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Archive for the 'Wine Wisdoms' Category

Wine Wisdoms #13: How to Taste Wine in a Restaurant

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009 at 5:00:44 PM
by Erika S., Wine Enthusiast Companies

winewaiter.gifWhen a waiter offers a taste of your wine prior to pouring you may wonder: Do I sniff the cork? Do I touch the bottle? Swirl the wine?

The purpose of tasting your wine prior to pouring is to check quality and temperature. You want to taste the wine to be sure it is free from cork taint and oxidation. A corked bottle of wine has been infected by a pesky mold called Trichloroanisole (TCA) and an oxidized bottle of wine will have been exposed to excess oxygen, rendering it undrinkable. So, how do you know?

Please do not smell the cork. Smell the wine. Taste the wine as you normally would: swirl- sniff-sip and look for off-aromas like wet newspaper, mustiness, or even a complete lack of smell. These are all signs of a bottle that is suffering from one of the aforementioned problems. If you feel that you’ve got a sick bottle, send it back without hesitation. You should never pay for a damaged bottle of wine.

Then decide if your wine is at the appropriate temperature. Hopefully it has been stored at the proper temperature at the restaurant but if not, have them chill it down if need be. If everything tastes right, give the waiter the OK sign, and he will pour around the table. Cheers!

Look for Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Restaurant Award Winners of 2008, our picks for America’s premier wine-driven restaurants, announced in the upcoming February issue or search our online restaurant awards database.

Wine Wisdoms #12: Champagne 101

Wednesday, December 31st, 2008 at 2:20:51 PM
by Erika S., Wine Enthusiast Companies

Champagne Toast

Though traditional Champagne is made as a white wine, it is made from a blend of red and white grapes including Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. The juice has no contact with the grape skins so despite the red Pinot Noir grapes in the blend, the final result is a white wine.

There are 7 basic steps to making Champagne by the Traditional Method, also called Fermentation in Bottle or Methode Champenoise:

1)  First Fermentation: a still wine is produced from each grape variety that is to be a component of the Champagne (usually Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier).

2) Blending: still wines are blended together from different grapes, vineyards or perhaps different vintages to create a consistent style.

3) Liqueur de Tirage: a blend of wine, sugar, yeast nutrients and a clarifying agent is added to the blend to set off a second fermentation in the bottle and create the sparkle. After the liqueur de tirage is added, the bottle is sealed temporarily.

4) Maturation: the bottles mature horizontally while CO2, yeast and alcohol build inside. An important process called yeast autolysis also occurs in which the yeast digests and interacts with the wine, creating unique flavor components. This process can last as long as ten years!

5) Riddling: the bottles alternate from horizontal to vertical positions to move the deposit of yeast up to the neck of the bottle, so it can be removed. In the past, a skilled person did this work by hand but recently Champagne houses have started to use mechanical techniques. A further period of aging typically occurs after riddling.

6) Disgorgement: the neck of the bottle is frozen so that the yeast deposit can exit the bottle in a clean way. During disgorgement, the pressure inside the bottle from the CO2 releases the deposit fully from the bottle.

7)  Dosage: a small amount of wine is lost during disgorgement so some more wine is added along with liqueur d’expedition (mix of wine and sugar). This process is called dosage and will vary depending on the desired sweetness of the resulting Champagne. Further aging can be done after this depending on the producer’s needs.

Finally the Champagne is sealed and dressed with a label and foil covering. Sparkling wines can be made in a variety of methods but traditional Champagne from France must be made in this method in order to be called “Champagne.”

Learn the best vintages and regions in Roger Voss’s “Champagne’s Brightest Stars”

Find affordable Champagne and sparkling wine at

Shop great Champagne accessories like our beautiful Fusion Infinity Champagne flutes 

From all of us at Wine Enthusiast Companies, have a very Happy New Year!

Wine Wisdoms #11: Bordeaux, Left and Right Banks

Monday, December 22nd, 2008 at 6:55:18 PM
by Josh F., Wine Enthusiast Companies

mapfrancebordeaux.JPGThe Bordeaux region is divided by the Gironde river into two major areas. On the left bank you find the Medoc and various sub-regions while on the right bank you find St. Emilion and Pomerol and various sub-regions. Cabernet Sauvignon is the primary grape variety on the left bank and Merlot dominates on the right. Often the right bank wines are softer than the left due to the prominence of Merlot rather than Cabernet Sauvignon. Because the right bank region is larger there is more Merlot planted than any other grape in Bordeaux.

Wine Wisdoms #10: Are Reserve Wines Important?

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008 at 6:48:25 PM
by Erika S., Wine Enthusiast Companies

Unlike old-world countries like France and Italy which have levels of designation which are enforced by the government (AOC/DOC), new-world wineries build their reputation on perceived quality by the consumer. As a result, many wineries use the term “Reserve” to denote special bottlings made from top grapes/vineyards or wines made in a different style than their other labels. The term “Reserve” is not regulated, so it is up to the winery’s discretion. As a result, a “Reserve” wine can be a quality wine, or it can be a clunker. A low level winery can produce a “Reserve” wine if it’s better than their other wines, but it’s not necessarily a great wine because the term “Reserve” is used.

For more basic wine education, check out our selection of educational products at

For a comprehensive glossary of wine terms at your finger tips, check out our brand new iPhone Application, available now!

Wine Wisdoms #9: Why Barrel Fermentation is Special

Tuesday, December 9th, 2008 at 1:45:47 PM
by Josh F., Wine Enthusiast Companies

Barrel Fermentation

Most wines are fermented in large steel tanks. Some high quality white wines, particularly Chardonnays, are barrel fermented. This means that the grape juice is put into small (50 gallon) oak barrels along with the yeast, and wine is made. Barrel fermentation is very labor intensive as many, many barrels are used and must be tended to. It’s also an expensive technique because the barrels must be purchased, maintained and replaced frequently. The benefit is that the wines produced this way are richer and more complex than tank fermented wines.  Top burgundy producers barrel ferment and so do many exclusive California wineries.

We offer an assortment of “barrel” themed home decor items like our Personalized Barrel Top Lazy Susans, which make great gifts!

Wine Wisdoms #8: It’s All About Balance

Monday, December 1st, 2008 at 5:18:33 PM
by Erika S., Wine Enthusiast Companies

balance.jpgThe simplest way to judge the quality of a wine is to determine whether the wine is well-balanced. A wine of high quality will have flavor components that are integrated and in sync with one another. Attributes such as alcohol, acidity and tannin should work together well. If something seems out of wack, it may be an indication of a poorer quality of wine. For example, if you sense a hotness in your throat after sipping the wine, the alcohol may be out of balance. If your mouth is watering profusely, the acidity may be too high. Balance is the most crucial element of wine tasting. And of course if YOU don’t like it, none of this matters at all!

Educate yourself further on the components of wine with any of our wine taste and aroma kits, they  make great gifts too!

Wine Wisdoms #7: Why the Wire on Rioja?

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008 at 1:30:12 PM
by Josh F., Wine Enthusiast Companies

Rioja BottleEarly in the 20th century as some of Rioja’s producers had made great improvements and offered wines far superior to others, unscrupulous merchants started to paste labels from the top wines onto undistinguished bottles. To prevent this, the wineries started putting wire mesh around their bottles. Today it is a tradition that still holds for many wineries.

Find great Rioja buys at

Search “Rioja” in Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Online Buying Guide for Thousands of Reviews

Wine Wisdoms #6: Beaujolais Basics

Friday, November 21st, 2008 at 4:12:06 PM
by Josh F., Wine Enthusiast Companies

Beaujolais Nouveau

Beaujolais, though technically considered part of Burgundy, produces more wine than the rest of the entire Burgundy region. Almost all of that wine is red from the Gamay grape. Aside from the individual Village “Cru” Beaujolais which can be aged 3-5 years, Beaujolais-Village is the highest quality wine produced there and is made to be drunk within 2-3 years. And of course every November Beaujolais Nouveau is produced from the current vintage crop.

Discover and learn about the best Beaujolais of 2008 at Wine Enthusiast Magazine

Wine Wisdoms #5: The Pivotal Judgment of Paris 1976

Monday, November 17th, 2008 at 12:11:41 PM
by Erika S., Wine Enthusiast Companies

Judgment of Paris BookThe Judgment of Paris was a pivotal moment in the history of California wines. In May 1976, a British wine merchant arranged a blind tasting of French and California wines (Cabernet vs. Classified Bordeaux and Chardonnay vs. top White Burgundies) to be judged by France’s foremost wine industry experts. The results launched California wines onto the world stage as Stag’s Leap Cask 23 was chosen the top red over, Mouton-Rothschild, Haut Brion, Montrose and others and Chateau Montelena Chardonnay was the number one white ahead of Batard-Montrachet, Puligny-Montrachet Les Pucelles, Beaune Clos des Mouches and others. The Judgment of Paris was also the focus of the feature film “Bottle  Shock,” which released this Fall.

Read more about California wines at Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s West Coast editor Steve Heimoff’s blog, UnReserved

Wine Wisdoms #4: Oxygen, Your Friend and Enemy

Friday, November 14th, 2008 at 3:51:35 PM
by Erika S., Wine Enthusiast Companies


In the world of wine, oxygen is both your friend and your enemy. Wines are decanted or aerated so that friendly oxygen can slip into your wine in small doses. The oxygen, in effect, allows your wine to breathe and release newly developed aromas and flavors.

Oxygen is your enemy when you let an open bottle of wine sit on the counter and heavy doses of oxygen attack the wine, stripping it of its essences. Everything in moderation.

Find oxygen-related tools like decanters, aerators and preservation tools at