Monthly Archives: December 2011

How to Open Champagne


Well, 2011 is running out of steam and 2012 is knocking on the door! Got your technique down for popping that bottle of bubbly on Saturday night?

It’s not difficult – it’s just a matter of getting used to it – which means opening the bubbly more frequently! The most important thing to remember is not to point the bottle at anyone, including yourself until the cork is safely out. The bottle contains the same amount of pressure as the tires on a double-decker bus – about 60-90 PSI!

So, here’s how it goes: Sometimes the bubbly wants to foam out of the bottle the very second the cork comes out, so have your glass at the ready to catch any of those overly exuberant bubbles.

1. Go ahead and remove the foil. There’s usually a little tear tag to help you out.

2. Now, you want to loosen and remove the wire cage. Make sure you’ve got your thumb or hand on top of the cork, just in case it wants to launch. Then, pull down the wire tab and start twisting.  Remove the cage and get your thumb back on top of the cork.

Now the fun begins.

3. At this point you want to resist the urge to twist the cork out – you could put a hole in the wall that way! So, instead, hold the cork down firmly and turn the bottle rather than twisting the cork. If it feels kind of slippery you can put a towel over the top of the bottle and just hold it down with your palm. As you slowly turn the bottle you’ll feel the pressure of the cork against your hand – I love that! Just keep turning the bottle as you do this little pressure dance with the cork until it’s finally released with just a whisper of a sigh.

That’s it! Bottoms up! Continue reading


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My Wine Turned Gold


Question from Mark: I bought four bottles of Chardonnay several months ago. They looked light yellow at the time. Now, one of them has turned gold and the others are still pale. Is that gold bottle all right? 

Reply: Hi, Mark. Thanks for writing! I’ll tell ya – color matters. If all four bottles had turned deep yellow or gold I’d assume they’re getting old and you better drink them. Most whites start out quite pale and deepen with age. 

But this is different and there a a few different possibilities. When pale yellow wine suddenly turns gold something has happened to make it oxidize. The most likely reason for oxidation is a leaky cork. Check the fill height on the gold one. Is the bottle as full as the others? If not, some of the wine has leaked out and the air exposure oxidized the wine. If it’s spoiled it won’t hurt you, so go ahead and try it. If it tastes good, down the hatch! If it tastes weird you have every right to take it back – the cork failed to do its job.  A little oxidation kills the fruit and leaves the wine flat. A lot of oxidation and you have something like vinegar or maybe fingernail polish remover.   

Let me ask you some other questions. Did you have the wine stored in a cool, dark place? If it’s been too warm, all of the bottles may be suffering and that one just shows it the most. If the wine is in a place where it’s exposed to light, that can also be damaging – maybe that bottle got more light than the rest? 

No matter what kind of wine it needs to be stored at a fairly constant 45 to 65 F  – no big temperature swings –  and keep it sideways if it has a cork. It should be protected from light. Leaving it in a case box works well. It’s okay if the bottles are nose down. What you don’t want is nose up. Continue reading


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The Most Beautiful Time of the Year!


You know, we get soooo many visitors here in Napa Valley during harvest but I must say, when it comes to taking in the beauty of the valley, November and December are pretty hard to beat. 

 As you drive through the valley right now, it’s truly is a feast for the eyes. Once you get north of the town of Napa it’s pretty much wall to wall grapevines. And, after harvest they turn gorgeous colors – lots of yellow but also peach and different shades of red. It’s just beautiful.

My favorite route for taking in the view is to start in Calistoga, the northernmost town in the valley and shoot down the Silverado Trail. Since the elevation decreases as you drive south on the trail you have a really great view of the vineyards. I never get tired of it.

Here’s an odd piece of trivia for you: Healthy vines turn yellow and peach. But, when you see those beautiful, deep reds it’s usually a sign of virus. The vines are susceptible to a number of viruses, most of which we don’t know how to treat. Virus decreases yields and make it more difficult to get the grapes to ripen. If you look closely, you can recognize leaf roll virus because of the green leaf veins on otherwise, red leaves. The only blessing besides the beautiful display of fall color is that these viruses can be fairly slow in progression so you can live with it for a few years before you have to finally get out the bulldozer.

The other great thing about visiting this time of year is you’ll have the valley all to yourself! You’ll get into your favorite restaurants and probably get a good deal from the hotels because everybody else has gone home.

So, while visiting wine country at harvest time certainly has its attractions, you might think about shifting the timetable a bit one of these years.

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