Wine Enthusiast Podcast: California’s Real Red Wine Blends

We talk innovation in winemakIng with Denner Vineyards, as well bring you pro tips on cellaring wine.
Illustration by Mikel Casal

Contributing Editor Matt Kettmann interviews the innovative winemaker from Denner Vineyards about what’s behind this trend, plus Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa talks cellaring tips with a pro.

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The Wine Enthusiast Podcast

Host: From Wine Enthusiast magazine, this is the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. Coming up on today’s podcast, California real red wine blends. Serious cellar-worthy selections from across the state that showcase the best Rhône-style blends the Central Coast has to offer, but what makes these blends so unique? Contributing Editor Matt Kettmann talks with an innovative winemaker from Denner Vineyards about what’s behind this ever-increasing trend.

Anthony Yount: I think, first and foremost, I think it’s the truest expression of a vineyard, so when you’re making a blend of five, six, seven grapes in a finished wine, you’re really getting the true transparency of what that vineyard is as opposed to just looking it through sort of the lens of one grape.

Host: Plus, Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa talks with a Certified Specialist of Wine on the best tips for storing at home for those special wines you want to last, and how to avoid storing in some of the worst places to keep wine.

Marshall Tilden: Because all wine is stored at the same temperature—every wine, white, red, Champagne or whatever it is—right around 55°, between 53° and 57°, that’s your ideal and that’s where wine evolves, that’s a temperature it’s comfortable. And what happens with the temperatures being too high or too low is it either expedites the aging process or slows it down.

Host: Plus pared-down pairings, wine basics and more all coming up on the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. Blue Apron Wine, regardless of whether you cook with Blue Apron, you definitely should drink with Blue Apron Wine. No one else offers wines like Vignobles Bulliat Morgon, 91 points from Wine Enthusiast, Mathiason from Napa, Mount Beautiful from New Zealand and so many other world-class selections. Get $25 off your first shipment of six wines at blueapron.com/corkscrew.

Most wines are a blend of some kind, whether it be different vineyards, barrels, etc, but if you want to discover what makes California red wine blends so unique, prepare to take notes as Contributing Editor Matt Kettmann, who reviews wines from California, conducts an in-depth interview with Winemaker Anthony Yount from Denner Vineyards about how inventive combinations creates some of the best red blends from California.

Matt Kettmann: And I’m here today with Anthony Yount, the winemaker from Denner Vineyards in Paso Robles. We’re gonna talk about red blends. Good to have you here Anthony.

Anthony Yount: Thanks for having me Matt.

MK: America over the years has become fascinated with single-variety wines like Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and things like that. But blends, as you and I both know, are a major part of wine history and wine present. And I mean, you guys make both single-variety wines and some blends, so I mean when you got into wine, what was your experience? Was it, were you more focused on single varieties or were blends always something you were interested in?

AY: Well, the first bottle of wine I had that really kind of blew me away, I was 18 and driving from St. Louis, Missouri to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho and we stopped in Missoula, Montana. I was with my older brother and he talked the waitress into serving me underage, and he bought a ‘98 Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and it was really the first bottle of wine for me that knocked my socks off, not that I’d had a lot of wine at 18. But it’s probably not unusual that that wine happened to be a blend and it also happened to be a Grenache-based blend. So for me, the wines we reach for most are not only blends at our house but also Grenache-based blends, as we think that’s one of the varieties that does best for us here in Paso, but also I think has a lot of character throughout the world.

MK: Well that was a pretty serendipitous eye-opener for you too, because I know that your Ditch Digger blend at Denner Vineyards is kinda based on a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Blends is the right word, but in some ways even if you’re making a Cab, you are blending different lots of Cabs so there’s always some blending involved. But how does it differentiate when you’re doing, like, a real, in the sense of Paso Robles you’re doing mostly Rhône red blends, and so, what are you focused on and what’s fun about doing the blends as compared to just more single-variety stuff?

AY: Well, I really like the blends for several reasons. I think, first and foremost, I think it’s the truest expression of a vineyard. I’m sure there are guys out there that are gonna argue differently that a single variety will be the truest expression. But for me, if we’re talking about a site, if we get rid of the variety and the typicity of that variety, then we can really dial in to what that site has to say. So when you’re making a blend of five, six, seven grapes in a finished wine, you’re really getting the true transparency of what that vineyard is as opposed to just looking it through sort of the lens of one grape. So that really turns me on about making blends, but I also like the challenge and the creativity that comes with making blends and especially when you’re dealing with different varieties and varieties that can ripen a drastically different times. I mean, it’s not unusual for us to see Syrah in early September and to see Counoise in November, and those varieties will get blended together all off the same vineyard.

You have a very different set of chemistries in those grapes when you pick them that I think can really complement each other when making a finished wine. One of the challenges of making blends is to get all those components to sort of get to know each other and the flavors to marry, and not to be sort of all asses and elbows and angular. So we really work on making our red blends very early after harvest and then letting those flavors sort of meld together because it does take time for everything to sort of get to know each other. And really, as a result of what we’re doing in blending early, it sort of started us to co-ferment as much as we can in the vineyard. And obviously, I can’t co-ferment Syrah and Mourvèdre together because they don’t ripen at the same time, but there are blocks of Grenache and Syrah we can, and blocks of Grenache and Mourvèdre that we can, and so on and so forth, so that a lot of those blends are really already made before we get to what we officially call our blending sessions.

MK: Right, and so you’re thinking of the blend, the finished blends, as you’re growing the grapes. I mean, even before harvest, you know maybe which blocks are good for which blends. I mean, do you have it dialed in like that?

AY: It’s taken us a while. Our vineyard’s now 20 years old here at Denner, the Estate Vineyard, and there are definitely consistencies that we’ve really recognized over the last five to eight years. And there are flavor profiles you sort of come to expect. Now, every once in a while there’s a vintage that comes along and sort of throws you for a loop and “well, that was different.” There are flavor profiles that I’m consistently getting out of those blocks and we know sort of where that’s gonna go. If we’re talking about Grenache in particular, I’m looking for more of the savory elements for our Ditch Digger blend whereas we do make a “varietal Grenache”—it is blended as well—but I’m looking for more fruit than that. So I’m thinking about those blocks and the more savory ones are probably gonna get co-fermented if they can whereas the more fruit-forward ones, we’ll keep on their own to sort of have the ability to use them in that varietal Grenache and not have it have 40% Mourvèdre in it.

MK: Let’s break down the Ditch Digger. Let’s talk about all the components and what each of them bring to that blend. So what’s the most recent vintage that’s out on the market, and what is the breakdown, and what does each component deliver?

AY: We just released our 2016 a couple weeks ago, but it’s roughly 50% Grenache, 25% Mourvèdre, 15% Syrah, 5% Counoise, 5% Cinsault, and there’s your 100%. And there’s probably a percent or so of Carignan and Roussanne that has made it into that blend through co- fermentation here and there and in some smaller lots, but I don’t think we put that on the label. We’ve previously also worked with Tannat in that blend as well. So there’s not really a fixed set of varieties that goes into it, it’s usually those five core varieties I mentioned: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise and Cinsault. But if there’s something in the vineyard that’s really strong or brings something to the table, we’re not really afraid to sort of break those rules of the Rhône and play with something different. And the percentages change every year—again, I’m not trying to make a wine that’s the same every year. I think it should be an expression of time and place and sometimes more Grenache is the best example of that wine we can make, but it’s usually right around between 45 and 60 percent. There’s a flavor profile that I’m looking for in consistency, but there’s not necessarily a blend profile I’m looking for in consistency, so I don’t really pay attention to the numbers when we’re blending. We’re blending barrel by barrel, so we’re down in the cellar, tasting each barrel, marking where we think they might go, and then mocking those up.

And I don’t know what my percentages are until I hit the blend that I like the best and then I go and run it on a spreadsheet and it is what it is. And I’d say there’s some consistency there. I mean, again, it’s within 10 to 15 percent of Grenache is pretty consistent without that really being a goal. The goal again is to make the wine that tastes the best from that particular vintage that is Grenache based. The Grenache is really supposed to bring one thing to that blend and that’s what I call the high yummy factor. It’s gonna bring a lot of brightness, some nice sweet fruit, think red fruits, sort of jammy characteristics, not necessarily overly ripe or overly sweet because that’s not particularly our style. But we also do a lot of whole-cluster fermentation so that Grenache should also bring some spice, and we’re looking for sort of cardamom and black pepper in that profile, and maybe even a touch of greenness—think more botanicals as opposed to vegetal, but a sort of freshness that comes from Grenache.

And then the Mourvèdre component, that’s gonna bring the earth and the sort of oomph to the wine, the textural profile, a lot of savory elements, smoked meats, plums as far as a fruit profile, dried figs. And that sort of balances that real high-tone character of the Grenache. And then the Syrah really is to bring a little bit of color and also some midpalate. Our Syrah here is not very spicy, more blue-fruit oriented. It can really dominate the blend and that’s why we’re only using about 15 percent, but it does bring a nice sort of full midpalate profile to the wine. And then Counoise and Cinsault we use for a little more savory, a little more spice. But what I really like about them, and again keep in mind Paso Robles is a real warm climate, is they ripen at a very low sugar. So we’re picking Counoise and Cinsault at a potential alcohol of 12.5% and we’re not only using them to bring our alcohols into balance, but it certainly does help bring those alcohols into balance and sort of bring some softness to the wine that it doesn’t have on its own.

MK: Even at those lower percentages it can still do that?

AY: Even at the lower percentages. I mean it drops us a little bit and that’s really important with the Grenache. The Grenache can get pretty ripe out here. You’re looking at potential alcohols in the 15s and sometimes they have the stuffing to hold that alcohol, but as the wine ages, I just much prefer to be in the 14s. Again, not that I’m shooting for that, but what I found is the wines that we like best pretty consistently are in that 14 range especially as they age.

MK: That’s what I found, that the little bit of winemaking I’ve done over the years just as educational experiments essentially, I’ve been really surprised to find out how a small amount of Syrah, for instance, can change a wine dramatically. Was that something that you had to learn how much impact that these small amounts of certain wines can do for the overall blend?

AY: Yeah, some of my first vintages of the Ditch Digger I used more Syrah and less Mourvèdre, and what I found is as I’m going back and trying those wines, the Syrah, especially as the fruit fades and that Grenache component fades, the Syrah really dominates the blend even more than it did. So 25, 30 percent Syrah just ended up being too much for the style I wanted to make, not that it wasn’t a delicious wine, but we already make a Syrah, so we really want this to sort of stand alone and it needs to have more Grenache and more Mourvèdre in my opinion to really bring the profile we’re looking to make.

MK: What is the sense of your consumers? I mean, I know you guys are pretty popular wine, I think your stuff has no problem selling out, but your general sense of consumers and red blends. I know that nonspecific Rhône red blends have dominated the grocery store market for a number of years now. But does it seem like people get it or are they still learning about blends or is it still a single-variety dominated market or what’s your sense of the general consumer?

AY: Our blends really are the flagships that we make here at Denner and I think we’ve been fortunate that’s how we started out from the get-go. Our first flagship wine was the Ditch Digger and then we added the Dirt Worshiper and then subsequently I’ve added a Bordeaux blend called the Mother of Exiles. I think there’s several things that the consumer likes about that. They’re unique and the names are unique and so they’re memorable. We’re the only people that make Ditch Digger—a lot of people make Syrah, but we’re the only people that make Ditch Digger, so there’s something to that and the uniqueness of that and I hope it’s not all marketing because, as a winemaker, we hope people like the wines. But I think there’s a uniqueness to it and there’s a consistency again that we can get with blending that we don’t always get with the single varietals. And as far as our sales go, the blends definitely are the top seller for us, and they’re at the top price point for us. They’re the top of our range and the highest production and top sellers for us, so they do very well but I think again that’s sort of what we are known for.

If we were a Pinot house or a Cab house and we started making blends, we might have a little more of an uphill battle there.

MK: Tell me a little bit about the Bordeaux blend. What goes into that and have you learned something different in blending Bordeaux grapes versus blending Rhône grapes?

AY: Yeah, that’s a great question. I hadn’t really thought about that. So I’ll start first with the Mother of Exiles. It’s a blend of Cabernet, Petit Verdot, Merlot and soon to be some Cab Franc with the ‘17 vintage. It’s usually about 60 percent Cabernet and then 20 to 30 percent Petit Verdot, and the rest is Merlot. And I think that’s one of the things in Paso that’s different with those Bordeaux blends is you’ll see a lot more Petit Verdot because we can get it ripe. In my personal opinion, our straight Cabernet is a little too red-fruit oriented. I want a little more savory in the wine and that’s really where the Petit Verdot comes in, to bring a lot of sort of meaty, smoky blue-fruit characteristics versus a Cab here tends to be a little more high-tone and red-fruit oriented. So that’s really one of the things that is different about our Bordeaux blend than you may find elsewhere in the state.

And you see a lot more Petit Verdot, again, at a lot of Paso wineries. But your question about how is making Bordeaux blends different than Rhônes. First and foremost, I’m not a huge proponent of whole-cluster fermentation on the Bordeaux blends. I think there tends to be a vegetal characteristic that comes from that. We have had some success with experiments with it, but we’re not where we are with Rhônes, where we’re seeing 50 to 75% whole cluster. And really, what we found, because the Bordeaux blends are so much more about texture whereas the Rhône blends are a lot more about aromatics, is using warmer ferments and using more co-fermentation. So, in order to drive a little more texture in the wines, having better color helps, so whenever we can we’re picking Petit Verdot to co-ferment it with the Cabernet, softens the acidity a little bit, brings that savory profile and also helps the color and the tannins bind during fermentation.

So you’re seeing a lot of oxygen, a lot of heat during those ferments, and really again not unlike the Rhônes, doing co-fermentation. We’re just doing them for a different reason. That’s really the last couple of years, where we’re driving our winemaking and our blending the Bordeaux blends, whereas the Rhônes we’re trying to keep them cooler ferments to preserve a little more aromatics and then co-fermenting to help the flavors sort of get to know each other earlier.

MK: Right, right, I know you’re working on your own project now too and don’t you have a variety of grapes out there and those might all go into the same blend?

AY: Yeah, so for a while we’ve been making white wine, single-varietal white wines under a label called Kinero. We only make about 600 cases. We make a Chardonnay, a Roussanne and a Grenache Blanc. And then, eight years ago, my wife and I along with my family bought a piece of property out in New York Mountain, which is between Paso Robles and Cambria. It’s up in the mountains, not part of the Paso Robles AVA. And we planted a small vineyard, seven acres out there, and we planted five acres of Grenache, an acre of Syrah, an acre of what we thought was Mourvèdre, turned out to be Graciano, and then a half an acre or so of Clairette Blanche, which is a white Rhône grape. And the intention all along was to make this true to the site blend through co-fermentation when everything ripens at the same time, good farming, and sort of really transparent winemaking whether it’s concrete fermentation, Foudres, large format, really just focused more on our skillsets as farmers and less on our skillsets as winemakers.

And so we’re actually getting ready to release the first vintage of that and that’s called the Royal Nonesuch Farm. We picked our first grapes off there for the ‘18 vintage yesterday actually.

MK: And so your, and the whites are co-fermented with, the Clairette Blanche is co-fermented with the reds in that one too?

AY: Yep, Clairette last year was co-fermented with two different blocks of Grenache and some Graciano in an old foudre with about 50% whole cluster, and it’s out there but also really delicious.

MK: What does the Clairette Blanche bring to the red wines?

AY: I’m not really sure I really like … I’ve co-fermented with Roussanne and Viognier for a number of years, and what I find is it tends to bring better texture and a little bit more floral aromatics, and that was something I was really looking forward to. I’d never worked with Clairette Blanche. I’ve had examples of it from the Rhône on numerous occasions. But what I liked about it was it’s relatively neutral aromatically and it ripens really late, and I thought that would be great to sort of be able to co-ferment with your later ripening blocks and not your earlier ripening blocks. Also trying to not mess with the aromatics so much of the red wine but seeing if we can pop that midpalate and that texture that we find from the white co-fermentation. So we’ve only gotten to do it once so far. We planted the Clairette a year later than everything else, so only in ‘17 did we get about 200 pounds. The short of that is ask me in a few years, I’ll have a better idea.

MK: Right, I have heard that both Roussanne and Viognier even, it seems counterintuitive, but can make the red wines darker from time to time. Have you seen that?

AY: I have. We started messing with some phenolic analysis to better understand what those co-ferments are doing. I don’t really like using that analysis from a winemaking scientific standpoint and what we’re actually finding when we did some trials of Syrah on its own and Syrah with Roussanne in particular, we’ve sort of gone away from the Viognier with the exception of one vineyard we work with because they don’t ripen at the same time so you’re picking really ripe Syrah with super ridiculously ripe Viognier, and it just doesn’t … it smells like grandmother’s perfume, just not my favorite. So the Roussanne, in some of those phenolic analysis, we’re actually seeing better binding of color and tannin, and that I think is what’s creating the perception of more color. It’s not actually more color, it’s just more stable color, so as the wine ages it’s losing less of those red color compounds over time because they’re more stable because they bound with the white wine tannins.

MK: Great. Red blends overall and, to me, I think it puts more of the winemakers chops on the table basically and says, “hey, we made this, why we didn’t just grow this great Syrah and not mess it up, we actually decided to put these things together and show how good of a winemaker we are and can be.” I would assume winemakers get excited about doing blends.

AY: I definitely do. I mean, my favorite wine to make is the Ditch Digger because it’s five, six, seven varieties sometimes, you’re working with 20 different lots and there’s just a lot of creativity. It really keeps you challenged and keeps you fresh thinking about it. If I had to make single-vineyard, single-varietal wines…

MK: Right, right. Well, we’ve been talking with Anthony Yount from Denner Vineyards in Paso Robles. Thank you, Anthony, for your insight on red blends. I thought it was fascinating.

Host: And next, Senior Editor Layla Schlack has tips for integrating simple foods and flavors into your wine lifestyle.

Layla Schlack: In today’s Pared-Down Pairing, we’re going to talk about the humble carrot. Often underappreciated, carrots have a sweet earthiness and delightful crunch that’s worth your attention. You know that they’re delicious raw, roasted, pickled and pureed into a soup, but don’t stop there. Carrots are also at home in croquettes, salsa, gnocchi, savory soufflés and even ice cream. What else? Well, eating five carrots a day can lead to a harmless skin discoloration known as carrot anemia. Those bag baby carrots? Those are just misshapen carrots carved into a different shape. The common orange carrot is a 17th century Dutch hybrid of red and yellow carrots and the longest carrot on record was more than 20 feet long. The most fun fact of all though is that carrots are incredibly versatile parings wise. Caryn Benke, beverage director at Ava Gene’s in Portland, gives us some guidance. She says, “With raw, I lean toward whites with a balance between fruit and minerality, like Ligurian Vermentino, Arneis from Piedmont or Grüner Veltliner from Alto Adige or Austria.

“For carrots that are cooked a little but retains some crispness, I like wines with a little more textural richness and a more robust fruit profile, such as Pecorino from Abruzzo or Catarratto from Sicily. For preparations with a slower roast, which creates a soft, unctuous texture and a pronounced sweetness, I love richer style Barbera from Piedmont.” So there you have it on carrots. Thanks for listening. This is Layla Schlack.

Host: Blue Apron Wine, order from any other wine club and when you get the bottles they will all be labels you’ve never heard of. Blue Apron Wine, however, works only with world-class winemakers and brings you the story behind every bottle who made it, where was it made and why it tastes so good. Get $25 off your first shipment at blueapron.com/corkscrew. Terms and conditions apply. All orders are handled by Blue Apron Wine, Napa, California.

And you’re listening to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. If you’ve been thinking about cellaring some of your favorite wines but don’t know where to begin, keep listening as Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa talks with Marshall Tilden, a Certified Specialist of Wine and VP of Sales at Wine Enthusiast, about how to cellar, tips for cellaring at home and the four enemies of wine.

Susan Kostrzewa: So Marshall we’re here to talk about cellaring, and one of the things I think is really interesting about what’s happening with cellaring now is it used to be in the territory of people with grand chateaus, or restaurants, or something on a grander scale. And now, I think with wine consumption growing in the U.S. and becoming more mainstream, wine cellaring and wine storage has become something that everyday collectors and drinkers really want to know more about, and you’re my guy for that. So, we really, I think, all get asked a lot of questions about wine storage cellaring and wine collecting, etc, and one of the ones that I get asked a lot, and I’m sure you do too, is why are wine bottles stored horizontally? Can you explain when somebody’s setting up their collection and cellar, there are a lot of different logistical aspects that seem maybe to some would seem like, “why am I really doing this, is this important?” But there are reasons that these rules are in place so tell me a little bit about that.

Marshall Tilden: Sure. The horizontal storage is actually completely for the cork so if you have a screw cap or a glass enclosure you can store it however you want. What happens with the cork is that over time they can dry out and so by laying it on its side that wine still keeps in contact with the cork enough to keep it moist so that it stays intact so it does not allow air to come in. What happens if air comes in, right, the wine has too much oxygen. A little bit of oxygen when a wine opens up when you’re about to enjoy it is fine. But if it’s being stored, once that oxygen hits the wine, your really expensive bottle of wine turns into an expensive bottle of vinegar, and so we’re trying to avoid that by keeping it horizontal. But it’s interesting because you’ll see a lot of wines that are maybe slightly angled and displayed when you see them, even here in the cellar that we’re sitting in, and different refrigerators. As long as it’s a slight, slight angle, 15 degrees or so, it’s fine, but it really is just to keep that in contact with the cork.

SK: Okay, now what would you say is the correct temperature for storing white and red wine?

MT: Yeah, and this is the biggest thing Sue. It’s almost like if I could have it on a repeat record going through everyone who calls in, because all wine is stored at the same temperature—every wine, white, red, Champagne or whatever it is—right around 55°, between 53° and 57°, that’s your ideal and that’s where wine evolves, that’s a temperature it’s comfortable. And what happens with the temperatures being too high or too low is it either expedites the aging process or slows it down, so once you start getting in the upper 50s, low 60s, not the worst but if something is meant to age five, six years, it might happen in half the time. And on the other side, if it’s low 50s, high 40s something like that, that wine that may need to evolve and age, it may never get there, so it’s gonna really slow that process. So the 53° to 57° is always the guideline.

SK: Okay, and what type of wine would you say should be cellared, because that’s a debate sometimes. I think, listen, white and red wine, it used to be that everyone would think, okay well there’s certain sweet white wines and there are red wines I’m gonna cellar, but there are a lot of white wines as well that you really want to be looking after and aging.

MT: Yeah, and it’s true and they say that what 1% of all wine in the world is actually meant to age that 99% of the wine in the world is meant to open, enjoy and consume, and probably won’t improve with time. So with my WSET background, it’s all about levels, so for a wine to age it’s got to be high on a lot of different levels. It’s got to have tannins on a pretty high level, white wines less, but that’s also why white wines sometimes won’t age as long depending on what the wine is. It’s got to be a lot of fruit, that fruit is gonna fade and gain complexity along with the other components, but if it doesn’t have enough fruit in the beginning it’s probably not gonna make the long haul. It’s gotta have acid. Red or white, these wines have to have acid and it’s that combination of high levels of acid depending on the red or the white. A lot of fruit and tannins that will allow the wine to improve and to evolve and to really be able to age for longer periods.

SK: And how long should it be cellared? I guess it just depends on what you’re talking about, which type of wine producers, but how can we simplify that a little bit for somebody who might be beginning and in their collecting process?

MT: Yeah, I think a lot of has to do with region when you’re looking at it. Take Bordeaux, for example. On purpose Bordeauxs are made to be complex aging wines. They’re blended with a lot of different grapes and they are made in a style that when young might be a little overly tannic depending on what it is and they have this really high acid, that’s why Bordeaux goes through this awkward stage. So Bordeauxs, Napa Cabs, white Burgundys, these are wines that that want to age and it’s terrible to say, well more expensive wines can age, but probably not a great chance that a $10 bottle of California Pinot Grigio is going to age whereas a $50 bottle of Napa Cab is probably gonna do a lot better. And then how long it is really depends on vintage. Poor vintages they’re just not gonna age as well and then a lot of it just becomes experience with knowing producers. You know that as well as anyone, you know that some wineries make wine that they intend to be better in 10 to 15 years down the road and when you first open it up it’s pretty good, but I know that when I open this in 10 years, this is gonna be a fantastic bottle of wine.

So a lot of it’s experience learning different regions and learning different grapes, so it’s hard to say that there’s some simple equation of what wine should age or not, so vintage Champagne is meant to but when you have an NV’ed Champagne…

SK: NV is nonvintage.

MT: Correct, sorry wine geek term, yes. And nonvintage Champagne, which is the majority of what consumers are buying, they’re super enjoyable within the first year or so purchase or even a couple years, but are they gonna age the same way as a vintage? Probably not. Which is another good point. Just because a wine doesn’t age or get better doesn’t mean it’s gonna turn either if it’s stored properly, so if you have a wine that’s not meant to age or evolve and improve it doesn’t mean you can’t hold it for a couple of years if it’s being stored properly, it just might be the same bottle when you open it when you first buy it or two years from the time you get it.

SK: Right, which actually may be okay, but it’s interesting because I’m thinking about the average household or apartment and where often people hold their wine. So let’s put the ageable, collectable wines aside, let’s just even just talk about your everyday wines that you buy that you bought on Saturday, you want to drink that week and where are you putting them? Are you putting them over the stove? Are you putting them in the fridge? Okay, this is again, let’s not even talk about someone who’s got all the gear, just an everyday person. What do people do that you’d say, “Oh, maybe don’t do that”?

MT: Did you just see me cringe at over the stove?

SK: Yes I did. I knew I, like, was poking the bear on this one. So what should people doing for everyday storage.

MT: Yep, I’m gonna take the two examples you just gave because those are probably the most common. People put them in their kitchen because it’s when they’re cooking and they’re serving and I’m gonna grab a bottle. And so they’ll have a wine rack above their stove, above their fridge, which is even worse because you think well it’s near the fridge maybe it’s cool around there, but all fridges give off heat. So you put it above the fridge and if you have a rear-venting fringe you just are putting that wine in like 80 degree, 85 vented air and it’s terrible. The fridge is way too cold, but you’d rather have it way too cold because it can always come up to serving temperature, right, where at least the wine isn’t getting ruined where is it putting it somewhere too warm above the stove or near a fridge, something like that, that’s really just the worst. So the warm temperatures in any environment, whether it’s a kitchen, dining room. I’ve seen people, “Yeah, well, I keep my wine up in the attic, so it’s out of the way.” Oh man, that’s just…

SK: Light exposure is another one.

MT: So you’re hitting on the enemies of wine, right. So that’s something that we talk about when we do our wine consultations, the four enemies of wine. So you have temperature is the obvious, too hot, no good, too cold, not great either, but better of the two options. Light yeah, UV rays are real harmful for wine, which is why you’ll see most wines in darker bottles, so it’s helping to protect from those harmful UV rays that can change the molecular structure of the wine, so yeah you want to keep it away from all that. And why most wine cellars and even glass will be protective will be UV protectant for others. Humidity, or lack thereof I should say, humidity is another enemy of wine and that’s for longer-term storage, not for someone who’s in their kitchen buying a wine on a Friday and opening it that Saturday night.

As we talked about the corks before, if a proper humidity level, which is around 60 to 70%, isn’t kept, the wine corks over time can dry out, same oxygen problem happens. And vibration, so here’s another problem with keeping it over your kitchen, fridge or your stove or somewhere like that if those bottles getting banged around a lot of times. There’s things in the wine’s molecular structure, the chemical reactions that can happen, it can really damage the wine in longer-term though and not the everyday then. It has to do with the sediment and all that getting shook up in the bottle.

SK: It’s so interesting, you don’t think about wine it’s almost like it’s a delicate, living thing, and you don’t want to bang it around, you don’t want to expose it to too much light. The elements do affect what’s in the bottle. I think regardless of whether it’s an easy-drinking, everyday or a cellaring wine, you need to just be respectful of this product as much as you can.

MT: Yeah, one more point of where not to store it around the house, harmful as temperature can be if it’s too hot or too cold, is the fluctuation. Wine going from or a room going a 10 degree temperature change, 15 degree temperature change season to season, can be really harmful as well, so if you have a house, let’s say in Florida, not there for certain periods and they just turn the a/c off and then they come back and month by month all the sudden the house is air-conditioned at 70 and they leave it’s at 90. You do that a couple times in a six month period and that’s gonna pose some problems to the wine that’s in your kitchen.

SK: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I mean, I wouldn’t even have thought of that. Given your role here at Wine Enthusiast, you have probably seen all sorts of scenarios of people needing storage options. What are some of the makeshift options people can come up with so maybe they don’t have the room or maybe you don’t have the means to build out a whole entire custom cellar in their apartment or house? But are there some hacks for people so that they can come up with a good easy options?

MT: I’ll give you the best hack. So my dad had the best hack. He had a basement, and I had just started work in Wine Enthusiast, and I go downstairs and he’s got an old college fridge kept on high level and he’s got the door partially open and he’s got a tube running out of the top to siphon out the more water that’s coming out of the ice maker. I look at him like “what are you doing down here?” And so I put a gage in there and sure enough that thing’s reading like 58 degrees and the humidity’s like 60%. I’m like, you know what, good job, you did it, so there’s makeshift ways to do anything.

So it’s keeping those enemies of wine in mind, right. So basements can be cooler. Always want to make sure, again, back to fluctuation, people go down in their basement in the middle of winter and it’s 55 degrees and hey, that’s great, I don’t need a cellar, it’s great down here. And then you go in the summer, it’s 75 degrees. So again, you want to wait for that but obviously basements are usually cooler so something to that effect, making sure they’re covered so like in a closet, avoiding light of any kind.

A lot of time, we’ll have people that are between cellars and I’ll suggest getting really big blankets and just covering the wine for shorter periods of time so the light doesn’t affect the wine that’s there and humidifiers and dehumidifiers. Right? So if it’s in a basement, a lot of times you’ll have these building humid/moist areas, which you want to some degree, but once they start pushing 75 to 80% then you get over humidification and the corks can actually get too humidified and they drip and you get water into the wine and that’s not good either. Yeah, so you have the other side of the problem, so just keeping them in cool, constant temperature places—basements, closets, dark places and places where they’re not going to get shuffled around and moved around, even the case that they come in, or milk crate, whatever it is just to make sure that they’re together and so if one goes down they’re not all going down, so what happens to one doesn’t happen to all them. So as long as you keep those enemies of wine in mind you can look at your own environment and see what makes the most sense to makeshift.

SK: So if you’re starting out as a collector and you’re ready to evolve beyond just storing your wine in the closet, ready to take the plunge and start to buy the proper materials, proper equipment, what would you recommend for someone? How should they start out, how necessary is it? Is it just a fridge, is there more to it than that, what’s the scoop?

MT: And that’s again the question that gets it asked all the time, right? Someone starts off with a 12-bottle wine fridge in their kitchen and all of a sudden they have 30 more bottles that they also need more storage and more protection. Usually, there’s some sort of a cutoff period, right? If you’re storing 150, 200 bottles, it’s probably not worth building a wine cellar and the problem—not the problem, but the fact—is when you build a cellar, it’s a job, it’s construction. You’re talking cooling units, racking, proper installation, vapor barriers, I mean it’s a project. And unless you have enough space and really a big enough collection say fixe to six hundred bottles, you may or may not want to take that on, and it may not be necessary. So there’s certainly plenty of what they call freestanding wine cellars, right? There’s Eurocave and things like that. And what they do that are different than a regular refrigerator has to do with the temperature because the regular fridge is set at high 30s, 38° to 40°, where you want to make sure you’re keeping it around 55. And also humidity, a regular fridge is dehumidifying on purpose, it’s colder and you also in a fridge you don’t want humidity your food to have all that moisture and everything on it.

A wine fridge or wine cellar is meant to keep that humidity. It does so by cooling a little bit slower and some of the more sophisticated units it’ll actually create and maintain humidity through air holes and ventilation, adding moisture into the unit. And of course, a regular fridge probably doesn’t take vibration into as much consideration because if your lettuce and your orange juice is shaking around a little bit it’s not the end of the world, right? So the compressors in the wine cellars, especially the better ones, are set in really sophisticated rubber padding so it does not move the wine, doesn’t shake the unit at all, and so those are important factors that manufactures go into when we’re creating these cellars.

SK: It’s as much about the atmosphere that you can create with all this as it is, I think, sometimes about the actual storage and logistics of that.

MT: Totally, and that’s exactly what people do and you’re so right, is that not only are they protecting their wine but it’s like outside of their cellar, so we’ve got to make this beautiful cellar functional and a lot of times you’ll put these nice, big thing out of the glass walls, right? All these glass enclosed cellars, you see them in restaurants. We just did Benjamin Steakhouse in the city, they got three wine cellars, all with glass walls, all with these beautiful label-view wine racks, you can see every bottle while you’re sitting there eating. People want that in their living room, so you go in and walk into the house and in the back wall is just a big wall of display bottles behind this glass wall and then outside of it becomes this tasting room and this dining. So they’re creating that restaurant feel, that tasting room feel in their own homes.

And you’re right. Why do you want to go anywhere? And they don’t, they create this so that they don’t go out, so that they invite their friends over. We did this great cellar in New Jersey, really nice guys, super collector, and his wine cellar was probably about 1,000, 1,500 bottles, but he had this whole dining room basement set up and he said, “I don’t go out anymore. I bring my friends over, we cook downstairs, and this is where we hang out,” and that’s, that’s the lifestyle, that’s that wine lifestyle that people want to create in their homes and it’s awesome. So fun.

SK: Marshall, thank you so much. It’s been great just getting more knowledge from you and hopefully this inspires everyone to start collecting more wine, cheers.

MT: My pleasure. Cheers! Thanks Sue, appreciate it.

Marina Vataj: Hi, I’m Marina Vataj, digital content director at Wine Enthusiast magazine, and in today’s wine basics, we’re tackling how to properly chill your wine. The temperature of your wine plays an important role in how it tastes and not all wine should be chilled at the same temperature because of their chemical compositions. For instance, the backbone of a white wine is acidity, the structure of a red comes from its tannins, dessert wines have different amounts of residual sugar and sparkling wine holds carbon dioxide. All have varying degrees of alcohol; therefore, a temperature can mute or accentuate a wine based on its components. Let’s start with optimal temperature ranges for red and fortified wines. Red wine that’s served too cold tastes dull, but when too warm, it’s flabby and alcoholic. That’s why it’s best to serve red wine in the range of 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Lighter-bodied wines with higher acidity, like Loire Valley Cabernet Franc, prefer lower temps. Place it in the refrigerator for 90 minutes. Fuller-body, tannic wines, like Bordeaux or Cabernet Sauvignon, tastes better warmer, so keep it in the fridge for up to 45 minutes before serving. Fortified wines like Port and Madeira should be served at 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

Let’s move on to whites, roses and sparkling. Whites need to chill to lift delicate aromas and acidity; however, when they’re too cold, flavors become muted. Like reds, fuller-bodied wines like Chardonnay from Burgundy and California shine between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Dessert wines like Sauternes fall into the same range. Lighter fruity wines work best colder, between 45 and 50 degrees or 2 hours in the fridge. Most Italian whites, like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc, also fall in that range. Sparklers, on the other hand, need to be served colder between 40 and 50 degrees. Vintage and prestige cuvée Champagnes can be served at the top-end because of their complexity and weight. Prosecco or similarly light-bodied, fruity sparklers work better at the bottom end.

So how do you go about chilling your wine to these various temperatures? Stick reds and whites in the fridge and remove them an hour or two before dinner. If you use the freezer, remember to set a timer for 30 minutes. The best way to chill your wine quickly? Slip the bottle into an icy salt bath—ice absorbs heat from the water, which brings the temperature down. The salt brings the freezing point of water below 32 degrees Fahrenheit—translation, brined ice water can chill rosé in 15 minutes or less. I’m Marina Vataj, thanks for listening. For more wine basics tips, visit winemag.com/winebasics.

Host: And that’s it for today’s Wine Enthusiast Podcast. To read more about wine, visit winemag.com and pick up the current issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine to see our annual Top 100 Cellar Selections list. You can subscribe to the Wine Enthusiasts Podcast on Apple podcasts, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. And please, write us a review. We’d love to hear what you think. We’d also love to stay in touch—use the hashtag Wine Enthusiast and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also send us an email at podcasts@winemag.com. The Wine Enthusiasts Podcast is produced by Marina Vataj and Mike Sargent. See you next time.

Published on October 24, 2018
Topics: Podcast


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