Tag Archives: wine basics

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!

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!

 

Champagne Is NOT Just for Holidays

photo-anthony-delanoix_champagne-1b

Spread the cheer any day – Schramsberg Cremant Demi-Sec

New Year’s has come and gone. Time to pack up the champagne glasses for another year (or the next wedding)? Are you kidding me? I hope you are!

The party’s only just started!  What better way to celebrate all of those relationships you’ve gathered around the table than with a glass of bubbles.

A Schramsberg wine master explains the process of making sparkling wines during a session of Camp Schramsberg in the wine caves.

The fact is, sparkling wine or champagne can be enjoyed at ANY meal with ANY food even a big steak. You just have to have the right bottle! One that stands out for me is Schramsberg’s Crémant Demi-Sec.

First you need to know that only wines that come from the Champagne region of France can legally be called “champagne.” Schramsberg is from the Calistoga area of Napa Valley and the owners of Schramsberg Vineyard use the Methôde Champenoise (translation: the champagne method used in France) to create all of their sparkling wines.

Schramsberg has been producing their award winning sparkling wines since 1965 and has been honored to serve them in every White House administration since Richard Nixon. One of the really cool things about Schramsberg is that they offer a unique experience to learn all about their wines.

One of the perks of owning a restaurant is that you get invited to participate in some very special events. Camp Schramsberg is one of those that I’ll never forget. I had no clue it even existed. It’s a three-day experience they have twice a year (once in the Spring for “bud” or when the grapes are just beginning to grow and once in the Fall for harvest). Anyone can sign up for camp and attend-it is not restricted to only people in “the trade.”  When I went, almost half of the participants were just people who love wine.

What’s really fun about this experience is that they hold it in their winery caves, out in the vineyards and also at the Meadowood Napa Valley Resort.  I learned about Schramsberg’s history, of course, but also about sparkling wines in general and how they are made, was given an opportunity to learn how to properly prune the vines (it’s harder than it looks), how to saber a bottle-cut off the top of the bottle with a saber (easier than you think), eat a lot of great food and drink their amazing wines (even with steak!).  It was at camp that my real love of sparkling wines blossomed and I learned some valuable lessons.

One of them is that you should never hold back for celebrations in your life. So, don’t hold back the champagne (or the sparkling wine) for the “big days.” Every day should be a celebration, and every day is an opportunity to show your appreciation to those people who you gather around your table.

So, don’t be stingy. Pop a cork and enjoy.

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!!

A Relationship Recipe Story: Two Bottles of Pink Champagne and London

If you know me, you know I love bubbles more than any other adult beverage and if those bubbles are not only good but also pink, I’m in heaven. BS3They did get me into “trouble” one night, though. I met a couple of girlfriends for dinner after a particularly awful day at work. It turned out they’d also had awful days at work so we ordered a good bottle of pink bubbles with our meal. Sometime in the middle of the second bottle, we decided that a trip to London was in order!

Not only did we plan that trip that night, we actually went and it was one of the most fun trips I’ve had. The night of that dinner ended not only with a lot of laughter, but also the anticipation of something to look forward to. I think that the spontaneity of the planning was a big part of the fun for all of us. We still talk about that night and those two bottles!

Recipe for Personal Dining: Wine Blends

wine and wine blends

Back to Wine Basics with “Blends”

All of my friends know that my wine of choice always includes bubbles – pink ones if I’m to be completely honest about it. But, having said that, I just love a good bottle, white or red, just not sweet and chewy – ever! Something that not everyone knows, however, is that just because a bottle has a specific grape name on the label (Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon) that bottle may not and often is not the only grape in that bottle.

Wine makers often add in other grapes to create the flavor profile they want to create in that bottle. The law actually allows up to 25% other grapes in the bottle for blending. So, very often the grape name on the label is only 75% of what is actually in the bottle. Having said all of that, I think that the blending makes wines way more interesting. So, just because a wine isn’t 100% of a specific grape doesn’t mean it’s still not a great wine.

Silver Oak Winery

Silver Oak Winery makes an amazing Cabernet Sauvignon. In fact, it’s the only varietal that they do make! They also use small amounts of other varietals in their Napa blend- Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Petit Verdot. I don’t really care what they use, their Napa Valley Cabernet is always so velvety smooth and delicious! It’s a little pricey but I’m never sorry I spent the extra dollars on this one.

Long Meadow Ranch Winery Cab

Last Saturday, I got to do one of my favorite things – An impromptu casual dinner with a girlfriend. We just made some pasta and salad but I had a 2008 Long Meadow Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon that we shared. It was a real treat. I let it breathe for about 20-30 minutes and it was amazing! This cabernet is one of the “blends” that I mentioned that has more than 75% Cabernet Sauvignon grape, it’s 86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc (a common blending grape). Besides making wonderful Cabernets, the Winery is California Certified Organic! How cool is that?

Chateau Montelena

One of the perks of being a restaurant owner is that I get to visit some fabulous wineries and drink wine with some very interesting people. One of these is Chateau Montelena. This is the winery that produced the Chardonnay that beat out all of the French entries in the 1976 Paris competition, which was immortalized in the 2008 movie, Bottle Shock. But, the wine that they make that I really enjoy is their Cabernet Sauvignon, and fortunately, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying several of their vintages. They have, in fact, several wine clubs specifically for their Cabernet Sauvignons. What a great way to make sure that you don’t miss a great vintage.