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November 26, 2014

Wine Service Tips for Thanksgiving Hosts

Some of you probably entertain frequently, but survey research shows that the vast majority of Americans host large dinner parties only rarely.  This helps explain why millions of us are thoroughly freaked out by this holiday--especially  when we’re responsible for hosting the festivities.  

I’m no therapist, so you’re on your own regarding the various neuroses triggered by Thanksgiving, but at least I can help you get the wine service right.  That should take one trauma out of play.  Of course, you’ll still need to figure out how to deal with your wacky family, but having a perfectly prepared glass of wine should help with that, too….

--If your wine glasses have been sitting in a cupboard for a month, they've surely picked up a little dust even if they don't look dusty, and some of these particles can produce undesirable aromas or flavors that can seriously screw up your wine.  Be sure to rinse your glasses out with hot water and dry them with a lint-free dishtowel.

--If you'll be serving sparkling wine or Champagne, these glasses need to be washed differently.  As beer lovers know, soap residue kills bubbles, and whereas a flat beer is a disappointment, a flat glass of Champagne is a catastrophe.  If you are prepared to rinse endlessly and take your chances (like my WRO colleague Michael Apstein), then go for it.  However, my mantra is:  No soap, ever!  You can remove fingerprints and lipstick from the outside of glasses when perfectly inverted with a lightly soapy sponge, but never let any soap into the interior, which should only be rinsed with very hot water.  Dish towels can retain soap residues, so air-dry sparkling glasses or use paper towels.  If one of your guests thinks it is “icky” that you don't use soap on your sparkling wine glasses, cite me as an authority on the matter, and dis-invite that person for next year’s holiday.

--If you'll be serving sparkling wine (and if you’ve got it, you should damned well serve it!) please take note:  Don't put a damper on your dinner by blasting someone with the cork.  This is serious:  A Champagne cork unleashed by the “ballistic method” can really do a number on your eyeball.  Even worse, you DO NOT want to go to a hospital emergency room for treatment on Thanksgiving, as 150 inept turkey carvers will already be ahead of you in line, waiting to get their fingertips re-attached.

So:  Keep constant and very firm downward pressure on the cork, even when unwinding the wire cage, which will require exactly six twists.  Keep the cage on the cork, as it will enhance your grip.  Ease the cork from the bottle by grasping it firmly as you twist the base of the bottle from side to side.  A nearly inaudible result is what you want, with the faintest "pfffffffft" showing that you know what you're doing.

--Pay attention to serving temperature!  Most Americans are guilty of serving their whites too cold and their reds too warm.  Wines pulled directly from refrigerators--much less ice buckets--are typically so cold that aromas are suppressed and flavors flattened.  Similarly, the old rule of thumb about serving reds at room temperature has led millions of people to mishandle their wine.  The rule made sense when coined by some guy in the 18th century, but only because he lived in an English manor house without central heat.  Reds lack focus and seem overly alcoholic at 72 degrees, and are much better at 62.  So, stick your reds into the fridge for 20 minutes and pull your whites out of if for 20 minutes before cracking into them.

--Don't overfill glasses when serving wine at the table.  Sparkling wines can be filled to slightly above halfway, since they look much better with that fill level, and you don't want your guests thinking you are cheap on a day when you are supposed to be celebrating bounty.  However, glasses for table wine should never be more than half full.  An overfilled glass has no open space to collect the wine's aromas, which are absolutely crucial for appreciating it fully.

--Last but not least:  When you've gone through all of this and are finally ready to wine and dine, just relax and enjoy this wonderful beverage.  It is famously difficult to get a perfect wine to harmonize with everything involved in Thanksgiving dinner, and you shouldn't be shamed if your choice isn't perfect with everything on the plate.  After all, this is a meal that brings even wine-pairing experts to their knees.  If some self-appointed expert at your table makes a nasty crack about your choice, don't dignify his comment (it will surely be a “he”) with a reply.  Just roll your eyes.  And know that everyone else at the table is on your side!
Posted by Michael Franz at 8:47 AM

November 18, 2014

Holiday Party Planning Tips

 With the holiday entertaining season just around the corner, now is the time to prepare to be the host with the most.

Assuming a selection of tasty wine is part of the plan, consider the following suggestions to enhance the experience for you and your guests.

1. Start with a good wine glass. Even the nationwide discount store Target is now selling Riedel crystal, the gold standard for everyday wine consumption. For a few pennies more than what you might pay for mediocre stemware, you can sip wine from glasses that are functional as well as elegant. A good wine glass allows for proper aeration, which enhances aromatics and softens tannins where that is an issue.

2. Use a decanter or a wine aerator to prepare bold young reds prior to serving. Many young red wines are packed with astringent tannins, which either fade away or disappear entirely over time. But for immediate consumption, the pucker factor can be reduced through decanting from the bottle into a larger glass container (it need not be fancy) that will allow the wine to breathe. With air, the tannins round out and the pleasure factor is dramatically increased.

3. Invest in a deep and wide ice bucket that will hold at least four bottles. Sparkling, rose and crisp white wines lose their snap, and much of their appeal, when left to sit out and warm up as a party or dinner drags on. Many wine shops and department stores sell inexpensive clear acrylic "party" buckets that will keep multiple wine bottles chilled at the same time.

4. Don't hesitate to put a chill on your reds as well. Serving temps for reds should be about 65-68 degrees. Warm reds often come off as unbalanced and/or flat. Cooler (assuming the room temperature is about 75 degrees) reds are easier to drink and deliver more flavor. If a bottle of red wine is warm to the touch, which is often the case if it has been stored in the kitchen, five to eight minutes in the ice bucket should do the trick. It isn't necessary to chill the red as you would a white; simply cooling it down will suffice.

Let the festivities begin!
Posted by Robert Whitley at 12:32 PM

November 12, 2014

True Meaning of Beaujolais Nouveau

 Ready or not, Beaujolais nouveau is coming soon to a city near you. This annual rite of autumn is frequently dismissed as a shameless marketing ploy, which it is, but the disdain in certain corners is more often than not simply old-fashioned wine snobbery.

Beaujolais is a light-bodied, fruity red wine produced from gamay grapes grown in the least fashionable district of France's Burgundy region. Serious wine folk tend to not take it seriously. But in all seriousness, the scoffers miss the point, as well as the fun.

Beaujolais nouveau is the first wine made from the new harvest. It was always meant to be a celebration of the harvest, going back to a less serious time in wine circles when small amounts of nouveau were made within weeks of the harvest and only for local consumption.

Sometime after World War II the vignerons of Beaujolais turned it into a marketing opportunity, each striving to be the first to get their nouveau to Paris, where it was sold by carafe in bistros and cafes. The tradition spread to other parts of the world, including America, where Beaujolais is officially released for sale on the third Thursday of November.

Georges Duboeuf, the largest producer of Beaujolais, has almost personally kept the tradition alive in the United States, promoting wine dinners and tastings across the country built around his nouveau.

Truth be told, you will find better Beaujolais, particularly cru Beaujolais, later in the season. But the magic of Beaujolais nouveau is real. So set aside those lingering doubts, savor the festive and convivial aspect of this harvest tradition, and welcome with gusto the first wines of the new vintage.
Posted by Robert Whitley at 3:05 PM