Tag Archives: bottled wine

Entertaining at home with Magnums

magnums as tabletop centerpiece

How to use Magnums as a centerpiece for your dinner table.

Entertaining at home presents a fun challenge for me because I’m always looking for a way to do something a bit more extraordinary than before. I find the small touches that make a big statement, something that adds sophistication and makes the event more memorable.

“Magnums” contain 1.5 liters of wine or champagne, or the equivalent of two regular 750ml bottles. Two bottles in one! When you use magnums of wine on the table you get to enjoy the party more because you don’t have to keep jumping up and opening wine bottles as often.  But, there’s more than just the convenience of having to open fewer bottles for your gathering.

No matter how you look at it, magnums create a great party atmosphere.  Whatever the size of your gathering – large or small – when you have magnums as part of your centerpiece, the extra-large bottles immediately become fabulous additions to the tabletop and great conversation starters.

I went to a party in San Diego where the host served a double magnum of Champagne, equivalent to two magnums or four standard 750ml bottles. Just to get the cork out was a tremendous feat but, it took two guys to tip the bottle carefully to serve all the guests. That was not only a constant topic of conversation, it was also so much fun and the source of a whole lot of laughter all night long!  It really added to the party atmosphere.

There’s also a practical perspective for magnums. Winemakers prefer larger bottle size because wine ages more slowly and gracefully in larger format bottles than in standard bottles. There are several reasons for this.  One reason is that even though there is a greater volume of wine in the bottle, the amount of oxygen or “ullage” between the cork and the wine is the same as in a regular sized bottle. Corks are porous so tiny amounts of oxygen are let in (very, very slowly!) and that oxygen modifies the wine over time – aging the wine.  Too much oxygen will eventually damage the wine but if there is a lot more wine in the bottle and still the same ullage and cork size then there is less risk of damage to the wine over the same amount of time.  And, the bigger the bottle the more your wine is protected from other things that can damage it (larger bottles have thicker glass) – light, heat, changes in temperature and vibration from travel.

This is particularly true for Champagne where experts note that magnums help the wine retain a more youthful taste than when served from standard bottles. Also, due to the increased content volume, magnums tend to have slightly higher pressure which enhances the bubbles a bit – always a good thing in my opinion!

Either way, imagine one or two magnums sitting on your tabletop at your next party. You’ll enjoy the party with fewer interruptions to open more bottles and your guests will have a lot of fun passing the large bottles around the table to refill glasses. And think of all conversations that will start. But, the biggest benefit? You will be serving and enjoying wine that is closer to what the winemaker intended.

Let’s talk about serving wine.

wine glasses on a tabletop

You’re hosting a party. How much wine do you serve?

How much wine should you pour in a glass? It all depends on what you want to do. Like, it’s been a bad day and you’ve come home for a little relaxation, then who’s going to comment if you fill your favorite wine glass to the top with your favorite red?

It’s something else though when you have guests, isn’t it? Filling a wine glass to the brim is just way too much when you’ve just invited some friends over for a quiet evening. Besides, do you want your friends sloshing red wine all over your carpets and chairs? Not anything I want in my house, right?

Over twenty years of owning restaurants has taught me a thing or two about serving sizes especially for events that you might host, like a party. Serving full glasses of wine is way too much not just for a party but really for anytime you’re having a glass of your favorite grape. You’re not taking full advantage of every experience the winemaker was hoping you’d have when drinking their wine. Worse yet, you’re cutting short the real enjoyment you get from drinking good wine. Especially at your party where you can make the experience that much more memorable for everyone.

When I serve wine at a gathering of good friends, I want to love the wine. I want to enjoy everything that the winemaker worked so hard to create. I want to taste the flavor. I want to enjoy the color. And I want to smell the full bouquet and I want my guests to do the same.

To encourage my guests to take part in the enjoyment, I fill their glasses to just below what we call the “waist” of the glass. For most wine glasses, that’s the point where the bowl is widest.  Filling the glass to that point gives you plenty of room to swirl the wine around in the glass, look at the color, and let the bouquet fill the glass. Then you can dip your nose into the glass and smell that wonderful aroma as you take a sip.

If you do a little research, you’ll find that there are all types of wine glasses. Riedel is a glass manufacturer that was the first to create wines glasses where form follows function.  In 1961 Claus Riedel was the first designer to understand that the shape of a wine glass affected the bouquet, taste, balance and finish and so created an entire line based on what grape you are drinking.  When it comes down to theory and mechanics of wine glass-making, Riedel is truly a unique company.  It’s the glasses that I reach for most often at home whether I’m having a party or just enjoying a glass of my favorite wine with dinner.

Here’s the thing though, I don’t always pay attention to what the book says about what kind of wine should go into what kind of glass. Bottom line, I buy the glass that I like. If it has a nice shape and it has a nice feel in my hand, I bring it home.

Riedel makes excellent simple wine glasses that are right for really just about anyone. The great thing is that they can easily be found at Williams-Sonoma – one of my favorite places to go for things for the tabletop.

Back at the party, no matter what kind of glass you end up with, encourage your guests to take their time with their wine.  Fill it short, and enjoy the experience.

Bring Napa Home and Let the Bottles Do the Talking

Fran's Wine

Bring stories home about the wine you love, #Napa #Winechat

I love wine from all over the world, but Napa is closest to my heart. Well, living in California is part of the reason, but back when I owned my restaurants, I visited there with friends and family as often as I could. I’ve collected so many wonderful memories from there.

You don’t have to go all the way to Napa to snag a beautiful bottle of cab. Go to your favorite store – I recommend one that specializes in wine like Wally’s Wine and Spirits in Beverly Hills, CA – and ask for a tour of the store’s favorite Napa selections. Listen to all of the great stories; every good vineyard has one. If only bottles could speak, right? But in a way, they do!

You wouldn’t believe how many great conversation starters there are in wine. I think that the stories make drinking wine so much more enjoyable. I’ll give you some examples.

Cabernet Sauvignon from winemaker Cathy Corison

What’s so cool about Corison.  To begin with, Cathy Corison, owner and winemaker, was one of only a handful of women winemakers when she began in the late 1970’s and only about 10% still are women. Cathy Corison calls herself “the gypsy winemaker” because she worked at several wineries, including Long Meadow Ranch, prior to finding the perfect “dirt” for her cabernet. She likes to keep her total production small, generally under 3,500 cases, because she can “stay close” to her wines.

Long Meadow Ranch Sauvignon Blanc

Long Meadow Ranch has some very long roots in Napa. Back in the late 1800s, the property was used to make wine, and they also grew apples, olives, and operated a goat milk dairy. Then Prohibition came, and the previous owners abandoned the farm.  The Hall family bought the property in 1989 and have been making wine there ever since. I actually keep their Sauvignon Blanc in my refrigerator as my “go to” white in the summer and I have several vintages of their Napa Valley Cabernet that I love to open when I’m looking for a big red.

Illumination Sauvignon Blanc from the Quintessa Vineyard

Agustin and Valeria Huneeus, both with long successful careers in the wine business, founded the Quintessa Estate in 1990.  Their philosophy is that their wine should be known for the terroir (dirt) and not the grape varietal.  Valeria has guided the estate from sustainable farming to organic farming and now to biodynamic farming.  I have visited this winery several times and I have to say it’s one of my very favorite places in the area.  Several years ago I was one of the lucky ones who tasted their Illumination (Sauignon Blanc) very early on and love this wine and personally – I LOVE their Quintessa Red.

Estate Proprietary Red, a Bordeaux blend from Continuum Estate

The winery was founded by Tim Mondavi, his father Robert Mondavi and sister Marcia Mondavi after the sale of Robert Mondavi Winery to Constellation Brands. It’s a real family-owned winery with family members sitting in key positions. Their focus for each vintage is on a single red blend premium wine based on Cabernet Sauvignon with a very limited production – typically around 1,300 cases per year.  Tim, one of the founders and the winemaker for Continuum was involved in the winemaking for Opus One.

Cabernet Sauvignon from the Behrens Family Winery

Les Behrens (from New Jersey) and Lisa Drinkward (a California native) started making wine in 1993 with Bob and Lily Hitchcock as their business partners under the Behrens & Hitchcock label.  Les, with absolutely no formal training has been the sole winemaker since its inception and Lisa, involved in every part of the winemaking, really takes over the vineyard management during harvest.  The Hitchcocks retired in 2005 and Les and Lisa became the sole owners – and the name changed to Behrens Family Winery.  The drawing on their distinctive gold label is of Les’ mother’s vintage KitchenAid. Owen Smith, a good friend of Les Behrens who shares his love of wine and art creates the beautiful labels on their bottles.  They produce only small lots of 6-7 wines per year – unfined and unfiltered – each a very hands on labor of love.

See? You don’t have to be a wine encyclopedia to get a conversation started. It can be a whole lot of fun just having a little information in your back pocket. And this is one of the best ways I know to bring a little of the vineyard home to your guests.

Cheers!

 

Remember That Wine We Had?

photo by Serge Esteve

Love wine, hate remembering labels? What’s a Foodie to do? 

I go out to dinner often and get to taste a lot of new wines with my friends in the process.  The ‘always trying new wines’ used to be because I couldn’t remember “that wine we had last time that we all loved.” My memory just isn’t that good.  I know the grape varietals and blends that I enjoy and the ones I don’t love so much (Merlot, anyone?) and why, the parts of the world that create the wines I do love. Sometimes if I’m lucky I even remember a favorite winemaker label!

But, I’m confessing here. I’m not that person who has a photographic memory for these things (even after all my years owning restaurants). I don’t necessarily know why enjoyed a particular bottle – just that I know for certain that I wished I could drink whatever “it” was again.

I used to tell people to just take a picture of the bottle label, especially if they were drinking was something they truly enjoyed. I admit that I have a pretty big album on my iPhone of wine bottle labels I’d like to drink again.  That was way before all the apps that now allow you to keep track of bottles you like, tell you how much they should cost, and even let you add tasting notes.

I use Vivino which works best for me.  I just have to take a picture of the label and up pops everything I want to know about what’s in the bottle.  It then saves that info in the app if I want, it even allows me to rate the wine and leave my own tasting notes in the profile.  That way I can just go back to the app and see if there’s anything in my list that is offered on the wine list wherever I am.  You can even scan the wine list and it will tell you the rating and review of each wine.  Pretty cool and it takes up a lot less space than all those photos on my phone!

Date Night Wine from Gruet Winery

I love when I’m asked my wine recommendations because there are so many wonderful options to explore! Date night wines for a romantic dinner at home have been a popular discussion recently, so here are a few of my romantic dinner-in favorites as of late.

The old adage that the fastest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach is, I’ve found, absolutely true. They are always so impressed with the effort and we get to make something that we are comfortable with so the evening is stress free. One of my current favorites is actually a sparkling wine (you can’t call it Champagne unless it is actually from Champagne, France) from New Mexico! The winery, Gruet, is owned by the Gruet family which also owns Gruet et Fils-a Champagne house in France. They have non-vintage sparklings all under $20 or vintage sparkling wines with the most expensive under $45. Both are a very good value. I would simply order a few bottles straight from the winery and just keep them chilled. You never know when you will need one; bubbles make any meal a party. Enjoy!

Wine Enthusiast’s Delight: The Coravin Wine Preserver

I can’t say how many times I’ve made dinner and wanted to have just one glass of wine, but I knew that I wouldn’t finish the bottle so I didn’t open one. Seriously disappointing if your dinner would go perfectly with a glass from that great bottle sitting in your wine fridge… but I finally found something that solves the problem perfectly!

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a major department store doing what I love to do when I have a little extra time – wandering the housewares/kitchen electronics department when I came across the best thing ever. It’s called Coravin and it’s a wine enthusiast’s delight.

Greg Lambrecht, who grew up in California and went to MIT invented it and you can find his story on YouTube.  In fact, there’s a two-part interview with Robert Parker done in 2013 (before the product was launched) in which Robert Parker is so effusive about this product, it’s crazy.

coravin-wine-preserverThe way this works is that you can access the wine through a medical grade hollow needle (device and needle invented by Lambrecht). It is inserted straight through the collar of the bottle (that’s the metal cap over the cork).  The device replaces the poured wine with Argon gas so that NO oxygen ever touches the wine.  Parker went nuts over the whole thing.  You need to watch it!

Fast forward to now and the device is all over the market, including Amazon where it has 4.5 stars out of 5 from 75 interviews.  Per Lambrecht and several reviewers, each Argon capsule should last for about 20 glasses.

I bought one for myself, one for a housewarming gift for a girlfriend and one for a Christmas gift for another.  It’s perfect for get-togethers small and large.  Everyone gets to drink what they want with no worries about finishing the whole bottle.

The fact is, the Coravin isn’t just for wine enthusiasts; it’s for anyone who simply wants a good pour from the bottle without oxidization. Have a wine tasting party with no worries about waste.  What an excellent idea!!