to see what suits your tastes the best.

Bonus tip for German Riesling buyers:sometimes, but not always, German Riesling will use a descriptor to indicate that the wine is dry. The words to look for are “halbtrocken” which means almost dry and “trocken” which means bone dry. If you see a bottle with either of these two descriptors, take a look at the alcohol percentage. You already know what it’s going to be.

That’s all there is to it. Zum wohl!

Categories
Articles

How to Open a Bottle of Wine When the Cork Breaks

Breaking a cork inside the neck of a bottle when opening wine can be particularly frustrating, especially if there’s a crowd.  While this doesn’t happen often (primarily on older bottles where the cork has experienced deep seepage or become dried out and brittle), it’s usually not that hard to stage a strong recovery and remove the rest of the cork without further incident.

The first thing I do is find a corkscrew with the sharpest point.  This is because you’re going back in and you want to be able to effectively stab the remaining cork and grab a firm hold without pushing the cork back into the wine (and we’ll cover what to do if that happens too).  A sharp corkscrew can make or break this plight.

As carefully as you can, attempt to insert the point of the screw into the cork, looking for the largest remaining surface area to attack.  One trick to give you further leverage is to come in at an angle so the pressure being applied by the force of the screw is more towards the sides of the bottle neck, versus straight down on the cork which might lend it to falling in. 

If the top of the cork is deep down the neck, it might be harder to come in at an angle, but the more you can use the neck of the bottle to brace the pressure, the higher the likelihood that you’ll get a good grip.

Once you have grip of the cork, screw down until the tip of screw penetrates the bottom of the cork, which you can tell by looking through the sides of the bottle (with all foil removed if you prefer).  This is where it can get tricky. 

Because the cork has already broken, you know that the remaining portion is going to be weak and likely could break further.  So pull it up ever so slightly, twisting gently on the way up to help break it free from the surrounding bottle.  The slower the better here as the extra few seconds you spend may be the difference between getting it out cleanly and breaking the rest back down into the wine.

Let’s say you broke the rest of the cork, or for some reason were unable to remove the cork and had to push the rest of it down into the wine.  This isn’t the end of the world by any means. 

Some handy tools to have at this point are a wine decanter (or pitcher to pour the wine into), a small metal strainer, and a small funnel if you want to pour the wine back into the bottle (although the decanter is preferred).  Ikea is a good place to get all of these items for about $10.

Simply pour the wine slowly through the strainer and into the decanter, being careful not to spill of course.  The strainer should catch all of the loose cork, and anything that makes it past the strainer will be ok.  You can run the wine through twice if you want to be super fancy.

People have used all sorts of different instruments to strain wine like this, but I’ve found a simple metal strainer (and one that’s cleaned very well) is the best route to go.

Follow these tips and you’ll be able to get yourself out of a jam anytime.

Categories
Articles

10 Things I Wish I Knew When I First Started Drinking Wine

There’s no question that the wine world can be intimidating for those early on in their wine journey. I remember a while back when I was at a business dinner and one of the gentleman I was dining with was ordering wine by the producer and year without looking at the wine list. I hoped I might have a clue someday what he was talking about.

It felt so foreign at the time, a vast world of jargon and terms, many of which are in different languages, and knowledge that is only gained from experience, and a lot of it.

I remember thinking, “how could anyone possible know that they like that particular vintage from the southern part of Burgundy, but they don’t like the same vintage from other nearby regions? How does one get to the point where their palate is so well explored and defined that they can actually pick out, and appreciate those nuances?”

Now maybe your goal isn’t to become a wine master to that degree. Wine should be enjoyed and appreciated on whatever level the person drinking it will enjoy it. If you have simple tastes, more power to you. You just saved a lot of money.

But as you grow in your wine journey, new opportunities for exploration arise, new worlds are opened, and new possibilities beg to be properly investigated.

That’s what propelled me forward. Not so much the “James Bond ordering specific vintages at fancy restaurants.” But more of a quest for knowledge. What triggers this interest for me is that wine is the perfect expression of a time and place.

It’s the weather, soil, sunlight, traditions, cuisine and people from a particular place at a particular time. It’s the terroir plus culture, bottled up so that it’s easy to store, transport and enjoy.

The quest for opening up all of what is in these various bottles and tasting them is what ended up creating a passion for me, and now has lead to me creating all of this wine content.

But I thought it would be fun to think back to those early years, to remember how I felt in my wine journey at that time, and lay out a few key pieces of advice I wish I could share with my younger self. So here it goes.

  1. Great wine can come from all corners of the earth. This is so important. We instantly might think Napa Cab when we think of great wine. It’s expensive. People talk about it a lot. Screaming Eagle is a cult wine. But the truth is that great wine is everywhere, and the places you might not think to look at first, are among some of the best places to look. Explore. Explore. Explore.
  2. Pay attention to geography. It took me a while to realize the importance of geography in wine appreciation, but it is vital. Now that we have mini computers in our pocket all the time, always make a point to open Google Earth or whatever mapping app you use, and take note of the location of where each wine you enjoy originates. After a while you will build a strong cache of geographic knowledge that can help you know what different wines will taste like even before you try them.
  3. Don’t pay attention to price or wine ratings. These are subjective terms and can vary widely. Instead, read more about the producer, their history and philosophy for winemaking. Better yet, pay them a visit if you can. Don’t let the hype and noise around certain wines create the narrative for them. Decide for yourself.
  4. It’s important how you serve the wine. You don’t have to go crazy on every detail of wine etiquette, but do remember to: serve wines at a proper temperature (we usually drink reds too warm and whites too cold), use decent stemware (your choice here), give the wine proper time to open up (decanting is a great a idea most of the time), and when switching between different wines, don’t clean the glass with water. You should rinse it with a splash of the wine you are about to drink to prime the glass.
  5. Don’t take your “wine expert” friend’s opinion as gospel. Develop your own palate, your own appreciation. Someone’s favorite bottle ever may not be enjoyable to you. And that’s ok. Your friend might not agree with your “favorite wine.” Doesn’t matter at all. Wine is personal. Decide for yourself. There is no wrong or right.
  6. Vintages are important but don’t get too caught up on them. For most wine and wine drinkers, you can get by without worrying too much on which vintage is better than others. Sure, if you see two bottles sitting side by side, one from a great vintage and one from a poor vintage, you’ll want to grab the former, but winemakers nowadays can make great wine under tough conditions. A lot of time, bad conditions just limit the amount of the wine, not the quality. If you’re early on in your wine journey, pay attention to vintages, but focus more on other factors, such as the wine’s location, wine making style of that region, the varietals and nuances of the region and wine. This will go further for you in the long run than vintages.
  7. Don’t collect wine that isn’t designed to be collected. I remember collecting special bottles of wine in my early years, mostly simple wines that I wanted to age, but the wines were designed to be consumed young. They didn’t turn out great at all. Most wine, 90+% of what you see, is not meant to be aged. You should age wine that is built for the long haul and that which will improve only. And you might not even like the taste of aged wine right now, so think about which wines you’re laying down before you spend $30 on a Napa Cab that is plateauing right now.
  8. Every time you go to the store, buy one bottle from a region/grape/producer you’ve never heard of. I still try to do this today, every time I visit the store.
  9. Follow wineries on social media, listen to podcasts. Most wineries are active on Facebook, Twitter and especially Instagram, posting updates from the vineyards and the wine makers. Simply following along through the course of the year gives you great insight into what’s happening on the front lines. It’s like free wine school being taught by the best of the best. Plus, you can interact with them and ask questions. Podcasts are great too. “I’ll Drink to That” is a personal favorite.
  10. Have fun. Sure, there’s a lot to be learned, but have fun with it. Enjoy your wine with friends and family. Enjoy pairing with different foods. Recognize the fun in the journey, not the destination. Being a wine aficionado is great. But becoming one is the most fun.
Categories
Articles

18 of The Best Wine Quotes

“Wine is sunlight held together by water.” – Galileo

“What I like most is wine that belongs to others.” – Diogenes

“We are born at a given moment, in a given place and, like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season of which we are born. Astrology does not lay claim to anything more.” – Carl Jung

“In Europe we thought of wine as something as healthy and normal as food and also a great giver of happiness and well being and delight. Drinking wine was not a snobbism nor a sign of sophistication nor a cult; it was as natural as eating and to me as necessary.” — Ernest Hemingway

“Language is wine upon the lips.” – Virginia Woolf

“Wine is bottled poetry.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” — Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs

“In victory, you deserve Champagne. In defeat you need it.” ― Napoleon Bonaparte

“Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken.” – Ludwig van Beethoven

“What though youth gave love and roses, Age still leaves us friends and wine.” – Thomas Moore

“Life is too short, and I’m Italian. I’d much rather eat pasta and drink wine than be a size 0.” – Sophia Bush

“Music is the wine that fills the cup of silence.” –Robert Fripp

“I love everything that’s old – old friends, old time, old manners, old books, old wine.” – Oliver Goldsmith

“If you go back to the Greeks and Romans, they talk about all three – wine, food and art – as a way of enhancing life.” – Robert Mondavi

“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.” ― John Keats

“I like to drink wine more than I used to.”—Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather

“I regard those as wise who employ old wine freely and study old stories.” — Plautus (Titus Maccius Plautus), Roman playwright, 254-184 B.C

“Chi ha pane e vino, sta meglio del suo vicino.”(“Who has bread and wine is better off than his neighbor.”) – Italian proverb

Categories
Articles

7 Easy Wine Hacks To Make You Look Like a Wine Pro

#1 Reinserting the stained side of the wine cork

Here’s an easy one to get started. When you are reinserting a cork back into the bottle for storage, you should always insert the stained side towards the wine. Essentially putting it back in the same way it came out.

Granted, it will be a little easier to insert the smaller side upside down, but resist that urge and squeeze it back down the way it came out. The reason? Because that stained side of the cork has already come into contact with the wine. Anything that might be on the clean side of the cork would have the potential of exposing the wine to new external elements.

#2 Decant More Than One Bottle of Wine With Only One Wine Decanter

This is a common problem around our house, and one that I finally found a great solution for. The situation is this: you’re hosting a party or having your wine friends over, but you only have one or two wine decanters. You have three bottles to decant in the hours leading up to the party. What do you do?

First of all, understand that simply opening the wine and pulling the cork out does very little to decant the wine. Sure, you are unlocking the wine from its preserved state, but very little surface area of the wine is making contact with air. It will take forever to decant a wine like this.

Instead, buy a small funnel for $2 next time you’re at the supermarket. Don’t get the tiniest one you can find because you don’t want any wine to spill out of the top.

Just make the sure the spout will fit in the neck of a bottle of wine and the cup you’re pouring into is large enough to provide spills. Then decant the first wine for an hour or so, pour it back in its original bottle, and move on to the next one. And so on.

By the time your guests arrive you can have all your wines decanted, sitting in the original bottle ready to go which is fun to pour anyway, plus you now have an empty decanter ready for any bottles that your guests bring.

#3 Create An Easy Foil Cork Display

This is a simple little pro move that I like. When you open a bottle, give the top of the bottle a nice clean, circular cut. Using a foil cutter helps.

This will create a circle disc shaped piece of foil which you can turn upside down and then gently lay the cork on and press to shape the foil around it.  Place the cork display in front of the bottle when serving.

Now all of your guests can take a gander at the condition of the cork for the bottle you opened. I don’t know about you, but I’m always interested to look at the corks on different wines of different ages.

This simple display is a little better than just tossing the cork on the table, or even worse, throwing it away.

#4 Properly Pour Bubbly Wine

All type of sparkling wine will fizz like crazy when you pour them into an empty glass. You don’t want to look like the guy who pours his beer into a glass only to get flustered as the foam reaches the top and starts billowing over the side, making you wonder how many beers this person’s poured in their life.

The goal is not to get the wine (or beer) from the bottle to the glass as fast as possible. By taking just another few precious seconds, you can make a good clean pour, in a manner that is much more social anyway.

First pour a small splash of the sparkling wine in each person’s glass. Then go back to the first person’s glass and fill them up the rest of the way. This is a classy move that you see few people actually do, but you should.

#5 Open Wine Bottles With a Key

If you’re ever in a serious bind trying to get a cork out without an opener, you can always push the cork down inside the wine, which is easier said than done. Another solution to try first is the key trick.

Take any key that has a sharp jagged edge. Push it into the top of the cork diagonally as far as it will go. Then wrap a shirt or a towel around the end of the key for leverage, and while holding the bottle tight, begin to twist the key and the cork in a circular motion. As you twist, gently pull up on the cork, until it rises out the rest of the way.

#6 Quickly Chill a Warm White Wine

You have undoubtedly encountered the situation of having a warm bottle of white wine that you want to drink and serve right away. Solution #1: put an ice cube in the glass. Solution #2: throw it in the freezer. Both bad ideas.

Here’s what to do. Realize the fastest way to cool liquid is to surround it with other cooler liquid. Fill a bowl or a serving bucket (or even a plastic pitcher) with a “half cold water,” “half ice” mix and put the bottle in.

Using all ice is much slower than a cold ice water bath. From room temperature to proper drinking temperature, you’re looking at 10 minutes, give or take. While you wait, put the serving glasses in the refrigerator.

#7 Set Up A Wine Chilling Station in a Hotel Room

I have a few problems with chilling wine in hotel rooms. The first one is that the ice bucket is almost always too small and even if it’s not, it can only hold one bottle. My second issue is that ice access can be a long way from your room, maybe even on another floor.

Now one good solution is to call ahead and ask the hotel to remove all the items from the mini bar, which many will do. And you can use that. When I have multiple bottles to keep chilled though I actually prefer to use the sink in the bathroom combined with a lot of ice. Here’s why and how to best do it.

Use one of the laundry bags from the hotel room closet to get your ice. This way you can move a lot more ice on one trip than you could with the wimpy clear bags that they put in the wine buckets.

Put the stopper in the sink, fill it with a little water, throw the bottles and the ice in, and you’re good to go. When it melts, all you do is pull the stopper and everything disappears down the drain. Piece of cake.

Categories
Articles

7 Lesser Known Wine Regions That Deliver Exceptional Quality and Value Right Now

Developing a complete appreciation for the world of wine frequently requires stepping out of your comfort zone.  And it’s hard to do, and rather expensive if you do it regularly.

But on every trip to the store, I try to buy one bottle that I am not familiar with, or a wine from a region I haven’t tried before. In doing that over many years, I’ve discovered a lot of wines I never knew that I would enjoy from areas I never would have expected.

Some are wines from small pockets of Rhone or tiny sub-regions in Italy that are still relatively in the mainstream. Others were varietals I didn’t know existed. Many others have been from countries few people talk about in the wine world. 

They are produced in places that few people visit. They are wines that right now, might not be showing up on restaurant wine lists, but they might soon.

And more than anything, because they are yet to be discovered by the masses, you can acquire very high quality wine at super competitive prices.  That’s what attracts me to them and the journey of discovering these wines is a never-ending game with rich rewards.

Here are seven countries that are a little off the beaten path, some more than others, but all of them are producing stellar wines, that bang for the buck, set a pretty high bar in terms of quality.  In a blind taste test against wines of similar cost, it’d be hard to beat many of these.

Hungary

Hungary produces excellent white, red and rosé wines.  The Tokaj (pronounced toe-kay) region is among the more famous in the country and is known for sweet white wines made from native varietals that are super difficult to pronounce.

But while Tokaj wines are becoming more widely available, I’ve found favor more with wines from Hungary’s Villany region that produces tasty rosé along with dry reds comprised of Bordeaux varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot along with the local grapes Kekfrankos and Portugieser. 

Villany benefits from a Mediterranean climate that is hot in the summer and mild in the winter, and is an area known for producing many of Hungary’s most award winning wines.  Keep an eye out for these.

Moldova

I’ve written extensively about Moldovan wine in the past, and I continue to find these wines to be very interesting across all their styles – red, white and rosé.

The local grape, Rara Neagra, is herbal on the nose, fruity, acidic, with sour cherry notes.  It produces big strong red wines that are perfect to enjoy with red meat, or hearty red sauce cuisine.  Rara Neagra is bottled on its own but can also be found with other Bordeaux varietals in red blends that are quite tasty.

Austria

In Austria, home of many awesome wines and unique varietals, a wine that is on the rise that you need to know about is Gruner Veltliner (pronounced GROO-ner Velt-leen-er), also known as Groovy or GruV.  I imagine many people pass this one up on the wine list since the pronunciation can be a little tricky, but missing out on these wines is a big mistake.

Gruner Veltliner is often very affordably priced, in restaurants and retail (frequently under $15-$20 retail) and is an absolutely delicious varietal.

Gruners are typically dry, sometimes with a slight touch of effervescence, and are tangy and acidic with bell pepper, lime, citrus fruit and dill notes.  They are food friendly and refreshing especially in warm weather.

South Africa

South African wines are also on the rise and more readily accessible at restaurants and retail shops than ever before.  The king grape of South Africa is Pinotage, which is a hybrid between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, resulting in wines that are rich, tannic, earthy and herbal with dark fruit flavor.

Pinotage is frequently blended with other popular Bordeaux varietals to create what’s become known as the “Cape Blend.”  This usually includes Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot along with Shiraz and Cinsault.

But South African Chardonnay might be where it’s at right now.  Chenin Blanc is a popular white, but more high quality Chardonnay seems to be coming from South Africa, and much of it can be scored under $25.

South African Chardonnay is often characterized by citrus fruit flavor, peach, apple, along with notes of spice and oak in a full bodied, creamy dry wine. (I interviewed the founders of South Africa’s House of Mandela Wines for HuffPost who shared their insights into the current state of wine in South Africa, as well as the leadership roles women play in the wine and spirits industries)

Greece

Greek wines aren’t super easy to find.  Even at the Total Wine near me, there’s a category header for Greece but only a handful of bottles, one of which is the superb Skouras Saint George Nemea ($16), which is made from the Agiorgitiko grape.

This wine is an excellent value and a perfect expression of the varietal, which is the most popular grape variety in the country. Agiorgitiko is spicy, dry with red fruit flavor, sometimes slightly sweet and with lower acidity than similar grapes.  It is frequently bottled on its own but can also be blended with other dry reds including Cabernet Sauvignon and it can also be used to make rosé wines.

Serbia

Serbia isn’t the first country you think of when shopping for wine, but it’s a country with a rich history of winemaking and today, it is becoming more recognized globally for producing high quality wines.

A popular indigenous grape, Prokupac, is one to put on your radar.  This is a popular grape used in Serbian rosé wines as well as dry red wines where it is frequently blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot and Pinot Noir.

Prokupac is usually tannic with rich black cherry, plum and blackberry flavors and generally high sugar levels which increases the alcohol level in the wines.

Slovenia

Slovenian wine might be the most obscure on this list, but it’s a wine producing country we want to put on your radar in the event you have a chance to taste their wines.

Two important areas to note are Goriska Brda and Starjerska.

In Brda you’ll find wines made from most of the major varietals, red and white, to include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc along with the lesser known Rebula which is a popular white.

In Starjerska, just south of the Austrian border, you’ll also find popular white varietals and white blends that can include Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, resulting in wines with citrus, peach and mango flavors.

There you have it.  Hopefully a few wines areas that you can make note of and keep your eyes out for next time you visit a restaurant with an eclectic list, or a wine shop that dares to think outside the norm.