June 25, 2014
May 27, 2014
For me, this year’s Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival started last Thursday at Champ de Reves, which translates as Field of Dreams, in Philo. Dr. Edmeades planted the first Pinot Noir grapes in the Anderson Valley 50 years ago, and started making, selling wine from his grapes in 1972. In 1988, Jackson Family Wines, the empire Kendall-Jackson built, bought Edmeades and now it has been rechristened Champ de Reves. The location and the view of a big chunk of the valley was gorgeous. The wines were selected by winery owners from throughout the valley and the dinner of carved roast beef and plank salmon was made spectacular by both their wines and their company.
I was fortunate and sat with Allan Green of Greenwood Ridge; Mary Elke of Elke; Douglas Stewart of Lichen; John Osborne, an event volunteer; and Laura Barnard, who works in marketing for Jackson Family Wines’ West Burgundy Wine Group, of which Champ de Reves is just one winery. After dinner we were also joined in conversation by Paula Viehmann of Goldeneye.
Friday morning started early with coffee and a selection of quiches prepared by Julia Kendrick Conway, as winemakers, press, and consumers gathered at the fairgrounds in Boonville for a technical conference. Greg Walter, publisher of the Pinot Report, introduced the morning’s sessions, which featured The Nature Conservancy’s Jason Pelletier sharing the results of an incredibly detailed study on water flow and water use throughout the year. The study focused on grape growing water demands within the Navarro watershed and then segued into a similar talk by Jennifer Carah, but with a focus on marijuana growing water demands. Unsurprisingly, marijuana growths use much more water — 19 to 50 times more — for production, and do not share the same land and water stewardship ethos as many grape growers. This is especially significant in drought years like this year.
Glenn McGourty gave a talk on best practices for grape growing during a drought year, or years. Winemakers in attendance were certainly leaning forward during this session. Lunch was delicious, prepared by Boont Berry Farm and paired with a huge selection of Pinot Noir from the Anderson Valley. After lunch, there were two tasting sessions. The first focused on the many faces of Pinot Noir and featured Arnaud Weyrich’s zero skin contact Pinot Noir, picked early, and briskly acidic for Roederer’s bubbly; Alex Crangle’s White Noir for Balo; the Dry Rose of Pinot Noir by Jim Klein of Navarro; the round, rich red Pinot Noir by Anthony Filiberti of Knez; and the purple dark version made by Michael Fay of Goldeneye.
Next, we looked at the fruit of Angel Camp Vineyard and how different winemakers used it to make distinctly different wines; the winemakers and wineries featured were Brian Zalaznik of Angel Camp, Dan Goldfield of Dutton Goldfield, and Anne Moller-Racke of Donum. The technical conference ended with a sharing of accumulated extensive knowledge by Clark Smith on the arcana of winemaking.
Friday night’s dinner was a barbecue at Foursight Winery with grilled lamb from Bone Daddy of Bones Roadhouse and music by Dean Titus & The Cowboys. Relaxed, fun, another delicious event with enough Pinot Noir to fill an Olympic sized swimming pool, I sat with folks from Southern California and Washington who heard about the event from someone they ran into in the Middle East. It turns out I knew who they were talking about, John Gaudette. The world of wine is close and doesn’t need a full six degrees of separation to connect us all, I’m convinced.
Saturday morning, Margaret Pedroni, Mendocino County wine personality, joined me at Balo in Philo for an early private press tasting. The Ukiah Daily Journal was represented beside tasters from Wine Enthusiast, Wine Spectator, Wine & Spirits, Connoisseurs’ Guide, San Francisco Chronicle, Examiner, Pinot Report, Pinot File, and more. Heads down, no talking, serious tasting. I’ve done it before, but I preferred the fun and conviviality of the Grand Tasting that followed at Goldeneye.
Goldeneye has a breathtakingly beautiful tasting room and the Grand Tasting event was held behind the tasting room under the shade of a huge white tent in their vineyards. About 750 ticketed guests Pinot Noir based wines; bubblies, blancs, roses, and full on reds; from all of the producers in Anderson Valley and a few producers from farther away who make one or more wines exclusively from Anderson Valley Pinot Noir grapes. Not too big, not too small, but just right, with opportunities to place silent auction bids on donated Pinot-centric items to help the Anderson Valley Health Center, plenty of exceptional food bites, water and soda to remain hydrated, and the fermented juice of Pinot Noir grapes from 45 producers to experience.
I tasted more than 100 wines over the course of the weekend, one was corked and poured at the press tasting but I had tasted it elsewhere already, one didn’t really make me love it, but the vast majority of wines I tasted, over 99 percent, were good at least and great at best. The 2011 vintage wines were brighter and more elegant, coming from a cooler year and the 2012 vintage, being warmer, yielded wines of greater weight and intensity. All of the wines taste of cherry, that is Pinot Noir, but the expressions were varied: black cherry, red cherry, candied cherry, dried cherry, and the supporting notes ranged the gamut from rose petal to cedar, and mushroom to barnyard funk. Some of the Pinot Noir I loved included the 2012 Fel Wines, Ferrington Vineyard; 2007 Elke Pinot Noir, Donnelly Creek Vineyard; 2011 Witching Stick, Cerise Vineyard; 2011 Williams Selyem, Ferrington Vineyard; 2011 Donum, Angel Camp Vineyard; 2012 Baxter, Anderson Valley; 2011 Goldeneye, Gowan Creek Vineyard; 2012 Waits-Mast, Deer Meadow’s Vineyard; and both the 2012 Lichen, Estate and Solera Lichen, Estate. That’s my unordered top 10 for this past weekend.
I urge you to visit the Anderson Valley, taste their Pinot Noir, and their other wines, notably Alsatian varietals like Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Riesling, and find your favorites. Also mark the third weekend of May next year on your calendar and plan on attending the 18th annual Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival next year. Huge thanks to my hosts, the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association, and Janis MacDonald and Kristy Charles specifically, for the kind invitation and warm welcome. I had a terrific weekend because you present a first class festival.
March 20, 2014
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If you read this column, you know that I love wine, and I love food, but I really love wine and food together. I’ve written about the Chef’s Wine Dinners at Crush, each one featuring a different winery or brand: Saracina, Barra and Girasole, Bonterra, and Coro Mendocino. I wrote about the crab and bubbly pairing at Patrona that featured the sparkling wines of Roederer Estate. At the insistence of you, the folks who read this column, I ate at Uncorked, pairing a variety of plates with a flight of different wines. Up next, I’ll enjoy Testa Wines at Saucy in Ukiah during a four course wine dinner on Wednesday, March 26 starting at 6 p.m. The cost is only $60, includes wine and food, but does not include tax or gratuity.
This is a working menu and may change before the dinner, but it should inspire you to call and reserve a spot at the dinner. First course: Bosc pear, ricotta and rosemary ravioli in a dreamy sauce; served with Testa White, a blend of Sauvingon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Muscat and Pinot Gris. Second course: little gem romaine, Pennyroyal blue cheese, red wine vinaigrette, white pepper cracker; served with Testa Grenache, a delicious wine with notes of light berry and spice. Third course: braised short ribs, red wine pan reduction, Peruvian potato & root vegetable gratin, sauteed dino kale; served with Testa Black, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane and Petite Sirah. Dessert, the fourth course: brown butter pound cake, caramelized pineapple, sweet crème, Testa Charbono syrup; served with Sherry. I’ve made my reservation. To join the fun, you’ll need to call too, before all the seats are gone, (707) 462-7007.
I met Virginie Boone a couple of years ago. Virginie tasted wines from Mendocino and Lake County for Wine Enthusiast magazine and then rated them on a 100 point scale and wrote a review of each. The old Mendocino Winegrape & Wine Commission, through Jan Mettler of Boss Dog marketing, invited Virginie up to visit some of Mendocino County’s more unique wineries and tasting rooms, and I was fortunate enough to score a visit with Virginie for McFadden. The first thing I noticed was that Virginie was relaxed, not stuffy or pretentious, but smiling and pleased to be visiting a beautiful area on a gorgeous day, and being able to taste wines made the day more joyous for her. Virginie let me know up front that she was a bit pressed for time, had a couple more stops to make and could taste perhaps four wines. I ended up pouring nearly a dozen wines, telling a little story about each, completely blowing her schedule (if you have visited the McFadden tasting room on a weekday when I’m in, then you know I do hour long experiences and not slam-bam tastings), and she was quite gracious about the hijacking of her time.
I also took the opportunity to pour a wine she had recently rated lower than I felt was right, letting her know it was our fastest selling wine; an amazingly food-friendly wine, and a wine made from the same grapes that another writer had raved about and put on his year end Top 100 Wines list. I pointed out that sometimes wines tasted through a “Parker” filter come up short but, when tasted in place, the different flavors that a piece of land and climate give to a wine can expand the envelope of what is considered varietally correct, like the way McFadden’s Zinfandel is a lower alcohol, Beaujolais-esque, sweet tart candy noted delight instead of a high alcohol fruit jam bomb.
Virginie, to her credit, ended up including McFadden as a “recommended producer” of Zinfandel in a feature piece she wrote over a year later. Virginie visited the county often, more often than many of her counterparts at other publications. She came up to the farm in Potter Valley, toured with Guinness, picked her own corn, which just minutes later was served up with wild rice salad and beef from the farm, all washed down with delicious wine and bubbly.
We ended up as an editor’s pick for Best Year End Sparkling Wine in the magazine. More widely, Virginie sat as a judge, tasting the county’s best wines at the Mendocino County Wine Competition and was open to visits to attend events like the upcoming Celebration of Mendocino County Sparkling Wine on April 5 and the spring Hopland Passport on May 3 & 4. If this feels eulogy-like, it is. Virginie hasn’t passed away, but has been asked to review the wines of Napa and Sonoma counties for Wine Enthusiast. Fortunately, Virginie also writes for the Press Democrat and hopefully her visits to our county will still inform some of the pieces she writes there. Taking over the taste, rate, and review duties for Mendocino and Lake County wines at wine Enthusiast is Jim Gordon. Jim knows wine and wine writing, as the former managing editor of Wine Spectator and the producer of the annual Symposium for Professional Wine Writers in Napa. Earlier this week, I sent an email inviting Jim to several Mendocino County wine events. I hope Jim visits at least as often (more often is great) as Virginie did, and I would share that Anderson Valley is not the entirety of Mendocino County, and there are excellent wines and new styles to be found outside of Napa County, if you open yourself up to them. Welcome Jim Gordon.
December 26, 2013
Alcohol; it’s why we buy wine instead of soda, right? More alcohol must be better in a wine than less alcohol too, I mean it just stands to reason, don’t you think?
This question came to mind after I read a review of San Francisco Chronicle wine editor Jon Bonné’s new book The New California Wine. The review was written by Wine Spectator magazine’s senior editor, Napa, James Laube. Where most every review of Bonné’s book was complimentary, Laube seemed to almost have the knives out as he wrote his piece, “(Bonné)’s hardly enamored with much of (California wine),” is how the piece begins and it doesn’t get much nicer.
Why would one professional wine writer be so uncomplimentary, so unkind, so border-line rude? Wine Spectator reviews and rates wines on a 100 point scale, made famous by wine critic Robert Parker, and like Parker seems to award more points to fruit jam bombs made of Napa fruit with high alcohol levels. By contrast, Bonné seems to prefer wines of greater balance, greater drinkability, more food friendly wines, with lower alcohol.
Before I go on, I abhor numbers. Alcohol percentage, residual sugar, volatile acidity, the numbers that describe a wine only tell a small part of a wine’s story. Residual sugar alone, without a lot of other data may be suggestive of sweetness, but actual perception when tasted may be something different altogether. Wines must be tasted to be judged.
Okay, that disclaimer aside, I agree with Bonné. Many wines have alcohol levels that are just too damn high. Please, I would so much rather have a lighter styled wine that balances fruit and acid, and has a lower alcohol, so I can enjoy it with friends over a nice dinner than have to suffer another painfully hot, high alcohol wine that is so dense with flavor, so big and overpowering that it ruins the food it is paired with.
Whether an Anderson Valley Pinot Noir over 15 percent or a Dry Creek Zinfandel over 17 percent alcohol by volume, there just isn’t a good reason for these wines to be so hot, unless the winemaker was pandering for a high score from Spectator or Parker. Big alcohol wines also tend to garner high medals, I suspect, because judges’ palates are quickly blown out by high alcohol fruit bombs and are unable to fairly judge wines of greater subtlety and reserve, but upon tasting another monster wine break out the gold.
I worked for a winemaker who used to make gorgeously flavorful wines, good bodied wines, gold medal winning wines, and rarely did she produce a wine at or above 14 percent alcohol by volume. These were the easiest to sell wines I’ve ever experienced. People ordered, but most importantly they reordered, and in quantity, because the wines were so good.
Sadly, she has turned to the dark side, and is putting out some wild beasts, up and over 15 percent alcohol today. More attention, higher ratings, easier golds; From some quarters, anyway.
Joel Peterson, a few years back suggested the three most common flaws of Zinfandel were too much alcohol, too much oak, and too much sugar. As the big boss man behind Ravenswood, a famous Zin house in Sonoma, Peterson should know. That said, both Peterson and his son Morgan Twain Peterson crank out some pretty huge wines.
The wines of inland Mendocino County are not uniformly low alcohol, but many are. Whether from cool climate Russian River adjacent or mountain shade properties in or near Hopland, or the higher altitude fruit grown at the north end of Potter Valley, there are some absolutely delicious wines grown and produced in our area. Zinfandel, and Coro Mendocino the Zinfandelcentric blend I mention often, under 14 percent alcohol; Pinot Noir without a barnyard funk or filled diaper aroma; Chablis-like bright and unoaked Chardonnay; and Cabernet Sauvignon that you can take your time getting to know instead of a Cabernet that is so forward you feel like pressing charges. This is some of what we do so well here, and what some folks – notably the wine critics who seem to get a little too much wood over wines with a little too much wood and alcohol – don’t seem to get.
Wine Enthusiast magazines’ Virginie Boone visits inland Mendocino more often, and perhaps familiarity breeds understanding, because she rates many of our wines about two to five points higher than the folks who don’t visit as often over at Wine Spectator.
Jon Bonné tastes wines from all over, often, and has placed a light, low alcohol, almost Beaujolaisesque Zinfandel made entirely from inland Mendocino grapes on one of his annual Top 100 Wines lists.
I get a chance to taste a lot of our wines, and I may have developed a strong preference for what we do, because on a recent visit outside the county, I found wine after wine just too big for me to enjoy. I love Wine Spectator magazine for the articles, but personally I prefer Wine Enthusiast magazine and Jon Bonné’s San Francisco Chronicle reviews of our wines. I find I am more often in agreement.
Want high alcohol? Go to a bar. Want a food-friendly wine you can enjoy with food? Consider a wine from the area, with under 14 percent alcohol for a start. As always, the best way to find out whether you like a particular wine or not is to go wine tasting. Many local winery tasting rooms offer complimentary wine tasting and are open up until New Year’s Eve – although a few that sell bubbly will be open at least a half of that day too.
EDITED TO ADD ONLINE: I received the following comment tacked on to another recently archived column in response to the newspaper version of this week’s column:
“This is regarding your UDJ article published today (12/26/13). I was going to email you but didn’t see an email listed. In any event, I have to agree with your general assessment of the multitude high alcohol wines out there. Which is why I drink mostly sparkling! I have worked for Roederer Estate for six years and have learned that sparkling is incredibly versatile with food as well as being on the lower end of the scale at 12%. One last thing, in reference to Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 of 2013, did you know Roederer’s 2004 L’Ermitage is rated number one? I believe it’s the first time a California Sparkling has garnered the top spot, so worth mentioning.
Cheers, Julie in Ukiah”
I could not agree more. Fantastic comment, great observation, and well deserved acclaim for the 2004 Roederer L’ Ermitage, and yes, you are right, this is the first time that a sparkling wine has topped Wine Enthusiast magazine’s annual Top 100 Wines list.
I had just written for Destination Hopland that there are bubblies to be tasted at Graziano, Jeriko, McFadden, Nelson, Rack & Riddle, Ray’s Station, and Terra Savia; but county wide Roederer, Scharffenberger, Yorkville Cellars, and Elke over on Hwy 128, and Paul Dolan up in Ukiah, all have to be added to the list. As a county, we may have the nation’s greatest concentration of premium bubblies, and they are indeed both enjoyably lower in alcohol and spectacularly food friendly when paired with the right foods. Taste this week, choose a favorite, and stock up for New Year’s Eve!
I do love bubbly, and I would love to have them all to taste for a future column, maybe in advance of Valentine’s Day next year.
October 3, 2013
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“You know, I’ve been parking right there, in front of your shop, a couple of dozen times, to go across the street to eat, and I never even knew there were tasting rooms here,” Gabe said when I asked him what brought him in today, “but I read about you in the paper, and so here I am.”
I would love to tell you that something I wrote here in the Daily Journal brought Gabe in. In July, when I wrote about the McFadden Wine Club Dinner, I had folks come in and buy tickets. When I wrote about my neighbors at Naughty Boy, I had folks visit there. Not record revenue days, but a column can inspire a few folks to visit the subject of a piece I write.
Monday morning, I had three couples and several individuals come in to taste, because a very complimentary piece ran in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday. Carey Sweet reviews winery tasting rooms, has for more than five years, has over 100 under her belt and rarely – maybe half a dozen times at most – gives out three and a half stars. Most tasting rooms earn two to three stars, and are great. McFadden is the first tasting room to take three and a half stars in over a year.
Monday mornings are often slow, but not this Monday morning. Monday ended up being busier, before noon, than both of the last entire weekend days.
That is the power of a good, and well read, review. Thanks to Carey Sweet of the Chronicle.
Sweet wrote, “Before I leave, Cesano pulls out a Destination Hopland map and offers suggestions on other tasting rooms I might enjoy checking out, plus tips on what’s most interesting to sample at each. He marks his favorite restaurants nearby.”
While there was plenty of cool stuff written about me, and McFadden, I am incredibly pleased that it was noted that I recommended other winery tasting rooms to visit, and local places to eat.
I do not see other winery tasting rooms as competition. I see the opportunity to work cooperatively with all of my neighbors along Hwy 101, from Hopland up to Redwood Valley and beyond. The more time folks stay in the area, the more they experience, the better impression we can all make.
Sure, I could focus on McFadden only. There are some winery tasting rooms that do focus only on themselves. They aren’t much fun to visit.
I volunteered to work with Destination Hopland and then took over some marketing tasks, because I believe that the wineries in the area make great wines, but the word just wasn’t getting out widely enough.
Did you know that the wineries of Hwy 128 took 82 medals at the recent Mendocino County Wine Competition, while the inland Mendocino wineries along the 101 and upper Russian River corridor took 100 medals? Wine Spectator wouldn’t tell you, they largely ignore Hopland, Ukiah, and Redwood Valley and to read their magazine or online output, you would think that Mendocino County was comprised of just Anderson Valley and the coast.
Virginie Boone writes about wine for Wine Enthusiast magazine, and the Press Democrat. Boone visits all of Mendocino County, not just the Anderson Valley; she judges at our wine competitions, attends our events, visits our tasting rooms, tours our vineyards, and as a result has a broader, better educated palate than her counterparts at other publications.
Trying to get media to visit Hopland has been a challenge. Jen Felice of Visit Mendocino told me that all of the writers who look to visit Mendocino County want to visit only Anderson Valley and the coast.
With a three star review for Campovida and a three and a half star review for McFadden, Carey Sweet of the Chronicle is helping people find their way to Hopland. With wine recommendations for a number of the area’s wineries in Wine Enthusiast, Virginie Boone is bringing folks to come and visit, or buy our wines.
I wanted to bring attention to the wines and wineries, the too often unmentioned or ignored wineries of inland Mendocino. That is why, beyond working to help Destination Hopland promote our wines, I reach a little farther and write about vineyards and wineries up to Redwood and Potter Valleys and down to Comminsky Station Road, just off Hwy 101, near the border with Sonoma County. I am grateful to be able to invite readers here in The Ukiah Daily Journal to come and taste our wines on a near weekly basis.
I also wanted to take the time to thank the wine writers from larger publications who do visit and write, writers like Carey sweet and Virginie Boone. Thank you!
Hopland Passport is coming up soon, on Oct. 19 & 20, 2013; I hope you can go. Next week, I’ll write about the participating wineries and what treats each will share with folks who buy a weekend passport.
This week, I’m giving away a free ticket to Hopland Passport.
Send me an email to JohnOnWine@gmail.com and tell me why I should give you a free ticket. I’ll pick a winner sometime tomorrow and post the winner’s name online at JohnOnWine.com at the end of the reposting of this column.
April 8, 2013
By John Cesano
Updated: 04/04/2013 10:58:27 AM PDT
(NOTE: This piece was edited down for the paper from a longer piece that ran here in the blog years ago. -John)
One of my wine industry jobs was with the Wine Appreciation Guild, one of the industry’s largest publishers of wine books and a one-stop distributor of both wine books and accessories. My job was to sell wine books and wine accessories to winery tasting rooms, wine shops, and other specialty merchants in 42 California counties.
There was one item I refused to sell.
Vacu-Vin. There is no wine preservation system more ubiquitous. Gwyneth Paltrow told Oprah that it is a “must-have” in her kitchen. Every frau and pretentious wine poser in the country has one. Sales of the devices number in the tens of millions.
For the one or two of you who are unfamiliar with Vacu-Vin, here’s what the manufacturers say:
“The Wine Saver is a vacuum pump, which extracts the air from the opened bottle and re-seals it with a re-usable rubber stopper. Place the re-usable stopper in the bottle and extract the air from the bottle using the Wine Saver pump. A “click” sound tells you when you have reached the optimum vacuum level. The vacuum slows down the oxidation process which makes it possible to enjoy your wine again at a later date. The question “how often do I have to pump?” is a thing of the past. The unique and patented vacuum indicator will emit a “click” sound when the correct vacuum is reached.”
The Wine Appreciation Guild carried them, and everyone I worked with wanted them to sell in their stores.
I had a problem. To my mind, the Vacu-Vin doesn’t work:
“The “Vacu-Vin” device as submitted was evaluated to determine efficacy in reduction of oxidative spoilage in opened wines. Using the protocol described above, the “Vacu-Vin” device was found to have no measurable effect in reduction of oxidative spoilage.” -Gordon Burns, ETS Laboratories, 1204 Church Street, St. Helena, CA 94574
“Vacu-vin” doesn’t work, It never has. Sensorily – to me anyway – the Vacu-vin was a shuck. You could track the deterioration in each sample. Indeed, just recorking the wine worked equally as well or as badly.
The (Wall Street) Journal asked Professor David Roe of the Portland State University chemistry department to test the gizmo. At best he achieved a vacuum of somewhat less than 70 percent. In just 90 minutes, he reported, the vacuum pressure diminished by 15 percent.
I asked Professor Roe to repeat his test with a newly purchased (newer, ‘improved’, model) Vacu-Vin. The results? “The pump is more efficient, but no more effective,” he reports. “The vacuum is the same, around 70 to 75 percent. And the leak rate is the same: After two hours you lose 25 percent of the vacuum. Overnight 12 hours the vacuum is totally gone.” -Matt Kramer, “A Giant Sucking Sound And That’s All”
“Unnecessary equipment: There’s no clear need for Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver and other wine-preservation systems, our tests suggest.
A lot of people turn to wine-preservation systems that seek to retard or stop oxidation, the chemical process that degrades wine. If you’re among those who swear by such systems, we have surprising news, based on our tests of four widely known brands: No system beat simply recorking the bottle and sticking it in the fridge.” – Wine Spectator.
Getting the air out: The Vacu-Vin Vacuum Wine Saver, $10, uses rubber stoppers (two are provided) with a pump that sucks out air.
We tested three varietals with the systems on three different occasions for three different periods of time. For comparison, we also stoppered one bottle with its own cork. After all the bottles spent time in our wine cellar, expert wine consultants compared their contents in blind taste tests with freshly opened bottles. If our trained experts, with nearly 60 years in the business, couldn’t discern among wine storage systems, most consumers probably can’t, either. So just go ahead and cork it (you can turn the cork over if it’s easier to get in). But try not to wait more than a week or so to drink the wine, and sooner is better.” – Consumer Reports, December 2006
I would tell the buyers for the winery tasting rooms, the wine shops, and the kitchen stores that the Vacu-Vin doesn’t work but it didn’t stop most of them, because you, the home customer, wanted to buy and use these things.
When I see a wine bar using a Vacu-Vin, I won’t drink any but the first glass from a bottle.
Here’s the deal: when you open wine and let it breathe, you are letting tannins dissipate, alcohol flush burn off, and fruit come forward. You’ll find that the hot, harsh, and closed Cabernet at opening becomes a smooth delicious beverage with blackberry and currant notes with a little time. Oxygen is wine’s friend initially.
While I am prepping food for dinner, I usually open a bottle, or more than one bottle if cooking for friends, pour a little of each in a separate wine glass, so I can repeatedly swirl and sniff each. I am looking for the wine to open and become perfect. At that point, I recork the bottle so I can just open, pour, and seal all the way through the meal. I know the last glass will be as good as the first. If not perfect, every glass is pretty darn good.
If I opened the wine, let it breathe, and then ignored it, the fruit would follow the tannins, and perfect would become sad. Oxygen, so important to a wine at opening, becomes wine’s enemy afterward. Leaving a wine open ruins wine over time.
Pumping the air out of a bottle of wine with a Vacu-Vin strips the wine of some aroma and bouquet. Each time it is used it can harm the wine. To me, a couple of seconds is like hours of damage. Kramer described the loss of delicate notes in his piece for spectator.
The Vacu-Vin doesn’t even create a complete vacuum. As tested, fully 25-30 percent of the air, and oxygen, remains inside the bottle before the Vacu-Vin fails and all of the air, and oxygen returns. To me, the worst think about the Vacu-Vin is that consumers are fooled into a false sense of preservation security and don’t seek another, effective, method to save the aroma, bouquet, and flavors of a bottle of wine in between glasses.
Matt Kramer and the Wall Street Journal engaged a University science department professor who measured the Vacu-Vin’s fail using drills and tubes and meters, all very high tech. Similar high tech methods were used by Gordon Burns of ETS Laboratories and the testers at Consumer Reports.
At work, in the tasting room, I use 100 percent pure Argon, an inert gas that is heavier than oxygen, from a large tank. Shooting a little into a bottle, then recorking it, allows the Argon to settle and provide a protective blanket between wine and oxygen. Smaller home versions are available, with Private Preserve, a nitrogen/argon mix, the most easily found. More expensive, but also more efficacious, WineSave is 100 percent pure food grade Argon in a can available at WineSave.com
John Cesano does not get a kickback from private preserve or winesave, but wishes he did.
John On Wine blog bonus –
I polished a popular piece posted previously here, and it was published in the printed paper, perhaps a partial week ago. (Note: sorry for the alliteration, once started, that last sentence wrote itself).
I also visited Matheson Tri-Gas, a commercial supplier and asked about the cost of an Argon tank for the serious hedonist, the folks who care about preserving quality of wine glass to glass, and those foodies who want to prevent cooking oil from becoming rancid and vinegars from becoming musty.
A small tank (it isn’t really small, but it is smaller than a commercial tank) runs about $100. The regulator runs another $100. The hose, nozzle, and other fittings runs a third $100. Initial cost: $300. from that point on, tank can be filled or refilled with Argon for about $30 and a small (big really) tank would last practically forever used at home.
January 2, 2010
NOTE: Scroll to the bottom of this post for an update. Thanks.
My niece Jennifer is pregnant. In November she wrote on facebook, “I would really love to enjoy a glass of Asti Spumanti champagne.”
Within minutes, a friend posted, “LOL! NEVER!”.
Huh? I had to chime in, and wrote, “In a world where caffeine, chocolate, raw oysters, unpasteurized cheese, tropical fruits, drugs that alleviate cold symptoms, nail polish, suntan lotion and hair dye, all of which in some amount may harm the fetus; wine in small amounts, sipped slowly with food, has been shown to increase fetal motility and result in more intelligent infants. I’m kind of the wine guy in the family, and would point you to the 1994 Wine Spectator article by Thomas Matthews, The Myths of Motherhood, or the study of 33,000 California woman showing that the 47% who drank moderately during pregnancy had zero incidence of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS); and the 1993 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology by Little and Weinberg showing a higher successful birthrate among moderate consumers of alcohol than rates among abstainers. Find a doctor who reads, and enjoy the glass of Asti on Thanksgiving. The stress reduction and joy in the mother is healthy for the fetus. Just saying’.”
I do tend to go on.
Another friend of Jennifer, also pregnant wrote, “I don’t know you John, but as a fellow pregnant gal who can’t have anything she loves either, I L-O-V-E your post.”
Jennifer finished up the thread with, “Bwahaha, thanks uncle John,,,I’ve enjoyed a small glass of wine here and there…I’ve also enjoyed sushi, massages, pedicures, caffeine AND…of course…chocolate! Baby’s fine…he comes from good healthy stock”
In December, Jennifer posted, “I’m really craving a glass of good champagne…maybe spumanti” on her facebook wall.
I replied, “You know what Uncle John says…a glass is a healthy choice for you and the baby,”
Another friend wrote, “sorry, hopefully you can have one soon. When are you having that baby?”, written as though having a glass of wine, or bubbly, before the baby is born is unthinkable.
When Lisa, the mother of my only child Charlie, was pregnant, we attended a wonderful wine tasting in San Francisco. It was my birthday, and I did more than taste the many Zinfandels being poured at the event, I had a bit to drink that day. My wife, noticeably pregnant at 7 months, tasted; but after nosing and swirling the wine in her mouth, she spit it into large receptacles provided for that purpose. Although she drank no wine at all, she was subjected to many dirty looks, and one old woman actually hissed at her. There is an anti-alcohol sentiment ingrained in people who should know better.
A pregnant woman wants a small glass of wine to sip with a meal, and the instinctive response of her friends is shock and admonishment. The response is based on all of the information generally available. The next time you pick up a bottle of wine, look and you will find a warning mandated by the United States government, “According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.”
While there is overwhelming evidence of health benefits associated with moderate consumption of wine in the general population, and specific health benefits to a pregnant woman and her fetus, the same United States government requiring that wineries put warning on their labels forbids including any information about healthful benefits associated with wine consumption; “a specific [health] claim on a label or in an advertisement, ” no matter how well documented, “is considered misleading.” and requires further detailed warnings of the risks of alcohol if included – said warnings being unable to fit on a wine label. Effectively, the government is engaged in censorship and prohibiting free speech. Worse, it requires warning, and disallows wineries from countering the warning with truthful statements.
With wineries muzzled, unable to present any information regarding health and wine, or pregnancy and wine consumption, gross distortions and outright lies are posted in pregnancy forums and spread by ignorant, but well meaning, friends. A quick google search of “wine and pregnancy” will lead to link after link of falsehood spread as truth – and the wine industry is prohibited from countering these lies with the truth.
For a short time, 20 or more wineries were going to include, “To learn the health effects of wine consumption, send for the Federal Government Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” on their wine labels. The Dietary Guidelines, while almost wholly damning of alcohol consumption, bending to overwhelming scientific evidence included two new lines, “Alcoholic beverages have been used to enhance the enjoyment of meals by many societies throughout human history,” and, “Current evidence suggests that moderate drinking is associated with a lower risk for coronary heart disease in some individuals.”
Neo-prohibitionist and tramplers of the US constitution’s First Amendment, guaranteeing free speech, threw a fit. Rather than allow a winery to point at a government pamphlet in advertising or on a label, without mention of any health benefit; these forces for ignorance pushed through a new requirement: any winery mentioning the dietary guideline pamphlet must include a new warning on their label and promotional material, “this statement should not encourage you to drink or to increase your alcohol consumption for health reasons.”
Some of the information the government is preventing wineries from telling you about includes:
Men with high blood pressure who drink one or two drinks a day were 44 percent less likely to die from cardiovascular disease, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is associated lower risks of coronary heart disease, ischemic stroke, and total mortality in elderly men and women…These findings suggest that light-to-moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a reduced risk of dementia in individuals aged 55 or older, according to a six year study by Dr. Ruitenberg in the Netherlands, published in The Lancet
Moderate drinkers had 50% fewer deaths from coronary disease than abstainers, according to the 60 year Framingham Heart Study
Preliminary evidence in a Harvard study suggest that longevity may be increased in red wine drinkers, while European studies point to a possibility that Alzheimer’s and other cognitive degeneration may be postponed for moderate drinkers.
Light drinking pregnant women, not abstainers, have the best chance of delivering a baby of optimal weight, according to Dr. Robert Sokol of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse in Detroit.
Mentioned above, there is the study of 33,300 California women, 47% of whom drank moderately during their pregnancies. Not one had a baby with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
There were fewer stillbirths and fewer losses of fetus due to early labor among women who consumed a moderate level of alcohol, according to a study by Little and Weinberg, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology
Children of moderate drinkers tend to score the highest on developmental tests at the age of 18 months, according to the book Alcohol and the Fetus, by Dr. Rosset and Dr. Wiener.
There is research that shows moderate drinking during pregnancy may actually help the development of the child after birth, according to a study by Dr. Whitten and Dr. Lipp of the University of California at San Francisco
But what about the government warning on the label warning about birth defects for pregnant women who choose to drink moderately? The government can’t lie, can they?
The campaign against drinking during pregnancy started in 1973 when several studies showed that heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause a condition known as ‘Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.’ These studies demonstrated that the children of many alcoholic mothers were born with a cluster of severe birth defects.“What the government conveniently chose to ignore” say Dr. Whitten and Dr. Lipp, is that “this syndrome is extremely rare, occurring only 3 times in 100,000 births, and only when the mother drinks abusively throughout her pregnancy”.
In the absence of valid, and useful information to the contrary, many people make grossly incorrect assumptions about wine and health, and wine and pregnancy. Our government forces wineries to print one sided, misleading, and possibly false information on their labels, and prohibits the dissemination of the many health benefits associated with moderate, responsible consumption of wine. This ridiculous censorship, combined with the efforts of anti-alcohol forces*, leads otherwise intelligent people to make a pregnant woman feel bad if she has a sip of wine.
If you don’t drink at all, don’t feel that you need to start if you become pregnant. If you abuse alcohol, stop; your life is at risk, as well as your baby’s if you become pregnant. If, however, you enjoy the responsible, moderate, consumption of wine with dinner, and you become pregnant, don’t feel compelled to abstain for the health of your unborn child.
Moderate consumption of wine during pregnancy is shown to lead to safer births and healthier, smarter children than those born to either abstainers or abusers of alcohol.
Sometimes, being between jobs is nice. Because I do not work for a winery or wine distributer, I am able to tell you the truth that those in the industry are prohibited from telling you. Just sayin’.
If you are reading this, and are pregnant, I toast you. The good news is that you can raise a glass in response. Cheers!
*see the ‘talking points’ memo created by these neo-prohibitionists to beat back mention of a possible health benefit in the official US Dietary Guidelines pamphlet at http://www.cspinet.org/booze/talkpoint2.htm .
For those interested in the topic of alcohol and health, I recommend Gene Ford’s book , “The Science of Healthy Drinking”.
I have caused a bit of an uproar with a wine column that ran Thursday, May 2, 2013. This column was recycled and used.
My wine and pregnancy piece was actually written 4 years ago and was an extension of an online conversation with my niece who was pregnant. Much of the basis for the article was a long article regarding the science of moderate consumption during pregnancy that appeared in Wine Spectator before my son was born.
My son’s mom had the very occasional half glass of wine with a meal, and my son was the tallest boy in his grade throughout elementary school each year, played as a center on CYO, city, and school basketball teams, and regularly crushed any standardized test he took.
I am pretty sure my mom had more than a single drink of alcohol, and probably smoked, when she was pregnant with me, as did the mothers of many of the people I know who are my age. The people I know, of my generation, seem to be doing well.
I posted this piece here in 2010 and it generated positive feedback. I was contacted by some pregnancy forums, and thanked for the post.
I was completely ignorant of the information accumulation regarding drinking while pregnant, or the move beyond Fetal Alcohol Syndrome to include lower birth weights and other symptoms to identify a larger collection of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorders, existing now.
In addition to a counterpoint column from our county’s public health officer and other letters in the paper following my column, I have heard from members of the medical community who shared that we live in a county with serious drug addiction problems and, for these people, alcohol is a drug, and it is better to be absolutist and say that no amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy than give folks, who the piece wasn’t written for, a sense that they are not likely harming their child with their abuse.
I also was contacted by some mothers with adopted children that do suffer from FASD and/or FAS. The stories they shared were personal, tragic, and compelling. They, too, would urge that no alcohol be consumed during pregnancy, and each said that spending a week, or even a day, with their children would drive the point home more strongly than any words.
Obviously, I would never have allowed the piece to be recycled for my newspaper wine column if the response years ago to the same piece online wasn’t overwhelmingly positive.
I apologize for the outrage I caused with my recycled piece, but hope the conversations started through the controversy lead to more informed choices. I, for one, probably learned the most.