Opening Sparkling Wine 101

As I watch friends, family, neighbors, and strangers open bottles of Sparkling wine, my frustration has finally reached an unbearable level. Hasn’t anyone showed you how to do this? It’s not rocket science. But unlike opening a 2 liter bottle of carbonated sugar water, opening sparkling wine requires some guidelines in order to avoid harming oneself and/or others. In want of not turning this site into the pompous wine snobs tip spot, I’ll keep it brief.

  1. Hold the bottle of Sparkling wine (Champagne, Cava, Sekt, Spumante, Cap Classique, what have you) pointed away from yourself and others at a 45 degree angle or so
  2. Remove the foil around the top of the bottle and pull down the wire loop
  3. Place one hand securely over the top of the bottle keeping some pressure on the cork while supporting the bottle
  4. With your free hand, twist the wire cage open, but do not remove it.
  5. With that same free hand, grasp the bottle at the base and rotate it clockwise (or counter clockwise) while holding the cork in place with your other hand.
  6. Allow the cork to release into your hand slowly. You’re done!

Note: You can drape a towel over the bottle after step 2 if you’d like.

Why am I writing this? On two occasions now, flying corks has nearly shot me. Neither were purposeful, and fortunately no one was hurt, but a little more caution is in order, as lawsuits sighting negligence hold up pretty well in court. I’ll relate one of the stories.

My wife and I were enjoying the summertime concert in the park series our city puts on annually. I brought some wine and fine stemware, and we where sipping away on that Friday evening. A family of four drops their blanket down next to us. The father begins to open a bottle of Sparkling wine when “POP”. I think nothing of it until the next thing I hear is my wife’s glass shattering. She had placed it in one of those glass holders next to her and after noticing the shocked look on her face, I knew she wasn’t injured. I look over at the guy, who looks at me and halfheartedly mumbles, “Did that just beak? Sorry.” That was it. No offer to pay for the glass, no further apology, just a quick glance at his wife who was smirking, and back to the business of getting sloshed while the kids chase each other with sticks. I collected what was left of the Riedel overture and disposed of it. I didn’t offer the crack shot any pointers on how to open a bottle safely, so I’m writing this now for him and others like him.

Regardless of where you are, you need to be careful opening a bottle of juice whose contents are under great pressure, especially when they’ve been bouncing around in your car or picnic basket. With the world record cork flight at over 177 feet, and average bottle pressure at around 115 pounds per square inch, (or nearly 3 times what’s in your car tire!), please be careful when handling this projectile around others.
For more information on Sparkling Wine and other fun facts, check out this Wikipedia entry.

Premiere Napa Valley X 2006 sets new records

Premiere Napa Valley X, held at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Ca, auctioned off 1.87 Million dollars worth of wine on Saturday, February 27, 2006. The event is for wine industry professionals, winemakers, restaurateurs, retailers, and wholesalers, and auction lots are special for the event. The buyers in turn sell off these special lots to delighted customers across the country. The auction started off with a bang, as after the first lot closed, ‘auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski lowered the gavel to close the sale of a lot and the oak gavel shattered in her hand, which proved to be the harbinger of robust action to come.’

The action did prove to be robust, as the top lot of the evening, 2004 Rombauer Cabernet, garnered $85,000, the highest amount ever in the events 10 year history. Here is the list of the top 15 lots and their selling price.

Top 15 Lots
Lot #178 Rombauer Vineyards $85,000
Lot # 37 Shafer Vineyards $75,000
Lot # 154 Silver Oak Cellars $39,000
Lot # 155 Paraduxx $37,000
Lot # 57 Beringer Vineyards $35,000
Lot # 104 Lewis Cellars $32,000
Lot # 19 Joseph Phelps Vineyards $29,000
Lot # 44 Husic Vineyards $28,000
Lot # 148 Regusci Vineyards $27,000
Lot # 86 Gemstone $27,000
Lot # 174 Pride Mountain $26,000
Lot # 142 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars $25,000
Lot # 1 Lang & Reed Wine Company $22,000
Lot # 82 Saintsbury $22,000
Lot # 128 Darioush $22,000

Read [Napa]

Jess Jackson behind Wine for Men

Ray’s Station is hoping to grab a market segment that marketers have overlooked, burly backwoodsmen. Note to Jess and Friends: There’s a reason no one has targeted these guys. I mean, when they enter the shopping market looking for alcohol, I’m guessing 90% of them have already made up their minds what they want: whatever is on sale, the Bud or Bud Light. Just a guess here, but most backwoodsman that go on weekly fly fishing or deer hunting trips probably aren’t looking to wash down their kills with Cabernet Sauvignon. Yet, that’s exactly what some of the advertising surrounding Ray’s Station is trying to say. Now with Ravenswood sponsoring Nascar maybe there’s enough money being thrown at this market segment to actually provide a return. Or maybe not.

But then again, whether or not I buy a wine is always based on if it tastes good or not, which considering Alexander Valley is the fruit source for Ray’s Station, this stuff might be pretty good, especially at $15 or so. I’ll have to pick up a bottle for market research purposes. (Man I love this blog.)

I also like the folks at Ravenswood Winery in Sonoma, who for years have made “No Wimpy Wines” the mantra for their muscular Zinfandels. Ravenswood just pumped up a bit more by agreeing to be a sponsor of the No. 27 NASCAR Busch Series race car of Brewco Motorsports.

Ravenswood will be the primary sponsor of Brewco’s Ford Fusion car for three races this year, and the Fusion will be painted to look like red wine for those events.

Read []
Ray’s Station Website

Judgment of Paris to be Recreated

It was almost 30 years ago that American wines shocked the world when two were chosen by French tasters over first growth wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy changing the American wine scene forever. That night, Steven Spurrier organized the tasting, and is set to do it again this year. This time there will be two panels, one in England, and the other in California, which will be tied in to each other via Video link.

The recreation will take place on 24 May at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire (once the Rothschild’s family home) and COPIA in Napa Valley, the wine & culinary arts centre.

The tasting will be held in three stages – initially a retasting of the original six cabernets from California, including the winning 1973 Stags’ Leap Cabernet Sauvignon together with Ridge Montebello Cabernet Sauvignon 1971, and four Bordeaux, including Châteaux Haut-Brion and Mouton-Rothschild 1970.

This will then be followed by a wider comparison of more recent vintages (probably the 2000s and 2001s) from the same and similar properties.

There will also be a tasting of classic Burgundy and Californian whites. The results will then be compiled and announced over a BAFTA-style awards dinner.

Should be an interesting tasting, especially if Bordeaux from the blockbuster 2000 vintage is showcased against the 2001 Vintage of Cabernet and Cabernet blends from California. So people will be eager to see who comes out on top, and since 2000 was so highly praised by the pros, I have a feeling the winners will be from Bordeaux.

But, is it fair to take one of the most anticipated vintages and compare it to a vintage that wasn’t as talked about and feel that you’ve found a winner between the two? I wouldn’t think so. It seems like the stage is set for a continued rivalry between those that want to claim their wine is the best while backing that statement up with a little proof. Certainly, Americans have drawn attention to the original judgment, and rightfully so, as they had earned a little respect. It should be interesting to see what happens on May 24th, but even more so what happens after.

You can read more about the original Judgment of Paris in the book. [Amazon]

More details on the 30th Anniversary here. [Decanter]

In Wall Wine Rack

Wall Wine RackAlthough I’m not crazy about some of the stains available, this thing doesn’t look half bad. Introducing the wooden recessed wine and glass wall storage rack, a.k.a the WeRWeR or Wall Recessed Wine Rack (I added the e’s and made that up, catchy no?). In between most walls you should fine stud spacing at 16″ on center. This handy little storage rack fits nicely in that space, and looks pretty easy to install, simply cut a hole, apply some adhesive, and insert. I would change the color myself, maybe a dark cherry stain, white or black paint, actually whatever my wife wants.

One very important side note not mentioned on the site: If you are going to store wine and not just stemware, you must put it in a darker, cool area of the house, like a closet away from a heater vent. Of course, once it’s in the closet, it kind of loses it’s appeal.

The unit starts at $285 and accommodates other add-ons like locks and mirrored doors.

Visit the website [] for more information or to see other in wall cabinet ideas.

It Could Happen To You

It’s happened to me, and I’m betting most have had a similar experience. Over at a friends house, as I prepared to open a bottle of wine, I asked for an opener (a waiter’s friend), inserted the corkscrew in, started to twist, and was surprised when the worm detached and the opener broke. Great, now what? Do you shove the cork down in the bottle with a screwdriver? Opting for a less bottle intrusive method, I twisted the worm by hand, painfully managing to get it down halfway, and started to pull. Now it’s no easy task to get a cork out of a bottle without the proper equipment, but by holding the bottle between my feet, and using a towel to grasp what was left of my corkscrew, I was successful.

Chalk another win up for screw caps. Situations like this are completely avoidable. Whether it’s the cork breaking off halfway in the bottle, not having an opener handy, or my disconcerting experience, screw caps eliminate these painful experiences. Thanks to new innovative closures, companies are finding a way to compromise the ease of use that comes with screw caps, and the nostalgia of opening a bottle with a cork.

If you are in need of a new corkscrew, this list from the Hollister Free Lance relates the pros and cons of the most common ones. I personally prefer a waiter’s friend to all others. It’s simple, easy to transport, efficient, and just looks good.

2001 Brunellos Compared, part II

Wine Spectator has posted more notes on 2001 Brunello’s in their subscriber only section. Out of the 27 new 2001 Brunellos James Suckling rates, only two cross the path of wines I’ve tasted and already posted about. Here they are:

Wine Wine
Wine Spectator
2001 Brunellos Ratings
Costanti Brunello di
Montalcino 2001
93 93
Marchesato degli
Aleramici Brunello di Montalcino 2001
92 92

Now that’s interesting. I tasted these wines a while ago and posted my findings before this came out, and we see the exact same score for both wines rated by Winexpression and Wine Spectator. It’s also interesting to note that out of all the wines I tasted, only 4 overlapped Suckling’s. The frustrating part about this is I thought I tasted like a mad man that day, which apparently I didn’t. I wish we had a little more overlap, but what are you going to do?

So, there you have it. Does this mean you can trust my scores on Brunello’s James Suckling hasn’t written about? All I know is, the wines from this vintage are consistent, amazing, and still very young. I think James target “best enjoyed after” date is right on; don’t touch these for at least another 3 or 4 years. This was my first experience with these wines and it wasn’t hard for me to see why collectors seek them out. This is a must buy vintage from Brunello.

2004 Domaines Austruc Viognier, Malras, France

2004 DA Viognier

This is the second of the two bottles I purchased for Wine Blog Wednesday #18, and of the two, this one exudes character. A great value at $7, this is definitely the way Viognier should be. The wine is produced in the Limoux region of the Languedoc in Southern France, and benefits from the limestone soils found in the area. It’s made in a very food friendly style, showcasing well balanced acidity, crisp fruit flavors, and an excellent finish.

Looking back at some previous posts, I must clarify some of the statements I’ve made about French wine. In the under $10 category, it’s the reds that suffer, not so much the whites. This Viognier is proof of that.

The Wine: 2004 Domaines Austruc Viognier, Malras, France 13% alcohol
Price: $7 USD
Notes: A bright straw color, hints of fresh pear on the nose with a touch of passion fruit and minerals on the palate, round and crisp, leading into a medium bodied finish, very good.
Score: 90pts

Help for French Wine Makers

The French make the most wine in the world, but, their market share is sliding fast and they can be bumped out of that top spot sooner than they think, if things don’t change. Many are taking the first steps in remedying the situation by looking to the government for help, but is it because they recognize that the regulations are what’s holding them back and reform is needed in order to implement change?

Protests [NZ] are good and all, and that’s probably the right start in order to change state legislation, but I’ve got a few ideas to help you with your US exports, once you make it over those legislative hurdles.

  1. Humility
    You’ve made great wine for a long time, and have sold the most expensive bottles in the world, but you can’t fall back on that with everything. It takes humility to admit that there is something seriously wrong here, and it’s the first step needed to make the changes necessary to compete in the new global market. We all respect French wine, the industry, the tradition, and the culture, but some things have changed for the better, and we hope you’ll recognize that, embracing some changes.
  2. Branding
    The Australians figured this out a while ago. There aren’t many other products that can be as overwhelming and confusing as French wine labels. Mind you, this can be applied to the price group that is having the biggest drop in sales, probably the under $20 category. We need a little more info, grape varietals used, info about the chateau with website / contact information, maybe some simple notes about the wine and winery on the back (using French is fine, we’ve got Google Translate), and little better name branding. Most of the low end wines all look the same, you might stand out a little more if you went for a unique label. Yes, we understand there are governmental restrictions surrounding this, that’s still a hurdle.
  3. Wine quality
    The more expensive wines are great, the cheap ones I find at Trader Joes aren’t. Most seem watered down and empty, time for an overhaul. Chili and Australia seemed to have figured out the cheap sector, making affordable wines that taste good, so grab your notepads and jot some pointers from those countries down. This does not necessarily mean bowing to a global one-dimensional way of making wine. The French terrior will shine through, the grapes used will remain unique, and the style can be yours still. Just a little more tweaking and quality control should help with the final product’s quality.
  4. Closures
    Screw capped wines are quickly becoming popular, yet I don’t think I’ve seen a bottle from France with a screw cap (although there might be, I just haven’t come across any). It’s a great way to stave of TCA, and shows the rest of the world you’re willing to try something new. In the $20 and under market, switching to screw caps would be a home run. Remember, as the baby boomer generation starts to slow down in wine purchasing, the next large American market segment is in their 20’s and wants to drink quality wine regardless of the closure. If screw caps help you with product quality and image, I don’t see where you lose!