Tag Archives: winechat

Napa is my favorite place to disappear.

Fran Berger and friends in Napa.

Thinking about Napa. It’s so much more than just a place to drink wine.

One of the best things I learned over 20 years ago when I opened my first restaurant was that Napa is not just a place to drink wine.  It’s much, much, more.

With my first restaurant I had to learn about wine lists and how to build them with my customer in mind – not just what I liked to drink.  I’ve been drinking wine since college (not always the best wines – trust me!!). In the beginning there was a budget to pay attention to.  Building the wine list had me looking at wines in a whole new way and I realized that I didn’t know much about them other than what I liked: a dry white, a dry ‘big’ red, and I hated jam.  I still always say that you should never chew your wine!

The need to create a successful wine list started me on an educational journey that I absolutely love to this day.  I was semi-familiar with the Napa area. I went to high school in the South Bay near San Francisco and my first year of college was at UC Davis where they have a world-renowned Viticulture and Enology Department (grape growing and wine making) – all within an hour or two of the Napa Valley.  My focus turned to Napa – and I’ve been going there to taste new wines ever since.  I was one of the first group of visitors when the wineries reopened after the devastating fires last year.

Fran and friend in Napa

I’m there, at a minimum, twice a year and more often it’s four times each year.  I never miss Spring – at ‘bud’ – or when the vines start to have buds on them.  Everything is just starting to grow and the anticipation for the new crop is palpable.  There are festivals all year long – most centered around food and wine – and wonderful concerts in the summer.  Harvest in the Fall is really fun to see – a literal bee hive of activity all over the valley to get all of the grapes in at just the moment the winemakers are looking for to create their wines.

For me visits to Napa have become fabulous learning opportunities, much needed times to ‘zone out’ and just breathe and relax, times to reconnect with friends, eat great food, taste new wines and of course – to let loose.  Over the years I have tasted some of the most amazing wines and joined the wine clubs of a few of my favorite wineries – one of which I’m a member of their Founder’s Club (capped at 150 members) which gives me access to wines that are not sold outside the club.  Many of the better wineries clubs either only sell to their club members or have specific wines that are only sold to members because the production of those wines is so small.

So, if you already enjoy wine or are just beginning to discover all the beauty and nuances of flavor to be found in your favorite glass of red (or white or bubbles!) and you want to learn the why and how then a visit to Napa should be in your future.

Mike Davis, owner of Davis Estates, Fran, with bottles of "Phase V" Cabernet Sauvignon.Glasses for Silver Oak, Napa. Crates of wine.


Above left: Mike Davis, owner of Davis Estates, Fran, and bottles of “Phase V” Cabernet Sauvignon.

Rosé is a Rose by Any Other Name?

Rose Wine, with Gruet Brut Rose

There’s just so much more to your wine than just a name!

First, a little story. I was with a friend who is a real muscle car geek. This man knows every make, has details about every model, knows things about particular years that boggles the mind, and I think has either owned or ridden in just about every one of them.

That’s why I was a little amused when he almost got whiplash and craned his neck to watch what appeared to me an older blue car fly by going in the other direction.

“Oh, that’s such a sweet ride!” he exclaimed like a teenager.

“What was it?” I asked.

He had such a big grin. “A 1967 Camaro Rally Sport hardtop – with original black stripes!  In metallic blue.”

I’m always appreciative of other people’s passions. That’s how I get about wine.

What for one person is “just another rosé” – to me, is a whole world of detail.

There’s a difference between what is recognized as Old World Wine and what is New World. New World Wine comes from regions where winemaking and the Vitis vinifera grape was exported from Europe during the Age of Exploration (roughly 1500 through the very early 1800s). The Americas, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand are New World – everywhere else – Old World.  Old World rosé tends to be bone-dry while New World can be almost sweet, fruitier.

Another thing about rosé that surprises most people is that it starts off white. Almost all red skinned grapes – like pinot noir, cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel – have white to “off green” flesh, and the squeezed juice is clear. So, what makes them red? The anthocyanin pigment in the dark skin of the grape. The red color or pinkness (and the flavor associated with the finished rosé) is determined by the amount of contact the clear juice has with the skin.

Cool, right?

There are basically four ways to make rosé wine:

  • First, there’s something called Bleeding or Saignée (usually the best quality rosés are made with this method)– the grapes are stacked in a tank and the weight of the grapes actually does the crushing. Some of the juice is “bled-off” into another tank after limited contact with the skins making this the palest in color of the rosés. The rest is kept in the tank for making red wines.
  • Pressing or pressé where red skinned grapes are pressed until the desired color is reached at which point the winemaker stops pressing.
  • Limited Maceration – which is the most common technique – leaves the juice in contact with the skins, seeds, and stems. Usually, this goes on for no more than two or three days until the juice is the color the winemaker wants at which point the juice (without all those seeds, stems and skin) is transferred to another tank to finish the fermentation.
  • Finally, there’s the Run Off method where the winemaker removes some of the juice of fermenting red wine and pours it into a separate tank. By doing this, the winemaker can make a red wine that’s a bit darker and more intense.

Rosé is typically drunk when it’s very young – 1-3 years old.  So, what’s the best rosé to serve for a dinner party? It all depends on what you’re serving – the drier the wine the easier it is to pair with salads, vegetables and grilled proteins.  The sweeter the rosé the better it would be with dessert or enjoying the sunset.  Rosé is an ideal wine to enjoy all year long but particularly in the summer/warmer months.

If you like a drier Old World rosé, then pick up a bottle of Miraval Rosé, from the Chateau Miraval in Provence, France. The nose (aroma) can be a bit sweet with strawberries and raspberry notes but because of the different grapes it’s blended with (Grenache, etc.) it is slightly acidic on the palate.  It would pair well with raw salmon, tuna (like a tartare or sushi) or something similar to a Niçoise Salad.

Another Old World rosé called Pive (Pea-vé) is from the JeanJean winery in the wilderness of the Camargue national park France and is organically farmed. This one tends to be a bit more aromatic – strawberry, raspberry fruit, some earth, spice and mineral characters but is bone dry and very fresh.  This would be great with BBQ and grilled meats as well as fish/shellfish.  It’s a really great summer picnic wine.

The Brut Rosé from Gruet is one of my favorite sparkling wines when I want something a bit sweeter.  It’s from the New World – New Mexico – with floral and berry aromas and flavors of cherry, raspberry and wild strawberry with a delicate acidity on the finish.  It goes well with a chilled salad!

I always recommend that you talk to your wine merchant and ask questions. Let them know the wines that you like to drink – and what you’re planning for a meal. It’ll help them pick the right rosé for you.

And don’t forget keep your rosé chilled and – if it’s a party – buy magnums!

A simple way to save “leftover” wine

Coravin Wine Preserver

Wine Ice Cubes: The best thing for “leftover” wine.

Good wine is a terrible thing to waste.

Being a lover of wine, I’m always offering a glass or two to friends when they stop by.  I take great care in the wine I select. It’s important only to drink the wines you like (that doesn’t mean they aren’t new ones to you – just don’t waste those calories on bad wine!).  I always like to discover new wines and learn as much about them (the grape, the blend, the winemaker) as I can.  Every label has a story.

It’s very little surprise then that I try never to waste wine once the bottle is opened. If I think that only one or two glasses will be poured, I will reach for my Coravin – a device that allows you to pour a glass or two without pulling the cork!  It inserts a long needle through the cork, displaces the wine poured with Argon gas, and when the needle is removed, the cork seals over itself, and no air touches the wine in the bottle thereby there’s no chance of unplanned oxidization of the wine.  It’s a truly genius system.  So, when I open a bottle, I want to make sure that every drop is enjoyed!  But sometimes, I might not realize we only have time for one glass, and I’ve opened the bottle only to have half of the bottle left.

Leftovers are great, some foods like soups, stews, and sauces are even better the second day, but that is not the case with wine.  When air meets wine – oxidization of the wine begins.  This is a great thing for a few hours as it allows the wine to “open” and change the taste and bouquet of the wine for the better.  The wine becomes what the winemaker intended for you to be drinking.  But, when too much air comes in contact with the wine – like by the next day – then the change isn’t so great.  I can taste the changes, so I don’t drink leftover wine – and the problem remains.  What to do with that leftover wine before it changes into something no one wants to drink?

This is what I do with that “leftover” wine – I make ice cubes!  Whenever a recipe calls for wine, you should always be using something that you’d actually drink. You wouldn’t believe how this improves the dish.  If you’ve ever just reached for that jug of red when the recipe calls for dry red wine and then another time (with the same recipe) you’ve used wine that you would be happy to drink you know exactly what I’m talking about.  Your dish will always taste better when it’s made with wine you enjoy.

I have very clever OXO Good Grip “no spill ice-trays” made by OXO that I buy at Bed, Bath and Beyond.  They have a flexible top that seals over the liquid so that there are no spills in your freezer.  Simply fill the tray with your leftover wine, lay the top on the tray and freeze.  Frozen cubes slide easily out of the tray.  Keep the frozen wine cubes in a Ziploc bag that you’ve written what the wine is and the date it went into your freezer.  Whenever you’re cooking and the recipe calls for wine – simply pull out your frozen wine cubes and you never have to open a new bottle again.  Of course, if you need a couple of cups of wine for the recipe then, by all means, open the fresh bottle and enjoy a glass of the “leftover” wine while your recipe is cooking away!

Let’s talk about serving wine.

wine glasses on a tabletop

You’re hosting a party. How much wine do you serve?

How much wine should you pour in a glass? It all depends on what you want to do. Like, it’s been a bad day and you’ve come home for a little relaxation, then who’s going to comment if you fill your favorite wine glass to the top with your favorite red?

It’s something else though when you have guests, isn’t it? Filling a wine glass to the brim is just way too much when you’ve just invited some friends over for a quiet evening. Besides, do you want your friends sloshing red wine all over your carpets and chairs? Not anything I want in my house, right?

Over twenty years of owning restaurants has taught me a thing or two about serving sizes especially for events that you might host, like a party. Serving full glasses of wine is way too much not just for a party but really for anytime you’re having a glass of your favorite grape. You’re not taking full advantage of every experience the winemaker was hoping you’d have when drinking their wine. Worse yet, you’re cutting short the real enjoyment you get from drinking good wine. Especially at your party where you can make the experience that much more memorable for everyone.

When I serve wine at a gathering of good friends, I want to love the wine. I want to enjoy everything that the winemaker worked so hard to create. I want to taste the flavor. I want to enjoy the color. And I want to smell the full bouquet and I want my guests to do the same.

To encourage my guests to take part in the enjoyment, I fill their glasses to just below what we call the “waist” of the glass. For most wine glasses, that’s the point where the bowl is widest.  Filling the glass to that point gives you plenty of room to swirl the wine around in the glass, look at the color, and let the bouquet fill the glass. Then you can dip your nose into the glass and smell that wonderful aroma as you take a sip.

If you do a little research, you’ll find that there are all types of wine glasses. Riedel is a glass manufacturer that was the first to create wines glasses where form follows function.  In 1961 Claus Riedel was the first designer to understand that the shape of a wine glass affected the bouquet, taste, balance and finish and so created an entire line based on what grape you are drinking.  When it comes down to theory and mechanics of wine glass-making, Riedel is truly a unique company.  It’s the glasses that I reach for most often at home whether I’m having a party or just enjoying a glass of my favorite wine with dinner.

Here’s the thing though, I don’t always pay attention to what the book says about what kind of wine should go into what kind of glass. Bottom line, I buy the glass that I like. If it has a nice shape and it has a nice feel in my hand, I bring it home.

Riedel makes excellent simple wine glasses that are right for really just about anyone. The great thing is that they can easily be found at Williams-Sonoma – one of my favorite places to go for things for the tabletop.

Back at the party, no matter what kind of glass you end up with, encourage your guests to take their time with their wine.  Fill it short, and enjoy the experience.