Snaky Comment of the Day and Some Thoughts On Wine-speak

I went this morning to see the Picasso sculpture exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art here in New York. The description of the materials used in one piece irked me. It was made mostly of sheet steel. which they described as “Ferrous Metal”. Now ferrous just means from iron. So in ordinary language ferrous metal is either iron or steel. I have never encountered iron sheet metal, so it was steel. So why not call it steel? Steel would be more precise but apparently ferrous metal sounded better.

So what does this have to do with wine. Well I see things like this all the time in wine-speak. There can be a perfectly good and accurate regular word and people will use some word that sounds fancier. Just like any other field there are terms that are specific to wine and the difficulty of describing how it tastes and smells can lend themselves to linguistic exaggeration. But when the words used obscure what you are trying to say you are just being pretentious. End of rant. Time for wine.

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Winter Wines

Here in the north-east US Winter has finally come, and with a vengeance. It was 6f when I woke up this morning here in Vermont. Back in July I wrote about summer wines ( So I thought I would say a bit about winter ones today.

First most of us spend most of our wine time in climate controlled environments so as always, drink what you like. For me winter is a great reason to experience some of the bigger and more alcoholic wines that go so well with hearty winter foods. In whites (yes whites can be winter wines) I am more likely to look for an oak aged wine that has undergone malolactic fermentation. This makes for bigger more rounded wines. If I am going to go for a big oakey Chardonnay it will most likely be in winter. Also whites that have some residual sugar tend to go down better in winter so break out that Riesling.

Once again in reds, bigger is better in winter. While I spend a certain amount of time touting the benefits of lower alcohol content, a glass of a big 14% alcohol red sure goes down nicely when you have just come in from a slushy sleeting day in New York. The big wines of the Rhone such as Chateaus Nuef Du Pape and Gigondas are personal favorites as are Brunello’s from Italy. I find wines that emphasize what I call darker flavors such as plums and blackberries, cedar and mushrooms are a good fit for hearty stews. Madiran from the south-west of France is my go to wine for cassolet which I think is the ultimate winter comfort food.

So stay warm and enjoy your big winter wines.

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Airline Wine

I don’t tend to drink while flying.  The air in planes is pretty dry and the alcohol just makes it worse.  If you do this article from The Gothamist should be of interest.

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Wine Basics – Decanting

Among other things, for yesterday’s Thanksgiving dinner we drank, a nice Bourgueil that I had enjoyed before. This time it was on another level of enjoyment. The difference was that about an hour before we sat down to eat, I decanted it. This reminded me that many wines benefit from decanting.

Decanting is simply the act of pouring a wine from one container (the bottle) into another (the decanter). The decanter can be any container that will hold the wine and you can pour from. There are a multitude of designs for decanters but the best have a fairly wide mouth and neck followed by an even wider base. The first two make easy to pour the wine in. The last exposes the wine to more air.

There are two benefits to decanting. First many wines have some degree of sediment in them. If you carefully pour the wine into the decanter, you can stop before you get to the sediment. The second is you expose the wine to the air and the oxygen in the air. 

If you have read other posts in the Wine Basics section you will see that wine has a love hate relationship with oxygen. Oxygen is needed when the juice is fermenting. No oxygen means no fermentation and thus no wine (shudder). Once fermentation is complete oxygen becomes something of an enemy. Anything other than a minute amount of oxygen can make a wine spoil. Oxygen is what makes badly sealed bottle go bad over time. When you open a bottle it is your friend again. All those wonderful aromas need air to develop. Sometimes some less than good smells disappear after a bottle has been open a while. Flavors seem to soften and meld better when they have had some time in the air. After that night though oxygen switches back to being bad as too much oxygen over time makes a wine go bad. 

So what wines benefit from being decanted? First, almost exclusively red wines. While white wines and Rose can benefit from the oxygen, they can be hard to keep cool in a decanter and they tend to get to much oxygen much more quickly than red wines. Second only decant wines you intend to finish that night. 

So which red wines? Any wine that has a lot of sediment can most easily be separated by decanting. That said, the conventional wisdom is that older bottles really benefit as they are the ones most likely to have sediment. While this is true, I am cautious about decanting a really old bottle as if they are past their prime you can loose a lot of flavor and aroma if you decant too soon. I tend to just pour with care from the bottle if I am opening a wine that is over 15 years old. 

I find the most benefit comes from decanting younger bottles. For economic and space reasons many wines are sold and consumed when they are on the young side. While you can’t age a wine to maturity in a decanter you can let it show all that it has.



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Better Know A Varietal – Cabernet Franc

Cabernet is a red wine grape that probably originated in Bordeaux. It differs from its better known “big brother” Cabernet Sauvignon in that it is less tannic and more aromatic. When you smell a Cabernet Franc wine you frequently smell things like violets, raspberries and even liquorice. You can taste those things too and also flavors like black currents and black berries. Some Cabernet Franc wines have a nice peppery aspect too. When less than fully ripe grapes are used flavors such as green peppers and even grass can be present. Some people like those flavors while others consider them flaws. I tend to think of them as flaws unless they are very subtle.

In Bordeaux Cabernet Franc is almost always blended and is considered to give some finesse to wines that are dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. In the Loire Valley of France it is usually vinified alone to make wines such as Chinon, Bourgeil, and Samur Champigny. Some very nice varietal Cabernet Franc’s are also made on Long Island in New York, and increasingly other regions are experimenting with it.


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A car that runs on wine?

Yep, its true.  Well I have had some wines that I though were only good for turning into vinegar and a few I wouldn’t even do that with so why not.  Read all about it:

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Wine For The Fortnight – Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur, NV

I recently tried Ayala Champagne’s Brut Majeur and enjoyed it. I usual do enjoy drinking Champagne. This one is very light despite being made from 60% red grapes. It had a definite citrusy flavor with a little bit of yeast at the end. If you like German Heffe Weisen beers, this is a Champagne for you. I thought it was nice to drink on its own, particularly in the summer but would be overwhelmed by most food. Enjoy.

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Wine For The Fortnight – Villa Sparina Barbera Del Monferrato Superiore 2012

Since our last “Better Know A Varietal” feature was on Barbera (, I thought it would be nice to review one. Villa Sparina’s Barbera Del Monferrato Superiore 2012, is a very nice example of a modern take on Barbara. While the wine maker does not use oak to add tannins they do allow the malolactic fermentation (See for a discussion of oak aging and for a discussion of malolactic fermentation). This rounds out what can otherwise be an acidic variety into a wine that makes a nice sipping wine as well as going great with food. The bright cherry notes are underlain with the flavors of plums and even a bit of cedar. Barbara’s are general very food friendly. This one would be great with a plate of cheese and charcuterie. It retails for around $16, which is mid priced for a Barbera from Monferrato. Enjoy.

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Better Know a Varietal – Barbera

Barbera is a red wine grape from Italy. It used to be the most widely planted grape in Italy but has been supplanted by Sangiovese and recently Montepulciano. In most of Italy it is blended into wines that are not very interesting. In the northwestern Italian province of Piedmont it is sometimes treated with the respect it deserves, particularly in the regions around the cities of Asti and Alba as well as the Monferrato Hills. Recently some California wine makers have been experimenting with it too.

Barbera is a fairly acidic variety with flavors of cherry, raspberry and blackberry. In the better examples, earthy notes such as cedar can be tasted. What makes Barbara unique is that for a red wine grape it has very little tannin. Some producers view this as a flaw and add tannins by aging their Barbera in oak barriques (see for a discussion of oak aging). While this can yield very nice wines, all too often it turns them into rather generic tasting reds. 

Far from viewing the lack of tannins as a flaw, I see it as an asset. As a result of its acidity and lack of tannins, a well made Barbera is probably the most versatile and food friendly wine there is. Looking for a red wine to have with fish? Try a Barbera. Having a group of friends over that includes vegetarians and carnivores? Give them a Barbera. Having something in a cream sauce and want to have a red wine with it. Barbera is the wine for you. Oh, and there may be no better wine to have with pizza. 

Some Barbera’s are too acidic to make pleasant sipping wines but even there, for me, their versatility with food more than makes up for that. Enjoy.

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It’s Too Hot For Wine

Yesterday a woman told me about loosing several wines to the heat. She and her husband had bought them on a trip to the North Fork of Long Island a few weeks ago. They only have airconditioning in their bedroom and the wines were in the kitchen. They all got cooked which is a shame as it was preventable. If you are in their place stick the wines in the fridge, even reds. You can take them out a couple of hours before you drink them and they will be fine. While it is far from ideal and not good for longterm storage your fridge at 40f is a lot better than your kitchen at 90f. If you can it is better to store wines that have corks on their sides as a fridge will dry out a cork pretty quickly. Stay cool.

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