• Sparkling Wine and Fried Food

    We tend to think of sparkling wines as a special treat, a drink reserved for special occasions and the finest of foods. However, they are becoming more democratic and affordable than ever before. The rise in popularity of that famous Italian bubbly everyone loves, has encouraged suppliers to fuel our love affair with fizz, in the hope of becoming the next ‘Prosecco.’

    The Challengers to Champagne

    English Sparkling Wine, New World offerings and Crémant, are now easier to obtain than ever before. They are appearing on supermarket shelves of discounters like Aldi and Lidl, not just specialist shops and online retailers. Many of these are available for reasonable prices between £6-20.

    Crémant fills this niche nicely. This is the little known sparkling wine that is produced in a similar way to Champagne in France. Most of the regions that produce still wines, usually always make a Crémant using their native grape varieties. From Bordeaux, to Burgundy and even the Rhône and Languedoc- they all produce their own take on the traditional ‘bottle fermented/aged’ style.

    Not to be left behind in the past as ‘cheaper than Champagne,’ Cava has really upped quality efforts to lure drinkers away from Prosecco and New World fizz.

    Fried Food and Fizz-What a Combination!

    Personally, one of the greatest pleasures in life is a glass of something bubbly with fried or salty/fatty foods. Though some are fruitier or tarter than others, all sparkling wines are acidic. This is great for foods like these, as they are mouth-watering and refreshing- cutting through those oily characteristics and somehow making them feel less sinful as they cleanse your palette! These often also contain high levels of salt too, which softens the wine and helps bring out the flavour.

    Why not try a glass of fizz with that great British takeaway, fish and chips? Or, how about Bubbly with a family bucket of fried chicken? Why not give whitebait or calamari a go? Or even just a bag of crisps or roasted peanuts!

  • What are ‘ISO wine tasting’ glasses?

    They are professional glasses that help you assess and appreciate your wine more. Not so we can give out stingy samples!

    An ISO Professional Wine Tasting Glass Ready For Use

    An ISO Professional Wine Tasting Glass Ready For Use

    These are scientific, specially designed glasses that are authenticated and standardised for use in the wine industry around the world. (ISO stands for 'International Standards Organisation', the accrediting body).They are used in places from wineries such as in tasting and blending rooms, to classrooms and wine merchants. They are used by Wine Educators, Sommeliers and other trade professionals at many types of event.

    The 'tulip' shape of the glass helps direct aromas to the rim and concentrate them towards your nose. The rounded bowl also leaves plenty of room to swirl the wine, stirring up the more delicate aromas and flavours, without spillage. It also allows you to tilt the glass at an almost 45 degree angle against a white background, so you can fully assess the colour.

    The broad stem helps you grip the glass properly, without having to touch the bowl and warm the wine too much. It also helps you stop smearing too much dirt and oil from your hands on the bowl. The glass is very pure, so light is not scattered too much. They are ultra tough, so they survive knocks, clinks and (most importantly!) multiple dish washer cycles.

    Would you like to learn a bit more about wine, and enjoy a great alternative night out with friends? Why not try one of our Discovery Courses. They're a lot of fun, and stuffed full of even more great wine tips like this!

  • How Sparkling Wine is Made & Why Prices Vary

    A bottle of Fizz is Always a Welcome Way to Get Any Party Going!

    Are all sparkling wines the same?

    Everyone, usually even non wine drinkers, have heard of Champagne. You expect it to be a high quality, expensive product. This is down to centuries of clever marketing, careful refinement of manufacturing process and aggressive image building and protection by the region's makers.

    However, we are in a golden age of consumer choice. There are now many more varieties of fizz available to us, from all over the world. These have a wide range of price points. Understandably, many people wonder what the difference is between these- and whether they are worth it.

    Of course, everyone's personal tastes are different. That is fine, it would be a very boring world otherwise! Some people hate Champagne, but love Prosecco. For others, only Champagne will do- every other sparkling wine is an inferior pretender to the sparkling wine crown.

    Much of the final price you pay and the final character of the wine, however, can be explained by the different processes used to create it. 

    Cheapest option: 'Carbonisation'

    Sometimes referred to (rather rudely/sarcastically by French winemakers) as, 'The Coca-Cola method' or 'Methode Pompe Biciclette.' This is generally only reserved to the very value end of the market, with sensitive price points done to cost. As the process name(s) suggest, Carbon Dioxide gas is simply pumped through a still base wine. Some dissolves in the wine, producing bubbles, and then it is bottled. Does the job, but rather crudely. The result is very large bubbles which 'assault' the palate. Also, like soft drinks, the fizz disappears quickly and they do not last very long once the bottle is opened, or the wine is in your glass.

    Two Fermentations

    The remaining products are of much better quality. What do Prosecco, Champagne, Cava, New World sparkling wines and Crémant (sparkling wine produced in France in regions other than Champagne) all have in common? They all undergo two fermentations. One to make the base wine, then a second to naturally create the fizz.

    The exception to this is Asti, which is made all in one go quickly to help preserve the Muscat grapes' delicate aroma.

    However, how this second fermentation is done, and what happens after differs greatly for each. This can have a massive impact on the final character and cost of each product.

    The 'Traditional Method'

    The way of doing things the Champagne makers perfected, which many other quality minded sparkling wine producers follow. Examples include Cava, Crémant, English Sparkling Wine and some New World sparkling wine.

    Ageing (and space for it!) comes at a premium. But some flavours only develop with time.

    Ageing (and space for it!) comes at a premium. But some flavours only develop with time.

    After first fermentation in tank, the wine is put into the bottle it will be sold in. Often, this is a blend of many different wines and grape varieties to add complexity/smooth out imperfections. It is then sealed with a second dose of yeast and sugar. Carbon dioxide is naturally produced, and has no where to go other than dissolve in the wine. Eventually the yeast eats all the nutrients and dies. It sinks to the side of the bottle, and forms a layer of sediment called 'lees.' Contact with this, can impart savoury bready/cakey/biscuity flavours. The longer the wine is kept in contact with this, the richer and more obvious these flavours become. The acidity of the wine also softens.

    'Time is money' as they say, so this can add considerably to the cost. Cheaper ones are not left to age as long, so are fresher on the fruit side- but are often less complex and the acidity is more noticeable.  However, if you like the richer styles of vintage sparkling wines, you realise development is slow, and this extra time is necessary. People are therefore willing to pay more for it. Cava and Crémant, tend not to be aged as long as Champagne. As well more being able to be produced in general, because their allowed areas of production are bigger, this contributes to them being less expensive. English Sparkling Wine and high-end New World products on the other hand, are totally modelling themselves on the Champagne style. So these often have prices to match.

    The 'Tank Method'

    Modern stainless steel tanks are a less romantic image than ancient wine cellars. This is a much more efficient and quicker process of producing bubbles though! And preseves more aromatic wines better.

    Modern stainless steel tanks are a less romantic image than ancient wine cellars. This is a much more efficient and quicker process of producing bubbles though! And preseves aromatic varieties.

    Sometimes also known as 'cuve close' or 'Charmat/Martinotti' method (after its French/Italian co-developers), because it sounds sligthly less off-putting! Prosecco, Asti and similar priced New World bubblies are made this way. However, this does not necessarily  make them 'inferior' or 'cheap.' The wines still undergo a second fermentation, but kept in a tank rather than done in bottle. This is quicker and less labour intensive which helps with production costs. However, for the aromatic grapes that go into Prosecco and Asti (Glera and Muscat), the larger surface area to volume of wine to yeast lees is a good thing. It allows the delicate flavours naturally present in the grapes to shine. These products are also not aged after bottling, as their freshness would just fade. Therefore they are put on the shelves intended to be drunk as soon as possible.

  • How long will an open bottle of wine keep?

    At 'room temperature?' Usually a few days...

    It won't spoil immediately. Some may even benefit from a bit of 'breathing.' They appear to open up and harsher elements like the tannin and acidity making way for the lovely flavours. Seemingly becoming reborn as a completely different animal, you appreciate more than when you had a glass the previous day. However, once the seal is broken air begins to attack the wine and it loses its 'freshness' (ie, those aromas start to fade). There are some easy steps to take to keep it a bit longer, if you don't want to drink it right away though.

    The cheap/'free' option

    Stick the closure back in/on as tightly as possible, and pop the bottle back in the fridge. Reds & whites. Yes, you read that correctly- reds too! Most people pop their white or rosé back in the fridge without a second thought, yet open red wine bottles are often left to languish on the sideboard or kitchen counter. Think about what something that keeps the temperature of your food low is designed to do; preserve it. Lower temperatures in your refrigerator slow your food spoiling. The same applies to wine! Lower temperatures mean that the chemical reactions making the wine go off are slowed- this is why red wines appear to 'go off' quicker than whites once opened, because they are left exposed to room temperatures. The easiest thing you can do to keep your wine from spoiling (besides drinking it all, obviously!), is pop it back in the chiller. If it's a heavy red, just get it out before serving and leave it to warm up a little someplace warm, like the kitchen while you're cooking.  

    Extended life of wine: up to 4/5 days. Cost: £0

    Vacuum pumps

    Vacuvin costing around £10.

    Vacuvin costing around £10.

    There are several brands of these available, and usually supermarket own label ones too. They all work along the same principle though- removing air from the bottle so it is not in contact with the wine. The pumps usually come with at least one or two special closures, which you place firmly in the neck of the bottle instead of the cork/screwcap. These stoppers have an airlock valve in them, which are activated once you place the pump on top of them and give it a few goes. When the pump offers resistance, this means most of the air has been removed from inside. You can tell the seal has been effective if you pull the stopper out, and it makes a soft 'pffft' noise (which is the air rushing back into the bottle). These devices often give you a cost effective way to give your wine a bit more life once open.

    Extended life of wine: up to 7-10 days. Cost: £6 to 10

    'Blanketing' systems

    Sounds very hi-tech, I know. In reality, many of you may have already encountered one of these futuristic sounding devices whilst visiting your local wine merchant or bar. Those machines you pop a card into and take samples of different wines after you've loaded credit onto them? Yeah, that's an example! These work by using sealed, self contained cabinets. When you've selected the wine you want to try, cartridges, containing non reactive gases, replace the volume of wine you've just drunk with a dose of something like Argon. Because this gas is heavier than oxygen, and does not dissolve in liquids, it sits in the space between the air an wine acting as a barrier. The original branded inventions are known as 'Enomatic tasting machines.' These are a good way of opening more expensive bottles, and letting people have a taste without buying the whole thing. However, the hefty beasts cost thousands- and most people may not even have the space even if they can afford them. 

    Coravin System

    Coravin System

    Fortunately, an American wine loving engineering entrepreneur spotted this gap in the market, and invented a handheld device. Known as a 'Coravin,' these use small canisters a bit like the squirty whipping cream cartridges but with Argon instead of nitrogen (that funny taste cans of store bought whipped cream have is down to the Nitrous Oxide dissolving in the cream, which obviously you do not want flavouring your wine!). It also has a very fine needle, which instead of disturbing the seal like opening the bottle does, penetrates through to the wine without breaching it. A button is then pressed which simultaneously draws the wine up the needle, while replacing the displaced wine with inert gas. As it is so fine, the needle can then be removed without making a hole. You can then enjoy some of your wine without opening the whole thing! The downside of this, is it currently only works for bottles with a natural cork, rather than a screwcap. A problem for fine wine producers in New Zealand and Australia, who are devotees to screwcap technology (not surprising, seeing as how they were involved in the science of developing them).

    There is currently only the Coravin available, so this makes these devices quite expensive, though not as much as the bigger Enomatic style ones! However, if you are a small bar or restaurant, or have a personal collection of a few fine wines- these are a cost effective way of having a small glass or two without having to power through the whole bottle. 

    Extended life of wine: 1 or 2 months (possibly years with the Coravin, as it doesn't break the cork seal). Cost: £269 + cartridges for the Coravin, to £1000's for the Enomatic style machines.

    Would you like to learn a bit more about wine, and enjoy a great alternative night out with friends? Why not try one of our Discovery Courses. They're a lot of fun, and stuffed full of even more great wine tips like this!

  • What Temperature Should I Serve My Wine At?

    What's the right temperature to serve my wine at?

    What's the right temperature to serve my wine at?

    Can I really have my white wines 'too cold', and my red wines 'too warm?'

    A: Yes you can!

    Believe it or not, one of the most influential factors on your experience of enjoying a wine or not is what temperature it is served at. Our sense of smell operates by detecting aromatic vapours (known as 'volatiles'), that evaporate from our food and drink and stimulate the receptors in our nose. Some evaporate more readily than others.

    The lower the temperature, the fewer of these aromas escape the glass and reach your nasal passage at the back of your nose and mouth. Therefore, it is harder to detect and appreciate the flavours.

    Conversely, you can actually serve red wines too warm! The aromas and flavours are evaporating so quickly, that they are disappearing into the wider atmosphere of the room before they get a chance to reach your nose and mouth in the glass. This can make them seem thin and lifeless.

    Light bodied, aromatic white wines

    Eg Unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc. When the label states 'serve chilled' it actually means around 5-7 degrees Celsius. When you pluck that bottle of white straight out of the fridge, it is more like around 1-3 degrees. This is what you want for preserving food, but is much too cold to fully appreciate the wine's aromas and flavours! Leaving the bottle 5-10 minutes to warm slightly means that it is still chilled to the point of resfreshment, but at the same time allows some of the more delicate aromas to be coaxed out of the glass when poured.

    Full bodied white wines

    E.g. an oaky Chardonnay, or a rich, vintage Champagne. Serving temperature should even be slightly warmer than this at around 10-12 degrees Celsius!

    Lighter bodied red wines

    E.g. Valpolicella, Beaujolais and Pinot Noirs from Burgundy. Serving temperature around 10-13 degrees Celsius. Lighter bodied red wines like Valpolicella or Beaujolais can be enjoyed lightly chilled because of their delicate, fruity aromatic nature. Chunky reds like Cabernet Sauvignon or Shiraz usually taste terrible, because chilling them suppresses the flavour and makes the tannins more obvious.

    Full bodied red wines

    E.g. Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot and Malbec. Serving temperature around 16-18 degrees Celsius. The term 'serve at room temperature' goes back to a time before central heating! Many of us have our thermostats at temperatures that suit our level of comfort, and definition of 'warm.' This is often well in excess of 20 degrees, so certainly don't leave your nice bottle of red next to a radiator to 'warm up'!  

  • 3 Ways To Quickly Chill Your Wine

    The Ice, water & Salt Method

    The Ice, water & Salt Method

    The Salt Ice & Water Method

    This method uses the fact that a water and ice bath is more effective than ice alone. The addition of a couple of tablespoons of salt lowers the freezing point of the water making it even colder.

    If you spin the bottles around in the bath occasionally this will move the warmer wine into contact with the cold glass, speeding up the cooling process.

    The Damp Towel & Freezer Method

    Dampen a towel or paper towels with cold water. Wrap your bottle in this & place in freezer. The damp towel conducts the heat from the bottle better. It also keeps all of the bottle in contact with a cold surface. This should work within about 20 minutes.

    Don't forget about your wine & leave it too long though!

    Chilling a Single Glass

    You can't use ice cubes without affecting the flavour of your wine of course! But frozen grapes make good wine coolers. They retain the water within themselves as they warm up & don't affect the flavour.

    You may be thinking " I don't keep frozen grapes in my freezer" - but many of the mixed frozen fruit packs at the supermarket do have grapes in them.

    Try other frozen fruit by all means. They may flavour your glass of vino though, so probably best used in less expensive wines. How about a couple of frozen raspberries in that glass of rosé on a hot summer's day?

    Of course the artificial plastic ice cubes available will work just as well with no water being added to your wine.

    Have You Any Tips For Rapid Wine Cooling?

    If so why not share them with us?