(Size)mic Proportions

Many things in life come in different sizes: vehicles, houses, french fry servings, people.  But since this is a wine blog, you know where this is headed.  Wine bottles!  My wife and I were nearing the last of one our favorite wines at dinner recently and lamenting there wasn’t more remaining. Our discussion turned to all the wacky names and uses for each size as well as which one is the perfect size bottle. We’re all familiar with the standard three sizes out there (halves, regular 750s, magnums) and they all have their uses, but there are actually many more one never sees in your local wine shop. So, here’s a brief primer:

187s – The true “split”; these are half of a half or a quarter of a regular 750. Often seen on wedding reception tables or in those cute little four packs, they’re equal to about one glass of wine.

375s – The most common little bottle out there. They serve about a glass and a quarter per person and are great for one person if your companion is taking the night off or if each of you are ordering food in a restaurant that calls for a different wine.

750ml – The most common size, these serve about two and a half glasses per person and are usually more than enough to get the party started.

1.5L – AKA magnums, they are equal to two 750s. These are great for dinner parties or if you’re looking for a better price on your favorite value wine. They aren’t always cheaper than two bottles of the same wine, however, as the cost of the larger bottle and different labels often forces wineries to charge a bit more. Experts also believe this is the perfect size for ageing wine as the proportion of oxygen in the neck to the amount of wine in the bottle allows for a slow, mellow ride into middle age. And ever seen one of those German Riesling bottles in a magnum? With their slender, tall, lean shapes, soft shoulders, and standing about two and half feet tall, they’re the closest thing in the wine world to sexy.

3L – A double-magnum or Jerobaum. Here is where things begin to reach Biblical proportions. From this size and bigger each bottle is named after a Bibilical king or historical figure. I guess being royalty you could afford to throw big parties, so you needed a lot of wine to keep your guests happy. At about three feet high, it’s also probably the biggest size one can pour comfortably.  And if it’s white, how are you going to chill anything bigger? After selling a Jerobaum of Roederer Brut Premier Champgagne one New England winter and asked how to get it cold for a party, I suggested stick it in a snow bank for a couple of hours. A bit unwieldy, yes, but want to be a hit at your next dinner party? Pop for a double-mag. They’re actually not super-expensive and are way cool.  (ps. just don’t bring the Franzia!)

Then things get way over the top:
6L – Methuselah
9L – Mordechai
12L – Balthazar
15L – Nebuchadnezzar

So, returning to the original question of what’s the perfect size, none of these crazy bottles fit the bill. To figure it out, let’s look at a typical evening’s dinner for two at home. You need at least a glass each while preparing dinner. Then one or two with dinner as well as one last sip to seal the meal.  A 375? Forget it, not even close. The tried and, supposedly, true 750? Close, but not quite.  There’s not enough left to wash down that last morsel of braised short ribs or shrimp scampi. The magnum? For two people, probably too much. Where does that leave us? To be honest, a rarity on your local wine shelf. A clue? The Austrians pegged it…Give up? It’s the one liter. There aren’t many out there. The only ones I’ve seen have been Gruner Veltliners and its companion red, Zweigelt, a tasty, juicy, and spicy red from Austria.

So there you have it folks. Everything you wanted to know about wine bottle sizes, but were afraid, or maybe too indifferent, to ask. Don’t worry, next time we’ll tackle another topic better suited to keep you on the edge of your wine bar stool. Wine closures!

Until then, cheers!

 

 

 

 

 

 
Erskine Gallant, Wine Manager, Paradise Foods

Our Love Affair with Everything but the Wine

As Wine Manager of Paradise Foods and a wine enthusiast, I spend a fair amount of time researching, sampling and enjoying wine on an almost daily basis.   This exposes me to a wide variety of wines and wineries from all over the world.  Over the years, it has become quite apparent that many wines seem to have strayed from their roots.  The last time I checked Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica (now free online!), the definition of wine was “fermented fruit juice, usually from grapes” or the “fermented juice of the grape.”  Whether it’s consumer demand or the winemakers playing with their juice a bit too much, there seems to be a preponderance of secondary flavors unrelated to this fermentation of said grape.

I hate to pick on one wine as it has certainly been beaten to death, but Chardonnay is the most obvious wine that seems to have strayed from its beginnings. Primary flavors like tropical fruit, green apple, or citrus have given way to vanilla, hazelnut, crème brulée, or toasty oak.  In the proper hands which allow the varietal to express itself, Chardonnay is beautiful wine.  When did it become dominated by other flavors, such as wood and butter?  Butter? Really?  That creaminess which is so popular comes from diacetyl, a by-product of a chemical reaction in the winemaking process and is the same flavoring used to butter popcorn.  Has Chardonnay just become a cocktail without the high booze levels?  Wine should be the expression of the varietal from which it’s made as well as the soil and climate from where it comes, what the French call “terroir”.  Sauvignon Blanc is known for its grassiness and grapefruit; Viognier its peach and honeysuckle; Gewurztraminer its lychee and spice; Riesling its lime and flinty minerality.  And these are pure flavors natural to the varietal, not unassociated secondary characteristics which just get in the way.

Wood is another component that is totally overused, especially with New World wines (any winemaking country outside of Europe).  I understand that for centuries wood has been a tried and true aging vessel, but how long is too long for a wine to sit soaking up all that oak?  This excessive woodiness leads to wines that are clumsy, heavy, and palate-fatiguing.  These days when assessing wines, the first thing I look for is wood.  Do I smell a lumber mill when I stick my nose in the glass?  Or do I detect just pure fruit?  It goes without saying there are oodles of terrific wines from the US, South Africa, and South America.  (As for Australia, the jury’s still out).  And don’t think that just because it’s European, it’s a superior wine.  Spanish wines often ooze excess amounts of cedar that is totally distracting from the wine.

So, if you’re interested in some wines that show off their true personalities, naked in all their glory, then try some my favorites.  I guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

-Lenz Moser Gruner Veltliner Kamptal, Austria
-Domaine Pinson Chablis, France (Chardonnay!)
-Lucien Albrecht Pinot Blanc Alsace, France
-Cantina Terlano Bianco Classico Alto Adige, Italy
-Justin Sauvignon Blanc Paso Robles, California
-Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc/Viognier Clarksburg, California
-Botani Moscatel Seco Malaga, Spain
-Louis Jadot Macon-Villages Bourgogne, France (also Chardonnay!)
-Manifesto Zinfandel Lodi, California
-Henri Fessy Moulin a Vent Beaujolais, France
-Mencos Joven Rioja, Spain
-Planeta Cerasuolo Sicily, Italy

Cheers!
Erskine Gallant, Wine Manager, Paradise Foods

Stickies, Sweeties & Bubbly, Oh, My!

Sweet wines conjure up images of bottles resembling German towers, candy-corn white Zinfandels, and pineapple wines, but dessert wines have come a long way since these cloying times. So just in time for Valentine’s Day I feel I must shout it from the rooftops: “Sweet wines are delicious!” (ahem, when made well, that is). Yes, for those of us who only enjoy Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, these wines with their residual sugar can be a bit of a jolt. Most are meant to be enjoyed in small quantities as they tire out the palate quite quickly, but good winemakers balance the sweetness with acidity that gives the wines lift and keeps them refreshing.  So with Valentine’s Day in mind, let’s do a virtual sampling of some of my favorite sweeties you may want to pop for your sweetie.

Riesling – As they come in all sorts of flavors and styles, Riesling is perhaps the most complex of all grape varieties. They are often produced in a dry style where all the grape sugar has been fermented out, but Riesling is most known for its sweeter examples. From drier to sweeter, look for these names: kabinett, spatlese, auslese, beerenauslese, and trockenbeerenauslese. These last two are unctuous, rare and quite pricey; the first three are actually not considered dessert wines, but table wines meant to be paired with food. For the palate not used to a little sweetness, they can certainly be substituted for a sweeter wine as an after dinner nip.  What makes these wines so unique is their balance of sugar and acidity, the latter of which sets the mouth alive and tingling. Without it, the wine would certainly be cloying and tiresome. Good bottles classically produce flavors and aromas of creamy lime, green apple, and even petrol (yes!), all bundled up that lovely acidity.
St. Urbans-Hof 2010 Riesling Kabinett Ockfener Bockstein, $19.99/750ml
Ersnt Loosen 2010 “Dr. L” Riesling Mosel, $13.99/750ml

Sauternes – Long considered the greatest dessert wine in the world, Sauternes comes from the town of the same name near Bordeaux, France. What makes these wines so special is a fungus (botrytis cinerea) that forms on the grape skins during perfect climactic conditions combining heat and humidity. This growth actually feeds off the water inside the grape, thereby shriveling the berry and concentrating its juices and flavors. When the grapes are ultimately pressed, what flows is a sweet and concentrated nectar. When ultimately fermented, the resulting wine oozes apricot and honey notes, is full-bodied, somewhat viscous, and the botrytis even gives the wine a distinctly musky, earthy aroma that is just divine.
Chateau Haut Mayne 2009 Sauternes, $19.99/375ml

Ice wine – Often sweeter and richer than Sauternes, ice wines are beauties produced by picking the grapes in winter when the berries are frozen. During crush, the frozen water stays behind and only sweet juice flows, which is then fermented into the wine. Full-bodied and richly textured, these wines literally coat the mouth with apricot and jammy fruits along with bright acidity.
Jackson Triggs Vidal Ice Wine Niagara, $19.99/187ml

Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui – These last two are sparkling siblings originating from the Piemonte of northwest Italy.  Moscato is the wonderfully fresh and spirited white frizzante offering that is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. Musky and sweet on the nose, these wines show off notes of green apple, pear and spice. Brachetto is Moscato’s sparkling red relative. Pair this frizzante with chocolate mousse; being a red/rose, it boasts notes of sweet strawberries, raspberries and rose petals.
Saracco 2010 Moscato d’Asti Piemonte, $18.99/750ml
Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui, $21.99/750ml

For the wine lover, these are wines that are not to be ignored. They’re not only delicious, they’re festive treats AND very romantic! Enjoy!

Cheers!

Erskine Gallant, Wine Manager

French Wines for Cali Lovers!

Red WineLiving near the beautiful vineyards of northern California, it’s easy to don blinders and focus only on the locally grown and produced wines.  And these wines are so easy to love: they’re juicy, full-bodied and ooze flavors and fruit that pour effortlessly from the glass.  However, being the wine buyer here at Paradise Foods, I’m always looking for something new and exciting to offer our customers.  At home, I rarely crack the same bottle of wine twice in six months.  Every bottle has to be an exploration of what’s behind the label.  And more often than not, I find myself most interested in European wines.  With all their different regions and varietals, the options are endless.  France, Italy, Spain, Bordeaux, Alsace, Piemonte, Alto Adige, Rioja, Ribera del Duero, Toro; the opportunities just go on and on.

France's Southern Rhone Region

So I’m picking one region today that I feel is a serious challenge to the Californian reds:  France’s southern Rhone!  These wines are bold, rich, full-bodied and never shy of fruit.  Sound familiar?  The southern Rhone is home to one of the greatest wines in the world, Chateauneuf-de-Pape, and other wines produced in nearby villages.  Always powerful, these wines ooze dark, almost black fruits, have a serious spine of tannins and acidity, and sometimes even a touch of alcohol warmth.  Other flavors also permeate these wines giving them a feral note, including what is locally known as garrigue, a heady and complex mix of herbal aromatics and flavors including lavender, wild thyme, rosemary, and sage that are grown on the hillsides near the vineyards.

Grapes growing in Southern Rhone Region

Chateauneufs push higher price points, but also look for other names like Lirac, Rasteau, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, or Cairanne.  All these raise the bar way above the local bistro pour, Cotes du Rhone.  They are intense wines that scream for bold foods, like ribs, lamb or the hearty southern French stew, cassoulet.  So, if you’re looking to shake up your taste buds, swing by the French wine section at both Paradise Foods locations and check out the Rhone!

Here are some of my favorites reds:

  • Domaine de Cristia 2009 Chateauneuf-de-Pape $41.99/750ml
  • Domaine de la Gardettes 2008 Gigondas $24.99/750ml
  • Domaine Amido 2009 Lirac $15.99/750ml
  • Chateau de Montfaucon 2009 Cotes duRhone $13.99/750ml
  • Domaine des Grands Bois 2009 “Cuvee Gabrielle” Cotes du Rhones $19.99/750ml
  • Domaine des Travers 2009 Rasteau $13.99/375ml

And there’s even a white:

  • Chapoutier 2010 Cotes du Rhone Blanc “Belleruche” $13.99/750ml
Chapoutier Vineyard

Beautiful View of the Chapoutier Vineyard

Cheers!

Erskine Gallant, Wine Manager