5 Tips for Finding Great Wine on a Budget

The US wine market is literally overflowing with great product. A buyer’s paradise, where tremendous value can be had, especially if you know where and how to look and aren’t shy about asking for a great deal!

The following 5 tips should earn you value-hound status before you can say “Charge it!” Just make sure you have enough room in your home for all the sweet deals you’re gonna sniff out!

TIP #1 – SECOND LABELS

Most premier wine makers have what they call second labels. The idea is similar in concept to clothing designer second labels i.e. Armani / Armani Exchange.

The big difference however, is that these premier winemakers produce these second labels themselves, applying the same winemaking principles, methods and quality assurance that went into their premier first-label wines, whereas in the fashion industry second labels are likely farmed out under lesser production standards to other manufactures in favor of quantity not quality.

The upshot for us, the consumer, is an excellent wine at an affordable price. Great deals and quality wines can be had from second labels such as 90 + Cellars (buying surplus wines from anonymous premier wineries and in turn rebranding them), Allegrini Palazzo della Torre (second label for Allegrini Amarone Classico, Catena Malbec (second label for Catena Malbec Adrianna)

TIP #2 – SHOP AT WAREHOUSE CLUBS

 I love warehouse clubs, like Costco. They’re are always great deals to be had and some interesting varietals from all over the world. Granted, the individual selection may not be as vast as a large retail wine store, but the deals available certainly make up for it! Don’t have a membership? No problem, go with a friend as a guest.

TIP #3 – TAKE ADVANTAGE OF RETAIL SALES

Most large retailers designate a day per week, or month to place certain inventory on sale. Here you could grab savings of 15% per bottle if the pickings are good.

TIP #4 – SEEK OUT BIN END SELECTIONS

Bin end selections are generally bottles of wine that a retailer was not able to sell. Now this doesn’t mean that these wines are no good, it could be anything, from a damaged label, to the arrival of a new vintage. Generally, always a great find! If it’s not prominently displayed in a store – ask!

TIP #5 BUY BY THE CASE AND NOT THE BOTTLE

May sound a bit daunting if you’ve never done this, but do the math and you’ll see that it just makes sense – particularly if you’re a weekly wine drinker.

Most wine retailers will even let you mix the case (can’t beat that for variety). Generally, going by the case as opposed to the bottle will save you around 10-15%. If a retailer is not offering a discount on a case, don’t by shy – ask for it!

Advertisements

Why You Should Try Organic Wines

What is Organic wine?

Organic wine is wine made from grapes grown in accordance with principles of organic farming, which typically excludes the use of artificial chemical fertilizers, pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.

Organic vs. 100% Organic wine (US) 

100-percent organic wine must contain 100-percent organically produced ingredients and have been processed using only organically produced aids. This does not include added water and salt. Additionally, a winemaker cannot introduce added sulfites to 100-percent organic wines, as the USDA considers sulfites to be a synthetic food additive. 100-percent organic wine may have naturally occurring sulfites, but the total sulfite level must be less than 20 parts per million. Wines marked “organic” must be made from at least 95-percent organically produced ingredients, not counting added water and salt, and cannot have added sulfites. Like 100-percent organic wine, organic wines must list their certification agency and may carry the USDA organic seal.

What are sulfites and why can they be bad?

In winemaking, sulfites, or sulfur dioxide, is a preservative that has been used for centuries to prevent spoilage and bacteria growth, as well as to preserve a wine’s natural flavor. Any wine containing more than 10 parts per million (ppm) of sulfur dioxide must affix to the label ‘contains sulfites’. About 0.4 percent of the US population is highly allergic to sulfites, while others with a low tolerance for sulfites may be considered sulfite-sensitive.

Tip for buying organic wine

Read the label! Make sure that it features the name of the agency that inspected and certified the wine producer’s practices as ‘organic’. Look out for vague terms such as ‘sustainable’, ‘natural’ and ‘green’. If you want 100-percent organic wine, be sure to look for statements such as ‘100% certified organically grown grapes’. It must be noted that the US and the EU have different standards and definitions for classifying organic wines.

 4 reasons why you should try organic wine? 

1. They’re typically no more expensive, if not cheaper than the same varietal of conventional wine

2. Ever get a headache after drinking wine? Chances are you may be allergic to sulfites or other chemical residues in wine. Organic wines contain no added sulfites and a minimal amount of naturally occurring sulfites

3. Rest assured that due to strict USDA organic regulations you are buying an extremely well crafted and cared for wine from a dedicated wine producer

4. A great way to be kinder to the environment and your body

Some Organic Wines We Love!

Bonterra Chardonnay 2009

Winemaker’s Notes:
An initial impression of rich, buttery cream turns to aromas of honey and toasted almonds, quickly followed by pineapple, lemon and crème brulee. This wine has a refreshing, bright, clean minerality with a vibrant tartness and lemon zest that is distinctly Bonterra Chardonnay.

Korbel Winery Organic Brut

Winemaker’s Notes:
The ultimate blended wine. We blend multiple varieties from multiple appellations and even multiple years. The goal is to make a champagne that consistently delivers a lot of quality for the price. Korbel Brut is crisp and refreshing, with a light citrus and fresh pear-like note in the finish.

Frog’s Leap Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2010

Winemaker’s Notes:
Aromas of wet stone, peach blossom and Meyer lemon zest. Across the palate the varietal’s fruit character moves forward with more citrus and a touch of stone fruit all supported by the wine’s minerality and crisp, bracing acid. This refreshing wine has a lingering finish that is sure to satisfy on a warm summer’s day.

Quivira Grenache 2009

Winemaker’s Notes:
Made from 92% Grenache, 6% Mourvedre, and 2 tiny percent Syrah, this juicy Grenache serves up a complex but undeniably ‘pretty’ nose of dried strawberry spiked with fresh raspberry and pie cherry. Typical overtones of mild black pepper and roasted meat jus join in for added depth and complexity, followed up by flavors of savory/spice.

Lapostolle Cuvee Alexandre Syrah 2009

Winemaker’s Notes:
Deep inky ruby red color. There is an attractive and complex nose full of ripe red fruit with white chocolate, cherries and tobacco aromas. The palate is full of red fruit and tea leaves flavors with juicy tannins and a long lasting finish. Made with 100% Syrah grapes.

 

 

 

How Wine Gets Its Flavor

OK, so I’m no Chemistry major, but how can something made soley from grapes smell and taste like Vanilla, Coconut, Mocha, Green Candy Canes, Sugar Plumbs and Leather?

Are winemakers adding fruits, herbs, spices and left over Christmas candy to their wines to impart these amazing, sometimes unexpected, yet distinctly non-grape aromas and flavors?

NO!? Then, where on earth are these aromas and flavors in wine coming from?

Drum roll please….

Take a bow Fermentation, Oak Aging and Lees Contact.

FERMENTATION

Wine is essentially grape juice without the process of fermentation.

In winemaking, there are 4 basic types of fermentation: Traditional, Bottle, Carbonic Maceration and thanks to the movie Sideways, crowd favorite: Malolactic Fermentation (A secondary fermentation)

During fermentation, the yeast involved (added/cultured or natural/wild) eats the grape sugars, converting them to alcohol (Oh yes!).

As a result, literally thousands of complex chemical compounds are formed.

It is these chemical compounds that our nose and brain pick up, translate and categorize as familiar aromas and flavors. Different yeast strains are responsible for different types of flavors. For instance, with Chardonnays, certain cultured yeast strains may be responsible for imparting tropical aromas and flavors, whilst others more citrusy notes.

SECONDARY FERMENTATION

Also known as Malolactic Fermentation (ML), tends to impart flavors of butter, and/or butterscotch.

To initiate ML, lactic bacteria is added to the wine, which essentially converts the malic acid (tart tasting) to lactic acid, leaving a smooth, soft and creamier final product.

OAK AGING

Oak barrels, depending on their origin, age, oak-type and toast level, may also contribute certain aromas and flavors to wine while adding richer, fuller impressions and complexity. Typically, Oak will impart flavors of Vanilla, Toast, Caramel and the various Spice notes detected such as Clove, Nutmeg, Allspice and Cinnamon.

LEES CONTACT

Lees is the yeast sediment found after the fermentation process is completed. The French term ‘Sur lie’ literally translates to ‘on lees’. Sur lie wines are bottled directly from the lees without racking. Leaving white Wines on their yeast sediment (Lees) can produce pleasantly tangy, yeasty, pastry like flavors. Some premium wineries, particularly in Burgundy, opt to stir the lees (a tradition called batonnage), imparting further flavors and creamy taste to their wines.

How To Tell If Your Wine Is Corked

WHAT IS A CORKED WINE?

A “corked” wine is a wine that has become tainted by the presence of TCA (trichloroanisole), rendering it pretty much undrinkable, unless of course you’re into the aromas and flavors of damp cardboard, or a wet dog?

HOW DOES A WINE BECOME CORKED? 

TCA, or Trichloroanisole is a natural by-product of a common airborne fungus (found in corks) and is formed when this fungi comes in contact with certain chlorides typically found in bleaches and other winery sanitation/sterilization products.

TCA can be transferred from the cork to the wine, or through the cork to the wine.

Studies have shown that between 7-8% of wines bottled with natural cork can fall victim to cork taint.

IS IT SAFE TO DRINK CORKED WINE?

Good news! Though the intended aromas and flavors of a “corked” wine are significantly impaired, and in most cases the wine is pretty darn unpalatable, drinking a “corked” wine is harmless.

HOW TO DETECT A CORKED WINE

Follow these three common sense rules of thumb and you’ll be sitting pretty:

Rule 1: If it smells bad, don’t drink it

If it smells like damp cardboard, a wet dog or musty sweaters – don’t drink it! It’s probably “corked”. And NO, don’t smell the cork! It’s a myth! Smell the wine instead! Smelling the cork is no indication of a tainted wine. The only indication a cork can provide is: (a) whether the wine was stored properly, (b) who produced it and (c) the vintage year.

Rule 2: If it tastes bad, stop drinking it

This one is a bit of a no brainer. If you don’t like the taste of something, why would you continue drinking it?! Now, this may not necessarily mean that the wine is “corked”, but if it does taste like damp cardboard, it probably is!

Rule 3: Always ask questions

Don’t be shy. If you have questions, or suspect a wine may be “corked”, speak up! Have it changed immediately. Most fine retailers and restaurants will graciously exchange a bottle, or glass of wine that appears to be “corked”.

How To Taste Wine in 4 Basic Steps

So, everyone has their methods for tasting wine. Some good and some, not so good…

Well, fear not my friends, just follow these 4 basic guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to wine tasting stardom, or at least a friendlier seat in the tasting room.

1. Color (Look)
2. Nose (Smell)
3. Palate (Taste)
4. Finish (Aftertaste)

Or C.N.P.F as we like to abbreviate it!

1. COLOR (LOOK)

A wine’s color can give a good indication of its age and the quality of its winemaking.

How to evaluate color

1. Fill the glass to 1/3 of its capacity
2. Hold the glass up to the light
3. Look at the wine from the rim edges to the middle of the glass. ps. A white backgrounds helps!

What to look for?

Reds – Young reds are frequently bright berry red, or purple. As reds age the color lightens, from dark purple or crimson red to brick or garnet, eventually becoming a brownish tinge.

Whites – Most dry whites are slightly yellow in color. A young white may exhibit pale-yellow-green hues. As it ages it will become a deeper gold, indicating richness and complexity. Dark shades in white wine indicate maturity.

2. SMELL (NOSE)

About 80% of what we taste can be attributed to our sense of smell. In reality, we can only recognize 4 tastes (sweet, sour, salty and bitter) but can smell thousands of scents! Most of a wine’s taste comes from its aroma.

How to evaluate smell

1. Fill the glass to about 1/3 of its capacity
2. Tilt the top of the glass inward (to funnel the aroma)
3. Gently swirl the wine (oxygen encourages the release of aromas)
4. Take a nice whiff. Don’t be afraid to get your nose in there!

What to look for?

Is the aroma intense? Is it faint? Does the scent remind you any foods? Really, there are no hard a fast rules. Just have fun with it! Some common aromas include Earthy, Fruity, Floral, Nutty and Spicy

3. PALATE (TASTE)

Generally speaking a wine’s taste should parallel its aroma.

How to evaluate taste

1. Take a small but comfortable amount in your mouth.
2. Make sure the wine is touching every part of your tongue
3. Try to draw in a bit of air, it helps further release the flavor
4. Let is sit in your mouth for at least 10 seconds
5. Make sure you taste the wine at least twice before judging the flavor

What to look for?

How was the texture? (heavy, or light), Can you taste notes of fruit? Oakiness from the wood? Is it flat (low in acid), or harsh? (too much acid), Is it sweet? Dry? Spicy? Plain? Is it astringent, or bitter? Some common tastes include Cherry, Plum, Raspberry and Pear.

4. FINISH (AFTERTASTE)

A wine’s finish is how long the flavor impression lasts after it is swallowed.

How to evaluate finish

1. Let it sit in your mouth for at least 10 seconds
2. Taste it at least twice
3. Sit back and savor it for at least a minute before judging

4 Tips To Help You Get The Most Out Of Your Next Bottle of Wine

Can’t seem to catch a break when you buy a bottle of wine? Tired of your friends and passer-by sommeliers making fun of you because you just can’t seem to pick a winner?

Maybe you’re choosing great wines, but just not serving them the right way?

Here are 4 tips to help you get the most out of that next bottle:

1. TEMPERATURE

Wines can be fussy and temperamental on a good day and need to be at the right temperature to be at their best. The temp you serve them at will affect their overall aroma, taste and perceived freshness.

Wines served too warm can taste unbalanced, flat and highly alcoholic. Wines served too cold can be considerably muted in flavor and aroma.

Quick tips:

  1. When drinking wines that need to be kept warmer, try cupping your hands around the body of the glass as your swirl
  2. When drinking wines that need to be kept cooler, always hold the glass by the stem to avoid warming them up too quickly

Below are suggested temperature ranges for wines by type:
Tart, bright white wines: 48-53 °F
Rich white wines, like an aged Chardonnay: 54-58 °F
Light red wines: 58-62 °F
Heavy red wines: 63-65 °F

2.  AIR

Wines are typically always improved with the introduction of air. It helps open up and release its flavors and aromas.

Quick tips:

Don’t just remove a cork/cap and let it sit in the bottle without pouring any of it out. You need increased surface area to properly induce air. If you want to leave it in the bottle to aerate that’s fine, just make sure you pour out about ½ of it to create some room in there for the wine to breathe

You don’t need a fancy decanter, or aeration/pouring device to add air to your wine. A simple glass container, pitcher, jar etc to pour it into will do just fine. Again the key is increased surface area to allow more air to make contact with your wine

A good general rule of thumb: the more tannins a wine has the more time it will need to aerate. Lighter-bodied reds have lower tannin levels so will need little if any time to breathe. Young wines with strong tannins will need more time to breathe. We like to let most wines sit for 10-15 minutes before drinking

3.  GLASS

We’re certainly not one’s for formality, heck, drink it straight from the bottle if that’s your style, but here’s why a great glass can make a difference:

Shape  The shape of a wine glass dictates surface area which influences the amount of air that can be introduced into a wine. Air affects the overall flavor, aroma and presentation that you experience

Rim  The shape and thickness of the rim can also play a part in your experience, directing the wine to specific parts of the tongue with different taste sensitivities

Diameter  The diameter of the glass opening can concentrate or expand the amount of aroma or bouquet that rises

 Quick tips:

  1. Go big if you can (20 ounces or more) – A large bowl gives that small pour plenty of room to breathe. Plus you want lots of room to swish and swirl
  2. Pick clear glass – You want to see the wine and excite all your senses. A thin glass is better than thick glass: you want to taste the wine not the glass and thick stemware can get heavy
  3. Long stem – Comfort is important and maximizes enjoyment
  4. Slight inward curve at the top – Helps to focus the aromas