Wine Tips


This month I’ve been invited to Clark College to host an updated version of the popular Wine 101 Class from Salut! to be held Tuesday, April 27th from 6:30 to 8:30pm.

The Corporate and Continuing Education programs at Clark College are taking advantage of the newest addition to their campus, a full kitchen at their new hi-tech Columbia Tech Center campus in East Vancouver.  The Cooking and Wine School programs include a wide range of inexpensive ways to enhance your knowledge repertoir.

Wine 101 is a fun 2-hour class that will demonstrate the different components of wine, 6 different grapes, different glasses, and the information that ties them all together.  How to describe flavors, how to pair wines with food, what stemware to use, and how to serve & store wines will all be covered in this informative session.  It’s only $45 per person, including wine!  Sign up today!

The Sommelier Series

In addition to Wine 101, I’ll be complimenting the coursework with three additional Sommelier Series classes for enhanced wine expertise.  These classes will extend focus on an array of grapes and regions.  Wine afficianados, restaurant and grocery store stewards, hobbyists and winery employees can earn Continuing Education Credit certificates for this trio of courses to enhance their resume and skills.   Each class features sampling of an array of 8 wines and 2 hours of instruction.

The Sommelier Series classes start with Advanced Wine Expertise on March 17th.  Each of 8 different major grapes is featured as a representation for 8 different important aspects of fine wine production such as grape clones, oak barrels, blending, geography and more.

Next up on March 24th is New World Wine Regions including the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and South America.  In this class, each region’s recent history will be featured along with the most important wines of that area.

Finally, the trio is capped on June 6th with a brand new class on Old World Wine Regions including a tour of European wines.  Experience wines from France, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal. 

The Sommelier Series trio is offered as a combo for just $110 for all three 2-hour sessions.

For more information:

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The Bordeaux region covers more territory than all of the vineyards in Germany combined, with over 15,000 growers, producing over 700 million bottles of wine each year. More than 80% of it is red, with the most important grapes being Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, nearly always blended together.  Malbec, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot round out the mix.

It was the Dutch who drained the marshy Médoc region in the middle of the 17th century, creating the land for vineyards that would soon produce the fine wines that would give Bordeaux its reputation. The Medoc, along with the Haut-Medoc and Graves (pronounced “Grahv”) regions, lie on the “Left Bank” of the Gironde river. The warmer climate here ripens Cabernet Sauvignon to an optimal point, so much of the Left Bank Bordeaux wines will have Cabernet Sauvignon as the primary varietal in the final blend.

A Map of Bordeaux

A (Simplified) Map of the Bordeaux Wine Region

On the “Right Bank” of the Dordogne river lies Pomerol and St. Emilion, where Merlot takes the driver’s seat due to soil composition and a climate more suited to Merlot’s growing habits.  Chateau Petrus is one of the most famous, most expensive, and one of the few 100% Merlot wines of the Right Bank.

The white grapes of Bordeaux include primarily Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon (blended together). In the Sauternes region at the south of the Left Bank, some of the world’s finest dessert wines are created from these grapes (most notably, the famous and spectacularly expensive Chateau d’Yquem)

It was the Greeks who first brought grapes to France by establishing vineyards in Marseilles, but the infestation of the Phylloxera root louse destroyed any grape vines existing before 1866. American Labrusca species rootstocks (resistant to Phylloxera) saved the day … Vinifera species vines in Europe (and in the U.S.) are now commonly grafted to them, although there are still ungrafted vineyards left dotting the landscape around the world.

French culture dictates the qualities of Bordeaux, amid a confusing mass of classification systems born in 1855, emphasizing elegance and intensity of flavor rather than massive and powerful fruit or oak. The French start drinking wine in their youth, most often with meals. The resulting need for ample wine acids for food pairing and a subdued & elegant fruit balance of flavors is a tell-tale sign of a Bordeaux wine.

For more information

Chateau Margaux

Chateau Margaux

Plenty of myths and misinformation exists about headaches and wine drinking. The most important of which is that Sulfites are what commonly give wine drinkers headaches.

Sulfites

Sulfites are a natural component created by yeast during wine fermentation, but are also added to most wines to prevent fermentation after bottling.  Most wines from all countries contain sulfites, even if a warning label is not present.  Many years ago, the FDA determined that about 1% of the population is allergic to sulfites, so a law was passed to require a warning label on all wines sold in the U.S.  People allergic to sulfites have an allergic reaction when drinking wine but are not prone to headaches from the reaction.  Asthma sufferers are most at risk for sulfite allergies and bad reactions.

Many people do, however, experience headaches when drinking red wine.  If red wine causes a headache but not white wine, this is surely not the result of sulfites, since white and sweet wines generally contain more sulfites than red wines. Dried fruits also contain sulfites but do not reportedly cause headaches, either.

“No Sulfites Added” (NSA) wines are available for anyone concerned or interested in testing whether or not Sulfites are responsible for their headaches.  Badger Mountain produces a popular line of No Sulfites Added wines in the Northwest.

The stigma surrounding alcohol consumption contributes to a lack of knowledge about what truly is the culprit causing red wine headaches.  Small studies have tested many theories surrounding chemicals present in red wines.  Unfortunately there is a stigma associated with the study of alcohol consumption, which limits the number of motivated scientists and funding sources for larger studies.

Tannin

Tannins are a powdery natural substance found on the skins of things such as peaches, apples, cows, grapes and oak trees.  They are most recognizeable as having a pronounced drying affect on the palate (like having cotton placed on your gums).  Tannins enter wines when the grapes are crushed and the juice runs over the other grapes in the tanks, or when wines are aged in newer oak barrels. 

Some people have blamed tannins for headaches, since many red wines contain a relatively large amount of this naturally occurring “flavonoid” component (a powerful antioxidant), and tannins are not present in most white wines.  Tannins have the chemical effect on the body of releasing serotonin into the brain, which does cause headaches in those people prone to migraines.  See more information about tannins here.

Today, new medications for migraine headaches are widely available and can help stave off headaches from wine before they occur (in migraine sufferers). However, this still doesn’t fully explain why people who do not suffer from migraines still get red wine headaches.

If you wish to test your sensitivity to tannins, drink tea and eat soy or dark chocolate…each of these items contains significant tannins.

Tannins are healthy for humans.   They help lower cholesterol, adjust the balance between good and bad cholesterol, stimulate the immune system, lower cancer risk & more.  So don’t give them up lightly.

Alcohol

It seems obvious but often overlooked that simply drinking alcohol will cause headaches.  The alcohol causes abnormal and changing moisture content in the brain, producing pressure.  Over-consumption is most often the cause of headaches, and there is a solution for those who consume too much or worry about an upcoming headache…drink a tall glasses of water and take two aspirin prior to drinking wine.  Alternate drinking one glass of water between glasses of wine.

The water will help reduce the dehydration that occurs from the alcohol, and the aspirin will have time to take effect before the symptoms appear. Studies have shown that taking aspirin after the headache appears has no effect.

Armed with this information, you should be able to test your limits and avoid headaches whenever possible.

Healthy Wine

A combination of religious objections and prohibition can be credited with a persevering stigma attached to drinking alcohol in the United States that unfortunately still plagues the wine industry in modern times. Technology and research is now in the beginning stages of reversing that stigma with proof that moderate wine consumption can be healthy and beneficial.

It’s been more than 10 years since a famous 60 Minutes episode introduced the “French Paradox”, a phenomenon linking moderate red wine consumption in France to their 40% lower rate of heart attacks compared to Americans. It has since been conclusively shown that wine consumption reduces risk of heart attacks by 25-45%.

Antioxidants, naturally occurring compounds in wine, form the human body’s first line of defense against cancer. These Antioxidants are also believed to prevent the deposition of cholesterol in arteries, reducing rates of heart disease.

Alcohol boosts HDL cholesterol, lowering the risk of heart disease and reducing arterosclerosis (hardening and narrowing of the arteries). 

The British Medical Journal in 1995 noted that wine is more effective as an antibacterial agent than the active ingredient in Pepto Bismol, eliminating food-borne bacteria that cause stomach illnesses. A 1988 study of an outbreak of Hepatitis A found that 70% of wine drinkers did not become ill, while a majority of patients drinking beer or no alcohol became sick. This was one of the first studies where alcohol was shown to be an effective protection against not only bacteria, but certain viruses also.

There is no cure for Macular Degeneration, which is the leading cause of blindness in people over 65. But one study showed people who drink wine are 20% less likely to suffer from this condition. 

Moderate consumption is may also be effective in helping prevent obesity and kidney stones, increasing blood-sugar control in diabetics, defending against some STDs and preserving mental clarity (slowing Alzheimer’s) as we age.

What is “Moderate” consumption?

Always talk to your doctor before making dietary decisions. But generally 14 oz. of wine daily for men and 8 oz. of wine daily for women (one standard serving in a glass is 6 oz.) are moderate amounts that achieve the beneficial effects described here.  See the American Heart Association’s recommendations here.

Find more information

For many wine drinkers, sweet wines represent childlike or simple flavors.  This thought can be a stigma, rising from the fact that most beginning wine drinkers enjoy sweet & light wines while long-time wine drinkers move away from sweetness toward dry and complex wines.
 
Both kids and adults alike, however, still should enjoy the ‘sweet life’.  While kids enjoy Kool-Aid and banana splits, adults prefer more complex desserts like Crème Brulee and dark chocolate flourless tortes with raspberry sauce. All are very sweet, but the craft of creating luscious desserts is lost on kids, even if they enjoy the flavors.
 
There is a wide variety of sweet wines that have been artfully crafted to be complex.  The finest have delicate, enjoyable qualities or powerfully deep flavors.  Many have historical significance.  To ignore them as a wine drinker is to deny yourself some of the most unique experiences and most ideal food pairings.  It’s simply a travesty to discount the value of sweet wines!  Here’s a short run-down of several of the most popular sweet wines of the world:
 
Solera for Sherry

A Solera system of barrels used to make Sherry

Port, Madeira and Cream Sherry

Before yeast converts all the sugar to alcohol, extra grape spirits can “fortify” a wine to kill the yeast and leave some sugar remaining in the higher-alcohol result.  The Iberian peninsula is the birthplace of these full-bodied, complex after-dinner wines, where ships destined for the US and Britain were once filled with the stuff!

Each of these three selections has a different and unique production method.  Find out more about: Port, Sherry or Madeira.

Moscato & Brachetto

In Piedmont in northern Italy, Muscat and Brachetto grapes respectively create this pair of white and red semi-sparkling summer dazzlers.  Moscato d’Asti has a pear and apricot flavor profile while Brachetto delivers with Strawberry, raspberry and rose notes.  Drink them with fresh fruit and cheese platters at your next picnic.

Ice Wines

When grapes are left on the vine during the season’s first frost, the resulting juice squeezed from the frozen fruit is decadently sweet – a result of the water ice staying frozen while the sugary juice (which does not freeze at the same temperatures) flows under gentle crushing.  Canada has built a worldwide reputation for the best ice wines, which are only produced under the strictest regulations.  For more info:  Ice Wines

Botrytis Wines – Sauternes & Tokay

Botrytis

The Botrytis "Noble Rot" mold

Chateau d’Yquem is the most famous wine affected by the Noble Rot mold called Botrytis, yielding a complex and unique taste from the blend of late-harvested Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes in France’s Sauterne area of Bordeaux. It is the historical benchmark for similar wines produced worldwide.

Click here to learn more about Sauternes

Tokaj is a specialty of Hungary made from the Noble Rot grapes and is available in varying levels of sweetness, ranked increasingly sweet with higher “puttanyos” numbers on the label.  The Hungarian Wine Society can tell you more about this elixir.

Dried Grapes – Vin Santo & Recioto

Vin Santo is a product of Tuscany made with partially dried grapes, lending a raisiny quality to the full-bodied and nutty character.  It makes a perfect match to almond and pecan desserts. Recioto is made in the Veneto area of Northeast Italy near Venice, made from the dried  red grapes of Valpolicella.  Its flavors are deeper, richer, and more suitable for chocolate explorations.  Originally, dried-grape wines were invented by the Greeks, who coined the name Vin Santo. 

It’s time for adults to enjoy the sweet tastes

Drying Vin Santo grapes

Drying grapes for Vin Santo

There are many more sweet wines on the market, which pair beautifully with salty cheeses, spicy Asian and East Indian cuisines, fresh fruit as well as sweet desserts. Don’t miss out on your opportunities to experience these complex and unique expressions of the winemaking art as part of your passage through adulthood!

The Red Mountain grape growing region is Washington State’s smallest American Viticultural Area (AVA), defined in 2001 by the U.S. Treasury and the ATF. Located at the eastern tip of the Yakima Valley, just west of the Tri-Cities (Richland) area, this important area encompasses little more than 4,000 acres (only 700 acres are planted with producing vines so far) of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah grapes. But here is where you’ll find some of the best wine grapes in all of Washington.

The arid region is characterized by the springtime’s red Cheatgrass growing on the area’s rolling hills 500-1500 ft. above sea level. Daytime temperatures stay 90 degrees, with cooler nights reaching 50. Rainfall stays low, near 5 inches a year. The dry, warm temperatures are ideal conditions to grow the perfect grapes, You won’t find any “Old Vine” Red Mountain grapes yet but that time is getting close…the first wine grapes in the Red Mountain area were planted in 1972, on 10 acres of what is now Kiona.
Red Mountain

A view of Washington's smallest wine appellation

Only 14 wineries call this area home. Among them:  Hedges, Kiona, Seth Ryan, Oakwood, Blackwood Canyon, Taptiel Vineyard, Hightower and Terra Blanca. Additional grape-growers include Klipsun Vineyards (Ranked in the top 25 vineyards in the world by Wine & Spirits Magazine), Ciel de Cheval Vineyards, Artz Vineyards. Across the state, the finer wineries seek out the coveted Red Mountain grapes to blend into the growing number of outstanding Washington red wines. You’ll find Red Mountain grapes in the wines from Woodward Canyon, Quilceda Creek, Andrew Will, L’Ecole No. 41, Washington Hills, Seven Hills and Canoe Ridge and more.

Success has come quickly… Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Top 100 Wines for 2002 listed Hedges Red Mountain Reserve ($46) and Sandhill’s Cabernet Sauvignon ($24), as well as Andrew Will’s Ciel du Cheval Merlot and Quilceda Creek’s Cabernet Sauvignon. Hedge’s Fume/Chardonnay ($11) also made the “Top 100 Values” from Wine Enthusiast’s 2002 list.

Look for increasing success and production in the region as more acreage is planted and more vines bear fruit with age. With such perfect growing conditions, and rising talent gaining experience each year, Washington’s Red Mountain will be the region to watch!

For more information

Wine TipsThis is a tough one to get used to.  But you should heed this advice:

Never judge a wine based on your first sip of wine that day!

It’s natural and almost instinctive to judge a wine on first impressions, but your first sip of wine any day will always seem more acidic. 

That’s because wine IS acidic, and the first sip will be a little jarring to the senses. 

Whether you just brushed your teeth, smoked a cigarette, ate a mint or some coleslaw, or had a cup of coffee, this rule works well to “even the playing field”.   Whenever I host a formal wine tasting event, I always have a less-important “starter” wine to even out everyone’s palates before they begin judging the “real” featured wines.

Necessity is the mother of invention

Just like aluminum cans appeared years before the invention of the can opener, so did the bottle sealed with cork appear long before the means to open them.

corkscrewCorkscrews weren’t always used exclusively for wine. The cork and the ability to mass-produce strong glass bottles appeared at about the same time in the early 17th century and was used as the standard package for beer, perfume, ointments, ink, medicines and cleaners. All of these products required the use of a corkscrew to open. Screw caps, pop-tops and bottle caps were all invented much later, well after World War I!

A gun worm

A gun worm

Reference was made to corkscrews in 17th century literature, but nobody knows when one first appeared. It probably was extremely similar to the standard picnic corkscrews used today; simply a steel screw with a handle, shaped like the letter T. The design was based on a “gun worm” used for cleaning stuck bullets from the barrel of guns. It was probably a gun owner’s trial and error that found this use for a spiral screw, probably for his beer!

The first improvement in corkscrew design was rewarded with a patent in 1795 and a slew of inventions have rushed forward since, each trying to improve our ability to extract the cork from the bottle without having to resort to using our teeth or a bent nail and brute force (as was done prior to the corkscrew’s birth!)

Buttons, coated worms, ratchets, springs, prongs, levers and fancy designs have been patented worldwide and have given rise to the hobby of corkscrew collecting. Online auctions have brought as much as $3500 for a single historic corkscrew. The highest bid ever was over $36,000 at a Christie’s of London annual Corkscrew Auction. A ’corkscrew museum’ has been created on the Internet (www.bullworks.net/virtual.htm) and Corkscrew collectors (called “Helixophiles” have formed associations and clubs worldwide.

Our Favorite Corkscrew

The Rialto - Our Favorite

The Rialto - Our Favorite

Although corkscrews come in dozens of styles and hundreds of brands, our favorite at Salut! Wine Co. is the “Rialto” articulated corkscrew. It’s design is compact and effective in pulling corks with the least effort and without splitting the cork.  You can purchase a Rialto online at www.salutwineoutlet.com.  The trick to using this easy tool is to start with the screw at an angle…so the tip of the wire screw appears to be growing straight up from the center of the cork.  Start all corkscrews this way.  After one full turn the screw will “right” itself and proceed straight down into the cork every time if you let it.

The right way to start any corkscrew

The right way to start any corkscrew

Visit www.corkscrewnet.com for a comprehensive collection of links and reference pages if you would like to know more about these complex inventions.

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