A selection of frequently asked questions about wine and food answered by Tasters Guild President Joe Borrello. FAQ entries will be refreshed periodically.
Q. I witnessed a very strange sight and hopefully you can enlighten me. A hot air balloon landed in a field near my home and a person got out of the basket, opened a bottle of Champagne, poured it on the ground and proceeded to make a “mud pie.” What was going on?
A. According to my ballooning friends, you watched the landing of a pilot’s first solo flight. It is a tradition that started in France (where ballooning also started) and has spread throughout the ballooning world. The “mud pie” was for the purpose of recording the date of the feat. Along with the pilot’s initials, it makes a unique paperweight memento when it hardens. Obviously, since it is a French tradition, Champagne is the wine of choice for the commemoration.
Q. I have a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau wine from the 2013 harvest. I know it should be drunk young, but when will it be "over-the-hill"?
A. The French Beaujolais Nouveau is released the third week in November and is intended to be enjoyed through the Christmas holidays. Chances are the wine is still drinkable, but has more than likely lost the fresh, fruitful luster that makes this wine so appealing. It is a fun wine to be enjoyed almost immediately. U.S. versions of this popular French wine style do live longer and become more complex table wines, but are still not considered wines to put away in storage.
Q. How much wine is in those large size bottles?
A. Historically, wine has been bottled and distributed in the classic 750 milliliter wine bottle. This tapered-neck container has become familiar to everyone who has ordered a bottle of wine at a restaurant or drawn a wine cork in the comfort of their home. Of late, some of the oversize wine bottles have been surfacing in retail stores and benefit auctions as novelty items for collectors. These larger bottles are usually released in limited numbers, but have been used by European wineries for centuries.
The following table may help to sort out any confusion and, incidentally, help you to determine whether that Jereboam is really less expensive than four individual bottles.
|Size||Number of Bottles||Milliliters||Liters||Ounces|
Q. I’ve read that wine has been around “since the beginning of civilization.” What sort of evidence substantiates this claim?
A. A pottery jar found in the northern Zagros Mountains of Iran dates the earliest evidence of wine to between 5400 and 5000 B.C. The fermentation, use and preservation of wine, according to this archaeological discovery, have been part of human culture for at least 7000 years. "The new evidence belongs to the period when the first permanent human settlements, based on plant and animal domesticates and minor crafts such as pottery-making, were being established," writes archaeologist and scientist Patrick McGovern and his colleagues, publishing their findings in the scientific journal NATURE.
Recovered from a square mudbrick building at the site of Hajji Firuz Tepe, Iran, the jar provides the earliest chemical evidence of wine to date, two millennia earlier than previous analysis indicated. Wine was identified by the presence of the calcium salt of tartaric acid, which occurs in large amounts only in grapes, and resin from the terebinth tree, which grows abundantly throughout the Near East.
According to the researchers, the new evidence "has important implications for the origins of viticulture as well as for the development of our modern diet, medical practice and society in general." The link between wine and health is apparent from the presence of terebinth resin, which was widely used in ancient times as an additive to wine to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Until early in the twentieth century, wine was universally used as a base for medicinal preparations compounded with various herbs tailored to specific ailments.
The article in NATURE is the latest development stemming from a 1991 Northern California symposium, "The Origins and Ancient History of Wine." It was then that McGovern, an archaeologist with the University of Pennsylvania Museum, first announced the discovery of the long-necked jar with its substantial tartaric acid residue. At that time, the researchers had dated the jar to 3500 B.C., about 3000 years earlier than previous chemical evidence for wine. Subsequent laboratory analysis by McGovern, working with chemists Donald Glusker and Lawrence Exner along with archaeologist Mary Voigt, who originally excavated the relic, has now dated the origin of the jar to at least 5000 B.C. While wild grape pips have been identified as far back as the 8th century B.C., this discovery marks the earliest scientific record of fermented wine as used by humans.
The ancient practice of including antibacterial elements in wine serves as a precursor to research going on today, as a recent study has found wine to be a powerful antibacterial agent. In a study led by University of West Virginia researcher Dr. Martin Weisse, wine was found to be more effective than even bismuth salicylate (the active ingredient in Pepto Bismol) in fighting bacteria responsible for food poisoning, dysentery and diarrhea. Ancient writings have long attested to the benefits of wine consumption, and this groundbreaking discovery provides more insight in the history and use of wine. As McGovern and colleagues explain, "Wine was a highly desirable grape product because of its unique dietary and medical benefits."
Q. What is the name of the wine made famous by the 14th century popes?
A. I believe you are referring to "Chateauneuf-du-Pape" (New Castle of the Pope) which is a famous wine of the Cotes du Rhone region of France. In 1309 a French pope moved the Papacy from Rome to Avignon in France. For the next sixty-eight years French popes propagated new vineyards around their summer estates up river from their permanent residence in Avignon. The little summer getaway spot was called Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Only ruins remain of the castle, but the vineyards still produce a quality and popular red wine.
Q. Will you tell me something about the Semillon grape variety?
A. Semillon (pronounced; say-me-ohn) is a very important grape in France’s Bordeaux region. As a dry table wine it is often blended with Sauvignon Blanc to produce Graves and Bordeaux Blanc wines. In Sauternes it is the principal grape for their famous sweet dessert wines. The Aussies blend the soft Semillon with Chardonnay for their popular “Sem-Chard” style of Australian table wine which is much mellower than a full-bodied Chardonnay. On the Pacific coast of the U.S. the cooler climate of Washington State creates a hospitable home for the rich (honey and clover), fruity (figs and apricots) wine grape. Semillon is an excellent companion for herbed chicken, shellfish and seafood.
Q. What is meant by the term “jug” wine?
A. “Jug” wines get their name from their large bottle size. Usually bulk wines that are blended together to create a pleasant, inexpensive table wine for daily use are bottled in 1.5 or 3 to 5-liter jugs for convenience and volume usage. These are similar to the vin ordinaire or ordinary table wines of Europe that are value oriented and people drink everyday. In the U.S., these wines sometimes offer the best value in the marketplace. Many wine professionals consider American “jug” wines the best made of this class in the world. U.S. technology has allowed our winemakers to produce large quantities of good quality wine, from premium grapes, with great consistency.
Q: I’m confused. Why do I like some Chardonnay wines and not others?
A: Chardonnay is historically the premier grape of the great white wines of Burgundy. In the last few decades the grape variety has also become the mainstay of California, and in most recent years, Chile and Australia. In all cases, Americans have an incessant love affair with the wines made of Chardonnay grapes. However, you are correct, the winemaking style can vary dramatically based on where the grapes are grown and how the juice is handled by the winemaker. In California, the grape has the ability to reach a heighted ripeness, unlike the cooler hillside vineyards of Burgundy. With the addition of oak barrels for fermentation and aging, the Californian Chardonnay produces a wine that is vanilla-scented and of rich texture. Classic Burgundian complexity entails the skillful use of wine yeasts and French oak barrels to produce clean, crisp wines that are magnificent companions with food. Between these two popular styles of Chardonnay are an infinite number of styles that are created with no oak influence (using stainless steel tanks), the use of more residual sugar for a softer palate feel and the blending of more inferior (and cheaper) grapes. Choosing between a $6 and a $65 Chardonnay introduces a world of mediocre bulk wine and super, great wines of traditional elegance. It may be disconcerting, but let your palate and your pocketbook be your guide. Besides, it’s fun to explore your personal preferences. There is no better teacher than experience.
Q. Some of those oversize wine bottles sound like biblical names, are they?
A. Other than the magnum which literally means “great” or “large,” all oversize bottle sizes are named after biblical kings. The only exception to this rule is the Methusaleh which takes its name from the longest-lived man in the Old Testament.
Jeroboam (Hebrew meaning “may the people multiply”): The first king of Israel. (I Kings 11:26)
Rehoboam (Hebrew meaning “enlarger of the people”): The son of Solomon by the Ammonite princess, Naamah. The first king of Judah. (I Kings 14:21,31)
Methuselah (Hebrew meaning “man of the dart”): The grandfather of Noah, and longest lived person in the Bible. He died at 969 years of age. (Genesis 5:21-27)
Salmanazar or Shalmaneser (Assyrian meaning “the god Sulman is chief”): The name of several Assyrian kings during the biblical period. (I Kings 16; II Kings 8; 10; 17)
Balthazar or Belshazzar (Babylonian meaning “the god Bel has protected the king”): Descendent of Nebuchadnezzar and co-regent with Nabonidus at the time Babylonia was conquered by Darius the Mede in 539 B.C. (Daniel 5:30; 7:1) One of the Magi has traditionally been known by this name also.
Nebuchadnezzar (Babylonian meaning “O Nabu, preserve the offspring”): Babylonian king who ruled from 605 to 562 B.C. (II Kings 24:7; 25:7)
Q. Is it true that early settlers to America were obligated to plant grape vines by law?
A. In 1623 the Virginia Colonial Assembly decreed that each household was required to plant a minimum of ten grape vines on their land. That’s one way to assure a steady flow of wine in the state.
Q: What are "Alsatian" wines?
A: Alsatian wines come the French province of Alsace. Although French, this area, which borders the Rhine river, is definitely influenced by German culture. The vineyards of the Alsace are some of the most picturesque in the world. The small little towns are very quaint and storybook like. The wines produced are almost exclusively white using the popular German grape varieties of Riesling and Gewurztraminer, as well as Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. Alsatian wines are very crisp, light and refreshing and have a tendency not to be quite as sweet as German wines.
Q. Are restaurant "house wines" a good value?
A. Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. I don't mean to sound evasive, but you do need more information about what is being poured as the "house wine." Astute restaurant managers use house or featured wines as a promotional vehicle to introduce you to their wine list and menu. These wines are usually very good values and should be sought out whenever possible. However, many restaurants are interested only in getting the maximum profit out of a glass or carafe of wine serving the lowest priced wine they can buy without concern for quality and value. I am all for making an honest profit, but charging 5, 6 or more times the wholesale cost is excessive in my opinion. Ask what type and brand of wine is being served as the house wine and if no one knows, be wary!
Q. I have inherited a 375ml bottle of 1935 Inglenook Cabernet. I'm not sure about its storage history and wonder if I should open it or just save it as a conversation piece.
A. Inglenook is a respected name in the Napa Valley, California wine industry. The bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon you have inherited could still be drinkable, but the chances are marginal without a history of how it was stored. Also, the fact that the wine is in a half-bottle speeds up its maturity and reduces the chance that it is still good. Maybe you can have your wine and drink it, too. Carefully remove the bottle capsule and cork so that they may be replaced. If the wine is still good, enjoy. If the wine has turned, recork and reseal it and you still have your conversation piece. Even it the wine is still good, refill the bottle with colored water. The wine would only have value if it were part of a large collection, and storage conditions could be documented. It would be fun to make an event out of opening the wine to find what treasures may reside within.
Q: I was served an interesting wine called Pineau des Charentes by a friend. What makes this wine so unique?
A: Pineau des Charentes (pee-no day shah-rahnt) is made in the Cognac region of France. It is a semi-sweet aperitif made by adding Cognac to unfermented wine grape juice. Some are made with wine and brandy and are not as sweet. The best Pineau des Charentes contain seven or ten year-old Cognac and usually contain 17-20% alcohol. Although used primarily as a semi-sweet aperitif "on the rocks," it is worth trying with hors d'oeuvres and other appetizer courses like chilled shellfish.
Q. I have a wine skin from Spain that is about ten years old. I've had water in it off and on and wonder if I can still use it for wine?
A. As long as your "wine skin" does not leak with water in it, it should serve well for any liquid beverage. Before pouring in your wine, however, be sure to rinse the skin thoroughly with warm water. If your "wine skin" is indeed an animal hide, keep it filled with water for storage and change the water periodically. Many commercial wine skins have a latex liner, which is fine for holding wine for a short while. But, it has a tendency to give an off-taste to the wine if stored for any lengthy amount of time. Animal hides have been used to store and carry wine, water and other liquid refreshments ever since man found the need for a container that would travel easily.
Q. I understand that early colonists found native "Scuppernong" grapes when they arrived and made their first homemade wine from them. Is their still Scuppernong wine available in the U.S.?
A. Scuppernong grapes are indeed from a native American vine. The vines have been known to exist for centuries in the Carolinas, Florida and the Gulf States. To make wine from the Scuppernong requires the addition of a large amount of sugar, with results that are not considered to be the ultimate in quality. With a little research, you will find Scuppernong wine still being made in a few southeastern states.
Q. Which U.S. president was noted as a wine connoisseur?
A. Thomas Jefferson developed an insatiable thirst for French wine during while serving as United States Minister to France. During his two-term presidency, Jefferson purchased over 20,000 bottles. He also experimented with vineyards on the property of his beloved Monticello. Today, there is winery named Jefferson Vineyards in Jefferson's home state of Virginia.
Q. I understand virtually every wine contains sulfites, but what percentage of the population is actually sensitive to sulfites?
A. The human body naturally produces each day about the same amount of sulfites that are in one hundred bottles of wine. Only about one quarter of one percent of the U.S. population is allergic to sulfites and those people are usually well aware of their sensitivity.
Q. What percent of the U.S. population doesn't drink alcoholic beverages at all?"
A. For one reason or another, approximately 35% of Americans refrain from consuming beer, wine, liquor or any other alcoholic beverage.
Q. How many acres of grape vines are planted in the world?
A. At last count it is over 22 million acres and still growing. Rest assured there is plenty of wine for everyone.
Q. With all the concern about running out of corks to bottle wine. Why don't they just plant some more trees?
A. The problem lies with the fact that a cork tree is recommended to attain at least thirty years of age in order for its bark to be considered for premium corks. Once the tree is stripped of its cork, it takes an additional 7-10 years for the tree to replace a bark suitable for harvesting wine corks. A cork tree will have and average of fifteen harvests in its lifetime.
Q. How much of wine is water?
A. Wine is made up of approximately 80-85% water, 7-14% alcohol, 0-10% residual sugar, 1% natural acids and 1/2 to 1% extract flavor components. These percentages fluctuate between styles and varieties of wine to add up to 100% pure pleasure.
Q. What is meant by the "legs" of a wine on the inside of the wine glass?
A. First, let me tell you what "legs" or "tears" do not represent on the inside of the glass. They are not a sign of the quality of the wine nor do they represent the amount of glycerol in the wine. These are the two most popular misconceptions. The waves that form inside the glass after you swirl the wine are actually an indication of the wine's alcohol content – the more alcohol, the more legs or tears flow down the side of the glass.
Q. I bought what I thought was a bottle of Champagne, but it says cremant on the bottle. What do I have?
A. Cremant is a French term, literally translated to "creaming," applied to wines that are lightly sparkling. Some connoisseurs prefer a superior cremant to Champagne because of the subtle sparkle in the wine. Don't confuse cremant for Cramant, an important wine-producing village in the Champagne region of France.
Q. What is the "ullage" of a wine bottle?
A. The space between the top of the wine and the bottom of the cork in the bottle is called the "ullage." The ullage is usually about an inch and a half gap. When the gap is larger and the wine level is down to the shoulder of the bottle, one should be wary of the condition of the wine because too much oxygen may have crept into the bottle. Very old bottles of wine may lose wine through evaporation through the cork or the cork may have lost its seal and created a bottle "leaker." In either case, uncork the bottle and test the wine. If it is still drinkable, do so, or top off the bottle and recork with a new closure.
Q. I've heard that the grape variety Syrah originated in ancient Persia. Is that true?
A. Legend has it that the Syrah grape came from the Persian city of Shiraz (the name of the grape as it known in Australia) and was introduced in France from Cyprus by Crusaders returning home from the Middle East in the 13th century. Also popular is the tale that Roman legions brought the grape variety from Egypt, via Syracuse. French winemakers, however, believe the grape variety is indigenous to France. Recent DNA research supports the French claim. It seems the parents of Syrah are Modeuse Blanche and Dureza, two lesser known French varieties which nature happened to cross pollinate to create a new genetic variety that is currently catching the wine consumers fancy.
Q. Has the Cabernet Sauvignon wine grape been around forever?
A. As popular as Cabernet Sauvignon has been for hundreds of years in Europe and now in the United States, one would be inclined to think that it is an indigenous variety. In fact, DNA research claims that Cabernet Sauvignon is the off-spring of a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc — a white grape, no less. By the way, the grape variety known as Cabernet Sauvignon accounts for only about 1% of the world's grape acreage planted to grapes.
Q. While touring a famous Champagne cellar in France, I was memorized watching the winery's "riddler" turning the bottles. How many do these pros turn in a day?
A. Although the tendency these days is to mechanically turn Champagne bottles, many of the old Champagne houses still employ professional "riddlers" for the traditional handling of methode champenoise wine bottles. (Riddling is the turning of Champagne bottles a quarter turn every day to force sediment to the neck of the bottle where it is then frozen and removed from the bottle.) The average number of bottles of Champagne or sparkling wine a cellar worker is expected to riddle by hand each day is around 50,000. Whew!
Q. Are there really people who can taste a wine and tell you where it's from and who made it?
A. I have seen it done, but not often. Most professional wine judges are able to distinguish the grape variety of a wine and sometimes the style of a particular region, but not the actual vineyard. Those limited few that have that gift have well-trained pallets, phenomenal memories and extensive tasting experiences. Fortunately for the vast majority of us, all we have to worry about is, "Did I like it?"
Q. We visited a number of wineries in Virginia who said they used a fermenting practice called "delastage." What is "delastage?"
A. Delastage is a process used during fermentation of the grape juice and is sometimes called "rack and return." The juice is removed (racked) from under the "must" cap, or the floating layer of grape skins on fermenting juice and held out for a few hours to aerate while the skins are allowed to apply pressure onto themselves releasing color and extract. The juice is then slowly pumped back over the "must" layer in the tank and is allowed to seep through the cap picking up the color and flavor as it makes it way through the skins. This bottom-to-top mixing process helps produce a darker and fuller bodied style of red wine which also has a tendency to soften the tannins in the wine, as well.
Q. I would like to give a bottle of wine to some friends as a house-warming present, but I don't want a wine that has to be stored for years before they can enjoy it. Any suggestions?
A. Many people are of the misconception that the longer they keep a wine, the better or more valuable it will become. Contrary to this popular belief, most of the world's wine is consumed within a few years after bottling. As a matter of fact, if the majority of the world's wine was aged for a long period of time, it would more than likely deteriorate in quality. Almost any wine found on the retail shelves would be appropriate as a gift to be consumed within the next year or two. If you're the recipient of such a gift, enjoy the wine while it is fresh, fruity and full of life. The super premium wines would be the only exception and your local wine merchant is your best guide for those products.
Q. I understand some wineries will harvest grapes, put them in a freezer and then press them calling the results "Ice Wine." Is this legal?
A. Not since 2003. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (now known as Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, or TTB) made a ruling against such practices and issued the following statement: "The ATF is aware that a number of domestic wine producers desiring to make a wine similar in style to 'Ice Wine' are practicing cryoextraction in which the grapes are frozen after harvest but before pressing. The production of true 'Ice Wine' is a labor-intensive process with the grapes harvested by hand after they have naturally frozen on the vines. The frozen grapes are then pressed. As the grapes are pressed, the natural water portion of the juice remains inside of the grape skins as ice crystals while a small amount of sweet, highly concentrated juice is expressed. While cryoextraction is a cost-effective means of producing juice with properties similar to juice pressed from grapes frozen on the vine, wines produced in this manner are not true ice wines and cannot be labeled as such; this includes but is not limited to using 'Ice Wine' or foreign terms which translate to 'Ice Wine' on the label."
Q: In a restaurant recently, I refilled a glass of wine for my date and received a glaring stare from our waiter. Did I commit a major social blunder?
A: Not in my book, you didn't! It's your money, and you should be allowed to pour your own wine, especially if your service person is not paying attention to the service at your table. If, however, it is your intention to do the pouring throughout the meal, you might mention your intention to the service person to avoid those "icey" stares.
Q: There must be some really big money to be made in the wine business with so many fantastic chateau estates in France. Is it as glamorous as it seems?
A: In the wine trade a chateau is not necessarily a great castle. It is more often merely a country house which serves as the center of activity in the vineyard plus a collection of sheds and barns, much like you would find on any regular farm. There are, however, many grand chateaux, particularly in the Loire Valley. But most of these magnificent buildings were built generations ago with family wealth obtained by other means. Vineyards were merely a hobby for many rich aristocrats who obviously never worked the land themselves. Today, it is very costly to begin a vineyard anywhere in the world due to the high costs of land and labor. Because of the tremendous demand in time and money, the making of wine has become a very serious and risky business. There is a saying in the trade, "If you want to make a small fortune in the wine business, you must start with a large fortune!"
Q. Our family went picking grapes at a local vineyard and got into a discussion about the white waxy substance on the outside of the fruit. Will you please tell us what it is?
A. That "white waxy substance" on grapes are yeast cells which consume the natural sugars in the grape's juice. The yeasts convert the sugar, through fermentation, to roughly equal parts of carbon dioxide and alcohol. This is one of Mother Nature's first steps in the process of making wine. If you were to mash those grapes in a bucket and leave them alone for a couple of days, they would be well on their way to making a batch of wine all by themselves.
Q. Is collecting wine a good investment?
A. By definition, an investment is "money laid out for a profitable return." According to the laws of most states, unless you are a licensed winery, wholesaler or retailer in that state, you cannot buy wine for resale. Obviously, since you have no legal way to make a profit on the money you invested, it would be a bad investment. An exception to this could be donating wine to a charitable fundraiser or non-profit organization and deducting the donation on your tax return at the appreciated fair market value. Better check with your accountant on this maneuver, however. The best way to "invest" in wine is to consider your purchase a "hedge against inflation." Premium wines are very susceptible to the laws of supply and demand. If you wish to insure the future availability of a favorite fine wine at today's prices, then an investment of this nature is beneficial.
Q. I work part-time at a restaurant and would like to know the correct way to serve.
A. I wish more restaurant service people would be so conscientious. First, the wine list should be presented at the same time as the menu. More people are ordering wine before dinner instead of cocktails. After the wine is ordered, always present the bottle, unopened, to the table for verification. Cut the foil about a half-inch down from the bottle lip and wipe off the top. After pulling the cork, place it on the table for anyone who wants to examine it. An ounce or so of wine is poured in the glass of the person who ordered the wine for approval of clarity, aroma, temperature and finally, taste. All should meet with satisfaction. Wine glasses should be spotless and large enough (10-20 oz.) to be filled only halfway to allow room for the wine's bouquet to develop. The customer is paying for the wine and is entitled to enjoy it to the fullest.
Q. Where can I find recipes and information for making my own wines?
A. The best place to start is at your local library or on the Internet under "Wine" or "Home Winemaking." The library may also be able to put you in touch with local home winemaking clubs. If you do not have a nearby retail store that sells winemaking kits and supplies, you may want to contact a local winery. They sometimes sell books and supplies to home winemakers.
Q. I've been told that no wine goes well with chocolate. Is that true?
A: It is true that many wine experts are somewhat reluctant to recommend any particular wine with chocolate because chocolate takes so many forms and usually overpowers the flavor of most wines. Sweet German-style wines and Sauternes are popular choices with chocolate desserts as are many sparkling wines such as Asti Spumante and semi-dry champagnes. Some adventurous souls enjoy the flavor combination of a young and hearty, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel with chocolate. Chocolate desserts with raspberry or cherry accent sauces are also nicely complemented by the wine of that particular fruit or port-style wines.
Q. What does wine add to a sauce and how do I use it?
A. Wine is a seasoning like herbs or spices, only in liquid form. It accents and improves natural food flavors. It also adds a certain flair to ordinary cooking; and yet, it is easy to use. Instead of adding water, which is tasteless, to your recipe, substitute some wine. You'll discover a much more fragrant and better-tasting dish. Add the wine near the end of your cooking for more intense flavoring.
Q. What wines would you suggest with appetizers before a dinner party?
A. Appetizers and aperitif wines are meant to tease and stimulate the palate before a meal. They should be dry or off-dry. Sweet wines have a tendency to numb the taste buds and overpower food flavors. Light bodied, semi-dry white wines like Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Vouvray and some of the new "proprietary" wines have refreshing tastes and sensations that make them easy to sip before dinner. They are especially appealing to guests who don't normally drink wine and are appreciated by those who have cut back on the consumption of hard liquor. The slight residual sugar in these wines will go well with appetizers that are smoked, salty or spiced. Dry sparkling and still white wines tend to cleanse and sharpen one's palate. Pinot Gris/Grigio, Grand Cru Chablis, Sauvignon Blanc, Frascati and Champagne serve very well with the delicate flavors of a wide variety of shellfish and seafood hors d'oeuvres. A combination of complementing flavors have a tendency to stimulate your guests' appetites.
Q. What is the difference between White Zinfandel and Zinfandel wines?
A. First of all "White Zinfandel" is not a white wine. It falls in the category of a "blush" wine which is a phenomena that was spearheaded by Sutter Home Winery in the 80s. The Zinfandel grape is a red grape that traditionally produces a wine of intense flavor without being overpowering. Secondly, the juice of virtually all grapes is clear. The juice extracts its color from the skins of crushed grapes (aka, the "must") during fermentation. When the juice is separated from the "must" early in the fermentation process the result is a salmon or pinkish color left on the wine which then is marketed as White Zinfandel as opposed to the traditional red Zinfandel.
Q. What wine would you recommend for Chinese "Wok Cooking?"
A. It doesn't matter what you cook in, rather it's what you cook. The whole idea of cooking with wine is marrying the flavors of the food with the wine. If you are stir-frying vegetables or chicken, use dry or semi-dry white wines that won't overpower but complement the subtle flavors with which you are working. If meat and strong seasonings like garlic and peppers are being used, then try dry red wines that will stand up to and enhance the heavier flavors. Constantly experimenting with different food and wine flavor combinations, that's the real "joy of cooking."
Q. I feel so intimidated when ordering wine in a restaurant. I always think the waiter will laugh at me if I make a blunder. How does one overcome this feeling?
A. You think you're intimidated? Family Circle magazine reported on a survey of 48 New York waiters who "emphatically agreed that drinkers of red wines and white wines have different personality traits." Not only are the former "wild" and "dangerous," the waiters thought, but also "sensual." White wine drinkers? "Better dressed," "more chic" and "more cool." Since you are already categorized, no sense in getting flustered about ordering the wrong label. Just relax and order the wine with which you're comfortable. If you have any questions, ask the waiter.
Q. Why do wines come in differently shaped bottles?
A. The evolution of the glass bottle within the traditions and culture of each wine-producing country is long and interesting, but a quick explanation of what you may expect from the shape and color of wine bottles on your merchant's shelves can be helpful. The high-shouldered, straight-sided Bordeaux bottle is the most common shape of all. It is used in almost all wine producing countries. Green glass is used for red wine and clear glass for whites. This bottle shape represents the classic Bordeaux soft styles of dry reds and dry or sweet whites. A slope-shouldered bottle hints of a full-bodied red wine characterized by the wines of Burgundy and the robust wines of Italy's famed Piedmont region. The full-flavored whites of Chablis and Chardonnay are also found in this bottle shape. The tall slender bottle, restyled from the Burgundy shape, is brown for most German Rhine style wines, but green for the more delicate and fragrant Moselle and Alsatian-style wines. Sherries and Ports appear in the narrow-waisted bottles that are the traditional shape for dessert wines and have generally been accepted worldwide for this style of wine.
Q. Please give me information on what the following wines are worth today: a 3-liter bottle of 1959 Bardi Chianti, 1936 California Sparkling Burgundy and 1936 New York champagne.
A. Unfortunately, it is a common misnomer that any wine old enough will eventually be worth a lot of money. In reality, less than 1% of the world's wine production lasts longer than 10-15 years, let alone become a collector's item. I'm afraid your wines are only valuable as conversation pieces or as attractions for antique bottle collectors. The contents of the bottles probably lost their luster, long ago.
Q. I went to a wine tasting a while back and they wouldn't allow any smoking, how come?
A. Like strong perfume and after-shave, smoke will overpower the delicate fragrance and aroma of the wine. Some smokers claim the harshness of smoking makes their taste buds more sensitive to the subtle nuances of the wines. Although wine and smoking is not generally considered a good mixture, Leon D. Adams states in his Common Sense Book of Wine, "Red port is the traditional wine to sip while puffing a fragrant cigar. Had it not been for the time honored British custom of after-dinner port for the gentlemen, while the ladies retired from the table, the Portuguese port industry would not be what it is today."
Q. Doesn't the Napa Valley appellation on a label virtually guarantee one of the best quality wines made in California?
A. Appellations are government designated viticultural regions that possess unique growing conditions and elements. The only "guarantee" you have is that at least 85% of the grapes used to make the wine are from that specific area. There is no guarantee of quality, although some appellations have a reputation for better performance than do others. Napa Valley certainly fits into that category.
Q. How long have wine connoisseurs been enjoying wine?
A. The first known reference to a specific wine vintage was made by Roman historian Pliny the Elder, who rated the 121 B.C. vintage as one "of the highest in excellence." Pliny noted how well it had lasted 200 years. Just a little south of Rome, archeologists have uncovered and identified over 200 wine bars under the volcanic ruins of Pompeii. It would seem that civilization has been enjoying the fruit of the wine for some time.
Q. I have a friend who will be celebrating his 50th birthday this year. Is it possible to find a bottle of wine from the year of his birth?
A. We've been asked this question a hundred times and the answer is always the same. If a "birth-date" wine is of high enough quality to last the minimum twenty-one years (the legal age to consume the wine), then it stands to reason that the economics of supply and demand will eventually set in. There are usually wines of every year available, somewhere. The trick is to find them. If you are able to find the vintage you want, it more than likely will be at an inflated price. We would offer two gift alternatives: one would be to give the birthday person a selection of unusual wines from around the world. The second alternative is to put away a bottle of wine, when it is readily available in retail stores, in anticipation of a future birthday or anniversary. If all else fails, we have yet to see anyone turn down a nice bottle of Champagne for the occasion.
Q: Is there any such thing as a "perfect" wine glass?
A: Only if it is attractive, practical and clean. I personally prefer either bowl or tulip shaped, ten or more ounce glasses for enjoying wine. This size allows the wine to be swirled and releases its bouquet, providing it is not filled more than two-thirds full. A fresh glass for each new wine is recommended so the flavors don't blend together.
Q. I've been told the best place to keep my wine is in the refrigerator. Is that so?
A. It is, if you have opened a bottle and wish to save the remaining wine for a couple of days. Refrigeration will slow down the natural deterioration process after the wine has been exposed to oxygen. It will not keep much longer than a few days, however, so be sure to consume what is left within a couple days. Refrigeration of full bottles of wine should also be limited, even though they will keep for a longer period of time. The refrigerator is a popular hiding place for Champagne and other sparkling wine, but it is not the best place for long storage of your collection. Months of refrigeration and vibrations from the fridge's motor will have a negative effect on the quality of all wines.
Q. What type of information should I expect to get from a wine bottle label?
A. All wine labels are required to give you the following information:
• THE BRAND NAME of the wine.
• THE TYPE OF WINE. This name may be simply the marketing name of a blended wine, or the name of the grape variety which indicates the wine is made of at least 75% of the variety indicated.
• REGION OR ORIGIN. To say "California," 75% of the grapes used to make the wine must be grown within the state. To use a federally approved viticultural area like "Napa Valley," 85% of the grapes must be grown within that area. If a specific vineyard is indicated, 95% of the wine must be made from grapes from that particular vineyard.
• BOTTLER. The name and location of the bottler must appear on the label. The bottler's name may not always be the same as the brand name.
• ALCOHOL CONTENT. The legal limits for table wine are between 7% and 14%. The term "table wine" may appear instead of the actual percentage.
• VINTAGE. If the vintner decides to show a vintage date on the label, it must contain 95% of the grapes grown in the year stated.
• SPECIFIC CHARACTER. Several terms may be used to describe method, color, sweetness or other qualities, e.g. Late Harvest, Demi-Sec, Dry White, Extra-Dry, etc.