I love ports, so here is a great introduction for you port beginners.
1961: Vintage of the latest release by Taylor Fladgate of Single Harvest Vintage Port. Only 65 cases of this extraordinary 60-year-old Port are available in the U.S. for $395 per bottle. To put the age of this Port into perspective, it was made from a single year’s harvest as the first man in the world went into space, and it has been aging in oak casks ever since. Besides Vintage Ports, Taylor Fladgate also holds some of the most substantial reserves of aging Tawny Ports in the world.
So, let’s define Port for those of you who are either new to Port or unwilling to give it a try. Let’s use Wine Folly as our expert navigators.
Port: This fortified sweet wine is made with a blend of red grapes from the Douro River Valley in Portugal. It’s often enjoyed alongside desserts (especially with chocolate) or, more modernly, served as an aperitif over ice with a simple garnish. Since there’s always a reason to have a bottle of Port on hand, here are several tips to help you enjoy it to the fullest.
Straight: The most sophisticated way to enjoy Port wine is to serve it straight up, or “neat,” in a proper Port glass. Of course, not all Port wines are fine enough to be enjoyed in this manner. Vintage, Late Bottled Vintage (LBV) and Tawny Port that is more than a decade old are the styles to look for (with a few special exceptions).
Cocktails: Port cocktails are a simple, fun, and delicious take on this very classic wine. The styles to seek out for cocktails include White, Pink, Ruby, and Tawny Port.
Cooking: Port wine reduction sauce is amazing drizzled over steaks and roasted meats, but it also works well when served ontop of ice cream or used in rich, layered chocolate cake. Although all styles of Port work well for cooking, the most economical option is a Ruby Port, which just so happens to have a long shelf life too.My preference is straight, of course. And while the vintage ports are exquisite, they are pricey. My suggestion is to try something around $20 to$25 the first time, and see how it goes.
Port is a great way to end a meal, with either some dark chocolate, or cheese and almonds. It is best served at room temperature. On hot summer evenings, a little ice might be okay, as long as you don’t tell anyone!
This I did not know, but vintage ports are best served within 5 years of release, or AFTER 20 years of bottle aging. Truth be known, Mr. Mike and I bought several when we were golfing in Portugal, back in 2002. And as of today, they have not been opened, to the best of my knowledge.
Most port wines last for about a month after opening. Even then, it is often too much for one person. My suggestion is to have a Port Party!!
And a local note: Ficklin Vineyards in Madera has several excellent ports. Their Ruby Reserve is only $40, and for a splurge, try the 2010 Vintage Port for $75. They even have a 1957 Vintage Port for $620!!!
I have tried, over the years, to get many of you, my friends, to at least try some port. Once you do, I think you will thank me. In fact, you will wish you tried it much, much sooner.
I have long professed that sparkling wines go with just about any food. We call this “food friendly” for good reason. And cheese is one item I seem to pair with my sparkling happy hour before dinner.
You know my favorites, brie, camembert, gouda, Cotswold, and Havarti. But it really does not matter which cheese you prefer. The cheese can be paired with other food, AND with a sparkling wine almost 100% of the time.
For some cheese wisdom, I looked to Thrillist and Cat Thompson, who had some great insight into cheese pairings. Here:
Cheese is already good on its own, but what if there was a way to make it better? Enter cheese pairing—the process of partnering different cheeses with jams, nuts, fruit, meats, or anything else you can think of that might improve the experience of eating cheese or coax out new, unimaginable flavors.
“The best-case scenario is when a flavor combination of a pairing far exceeds the flavors of the individual elements,” Greselda Powell, head cheesemonger at New York City’s Murray’s Cheese, explains. “Think of it as one plus one equals ten! Not only is the flavor of the pairing totally different than the components but it also has a taste that is both amazing and unexpected.” Powell provides an example, saying that the combination of Red Rock cheese with kimchi was reminiscent of a Coney Island Nathan’s hot dog. Don’t you just love the term, cheesemonger??
Here is a simple guide:
Guiding Principles to Cheese Pairing
What grows together goes together “Pair items from the same geographic region since they share the same terroir. Chances are that they will pair well together,” Powell says. A couple examples of this that Powell provides includes aged Manchego with jamona serrano from Spain, or parmigiano reggiano with prosciutto di Parma from Parma, Italy. You can consider the fruits, nuts, and even beverages from the region you’re sourcing your cheese from.
Opposites attract “The key concept is ‘contrast’,” Powell explains. “Not just contrast in flavor but also texture. Varying flavors and textures provide for a more interesting pairing experience because one is engaging multiple senses.” For this, think about soft cheeses paired with crunchy crackers, chips, nuts, and cornichons—or hard cheeses with spreadable jams and quince.
Like with like This concept seems a bit confusing next to opposites attract, but it’s about finding a unifying flavor note. “Pair a cheese with an accompaniment that shares the same flavor notes. For example: Idiazabal is a Spanish, aged sheep’s milk cheese with smokey and nutty flavor notes. Pair this with a smokey meat like bacon or a smokey salami.” When pairing flavor notes, Powell says to be cognizant of pairing strong flavors with delicate ones—as you don’t want to overwhelm any single component.
Brie pairing: Similarly to blue, there are a lot of brie and brie-style cheeses to choose from that vary in texture and flavor—but for the most part, popular American brie flavors lean towards buttery. “A buttery flavor profile allows for a versatility of pairings,” Powell says. “One can pair a buttery brie with the traditional fruits jams and honeys. However, I like to go a bit unconventional—I think about pairing items that taste good with butter, such as roasted vegetables.” I put my brie on a rice cracker from Trader Joes.
And for gouda: One of Powell’s favorite types of gouda is called Roomano, a hard cow’s milk gouda that has sweet, nutty, and butterscotch notes. “The texture is hard with a bit of crystallization from the aging,” Powell explains. “One of my all-time favorite pairings is Roomano with chocolate covered almonds. It reminds me of a Butterfinger candy bar.” Since I am not a big chocolate fan, I like my gouda with fresh fruit or a baguette.
Please refer to her article in Thrillist for other pairings.
Bottom line, do not be afraid to try combinations of your own. If you like spicy, try the hot pepper spread. And if you like sweet, try your favorite jam or jelly. I also like the salted, cured meats (like George Costanza).
My preference is to keep it simple. You will, no doubt, find pairings that are unique and offbeat. And always with my favorite sparkling wine!!
Per Winespeed: As most wine drinkers know, wine can taste pleasantly salty—even when there’s no actual sodium chloride in it. Certain grape varieties, for example, can taste a bit salty (sangiovese is one), and wines made from grapes growing near a sea coast can, too. So maybe it was only a matter of time, but several winemakers in France and Portugal are now experimenting with adding salt to their wines, a practice that was described in ancient Roman texts. In particular, adding seawater was typical since it helped preserve the perishable beverage, in the same way that salt was used to preserve meat. Contemporary vintner Hervé Durand’s family estate, Mas des Tourelles, in the southern Rhône Valley, stands atop the remains of a Gallo-Roman winery. Known for his “Archeological Roman Wines,” Durand makes a version of Turriculae, a wine made from an ancient recipe that includes seawater as well as ground fenugreek and iris flowers. In Portugal, Port producer Dirk Niepoort learned of the practice from a traditional wine producer in the Azores and convinced fellow vintners Anna Jorgensen and Anselmo Mendes to join him in experimenting with salt. Filling their fermentation vessels to 1% seawater, they found the results had a tangy, saline flavor that gave “more life” to the wine without overly diluting it. “As it is common with food, a pinch of salt is important to ‘awaken’ other flavors,” says Mendes. He has a point.
Per WTSO: For the ultimate wine and chocolate fun, try a blind tasting. Place a few bottles of wine in bags to cover them up, then place different types of chocolate chunks like milk, dark, and semi-sweet into bowls. (Tip: Tape the label to the bottom of the bowls so you don’t forget which is which.) Taste them individually or together to find different aromas and flavors. Pick your favorite pairing, and try to guess the correct answers without peeking! My suggestion: a Cab, a Bordeaux, a Sirah, a Zin, a Malbec, and most importantly, a Port!
Per Winespeed: A staggering 12.9 million wines listed by online wine and spirits retailer Vivino, since its founding in 2010. Even if the pandemic hadn’t boosted internet wine sales, consumers can now find an exponentially larger selection of wines online than in bricks-and-mortar shops. Free shipping from online merchants is driving larger orders and attracting new customers. Old school store fronts who’ve established an online presence report that up to 65% of their web customers are new to them. Personally, I use a website, called Wine Till Sold Out (WTSO). I buy most of my wine at Trader Joe’s otherwise.
What is Oechsle? Ok, the German was something of a dead give-away, and this wine question was a bit nerdy we admit, but Oechsle is a scale which measures the weight of the grape juice or must before, during, and after fermentation. Developed in the nineteenth century by the physicist Ferdinand Oechsle, the scale gives an indication of ripeness and potential alcohol. The ripeness categories (Kabinett, Spätlese, etc.) of traditional German wines are based on Oechsle levels that are specified for each grape variety and each wine region. Other sugar measurement scales used in winemaking around the world include Baumé, favored in other parts of Europe and Australia, as well as Brix, used in the U.S.
I find some of these less well-known facts about wine so interesting. I hope you do as well.
PS: I would strongly suggest subscribing to Winespeed for her Friday emails.
The map is very interesting. Have I purchased any of those items? See below for the answers.
Again, I tend to buy very little these days, but I still buy T shirts and refrigerator magnets, wine, and some candy, like Turkish Delight, wine gummies, and chocolate.
But you will see that over the years, I have purchased some things that I still have.
United Kingdom Yes, I have an umbrella from Wimbledon, as well as a cap, polo shirt, tennis ball, and coffee mug. I went a little crazy. Stick to strawberries and cream!
Netherlands I have brought home gouda, a collar for Lexi from the van Gogh Museum, a cycling jersey, and a hashish pipe (back in 1971).
France Wine of course, from Bordeaux, and Champagne, cookies, and many insults from the French people (back in 1971).
Germany Would you believe I bought a place setting for four of Rosenthal stainless? Long story, I shipped it back home for an old girlfriend.
Spain I have a great pair of leather golf shoes from Valderama, along with great memories of the topless beaches on the Costa del Sol. All great pairs!
Finland I bought some chocolate coated raisins for my brother.
Iceland Yes, more raisins for my brother, as he works in the raisin business!
Ireland I drank everything I bought there, except for the Templebar T shirts. I did buy a sweater, but gave it away in Istanbul.
Austria My waitress at the restaurant wanted me to bring her home, but I could not afford her.
Italy I brought back plenty of heartburn from the food and terrible pizza.
Portugal Would you believe I brought back several bottles of great, affordable single malt Scotch, along with a few vintage Ports?
Poland After visiting the Madame Curie Museum, I may have brought back some radiation!
Turkey I discovered Turkish Delight, and brought back a kilo! I wish many kilos. Nothing grander than the Grand Bazaar.
Czech Republic I would say Czechers, but you would not believe me. I discovered pork knuckle.
Hungary Yes, I brought back palinka, but gave it to my sister in law. How about tokiaji?
Romania After visiting Dracula’s Castle, I brought back the curse of Ion Tiriac (Ilie Nastase’s doubles partner and the richest man in Romania).
Switzerland Only memories of the best Grand Marnier fondue ever. I found out most of the world’s chocolate comes from Ecuador!
Scotland Plenty, golf shirts, golf jackets, wind shirts, balls, and great memories of St. Andrews, Carnoustie, and Turnberry.
Again, you may conclude that the memories and magnets last much longer than any trinkets. But I do have a suggestion. Just buy one or two items, of the highest quality possible. Do not buy junk! For those of you who collect things, just remember, someday you will downsize, and nobody wants your stuff!!!
From time to time, a review of basic champagne is a good idea.
Information is always a good thing:
The Champagne Method
Also known as the “Traditional Method,” the “Champagne Method” of sparkling wine production requires the wine to undergo two fermentations, wherein sugar is converted into alcohol.
Primary Fermentation – After harvest, the grapes are carefully pressed, and the juice goes through an initial alcoholic fermentation – usually in stainless steel tanks. The result is known as the “base wine.”
Blending – Next, base wines are blended together. Some of the base wines are saved for later use, and a large selection of base wines ensures that a Champagne producer will have a consistent “House Style” from year to year.
Secondary Fermentation – Now the blended wine is moved into a clean vessel where a mixture of wine, sugar, and yeast is added. The wine is then bottled, and a second fermentation occurs inside the bottle. Bottles are then capped and placed on their sides. This process encourages the formation of carbon dioxide bubbles.
Yeast Autolysis – After fermentation is complete, leftover sediment and lees (dead yeast cells) dissolve into the wine, usually for four to five years. This imparts the bread, biscuit, or pastry aromas and flavors we often associate with sparkling wines from Champagne.
Riddling – Once yeast autolysis is complete, all sediment and lees must be removed from the bottles. Traditionally, this was manually accomplished by delicately turning the bottles a few degrees each day over two months until the yeast sediment collected in the necks of the upturned bottles. Today, most producers use a mechanical device, known as a gyropalette, to achieve this step in a much shorter period of time.
Disgorgement – The wine within the necks is then frozen and the bottles are turned upright. The caps of the bottles are removed, and the carbon dioxide inside forces the yeast sediment out. Finally, the dosage, a mixture of wine and cane sugar, is added to the wine before it is sealed by a cork and wire cage. This will determine the level of sweetness in the finished Champagne.
Vintage or Non-Vintage?
Wines from Champagne can come from a single harvest or from a blend of multiple harvests. Vintage Champagne is only made from the harvest of an excellent year and generally commands higher prices than Non-Vintage (NV). Non-Vintage Champagne is always blended from several years to maintain consistency.
Learning about Champagne is important, but nothing can replace the experience of drinking it. There’s never a wrong time to crack open a bottle of bubbly, pour a glass (or two), and toast to life. Cheers!
Styles of Champagne
Since the wines of Champagne may be produced from one type of grape or more, there are a range of styles from which to choose. Here are some common examples: Non-Vintage (House Blend) – entry-level bottling produced from a combination of Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier Vintage (Luxury Blend) – produced from a single harvest, and only in the best years from Chardonnay and/or Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier Blanc de Blancs – “white of whites,” produced from 100% Chardonnay Blanc de Noirs – “white of blacks,” white wine produced from Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier Rosé – often a blend of white and red wine, though it can also be made solely from black grapes
Levels of Sweetness
Although Champagne was originally a sweet wine, today the dry styles are more fashionable to drink. The amount of sugar added during disgorgement determines how sweet a Champagne will taste. The labels of Champagne bottles will always indicate a sweetness level, which can be found bellow, along with their explanation:
Brut Nature – bone dry Extra Brut – dry Brut – dry to off-dry Extra Sec – off-dry to medium-dry Sec – medium-dry Demi-sec – medium sweet Doux – lusciously sweet
The mid range on the above chart is where I currently stand. I would say brut, and brut rose’ are my favorites right now, although I will drink all except the doux (lusciously sweet). I still try to live by my own rule of thumb on price point, with $10 a bottle for every day drinking, and under $50 for parties and special occasions. Let me know if you have some personal favorites that I can try. Whichever you choose, just enjoy!!
We are talking about Port wine, not a port in the storm, or a cruise. My love for Port wine blossomed when I was golfing in Portugal some years ago. Each day, after a round of golf on the beautiful Algarve, Mr. Mike and I went hunting for vintage Ports. We found many, but the prices were rather shocking. So, as I have told you numerous times, we had to get creative.
Here is a great insight into Port wine from Winespeed:
The only Ports that need decanting are those that throw a sediment. These include two of the major styles: Vintage Port and Single-Quinta Vintage Port. None of the other major styles (Tawny, Reserve, or Late-Vintage Bottled) throw a sufficient sediment. Vintage Port is made only in exceptional years when Port shippers “declare” a vintage. A vintage Port may come from grapes from several quintas (renowned vineyard estates) as well as grapes grown by dozens of small, individual grape growers. Vintage Ports are first aged just two years in barrel, to round off their powerful edges. Then they are aged reductively (with only the tiniest amount of oxygen) for a long time in the bottle. A decade’s worth of aging is standard, and several decades used to be fairly common. To maintain the intensity, balance, and richness of vintage Port, it is neither fined nor filtered. This, coupled with the fact that Port grapes have thick skins and a lot of tannin, means that vintage Port throws a great deal of sediment, and always needs to be decanted.
In the years a shipper chooses not to declare a year as vintage quality, the grapes that would have gone into vintage Port are often used to make a Single-Quinta Vintage Port. The idea behind these Ports is that the very best vineyard estates are often located in special mesoclimates that allow exceptional wines to be made even in years when the vintage as a whole may not be declared. Apart from blending, Single-Quinta Vintage Ports are made in the same manner as Vintage Ports, so that the wine must eventually be decanted.Locally, we have some ports: Port wines dating back to the 1940’s fill the wine library at Ficklin Vineyards in Madera County. Recently, the oldest port winery in America received an invitation to send their wine to the U.S. embassy in London.
“Across the pond, it went. it feels very good to be accepted into an area that is very traditional with port. So us a little California winery that specializes in that,” said Peter Ficklin of Ficklin vineyards. Peter Ficklin says the Old Vine Tinta and Aged 10 Years Tawny Port was sent to the Embassy. They had to jump through some hoops to get the wine shipped..
The winery started with Ficklin’s father and started in 1946. The family buys Portuguese grape varieties from California and makes the wine in Madera County.
“Each variety brings a different set of flavors to the table so we have the opportunity to blend and bring those flavors together in the finished product,” Ficklin said.
Since my team, the San Francisco Forty Niners are not in the Super Bowl, I decided I might as well enjoy some good food. And maybe some special wine. One simple item I always enjoy is guacamole. Another are soft cheeses, like Brie and camembert. My wine is usually a sparkling wine, usually brut rose’ from either Domaine Carneros or Aimery in Loire. And something to hold me until the heavy duty food (barbecued steak) is ready, like a plate of Bobby Chinn noodles (pictured ).
But for the rest of America, since we cannot have parties, the volume of Super Bowls past might be a little different this year. Foods particular to Tampa and KC might be fish and barbecue, respectively. I have been to both cities, and though I enjoyed both, I give the nod the KC barbecue. SB Sunday is second only to Thanksgiving for total food consumption.
Pizza is the top snack or food item, as one in every seven people order pizza on SB Sunday. Naturally, chicken is the second choice, and wings seem to dominate. More than 100 million pounds of chicken wings are consumed on SB Sunday.
I wonder what 11.2 billion pounds of potato chips look like. And 8.2 million pounds of tortilla chips. Just for kicks, add 4 million pounds of pretzels. My favorite, guacamole totals 8 million pounds. Add 3.8 million pounds of popcorn, 10 million pounds of ribs, and 2 million pizzas.
But what about the adult beverages? A mere 325 million gallons of beer are consumed on SB Sunday. This amounts to about $1.5 billion in beer alone. The most popular beer is Coors Light, followed by Bud Light and Miller Lite.
Females account for 47% of viewers on SB Sunday. And 57% of the women will drink wine. In total, over $600 million will be spent on wine. I wonder how much on champagne, unless they save it for the winning team.
Whatever your favorites, keep in mind this important fact. Whatever you are enjoying at home is about ten times better than anything at the stadium. Take my word for it. Spend your money on a good Super Bowl souvenir, something that will last longer than yet another hot dog and beer!
Here is a brief collection of insights I have found about my favorite sparkling wines.
Regarding drying your champagne glasses: As a matter of fact, in order to maximize you Champagne’s effervescence, leaving a tiny bit of lint in your glass is paramount. As we all know, popping a Champagne cork reduces the tremendous pressure maintained in the thick bottle and releases the carbon dioxide dissolved in the wine. The gas molecules come suddenly out of solution and must collect together in order to form a bubble. Gerard Liger-Belair, a physicist (or “fizzisist”?) at the University of Reims and the world’s leading authority on bubbles, filmed Champagne using high-speed video and a microscope, and discovered that bubbles can form at a rate of 400 per second. Most bubbles form on imperfections or microscopic particles inside the glass, such as pieces of lint that floated into the glass or were left behind by a towel. Molecules of CO2 collect on the particle until together they become buoyant enough to detach and float to the surface as a single bubble. Another bubble of collected CO2 molecules then forms in its place, resulting in the telltale fine lines racing up through the wine. So for optimal effervescence, we recommend wiping Champagne and sparkling wine glasses with a clean, dry (but not lint-free) cloth before using them.
And now for the flute: It’s worth first taking a moment to think about why the flute and Champagne became such fast friends. According to Moët & Chandon chef de cave BenoîtGouez, thenarrowdesign of the flute was first called into duty as a means of wrangling unwieldy sediment. Champagne was commonly served with, or as, dessert, and if a glass was filled during dinnertime, then the sediment would have collected nicely and neatly at the thin glass’s bottom by the time a drinker was ready to partake.
Yet the flute largely has stood the test of time despite the fact that disgorgement—the removal of the lees from a bottle of Champagne—began as a practice more than 200 years ago. The result for the modern-day drinker then is that we’ve been suffocating our sparkling and hindering our own full enjoyment of its finest expressions.
This was a rather fortuitous union: Maison Perrier-Jouët was born from the wedding of Pierre-Nicolas Perrier and Rose-Adélaïde Jouët in 1810. United by a love of nature, a passion for champagne and a bold, entrepreneurial vision, the young couple wasted no time in founding their own Champagne House, ultimately joining both their surnames to create Perrier-Jouët.
“Drinking Champagne from a wider glass rather than a thin flute allows us to experience more of the aromatic spectrum,” says sommelier Daniel Braun, the owner of Princeville Wine Marketon the island of Kauai. Not only do flutes still send a festive signal, but in such a soiree setting, when glasses of bubbles may be poured and left sitting for a time before being passed around, they’re actually useful in a different way. “There are many occasions that call for a flute, and I prefer to use them in settings where I may be concerned with a Champagne losing too much carbonation,” says Braun. The narrow flute helps a glass of sparkling to retain its satisfying effervescence for a longer period. Conversely, the still-common coupe glass encourages the loss of bubbles even more rapidly—the least-desirable outcome.
Personally, I enjoy a flute. I have several, some better than others. But I have been forced to drink my sparkling wine out of paper cups, plastic cups, wine glasses, and even coffee cups. And I will tell you the flute is the best!
In 2015 Champagne was officially declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), thus solidifying their claim that though sparkling wine can be made anywhere, only wines made in their region can truly be recognized as ‘Champagne’. Then in 2019, Le Colline del Prosecco di Conegliano e Valdobbiadene was awared the same honor recognizing their uniqueness in a sea of bubbles.
Want to try the ultimate Prosecco? Look for the word Cartizze. Superiore di Cartizze is, in effect, the “Grand Cru” of Conegliano Valdobbiadene. A tiny high-elevation hilly area of just 108 hectares/267 acres, Cartizze, notable by its pentagon shape, sits entirely within Valdobbiadene. It’s among the most expensive real estate in all of Italy and the sheer beauty of the landscape is breath taking. Soils in Cartizze tend toward sandstone and marl (a type of limestone). Cartizze wines tend to be the most complex and ravishing among all Conegliano Valdobbiadene Proseccos.
A word about Spanish sparklings: Don José Raventós, head of the Penedès bodega Codorníu, traveled throughout Europe during the 1860s selling his family’s still wines. On one such mission, Raventós found himself in Champagne and fascinated by the wine, he returned home keen to attempt his own sparkler. Using the three local white grapes still used in most cava today (macabeo, parellada, and xarel-lo) Raventós produced Spain’s first traditional method sparkler in 1872. Around this time, a small group of forward-thinking winemaking families, including the Raventós family, began meeting every Sunday after the ten o’clock Mass to discuss wine and share information. From these gatherings, an ambitious notion began to take shape. Why not convert all of the local still wines to sparkling and establish Penedès as Spain’s sparkling wine capital, analogous to the Champagne region in France? And the rest is history. Even though cava can be made in any of eight Spanish wine regions, more than 95 percent is made in the Penedès southwest of Barcelona. In addition to cava, sparkling wines that fall under the corpinnat umbrella (an association of sparkling producers who adhere to stricter standards than those for cava) are also made in the Penedès. Indeed, corpinnat wines can only be made in the Penedès.
Fouteen (14) sheep were stolen from Moët & Chandon’s experimental eco-vineyard in Champagne, France, at the beginning of the new year. The world’s largest Champagne producer, like others around the world, is studying the effectiveness of sheep as a way of keeping down grass and weeds in its vineyards. Parent company LVMH has pledged to eliminate the use of herbicides across its entire wine division. In general, miniature sheep breeds such as “Babydolls’ are preferred for munching vineyard grasses since they’re not tall enough to reach the grape bunches.
This story is actually more of an “Oh Yes” than an “Oh No.” On February 23, 1900, as a result of a violent storm, the cellars of Pol Roger Champagne collapsed, burying the equivalent of 2 million bottles of Champagne beneath the rubble. It wasn’t clear if any of the bottles survived until last year when the Champagne house managed to excavate 26 bottles, some dating from the 1898 vintage. The wine was apparently so delicious that the company vowed to search for more. Alas, until now, all rescue attempts have been deemed too dangerous. Enter the most modern of solutions: a Champagne-seeking robot, which Pol Roger intends to deploy as soon as possible. As an homage to the Star Wars robot R2-D2, we think Pol Roger’s robot should be named RD—after all, the 19th century bottles may finally get to be “recently disgorged.” BTW, Pol Roger makes some really good sparklings!
You may or may not recall the song by Campbell and Ledbetter:
Well, when I was a young man never been kissed I got to thinkin’ it over how much I had missed So I got me a girl and I kissed her and then, and then Oh, lordy, well I kissed ‘er againBecause she had kisses sweeter than wine She had, mmm, mmm, kisses sweeter than wine (Sweeter than wine)
Well, it is time to discuss some sweet wines, perhaps you know them as dessert wines. Some can be consumed any time you want. Some are destined for the waste basket, or maybe a sauteed chicken dish. And some are quite good!
My personal experience with sweet wines began in college. I am not referring to the pop wines, but to a few aperitifs, that were introduced to me by friends. I learned to enjoy both Dubonnet on the rocks with a twist (from a girlfriend), or a Campari and soda before dinner (from a frat brother). Another option I soon learned to enjoy was a dry sherry (also from girlfriend).
But please fast forward to a visit to Portugal, in search of vintage ports along the coast. Thanks to my travel buddy and fellow golfer, Mr. Mike for introducing me to this expensive habit. If you remember the story, we ended up purchasing several vintage ports, most of which I could not afford today!
F&W: Tawny ports are labeled by the average age of the barrels that go into the blend. That blend of younger wines with, in this case, barrels as old as 15 years, creates a caramel, cherry, and toasted walnut complexity.
One of my favorites of late is the passito. We first tasted it in a Lafayette restaurant, then tried to buy it. Mike had to special order it from a boutique wine shop in the Marina. Once in a while, I can find it at Trader Joe’s. Try it, and though sweet, it goes well with a less sweet dessert like an almond cookie or apple tart. F&W: The unctuous Passitos of the Sicilian island of Pantelleria are made from partly raisined Muscat of Alexandria grapes. Ben Ryé, one of the best, has a flavor that recalls a tarte Tatin made with apricots.
I actually stayed two nights in Sauterne, in the Bordeaux region of France, while cycling. And I tried several Sauternes while there. Perhaps it was too short a period in which to acquire a taste? Very sweet! But it is a cute little village, perfect for cycling and friendly people. The locals there are quite proud of their wine.
Going back to the sherry, per F&W: The Gonzalez Oloroso sherry spends 30 years in partly filled oak casks before release, a fact that makes its highish price actually seem like a bargain. And what those 30 years of wood and oxygen and time have wrought is a sublime experience: Think dried figs, espresso, caramel, and dark chocolate. A little pricey but worth a try.
But I saved the best for last, the might Tokaji from Hungary. F&W says: Hungary’s Tokaji reached the apex of its fame when France’s King Louis XIV referred to it as vinum regum, rex vinorum (“wine of kings, king of wines”). Today’s Tokajis are still extraordinary, as this (2014 Oremus) subtly sweet example, with its tangerine-apricot-nougat flavors and thrilling acidity, makes perfectly clear. We each bought a bottle, mine is still somewhere. I am sure Mr. Mike drank his long ago. We spent the better part of an afternoon in search of the best.
You are now blessed with enough sweet wine information to be considered armed and dangerous. My suggestion, once we can mingle with friends again, is to buy a bottle, bring it to a group dinner, and pair it properly and try it. You might really enjoy it.
Tannin in wine provides two things: structure and ageability. Found in the grape’s skins, seeds, and stems, tannin is a natural preservative. Red wines, with considerably more tannin than white, can thus age longer. Tannins belong to a class of complex compounds called phenols, powerful antioxidants. Some scientists believe that antioxidants offer a way to also slow fresh food spoilage by reacting with chemicals that cause oxidation. Paul Kilmartin, a professor of wine chemistry at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, discovered that plastics impregnated during the manufacturing process with discarded grape solids retained the tannin’s antioxidant benefits. Testing their effect on packaging for various edible oils, Kilmartin was able to extend the oil’s shelf life up to 30%.
Yes, thirty three of the world’s 50 most expensive wines come from Burgundy, France. According to wine-searcher.com’s annual ranking, the perennial #1 is DOMAINE de la ROMANÉE-CONTI “Romanée-Conti” Grand Cru, with an average price of $19,378 a bottle. After Burgundy, Germany’s Mosel region had the next most wines on the list with 5. Somewhat shockingly, only 3 wines from Bordeaux were among the top 50. And not surprisingly, the 2 Napa Valley wines on the list were both from Screaming Eagle. Very surprising about both Napa and Bordeaux, makes me wonder about this ranking.
This is a very interesting trend. How many of you belong to a wine club? I have only one membership currently, my Domaine Carneros sparkling club membership. I have subscribed to others, but costs can add up. Perhaps due to the pandemic, there are about 2500 wine-based subscription boxes and wine clubs tracked by Cratejoy, an online subscription box marketplace. Growing rapidly in popularity, subscription boxes are recurring shipments of products (both niche—Champagne, cigars—and general—razor blades, meal kits) curated for you and packaged in a box designed to create an experience. Many consumers use them to learn about new brands. Subscription services often offer discounts on follow up purchases of items from the box.
Public health announcement: There were 5,843 alcohol-specific deaths in England alone during 2017 according to the NHS, with 80% of them due to liver disease. Booze is also a factor in several cancers, including breast, mouth and esophageal cancer. Fourteen units per week is the UK maximum recommended intake for both men and women, and is a good rule of thumb wherever you live in the world. The pandemic has created some unique opportunities to buy wine.
Airlines are still operating only a fraction of the number of flights they offered pre-pandemic, and alcohol is banned in many cabins to help thwart the spread of Covid-19. This is adding up to a lot of leftover booze. Now, American Airlines is hoping to sell and ship some of its excesswine directly to peoples’ homes.The company said Thursday that a new program — called American Airlines Flagship Cellars — will give customers a chance to buy wine by the bottle, in custom “curated” cases, or via a monthly subscription plan that costs $99 per month.
The damage to the state’s wine companies by last year’s fires, according to one industry analyst, may amount to as much as $3.7 billion. That’s taking into account the losses of property, wine inventory, grapes and future sales of the wine that those grapes would have made.
As we progress with a new Administration in Washington, and more Covid vaccines, let’s hope we can return soon to visit wineries again. I know I have enjoyed more than my share of good sparkling wines during the pandemic and lock down.