Behind The Bubbly!

Many of you opened some bubbly over the holidays but have you ever wondered how it’s made? The process is laborious, especially for Champagne or sparkling wines made in the traditional method.

When grape juice is fermented and becomes wine, carbon dioxide is created and allowed to disperse. If fermentation takes place in a sealed container (i.e. a bottle) and the gas is not allowed to escape, pressure builds up and the wine absorbs the carbon dioxide where it stays dissolved until released resulting in bubbles in your glass. The pressure in sparkling wine is typically 70 – 90 psi or about the tire pressure of a double decker bus! This pressure demands a thick glass bottle and a cork that becomes mushroom shaped (due to pressure) with a wire cage on it.

Champagne starts with base wine: a still wine utilizing white wine grapes that have high acid and low alcohol. The winemaker adds yeast and sugar to this base wine to initiate a second fermentation in the bottle. The bottle is immediately capped and the wine is aged on its lees (dead yeast cells and solids). Some of the lees dissolve and are absorbed into the wine. After aging, the sediment is removed. The wine is quickly topped off with base wine and sugar and resealed for sale. Many new world and European producers use this traditional method but are not allowed to label as Champagne since the wine is not from the Champagne region in France. Spanish Cava is produced using the traditional method. Italian Prosecco is produced using a method called Charmat or Tank method.

Once opened, a bottle of champagne has approximately 56 million bubbles. Finer wine will have smaller bubbles due to longer aging and cooler aging cellar temperatures.

Something to ponder the next time you pop a cork and share some bubbly with friends.

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Pairing Wine And Food

pairingwineandfood

A friend requested I write about pairing wine and food. I was somewhat hesitant because I felt the post would either become a dissertation or be so short it would barely clear a paragraph.

There are many avenues to take for pairing, from mandatory adherence to a strict set of rules to “Vinotyping” and taste bud count affecting how a person tastes (i.e. Why You Like The Wines You Like by Tim Hanni, MW).  I lean more towards the the later.  In my opinion, there is only one thing you need to know: drink what you like, like what you drink.  Choose a wine you enjoy and desire to drink with whatever it is you’re eating.  Conceding to pairing the alleged “appropriate” wine with food will not make the pairing better if it’s not speaking to you in the first place. It will however, make for an unpleasant dining experience.

Taste is personal but I believe there are parameters we generally share. Most people establish some level of tolerance for acidity and most people like sweet food. There are even a small percentage of people who cultivate a liking to bitterness. Accordingly, consider the following basic guidelines; use them as a starting off point then follow your own personal palate preferences:

BASIC WINE AND FOOD PAIRING GUIDELINES:

Intensity: match intensity of wine and food (i.e. light wine-light food, heavy food-heavy wine)

Spicy food: pair spicy food with high acid, off dry, medium-sweet wine – try brut Rosé, Albarino, Riesling, or fight fire with fire and pair with a high alcohol spicy wine like Syrah or Zinfandel

Fatty food: pair fatty food with a high acid wine like an Vinho Verde, unoaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, or a tannic red like Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon or Tempranillo

Salty food: pair salty food with a high acid wine or wine with a bit of sweetness – try something sparkling like Champagne, a crisp Falanghina or a tawny port (think pretzels dipped in caramel)

Sweet food: pair sweet food with wine that has a high level of sweetness or fruitiness – try a late harvest wine, Ice wine, Moscato d’Asti, which has a slight effervescence, or for something fruity try a newer vintage Shiraz or Petite Sirah, these will probably be best for those dark chocolate pairings.

My ultimate advice is to acknowledge and embrace your individual tasting preferences. If you want Chardonnay with your steak and your friend prefers Cabernet Sauvignon…congratulations, you have both nailed your pairing!

~Drink what you like, like what you drink!~

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What A Lovely Figure!

 

whatalovelyfigure

Have you ever wondered about the shapes of wine bottles? Are they shaped differently for a reason or is it just random artistry? As is often the case in wine, tradition is the major player for the different bottle shapes. I touched on this subject a few years ago in my blog with a graphic but let’s look at it with a bit more detail.  There are four main types:

Bordeaux bottles have high shoulders with straight sides for wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The high shoulders were created to help trap sediment due to prominent tannins in most of these wines.  These bottles are made of thick glass with a high punt (the punt is the indentation on the bottom of the bottle).

Burgundy bottles are tall and wide with sloping shoulders for wines like Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chablis and Pinot Gris. Much like Bordeaux bottles, these are made of thick glass. Purportedly, Burgundy bottles were the first to be created and the sloping shoulders made for easy stacking as well as achievability for glass blowers.

Champagne bottles are wide with low shoulders for wines like Champagne, Cava, and Prosecco. These bottles were created out of necessity due to the pressure inside the bottles (roughly 70-90 psi). They are made of thick glass, have a high punt and low shoulders to contain the immense pressure inside the bottles. By the way, the thick corks and cages securing them are no mistake either.

German/Alsatian bottles are narrow and tall with gentle sloping shoulders for wines like Riesling and Gewürztraminer.   The slender shape and lighter weight of these bottles were made for convenient stowing on ships during their voyage along trade routes in the early years.

This may just be extra wine knowledge fodder in your head but it may make it easier to spot the type of wine you’re looking for in the wine shop.  As I mentioned a few years ago when I first wrote about the subject, that could mean scoring that last bottle of prize vintage Bordeaux.

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Which Type Are You?

Have you ever wondered about the shapes of wine bottles? Are the different shapes random happenstance or are they part of a great plan?  Believe it or not, the shapes of wine bottles are actually well calculated to match the styles of specific wines.  If you love burgundy wine, then your bottle type has sloping shoulders and a tall appearance or if you love bordeaux, then your bottle type has straight sides and high shoulders.

This little bit of trivia can give you ease in spotting your preferred bottle…which can come in handy the next time you and your fellow wine shopper are both going for that last bottle of bordeaux!

 

graphic from: http://www.lewineoil.com/

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Early Harvest For Champagne

It seems global warming is rearing it’s ugly head.  Let me share this article straight from www.decanter.com.  And by “straight from” I mean literally copied and pasted for your reading convenience.  I don’t want to get in trouble for claiming I wrote any of the below.

The 2011 Champagne harvest will be one of the earliest on record, with picking allowed to start as early as 19 August.

The region’s trade body, the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC) has permitted the earliest ripening areas to pick from 19 August including the villages of Cumieres, Sacy and Damery in the Marne Valley, and Buxeuil, Neuville-sur-Seine, and Polisot in the Aube.

Thibaut le Mailloux, communications director at the CIVC, told decanter.com ‘2011 is going to be an extremely early harvest in the region of Champagne, missing the absolute record of 2003 by one day only.

‘The 2011 harvest is indeed starting on August 19 in several crus of the French departments of L’Aube and La Marne, for Pinot Noir and Meunier – and as soon as on the 20 for Chardonnay. 90%¨of the vineyards will basically have started to harvest by August 25.’

The only other harvest that commenced this early occurred 189 years ago, in 1822.

All but two crus are allowed to harvest their grapes before September with the two late starters – Baye and Germaine in the Marne – required to wait until 1 September to harvest their crop.

The early ripening Pinot Meunier is the first variety to be picked, followed by Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

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