When our Vancouver store closed in March, it also canceled one of the few Riedel events scheduled in the Northwest this year.  Now comes a second chance! 

bild_10th-riedelRiedel’s Vinum XL line will now be featured at an event featuring Riedel icon Georg Riedel at the Willamette Valley Vineyards on June 11th, 7pm

More information about this event is now posted on my Portland Wine Examiner blog at http://bit.ly/bFLKd, along with links to more Riedel information, history and related fun items.

Don’t miss it!  I’ll be there, too.

Check out our online offering with the largest local selection of Riedel stemware, with free local delivery, at www.salutwineoutlet.com


oak-barrelAs late as the early 1900’s, barrels were the primary container for the transport of oils, flour, pickles, salt, beer, spirits and wine. But today wood barrels are used almost exclusively in the production of wine; a return to their origins when the Celts invented the art of barrel making, or “Cooperage” during the Iron Age (750bc to 43 AD) to replace the ancient amphorae used by the Greeks and Italians.

Modern technology has made production of wine barrels faster and more consistent, but cooperage remains a skillful craft…the wood staves (the vertical slats bound by metal bands) in each barrel must fit water-tight without the use of glues, liners or metal which would react with the wine inside. In addition, the woods used are hand-selected from specifically desired 80-100 year old oak trees and forests throughout the world, since barrels impart color, aroma and flavors (oak, vanillin, clove, cinnamon, chocolate, nutmeg, etc.). The selection of wood is as important to the cooper as selection of grapes is to the winemaker. For instance, the French forests in Burgundy grow slower in a cooler climate, creating a finer grained hardwood, which specifically suits the aging of certain wines. American species oak trees impart a tell-tale sweeter oak flavor with coconut and vanilla overtones and less tannin than European woods, due in part because of 2-4x the amount of “Lactones” present in the woods grown here.

Barrels also facilitate a breathing process between the outside environment (air) and the wine and spirits, causing alcohol and water to evaporate through the staves (up to 4% of the volume over a year’s timeframe), concentrating the wine and spirits. It’s the breathing process that helps integrate the wine and that is partially responsible for a wine’s harmony.


Parts of a barrel

Because the craft of cooperage is so important to the final wines produced inside, many larger wineries insist on producing their own barrels at the winery…Maison Latour crafts over 2000 barrels annually with traditional methods used there since the middle ages.

To produce a barrel, first the wood is selected and cut to shape. The staves are then dried outside for several years to allow impurities and undesirable odors in the woods to air out and allow the harsher tannins present in the oak to dissipate.

Staves of proper size are then steamed (to allow bending) while being assembled and wrapped with steel bands, then “toasted” with a flame inside to further soften any tannins present and impart toast, coffee or caramelized qualities. The barrel is then finished with ends, called “heads” and with river reed parts where needed for water-tight seals.

As production methods improve in the U.S. (as American coopers adopt French methods and reject old whiskey-barrel methods), American barrels continue to rise in worldwide acceptance. But French barrels still command far higher prices ($700 for French, $300 for American).

For more information:

Before the Wine Bottle Existed

Glass has been around since Roman times. But until the 17th century, when a timber shortage led to the creation of coal-fueled furnaces, glass was too fragile to use for storing or transporting wines. Hand-blown bottles were more often used for serving wines while barrels or large clay pots (amphorae) were used for storage. chiantistrawWhen necessary, some of the tear-drop-shaped glass bottles were wrapped in straw both to protect the glass from breakage and to allow the bottle to stand upright on a table (now associated with the traditional marketing of straw-wrapped Chianti bottles).

No more straw needed…

It was the invention of the coal burning furnace that brought about the next major change.  Sand won’t melt into glass until the heat reaches at least 1500 degrees.  Hotter 17th century coal furnaces allowed for creation of thicker and darker glass. This ability, paired with the new cork closures which came into fashion at the same time, brought forth the use of strong glass bottles for wine transport and aging. antique-onion-wine-bottleAt this time, before standardized sizes and long before labeling laws, bottles were of many different shapes and sizes and rarely labeled with anything but a maker’s stamp or painted mark.  The olive green hue to the glass varied from light to dark due to the level of impurities in the ingredients of the glass, but not by design.

The bottle shape is born

As winemaking became more possible and popular, people bought less in bulk and more by name/winery.  By 1730 it was necessary to start a new practice of “Binning”, or storing corked wine bottles on their sides (because there were a lot of them).  This made necessary the change in bottle shape from wide-based bottles (bladder or onion shaped) to a standard cylindrical bottle still used today.

Without standards for bottle sizes, it was illegal in England until 1860 to sell wine in bottles. Instead, wine was measured from the barrel and then poured into bottles, and bottles were often brought in by the consumer (which was more economical than buying the store’s bottles).  Until the EU began enforcing standards for bottle sizes in the 1970’s, bottle sizes varied from 65 to 85cl (still about the size of one lungful of air from a glassblower’s lungs).


A plethora of shapes exist today

Today’s bottles are shaped logically and scientifically… ”Bordeaux” bottles are shaped with a short neck and high “shoulder” to trap sediment during pouring and to allow long and stable stacking and storing. Champagne bottles are thicker and shaped to handle more pressure and to fit in special racks during the lengthy production processes. On bottles with an embossed crest or symbol (such as Chateauneuf du Pape), you’ll notice a substantial notch in the bottom or side of the bottle…this notch assists a labeling machine with finding the bottles “front” to place the label consistently and correctly.

To market to customers understanding lots of different languages in Europe, traditional unique bottle shapes and colors became the universal marks of certain wines and countries as well.  Green tall slender bottles were German Rieslings.  Portuguese Ports were marked with white stencil lettering on darker bottles with plumped necks.  Chianti retained the onion shaped bottle wrapped in straw.  Now, the famous rooster adorns a label around the neck of Chianti bottles instead as a universally translated mark of origin.

Restaurants and airplanes create the most demand for small-sized bottles, while large-sized bottles are reserved mainly for publicity and celebration due not only to the high cost of hand-blowing these rarely-used bottles but also the difficulties in storing, marketing, and serving them. The 750ml bottle is a standard since it is economical, consistent and easy to handle.

 There’s always more to learn

Our atmosphere at Salut! is often accented by the nostalgic and fun sounds of the Big Band era, plus other old-time Jazz greats.  You can download much of this music free using the links below!

So much time has passed that the era now represents a completely different world of music, separated by several generations.  It was a time when top musicians had to group together to play to earn their keep, and only where people had to gather together to listen while they played it.

Louis ArmstrongEach hotel had a grand ballroom, where big bands would play and entertainment acts would perform.  As the radio era grew, the local station would outfit the biggest local hotel ballroom with a remote microphone, to broadcast the performances to the town or through the NBC network to radio stations throughout the country.  Many of the big band songs we hear today were lifted right from the recordings of those remote broadcasts.

It’s debateable if the era was a more innocent time in America, but it definately conjurs up a time when you could understand the lyrics, wouldn’t be offended by them, and looked forward to hearing the music play!  We hope we can generate some interest in this entertaining time in American music.

  • Much of our Big Band music was downloaded free from Archive.org
  • Wikipedia has a compendium of information about Big Band Remotes
  • A plethora of recordings and biographies, linked in a fun tree for exploration, can be found at RedHotJazz.com
  • If you’d like to listen and watch some of the great big bands on video, head to YouTube.com

Or, here’s one of the great bands of the day…Count Basie