Ever since I got my iPhone 4S, I’ve been Instagraming like a fiend. One of my favorite subjects, besides myself of course (jk!), is wine. To a wine lover, there are very few things as photogenic as a seductive wine bottle. I figure I’d share a few of my favorites and hopefully you find as much joy out of them as I do! Find me on Instagram (@SENELWORLDWIDE).
Tag Archives: Wine
It’s always entertaining to find out how those who love doing something motivate themselves to get to know their passion better. Some football players take ballet to improve their balance, physicist look to classical music to unlock the secrets of their minds, while endurance athletes will sleep in near hermetic hyperbaric tents to improve their body’s oxygen absorption.
The wine world is similar. Some wacky winos study obscure regions from across the globe on maps hanging in their bathrooms, others will go to the market and smell obscure fruits to create a lasting memory to refer back to, while others will devote hours a week to tasting numerous wines with the hope of training their palates to detect the slightest nuance like wet straw or bacon fat. Admittedly, I’ve been guilty of all of these things in the past. Well, except hanging wine region maps in my bathroom, I just read from the book, but I can tell you it’s all done with one thing in mind, to heighten one’s ability to appreciate wine.
With this in mind, I was having a chat with a buddy from work and he was talking about the fact that there were some very good wines under $20. Being the “one-upper” that I am, I mentioned that there are great wines to be had for around a 10er. Thus, I had a challenge!
I set about to find 3 wines that would impress, yet would set me back no more than $35 (not including tax). After thinking about this challenge for 3 hours while driving to Albany (gotta make Albany fun somehow), I decided to come up with a name for my challenge: “The $35 Rhône Treasure Hunt!” I can’t help it; I love Syrah and the Rhône…so sue me!
So how did my trip to Empire Wine & Spirits (Albany, NY) fare? Was my acumen as good as I hoped, or have I allowed any semblance of skill slip away? Let’s find out…
#1 – 2010 Andezon, Côtes du Rhône ($10.65)
This is a very well put together wine with rich, dark purple coloring. I don’t normally comment on a wine’s color, but this one striking. Aromas were popping from the first sniff, primarily with ripe red and black fruit with hints of wildflowers. The acid was a little livelier than expected at first; however once you get around that, the flavor profile won me over. Fruit forward lingonberry and strawberry feature prominently with anise and a nice zip of menthol. Give this one a just a little more time and the acid should subdue, potentially a 90+ point wine; however terrific for the price! Senel Wine – 89 pts
#2 – 2010 Domaine les Grand Bois, Cairanne Cuvee Maximilien, Côtes du Rhône-Villages ($13.95)
Of the three this was the biggest which has much to do with it’s composition. The 50% Grenache and 35% Mourvedre (remainder Syrah) give this wine enough structure, acid and depth to be mistaken for a bottle 5x more expensive. Instead of immediate fruit, you’re hit with earthy notes of pine and underbrush. Beyond that, blue and blackfruit along with the typical spicy notes of the Rhône kick in. The palate is naughty/racy with Asian spice, white pepper and herbal notes woven into a juicy black fruit core. Very good, verging on great. I want more! Senel Wine – 93 pts
#3 – 2011 Saint Cosme, Côtes du Rhône ($10.95)
A beautiful sipper. My wife actually asked me if she could just finish the bottle tonight. Blackcurrent, All-Spice and flowers on the nose. These aroma notes transitioned to palate, especially the velvety floral notes, which were rounded out with cocoa and coffee. There’s a certain acidic zing at first; however integrated quickly with air. Playful and complex, especially for a CdR. Senel Wine – 91 pts
3-for-3…daaaamn! Admittedly, I did overshoot my mark by a few cents; however considering what came from this challenge, I believe I’ve illustrated that terrific wine doesn’t have to set you back.
Wine – a monosyllabic word that evokes different meanings for anyone who enjoys it. Feelings of warmth, passion, companionship, appreciation and fun are likely the most common. Instant images of the varietals, vineyards and distant regions are likely to occur. Even thoughts of the history, key figures and legendary bottles may come to mind just by taking one sip. This is the amazing thing about wine; it has the power to transport us almost anywhere. But wine in itself is simpler than everything just mentioned. It’s merely spoiled grape juice.
Ok, that may be oversimplifying things a bit. Understanding what wine is and how it’s created is as important as knowing any of the talking points that you may hear wine connoisseurs spout off at a fine restaurant or wine shop.
At its core, wine is grape juice that has been introduced to yeast and has gone through fermentation (the process of converting sugar to alcohol). At this point you officially have wine and this unrefined version is exactly what hooked mankind on the drink nearly 7,000-8,000 years ago!
Since those days, winemakers have added a few additional steps to alter the overall quality, appearance and stability. Each of these processes demand a bit of explaining, however for the purpose of this article it’s only necessary to understand that they take place and a basic description of what they are. The four main developments since those archaic days are:
Glass Bottles: Up until approximately 400 years ago wine became vinegar all too quickly. This was due to wine being stored in porous vessels, most typically wood barrels or poorly sealed containers that allowed large amounts of oxygen to attack the wine. The advent of glass bottles with cork closures allowed for protection against rapid oxidation of wine.
Filtration/fining: The controversial process of removing suspended remnants of the winemaking process such as dead yeast and grape skin particles. Many winemakers avoid this at all costs, as they believe it removes the character of the wine.
Cold Temperature Stabilization: This is the process of removing tartrate crystals from a wine by exposing it to near freezing temperatures. If this isn’t done, these crystals may form in the bottle. They are completely harmless to the wine, but most novice drinkers don’t know that and get turned-off by them. This is why mass-produced wines typically go through this process.
Malolactic Fermentation: A style of fermenting that converts malic acid, characterized by sharper/zestier sensation (think of how your mouth feels when you first bite into a green apple), and converts it either partially or fully into lactic acid. Lactic acid, the same acid found in milk, imparts smoother and softer qualities to wines. Most reds go through this process, as do some whites, most notably chardonnay.
Even with these innovations in winemaking, the fact remains that wine is still wine. If you were to go visit most of the world’s top producers, you would find that they make wine the way it was likely made thousands of years ago. They use different practices in the vineyard, use yeast that is cultured in a laboratory, or rack their wines numerous times prior to bottling. But it all starts the same way: grapes + yeast = wine. That’s what makes wine so special; with every glass you drink a bit of history.
By Rebeccah Marsters
With the abundance of information on wine labels these days, it’s a testament to the time-honored tradition of opening a bottle that we find no instructions for uncorking. Imagine the classic scenario: lights are low, the music plays, you use an elegant silver corkscrew to ease open a bottle of wine. The gentle ‘thwup’ meets your ears, and two glasses are at the ready. The truth is, once the cork is dislodged, it’s typically forgotten as we move on to more important things- namely, experiencing the wine. But take a minute to examine and appreciate that diminutive brown cylinder before you cast it aside and begin to pour; chances are that without its presence, wine would not exist as we know it today.
An inspection of the cork makes apparent that it’s a natural product- the irregular composition and color are your first clues, and a sniff reveals a scent not of factories and polymers, but of something organic and of the earth. Indeed, cork is the bark of the Quercus suber tree, or the cork oak. Indigenous to the hot, arid climates of Spain, North Africa, and Portugal, the latter of the three today accounts for about half of cork production worldwide, and the cork industry in that country is so vital to the economy that it has been under strict regulation for centuries. Recognizing what an important resource it was, the European Cork Industry Federation has even developed a code of practice for its production.
Why so much hoopla over something that quite literally ‘grows on trees’? The harvesting of cork is a complex process. A cork oak does not produce usable cork until about 25 years of age and then can only be harvested once every nine years. This resting period in between harvest allows for the outer layer of ‘bark’ to regenerate and this is only one of the many complexities involved in the process.
Harvesting cork is both labor intensive and time consuming, requiring skilled workers to carefully strip the trees and stack the planks of cork outside where they will cure in the sun, rain, and fresh air for up to six months. The cork panels are then cleaned, usually in a process involving a boiling water bath, fungicide, and scraping, after which they are deposited in a cellar to dry before they are finally deemed adequate for their intended use. In the case of wine stoppers, which account for about two-thirds of the cork industry, the planks are cut to a thickness equal to the desired length of the cork and perfect cylinders are punched out.
So how did this little piece of Portuguese tree bark find its way into your bottle of chardonnay? The use of cork as a plug dates back to ancient Egypt and Greece, and excavations have discovered amphorae with cork stoppers still intact at such illustrious sites as Pompeii and Athens. Despite these auspicious beginnings, wine was not a bottle-based industry for centuries; instead, transactions involved a merchant drawing wine from a barrel into receptacles provided by the buyer. Jumping ahead to the 1600s, we come upon the cellar master of Hautvillers Abbey in France- a gentleman known as Dom Pérignon- who was vexed when his champagne bottles kept popping open. The wooden stoppers wrapped in oil-soaked rags that were common at the time could not stand up to the increased pressure of the effervescence in his precious bubbly, and his decision to replace these crude closures with cylinders of cork was more consequential than he would ever know. The 1700s saw mass production of glass bottles, meaning that with a uniform neck and opening, utilizing a similarly uniform product to seal the bottle was only logical. In 1750 the first cork stopper factory opened in Spain, and for the first time in history, aging wine in the bottle became a realistic endeavor. With a cork in place, a small amount of gas exchange occurs, but the wine is fully protected, and can develop and mature for decades.
Given the labor required to produce corks and the fact that they have been in use for thousands of years, it’s surprising that no one has come up with a ‘better way’. However, the qualities that make cork such an effective stopper are inherent in the material itself, thus no amount of development or modernization can best it. Cork is light, impermeable, chemically inert, and resistant to wear, rot, fire, and temperature extremes. Its compressibility (a cork can be squeezed to half its width) combined with its ‘elastic memory’ means that it exerts even pressure against the inside of the bottle neck, and can compensate for tiny imperfections in the surface of the glass which might otherwise allow unwanted transfer with the exterior environment.
Going back to our scenario in the opening paragraph, lets imagine you’ve opened your wine, tipped the juice into your glasses, and lowered your nose to the bowl to inhale a deep whiff of…wet dog. Some alternatively describe it as moldy newspaper or damp basement, but it’s universally accepted that whatever the sensory manifestation, the smell of cork taint is unpleasant. We’ve all heard someone refer to a bottle of wine as ‘corked’, and the technical explanation of this has to do with a fungus-produced compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA, that grows in cork fibers and is transferred into the wine. The compound enters the cork either through environmental pollution or as a result of chemicals used in the sterilization process, and these are what cause the TCA. Despite efforts from both US importers and Portuguese producers to control the condition, between three and seven percent of all bottles with natural corks are affected. This has led many wineries to go the route of alternative closures- either the synthetic cork or screwcaps. While both cheaper and easier to produce than natural corks, there is a considerable populace who staunchly opposes their use.
Let’s return once more to our scenario and consider for a moment replacing the charmingly antiquated act of uncorking a bottle of wine with that of simply unscrewing a cap. In the wine world, the cork represents so much more than utility; it is a part of the romance and appeal of wine as both a beverage and an historical entity, and many people are not willing to forgo that. Screwcaps also have a structural impact on wine, as they don’t provide the oxygen exchange allowed by real cork. This is perfectly suitable for the 70 percent of wine that’s consumed within three days of purchase; however wines meant to develop in the bottle require the real thing. Not only has cork proven its worth for hundreds of years, but it’s the most environmentally sound choice as well. The trees and forests from where cork originates are home to endemic wildlife and provide a livelihood for farmers and their families. Taking into account that wine is an industry and should consider functionality above all, it’s nonetheless hard to ignore these factors.
There will always be new trends and innovations in every sector of the beverage industry, but with such an auspicious timeline up until now, there’s little danger of any of these passing fancies supplanting natural cork as the wine closure of choice. Few natural products are as aptly suited for their use as cork. Whether for the science of oxidative versus reductive maturation, or the flourish of wielding a corkscrew and deftly opening a bottle, there is no lack of justification for keeping the cork firmly in place, so to speak. Whatever happens in the future, the cork has played an undeniably vital role in making wine what it is today, and we can all agree to drink to that.
After receiving her degree in Art History from the University of Vermont, Rebeccah Marsters decided to go to culinary school where she completed an associate’s degree in Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales in North Carolina. After, she began an internship at America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) in Brookline, MA and was later hired full-time at ATK and now work as Assistant Test Cook for Cook’s Country magazine where I develop and test recipes and produce the food for the magazine’s photo shoots.
Normally I have a jolly ole time writing these pieces while pleasantly inebriated; however this time I am coming to you in the midst of my first wine hangover in years. Not since the infamous O’Reilly Wedding Reception Debacle.
So what happens when you mix ’08 Orin Swift Prisoner, ’08 Merry Edwards RRV PN, ’07 Araujo Eisele Syrah, ’07 Invictus Cab, ’04 Stonestreet Reserve Cab and ’04 Schweiger Spring Mtn Merlot?
A big freakin’ headache/hangover, that’s what! But what a night at Morrell’s Wine Bar in Rockefeller Center…straight ballin’! Luckily I took today off.
With this being said, I will try to still be entertaining while we explore the wine world’s grand and not so grand events of the past couple weeks. But no promices.
The Turks – One would think that possessing the land that’s one of the likely origins of wine would motivate a country to embrace the wine industry. Wrong! For centuries, Turkey has fallen behind the rest of the wine world, largely due to Islamic views of alcohol. However, the years of Kemalist secularism are starting to pay-off in the wine world. No, Turkish wine won’t be competing against Chateau Latour anytime soon; however their wonderful indigenous grapes and improving winemaking capabilities are starting to be recognized on the international scene. Keep it up my noble brethren!
The Chinese – We all know about the consumption power (see LOSING); however everywhere I turn there is a new article about China’s award-winning wine, production prowess and innovation. With the lack of availability of their wines, I’ll continue to be underwhelmed (have only been exposed to one thus far and it was shit, a bottle of red from The Great Wall Wine Co.); however I’m sure they can put out a Mao Syrah or a Zhou Enlai Cab that will win me over. I just hope they show up in the States so we can try.
Treasury Wine Estates – If Constellation buys you, you are losing. As I’ve had the chance to read up on the small, high-end brand that was spun-off from Foster’s not too long ago, I began to enjoy the fact that this little company running a quality filled line was its own entity. Treasury’s portfolio includes such legends as Penfolds, Beringer, Stag’s Leap and a few other noteworthy producers. It would be unfortunate to lose a unique character in a largely homogenous and corporate wine world. And besides, everything that Constellation touches seems to lose some of its luster.
The Chinese – Chateau d’Yquem is just the latest in a long line of overpriced French wine that the Chinese cannot get enough of. Let’s not forget that these are the same toads that pay $700-800/bottle for Torbreck’s Laird. Create enough interest in anything and the Chinese will buy it by the truckload. Obviously not saying d’Yquem is bad, but be original people!
Me – My head’s throbbing, peace out!