Tag Archives: bottled wine

The Delicate Etiquette of the Last drop of Wine

Wine Etiquette

Some customs just make the whole art of entertaining that much more fun!

When I was very young, my parents were pretty serious about teaching customs and manners to me and my siblings. We learned how to be polite and show respect by using salutations like “Mr. xxx” and “Mrs. xxx” when addressing our elders. I was taught to say “please” and “thank you.”  When I was in Junior and Senior High School some of my friends’ parents would tell me to use their first names when addressing them – I couldn’t – it just seemed wrong.

Unfortunately, many customs and manners have long since drifted away. And maybe it’s okay that some of them have gone the way of other old things. But to be honest, I miss some of them. Around my neighborhood, people still open doors for each other and say, “Good morning” even if they don’t know someone. But get on the freeway, and it’s a whole other world – such language – some of it not even verbal.  I have to admit that when I’m behind the wheel I can have a whole conversation with the driver in front of me – and they don’t even know it!

But, there are some customs I will always follow.  When I’m setting my table for guests, I put utensils, plates, and glasses in their proper places and I use cloth napkins and napkin rings. Why do I do that?  I want to show my guests that I put a lot of thought in preparing my home to receive them. It’s my way of welcoming them and making them feel that they are truly special. Manners and etiquette are all part of sophisticated living: paying attention to the details.  When you go that “extra mile” in preparation, it makes the evening feel that much more complete.

Knowing and following traditions and manners wherever you are can be a lot of fun. A friend of mine who lives in Osaka, Japan took me out to a Japanese restaurant a while back in Los Angeles. We had wine (not sake), but she said that “Japanese rules” still applied. I asked what she meant by that and she answered that we could not pour wine for ourselves. “We pour for each other,” she said, “it shows respect for our friends and the friendship we share.”  Well, you don’t have to be Japanese to understand that concept. Right?

Here’s another one. In western culture, a sign of respect and kindness to your friends and guests is to always serve them first.  And, when serving wine, women should be served first, and the “server” always last.  Never empty the bottle into your own glass – that’s just bad manners – unless, of course, you’re by yourself! If you’re in Italy, it’s considered bad luck to serve the last drop of wine in a bottle to a single woman.  No kidding.  Friends there told me that it’s a very common belief that you never give the last drop to a single woman or she’ll never marry!

If you’re traveling outside the U.S., take a minute to look up what the drinking traditions are for wherever you’re traveling.  Because, in some cultures (Korea, Russia, etc.), if you sit down to an evening of drinking – you are in for a very long, very intoxicating night.  But, if you’re in France, getting drunk is not the focus of the evening but rather it’s something to be savored slowly, for the wine to be appreciated, gently.  Wait until everyone has been served and then raise your glass and toast to everyone’s health by saying “Santé.”

Wherever you find yourself, whether in your own home and you’re entertaining or you’re traveling, take that extra minute to follow some traditions and manners – it will make the experience that much more grand.  I promise.

Rosé is a Rose by Any Other Name?

Rose Wine, with Gruet Brut Rose

There’s just so much more to your wine than just a name!

First, a little story. I was with a friend who is a real muscle car geek. This man knows every make, has details about every model, knows things about particular years that boggles the mind, and I think has either owned or ridden in just about every one of them.

That’s why I was a little amused when he almost got whiplash and craned his neck to watch what appeared to me an older blue car fly by going in the other direction.

“Oh, that’s such a sweet ride!” he exclaimed like a teenager.

“What was it?” I asked.

He had such a big grin. “A 1967 Camaro Rally Sport hardtop – with original black stripes!  In metallic blue.”

I’m always appreciative of other people’s passions. That’s how I get about wine.

What for one person is “just another rosé” – to me, is a whole world of detail.

There’s a difference between what is recognized as Old World Wine and what is New World. New World Wine comes from regions where winemaking and the Vitis vinifera grape was exported from Europe during the Age of Exploration (roughly 1500 through the very early 1800s). The Americas, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand are New World – everywhere else – Old World.  Old World rosé tends to be bone-dry while New World can be almost sweet, fruitier.

Another thing about rosé that surprises most people is that it starts off white. Almost all red skinned grapes – like pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel – have white to “off green” flesh, and the squeezed juice is clear. So, what makes them red? The anthocyanin pigment in the dark skin of the grape. The red color or pinkness (and the flavor associated with the finished rosé) is determined by the amount of contact the clear juice has with the skin.

Cool, right?

There are basically four ways to make rosé wine:

  • First, there’s something called Bleeding or Saignée (usually the best quality rosés are made with this method)– the grapes are stacked in a tank and the weight of the grapes actually does the crushing. Some of the juice is “bled-off” into another tank after limited contact with the skins making this the palest in color of the rosés. The rest is kept in the tank for making red wines.
  • Pressing or pressé where red skinned grapes are pressed until the desired color is reached at which point the winemaker stops pressing.
  • Limited Maceration – which is the most common technique – leaves the juice in contact with the skins, seeds, and stems. Usually, this goes on for no more than two or three days until the juice is the color the winemaker wants at which point the juice (without all those seeds, stems and skin) is transferred to another tank to finish the fermentation.
  • Finally, there’s the Run Off method where the winemaker removes some of the juice of fermenting red wine and pours it into a separate tank. By doing this, the winemaker can make a red wine that’s a bit darker and more intense.

Rosé is typically drunk when it’s very young – 1-3 years old.  So, what’s the best rosé to serve for a dinner party? It all depends on what you’re serving – the drier the wine the easier it is to pair with salads, vegetables and grilled proteins.  The sweeter the rosé the better it would be with dessert or enjoying the sunset.  Rosé is an ideal wine to enjoy all year long but particularly in the summer/warmer months.

If you like a drier Old World rosé, then pick up a bottle of Miraval Rosé, from the Chateau Miraval in Provence, France. The nose (aroma) can be a bit sweet with strawberries and raspberry notes but because of the different grapes it’s blended with (Grenache, etc.) it is slightly acidic on the palate.  It would pair well with raw salmon, tuna (like a tartare or sushi) or something similar to a Niçoise Salad.

Another Old World rosé called Pive (Pea-vé) is from the JeanJean winery in the wilderness of the Camargue national park France and is organically farmed. This one tends to be a bit more aromatic – strawberry, raspberry fruit, some earth, spice and mineral characters but is bone dry and very fresh.  This would be great with BBQ and grilled meats as well as fish/shellfish.  It’s a really great summer picnic wine.

The Brut Rosé from Gruet is one of my favorite sparkling wines when I want something a bit sweeter.  It’s from the New World – New Mexico – with floral and berry aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry and wild strawberry with a delicate acidity on the finish.  It goes well with a chilled salad!

I always recommend that you talk to your wine merchant and ask questions. Let them know the wines that you like to drink – and what you’re planning for a meal. It’ll help them pick the right rosé for you.

And don’t forget keep your rosé chilled and – if it’s a party – buy magnums!

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!!