From Kegs to Bottles to Cans: The Evolution of Wine

cansI am not much of a beer drinker, and when I do drink beer, it’s almost always at a Japanese restaurant and drawn out of a tap.

I rarely drink beer out of a bottle, and almost never drink it out of a can. And since I’ve pretty much eliminated soft drinks from my diet, I don’t drink much of anything out of a can.

That may be changing, however, as one of the hot trends of the past few years has been the delivery of my favorite adult beverage — wine — in cans.

And here’s what may come as a surprise: Some of the canned wines now being produced are quite good.

In some cases, wineries have been adding cans to their packaging options, complementing the traditional bottles. In other cases, the only way you can obtain certain wines is in a can; the makers are, ahem, canning bottles altogether.

The benefits are numerous, beginning with convenience. When wine is packaged in a can, it becomes a single-serving option for people reluctant to invest in an entire bottle that they may or may not finish.

Cans also make a great option for those interested in sustainability; they’re easy to recycle.

And here’s something I think we all can agree upon: Wouldn’t a well-made wine in a can make a great alternative to the cheap “house wines” served at so many restaurants and lounges?

As has been true through most of wine history, Europe was ahead of the curve when it came to canned wine. Estates across the pond have been packaging wine in cans for decades.

But it’s now catching on big-time in America, and I like to think that we have Danny DeVito to thank for it. In a 2009 episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” the DeVito character (Frank) poured red wine into a can so nobody would know he was drinking something a little bit stronger than soda.

For me, there’s yet another benefit associated with canned wine: I’ll finally be able to use the Bob Seger koozies presently displayed with my CD collection.

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Pairing Summer Salads With Wine

saladwineDuring the summer months, I love nothing more than experimenting with different types of salads and then figuring out what type of wine pairs best with them.

I have to admit that we take the easy way out when it comes to the lettuce itself; we simply buy a pre-packaged product from the produce department, and change up on the mix of greens from week to week. We do try to go with whatever is freshest and grown locally whenever possible.

Using that package as a base, we then add ingredients to make the salad “our own.” I happen to love papaya and avocado as add-in ingredients. Sometimes we’ll go with strawberries or blueberries.

It seems that regardless of what we add, however, the dominant flavor of the salad almost always turns out to be the dressing. When pairing wine with any dish, it’s important to target the dominant flavor of the dish.

If you add nuts or various types of sliced meats to your salad, the dominant flavors could be a combination of those add-ins and the dressing, so keep that in mind when selecting the wine.

We tend to keep it simple — saving the proteins for dinner, and sticking to veggies and fruits for the salad, which we typically enjoy at lunchtime. For those types of salads, I’ve developed a “cheat sheet” for wine pairing based on the dressings we may use…

Everyone’s palate is different, so use these suggestions as a starting point and do some experimenting. There’s no reason your summer salad has to be accompanied by iced tea or just water.

With rare exceptions, where there’s a wine, there’s a way — and that includes pairing with dressings we use to top our summer salads.

P.S.: If you’re feeling ambitious, check out this salad recipe, which pairs perfectly with Sauvignon Blanc.

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How Rosé Became All the Rage

rosewineYou may have noticed there’s a lot of “pink” wine adorning tables in everything from neighborhood bistros to high-end fine-dining restaurants these days.

It wasn’t that way ten years ago, and the last time we saw so much pink in glasses, the wine was called “white” Zinfandel.

Today, most of the pink wine we’re seeing when people dine out is some form of rosé, a style made by limiting the amount of time crushed grape juice spends resting with the skins of the grapes. Basically, the less time the juice spends with the skins, the lighter the color of the finished wine.

Now let’s be clear about something: The sweet wine known as “White Zinfandel” was wildly popular for a long time, and still has millions of devoted fans. But it never caught on with those who prefer drier wines, and it is those people who now are embracing dry and off-dry rosés in record numbers.

Why is this so? How did rosé-style wines become all the rage, with sales surging 17% from 2015 to 2016 alone? I think there are five main reasons…

  1. America’s celebrity culture.

Rosé was just beginning to catch on when Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie) began marketing their Chateau Miraval Rosé. The fact that the project was overseen by them, came from Provence and also happened to be pretty good made it irresistible to their fans.

Francis Ford Coppola already had been making a rosé named for his daughter, Sofia, and other celebs that have joined the rosé-making brigade, include Drew Barrymore and Pamela Anderson.

  1. It pairs beautifully with food.

Red meat. Check. White meat. Check. Chicken. Check. Fish. Check. Barbecued fare. Check. Spicy food. Check. Seriously, it’s challenging to think of a dish or type of cuisine with which rosé does not pair well. It’s also delicious all by itself.

  1. Americans are eating healthier.

With chicken, lighter salads and treats from the sea now becoming more common in the American diet, rosé has found a home on wine racks of those who have become more health conscious.

  1. We’ll always have Provence.

Although not all great rosés come from southern France, the Provence region is recognized as the world capital of rosé production. Exports of rosé from Provence to the United States have been increasing by double digits for years.

  1. It’s pretty.

I like to think that all wine looks beautiful in a glass, whether it’s golden, various shades of red and purple, or even somewhat brown, like a well-aged sherry. But when it comes to pretty, nothing beats pink. What other hue has evoked hashtags such as #roseallday or #yeswayrose?

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Pairing Wine With Barbecue — Just in Time for the 4th of July

bbqFill ’er up!

Back in the days of full-service gas stations, that was the typical “order” of drivers to station attendants.

These days, we “fill ’er up” on our own, for the most part, and lots of Americans will be doing just that this week as they embark on extended 4th of July holiday “weekends.”

For those not hitting the road, there’s a good chance they’ll be firing up the grill and doing some backyard barbecuing.

Or as we like to say around our house, “Grill ’er up!”

But unlike a lot of folks, whose go-to beverage when grilling is beer, we’ll be reaching for a few bottles of wine.

Which ones? These three:

  1. Zinfandel. For those who love red wine, there is no better pairing than Zinfandel (red, not “white”) with grilled burgers, a grilled steak and pretty much any grilled red meat, including spicy sausages.

Most Zins are “big” — a.k.a. full bodied — with firm tannins and spicy flavors that perfectly complement the “char” of the grill and tomato-based sauces.

  1. Rosé. This style of wine has always been favored by French wine lovers, but now rosés are red-hot in America as well.

There are two basic ways to pair wine and food: through complementary characteristics, or by balancing traits.

Pairing rosé with barbecue is all about balancing. It’s about taking hot-off-the-grill cuts of meat, typically well spiced and/or sauced, and “cooling them off” just a bit with a glass of chilled-down, refreshing wine.

Most rosés today are being made bone-dry, which makes them perfect for accompanying spicy ribs or well-seasoned steaks or burgers. However, if you’re using a sweet sauce for your grilled goodies, try to find an off-dry rendition of rosé to accompany it. Sweet sauces and completely dry wines rarely work well together.

  1. Sauvignon Blanc. This is a pick that may be surprising to some, but there are specific grilling partners that almost cry out for this variety — especially if you can find ones that have spent at least some time aging in oak barrels.

Oak-aged or not, a well-chilled Sauvignon Blanc pairs quite nicely with grilled chicken, grilled pork and especially with grilled fish. Halibut, in particular, is a wine-and-grilling match made in culinary heaven.

What athletes call “muscle memory” may have you reaching for a beer when you fire up the grill, but there’s no reason you can’t enjoy wine with whatever you’re cooking on the 4th.

Grill ’er up and grab your wine glasses.

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Size Matters: Get to Know the Various Sizes of Wine Bottles

large bottlesThose bottles of wine you receive from the wine clubs of Vinesse or through our Cyber Circle offers are what are known in the trade as “750s.”

That’s the standard size for wine bottles, and the 750 is the number of milliliters of wine that the bottle holds. This is true not only for wine made in America, but all over the world — which explains why the metric system is used.

750s come in a variety of shapes, and Champagne bottles weigh more than others because stronger glass is needed since the wine inside is under pressure.

While a vast majority of wine is bottled in 750s, there are other sizes that have been developed over time for various reasons.

Let’s take a look at some of the larger-format bottles:

* Magnum — 1,500 ml., or about 12 glasses

* Jeroboam — 3,000 ml., or about 24 glasses

* Rehoboam — 4,500 mL, or about 36 glasses

* Methuselah (Imperial) — 6,000 ml., or about 48 glasses

* Salmanazar — 9,000 ml., or about 72 glasses

* Balthazar — 12,000 mL, or about 96 glasses

* Nebuchadnezzar — 15,000 mL, or about 120 glasses

* Melchior — 18,000 mL, or about 144 glasses

Only a few estates bottle wine in anything larger than a magnum. Some will use larger bottles by request, and will add the high cost of the larger bottle to the price of the wine. For the most part, larger bottles are earmarked for opening at very, very special occasions.

Bottles also come in three bottle sizes smaller than 750 milliliters:

* 500 ml. — Developed when DUI laws were tightened. The idea was that a couple could share a bottle and still be safe to drive. While a noble notion, the size has not caught on and is rarely seen.

* 375 ml. — Known as “half-bottles,” these are commonly used for sweet dessert wines, since such wines typically are poured in smaller serving sizes. Some wineries also bottle some table wines in this size, which is ideal for people who either don’t want to drink a lot or don’t want to be bothered with safely storing leftover wines.

* 187.5 ml. — Half the size of a half-bottle, it’s also known as a split, and is the size typically served on airplanes.

Here’s a little-known fact: The standard 750-ml. bottle tends to be the best bargain. Both larger bottles and smaller bottles typically cost more on a per-milliliter basis.

One more reason to savor wines from Vinesse…

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5 of Our Favorite Wine Quotes

champagneWine is a topic that lends itself to memorable observations.

That’s because it not only is a beverage, but also an esteemed food companion, a symbol of celebrations and a humble instigator of conversation.

Quotes about wine can be found in the Bible, literature of multiple genres, poetry and song lyrics. Sometimes it seems as if the references to our favorite adult beverage are ubiquitous.

Quotable wine topics cover the gamut from thoughtful observation to whimsical asides. I’m a collector of wine quotes — there are entire books featuring quote lists — and here are five of my favorites, in no particular order…

  • “Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.” — Robert Mondavi, the late vintner whose relentless promotion helped put California’s Napa Valley on the map
  • “Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, I’m finding enjoyment in things that stop time. Just the simple act of tasting a glass of wine is its own event. You’re not downing a glass of wine in the midst of doing something else.” — Actor David Hyde Pierce

(Note: One of my favorite sitcoms ever was Frasier, on which Hyde Pierce played Niles, the brother of the program’s star, Kelsey Grammer. In one memorable episode, Frasier resigned from the highbrow wine club to host a wine show at KACL, but interrupted Niles’s corkmaster inauguration speech to make his announcement. Out of revenge, Niles forbade all club members from calling into his brother’s new show. Frasier then went back to the club to confront him about it, and they had a major falling-out… which ultimately was resolved, of course.)

  • “Wine represents to me sharing and good times and a celebration of life. It is always around happy occasions with family and friends, and centered around joy. What better item to be involved in than something that represents all these wonderful things.” — Actor, comedian and writer Dan Aykroyd

(Note: Aykroyd also is part owner of a handful of wineries in Canada’s Niagara Peninsula region.)

  • “The funny thing is, wine is turning out to be a great investment. I couldn’t believe what happened with the value of my wine futures. I pinched myself and asked, ‘Did I just make more money on wine barrel futures than I did on the stock market?’” — Financial advisor and television personality Suze Orman
  • “I cook with wine. Sometimes I even add it to the food.” — Comedian and actor W.C. Fields
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Red Wine… White Wine… Orange Wine… Blue Wine…

bluewineWhen it comes to wine, I’m a bit of a traditionalist. I like mine to be red, purple, golden or salmon in hue. That pretty much covers most good red wines, white wines, sparkling wines and rosé wines.

So what’s the deal with these other colors that are finding their way onto supermarket shelves?

Let’s start with orange wine, which is not made from oranges, but rather from white grapes that are crushed, moved into a large vessel, and then left to ferment with very little to no intervention. It’s a natural process that many have embraced, but the resulting wines are an acquired taste — typically quite sour.

Then there’s blue wine, which is a blend of red and white grapes from Spain and France, to which indigo dye and anthocyanin (a grape skin pigment) is added. It’s sweet, meant to be consumed well chilled, and is somewhat reminiscent of Moscato — although the color may fool your taste buds into thinking it tastes more like concord grape or grape Kool-Aid.

Orange wine and blue wine would not be made if they did not have a market, which brings up a logical question: What will be the next big thing in wine? Which color will be next?

Honestly, I have no idea. But as a parent and a grandparent who has watched trends come and go more than a few times in the wine business, my best guess is: something that the parents of the next generation of wine drinkers is not drinking.

Kids may respect their parents, but they almost always gravitate to different types of food and different types of beverages. There are people far smarter than I who are hard at work trying to figure out what kind of wine the next generation will want to drink.

bluewineI’m just hoping it isn’t green-colored.

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Does Your Taste in Coffee Dictate Your Taste in Wine?

coffeeNot to brag, but I believe I am uniquely qualified to tackle this particular topic.

I often start my work day at our neighborhood Starbucks coffee shop, where I typically order the featured dark roast with just a little bit of room, to which I add a splash of half-and-half. And, since I’m a long-time Starbucks gold card holder, I almost always go back for a free refill as I do my morning writing, which then gets sent to designated recipients with an assist from Starbucks’ complimentary WiFi service.

Since last I wrote about the coffee-and-wine connection, I’ve noticed that the two beverages are sharing an increasingly common language — especially when it comes to higher-end coffees and wines.

Since I’m a dark roast guy, I often try new coffees as they find their way to Starbucks shops or the company’s website. More and more, reading the description of a specific type of coffee is much like reading the description of a specific bottle of wine. Even terms like “Reserve” have found their way into coffee’s lexicon.

Case in point: Starbucks’ Reserve Panama Carmen Estate. Not only is the coffee designated as a “Reserve,” a term inferring higher quality, but its specific place of origin — the Carmen Estate in Panama — is noted.

Even the “story” of the coffee that Starbucks shares sounds much like one of our Vinesse wine tasting notes:

“For the first time, we have the opportunity to bring you an offering from Panama’s acclaimed Carmen Estate — a family-owned business that produces some of the world’s best specialty coffees. For three generations, the Franceschi family has taken great pride in selectively picking only the ripest, bright red coffee cherries at their absolute peak of flavor.”

If that makes you want to know even more about the coffee, Starbucks is happy to oblige: “The coffee is nurtured and milled in the Volcan Valley. This mountainous micro-region, on the narrow isthmus between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, offers rich, loamy volcanic soil. Cool, frost-free nights give way to dry, sun-drenched days, creating ideal conditions for growing the quintessential Panamanian coffee: a bright, lemony acidity in the cup with a nutty sweetness.”

“Bright, lemony acidity” is exactly the kind of description you’ll find for many Sauvignon Blanc wines.

“Nutty sweetness” is a common description of Cream Sherry and some Port wines.

Starbucks described its Reserve Brazil Fazenda Apucarana as having “subtle sweet berry aromas with flavor notes of raisin and chocolate.” That sounds like a zesty California (red) Zinfandel to me.

Generally speaking, people who like lighter coffees will gravitate to lighter wines. Those who prefer bold dark roast coffees will like bold wines (usually reds). And those who prefer sweet coffee drinks like the Starbucks caramel macchiato or a flavored latte will gravitate toward sweeter, dessert-style wines.

The more types of coffee you like, the more types of wine you’ll like. Keep an open mind… and an open palate… and you’ll open yourself up to many new and delicious vinous experiences.

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Pairing Wine With Australia’s Iconic Meat Pies

meatpieIf you’re like me, some of your most vivid memories of vacations revolve around food. When I traveled to Australia, for instance, I enjoyed several meals built around fresh seafood, and a couple involving Australian meat pies.

What, exactly, is an Australian meat pie? Quite simply, it’s a pie with meat inside. And it can make a tasty companion to wine — especially vino from the land Down Under.

The most famous purveyor of this Aussie tradition is Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. The outpost I visited sits just steps from the wharf in the Sydney neighborhood of Woolloomooloo. Sydney’s “Hopper” tour buses have a stop nearby, enabling tourists to join the locals in chowing down on this tasty treat.

Harry’s offers an array of filled pies. There were three or four selections available when I visited, but the menu has since been expanded and includes:

* Harry’s Tiger — Named after founder Harry “Tiger” Edwards, a chunky lean beef pie served with mushy peas, mash and gravy. Wine suggestion: Vinho Verde.

* Pie & Mash — Chunky lean beef pie with buttered mash potato. Wine suggestion: Merlot.

* Chicken & Mushroom Pie — Chunks of chicken meat cooked with fresh mushrooms and cream. Wine suggestion: Chardonnay.

* Seafood Pie — White fish, whole prawns, scallops and salmon cooked in a creamy and cheese sauce. Wine suggestion: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, or Sem-Chard.

* Curry Chicken Pie — Tender chunks of chicken meat in a spicy curry. Wine suggestion: Gewurztraminer or an “unoaked” Chardonnay.

* Beef Pie — Tender chunks of topside beef in a rich, peppery gravy. Wine suggestion: Shiraz (a.k.a. Syrah).

* Pie & Peas — Chunky lean beef pie served with mushy peas, with or without sauce. Wine suggestion: Cabernet Sauvignon.

* Lean Beef and Curry Pie — Chunky lean beef pie with authentic Indian curry. Wine suggestion: Grenache or Zinfandel.

* Beef, Cheese & Bacon Pie — Chunky lean beef pie with fresh bacon and cheese, both cooked in and melted on top. Wine suggestion: Malbec.

* Veggie Pie — Fresh vegetables in a cheese sauce. Wine suggestion: Sauvignon Blanc.

* Beef & Mushroom Pie — Tender topside beef with rich gravy and mushrooms. Wine suggestion: Pinot Noir.

The Australian meat pie may be round, the shape of a half-circle or even square. But regardless of the shape, it’s intended to be hand-held and consumed without utensils.

That leaves the other hand free for holding a glass of Australian wine.

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The Most Expensive Wine in the World

winepourThere are two types of wine collectors:

  • Those who stock up on what are perceived as the world’s finest wines for their own future enjoyment (and perhaps to impress their friends and associates with a well-stocked cellar).
  • Those who buy wine as an investment — to sell at a future date for a significant profit, often to people who fall into the first category.

Price, of course, is not the sole arbiter of quality, but it is a legitimate starting point. If people are willing to pay an ultra-premium price for something, whether it’s wine or a car or something else, one should be able to expect an escalating level of quality.

Year to year, vintage to vintage, you’ll encounter many of the same names on the “most expensive” wine list. In 2017, according to The Telegraph in England, that list looked like this:

  1. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti – Romanee-Conti Grand Cru – Burgundy, France (average price per bottle: $15,789)
  2. Egon Muller – Scharzhofberger Riesling – Trockenbeerenauslese – Mosel, Germany ($10,956)
  3. Domaine Leroy – Musigny Grand Cru – Cote de Nuits, France ($7,797)
  4. Domaine Leflaive – Montrachet Grand Cru – Cote de Beaune, France ($6,963)
  5. Domaine Georges & Christophe Roumier – Musigny Grand Cru – Cote de Nuits, France ($6,584)
  6. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti – Montrachet Grand Cru – Cote de Beaune, France ($5,591)
  7. Joh. Jos. Prüm – Wehlener Sonnenuhr – Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese – Mosel, Germany ($5,184)
  8. Fritz Haag – Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr – Riesling – Trockenbeerenauslese Goldkapsel – Mosel, Germany ($4,248)
  9. Domaine Leroy – Chambertin Grand Cru – Cote de Nuits, France ($4,246)
  10. Domaine Leroy – Richebourg Grand Cru – Cote de Nuits, France ($3,799)

A few observations…

  • Only two countries are represented on this list: France and Germany. There continues to be a perception, at least among collectors and investors, that the highest-end “Old World” wines have greater value than their “New World” cousins.
  • All seven of the French wines are reds — Pinot Noir, specifically — from the Burgundy appellation.
  • All three of the German wines are whites — Riesling, specifically — and are crafted in a very sweet style.
  • All 10 wines can be aged for years and, in a few cases, decades. That factor increases both their collectability and their value.
  • The list will vary from year to year, depending on weather patterns in various appellations and the marketplace. In previous years, for instance, it was quite common to encounter a significant number of Bordeaux reds on the lists.

You can read more about the wines that made the 2017 Top 10 list here.

And if you know someone who has a bottle of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Grand Cru, tell them I’d be happy to share it with them.

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