Category Archives: Tasting

Kirkland Signature Sauvignon Blanc

Kirkland Signature Sauvignon BlancFor those of you who don’t know, Costco is a chain of warehouse stores, mainly in the US and Canada, that allows you to buy in bulk from a limited selection at terrific prices. It can be a good place to buy wine, but I hadn’t seen them sell it under there own label – Kirkland Signature – until now. I was curious, and picked up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.

I thought it was fruity, with the strong flavor and acidity that I know and love about Sauvignon Blanc. It was dry and acidic, but in a way that wont put off sweet wine lovers. The Lady of the House, her sweet tooth is known far and wide, liked it too calling it “grapefruit-y” and “summer-y.”

There are cheaper wines that are overpriced. This one is a bargain at $10.

Freezing Wine: It really works!

Back in March, I wrote about freezing wine: that it can preserve an open bottle and even improve it. It was something I had to see to believe, and I did. I froze a half-full bottle of red wine for over a month, thawed it out, shook it up (that’s one of the steps!), and tasted it. Since I didn’t have the original unfrozen wine to do a side by side comparison with, I can’t say for sure if it improved. I’m certain that it did no harm, and the Lady of the House thinks it did improve.

So if, for whatever reason, you’ve got some wine that you can’t finish for a while, put the cork back in and freeze it. It will survive in fine shape and, who knows, might even improve.

Update 1/16/2010 – Luc Volders tried this too

He also reports an improvement after freezing wine.

Dungeness Red: A Pleasant Surprise

I’ve written about Olympic Cellars before. They’re the winery being threatened by the United State Olympic Committee for using the word “Olympic” in their name. They also make a cranberry wine. Well the Lady of the House and I have recently tried some of their wine, and the Dungeness Red (a 2004 Lemberger) really stands out. It has enough of a tannic bite, an astringency that tastes a little bitter makes your mouth feel a little dry, to make the wine interesting without being harsh. There’s a complexity to it that makes the first sip a pleasant surprise.

What do I mean by “complexity?” I mean the opposite of some of those simple bland wines that we’ve all had. You know the ones – you taste them, and there’s nothing at all wrong. They’re not to sweet. Not to harsh. They don’t taste bad. But there’s nothing right with them either. They’re one dimensional and boring. Well, when I say the Dungeness Red is complex, I mean the opposite of that.

I’m not trying to be vague and imprecise, I’m just trying to describe the wine without resorting to phrases like, “bright cherry notes and a bit of spice.” Maybe I should just say that it’s a red table wine that’s a cut above the others in it’s price range. If you’re grilling a steak or digging in to pasta, this wine will liven up your meal and is worth much more than the $12 we paid for it.

Freezing Wine: This I’ve Gotta See

An open bottle of wine and no time to drink it

Julian Schultz at the Oxford Wine Room has endured a lot of friendly, and not so friendly, needling to tell us about freezing wine. Not only can an opened bottle, that would otherwise be ruined by oxidation, be preserved by freezing, it will be improved by freezing. And vigorous shaking. I’m not making this up, and I don’t think he is either. His story starts almost two decades ago, with a particularly good bottle of wine that he couldn’t finish before an overseas trip. In the freezer it went. A month later, he thawed it out and noticed that the wine had stratified. After some energetic shaking, the wine was whole again, and though the color had faded it tasted much better than it did before. He’s since repeated this experiment and now freezes wine regularly. He’s even won over some skeptical friends.

A practical joke? Only one way to find out

I first came across this story by reading it on Jack Keller’s blog. It’s hard for me to imagine anyone interested in making wine or mead at home who hasn’t heard of Mr. Keller, but if you haven’t you should bookmark his site right away. He’s got the largest collection of wine recipes on the internet, and I think of him as the Dean of home wine makers. He tried Mr. Schultz’s freezing method and got the same result. For all his expertise, he’s also got a wry sense of humor (they both do, as a matter of fact), so I’m torn between the trust that he has rightly earned and the very close resemblance of this wine freezing idea to the perfect practical joke. This is one I’m going to have to see to believe.

Update 5/21/2008 – Freezing wine really does improve it!

Seeing is believing – try it for yourself!

Update 1/16/2010 – What happened to the Oxford Wine Room?

Julian Schultz’s original article,, has been taken down. Inf fact, it looks like the Oxford Wine Room is no more. Does anyone know what happened to them?

Five Meads: Are we there yet?

I looked in on five meads yesterday to see if they were ready to bottle. I was looking for clarity, I tasted them to see if they were pleasant to drink, and I measured the specific gravity (SG), pH, and titratable acidity (TA).

Name SG pH TA (g/L)
2004 Plain Mead 1.001 3.05 5
2005 Apple Mead 0.995 3.39 5.2
2006 Experiment (boiled) 1.000 3.27 6
2006 Experiment (no heat) 1.000 3.29 5.3
2006 Grape Mead 1.000 3.51 5+

Ready or not, this four year old mead is going in a bottle

I tasted sweetness on the 2004 plain mead, despite the low SG. It had that distinctive, pleasant aroma that I’ve come to associate with mead, and the lady of the house thought it was, “a little young, but it’s going to be good.” I’m not sure I’m as patient as she is, so I’m going to bottle it.

This apple mead is the only one not ready to bottle

The 2005 apple mead tasted and smelled of apple, but only a hint. I thought it was a little tart. It was the only one of the lot that I thought wasn’t clear enough to bottle.

Trying to settle a long running debate

The 2006 experiment is a test of the idea that boiling a mead’s honey-water mixture before pitching the yeast impairs the aroma by driving off volatile compounds. I split a batch, boiled one and made the other without heating. That was two years ago, and I think these meads are ready to bottle. I normally age mead for three years though, so I may let them age in the bottle then have a tasting party next February.

Update 10/28/2008 – The results are in!
It was a long running experiment with a little surprise at the end. Follow this link to see the results of my mead boiling test.

The trouble with titration

The 2006 grape mead is made from the pomace of my smallest batch of wine ever. I added honey, water, nutrient, and cream of tartar. I had some trouble checking the TA on this one because I ran short of sodium hydroxide, the base I use to titrate acid in a wine sample. I added 5 ml to the sample, and that brought the pH to 7.4. That’s very close to the end point. If I really had reached the end point, it would have indicated a TA of 5 g/L. It’s a bit more, maybe 5.25 g/L, but since I can’t be sure I just noted “5+”

Hmm, that acid measuring contraption I wrote about the other day just looks better and better.

Wines For Valentine’s Day

Which wines are right for Valentine’s Day? The ones you sip with chocolate, of course! I have some ideas about that, but it might be better to consult an expert. There’s none better than wine writer Natalie MacLean, who describes wine as,

liquid sensuality: Its heady bouquet stimulates the appetite and its velvet caress soothes that desire. What other drink is described as both ‘voluptuous’ and ‘muscular’? And when you pair wine with the mouth-coating luxury of chocolate, the combination is impossible to resist.

No doubt, you just can’t wait to hear my thoughts on that, but maybe I’ll just go ahead and give you her top ten wine and chocolate pairings:

Wine and chocolate for Valentine’s Day

1. Dark Chocolate and Banyuls, France
2. Chocolate-Covered Biscotti and Recioto Della Valpolicella, Italy
3. Chocolate-Orange Cake and Liqueur Muscat, Australia
4. Chocolate with Nuts and Tawny Port, Portugal
5. Milk Chocolate and Tokaji, Hungary
6. Bittersweet Chocolate and Amarone, Italy
7. Chocolate-Dipped Fruit and Icewine, Canada
8. Chocolate Ganache Truffles and Sauternes, France
9. Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake and Framboise, California
10. Chocolate Hearts with Cream Filling and Cream Sherry, Spain

You can visit her web site and click the “Food & Wine” link for many more ideas on matching food and wine. If you love her site as much as I do, you’ll want to buy her book, Red, White, and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass. It would make a great Valentine’s day gift – who needs flowers?

Ok, you should probably get her flowers too …

Superbowl Wine?

Football Wine

Red wine and pizza!

Ok, it’s not often you go to a football game and hear one of the vendors bellowing, “Ice cold Chenin Blanc here!” Beer is the beverage of choice for tailgate parties, but wine definitely has it’s place in your Superbowl festivities. What could better with pizza than a full bodied red? It’s pizza with the guys watching the game though, not fancy dress with your significant other, so you don’t want to break the bank. My choice would be Lindemans Bin 50 Shiraz, a bargain red that doesn’t taste like a bargain.

A good white for the game

Still whites would be harder to fit into a Superbowl party, but if you like whites stick to full flavored ones like Sauvignon Blanc. I just placed an order for the Viu Manent 2006 Sauvignon Blanc based on a good review. I haven’t tried it yet, but it would be my choice for a still white on game day.

This relaxed sparkling wine won’t disappoint

Sparkling wine seems like on obvious choice, but you shouldn’t waste good wine by shaking the bottle and spraying it on all your friends. For something a little different than Champaign, try Prosecco. It’s an Italian sparkling wine that’s a little sweeter and more fruity than the French variety. A good one to try is il Prosecco, which comes in a distinctive bottle topped with a crown cap (like beer!).

So, by all means, stock up on beer for the Superbowl, but don’t forget the wine.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Edwards who has made it available under the creative commons license – thanks Aaron!

Update 4/19/2010 – Find your own superbowl wine by tasting blind

How do you tell a diamond in the ruff from an overpriced “bargain?” Compare it against a wine you know in a blind tasting. It’s the only way to set aside the mental baggage we all carry and see a wine as it really is. Here’s a quick and easy way to do your own blind tasting at home.

A Cheap Way To Make Expensive Wine

Grow the best grapes

Making good wine is expensive, but not in the way you might think. Oh sure, the things that top growers do to improve the quality of their harvest add to the cost. They analyze the soil and amend it to enhance their crop. They prune and train their vines, even to the point of plucking off individual leaves so that sunlight falls on the vine in just the right way, to keep their vines healthy and ensure that they bear the best fruit possible. They harvest in the early morning, when it’s still dark, and rush them to the winery so that the grapes are at their peak during crush.

Spare no expense to make the best wine

Winemakers then dote over the wine. They select just the right yeast. They adjust the sugar and acid levels to balance the wine. The may inoculate with malolactic bacteria to soften the wine, introduce tiny, controlled amounts of oxygen so that wine ages in just the right way, and so on.

Or just tell them it costs more

But scientists at the California Institute of Technology have found a simpler way: just raise the price. They asked volunteers to taste five different wines and told them the price of each one. What they didn’t tell them was that there were only three different wines. They had the volunteers taste a $90 bottle of wine twice, telling them it was a different $10 bottle of wine the second time. Similarly, a $5 bottle of wine reappeared as a $45 bottle. Functional MRIs showed that people liked the “more expensive” wine better – that is, the pleasure center of the brain showed more intense activity when they tasted the same wine, but believed it was more expensive.

Oh, and when they repeated the experiment without telling the volunteers how much the wine cost, the $5 bottle was rated highest.

Further reading

The National Academy of Sciences published the study. Here is a link to the abstract:

Abstract of the CIT study

Unfortunately, you must subscribe or buy one-time access to read the full article.

Update – 11/28/2008

Another study indicates that a higher price can “improve” a painkiller’s effectiveness.

Update – 4/19/2010 Quick and easy blind tasting

Tasting blind lets you see a wine the way it really is. Here’s how to run a quick and easy blind tasting at home.

Buying Commercial Wine

Consumer Reports and Pacific Northwest Magazine both published lists of recommended wines recently. One Washington State wine made both lists, and that got me curious enough to try it. Columbia Crest Two Vines Riesling is described as a “sweet, dessert-style wine with fruit balanced by acid.” A description like that doesn’t exactly make me want to rush out and buy it, but it’s pretty accurate. Here’s what Pacific Northwest Magazine had to say:

Done in a off-dry style, it is bursting with sweet and crisp flavors of green apple, melon and peach , finished with a dollop of honey and orange liqueur.

I don’t know about all that, but it was on sale for $5.99, and I did enjoy the wine. I would say they overdid it with the sugar, but the Lady of the house, bless her little sweet tooth, loved it. Lists like this often come out near the end of the year, and make me want to try new wines – especially the ones on the “Really Good Wines Under $8” list!

Update 4/19/2010 – Blind tastings separate the wheat from the chaff

How do you tell a diamond in the ruff from an overpriced “bargain?” Compare it against a wine you know in a blind tasting. It’s the only way to set aside the mental baggage we all carry and see a wine as it really is. Here’s a quick and easy way to do your own blind tasting at home.

Racking, Topping Up, And No More Headspace

Maybe getting caught short, when I racked my mead the other day, was a blessing in disguise. Having half a gallon of mead in a 1-gallon jug, with all that head space threatening to oxidize it, motivated me to rack four other 1-gallon batches. Some of these had been sitting on lees longer than I would like, and it felt really good to look at them, bright and clear with no sediment, in their new containers.

Looks great, smells great, but tastes bland

My Produce Department Chablis is coming along nicely. The aroma is terrific, and it’s bright and clear with the color of a great rose. That’s why the taste is so disappointing. It’s not that there’s an off taste or flaw, but that there’s not much flavor at all. It’s way too early to give up on it, so I’ll put it back in the wine closet and give it some time.

Specific Gravity: 0.990, pH: 3.60, Titratable Acidity: 6 g/L

Oregano Wine: A good first impression

It’s clear, almost colorless, without much aroma, but it’s got a nice flavor. So what does oregano wine taste like? It’s early yet, but it doesn’t taste of oregano. In fact, it reminds me a little of rhubarb wine. Anyway, this is my first oregano wine, and so far, so good!

SG: 0.990, pH: 3.80, TA: 5.5 g/L

The recipe I’m using calls for 3 tsp acid. So far, I’ve added 1 tsp and neutralized some of that to restart a stuck fermentation. So I added another tsp (about 4.9 grams) of tartaric acid. That ought to raise the TA to 6.8 g/L.

Speaking of rhubarb …

I make rhubarb wine every year, from my backyard rhubarb patch, and this is last year’s vintage. I like to let rhubarb wine age for two years, and it can improve for five or more years, but this one is pretty good now.

SG: 0.991, pH: 3.41, TA: 7 g/L

Apple Mead: Last but not least

When I made apple wine this year, I used a juicer on the apples and fermented the juice. Last year, I chopped up the apples and used dry sugar extraction to get the juice out. That means I cut up the apples and put them in a bucket. I covered them with sugar, which “pulled” the moisture out of the apples, and I fermented that. I used the spent apples to make a mead by pouring a honey water mixture over them and pitching yeast. It had a lot of sediment, and I really should have racked earlier. But it’s no worse for the wear, and I’m looking forward to bottling it.

SG: 0.996, pH: 3.33, TA: 6 g/L

Do things happen for a reason? Yes, but sometimes the reason is bad planning

Maybe it’s a good thing I didn’t rack these when I should have. After all, I had a way to use up some of the mead that was half-filling that 1-gallon jug. Or, maybe it was a good thing I didn’t have a half-gallon jug when I racked the mead because that nudged me to rack these wines. Sometimes good intentions are all you need to get you where you want to go. Sometimes they need a little help.