Protect Your Wine from Heat and Sunlight

Wine bottles on a shelfTemperatures reached into the mid-90s in Los Angeles and Phoenix, and well into the 80s in parts of the South and East Coast, yesterday.

Autumn may be here, but summer refuses to go away completely. If you live in one of those locales, returning to your car after even just a few minutes of sitting in the sun can be like opening the door of an oven.

Just as we’d never leave our small children or pets in that kind of overheated space, it’s important to avoid leaving our wine sitting in such an environment.

Can wine really be harmed after spending time in a hot car?


How much harm depends on a few of the circumstances.

For instance, if the wine bottle was exposed to direct sunlight, keep your fingers crossed. Heat and light are the No. 1 and No. 2 enemies of wine, and it doesn’t take long for a 1-2 punch like that to do some damage.

However, if you had the bottle couched on the floor of the backseat, perhaps with a sack of groceries on top of it, the wine should be okay. A wine bottle’s glass is fairly thick and that thickness helps keep the heat at bay.

Obviously, the longer a bottle is exposed to heat, the greater the likelihood of some damage being done.

One tell-tale sign that a bottle of wine has been damaged is if there is leakage at the capsule. What that suggests is that hot air found its way inside the bottle — and oxygen ranks as the No. 3 enemy of wine.

That doesn’t mean the wine has been ruined. It does mean that the aging process has been accelerated, and you should plan to drink that wine right away.

Here’s an ironic twist: With some young Cabernet Sauvignon wines, going through this “process” can actually make them more accessible at a younger age.

We certainly don’t recommend leaving your Cab in a hot car, but it’s good to know that doing so won’t necessarily be a disaster.

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Posted in In the Cellar, Wine in the Glass

Part 3: Wine and Music Pairing

A glass of red wine with friends listening the jazz musicAs we discussed in Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s blogs, I definitely feel that the “right” music can enhance the wine-drinking experience.

In those blogs, I shared my favorite types of music for six types of wine:

After giving it a little more thought, I came up with a few more pairings:

There — my personal preferences for the genre of music I enjoy with various types of wine. Your tastes undoubtedly are entirely different… and that’s what makes the world go ’round. My hope is that you’ll simply give the idea of wine-and-music pairing some thought so that the next time you open a bottle of wine, you can enhance the experience.

By the way, there’s a grape grower and winemaker in Tuscany who is absolutely convinced that playing classical music in the vineyard makes for happier grapevines — and, by extension, better wines.

CBS News correspondent Seth Doane recently paid Giancarlo Cignozzi a visit, and you can view his report here.

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Posted in Editor's Journal, Wine Buzz

Pairing Music With Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio

Wine cork on piano keyboardIn yesterday’s blog, we began a completely non-scientific examination of the relationship between music and wine enjoyment.

We suggested that just as there are wine and food pairings that could be considered simpatico, so are there wine and music pairings that just seem to… sing. I’ve always felt that a good meal is made even better with the right music in the background (or the foreground).

Yesterday, we shared the descriptions of three popular red wine varieties from the Vinesse website, along with my music genre choices (and a few specific artists) for each.

Today, let’s talk music and white wine…

  • Sauvignon Blanc  — “Notable ‘grassy’ aroma, often with notes of apple and citrus fruits. High acidity. Can amaze as a late harvest wine, with rich and complex flavors.”

I am a simple man, and when I hear the word “grassy,” the first music genre that comes to mind is bluegrass. More than most white varieties, Sauvignon Blanc is an expression of the place where it’s grown, and I’ve always embraced bluegrass as “music of a place.” I know it’s not for everyone, but when you listen to artists such as Bela Fleck, Yonder Mountain String Band or Druha Trava (from what would seem to be a most unusual “place” for bluegrass, the Czech Republic), it makes perfect sense.

  • Chardonnay  — “Relatively easy to grow in a variety of locations. Consistently produces some of the world’s great white wines. Complex, full, rich and fruity with soft edges and moderate acidity. Offers rich and intense fruit flavors of apple, fig, melon, pear, peach, pineapple, along with creamy yeast spice, honey, butter and hazelnut flavors.”

Chardonnay is the quintessential sipping wine. While it can pair nicely with many types of food, my personal preference is to simply sip it solo, perhaps with a good book, a favorite TV show… or with some music playing in the background. For music, I’d select the “easy listening” category, populated by artists such as The Carpenters, Herb Alpert, or my late father’s all-time favorite piano player, Peter Nero. For a more contemporary example, think: Josh Groban. It’s music to soothe your soul, and it sounds even better with a good glass of Chardonnay at hand.

  • Pinot Grigio  — “In northeast Italy it makes a light, crisp and neutral wine. In Alsace it can be a delicately perfumed, honey-flavored wine, either dry or sweet, and with more color than most whites.”

As noted above, I am a simple man, and since most of the Pinot Grigio I drink comes from Italy, I prefer some “Italian music” to accompany it. Now, my definition of “Italian music” may be quite different than yours, and it may not even be technically correct. But when drinking Pinot Grigio, I want to hear artists such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.

Hmm… I just realized both of those Italian singers are known for their interpretations of songs from what is known as “The Great AMERICAN Songbook.”

Perhaps I’m not such a simple man, after all.

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Pairing Wine With Your Favorite Genre of Music

red wine glass and pianoIf you’ve been following this blog for more than a month, you know how much I love music — especially when it’s part of a great meal that includes some good wine.

Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to wine and food pairing, but have you ever thought about wine and music pairing? Could the “right” genre of music enhance the wining and dining experience?

I thought it would be fun to take the descriptions of specific types of wine that you can find on the Vinesse website, and suggest types of music to which I’d listen with them.

We’ll cover a few red varieties today, and a few whites tomorrow.

Ready? Here we go…

  • Cabernet Sauvignon  — “Deep color and richness with the potential to age a long time, and better still if aged in oak before bottling. Classic flavors of blackcurrant, plum, cherry and spice. The most popular varietal of red wine in America.”

Cabernet is the red wine of celebration, and some would call it the most “serious” of all wines. A serious wine calls for serious music: classical. Mozart. Bach. Beethoven. Or, if you prefer a bit more contemporary, go with Gershwin.

  • Merlot  — “Similar to Cabernet Sauvignon but with less tannin and fruit. Delivers earlier maturing wines. Often blended with Cabernet; on its own may soften with age, though fruit flavors may fade.”

Merlot often is described as “mellow,” and I love listening to mellow rock when drinking it. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Simon and Garfunkel. Air Supply. Even the “Saturday Night Live” era music of the Bee Gees.

  • Pinot Noir  — “Very sensitive to climate and handling in the winery, this fickle grape of Burgundy yields classic berry, cherry and currant flavors, silky textures, typically balanced with spicy or floral tones.”

Pinot Noir has always been my go-to wine for the genre of music known as “smooth jazz.” Its silky texture just seems to seamlessly meld with the well-crafted instrumental music of artists like Peter White (see yesterday’s blog), Rick Braun, Mindi Abair and Fourplay.

Tomorrow: We’ll pair music with three white varieties.

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A Perfect Evening With Peter White and Richard Elliot at Thornton Winery

01thorntonlongshotThis is one of those stories better told with pictures than words, because the story is about wonderful instrumental music.

Specifically, it’s about wonderful instrumental music at the Thornton Winery in Temecula, Calif. Yesterday afternoon/evening, Michelle and I attended the final concert of Thornton’s 28th annual Champagne Jazz Series, which featured sax man Richard Elliot and guitarist extraordinaire Peter White.02rockstarpose

I’ve been attending concerts at Thornton for most of the series’ 28 years, while new bride Michelle is relatively new to them. But she immediately understood how special these concerts in the Thornton courtyard are — especially when combined with one of the winery’s gourmet suppers.

Take a look at the short ribs prepared in the Thornton kitchen, featuring crispy onions, mash potato, chef’s vegetables and a red wine demi. The only thing left on my plate was some of the red wine demi, and that’s only because I thought it would be inappropriate to lick the plate with so many people around.

04dinner03peterwhitehappyThornton’s Sangiovese made a wonderful pairing partner for the short ribs.

The meal began with Thornton’s champagne salad, a spring mix with pecans, tomato, blue cheese and champagne vinaigrette.

And it ended with a coppa mascarpone dessert, with chocolate cream, amaretto and cookie crumbs. I’d show you a picture of that, but you’d probably start licking your phone or computer screen.

The weather could not have been more cooperative — with temperatures in the high 70s — and the sunset was magnificent. Of course, the music was wonderful (my daughter has labeled me a Peter White stalker), and the company was pretty good, too.

All in all, it was a perfect conclusion to the first weekend of the two-weekend first anniversary celebration I have planned for the Mrs.

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Counting Our Blessings on the Eve of Sweetest Day

Mother and her child holding hands in heart shape framing on natI may have missed the section, but when I went shopping at my local greeting card store yesterday, I could not find even one card for Sweetest Day.

Normally, that would tell me that Sweetest Day isn’t really a thing. But a little research reveals that it is. In fact, this year marks its 100th anniversary.

The original Sweetest Day, marked in 1916, actually had a different name: Candy Day. Its originators wanted it to be a day on which people would be generous with one another, even in small ways. For many, that meant a gift of candy or other sweets.

The idea was that even the smallest token presented to a person in great need or under great stress could make a world of difference. It’s not a romance thing like Valentine’s Day. It’s a people thing.

I may have seen an example of it last night when we stopped at Arby’s to pick up dinner after a long day at work. Two young men, probably in their early twenties with stringy hair and hands in need of some soap, were in line just ahead of us, those hands filled with nickels and dimes. They had been examining the “value” section of the menu, and had decided on “junior” roast beef sandwiches.

Just as they were about to order, an older gentleman, probably in his forties, also in need of some soap, stepped up to them and handed each a handful of quarters. “I had a good day today,” he said. “Enjoy.”

I’m pretty sure what I saw was one homeless person helping two others by sharing his day’s bounty of collected change.

The younger men were surprised and delighted. “God bless you,” one said to the older man. Then he said it again.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to pay for our roast beef sandwiches with paper or plastic should be counting our blessings today and every day — and that includes on Sweetest Day, which in 2016 will be celebrated tomorrow.

My bride prefers sweet wine, so I think I’ll surprise her with a chilled bottle at dinner tomorrow. I’d better go hide it behind the lettuce and leftover sandwiches now…

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Tuscany? Someday. Meanwhile, Let’s Drink Some Italian Wine

39003People love Italy for an array of reasons. Some can be very specific about what it is they love; others simply know they love it.

A sampling of observations…

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” — Giuseppe Verdi

“No matter where I’ve been overseas, the food stinks, except in Italy.” — Carmen Electra

“Italy, and the spring and first love all together should suffice to make the gloomiest person happy.” — Bertand Russell

“Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building after seeing Italy.” — Fanny Burney

“There is in the DNA of the Italians a bit of madness, which in the overwhelming majority of cases is positive. It is genius. It is talent. It’s the masterpieces of art. It’s the food, fashion, everything that makes Italy great in the world.” — Matteo Renzi

“I find it beautiful when we’re in Italy that everybody sits down at the table together. My mother-in-law is like, ‘It doesn’t matter what’s going on in the house, who is fighting, who is upset, who has appointments, you sit down at that table at 1 o’clock.’” — Debi Mazar

“When I first discovered in the early 1980s the Italian espresso bars in my trip to Italy, the vision was to re-create that for America — a third place that had not existed before. Starbucks re-created that in America in our own image; a place to go other than home or work. We also created an industry that did not exist: specialty coffee.” — Howard Schultz

“I spent a college semester in a small town in Italy — and that is where I truly tasted food for the first time.” — Alton Brown

“I love the simplicity, the ingredients, the culture, the history and the seasonality of Italian cuisine. In Italy people do not travel. They cook the way grandma did, using fresh ingredients and what is available in season.” — Anne Burrell

“Italy will never be a normal country. Because Italy is Italy. If we were a normal country, we wouldn’t have Rome. We wouldn’t have Florence. We wouldn’t have the marvel that is Venice.” — Matteo Renzi

Me? I’ve never been, but we’re hoping to get there within a few years. I have no desire to see the ruins of Rome or float on the canals of Venice. If I have my way, we’ll be heading straight for Tuscany and visiting as many wineries as time and budget allow.

We’ll also make time for some good espresso in the morning and an authentic meal at night. But mainly, I’m looking forward to the wineries.

And the wines.

Red wines.

Meanwhile, wines like those in this Vinesse collection will have to suffice. We’ll get to Tuscany one day, but there’s no reason to delay gratification.

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You Can Learn a Lot (and Have Fun) With a ‘Vertical Tasting’

“I can’t believe how much she’s grown!”

If you’re a parent, think back to when your child was 3 years old… and then 4… and then 5.

(You probably don’t have to do much thinking. Chances are you have lots of photos archived on Facebook.)

Then think about how many times you heard those seven words during those years, particularly from people who saw your child only once a year, perhaps during the holidays.

A lot can change in a year, especially when our kids are young.

Well, the same thing holds true for wine, and depending on the type of wine, the changes from year to year (i.e., vintage to vintage) can range from subtle to astounding.

That’s one of the reasons I love “vertical tastings,” a collection of wines — usually three, sometimes more — from different vintages that are opened, poured and tasted side by side.

Sometimes the vintages are a year apart, sometimes five years, sometimes even ten or more years.

What I’ve found by participating in dozens and dozens of vertical tastings through the years is that the longer the period between vintages, the more the differences are about simple aging rather than specific nuances of the wines.

In other words, when a well-stored red wine is 10 years old, it probably possesses most of the characteristics (aromas and flavors) of its youth. At the 20-year mark, much of the fruit impression is likely to have subsided. At 30 years, it’s more about whether the wine is still “alive” and “vibrant.”

In order to really experience vintage variances, you need to cut down the “distance” between the wines — obtain vintages that are closer together.

Let’s say you are in possession of three red wines, each made one year apart. To experience a “vertical tasting,” open each bottle, and pour three- or four-ounce samples in separate glasses. Give the wines a little time to rest, and then give each a good swirling. At that point, you’re ready for the vertical tasting to begin.

Moving from glass to glass, take note of:

* The different colors. Is one glass more “intense” than the others? Is one noticeably lighter? As you swirl the wines, does any sediment stick to one or more of the glasses (more common in older vintages)?

* The different aromas. Depending upon the amount of oak used in aging, younger wines will typically have a more “oaky” aroma, slightly older wines will show more fruit, and the oldest wines should project a nice balance between oak and fruit.

* The different flavors. The flavors of a wine typically mirror the aromas, and the same basic aging patterns take place. But not always. Furthermore, it’s not unusual for the flavors of older wines to evolve even during the small amount of time they may be in your glass. So, try the wines in order by age, swirl them, and then repeat the process.

Other factors that contribute to differences in vintages are the type of weather during the growing seasons, and the varietal makeup of the wine. Even if a wine consists of 90 percent of one variety, if you change the minority varietal, it can alter the aroma, flavor and overall perception of the wine.

Ultimately, a “vertical tasting” should be a learning experience — but a fun learning experience. Vinesse is currently offering newsletter subscribers an opportunity to try three consecutive vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon crafted by a single producer from grapes grown in a single vineyard.  If you aren’t a subscriber, call and ask about it today.

Invite a few friends, plan a potluck, and make sure you have enough wine glasses so each participant has three. You’ll see how much fun — and educational — a “vertical tasting” can be.

You may also discover how much a wine can “grow” in just a couple of years.

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A ‘Wine Song’ for Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood

Two glasses of red wine, candles, and sheet musicThere are fabulous wine-tasting events held all over the country. I certainly haven’t been to all of them, but I’ve been to enough to know that my all-time favorite is Winesong.

It’s a benefit for the Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation, held on the grounds of the gorgeous Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens. You can read a media release about the 2014 edition of the event here.

In a nutshell, Winesong combines three of my favorite things in life: good wine, good food and good music. It’s a walk-around event, and each turn of a corner in the Gardens brings a new musical experience — much of it classical (performed in small groups), but also jazz, folk and even some zydeco. (Zydeco goers really well with Zinfandel, in case you were wondering…)

I’m told that the 2016 edition, held last month, was another big success, and that planning already is well under way for 2017. If the dates don’t conflict with the Millpond Music Festival, as they have in recent years, we’re going to do our best to be there.

Thinking about WineSong reminded me that it has been a while since we talked about “wine songs” in this blog. My definition of a “wine song” is any song that in any way mentions the word “wine” or a particular type of wine. The song need not be ABOUT wine.

About a month ago, country music icons Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood debuted a song from Brooks’ upcoming studio album. It’s called “Whiskey to Wine,” and the title alone qualifies it as a “wine song.” Check it out here.

Rolling Stone reported on the couple’s performance of the song at the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. According to RS, at one point, Yearwood’s microphone began cutting out, and Brooks said, “Let’s get another mic, please.”

That brought this response from Yearwood: “I thought you said, ‘Let’s get another glass of wine, please,’ and I was like, ‘Okay!’”

I think I like Trisha Yearwood…

And I’m definitely adding “Whiskey to Wine” to my ever-growing list of “wine songs.”

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Embracing Columbus’s Sense of Adventure

Lisbona Cristoforo ColomboWhen I was growing up (which, admittedly, was a long, long time ago), we were taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America.

No ifs, ands or buts about it. Perhaps you had to memorize the same poem I did: “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…”

Today, of course, we know that America had been “discovered” long before the arrival of Columbus and his three ships. Perhaps that’s why four states — Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon and South Dakota — have opted out of the annual Columbus Day observance.

But a number of other countries continue to pay homage to the explorer with special days. In several Latin American countries, “Dia de la Raza” (Day of the Race) is celebrated. In the Bahamas, “Discovery Day” is commemorated. In Spain, Columbus is remembered through “Fiesta Nacional.”

So, even though he may not have done what we were taught he did, Columbus still played an important role in uniting Europe and the “New World,” and helping to initiate the colonization of North America. I have long admired his sense of adventure, and tried to emulate it in at least some parts of my life — including my exploration of wine.

It’s so easy to get into a vinous rut once we discover a particular type of wine that we really like. But when it comes to the fermented gifts of the grape, a sense of discovery can be extremely rewarding. There is so much to explore, and the exploration can follow any of several paths.

Let’s say you drink nothing but Chardonnay. Your “wine expedition” may begin by trying other white varietals, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Vinho Verde or Viognier.

Are you a fan of Merlot? Perhaps it’s time to try Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, or Malbec — or a sublime red blend.

If you’ve already explored many of the white varieties, it might be time to sample some reds… or rosés… or sparkling wines. Likewise, if all you drink is bubbly, the time has come to discover still table wines.

You also could emulate Columbus and do your exploring by country. If you like California Cabernet, try a French Bordeaux red. If you like California Chardonnay, seek out an Australian rendition. Some countries grow varieties that you may never have heard of, yet can be amazing treats for your palate.

Here’s the coolest thing of all for wine drinkers in search of vinous adventure: Whether you explore by wine style, wine type or wine region, every year… every vintage… brings something new to explore in each and every category.

Today, I invite you to join me in raising a glass of wine to Christopher Columbus… and uncorking (or unscrewing) a bottle you’ve never had before.

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