04/20/15: Vintage Focus on BORDEAUX 2009

On Monday, April 20th at 7pm, please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for a Vintage Focus on Bordeaux 2009. Considered buy some to be the best of the three great vintages of the 2000s, 2009 in any belongs in the discussion. Discussion will include details of the vintage and how the wines are developing. We’ll taste through 12 excellent red wines, all from 2009 vintage.

The line up:
Ch. Ampelia, Cotes de Castillon,2009
Vieux Ch. St. Andre, Montagne St. Emilion, 2009
Ch. Pavie Macquin, St. Emilion, 2009
Gravette de Certan, Pomerol, 2009
Vieux Ch. Certan, Pomerol, 2009
Ch. Haut Bailly, Pessac Leognan, 2009
Ch. Bibian, Haut Medoc, 2009
Ch. Langoa Barton, St. Julien, 2009
Ch. Cantenac Brown, Margaux, 2009
Ch. Lacoste Borie, Pauillac, 2009
Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste, Pauillac, 2009
Ch. Calon Segur, St. Estephe, 2009

This Vintage Focus on Bordeaux 2009 will cost $120.00 per person (Cash or Check) or $126.32 regular. The class will meet at 7pm on Monday, April 20, 2015 at l’Alliance Française. To reserve your spot, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

Two February Wine Classes

Please join me for two new wine classes at The Wine School at l’Alliance Française. – Bear

02/09/15: VARIETAL FOCUS ON MALBEC
On Monday, February 9th at 7pm, please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for a Varietal Focus on Malbec. We will trace and taste Malbec from its homeland in the southwest of France to its new territories in Argentina and on to Chile and the US. Disscussion will include Malbec’s history, what makes it unique, and how it is made along with Malbec and food. Twelve Malbec wines will be tasted. The tasting will conclude with a couple of hundred-plus-dollar-a-bottle icon wines (one from France and one from Argentina).

The line up:
Pigmentum Malbec 2013
Alamos Malbec 2013
Montes Malbec Classic 2010
Ch. La Fleur De Haut Serre Malbec Cahors 2012
Achaval Ferrer Malbec 2013
Ch. de Mercues Malbec Cahors 2010
Cuvelier los Andes Malbec 2009
Fin Del Mundo Malbec Reserva 2012
Shannon Ridge Reserve Malbec 2010
Catena Zapata Malbec Argentino 2010
Ch. de Mercues Cuvee Icone 2009
Plus a surprise.

This Varietal Focus on Malbec will cost $60.00 per person (Cash or Check) or $63.16 regular. The class will meet at 7pm on Monday February 9th 2015 at l’Alliance Française. To reserve your spot, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or BearDalton@mac.com.

02/16/15: VINTAGE FOCUS ON BORDEAUX 2006
On Monday, February 16th at 7pm, please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton at the Wine School at l’Alliance Française for a Vintage Focus on Bordeaux 2006. As it is not 2005 or 2009, the 2006 vintage was initially under-rated by the press and has been ignored for the last several years. While 2006 is not a “Great Vintage,” it is a “Classic Vintage” that is now coming into its own as the wines emerge from the dumb stage. What is a “Classic Vintage?” One that shows what put Bordeaux on the world wine map. Which is to say a vintage in which each wine shows the typicity and terroir of the place. Discussion will include details of the vintage and how the wines have developed. We’ll taste through 12 excellent red wines, all from 2006 vintage.

The line up:
Ch Cap De Faugeres Cotes de Castillon 2006
Ch Pavie Macquin St Emilion 2006
Vieux Ch Certan Pomerol 2006
Ch Les Carmes Haut Brion Pessac Leognan Rouge 2006
Ch Haut Bergey Pessac Leognan Rouge 2006
Ch Cantemerle Haut Medoc 2006
Ch Potensac Medoc 2006
Ch Branaire Ducru St Julien 2006
Ch Batailley Pauillac 2006
Ch Calon Segur St Estephe 2006
Ch Rauzan Segla Margaux 2006
Ch Grand Puy Lacoste Pauillac 2006

This Vintage Focus on Bordeaux 2006 will cost $100.00 per person (Cash or Check) or $105.26 regular. The class will meet at 7pm on Monday February 16th 2015 at l’Alliance Française. To reserve your spot, please contact Susan at 713-854-7855 or coburnsusan2@gmail.com.

L’Alliance Française is the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose).

UPDATED – ANNUAL “MOSTLY CRU CLASSÉ” BORDEAUX TASTING at the Crystal Ballroom at the Rice

On Tuesday, January 20, 2015, please join Spec’s as we host 45 Bordeaux chateau owners, directors, and/or winemakers presenting 65 mostly Cru Classé Bordeaux wines all from the 2012 vintage in a walk-around tasting format at the Crystal Ballroom at the Rice. This is our fourth time to host such a delegation from Bordeaux. As each of the last three years’ events were smashing successes, the chateaux are coming back and they are bringing friends – so we will be showing more wines. Please scroll down for the complete list of well-known and highly-regarded chateaux.

The tasting will open at 4:30pm and run until 8:30pm, giving tasters ample time to taste the wines and visit with our guests from Bordeaux. The tasting will include a spread of artisanal cheeses and breads chosen to help absorb the wines and refresh the palate. We will taste from Riedel Degustazione (tasting) glasses. The 2012 Cru Classé Bordeaux Tasting will cost $80.00 total per person cash ($84.21 regular). To reserve your spot for this unique Bordeaux Event, please call Marlo at 832-660-0250 or email MarloAmmons@specsonline.com. The Crystal Ballroom at the Rice is located in downtown Houston at 909 Texas Avenue between Travis and Main. Valet Parking will be available.

THE WINES:
Dry Whites: Ch. Martinon (Entre Deux Mers), Carbonnieux, Domaine de Chevalier, and Smith Haut Lafitte (all Pessac Leognan Blanc).
Sweet Whites: Ch. Coutet (Barsac) and Suduiraut (with Lions de Suduiraut – both Sauternes)
Haut Medoc: Camensac, Cantemerle, Chasse Spleen, La Tour Carnet, Mauvesin, and Senejac
Margaux: Chx. Cantenac Brown, Ferriere, Brane Cantenac (and Baron de Brane).
Pauillac: Chx. d’Armailhac, Clerc Milon, Lynch Bages (with Echo de Lynch Bages), Haut Batailley, Grand Puy Lacoste (with Lacoste Borie), Haut Bages Liberal, Pibran, Pichon Baron, Pichon Lalande (with Reserve de la Comtesse)
Pessac Leognan Rouge: Chx. Carbonnieux, Clos Marsalette, Domaine de Chevalier, Pape Clément and Smith Haut Lafitte
Pomerol: Chx. Clinet, le Croix St. Georges, Gazin, La Pointe (with Pomerol de la Pointe)
St. Emilion: Chx. Grand Corbin Despagne, Berliquet, Canon La Gaffeliere and Clos de l’Oratoire, la Confession, Daugay, Fombrauge, Larcis Ducasse, Pavie MacQuin, and Vieux Clos St. Emilion.
St. Julien: Chx. Branaire Dudru, Gloria and St. Pierre, Hortevie, Langoa-Barton and Leoville-Barton, Leoville-Poyferre, and Talbot
Other Appellations: Chx. le Conseiller, Croix Mouton, and 20 Mille (all Bordeaux), Ampélia and d’Aiguilhe (both Castillon), and Puygueraud (Francs)

Save The Date: Wine Trip to Champagne and Bordeaux

May 22 through May 31, 2015
For a Wine Trip to Champagne and Bordeaux

The Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux

The Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux

Your job is to be at Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport in Paris by 10am Friday morning, May 22, 2015.

My job is to get you from there (via Luxury Coach – aka “the bus”) to Champagne where we will visit 6-7 Champagne houses (J.P. Marniquet, Louis Sacy, Perrier-Jouet, Bonnaire, Bollinger, etc.), eat and drink well, and stay at the five-star Hostellerie La Briqueterie. On Sunday, we’ll take a train (TGV) to Bordeaux where we will be staying at the four-star Pullman Hotel Bordeaux Lac located on the north-side of the city where we will have easy access to all the roads leading to the chateaux. Monday and Tuesday will find us in the Medoc (Margaux, St. Julien, Pauillac, and St. Estephe) visiting the likes of Leoville Barton, Leoville Poyferre, Batailley, Cantenac Brown, Pontet Canet, Pichon Baron, Pichon Lalande, Calon Segur, Montrose, Pontac Lynch, Senejac, Branaire Ducru, etc. On Wednesday we’ll be in Pessac Leognan and Sauternes visiting properties such as Smith Haut Lafitte, Carbonnieux, Coutet, Haut Bailly, etc.

St. Emilion

St. Emilion

On Thursday and Friday, we will be on the Right Bank visiting the likes of Croix St. Georges, Vieux Ch. Certan, Figeac, Canon La Gaffeliere, Laplagnotte Bellevue, Canon, Daugay, Pavie MacQuin, and Puygueraud. Saturday will be a mix of wine and tourism with a concluding dinner. Each day in Bordeaux will include breakfast at the hotel and lunches and dinners, mostly at the chateaux. Sunday morning will bring an early morning flight back to Paris to fly home that day. Once you are on the plane from Bordeaux to Paris (or not if you chose to extend your trip), my job is done.

We will leave the hotel about 8:30-to-9am each morning and will return after dinner by about 10:30-11pm (unless we are dining at the hotel). This is a wine intensive trip with unusual access to great properties and their wines.

Sarah Donaho of Frosch Travel and I are teaming up to get the hotels, transport, meals, logistics, and most importantly winery visits coordinated. From lunch on Friday May 22 through dinner on Saturday May 30, all meals and wines are included. We should have the budget completed in the next 7-10 days. All of the payments will be through Frosch. At this time, my educated guess is that the cost (double occupancy) will be under $5000 per person (Airfare to/from France not included). The single supplement likely will be in the neighborhood of $900. This trip will be limited to 30 total travelers (including me).

More information soon.
Inquiries should be directed to BearDalton@mac.com and sarah.donaho@frosch.com.

I’m Back (with a Bordeaux Master Class)

I’m back. Back from Bordeaux (to taste the surprising 2013 vintage), back from being ill, back to blogging, and back to teaching about wine. Coming right up, I have a four week Bordeaux Master Class at l’Alliance Francaise. Here are the details:

The Wine School at l’Alliance Française presents
A BORDEAUX MASTER CLASS
Beginning on Monday, April 14, 2014

Please join Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton for this four-week in-depth look at the wines of Bordeaux. We will examine the intricacies and differences to be found in an area with over 50 sub-appellations and over 8,000 producers. It is appropriate both for those developing their interest in Bordeaux and as a refresher for those who want to organize their tasting and thinking about or better understand Bordeaux. We will discuss appellation, terroir, tradition, style, and technique. The wines tasted will be served in Riedel Degustazione stemware. A selection of cheeses and bread will be offered during each class.

Week 1 (4/14/14): “The Last Stuff you Think About When You Think About Bordeaux”
Bordeaux Sparkling, Bordeaux Blanc, Pink Bordeaux, and Basic Bordeaux Rouge. The Bordeaux Cotes. 12 wines will be tasting including a treat that will foreshadow Week 4. (Trocard Cremant de Bordeaux NV, Ch. Penin Bordeaux Blanc 2012, Ch. Martinon Entre Deux Mers 2012, Ch. Charmes Godard, Cotes de Francs 2009, Ch. Penin Bordeaux Clairet 2012, Ch. Penin Tradition Bordeaux 2011, Demoiselles Falfas Cotes De Bourg 2011, Ch. Cantinot Cotes De Blaye 1er Cru 2009, Ch. Puygueraud Bordeaux Cotes De Francs 2010, Ch. Grand Village Bordeaux Superieur 2010, Ch. Grand Peyruchet Loupiac 2008 – plus the treat)

Week 2 (4/21/14): South of Town: The Origin of Bordeaux (or “The Other Left Bank”)
Graves, Pessac Leognan, and Sauternes. (Ch. d’Archambeau Graves Blanc 2012, Ch. Carbonnieux Pessac Leognan Blanc 2011, Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac Leognan Blanc 2011, Ch. d’Archambeau Graves Rouge 2009, Ch. Haut Vigneau Pessac Leognan 2010, Ch. Carbonnieux Rouge Pessac Leognan 2011, Ch. Smith Haut Lafitte Pessac Leognan Rouge 2008, Ch. Haut Bailly Pessac Leognan Rouge 2011, Ch. Haut Mayne Graves Superieures Demi Sec 2010, Haut Charmes Sauternes 6/cs 2009, Ch. De Fargues Sauternes 2002

Week 3 (4/28/14): The Right Bank
Fronsac, Castillon, the Satellites, St. Emilion, and Pomerol (Ch. La Vieille Cure Fronsac 2001, Ch. Vieux Ch. St Andre Montagne St Emilion 2010, Ch. Laborde Cuvee 1628 Lalande De Pomerol 2008, Ch. Ampelia Cotes De Castillon 2011, Ch. D’aiguilhe Cotes De Castillon 2009, Ch. Laplagnotte Bellvue St Emilion 2010, Ch. Grand Corbin Despagne St Emilion 2009, Ch. La Confession St Emilion 2004, Ch. Larcis Ducasse St Emilion 2011, Ch. La Croix St Georges Pomerol 2010, Ch. Clinet Pomerol 2011

Week 4 (5/05/14): The Left Bank (the Medoc)
The Medoc and all its appellations. (Ch. Tour St Bonnet Medoc 2010, Ch. Pontoise Cabarrus Haut Medoc 2010, Les Brulieres De Beychevelle 2009, Ch. Senejac Haut Medoc 2010, Ch. Fourcas Borie Listrac 2008, Ch. Brane Cantenac Margaux 2011, Ch. Beau-Site St Estephe 2010, Amiral de Beychevelle 2009 and Ch. Beychevelle St Julien 2009, Ch. Lacoste Borie Pauillac 2009 and Ch. Grand Puy Lacoste Pauillac 2009)

This four-week Bordeaux Master Class will cost $250 total per person cash ($263.16 regular) for all four sessions. The course will meet at 7pm on Mondays April 14, 21, 28, and May 5 of 2014. To reserve your spot for this four-week class, please contact Marlo Ammons at 832-660-0250 or MarloAmmons@specsonline.com. All sessions of this class will be held at l’Alliance Française, the French cultural center in Houston. Located at 427 Lovett Blvd., l’Alliance is on the southeast corner of Lovett and Whitney (one block south of Westheimer and two blocks east of Montrose)

With over 35 years in the wine business and 30 years experience teaching about wine, Spec’s Bear Dalton is one of the top wine authorities in Texas. He is certified by the Conseil Interprofessionnel du Vin de Bordeaux (CIVB) as an “International Bordeaux Educator.” Over the last 18 years, he has visited Bordeaux 27 times (spending over 35 weeks there) to taste and learn about the wines of Bordeaux. Bear knows Bordeaux.

Oh no! Not Another Learning Opportunity!

Actually not one but two learning opportunities await below.

The best way to learn about wine is to taste and here are two opportunities to taste a lot of wine. The first is a four night (spread over 4 weeks) Wine Basics class designed for both the beginner and the more experienced taster who wants an organizational framework for what he knows. The second is a one-night immersion into great Bordeaux. Both are not-to-be-missed experiences.

WINE 101:
A Four-Week Course on Wine Basics beginning on Monday, January 6, 2014
Please join me, Spec’s fine wine buyer Bear Dalton, for this four-week Wine Basics course. “Wine 101” is appropriate both for those just developing their interest in wine and for those who feel the need for a good review to help organize their tasting and thinking about wine. This class also would be a good place to start for a service professional looking to move more into the wine side of the restaurant business or anyone looking to move into the wholesale or retail wine trade. As wine from all over the world is now so readily available, the 40 wines we will taste over the four-week class will come from all over the world. All tasting will be from Riedel Degustazione stemware.  (READ MORE)

2011 (Mostly) CRU CLASSÉ BORDEAUX TASTING
At the CRYSTAL BALLROOM at the Rice
On Tuesday, January 21, 2014, Spec’s will host approximately Bordeaux chateau owners, directors, and/or winemakers presenting 60 mostly Cru Classé Bordeaux wines all from the 2011 vintage in a standup- and-walk-around tasting format. This is our third time to host a delegation from Bordeaux. The last two year’s events were smashing successes so the chateaux are back and they are bringing fiends so we will be showing more wines. The list of well-known and highly regarded wineries has come together. The tasting will open at 4:30pm and run until 8:30pm, giving tasters ample time to taste the wines and visit with our guests from Bordeaux. (READ MORE)

Decanter Rules

IF YOU TALK TO THE WINE EXPERTS (that would be me and pretty much everyone else who thinks he is), at some point someone will tell you that you need to decant a particular wine. It might be a young red or an old red. It might even be a young white burgundy or, perhaps rather shockingly, an old bottle of Champagne. You will note that at the most basic level, there are two reasons to decant a wine: because it is young and because it is old. As you might guess, each gets different treatment.

Reidel Duck Decanter

Young wines are often decanted because the need air. The need air in the sense of oxygenation as opposed to oxidation (but of course too much oxygenation leads to oxidation. When many wines are young, they often show “tight” or “closed” which is to say that they don’t show much at all. They need aeration to help work some oxygen into the wine and allow the volatile gasses that make up aroma and flavor to emerge. You can achieve this through pouring the young wine into large glasses and swirling but enough swirling of this sort to really open up the wine can be tiresome. Rather than swirling in the glass, it can be better dump the bottle in to a large decanter where a large surface area allows a lot of air contact. The two most common vessels for this sort of decanting are Duck Decanters and Captain’s or Ship’s decanters. Both have large surface areas and each has it’s own advantages. Duck decanters are much easier to pour.

Bormioli Captain’s Decanter

Ship’s decanters can be swirled to further enhance the oxygenation of the wine they hold. Duck decanters are not at all suited for swirling. And Ship’s decanters can be awkward to pour, especially as you get toward the end of the wine. At home I sometimes use a simple one liter glass carafe as a decanter for a young red that needs a rough splash of oxygenation. The technique here is to pour the young wine (usually a red but a tight young Chardonnay from Burgundy’s Cote de Beaune or Chablis or even a top California Chardonnay such as Hanzell or Stony Hill can be a candidate) roughly into a large container with a bit of splashing. For a really young red, you might roll it from the first decanter into a second decanter for another splash of air. Then the wine can sit in the decanter breathing for another hour or more. (Please see below for a note on “breathing.”)

Older red wines need to be decanted not to add air but to remove sediment, or more precisely to move the wine off of the sediment. As red wines age, the phenols (tannins, anthocyans, flavonoids) polymerize (link up into molecular chains) which ultimately get too big to stay in suspension in the liquid and so precipitate out into a grainy or even gritty dark sediment or deposit. There is nothing wrong with this and it certainly won’t hurt you to ingest it but it is ugly in the glass and can cloud the wine if it is swirled up into it. And the texture in the mouth is not all that pleasant either. So it is best to decant older wines that have “thrown a sediment” in the bottle. Who are the candidates for decanting? Vintage Port and red Bordeaux are the first things that come to mind but any age-worthy red with eight or more years in the bottle can be a candidate. As these wines are older and have (we hope) developed with bottle age, the do not generally need any aeration. Some, especially wines based on Syrah and, to a lesser extent, Cabernet Sauvignon can be a bit “reduced” (Please see note below on Oxidation and Reduction) so they may need a little air to open up even after some years of aging but that aeration can generally be better gained in the glass rather than in the decanter.

Godinger Dublin Decanter

So how do you go about decanting an older wine? In addition to the bottle of older wine and a good corkscrew, you’ll need three things: an appropriately-sized decanter, a small flashlight, and a decanting funnel (not to be confused with an aerating funnel). An “appropriately sized decanter is one that closely approximates the capacity (if not the shape) of the bottle you are decanting. Ideally, you are decanting a 750ml bottle into a decanter that can hold a smidge more than 750ml. (A “smidge” is less than a “skosh” which in turn is less than a “bit.”  But I digress …) Use a single bottle decanter or, in a pinch, use an old clear wine or Champagne bottle. The small flashlight replaces the traditional candle on which I have occasionally singed a finger. A flashlight may lack the romance of a candle but a good one is brighter and more effective at showing you when the sediment begins to move in the bottle from which you are pouring. The proper decanting funnel has a crook at the end of the spout so as to guide the wine to the side of the decanter to run down to the bottom thus avoiding splashing and unwanted aeration. Someone decanting a particularly old bottle may want to first purge the air from the decanter by spraying in an inert gas mixture such as those found in “Private Preserve” or “Vineyard Fresh.” By replacing the air in the decanter with inert gas, you further reduce the possibility of oxidizing a precious older vintage.

If you know well in advance that you are going to open a particular bottle, stand it up for a day or even two before the big event. Even a couple of hours up right is a good thing. Ideally, this standing will take place in your temperature-controlled wine storage cabinet, closet, or cellar. When you stand the bottle up, be gentle and make note of which side of the bottle was down when it was laying in the rack, box, or bin. Just before you open the bottle, make sure the decanter is clean and dry with no off smells. If you are going to, now is the time to gas the decanter. Stand it up and then put the funnel into the mouth of the decanter. Now gently open the bottle taking special care with the cork. Generally, I prefer to use a “pull-tabs” corkscrew but when opening older wines I prefer the Screwpull waiter’s model. Whatever you do, don’t jar or knock around the bottle as you are likely to cloud the wine with too much movement. After the bottle is open, gently turn the bottle so that the side that was down in the rack is closest to the decanter. Now lift and gently, slowly, steadily pour the wine from the bottle into the decanting funnel as you shine the flashlight up from below the shoulder of the bottle to illuminate the wine as it passes. When sediment begins to move toward or into the neck of the bottle, you will see it. At that point, stop pouring and gently set the bottle down. If all went well, you have about 90% or more of the contents of the bottle in the decanter and the decanter is filled up into the neck. Now stopper the decanter and the wine is ready to be moved to the table or to a sideboard for service.

As to Champagne, why on earth would you decant Champagne? Well, it turns out that not everyone likes ALL that fizz and many may appreciate Champagne as much or more as a wine as they do as a sparkling wine. Gently decanting Champagne as described for aged reds above will reduce the fizz by 15 to 20% (but by no means eliminate it) and give the wine a chance to take on a bit of air and so open up which increases its “vinousity” or wine character. I don’t do it often (especially not at home as my wife is a fizz fan) but I have been known to decant champagne both young and old. One of my dirty little secrets is that I like my Champagne a bit less fizzy and a bit warmer (say 50-55°F) than the accepted norm. Decanting can help me get there.

Why decant? Because young or old, red, white, or sparkling, decanting can increase your enjoyment of the wines you drink. More wines will benefit from decanting than you may realize so it’s a good idea to keep a couple of basic decanters or even just a few clear empy bottle and glass carafes around. Just be sure to use the right size and shape decanter and the right technique for the age and type of wine you are preparing to enjoy.

BREATHING

The point of long bottle aging of certain wines (such as red Bordeaux and Burgundy, Vintage port, Northern Rhone Syrah, Chateauneuf du Pape, Rioja, and others) is to let them naturally develop from aromas to bouquet, from simple to complex, and from youthful freshness to fascinating maturity. These wines can be said to be age-worthy. Not all wines develop in this way and so these others should be drunk young. Also, we sometimes want to drink age-worthy wines before they are fully mature. In either case, young wines should be treated and served differently than mature wines.

Since these young wines have not had a chance to develop in the bottle, they will often benefit from air contact. Working air into a young wine, whether by an intentionally rough decanting, extended breathing, or swirling the wine in the glass allows the aromas and flavors to develop more than simply pouring the wine into the glass and tasting or drinking. As the wine is exposed to the air it develops and “opens up.” While this is the beginning stage of oxidation, many in the wine trade call this beneficial air exposure “oxygenation.”

For many younger wines, swirling the wine the glass may be sufficient. If the wine is particularly tight or very young, more vigorous swirling, a rough decanting, or an extended period of breathing – either in a decanter or in the glass – may be called for. More vigorous swirling is fine for tastings but may not be the best solution for a wine to be enjoyed at the dinner table.

OXIDATION & REDUCTION

When oxygen combines with compounds in wine, those compounds can pick up one or more oxygen atoms and become “oxidized”. These new compounds have different sensory characteristics. For example, when ethanol (the main alcohol found in wine) is oxidized it becomes acetaldehyde – which in turn can be oxidized to form acetic acid. Each smells different.

Similarly, polyphenols (tannins, anthocyans, and flavonoids) can be oxidized to quinones, and metals such as copper, iron, and manganese can be transformed from Cu+ to Cu2+, Fe2+ to Fe3+, and Mn2+ to Mn3+, respectively.

Reduction is the opposite of oxidation; it is a process whereby compounds lose oxygen atoms. Since wine fermention is an anaerobic process (without oxygen), a number of “reduced” compounds are produced. Reduced sulfur and nitrogen compounds such as hydrogen sulfide and mercaptans, are well-known for the negative “reduced” or “reductive” characteristics they give to wines. A little aeration after opening the bottle often cures what ails’em.

WINE PRESERVATION

Gently decant them into a clean decanter or clean empty wine bottle. There are two types of decanters: those for aerating young wine and those for decanting older wines that would be damaged by aeration. If you use a decanter, use the kind for older wines. YOu do not want the decanted wine to have a large surface area.

Rinse the original bottle very thoroughly with cold water and thoroughly drain it.

With minimal splashing, return the decanted Port to its original bottle.

Pour the wine and then gas (with Private Preserve or other nitrogen and/or argon-based wine preservation gas) and stopper what is left in the bottle.

Or you can decant and then pour from and gas the decanter, as long as it has a stopper. Gassed and stoppered decanters can keep the Port as well as a gassed and stoppered bottle. Or, if you know you will drink half the bottle, you can fill (from the decanter) a half bottle and then gas and stopper it and save this half bottle for another day. As long as you gas the wine early and seal it, it will keep for at least a week. It will keep even better if you keep it in the refrigerator (but not in the door).

You can use these same techniques for decanting and preserving any bottle of wine. The key to success is to expose the wine to as little air as possible. Decant gently using a funnel that runs the wine down the side of the bottle rather than one that sprays the wine out. The truly concerned wine geek might gas the empty decanter before decanting to displace the air from the decanter to further diminish the effect of oxygen. It is best to use a decanter that will be filled into the narrow neck to minimize surface area where the wine can be in contact with air.

I’ve tried every other technique I have heard of to preserve opened wine. Gassing and refrigerating the wine is the way to go.

I’M BACK: Where I’ve Been and Some Thoughts on Bottle Variation

After not posting a blog entry during three weeks of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and then two weeks spent traveling and tasting in Bordeaux, I’m back. Back both from the Rodeo (aka “the Show”) and Bordeaux and also back to BearOnWine.com. And it’s not like I didn’t drink anything worth reporting on in all that time. I had a lot of Champagne and other sparkling wines (Champagne Friday Update to follow) and so much Bordeaux I have literally lost count (likely several posts to follow on both the 2011 Bordeaux Vintage and Bordeaux in general). I even drank some excellent Italian wine (with pizza at Peppone in Bordeaux). However, there are only so many hours in a day and posting a blog entry is further down my priority list than, for instance, sleeping at least five hours a night.

Red Ransom getting a cookie while meeting a special cowboy named Tynan.

The RODEO WEEKS
In addition to trying to keep my head above water at Spec’s (you know, that “day job” that makes all the fun stuff possible), I rode Red Ransom (my new “Quarter-Walker”) in 17 of the Show’s 20 grand entries, got to meet a special young cowboy named Tynan, worked the Champion Wine Auction, taught 8 wine seminars in the Champion Wine Garden (four on Champagne, two on French wine and and two on Pinot Noir), and hosted several winemakers and winery owners as well as Spec’s owner Lindy Rydman and her daughter Lisa Key at the Rodeo. And I know I drank a dent into the supply of Laetitia Brut Rose while frequenting the Champion Wine Garden.

BOTTLE VARIATION
While helping with the Show’s Champion Wine Auction Dinner, I tasted every bottle of Antinori Guado Al Tasso 2007 and every bottle of the Costers del Ros L’Obila Priorat 2004 (The Grand and Reserve Grand Champion Best of Show winners from the 2012 Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition) that were served at said dinner. Why? Because the dinner’s organizers wanted to be sure that none of the bottles served to the guests were corked or otherwise flawed. How many is “every”? About 90 bottles of each. While I found only two technically flawed bottles (one of each wine, both suffering from TCA or “cork taint”), the exercise proved to be very interesting. In both wines, there was a LOT of bottle variation. The bottles ranged form sublime to, well, frankly earthy and a bit disappointing. While I wasn’t keeping formal score, I’d say that in both cases somewhat more than third of the bottles were lovely (which is to say better than expected), about a third were perfectly acceptable (about as expected but not so good-vibrant-alive as the “lovelies”) and somewhat less than  a third were (in varying degrees) frankly earthy and even a bit funky (but not technically flawed in the sense of showing TCA, TBA, oxidation, etc.) but still drinkable and for the most part enjoyable. Some of my younger friends might say that the least desirable of these “tasted like ass”. Had I ordered either of these wines in a restaurant, I would have accepted (and likely drunk) all of them except the two corked bottles. However, if my only experience with the wines were the earthy/funky bottles (and none of the “acceptables” or “lovelies”), I might never have ordered them again. While the earthier bottles showed no obvious technical flaw, they were less good and did not justify their price.

This was really interesting as it is very rare for anyone to have the opportunity to taste so many examples of the same wine from the same vintage at the same time. Because I was tasting (and spitting) the wines at the rate of two or three or more per minute (others were opening and pouring the bottles), I had an immediate frame of reference. It was only because of that situation that the differences stood out and revealed themselves as due to bottle variation and not some other factor. I do not think this is an isolated case. While tasting at Joanne in Bordeaux last week, I occasionally bumped into a funky sample. When I asked for a different sample, the new bottle was better every time. These samples (at least in theory) were pulled and bottled at the same time and stored under the same conditions, just as (presumably) the Guado and l’Obila were. And yet there was variation.

While I don’t know of an economically feasible way to further research this (other than finding similar situations where a lot of bottles of the same wine are being poured at a big dinner or event), I think bottle variation across a large sampling is something to look into. The wines I tasted at the Champion Auction Dinner certainly opened my eyes.

The tower at Ch. Latour from the terrace at Ch. Pichon Lalande.

BORDEAUX 2011
As to my trip to Bordeaux, where do I begin? Two weeks of tasting much of the best as well as much of “the best of the rest.” Yes, I readily acknowledge that I have the best job in the world. There is a bit more to it than tasting in Bordeaux every year but that makes up for a lot of time crunching spreadsheets, drilling through databases, and tasting a lot of not so sexy (or even very good) wine. You gotta kiss a lotta frogs. But I digress … To but it bluntly, 2011 in Bordeaux is a better red wine vintage (at least fine) than you’ve probably heard or read. At least that is the case with wines from the better producers. 2011 is an excellent vintage for dry white Bordeaux, again at least from the better producers. 2011 Sauternes is a bit more spotty but there are some lovelies, especially Ch. d’Yquem which ROCKED MY WORLD. Unlike 2005 and 2009, 2011 is not a vintage to buy from just any chateau. For the reds at least, it is more like 2008 (and in my unwanted and certainly unsolicited opinion (with a few notable exceptions) should be priced like 2oo8.

At their best (and there are plenty of wines in this category), the 2011 Bordeaux reds offer more red (usually much more red) than black fruit with notes of tobacco (on the Cabernet-dominant wines), mineral-earth (Merlot-dominant) and (sometimes) graphite. The best 2011 Bordeaux whites offered ripe citrus and tropical fruit (sometimes bordering on or moving into the exotic range often swirled in with mineral) sometimes from gravel but more often from clay over limestone. Even the value picks offered ripe citrus and at least some mineral. IF the prices are right (and the rumor is that the 2011 will be comparable to the 2008 prices as futures – here’s hoping that happens), these 2011s will offer great buys in elegant, balanced, fruit forward but classically structured Bordeaux. And we all need wines like that.

Announcing a 2009 Bordeaux Tasting

2009 Cru Classé Bordeaux Tasting

at the InterContinental Hotel

On January 19th, 2012, Spec’s will host over thirty Bordeaux chateau owners, directors, and/or winemakers presenting forty top-appellation Bordeaux wines all from the excellent 2009 vintage in a standup-and-walk-around tasting format. This is the first time Houston has ever hosted such a delegation from Bordeaux. The event will be held at the INTER-CONTINENTAL HOTEL. The list of well-known and highly regarded wineries has come together nicely.

The tasting will open at 4:30pm and run until 8:30pm, giving tasters ample time to taste the wines and visit with our guests from Bordeaux. The tasting will include a spread of artisanal cheeses and breads chosen to help absorb the wines and refresh the palate. We will be tasting from Riedel Degustazione glasses.

For more information, please go to
https://bearonwine.com/upcoming-events/2009-cru-classe-bordeaux-tasting-at-the-intercontinental-hotel/

Announcing a new Wine 101 class

The Wine School at l’Alliance Française presents

WINE 101: A Four-Week Course on Wine Basics

Please join Spec’s corporate fine wine buyer Bear Dalton for this four-week Wine Basics course. “Wine 101” is designed both for those just developing their interest in wine and those who feel the need for a good review to help organize their tasting and thinking about wine. This class also would be a good place to start for a service professional looking to move more into the wine side of the restaurant business or anyone looking to move into the wholesale or retail wine trade. As wine from all over the world is now so readily available, the 40 wines we will taste over the four-week class will come from all over the world.  The four-week Wine 101 will cost $220.00 total per person cash ($231.58 regular) for all four sessions. The course will meet at 7pm on Monday January 23, January 30, February 6, and February 13 of 2012.

For details and complete information, please go to
https://bearonwine.com/upcoming-events/wine-101-a-four-week-course-on-wine-basics/