Month: October 2014

Why Should I Decant My Wine?

Decanting is done for three reasons.

Firstly, it is a great way to aerate your wine (as mentioned in a previous post). Secondly it helps to remove any sediment in the wine. Thirdly, it’s an excuse to own something that looks like it came straight out of Dowton Abbey. Ok so the third reason isn’t really a reason.

What is sediment?

If you cast your mind back to silt deposits in rivers from geography class, then this is sort of related.

Sediment is the solid matter you occasionally find in older wines, the grainy residue you get at the bottom of the bottle. It’s perfectly normal for it to be there as a byproduct the production process. However, it doesn’t taste very nice and having stuff floating in your drink can be off putting!

It’s less common in wine than it used to be. These days wine goes through extensive filtration and a process known as fining.

Fining is done by passing egg whites or something equally odd through the wine to collect solid matter.

So will I actually have any sediment in my wine?

Potentially yes. If your wine has been made to age in the bottle and is ten or more years old it will drop sediment.

Fortunately removing it is pretty easy and this is where decanting is important.

How do I decant my wine?

First, preparation. It’s usual to store wine horizontally. Stand it upright for 24 hours to allow any sediment to settle. You might get away with doing this in the morning if you plan on drinking it that evening.

If you didn’t store it horizontally or your wine is less than ten years old you can skip that bit.

Decanting itself is straightforward. You need your wine, a suitable container, and a light source.

Remove the foil and anything obstructing your view of the neck of the bottle and uncork your wine.

Next, find somewhere to stand next to a light source so you can backlight the neck of the bottle whilst pouring. This will help you see the sediment as it comes into the neck and allow you to stop pouring just in time.

Hold the container in one hand and the bottle in the other and start to slowly pour. The objective is to keep as much sediment in the bottom of the bottle as you can. If you take it slow and steady you shouldn’t stir it up too much. Use the light to help you see the sediment. Keep an eye on it.

When you stop you should have less than half a glass of wine with sediment in. This isn’t waste though as it can make a delicious addition to homemade gravy!

Do you have a special technique for removing sediment? If so comment or get in touch and let us know what it is.

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Why Is It Important To Let Wine Aerate Or Breathe?

“Let it breathe!”

If you thought that was something people said to make it look like they know about wine… you are probably right.

There is some science behind this though! Aerating a wine and allowing it to breathe ultimately means mixing it with air. Doing this is a great way to improve the your wine drinking experience

Why should I aerate?

The alcohol in wine is ethanol, a byproduct of yeast metabolising sugar in the grapes. Ethanol is an interesting substance, particularly as you can find it in interstellar clouds. Intergalactic it might be but it smells a bit unappetising.

Aerating allows a wine with a higher concentration of ethanol to lose any hint of “alcohol hand wash” it might have through evaporation.

If you can detect a hint of matches or flame then you are picking up on the sulfites in your wine. This is sulphur dioxide, which is added to the wine to prevent further fermentation and act as a preservative. If you let your wine air you will likely find this hint disappears as the sulfites evaporate.

If you get a hint of rotten eggs or onions then you are detecting the presence of sulfides. Again, this should lessen and disappear with aerating if it is present at all.

Letting your wine air allows it to oxidise and warm up. If it has heavy or powerful aromas these should soften. Airing also allows the flavour of the wine to mellow and improve.

How should I aerate my wine?

Contrary to popular belief, simply removing the cork is not enough. Doing this only exposes the small amount of wine at the top of the bottle to the air.

Decanting is the usual method of doing this, although pouring into a glass can work just as well. Doing this mixes air into your wine. If you want to look really fancy, gently swirling it around the glass also helps to add air.

You can purchase special aeration devices which fit on the end of the bottle. Whether or not they speed up the aeration process is a matter of personal opinion.

Which wines should I aerate?

Typically red wines benefit the most from aeration. White wines typically have a higher sulfite content then reds, so it can be beneficial to aerate these too.

How long should I wait?

Typically the younger the wine the longer you should wait. So, perhaps an hour for something young and full bodied.

If you are drinking an older vintage wine of seven years or more then it is best to decant, at least to remove any sediment. Be careful not to wait too long, 15 minutes is probably enough. After that may start to lose the best flavours of the wine.

If you have a particular method of aerating your wine, or you own a special device to do so, comment or get in touch, and let us know all about it.

Conflict In Crimea Casts Long Shadow Over European Wine Trade

Crimea has long been of strategic significance to its neighbours.

Perhaps you recognise the picture of Livadia Palace? This imposing residence in Yalta was built on the wishes of Tsar Nicolas II and his wife Aleksandra, inspired by their visit to renaissance Italy in 1908. This palace was inaugurated on 11th of September 1911. Before 9/11 became an infamous date, this had some occasion as writing the day, month and year numerically gives a palindrome.

Whilst war in Europe still raged the Palace hosted the Yalta Conference of February 1945 during which Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin decided what post-war Europe would look like.

This peninsular has recently again become the focus of events with far reaching consequences. Events that have overshadowed one of the most interesting things about this region; its unusual and fantastic wines.

Crimea has been producing wines for almost two centuries. The subtropical climate lends itself to producing fortified and dessert wines.

The most famous winery is at Massandra, founded near the end of the 19th century to produce wine for the imperial family. It survived a revolution, two world wars and a civil war. Apparently some of the wines within still bare the famous double-headed eagle, the crest of the Romanov family.

In August 2014 the Russian Federation instigated a trade embargo against Europe, the US and other western nations. However, it has not restricted the import of wine and spirits, worth around $1.8 billion to Europe. Imports make up around 80% of the Russian wine industry, but the story does not stop here.

A few days ago Decanter reported that Russia is planning to invest 250 million Euros in Crimea. This will increase vineyard area from 37,300ha to 100,000ha by 2025. Raising production form some 83 million cases to 600 million, a whopping 623% increase.

No doubt this is designed to allow Russia to reduce its dependency on wine imports and mitigate the impact of sanctions, which may last for decades to come.

The impact to Europe will be tangible. In 2012 France, Germany, Italy and Spain accounted for around $428 million of the $850 million worth of wine imported by Russia.

The current crisis may have quietened down due to events on the ground. However, the impact will no doubt play out for years to come.

Image is of “Livadia Palace Crimea“. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Should I Buy The Second Cheapest Wine?

A little while ago we tweeted about a funny clip we had rediscovered on youtube by CollegeHumour, the ever popular Second Cheapest Wine. Maybe it’s an ironic look at the failure of the wine industry to properly engage the consumer, or maybe it’s just humour.

A few days ago however we saw this article in the Times that claimed that the second cheapest wine on the menu in a restaurant is probably the one with the best margin. After all, who would want to look like a cheapskate when ordering wine?

Perhaps this is true, or perhaps the wine with the most margin is the one that sells the best. Presumably if the restaurant mostly sells house red it would probably set the prices accordingly.

Ultimately, ordering wine at a restaurant is like buying wine at a supermarket: unless you’ve tried it then its a lottery.

Give yourself a fighting chance with the following tips.

Look for the breadth in the range

If there are five French wines and a solitary Argentinian wine, the chances are that whomever chose the wines knew more about the French wines. As such, if you pick from the bigger part of the list you are more likely to get something decent for the price.

Don’t buy by the glass

If you really want to enjoy your wine, consider that if you buy by the glass you have no idea how long the bottle it came from has been open. Reputable restaurants will have a sensible wine management policy, but if you buy by the glass you are in their hands.

Trade off the price of a glass versus the price of a bottle. We’re not suggesting you should drink more as a result, but at least with an unopened bottle the wine shouldn’t be off.

Also, if you can get over your Britishness, you could always explain to your waiter or waitress that you aren’t sure how much to order and ask if they would allow you to take home any unfinished wine.

If one glass is really all you want, get the house red in preference to the second cheapest.

Check the vintage

Most wines are meant to be enjoyed when they are young. Spare a thought for how the restaurant might be storing wine, and if you doubt it is doing so correctly, perhaps don’t order the older vintage and go for something a bit more recent.

Ask the staff

As you receive the wine list you can always ask the staff what they would recommend and take it into account – or not.

Stick with what you know

If sauvignon blanc is your thing then stick with that, at least it will be familiar. Otherwise, you could take a lucky dip and order the house wine.

Good luck!

If you have any buying tips then comment or get in touch.

Image take from Second Cheapest Wine on youtube.

Vintage Champagne – What’s all the fizz about?

Vintage champagne accounts for around 10% of the total production of the Champagne region.

While non-vintage champagnes are produced from a blend of different years’ harvests, vintage champagne is made of a single, usually good quality harvest.

On average producers will declare vintages in 3 out of every 10 years.  Furthermore, all French vintage champagne must lie for a minimum of three years after being bottled.

The production of champagne from a single, good quality crop, combined with the longer ageing process produces a typically fuller and deeper flavour.

This enhanced flavour, combined with the rarity of vintage champagnes when compared to non-vintages, makes for a really indulgent treat.

Tempted to indulge in vintage champagne? Try our Deutz Brut Vintage Champagne 2006. Perfect to drink between 2014 and 2020.

How To Open A Bottle Of Champagne

Opening a bottle of Champagne is an occasion in itself. The sound of popping corks is synonymous with celebration. Here are a number of ways to get your party started!

Formula One Style

While it is true that the champagne bottles found on the winners’ podium of a Formula 1 race have already had the corks removed before the champagne is sprayed, it is also true that shaking a corked bottle will result in the cork flying from the bottle showering those in the immediate vicinity. After all, Champagne was initially known as “the devil’s drink” due to its explosive tendencies. Ultimately, a fun but arguably wasteful method, particularly if it is good champagne!

Sabrage

According to legend Napoleon and his troops invented this method of opening bottles of Moët to celebrate victory. Clearly Napoleon was a fan of Champagne and is widely reported to have commented:

“I drink Champagne when I win, to celebrate….and I drink Champagne when I lose, to console myself.”

This technique involves sliding a sabre sword along the neck of the bottle breaking the glass. Think carefully before trying this. Assuming you can get a sabre home without violating British knife legislation, think… am I any good with a sabre? Warning, may well result in broken bottles and severed fingers – certainly not recommended.

Slowly and safely

Firstly, remove the foil and loosen the wire cage surrounding the cork. Hold the bottle at a 45 degree angle. Start to turn the base of the champagne bottle, while holding the cork and cage firmly. As the cork starts to push out, hold the cork firmly until you hear a soft pop.

While this method lacks some of the ‘show’ of the other methods, the soft pop sound means that you’ve preserved the bubbles in your champagne and you’re ready to serve with your bottle and fingers intact!

So get practising!

Caution, we did warn you about the sabres..

If you have a different method of opening your champagne then please comment or contact us and let us know!

Featured image is “Champagne uncorking photographed with a high speed air-gap flash” by Niels NoordhoekOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Number of British Wine Producers at 20 Year High

Global warming is arguably the most serious threat we have ever faced as a species. But in the short term maybe the warmer British summers are helping to sustain growth in one of the most universally ridiculed pursuits; the UK wine industry.

Nearly 50 new wine producers registered with the taxman this year, bringing the total to 135. Many producers are looking to cash in on a booming sparkling wine trend which at around £550 million this year is 15% higher than last year.

Alcohol in the UK is big business, valued at around £38 billion in 2013 with around £17 billion going to HMRC in excise duty and VAT.

Hopefully English Wine Week will be even better next year as a result! Its the last week of May 2015, don’t miss it!

If you have a favourite english sparkling wine we’d love to know what it is, comment or contact us.

Full story in The Guardian.

Featured image is “Vineyard at Wyken Hall – geograph.org.uk – 216836” by Bob Jones – From geograph.org.uk. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Premier Cru Château Haut-Brion – More Premier Than Originally Thought

In 1660 Charles II was restored to the throne, issuing the Declaration of Breda, bringing to a close the Interregnum, the period following the Wars of the Three Kingdoms that saw Charles I executed.

Of course, that’s all very interesting. However, perhaps more interesting is that 1660 is the earliest known mention of Château Haut-Brion, in a ledger in the wine cellar of Charles II.

Haut-Brion has a lot going for it, being the only wine with the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée classification for the Pessac-Léognan appellation. Pessac is a mere six kilometres south-west of Bordeaux. Coupled with at least 350 years worth of estate heritage it is much sought after and very collectible.

Queue a ridiculous fact, a 12 bottle case of 1961 Haut-Brion would set you back around £12.5k.

Well, lo and behold art historian Laurent Chavier has discovered a document mentioning the sale of an annuity promising the delivery of wine from the vineyard of Aubrion. This is dated 21st January 1521.

So it seems that Château Haut-Brion has been producing wine from the same vines for almost half a millennia.

Somebody update wikipedia!

Featured image is “Haut Brion exterior” by BillBl – originally posted to Flickr as Chateau Haut-Brion. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

White Port: Tonic’s New Best Friend

While Ruby and Tawny Port will frequently put in appearance at the end of a meal or at Christmas, it is white port which now finds itself stepping into the spotlight.

White port is made from white grapes and is almost universally produced to a medium (or higher) sweetness level.

White Port is delicious when served slightly chilled on its own or as a port tonic, which incidentally makes a refreshing change to gin and tonic.

If you fancy trying something a bit different, try our delicious Quinta Do Noval White Port, and check out this Port Tonic recipe from theKitchn.

If you have a favourite portonic recipe we’d love to hear it! Comment or get in touch!

Sotheby’s Auction Sets New Wine Record

How much would you pay for a bottle of wine? Would you pay £8,700 a bottle?

At a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong on Saturday (4th October) a collector paid $1.6m for 114 bottles of Domaine de la Romanée Conti (DRC) Burgundy.

The “superlot” contained 6 bottles of every vintage between 1992 and 2010. An opportunity too good to miss for someone with £1m to spend.

There have been vineyards on the land in the DRC estate since the 13th century. Over the centuries wine from this estate has become some of the most collectable and expensive in the world.

But… £8,700 a bottle? Perhaps I’ll leave the last words to Roald Dahl, who famously once said

“to drink a Romanée-Conti is like having an orgasm in the mouth and nose at the same time”

Full story in Decanter.