The Unfinished Bottle

April 25, 2010

wine bottle

Source: Winebarr.com

Apparently, there are people who open a bottle of wine and don’t finish it in one sitting.

I know. I didn’t believe it either.

This concerns me on many levels, but mostly because in as little as 2 hours that lively wine will start to succumb to the ravages of Oxidation. Well-meaning Oxygen will rouse the nasty Hydrogen Peroxide who will oxidize the innocent Ethanol to produce a rather ugly love child, Acetaldehyde. The result of this hapless union is loss of colour, flavour and aroma – i.e. flat wine.

Thankfully, there are measures one can take to prevent such an outcome. A plethora of Wine Preservation Systems claim to slow (or stop) Oxidation (and in the case of Sparkling wines, preserve bubbles). I recently discovered some of these methods in doing a project for my Sommelier class and thought I’d share some of the details with you.

Interestingly, Oxidation does not take long. How long exactly depends on a few factors:

  • Varietal (grapes high in phenolic compounds more susceptible)
  • Age (older wines collapse sooner)
  • Volume (more air than wine in the bottle = faster oxidation)
  • Temperature (warmer temperater = faster oxidation)
  • Light (more light = faster oxidation)
vintage fridge

Source: julianinterior.com

The quick-fix approach to addressing the last three of the above factors is recapping/re-corking the wine and sticking it in the fridge. When stored upright and tightly sealed, a bottle of wine will enjoy a few more hours of life here. Its freshness can be improved further by simply transferring the contents into a smaller bottle (e.g. 1/2 bottle or water bottle) which decreases the amount of air in contact with the wine. Purpose-built products like PlatyPreserve (flexible plastic “flasks”) are based on this principle while also allowing you to squeeze excess air out and seal the pouch with an air tight cap.

Most formal Preservation Systems, at a minimum, focus on removing excess O2 from the bottle and preventing any further air from entering. (Sparkling preservation systems carry out the added task of preserving CO2.) How they accomplish this, and how much it’ll cost you, literally spans the gamut – there are hundreds of options. But all can be more-or-less grouped into one of five categories.

  1. Physical O2 Barriers.
  2. Vacuum pumps.
  3. Pressure pumps.
  4. Gas Barriers.
  5. Serve & Preserve Systems.

Physical O2 Barriers

WinePreserva

WinePreserva (Source: designawards.com)

These are objects inserted into or over the bottle creating a physical barrier against Oxygen. The most common of these are rubber-ringed wine stoppers, used to temporarily close the bottle with a near air tight seal. Other products, like Wine Preserva, use a floating-disc device that sits on the surface of the wine inside the bottle blocking the air above (working much like floating lids on fermentation tanks). Response to this system has been very good (though some debate the 5-day freshness claim). Price is reasonable (~ $6/6 pack) and one disc lasts an entire bottle. They are biodegradable and made from recycled materials.

The consensus appears to be that these will preserve freshness for about 2 days. Great for the home and practical enough for trips.

Le Verre de Vin

Le Verre de Vin (Source: imvusatech.co.za)

Vacuum Pumps

These systems withdraw air out of  the bottle. The bottle is normally capped with a rubber stopper forming a near air-tight seal. A popular criticism of the manual pump is that bottles are often over-pumped removing precious aromatics from the wine along with the air.  Calibrated (automated) versions, like Le Verre de Vin were designed to address this problem by delivering an optimal pump ensuring just the right amount of air is sucked out leaving aromatics/flavour molecules intact. Vacu Vin‘s manual Wine Saver has seen ergonomic improvements over the last few years and some models, like the Concerto, give feedback (e.g. “click”) when the maximum pump is reached. Leaky stoppers, another nuisance, are also being improved.

The consensus appears to be that provided the correct amount of air has been pumped out and the seal is made air tight this method can preserve freshness for a few days – maybe more if combined with the fridge.

Pressure Pumps

Perlage

Perlage (Source: wholesalebarsupplies.com)


Mainly for Sparkling wines, these systems purge the bottle head space of O2 and re-pressurize it with C02. Le Verre de Vin offers a pressure pump option, and other systems like Perlage use a hand-held gauge and outer glass enclosure for protection. A major criticism of C02 infused systems concerns the quality of the added bubbles. A traditional-method Champagne, for example, where C02 is created naturally (and pumped-in carbonation is prohibited), would, some argue be polluted by “fake” bubbles. Many commercial establishments are thrilled, however, as it allows them to sell the once off-limits sparkling wine by-the-glass with little to no wastage. The majority of their customers, it would seem, don’t notice, or care about differences in carbonation purity (perhaps the ones that do care, opt for the full bottle). For the home, Perlage makes a residential model, and others like Presurvac are also home-friendly.

The consensus appears to be that  if you can a) put up with the hassle of buying CO2 cartridges (or cylinders), b) you want bubbly to last more than a day and c) your palate is unoffended by pumped-in fizz, the treated wines are far better than their flat alternatives.

Private Preserve

Private Preserve (Source: hemingwaysltd.com)

Gas Barriers

These systems spray or inject inert gas (typically Argon or Nitrogen) into the bottle forcing O2 out and  ‘blanketing’ the wine’s surface with a protective shield. Spray canisters like Private Preserve or WineLife are popular, affordable options at about $10/can and are generally good for about 100 uses. Some people report a synthetic flavour in the treated wine and suggest aeration. There is also some debate over the non-inert properties of Nitrogen and its tendency to alter wine. Others complain that the system is just plain awkward to use citing difficulties with administering just the right amount of spray and getting the stopper on quickly enough (without losing the straw in the bottle).

The consensus appears to be that if a the spray is administered correctly and bottle is swiftly re-capped this can preserve freshness for up to a week. Aeration may be required depending on gas-related sensitivities.

Enomatic

Enomatic (Source: enomatic.com)

Serve & Preserve Systems

These systems are normally aimed at the commercial market with serious by-the-glass or try-before-you-buy programs. These are typically computerised units that preserve wine by displacing O2 with neutral gas and storing it at controlled temperatures. They offer push-button or manual-tap pouring without exposing the wine to air. Simplified Home versions like EuroCave’s SoWine (which requires removing the bottle for pouring) go for about $300, but commercial grade systems like N2Vin, By The Glass or Enomatic can run anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 (depending on bells & whistles). WineKeeper was long the main player in this space, but is gradually being superseded by more sophisticated products that offer features like customised temperature zones, card activation and administrative software. For preserving wine over longer periods these systems perform well, and the technology is constantly improving. Because the bottle is not handled, lost costs associated with spillage and over-pouring are avoided too. Cons tend to be associated with the initial price tag and ongoing costs of regular professional maintenance. Other people lament the loss of the wine-pouring ritual and find the “vending machine” approach to wine vulgar. But despite clinical and cost drawbacks many establishments are reporting swift ROIs. The systems have a strong visual impact and let customers know the establishment is serious about its wine and is handling it properly.

The consensus appears to be:  do your research. While the systems are unmatched in their ability to preserve wines over long periods, it’s a vast market. Features and functionality vary widely as does quality of workmanship and design.

She had the necklace in a little box.
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Flamenco Dancer

Flamenco Dancer

The Port of Wines in Halifax has begun to host free, weekly in-store wine tastings. Led by agents whose wines adorn the shelves there (or soon will), the wines typically adhere to a theme with  normally at least 5 to try, and occasionally nibbles are provided (sorry, I cringe at the word nibble, but for the sake of clarity I had to use it). The agents are pretty knowledgable, too, providing a nice forum to ask questions. Given all this, I’m always surprised at the low turnout. But I, the resident Village Wino, somehow find time to show up to most… I do it all for you, dear Readers (all 3 of you).

This week’s tasting included 5 Spanish wines from Celtic Cellars:

  1. 2006 Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja Blanco
  2. 2005 Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja
  3. 2005 Taurus Crianza Toro
  4. 2006 Resalte Vendimia Seleccionada
  5. 2005 Resalte Crianza
Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja (White)

Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja (White)

2006 Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja Blanco. Having not had much White Rioja in my time (and probably even less of the good stuff) I was interested to try this. 100% Viura, a grape that seems to have suffered a similar fate to Italy’s Trebbiano – high yielding, once vinified with red varieties for acidity, often associated with poor quality wines, etc. With several months in French Oak (seems to me, the winemaker is French, too) there was some vanilla on those along with spice and tropical fruit (pineapple and citrus). Palate was rich, creamy and mouth-coating with more of the spice and tropical fruit. Mild acidity with a medium-long, dry finish. I’d normally prefer more acid, but I could see how this might be less of a concern when paired with the right food, e.g. Spanish Tapas – seafood, heavy on the garlic!

Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja Tinto

Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja Tinto

2005 Cosme Palacio Cosecha Rioja. This one was a little more familiar. 100% Tempranillo. The colour was a youthful, bright, ruby red. Dark, ripe blackberry fruit with good earthy, oak notes mixed in. Light-Medium structure, barely any tannins with pronounced fruit and good acidity, but at the same time slightly bitter. It finished quickly, with flavours dropping off pretty suddenly.

2005 Taurus Crianza Toro. This is a 100% Tinta de Toro (aka Tempranillo) from the Castilla y León region. Both inside and out this wine struck me as being one of those consumer “brand” wines… You know: The winery figures out the tastes and preferences of their biggest buying group and then designs a wine to suit them? These wines are priced nicely but typically not very interesting (which is probably by design so as to appeal to everyone and offend no one). OK, before I get too opinionated here I’ll just share my notes and you can make up your own mind. Moderate notes of ripe, red berries with touch of toasted spicyness. Palate was simple, fruity, woody with mild tannin and moderate acidity. Finished quickly. To me, it was fine, I could drink it, but it wasn’t  remarkable.

Taurus Crianza

Taurus Crianza

Resalte. Both the Vendimia Seleccionada & the Crianza had very similar flavour profiles and weight, but the Crianza was notably smoother. Both 100% Tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero DO and oak-aged (the VS 3 mos, the Crianza 15). Both are robust, very fruity and fresh but the Vendimia Seleccionada had additional notes of green pepper both on the nose and on the palate and the tannins were grippier. The Crianza was better integrated and softer overall – likely due to its slightly older vintage and its longer time in Oak. I preferred the Crianza by far and will keep this Bodega in mind for my next hefty, Spanish-inpsired meal.

Resalte

Resalte Vendimia Seleccionada

Vendimia Seleccionada

Visiting some friends in London last week, I fully embraced Britain’s drink-culture and spent most of the time, well, drinking. Mostly wine. Believe it or not, the occasional note was taken and a conscious effort made to think about what I was drinking. So really, it was less indulgence and more homework – an extended recreational tasting, if you will.

At the top of the heap, was a natural Malbec from Cahors, and at the bottom a Chilean Carmenère. Full details are below… Warning: long post. Skim away!

Chateau Kefraya

Chateau Kefraya

First stop was Chateau Kefraya at Le Mignon in Camden Town, a Lebanese wine I’ve had often. It seems to suffer from high bottle variation, but when it’s right it’s a medium-bodied, spicy, fruity wine that goes perfectly with Lebanese food. We enjoyed this bottle with an assortment of vegetarian Mezza consisting of traditional treats like Mujadara, Fattoush, Foul Muddamas, Muhamara to name a few. The smoky, spicy character of both the food and wine blend well, with neither overpowering the other. Another wine we tried was the Chateau Ksara Clos Alphonse with a flavour profile very similar to the Kefraya but with a slightly lighter structure. Heavier, meat dishes might pair better with the Le Fleuron, a new wine to Le Mignon, which has more weight and structure than the Kefraya/Ksara, but still has the spice and fruit that lends itself so well to the menu.

Marsala Riserva Superiore

Marsala Riserva Superiore

Next stop was the wonderful Vinoteca in Smithfield for a Food & Drink Blogger’s Dinner organised by the illustrious Niamh Shields from Eat Like A Girl. Victoria Curatolo of Sicilian Winery Villa Tonino led the dinner consisting of beauties like Olive Oil Poached Gunard, Char-Grilled Old Spot Pork-Belly and Slow-Cooked Veal Shoulder. So busy was I devouring and chatting that I failed to note each of the wines, but the Marsala Riserva Superiore served at the end of dinner was hard to ignore (especially the next day when it greeted me again in the form of a massive headache).  My barely legible notes indicate a deep amber colour with an intense spirity & fruity nose with nut, caramel, honeyed/dried fruit flavours. I might have preferred a bit more sweetness, but as it was, a fantastic finish to a wonderful meal.

Le Combal Cahors

Le Combal Cahors

Moving on to South Western France – a personal favourite where the styles are refreshingly varied, interesting and experimental – I was pleased to see such a healthy selection at Terroirs. Terroirs focuses on natural wine and food so it’s a fantastic spot to discover new and obscure styles. My dining companions were feasting on a mixture of Steak Tartare and Clams & Chorizo, so I opted for a bottle of rustic Le Combal Cahors to split between us. Despite it being served slightly too cool, we were all very happy with this rich, inky coloured Malbec. Almost middle-aged Bordeaux-like with leather, smoke, ripe/dark fruit and subdued tannins. I’d have this again, for sure.

Saint Etalon

Saint Etalon

Continuing in the France vein, a bottle of Saint Etalon Sauvignon Blanc was shared over a meal of seafood and veggie dishes at Market, a relatively new modern British restaurant in Camden Town. A bottle of South African (Western Cape) Sauvignon Blanc – Springfield Estate’s Life From A Stone was also had.  The Saint Etalon went largely unremarked upon… quietly blending into the background, not offending or impressing anyone much. The Life From a Stone caused a bit of a stir between our Frenchman friend and the owner of the restaurant. The latter loving the new world, stoney, mineral style of LFAS and the former preferring the understated lemon, pear herbiness of the SE. With regards to this particular debate, I sided with the owner. A rather light, sweet, peach-infused Chateau Loupiac-Gaudiet from Bordeaux (Gironde) finished dinner along with a cheese plate and homemade oatcakes. I liked the Loupiac a lot – perhaps could have had a bit more “bite” but overall, delicious.

Louis Bernard Cotes Du Rhone

Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône

A trip to London would not be complete without a lazy, slightly hungover afternoon in the pub. I met my two cohorts on one such Saturday at the Lord Stanley in Camden Square. Our focus being primarily food and gossip we went with a straightforward Organic, Louis Bernard Côtes du Rhône and a Libertad Malbec Shiraz from Argentina. We ordered rich and flavourful dishes of Quail, Fried Polenta and Sausages. The CdR had lots of lush red fruit notes – strawberry and cherry – with a reassuring touch of earth and leather which all came through on the palate with a smooth texture and medium-bodied structure. Happily, the Malbec Shiraz wasn’t as “shouty” as expected. The same ripe red fruit as the Côtes du Rhône but instead of earthiness, hints of vanilla and oak. As expected, it was fuller bodied on the palate with more fruit-forwardness and spice.

Forest Hill Riesling

Forest Hill Riesling

I’ve found few better places for Indian vetegarian/seafood than Rasa Samudra on Charlotte Street, specialising in Keralan food. On this occasion, my companion and I ordered King Fish and Talapia for mains with a traditional starter of Keralan pompodoms & chutneys to start. For wine, we opted for the Western Australian Forest Hill Riesling with the notion that Rieslings and curries are often good matches. However, with the dishes not being typical, western-inspired curries and the Riesling not being a typical, slightly-sweet white, the match failed somewhat. The food was spicy and savoury and the wine was dry and tart. Some residual sugar in either the wine or the dish would have balanced this match better I think. Individually the food and wine were wonderful.

Viña von Siebenthal Carmenère

Viña von Siebenthal Carmenère

The final attack on my liver involved a trip to Artisan & Vine in Battersea. I’d been wanting to try A&V for some time so a friend and I agreed to shed habit and venture south of the river. First impression was that it was a lovely space – an inviting layout and pretty decor. Feeling a bit worse for wear (physically & financially) we were looking for something lighter-bodied and good value. The options weren’t as numerous as I’d hoped in either category. With surprisingly little help from the woman behind the counter we apprehensively settled on a bottled of  Viña von Siebenthal Carmenère Riserva from Chile. On first whiff I thought I detected a touch of cork taint/TCA – but I couldn’t be sure. The nose was jammy but not as expressive as I was expecting and there was a little of the dreaded “wet cardboard”. Annoyingly, we drank it anyway. I literally forced this wine down and did not enjoy a drop of it. To me it was unbalanced, lacking in acid and slightly syrupy – and again, that slight mildew component. I know what you’re thinking. “Why didn’t you send it back?” The answer is, I don’t know. I was tired. Broken. Beaten down by the aforementioned drinking marathon, maybe. Whatever the reason, I shan’t be gorging  – err, I mean studying – like this again for a while 🙂

The Art of the Spit

April 5, 2010

Wine Tasting

Wine Tasting

There is no real way around it – becoming a Sommelier and learning about wine requires tasting a lot of wine… which, as it turns out, is actually not as glamourous as it sounds. Per class, it’s not uncommon to taste upwards of 10 wines, with each pour being roughly 3 oz. This may not sound like much, but having swallowed the full flight once or twice I am always surprised to learn how quickly inebriation sets in. By about  wine #6 you stop smelling or tasting much in your glass, and by the end of it – you’re likely pretty drunk. (Actually, worse than drunk. Out-of-context drunk. Like, public-transportation drunk, or dinner-at-your-grandparents’ drunk.) There you are: pen in hand, an alarming sense of confusion fused with shame blurs your thoughts… there’s a sudden desire text your ex… Except you’re at a tasting, and you’re supposed to be taking notes about the wine. Tsk. You just try writing something down that makes sense in this state. Not possible.

So, to avoid disaster you must spit. And like everything else worth doing, there is a way to do it properly. I have not yet perfected “the art of the spit” – which is why I’ve not posted a video – but here are the steps as I’ve learned them:

  1. Take a gulp of wine as you normally would, leaving some extra space in your mouth.
  2. Make an “o”shape with your mouth (as if about to whistle) and take some air into your mouth.
  3. Do the tasting/swishing thing.
  4. Position the spittoon about 5-6” away from your face.
  5. Make the “o” shape again with your mouth, but instead of taking air in, push the air out – along with 3/4 of the wine – in a steady, narrow stream into the spittoon.
  6. Swallow the remaining wine.

The idea is to form a neat, quick, trajectory into the bucket while minimizing splash and dribble. Do not place your face on, or near the bucket. (This position not only looks bad, but puts you in danger of getting either splash-back or germies.)

This takes a huge amount of practice, so don’t get discouraged if you don’t master it straight away. (I am still working on it, and imagine I will be for some time.)

Happy spitting!