Monday, April 25, 2016

Marc Wine Blog - Ordering Wine in a Restaurant Part 2B: Wine Corks

An Addendum to my last comments


Marc's Wine Tip:  Restaurant Wine --  Spotting Wine Faults  Wine Corks

I recently explained that the wine cork condition can be a strong hint about the condition of the wine in the bottle.

If you haven't yet read my last post about looking at the wine cork in a restaurant, as well as comments about screw caps, read them HERE.

A second indication that something may be wrong with the wine when you look at the cork is absence of moisture...  ...is the cork dry and brittle?  Did it break or crumble while opening the bottle?  Remember that storing wine bottles on their side allows contact with the wine to keep the corks moist and therefore create a better seal. Well, just as too much moisture in the cork (i.e. wine) indicates that too much oxygen may have penetrated the wine while in the bottle, so too does a dry cork set up a similar circumstance. 
This Cork Has Had To LITTLE Contact with Wine. ...Much Like Many People.

How do corks become dry? Two major ways:  Too much time stored with the bottles standing up, or too much time in a refrigerator. Without the wine being in contact with the cork, it naturally will dry out over time. This can take months however, so rarely is there cause for concern when you consider that 90% of wine purchased is consumed within two weeks. The simple rules of economy drive people to buy what they will use quickly. Only wine enthusiasts who enjoy trying a bottle after additional aging in their "cellars" (whatever that might be) buy for future consumption and lay the bottles down.* This practice insures that the wine will age at a more proper speed. A dried out cork shrinks a bit, and lets the natural pores in the cork open up, allowing air to travel into the wine at a faster pace. This causes oxidation.

Cold temperatures dry out a cork as well, and make it shrink slightly, so don't keep wine in the fridge for more than a few days. 

*And sure there are people who are so out of touch with wine that they buy a couple of bottles and put them in the closet in case someone stops by, and those bottles can sit there for a year or more because none of their friends drink wine. Note: This also is not good.

Next time, we'll continue our adventures in ordering wine in a restaurant with examining the color of the wine.

'Till Next Time


 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW WSET
Marc Wine Blog  

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Marc Wine Blog - Ordering Wine in a Restaurant Part 2 Wine Corks

Stress Free Wine Tip #5: Wine in a Restaurant -- Part 2


Marc's Wine Tip #5:  Restaurant Wine --  Spotting Wine Faults  Wine Corks

In this series about ordering wine in a restaurant, let's examine some of the things to look for when smelling and tasting the sample of wine you've been given by the server. The first thing that happens usually is that the server presents you with the unopened bottle so you can easily see the front label. This is your cue to confirm that they have brought over the bottle you wanted. With your approval, the server opens the bottle and gives you (the person who ordered it) a small taste in your glass.

If there is a cork, the cork might be placed on the table somewhere in plain sight. Do look at the cork. This is your first clue as to whether there might potentially be something wrong with the storage of the wine.

The Cork on the Left is fine. The Two on the Right Might be Suspect

Wine bottles are stored on their sides to permit constant contact between the wine on one side of the cork and air on the other side. The tiny pores that exist in the cork (synthetic corks are still struggling to attain this, if at all) allow an extremely slow exchange of oxygen to enter the wine, contributing to the aging process. The speed at which this exchange takes place is very important. Too little, and the aging of the wine can take on a less than appealing direction. Too much, and the wine can be exposed to oxidation (from too much oxygen) or even contaminants from the surrounding air. Even a few molecules can have an affect. 

Watch for evidence on the cork that too much traveling of the wine through the cork has happened. This should serve as a red flag that the wine may have come into contact with too much oxygen. You shouldn't stop there though. Examination of the wine's color and smell, and then a taste are all necessary to making a final judgement. And remember, you are looking for faults (flaws) in the wine. The first fault could be oxidation, caused by excessive exposure to air during storage. I'll discuss how to identify oxidation in my next article on this topic.

A Very Important Note:  Increasingly, wine is being bottled with screw caps. I have written about screw caps on wine in the past (read here)   Screw caps have improved greatly in quality lately, mostly eliminating the concerns of the past. That said, they have so far not replicated the air exchange qualities of natural cork, and so do not contribute to the beneficial aging process of wine. Wineries have become very aware of this, and use screw caps on bottles that were never meant to be aged anyway. So there is no downside to using the screw caps. 

In this case, when at the restaurant table, focus your attention on the color and aroma of the wine next.    To be continued! 


 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW WSET
Marc Wine Blog






Friday, September 25, 2015

French Wine and Its Place in Our World


It's taken me a little while to get back to my blog, since I had to go to France to do some research (just kidding). Last time, I wrote about the position of France as a recognized "major wine power" in the world. So what makes their wines so special, I asked.

First it's important to recognize a fact about French--and for that matter most European--wines. They are and have always been considered a part of the meal, much like butter, mustard, or gravy might improve the dish you are serving, wine can elevate the eating experience by introducing enticing additional flavors. The French have been on top of this idea for centuries. 



Your Typical French Wine Dinner?   Not Really.

The term "French wine dinner" may conjure up images of bite-size decorative gourmet food on little plates, but wine is such an integral part of the typical French meal, you will find it paired with the simplest of foods. I often call pairing the right wine with even a sandwich an "elevating your meal" type of experience. What wine lover hasn't said at least once, that they would be completely satisfied with just some good bread, perhaps a little cheese, and a nice glass of wine? Is it only the French who have discovered this simple pleasure? Of course not. They did however turn it into an international commerce, a systematic approach to agriculture, a formal regulatory system, and the envy of the world, quite a while before anyone outside Europe was making wine that could compare in quality.

A Bottle of Wine Awaits at Home. (The kid gets Orangina, I guess.)
Developing a disciplined approach to picking vineyard sites that will eventually produce the best wines is something the French worked at for centuries. Many of the best quality wines of France were once produced by monks. Their record keeping traditions helped to monitor and alter what they were doing year to year. Through this trial and error approach, they found patterns to look for, like certain mineral deposits or soil density and porousness, that would lead to better wine production. Today, it is accepted without question in France that the unique characteristics of a vineyard locale has a direct impact on the resulting wine. They even have a word for this which has no direct English equivalent: terroir. While there are contrary opinions about this, more and more viticulturalists in other countries are pursuing terroir as their mantra. And once they start, they usually don't go back, so it's doing something. 


Lastly, France's wine industry has set the bar for the rest of the world on what good wine really is. Different styles are evolving and quite a few countries now have respectable wine industries. The United States is now the biggest consuming country of wine (in real volume), and the world's fourth biggest wine producing nation. It's been a gradual steady process, and thanks to inspiration from the French (and our own competitive spirit, it should be said), our wine industry has improved dramatically. Some of the top schools of viticulture in the world, like the University of Bordeaux and the University of California at Davis, have emerged as two sides of the same wine culture that France's traditions have triggered in the world. Even respected wine powerhouse Italy has increasingly embraced many of the practices and standards that France has inspired. If you look at the average American wine lover in the 1960s, you will find that, other than a few good Italian wines available, the only choice for something "special" was:  you guessed it, French. 

Try pronouncing Pouilly Fuissé correctly. Somehow, back in the '60s, they weren't intimidated.


'Till Next Time

Marc Soucy   FWS  CSW
Wine Consultant & Educator


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Serious Wine for Beginners: What's the Big Deal with France, Anyway?


As an American wine lover, I've run into some fellow Americans who do not have much awareness of wine's history in the world. American wine culture is rapidly developing in some parts of the country, but it is still very young. As a consumer product, wine is seen through the lens of a commodity, like crude oil or soda pop. The fact that what we call the "New World" wine industry (hint: we're a part of it) has only existed in its present form for a few decades gets lost.

More than one person has asked me "What's so special about French wine? We make good wine too. I like California wine better anyway." ...or something along those lines. The question is not about what you personally like, and sure, tons of good wine, and many great wines are made in the U.S.A.  We're getting better at it all the time, in spite of the nagging trend of industry consolidation and the corporatization of the industry. However, that again is really not the point.

Some perspective: We experimented and failed at quality wine making during colonial times. A century later, we successfully planted French grape vines, and started making decent wines, but disaster after disaster--some from nature, some man made--doomed our wine industry to failure. It wasn't until the 1970s that we really started making some world class wines. We've been doing quite well ever since, and so have a number of other New world countries, like Australia and Argentina for example. 

As all of this has been unfolding, it's important to remember that France, Italy, Spain, and others had already been making quality wine for centuries, in some cases millennia. Look at the map of France above. Those blotchy colored areas are its major wine producing regions. If you go back three hundred years, they existed and made wine in what today we would certainly call relative isolation. Local traditions develop over time, and expectations are built regarding what each of those wines is supposed to be like.

The E.U.'s Seal Designating The Class of Unique Quality Wines

Today, those traditions and expectations have become partially codified into an elaborate regulatory scheme, which the French led the way on. The European Union is enthusiastically mimicking this approach for all of its member countries. We Americans have little concept of this, and that's understandable. We are all a product of history after all, and our history is simply too short at this point.

So what makes French wine special?    More on this next time!

Marc Soucy   FWS  CSW



Thursday, September 10, 2015

Marc Soucy's Vertical Tasting: 2009 2010 and 2011 Château Jouanin Côtes de Bordeaux - Castillon

   
2009 Château Jouanin   Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux
Côtes de Bordeaux AOP, France     Grapes:  90% Merlot  -  10% Cabernet Franc

2010 Château Jouanin   Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux
Côtes de Bordeaux AOP, France     Grapes:  85% Merlot  -  15% Cabernet Franc


2011 Château Jouanin   Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux
Côtes de Bordeaux AOP, France     Grapes:  90% Merlot  -  10% Cabernet Franc


In my review of the 2009 Château Jouanin back in March of 2013 (see here) I was tasting what was believed at that time to be the best vintage since the much admired 2005 vintage. 



The weather in 2010 was nearly perfect, as it had been in 2009. Variations in month-to-month temperatures and rainfall occurred of course, but nobody was complaining. Growers and winemakers alike were thrilled with both seasons. 2009 experienced more rain, though a lot of rain is never a good thing where wine growing is concerned. That said, it was a very healthy amount that contributed to the fruity quality of the vintage. 2010 by comparison was drier, with wider temperature swings, and a pretty wet June. 2011 experience near drought conditions in the early part of the year, had a very hot April, and luckily, experienced better weather as harvest approached. What does this all mean?

Viticulture and viniculture both include the making of corrections, mainly in the timing of things. How long to wait before beginning to harvest the first wave of Merlot, for example. Every step can be crucial to the result in the wine. For this post, I made sure to taste the 2010 and 2011 side by side to have a more direct experience. My 2009 notes are repeated below. My memory of that wine is in agreement with what I wrote here.

Now this is too complicated a topic to delve into here in any depth of course, but my intent is to acquaint you with the concept of weather's effect on wine flavors and aromas. I encourage you to explore this topic by researching other sources. 

And as I always say: Do your OWN vertical tasting. You learn a lot! (continue below)



Now back to the vertical tasting notes:

Marc's Tasting Notes:

2009 Château Jouanin   Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux

Very dark ruby, almost opaque. Nearly surprising aromas of bright red raspberry balanced with vanilla taffy make this wine alluring. On the palate, though, its true nature emerges: black cherry, dark flowers, assorted dark berries, and earth are complemented by prominent but smooth tannins. The intermingling of opposite traits in this wine make it a pleasure to experience, especially for the price. The small amount of Cabernet Franc definitely finds expression.

2010 Château Jouanin   Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux

Dark ruby with a few millimeters of brickish hue on the rim. The initial nose reveals an attractive combination of black cherry, blackberry, vanilla and toffee, with hints of underbrush. Over time, sweet spice and coffee aromas develop. A taste brings a nearly granular structure and tight but smooth tannins. Flavors of plum with a tinge of prune, and continued dark fruit and oak influences make this a most enjoyable wine for its youth. The finish is long and pleasant with the flavor components mingling in a smooth and consistent manner.

2011 Château Jouanin   Castillon - Côtes de Bordeaux

Ruby with some translucence. The wine shows assertive aromas of plum, mixed dark berries and underbrush, licorice, mint, and a hint of tobacco. One expects quite a mouthful based on this, but here is where the less than ideal weather has had its effect:  The wine is substantially lighter on the palate than you would have guessed based on the aromas alone. Rougher tannins and obvious acidity sit with green flavors like bell pepper and a certain stalkiness. That said, this Castillon holds a certain intrigue all its own. The earth from the vineyard shows through, as do the various fruit components, however lighter in body. I found this easy to drink, and yes even easy to enjoy. The attractive aromas certainly make it so.

My final comments:  Château Jouanin if you noticed doesn't use any Cabernet Sauvignon, so the quality of their Merlot grapes is paramount, as is their careful use of Cabernet Franc to add interest and balance. Right bank Bordeaux wineries are not unused to this. The heavy soils of Castillon helps the winery's Merlot achieve good characteristics.

2009 has been very easy to like since it was released. It has great fruit and intensity. 2010 is emerging as getting the most positive response recently. Its structure and complexity are standing up extremely well at least over these short years. 2011 is at a huge disadvantage, and yet I have to salute the Château. They pulled this one out, and managed a wine that is not to be overlooked. Sure it's not a layer downer...a year or two perhaps. That said, you can pop one of these open now and drink it with your steak or chops, and leave the 2010 in the rack for a while.



 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW

Marc Wine Blog

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Stress Free Wine Tip #8: Chilean Wine and Argentinean Wine


Stress Free Wine Tip #8:  South America's Wine Countries

South America's two big wine producers, Chile and Argentina, lie on either side of the Andes Mountain range, both being fed by streams and rivers created by the mountains' melting ice and of course rainfall. Chile's wine country is largely a long series of valleys running east to west, each with a river travelling from the Andes: a country that seems to have been designed to be a wine producer. Argentina's wine output is substantially larger than Chile's due to its size, but Chile's quality is not to be overlooked. 

Chile's and Argentina's Wine Regions
Separated by the Andes Mountains
If you notice on the wine map above, Argentina's regions reach much further north--towards the hotter equatorial regions--than Chile's does. This is due to the huge high elevation plateaus in western Argentina that provide cooler temperatures than the surrounding low lands. Argentina's current famous export, Malbec has been a hit with American wine drinkers, and has joined the small list of beef lovers' go-to favorites. Argentina also makes wine from two other lesser known grapes, Torrontes and Bonarda. Chile, for its part, does make an attractive wine from the Carmenere grape, but mainly sticks to the better known grapes of French origin that we all know, like Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Sauvignon Blanc.

There are still many real bargains to be had by shopping in the Chile and Argentina sections of your local wine department, so check them out. 





 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

American Wine Industry Has had A Spotty HIstory


America's Wine History in a Flash 

The United States considers itself a major wine producing country today, and rightfully so. With the contributions mainly from California, but spreading into many other states, the U.S. has become the fourth largest wine producer in the world. (note: If you read last week's Wine Tip, you already know that France, Italy, and Spain occupy the first three spots.) 


Dots Represent Wineries.
(Magnifying Glass May Be Needed)

When the English colonists started arriving on the East Coast, they were thrilled to see grape vines growing all over in the wild. They had had access to wines from France, and dreamed of making their own here in the New World. After many attempts, they realized that the grapes growing here just weren't the same. Meanwhile, Spanish Catholic Missionaries had brought some vines from Europe to South America and California to produce sacramental wine.  By the 1800s, vines from Europe were being imported in much larger numbers, and the wine industry started to become substantial. Blights, bad weather, and the devastating phylloxera epidemic (an insect deadly to European grape vines), dealt successive blows to our fledgling wine industry, and then the final blow: Prohibition.

The Final Major Obstacle to America's
Growth as a Wine Producing Nation
The repeal of Prohibition finally released the industry to grow, but much damage had been done, to American tastes and receptiveness to fine wine. Much work was needed in the fields as well. It wasn't until the 1970s that California was finally recognized--after years of hard effort--for the production of some world class wine.  

Today, we tend to take this state of affairs as if it has always been. It hasn't been easy but we have arrived!

'till next time... -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Stress Free Wine Tip #5 How Wines Are Named


Wine Tip #5:  Naming Wines

The names of wines can appear confusing initially. Throughout the "new world" (meaning outside Europe) wines are usually named after the grape they are made from. A Merlot for example is made from a strain of grape actually called "Merlot". The wine industry refers to this as "varietal" naming. This might become taken for granted, and mystery ensues when you encounter wines with no such names on the label. 

A Typical California Wine Label

While some countries--and some areas of certain countries--label their wines with the name of the grape, it is also quite common for the wine producing region to give it's name to the wine instead. This has been the tradition in France, Spain, Portugal, and much of Italy for centuries. Think about it:  If a pretty large wine region grows mainly Chardonnay as their white grape (as in the Burgundy region of France), over time, differences are noticed between the Chardonnay grown in one location vs Chardonnay grown in another. For the sake of telling them apart, the place becomes more important than the grape itself. 

When Europeans started colonizing the rest of the world, their wine came with them, and so did the vines needed to produce quality wines. The vines were called by their grape name, and the resulting wines named after them. We are today seeing the start of place names becoming quite important in the new world, such as Napa Cabernets, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and Mendoza Malbecs from Argentina.  

A Typical French Wine Label

The above French wine label names the source of its grapes, Cotes du Rhone as the actual name of the wine. "Cotes" means slopes, and the Rhone is a major river in eastern France. On either side of the river lies some incredibly good vineyard land, and the grapes used in this wine are grown within the boundaries of this region. It is in fact a blend of Grenache grapes, Syrah grapes, and sometimes others, but this is hardly ever listed on the bottle. In the Rhone Valley, it's simply common knowledge. Wine drinkers learn to rely on the style they can expect rather than focussing attention solely on the grape content.

Learn a few new names and expand your understanding and appreciation of wine!





 -- Marc Soucy, FWS CSW
Marc Wine Blog
google-site-verification: google38f864514b6879d3.html