Welcome to UltimateWineShop's blog! Here you will find reports of our travels, interesting industry news, recipes, pairings, wine education and more!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Early Spring at the Wineries

It's early spring in the United States, and this is when the fun begins for our wineries! The growing cycle of the vine begins right around now, and ends in late fall. This is "bud break" time, and we're not talking about beer. (Ha, ha.)


A bud breaks through at Benziger Winery, in Sonoma California

In the spring, the soil begins to warm, which causes water, organic acids, minerals and sugars to be pushed up through the vines. Buds that have remained dormant through the winter begin to sprout tiny shoots, which will in turn sprout leaves.

One of the biggest challenges for grape farmers comes during the early spring, when vines start to develop new buds. While the days are pleasant, nights can still get quite cold, and there's a possibility of frost to form, which can kill the newly-forming buds and ruin the chances for grape clusters to form and grow. One unlikely weapon against the nighttime frost of the spring is -- water.

Spraying the vines with water so ice forms on them actually helps to keep warm, as confusing as that may seem. When the water changes to ice, that physical conversion creates a tiny bit of heat, just enough to keep the vines from dropping below freezing temperatures. The sprinklers must remain on, because it's the change from water to ice that creates the warmth.

Other ways of keeping the vines toasty can include setting up heaters or wind circulators in the vineyard to keep cold air from settling on the vines.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Riddle Me This

Riddling is the term for gradually turning and upending bottles of Champagne and other sparkling wines while it rests in the winery's cellars. The reason for riddling is to concentrate yeast at the tip of the bottle. Sparkling wines go through two fermentations, the second of which is in the bottle and creates the bubbles. After this fermentation, yeast cells remain trapped inside the bottles. Until the mid-19th century sparkling wines were always cloudy, because no one had figured out a way to get the yeast out of the bottle.

A solution was found when the winemakers realized that if they turned the bottles a little each day and slowly tilting them until they rested upside down, the yeasts would slide down the bottle and collect in the neck. When the necks of the bottle were frozen and the bottles opened, the frozen plugs of yeasts flew out of the bottle. A good riddler could turn 50,000 bottles of sparkling wine per day.

Today, while the idea behind the process is the same, many wineries that produce Champagnes and sparkling wines have automated machines that ever so slowly turn the bottles and collect the yeast. The up-ended bottles are dipped into a solution that freezes them, and the machines pop them open and eject the yeast.

What happens to all that yeast? Most of it gets sold to companies that make Champagne Vinegar!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Old Vines

There are many wines that are labeled as "Old Vine." What constitutes an old vine, and what's so special about them?

While the term old vine has no legal definition, the common consensus is that a grapevine that's over 40 years of age is considered an old vine.

A 120+ year old grapevine at Kunde Winery in Sonoma, California


As a grapevine gets older, it yeilds fewer grapes each season, so it's more economical for the wineries to pull out vines after 35 years or so and replace them with new ones. Old vines are a lot rarer than new vines, that's why they're less common to see. In the U.S., the most common old vines are Zinfandel, because in California vineyards up to 125 years old are still bearing small amounts of prized Zinfandel fruit.

Historically in Europe, older vines were always thought to result in better-quality wines. Old vine wines aren't necessarily "better" than new vines in terms of quality, they just have a different character. Because of the smaller yield, old vine wines tend to be intense, bold wines that are deep in color with concentrated dark fruit flavors.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Miscellaneous Wine Facts

I've been collecting miscellaneous wine factoids for a while, and I thought it would be fun to list a few. These are great to tuck into the back of your mind, never know if they might come up in a game of Trivial Pursuit!

*The Ancient Egyptian term for wine was irp, and it was reserved for only the elite members of society at festivals throughout the year.

*The yeasts that wine are made with, like bread, contribute flavor to the wine, albeit subtle.

*Clear brandy, an unaged neutral spirit, is used to fortify Port wine. When added to the wine, it increases alcohol levels, which kills the yeasts, stopping fermentation and resulting in a fortified wine with residual sugar.

*One oak tree will yeild two to four wine barrels.

*Traditional mead is made with only honey, yeast and water. Mead with grapes or grape juice added is called pyment.

*The straw basket-like wrappings you see on some Chianti bottles is called a fiasco.

*The wire "cage" used to wrap the top of a Champagne or other sparkling wine bottle is called a muzzle.

*There are approximately 1/2 pound of grapes in a standard 5 ounce glass of wine, and approximately 2.5 pounds in standard 750ML bottle.

*The wine regions of California, Oregon and Washington were born more than 100 million years ago, when the tectonic plates shifted, melting rocks into magma which formed a chain of volcanoes.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Debbie Miller Nelson's DRC Tasting Experience

I'm always telling everyone how much I love my job, And, it really is true. A rare opportunity was presented to me last week and I would have been a fool to say no. Some of my best customers are now oozing with jealousy. The opportunity was so prestigious that the hosts only allowed us one seat for our two stores.


I attended the 2009 Domaine Romanee-Conti tasting in New York City at the New York Palace Hotel. This Burgundy producer is commonly referred to as DRC. For those of you not familiar with these wines, they are some of the rarest, most collected, most sought after wines in the world. They are also probably some of the most expensive. Why? Small vineyards, not many bottles produced and exceptional wines. These wines are really hard to obtain and highly allocated.

When I was in France last summer, we passed the DRC winery a few times and even stopped to take a picture in front of one of their vineyard sites. Remember this picture? That trip made me appreciate this tasting so much more.



At the tasting I met the current DRC Co-Director, Aubert de Villaine. Aubert led a group of 90 people in the industry including retailers, Sommeliers and press like Ray Isle from Food & Wine Magazine. This was a seated tasting with 8 red and 1 white pre-poured. After Aubert said some words, he left the group to taste on our own. It was so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Seriously, if each glass was one bottle, I probably had about $30,000 worth of wine in front of me. Me excited? You betcha!

From left to right, the line-up was the Vosne-Romanee, Corton, Echezeaux, Grand Echezeaux, Romanee-St.-Vivant, Richebourg, La Tache, Romanee-Conti and Montrachet. In layman's terms, these names are villages classified as Grand Cru or Premier Grand Cru, the highest government classsification for the best of the best. DRC has 25 hectares around the village of Vosne-Romanee and La Tache and Romanee-Conti are monopoles (not owned by anyone else). Each single vineyard is very distinctive and this is the first year that Corton has been produced, Corton is a cuvee of three vineyards in the Cote de Beaune, not near the other villages which reside in the Cote de Nuits. When the vines are more mature, DRC intended to bottle the three vineyards separately,

Aubert compared the 2009 vintage to the 1959 vintage because it was plentiful, enjoyable and have the same characteristics. These wines are exactly 50 years apart and Aubert said they are both tender, feminine, and full of charm and seduction.

I started by smelling each wine to see how one was different from the other. Then I went back and re-smelled and tasted. At these tastings, spitting out the wine is common practice, even expected from people in the business. But, I have a secret. No one did! After taking all my notes, I went back and tasted more for the enjoyment and to appreciate them They were all delicious, but my favorite was the Richebourg which constantly changed aromas in my glass and the one white, Montrachet which was heaven in a glass. It was probably the best wine I think I have ever had in my entire life. But at almost $4000/bottle, it had better have been!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Argentine Wine Explosion

We've got a nice selection of Argentinean wine, but did you know that just a decade ago, Argentina was virtually unknown as a wine making country?

From 2007 to 2010 alone, sales of Argentinean wine increased about 88%! Among countries exporting wine to the United States, Argentina ranks fifth. And it's not just the amount of juice that's rising, according to Nielsen scan data reported by Wine Business Monthly in the fall of 2010, Argentinean wine saw a 38% dollar rise in sales for the year ending April 2010.

Most of the Argentinean wine coming into the United States is malbec, known for its dark berry fruit, great structure, and soft texture. Malbec, a grape that originated in France, started becoming well-known in the mid-to-late 2000s. By 2009 it achieved a growth rate in sales of 50% in one year.

While wine is also grown in the provinces of, San Juan, La Rioja, Salta, Catamarca, Río Negro and Southern Buenos Aires, the Mendoza province is the most lucrative, producing more than 60% of the Argentine wine. Due to the high altitude and low humidity of the main wine producing regions, Argentine vineyards rarely face the problems of insects, fungi, molds and other grape diseases that affect vineyards in other countries. This allows cultivating with little or no pesticides, enabling even organic wines to be easily produced.

If you want to try a great Argentinean wine at a reasonable price, pick up a bottle of Achaval Ferrer Malbec, rated 91 points by Jay Miller of Wine Advocate.

"This prestige Argentine producer puts their best foot forward with this classic Malbec. It has a punchy nose with mushroom, blueberry, mint, blackberry and leather. It is full-bodied and juicy with plenty of black and blue fruits, vanilla, anise and mocha. Let this guy shine on its own after dinner." Debbie Miller Nelson - Wine Manager

Friday, February 10, 2012

A Guide to BYOB

Buying wine at a restaurant can be ridiculously expensive. You could end up paying 3 times more than you would here at Ultimate Wine Shop at a nice restaurant. There's a way past that, however: BYOB. Here is a general list to guide you, based on the cuisine you'll be eating.

Chinese
Dominant flavors in Chinese food include ginger, garlic, sesame, soy sauce, chiles, and oyster, all of which fall into either the sweet or the salty taste group. This means that your best matches are going to be sweetish, spicy or fruity white wines. If you're going for reds, choose low-tannin, unoaked reds, because salty foods make a wine's tannins taste more bitter. Light, crisp roses or sparkling wines would also be a very good match, as their texture can either cut through any heaviness in a dish or underline the delicacy of more fragile ones, such as wontons or steamed dumplings.

Japanese
Overall flavors of Japanese cuisine are bitter and vinegary, with elements such as wasabi, vinegar, soy sauce, and onions. Therefore, you should avoid acidic wines and go for chilled, off-dry, fruity white wines and any sparkling wines with dishes like sushi or sashimi. For heavier dishes like tempura, choose fuller, fruitier styles like Champagne. Or, of course, you may opt for a bottle of traditional sake.

Thai Thai food has playful, contrasting tastes including lemongrass, citrus, chile, ginger, coriander and basil, and can often be difficult to match. Try a crisp, dry white like a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay. A fruity, robust Shiraz will also work well with this spicy chile or beef dishes.

Mexican
Very hot and spicy foods need equally spicy wines with a touch of residual sugar to counteract the spice. Try fruity whites and acidic roses to temper the heat. Low-tannin reds that are fruity and spicy like a Merlot or a Pinot Noir will also work.

Indian
What matches well with the Indian staple, curry? Stay away from the oak and stick to full-bodied wines. Possible matches include Merlots, Zinfandels, and Syrahs, a rose with samosas and pakoras, or a Gewurztraminer with tandoori.

Italian
While we could get into the specific flavors of Italian foods and pair precisely with the dishes (Riesling with gnocci, for example), why not do like the Romans do and drink Italian wines with your Italian dinner? Chianti is a traditional Italian staple and you can't go wrong with a bottle on your table. Other Italian wines that would be fantastic to grace your table with would be Barolos, Barbarescos or Barberas.