A Last-Minute Bouquet to Save V-Day

On Valentine’s Day, tell me, what’s the difference between, “You shouldn’t have” and “Whoah, Baby!” ?

Consider this: when offered the choice of a bottle of wine or a dozen roses, nine out of ten women (who are exactly like me and are possibly even my biological clones) are going to take the wine. So, why does a bottle of wine say, “I love you and/or think you’re hot” better than some tired, old-fashioned, marked-up flowers from the grocery store?

Because

Wine ………………………………………………………..Meanwhile, roses

- Spent years maturing for this moment           – Were hastily grown and cut last week

- Smells delicious, tastes even better                – Faintly smell, taste awful

- Sets the mood, sparks conversation               – Just sit there

- Attracts the senses                                             – Attract bugs

- Opens with an exciting “pop!”                          - (…….Zzzzzzzzzz……)

- Has been known to make babies                      - Have been known to grow fungus

It’s taken dozens of years for America to learn that, sadly, roses don’t bring the party. But that doesn’t mean to say that the bouquet is dead – oh no, it’s about to be poured!

Here’s my new concept: a bouquet of wine (yes, pun intended). If nine out of ten women (i.e., me) love one bottle, imagine how much Valentine’s spirit three bottles could fetch. A true “Valentine’s wine bouquet” would include:

One bottle of sparkling white

One bottle of rosé

One bottle of red

Now, if that isn’t prettier than a bouquet of red vegetation, I don’t know what is. A special, romantic evening such as Valentine’s is worthy of a glass of each to pair with every course. Try an easy-to-find and easy-to-like Yellow Tail Bubbly to pair with your aperitif, like a light salad, ceviche, or a mild cheese. Follow with my highly-recommended Chateau Bonnet Rosé that is elegant and smooth, mildly sweet, deliciously fruity, and dreaming to be tasted with pasta and grilled vegetables. Valentine’s Day in my household wouldn’t be very special without filet mignon, and a sexy piece of steak like that deserves a velvety and seductive Beaujolais (merci, Georges DuBoeuf).

Isn’t it just coincidental that the colors are just right, too? Honestly, what would you rather have on your office desk today: flowers that scream, “I’m here by force” or a bouquet of three promising, budding wines waiting to blossom at your table later tonight? Moreover, which is going to make the passers-by in your office jealous?

That’s what I thought. Happy Valentine’s Day. Times three.

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Mimosa? Yes, some mo’, sir!

It’s not every day that I’m inspired to tell a story about wine…(let’s be real, it’s more like every other day)…but Thursday morning, the day before the entire Christmas weekend fiasco began, here’s what happened: I had made 50% of the gifts that needed to be wrapped the day before, I had slept less time than it takes to sit through Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and to top it off, my legal department needed 60 mini cupcakes ordered, picked up, and displayed prettily by noon. As a coworker of mine would say, it was time for a beverage. It was 9:15 a.m.

And then, from the heavens (or the business intelligence department), a voice from behind asked me, “Would you like a mimosa? We have leftovers from our morning meeting.”

…. (pause, as I wondered if I was hearing things)

“Yes, yes I would.”

The mimosa. It’s like Emergen-C, just more fun. You got your orange juice, you got your bubbly…but where’d it come from?

Eh, who cares, probably some overindulgent waiter thought he’d have some fun on an ordinary Sunday brunch.

Whatever its origin, the invention of the mimosa made my morning that Thursday – and throughout the weekend. You may be wondering, how is this possible? Well, it’s true, I spend my weekend mornings at the Ritz-Carlton before adopting third-world orphans and hosting blow-out parties in Vegas. But this weekend, I decided to kick back and put my glamorous life on hold and keep it real. So, I bought a bottle of Yellow Tail Bubbly and calcium-enriched extra-pulp OJ on Friday, and like sneaky old Santa Claus himself, hid it in my fridge to enjoy the next morning. Now, before you get off thinking I’m some sort of boozehound, this particular bottle has a new, inventive cork called the “Zork,” which reseals the bottle and maintains gas pressure within, so I’m able to save some for later.  Finally, right?

A typical Sunday Mimosa Brunch at the Ritz. OK, fine, that was at my birthday last year.

Not gonna lie, there’s something special about popping open a bottle of sparkling wine at 10:00 a.m. and drinking a mimosa while watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills on your day off from work. Just enough kick to get me back on my Christmas projects without the stress. So, I just stuck the bottle back in the fridge to use for later.

Later came that night before going to my company’s giant holiday party. I opened the bottle (complete with satisfying *pop*), toasted to good looks and sweet dance moves, and started my night off with a bang.

The next morning, however, started with a whimper. Ouch. We’ve all been there. It took me up until about 3:00 p.m. to decide to try out that “hair of the dog” theory on the last of that bubbly in the fridge and some orange juice. Even after being opened three times, that bottle gave me the healing bubbles I didn’t even know I wanted. Didn’t take more than 15 minutes for that mimosa to tell my headache to get the hell out of Dodge; ladies and gentlemen, I was cured.

So, in a span of three days, here’s what the mimosa did for me: it saved my work, it saved Christmas, and it saved me from a full-day hangover. What can it do for you? Well, tomorrow it’s the Friday before the New Year: I say, go ahead and do the same thing I did last week, and sing the mimosa’s praises around your town.

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3 Ways to Tell the Wine Snobs from the Wine-a-bes

This is a test. Your instructions are to turn off all electronic devices/children/distractions and immerse yourself completely in this situation, because it could mean the difference between your status as a wine snob or a wannabe poseur.

You and your date (it can be anyone, have fun) have just ordered a criminally expensive bottle of wine at the swankiest joint in town. There’s soft candlelight and a little Burt Bacharach setting the mood…the place just drips with class, and Lord Almighty, you look good. Ah, finally, the waiter has returned and is holding that magnificent bottle that’s older than Miley Cyrus, slightly dusty from the years it’s waited for you to order it. You examine the label – yes, yes, that’s the one – and he uncorks your prize with a satisfying “pop!” and places the cork vertically on the tablecloth in front of you.

Here’s the question: what do you do with that cork?

Consider your options carefully, because I forgot to mention that at this restaurant, all the wine snobs of the world are sitting and staring at you, waiting for you to make a critical error so they can scoff at you until the end of time. The pressure’s on, ain’t it, Slick?

This was my favorite interactive lesson I’d conduct at wine tastings during my consulting days. I’ve heard all kinds of answers, and only rarely did someone give the right one with the correct reasoning behind it. While I’d tell clients and fellow wine lovers that there’s no wrong way to enjoy wine, there are little breaches of etiquette that can make you look foolish to anyone really educated in wine. Today, I’ll reveal the three most common “wine-a-be” (wine snob wannabe) errors in wine decorum, and why they should be banished from your tasting practices.

Hold a glass of wine by the stem

The first dead giveaway of a wine beginner is simply how he or she holds the glass. Despite there being literally hundreds of different types of wine glasses (virtually one shape per grape), there is still just one way to properly hold the glass: by the stem, not by the bowl. (A note on stemless wine glasses: while trendy, they haven’t passed the test of time quite yet. Let’s wait and see where this fad goes.) Why by the stem? Mostly to prevent the transfer of heat from your hands to the wine, which can add an unpleasant sharpness to the taste. Hands also transfer fingerprints, which, unless you’re a cop or a private investigator, are bad news since they hinder the ability to examine the wine’s color and clarity. Also, it’s quite difficult (and much riskier) swirling wine when holding the glass by the bowl. So it’s no question why wine snobs gasp in horror at this practice: it practically cuts the tasting process in half. In fact, some really intense wine lovers will hold and swirl the glass by the foot (base) of the glass to ensure that the most aerodynamic swirl is achieved and that no heat is transferred to the wine at all. It may take some practice, but if you begin training yourself by swirling the glass on the table, you’ll never again be accused of wine-a-beism from the way you hold the glass.

Wine legs slowly falling from the glass

"Legs" are also known as "tears," "curtains," and "church windows"

The next great error is very common among intermediate wine explorers: the legs test. Did someone ever swirl a glass of wine and mention that it has great legs? Many people falsely believe the myth that the legs (droplets that make their way down the glass after a swirl) are an indicator of quality in a wine. Well, it isn’t the case with women, and it certainly isn’t the case with wine, either! The only thing the “legs test” really proves is the alcohol content of the wine: wines with more alcohol have faster moving legs, while less alcoholic, typically sweeter wines will have legs that travel slowly down the glass like honey. The legs themselves are a result of the fact that wine evaporates faster than water. So, the “legs test” is really more of a physics lesson in surface tension and alcohol content than quality. While the truth may not be as compelling as the myth, the next time somebody says that a wine has great legs, you might as well mention it’s got a nice a…..ftertaste, too.

Possibly a sign of oxidized wine

Now, don’t forget, you’re still in that fancy pants restaurant with a vinic dilemma of epic proportions in front of you: what the heck do you do with that cork? Do you stare at it, sniff it, squeeze it, taste it, throw it?  If your guess is to pick it up and take a little whiff, well, you’re wrong, unless you really like the smell of cork or something. The correct answer is to squeeze it – you want to be sure that there’s a little bit of give in the cork to ensure that the wine was stored properly. Proper storage means that it was stored on its side in a fairly humid environment between 55º-60º Fahrenheit, essentially a setting where oxygen cannot harm the wine. A dry cork (not to be confused with a firm one) could mean that the bottle wasn’t stored on its side, allowing air inside to oxidize and degrade the wine. The ultimate test, however, is in the taste, and every wine snob knows this to be true as well. So, the next time you see a helpless wine-a-be butcher a tasting ritual, try not to judge. Remember to take a sip of humility and even offer some valuable advice; after all, no one is born a wine snob.

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WWPD: What Would (Saint) Patrick Drink?

On March 17th, the Irish world will honor the life and divine influence of Ireland’s patron saint, Patrick, with 13 million pints of Guinness, leprechaun stories, and green…lots and lots of green.  After doing a bit of research on the history of Saint Patrick’s Day, I’m sorry to say to all of you pot-o’-gold hunters that a lot of those traditions are, well, blarney. For one, green was a sign of bad luck in the Emerald Isle (which is ironic, because with all the green beer going around, that could mean some pretty bad luck the next morning). And, I know I stand to get some angry pinches by saying this, but isn’t beer-swigging into oblivion kind of undermining Saint Patrick’s virtuous accomplishments? Now, I’m certainly not saying that Saint Patty’s Day should be a dry day by any means, but I can present you with some convincing reasons why, if Saint Patrick were among us, he’d choose wine.

Saint Patrick, glorified with a clover and of course, green

Before the name Saint Patrick became synonymous with clovers, beer, and the McDonald’s Shamrock Shake, he was a Romano-Briton Catholic missionary who devoted his life to converting most of pagan Ireland into a Catholic republic. And, since a great deal of Catholicism deals with the sacrament of Holy Communion, wine must have been part of his daily conversion ritual. If given the choice, I’m willing to bet that Saint Patrick would choose a decent red wine, symbolizing the blood of Christ, over green beer. The Irish didn’t even brew beer, they brewed very bitter ale without hops since it was not native to the island. There’s little documentation of either wine or beer in Ireland during Saint Patrick’s time (around the fifth century, A.D.), but it’s well known that wine was an important staple of a sailor’s diet; and when you’re on an island, that means you’re wine-ing a-plenty. As it just so happens, dear old Patrick was also a sailor before his missionary years, so he would have relied on wine not only for spiritual but nutritional salvation as well.

Green wine is simply white wine with green food coloring

So, now that we know that Saint Patrick would have rocked the wine bar, let me share some Irish-inspired wine drinks you can enjoy next Thursday. If you really want to pour into some Irish tradition, open your mind (and palate) to mead, which is a native Irish “honey wine” made by fermenting honey and water. While it’s not biologically wine (as it contains no fruit juice), it can be enjoyed similarly with its dry, semi-sweet, and sweet flavors (reminiscent of Rieslings), and either still, sparkling, or carbonated. It goes great with a hearty Irish stew or corned beef and cabbage. But, finding mead in the U.S. is just about as hard to find as a four-leaf clover. Search your local Irish imports store, and if all else fails, you can make your own in about six weeks. For those of you with just enough Irish spirit to last you the night, you can always resort to the white wine and food coloring trick that’ll be a creative alternative to the day’s “obligatory green beer” selection. Just take a glass of your favorite white wine, add 2-3 drops of green food coloring, and, voila! Green wine.

Chicago's green river on Saint Patrick's Day

Ellie showing her Irish (for the day) pride on Saint Patrick's Day 2010 on the Chicago River

There is a reason why the Irish world celebrates Saint Patrick’s Day right in the middle of Lent, and it’s totally beside the point that his death fell on March 17, 460 A.D. It’s because we all need a break from our boring, sober routines, and deserve a colorful night of dancing and splurging since we couldn’t make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Conclusion: Indulge. It’s what Saint Patrick would have wanted.

Sláinte, agus Beannachtai na Feile Padraig!

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Add a Little Spritz to Your Wine Life with this Wine Trend

It’s hard keeping up with all the new trends popping up around the country. There are fashion trends, technology trends, investment trends…wait…do you hear that whimpering noise?  Oh, that’s your wallet crying. It’s definitely fun being on top of all these new fads, but economically, being in the know can give your bank account quite the blow.  Fortunately, when it comes to wine, there is a trend you can adopt that will boost you to the top of the mod crowd without all those fancy new finds or stock brokers. Here is the comeback cocktail giving wine a new name and fresh individuality, from the chicest wine bar to your very own cellar.

Ever since punches, sours, and sugared waters have existed, so did the legendary cocktail. The greatest surge in its popularity, however, came during a dark, dark time in American history: Prohibition. Back in the days of exorbitantly overpriced, practically poisonous liquor, it was quite the mode (and possibly the lifesaver) to water down black market whiskey and gin. These days, there is any number of drinks for each type of liquor. So, where does wine fit into the cocktail story? You may have heard of wine coolers and spritzers, which are tall, cool drinks typically made with white wine and something fizzy. The onomatopoetic word “spritz” is actually German, meaning “spray” or “sprinkle,” making the spritzer a perfect example of American integration: it’s a culture mixer. Make it your own by adding your favorite “spritz,” with sparkling chasers like club soda, tonic water, and even sweet sodas. If you’re craving a sweeter cocktail, consider fusing an off-dry (a.k.a. sweet) Moscato or White Zinfandel with carbonated water and a dash of fruit juice. The wine spritzer is a really unique way to make a drink your own: since there are so many different types of wines and mixers, you could very well invent your own cocktail. Now I don’t normally share my recipe, but I set out to change people’s lives with this blog, and – brace yourselves, winos – your night could get a lot more exciting. Here is my recipe for the Chicago Gold Coast famous (at least in my circle of friends) “Ring-a-ding-ding”:

3 crushed raspberries

3 oz Vouvray wine

A splash (1 oz maximum) of Perrier (or your preferred unsweetened sparkling water)

A splash (1 oz maximum) of Orangina

Orange garnish

Shake the wine, Perrier, and Orangina and pour over crushed raspberries and ice in a white wine glass. Serve before sunset with Frank Sinatra playing. Follow with “first buzz” stories.

If you’re a red wine lover, the spritzer can be adapted à la Hungarian-style fröccs, which is typically a dry, red wine served with sparkling water. Give it a modern twist with crushed blackberries and currants, and maybe a touch of grenadine (or, if you’re really adventurous, try a splash of Campari).

The spritzer is a little-known secret that’s just dying to burst into the wine scene. Aside from a small mention in Meet the Fockers and 30 Rock, there is a lot of potential to be discovered mixing and matching wine and your favorite ingredients. But don’t be surprised if the spritzer revolution comes back with a vengeance soon. In southern France, they’re already serving sparkling, watered-down wine from the tap (the wine alternative to beer), and it’s starting to snowball. Remember, most trends are only cool as long as only a few people know about them. This is your sparkling opportunity to be at the head of this wine trend before it fizzles out.


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The Envelope Please… Award-Worthy Wines for the Oscars

Imagine if your favorite wine received the award for Best Bottle this Sunday. What do you think the acceptance speech would be like?

“I’d like to thank the winemaker, the growers, harvesters, and God for making this vintage possible. I’ve dreamed of this moment since I was just a berry, and can honestly say that the juice was worth the squeeze!”

But, alas, it’ll just be Hollywood’s most talented and acclaimed personalities making speeches at the Academy Awards this Sunday night. Wine, unfortunately, is just part of the toasting process. What those Hollywood hotshots and glamazons don’t realize is that there was just as much labor, talent, and heart poured into that wine as in their films. A great wine is a lot like a great actor: its mission is to present a role as uniquely and memorably as possible, while still meeting the criteria of the industry and surpassing expectations.  In fact, if you use a little imagination, you can actually see just how well a wine can fit into some of these Hollywood roles… Did you ever think a Pinot Noir could play a king? Or that an Extra Brut could steal the show in Swan Lake? Well, with a little Hollywood magic and an open palate, you may be surprised to find that the big winners are actually the wines.

Our Best Actor pick is Colin Firth, who portrayed the reluctant, stammering King George VI of Britain in The King’s Speech. His brilliant performance came straight from the heart of this soft-spoken monarch: a man who, despite his struggle with speech and birthright, found the courage to overcome his personal battles and be a voice to a country that needed him. When envisioning a wine as the role of Prince Albert/King George VI, the best fit is most certainly the Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir is a painfully difficult wine to grow; in order to even make it to harvest, it must overcome triumphs like frost, viruses, birds, and even its own frailties. You could say that the Pinot Noir’s worst enemy is itself, with its thin skin and virus-susceptible leaves. But, if it can defeat these internal and external obstacles like Colin Firth’s character in The King’s Speech, then it becomes a wine memorable for its complex aromas, delicate flavors, and overall spectacular (yet soft) finish. Though fragile, it is a regal and valiant wine with a right to “a voice” like all other grapes of the spectrum.

Portman's dual performances mimic a light Riesling as well as a Brut Champagne

As for Best Actress…we’ve got our money on Natalie Portman for her performance of both the “White Swan” and “Black Swan” in the aptly named film, Black Swan. Wow…on both fronts. The film follows her character, Nina’s, psychological transformation from a virtuous, naïve “White Swan” ballerina into a sensuous, lethally perfect “Black Swan” in her company’s production of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. So, naturally, there cannot be just one wine to embody Nina’s contrasting personalities. Her “White Swan” wine perfectly fits the description of a light Riesling: sweet, floral, supple, and mellow. Unless you’re a diabetic, there’s nothing offensive about a Riesling: and that’s just it – it’s perfectly agreeable. But the “Black Swan” is anything but agreeable. She is seductive, vivacious, and blazing effervescence: she is a brut sparkling wine. Going from a light Riesling to powerful brut champagne is like a pointe slipper to the face – and that’s exactly the performance that Natalie Portman gives during the last scene of the film. Side by side, these wines are painfully contrasting; but in a film like Black Swan, you can’t understand conscious schizophrenia without them.

“And the winner is…”
The good news is that with wine, there’s always a winner. This year, our money for Best Actor/Best Actress is on Colin Firth and Natalie Portman, and if they don’t win…well, let’s just say I’ll be enjoying a lot more boxed wine in the coming weeks. But, before the red carpets are done rolling and the champagne is done popping, give yourself the VIP treatment with your best wine of 2010, and don’t forget to thank the Academy.

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The Wine Bar: The Newest Place to Wine Down

Of all the wine joints in all the towns in all the world…which one do you walk into?  I know mine – a chic little lounge in downtown Chicago devoted entirely to champagne.  It’s packed with trendy, off-the-clock urbanites popping bottles worth that day’s work.  One thing’s for sure – wine bars ain’t cheap. With markups up to 500% above retail value, it’s hard to understand why these pops never stop – and why more and more of these wine bars are springing up all over the country. Whether you live in downtown Awesomeville or small town Suburbia, chances are you’ve been a part of this thriving trend. And if you haven’t…well, there’s a whole new world (and old world) of wine to discover.

Wine Bars

So there are dive bars, biker bars, sports bars…where did the idea of a classy wine bar come from?  I’d imagine virtually every European country would try to take credit, but if I had to narrow it down to one – no! I can’t…how about two? – it’d be a tie between France, Italy, and Spain (okay, three!).  Why these three?  Because I’ve seen them for myself. France and Italy boast magnificent street side cafes that are as common as Starbucks in New York City. Airy and bright on the outside, sophisticated and dimly-lit on the inside, they attract the caffeine crowd simultaneously with the happy hour herds.  Their menus typically include a selection of coffees, teas, wines, beers and small plates (entrées in French, aperitivi in Italian) to fit any taste and hunger level. These cafes are meeting and socializing spots; not beer-pongin’, shot-throwin’, “why don’t we get drunk and screw” locales (sorry, Jimmy). In Spain, wines and Sangria are meant to be enjoyed and paired with tapas for an altogether titillating light dining experience. American wine bars have adopted similar customs: they tend to serve typical wine-pairing fare like cheeses, antipasti, and desserts. This concept opens customers to the art of wine tasting, of distinguishing flavors, and understanding pairings.

While wine tastings these days are increasing in trend, part of that distinction comes with a price. Kind of a tit-for-tat: you can try as many different wines by the glass as you want, but for the same mark-ups as a snazzy restaurant. Yet, with thousands of different varietals from dozens of countries to explore, many do take the wine bar philosophy of “taste before you buy.” After all, it’s at a wine bar that you can enjoy unique, imported, specially selected wines that you’ve never heard of, instead of the same old brands you see at every other chain restaurant.  And these bars are anything but chains. Most pride themselves with modern décor, soft, sophisticated lighting, loungy music, and comfortable sofas. The idea is to indulge your senses as well as your palate, while broadening wine knowledge and – hell, if I can’t mention it here, where else? – feeling a little hoity-toity for the night.

A typical wine bar

What started out as an experiment in the ‘80s has now become the modish haunt of downtowns and city centers. Laid-back and sexy, the wine bar phenomenon is one that’s growing with no end in sight. In a day and age where wine is now affordably accessible to the masses, there’s no reason to stay home with a Two-Buck Chuck when you can try a Chilean Merlot, Australian Shiraz, and a bona fide French champagne all in one place. Bad economy, you say?  Pssh. That never stopped the Greeks.  Or the Romans.  Or the Great Depressionists. Don’t let $8 stop you from discovering your new favorite wine at the hottest bar in town – the wine bar.




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Valentine’s Wine: Not Just Poetry in a Bottle

When you think Valentine’s Day, you probably imagine the five things that you see the moment you walk into a drugstore: red roses, candy hearts, teddy bears holding red roses and candy hearts, antacids, and singing cards. With all the cliché, Hallmark-y sayings that go around during Valentine’s season, I find Ogden Nash’s phrase “Candy is dandy – but liquor is quicker!” to be pragmatically refreshing.  Since love certainly is all around – especially today – I do believe that a glass of wine will help us all with the heartburn of the day (in both the literal and emotional sense). Today, let’s toast to wine and love, as so many poets have done since they discovered their combined power.

If there’s one thing we can say about history’s poets, it’s that they sure knew their wine. Perhaps not in the way that Robert Parker or Amy Winehouse do, but in the way that it counts: pairing it with happiness, youth, and love. Some of wine’s first documented quotations came from the pen of the Ancient Greek poet, Homer, who said it all with this one line: “No poem was ever written by a drinker of water.” Homer, then, must have been a lush by our standards, as indicated by his own words:

“Wine can of their wits and wise beguile,

Make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.”

…and…

“The wine urges me on, the bewitching wine, which sets even a wise man to singing and to laughing gently,

And rouses him up to dance and brings forth words which were better unspoken.”

No wonder those Ancient Greeks had a wine god. No wonder a lot of modern ones still do!

Several hundreds of years and conquered territories later, the Persian poet Omar Khayyam produced an immense collection of stanzas known today as The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, and includes my favorite line of poetry ever:

“Drink wine…it’s what remains of the harvest of youth – the season of roses and wine and drunken friends. Be happy for a moment, that moment’s your life.” (13)

Uhhhhh. That just says it all. Wine is what justifies those late nights of our youth. There were nights where we discovered the fountain of youth was, in fact, resting and beguiling us at the bottom of cheap glass bowls on brittle stems. A sip of wine meant one more memory, one more reason to linger in the moment before the dream of youth ended, and the burn of adulthood rose with the morning sun. Somebody leave a comment and stop me before I tattoo that on myself.

So, there’s poetry that shows wine inspiring happiness and youth.  We had to come to love sometime. It took a serious fifteen-minute hunt in a poetry anthology to narrow it down to this gem the English Renaissance poet Ben Jonson, who wrote a poem so utterly beautiful that I’m this close to calling up Walter Yehl (owner of WineStopperStore.com) and asking him to share a 2003 Saint Emilion and watch Casablanca with me.  While I still have my dignity, I encourage you all to take one minute to read “To Celia” in its entirety on Valentine’s Day. So, whether you’re single, married, or “It’s Complicated,” for the love of Dionysus, toast “to love” tonight.

To Celia

Drink to me only with thine eyes

And I will pledge with mine.

Or leave a kiss but in the cup
And I’ll not look for wine.

The thirst that from the soul doth rise

Doth ask a drink divine;

But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,

Not so much hon’ring thee

As giving it a hope that there
It could not withered be;

But thou thereon did’st only breathe,

And sent’st it back to me,

Since when it grows and smells, I swear

Not of itself, but thee.

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Touchdown Tastings! The Manliest Wines for the Super Bowl

Red 86!  94!  09!  Sniff…Swirl…Sip….Set….Hike!

There’s a lot in the air on Super Bowl Sunday.  Lots of anticipation, testosterone, and animalistic team spirit that, to many, looks a lot like bucks during mating season. The only thing that seems to be missing from the American man’s national holiday is a touch of class in the glass. Which raises the question: who says the only beverage at the Super Bowl needs to be beer?  Long ago, wine was the drink of Zeus and the three hundred Spartans… Wine was, hell, macho.  Fortunately, there are still wines today that boast themselves as “the manliest,” and can certainly prove themselves to you this Sunday.

One burning question you may have before we begin is, “how will wine hold up against the inevitable menu of hot wings, pizza, and barbecue?”  The good news for any Packers fans is that, given the lameness of your team, simple grape juice and tap water will be all your party can handle (and both go well with Kraft Macaroni & Cheese).  For everyone else, rest assured that there has never been a meal that couldn’t be paired with just the right wine. So, let’s tackle the first wine on the manly scale: a dry Sauvignon Blanc. A lot of guys will cross this one off the list just because it’s a white, but the Sauv isn’t just any white wine. The grape gets its name from the French word “sauvage,” which of course, means “wild,” or “savage.”  Still not convinced?  Pour a glass and you’ll be overwhelmed with the flavors and aromas of grass, minerals, peppers, and smoke. Any of those sound girly to you?  Best of all, when paired with spicy foods like hot wings, salsa, and pizza, the coolness of the wine will instantly refresh and restore the palate. There might even be a moment when the brawniest dude will realize how nicely the flavors complement one another…that is, until a freak interception is made.

After the halftime show comes the real food: the burgers, steaks, and barbecue goodness. The one wine that always measures up to heavy meats is the legendary Shiraz. (Ellie’s note: Shiraz and Syrah are exactly the same thing. I use Shiraz today since it sounds more rugged. No alligator wrestler would be caught dead drinking a Syrah, but a Shiraz, well, that’s a different story.)  A big, bold, dark red wine, Shiraz is known to carry hints of blackberry, chocolate, black pepper, and even leather. It goes ideally with a fine piece of red meat, but will be perfectly suitable with a medium-rare burger, a skewer of kebabs, or a steaming bowl of chili.  Who can say that about beer? Shiraz is a tough wine for the tough sports fan: powerful, full-bodied, fruity, and flavorful without compromising masculinity.

So, there you go, two winners for the big game. In the end, it doesn’t matter if your team wins or loses (as long as the Packers go down), the game will be back in September. But at the end of the night, why not open up another bottle? Give a toast to the majesty of football with the underdog beverage that’s sure to be a winner.

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A Wine Stopper is Born – the fascinating history of your wine bottle’s essential counterpart

Think back to that splendid bottle of wine from the other night.  What were your thoughts as you secured your special wine stopper into the neck?  You may have appreciated its practicality or smiled at the figurine, but did you consider the thousands of years that went into its design? By the time you finish reading this, you’ll be grateful for our favorite modern little marvel that’s nested in your bottle.

As long as wine has existed, so have containers to store it.  Images of Greek pottery predominantly illustrate what many consider to be the origin of ancient wine storage, but the true origin is many thousands of years earlier.  Winemakers as far back as 6,000 B.C.E. discovered that wine needed to be protected from air, and thus the search for the perfect closure began.  The Ancient Egyptians had it pretty close: they would cover the holes from their jars with “stoppers” of the same material and then seal them with unfired clay. Why it worked: excellent protection from air and spillage. Why it wouldn’t work today: who has time to layer clay?

Jump a couple thousand years to Classical Greece, an empire brimming with grapevines and olive trees (not to mention politics, architecture, philosophy, etc.)  Their solution for isolating wine from oxygen was adding a layer of olive oil to their amphorae, a vase designed to limit oxygen exposure. The olive oil created a protective barrier against dust, sunlight, flies, and above all, oxygen. However, this solution didn’t cover spillage or the occasional mixing of elements, making way for another revolution in wine stopping.

Wine bottle corking machine

From about 100 B.C.E. the last century, wine has most successfully been stored in high volumes within barrels.  Holes were plugged with wood and oil-soaked rags, and it wasn’t until 1698 that the famed monk Dom Perignon (of cuvée Champagne fame) popped the cork into modern viticulture. Porous enough to plug a bottle and let just the right amount of oxygen in, the discovery of the cork since then has led to the cultivation of over 2.2 million hectares of cork each year. These days, cork is renowned for its sustainability and environmental friendliness, as well as for being, perhaps, the undervalued part of your favorite wine stopper.

Today, the wine stopper is at its most advanced state: its function faultless, and its form entirely subjective. After millennia of reinvention, the wine stopper’s form and function now reflect the consumer: your interests, your hobbies, your tastes. It cannot be better perfected, unless stoppers should one day release youth and super powers into the wine it protects (although, it can be argued that this has already been achieved). So, the next time you twist your favorite wine stopper on that special bottle, remember that it does more than cork your wine; it seals your character, your leisure, and the memory of a wonderful time.

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