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cellars in the city

Storing and Aging Wine

wine_cellarAging a good wine is like investing in a low-risk savings bond: the return on that investment is roughly proportional to the length of time you put it away.  Though just as so few of us actually put away money that way, scarcely anyone (in this country, at least) stores wine for the long haul.  But if you're willing to pay a few extra bucks on a good bottle now, why not do the same on a few additional bottles for later?  After all, a quality wine will only get better, and in many cases the improvement is substantial.  Cellaring wine can range anywhere from the simple approach of stashing a few bottles at the bottom of a cool, dark closet to the extravagant approach of placing them among the slots of a custom-built walk-in that's controlled for temperature and humidity.  It all depends on your budget and the extent of your enthusiasm.

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ubiquitous gimmicks

The Scam of Wine Vacuum Pumps

If you're even just an occasional wine drinker, you might have noticed a type of product being sold in just about every shop that sells wine accessories: the handheld wine vacuum pump. A number of different manufacturers make it (VacuVin's Wine Saver being the most common), and though they each have a slightly different design, they're all essentially the same. The purpose of a vacuum wine pump, when used in conjunction with one of the specially-designed rubber stoppers included in the kit, is to "remove the air from opened bottles of wine and prevent the oxidizing effect of air from spoiling the unfinished wine." This ostensibly allows you to open a bottle of wine, drink a portion of it, and then preserve the rest in a 'vacuum,' thereby allowing you to finish it at some later time.  Well guess what? It's a bunch of B.S.

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boxed in

This isn't Your Mother's Boxed Wine

Boxed Wine.  There, I said it… er, wrote it.  That wasn't so bad, right?  Okay, wine snobs: stay with me, it's not what you think.  Wine dummies: pay attention, this could be the start of an enduring love affair.  First of all, let's be honest: good wine is expensive.  And while the definitions of 'good' and 'expensive' are completely relative, the reality is that wine is not necessary for sustenance, and so anything you spend on it is purely disposable income, like music, art, or a great pair of shoes.  But unlike those other things, a bottle of wine, once consumed, can never be experienced again.  If you're an enthusiastic wine consumer, you know how easy it is to spend a great deal on wine.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  Enter, the Boxed Wine.

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label mabel

The Pitfall of Tracking Down Wines

One thing I'd noticed quite frequently during my stint in wine retail, and continue to overhear as a customer in wine shops, is the very specific request for a particular wine: "Do you have the so-and-so wine by the so-and-so producer?"  Oftentimes, a consumer experiences a wine as a patron in a restaurant or as a guest in someone's home, and soon thereafter embarks on a mission to find that very same wine.  Have you ever done that?  Have you ever had a really great wine somewhere, committed the label name to memory, and then decided you absolutely had to find it the next time you happened upon a wineshop?  Well, stop it. You're wasting your time and energy.

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plugged & twisted

Screwcaps and Synthetic Corks

More and more, we're seeing wine bottles sealed with closures other than the natural cork we've come to associate with them. There are several reasons for this, depending primarily on the type of closure and style of wine.  One type of cork alternative is known as the synthetic "cork" — a piece of rubbery plastic that stoppers a bottle much in the way that a traditional cork does, and must also be removed using a corkscrew.  This type of closure is usually used in lower-priced wines meant to be drunk soon, since over a long period of time the synthetic material fails to ward off oxidation nearly as long as natural cork and can actually impart off-flavors to a wine.  The main reason for using synthetic corks for cheaper wines is that they're a lot less expensive than natural cork; producers of such wines are wanting to cut productions costs as much as possible.  The wine inside a bottle with this sort of closure isn't necessarily low quality, but simply one that's meant to be drunk soon after release (such as most whites and lighter reds).

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war of the worlds 2

Classic Food and Wine Pairings:
Pinot Noir + Duck Breast

stemmle_warI love duck. It has long been one of my very favorite things.  I love duck breast cooked just under medium with a nice crisp layer on that wonderful fat.  I love duck confit, duck stock, Chinese duck and scallion pancakes, and duck skin cracklins — it's all fantastic!  And while I'm professing love for things, how about pinot noir: I love the sweet and musty Carneros pinots, I love the amazing pinots coming from Oregon (I went to Willamette a few years back), and I have had my share of amazing earthy burgundy as well.  Though I don't consider myself a wine expert, I know enough to know how little I know, and this makes me eager to learn and appreciate.  So when I embarked on this exploration of classic food and wine pairings, I jumped on the duck and Pinot Noir idea and never looked back.

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war of the worlds 1

Classic Food and Wine Pairings:
Sauvignon Blanc + Goat Cheese

stemmle_warFor years, I have been aware of several classic food and wine parings and have used them to my advantage on many occasions ("we have to open this syrah — we're eating lamb!"). I have also had some terrific experiences with amazing food and wine pairings in the past. This is something that restaurants can do very well, but at home, most great pairings were almost accidental — the result of a very successful guess or stroke of luck as opposed to premeditation and comprehensive knowledge.  So I set out to my favorite wine shop to talk shop (well, wine) with the experts.

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contrarian vegetarian

New Food and Wine Pairings:
Vegetarian Fare

Early in my journey of discovering wine, I single-handedly (and perhaps somewhat arrogantly) concluded that it was impossible for a vegetarian to fully appreciate wine as a meat-eater could.  I felt that there was no way for someone who abstained from animal fat to enjoy the rich and powerful red wines I had come to love and establish in my mind, naïvely, as the point of reference for wine in general.  But that was then; my perspective is more nuanced now, as a result of having learned a great deal through tasting and formal study.  And although I still don't believe a vegetarian can fully appreciate the synergy of a full-bodied red wine well-matched with food, I do acknowledge the plethora of wines that actually beautifully complement vegetable or grain dishes.  But there's a catch to pairing vegetarian food.

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emperor's new clothes

New Food and Wine Pairings:
Sweet Wines + Chocolate

I'm a person of strong opinions, which I frequently take pleasure in expressing.  But when it comes to wine, I try to exercise caution with that tendency, because I feel that the appreciation and enjoyment of wine is a very personal experience that should only be sparingly pre-empted or tainted by 'expert' advice.  However, very much like art and design, even among variations of tastes, styles, and approaches, there are still some universal, often fundamental, 'rules,' if you will, about which elements work together and which ones frankly do not.  Red Wine and Chocolate do not work together.

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sweet harmony

New Food and Wine Pairings:
Taste Harmony

Try something.  Try having a glass of lemonade with a chocolate chip cookie.  Did  you hesistate at the very idea?   Now, I'm guessing you probably don't even have to go through this charade to wonder how this could even remotely be considered a good idea.  And if you don't have that reaction, then by all means, try it.  Now once you're past that little exercise (either virtually or in real life), push aside the glass of lemonade, and pour yourself a glass of milk and drink that with your chocolate chip cookie.  Ahhhh… a little more appetizing?  A bit more palatable? Of course, but you knew that, already.  Okay, long story short: lemonade and chocolate (or cookies) do not go together.  Why?   Well, I could probably go on and on, pontificating on the reasons, touching on principles of food chemistry and taste physiology, but honestly, none of that is necessary and might even be considered overkill.  Quite simply, certain tastes together are just not compatible in our mouths.

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