With all the hectic and distressing events in the news throughout this year, you could be forgiven for missing out on what was a relatively eventful year for wine. However much we love our Burgundy’s, most people in the world today have more pressing concerns. Still, for wine-lovers, this has been a year of crazy ups and downs.
Let’s start with something good: Bordeaux. This has been a banner year for the region, although not in the way you’d expect. No, 2017 has been remarkable because it’s seen the first batch of 2015 vintages hitting the market. They’re available for most good wine merchants now, and we’ll see even more in the next 6 months or so.
We’re still waiting to get our hands on the higher-end bottles from that year, but the budget and midrange bottles we’ve tried have been phenomenal. Even some of the blended vintages from the Rhone are tasting far, far above their class. Granted, these are definitely dinner wines or daily drinkers, not your extra-special glasses.
The warmth, richness, and vigor of the 2015 vintage is something we’re going to be clinging too over the coming months!
That’s mostly true because of all the absolutely disastrous things that have befallen the wine industry in 2017. It was a calamitous year for all sorts of vineyards, so we’ll have to savor our 2015 and 2016 wines for as long as they last. If you don’t already make a point to stock up on banner year crops, we suggest starting now! You’ll thank yourself later.
As Americans, it would be remiss to start with the worldwide industry, so let’s remember what befell California’s wine country over this past summer. Some of the worst wildfires the nation has ever seen tore across Sonoma and the surrounding area. They didn’t just scorch the vines–they left practically nothing behind. Entire winemaking operations are heaps of ash now. There’s very little hope of salvaging much from the 2017 vintage if you’re a California maker. So, snap up what you can of the past two years’ bottles now, and get storing. There will definitely be a shortage next year!
We should also say that the industry is practically begging for people to come and visit over the coming months, as they start trying to get back to normal. Most of the vineyards have some backstock for tasting, and they’re salvaging what’s left to serve to tourists. We’d encourage anyone who’s been considering making a trip to bite the bullet and go this winter. We’ve always found that the best experiences with wine are the unexpected ones.
California wasn’t the only spot struck by wildfires, unfortunately. The southern regions of France, and much of the French wine country were also ravaged by wildfires. They’ve become increasingly common in Europe, especially through Spain and France. Sadly, there’s going to be a severe wine shortage from France this year, which will hit our shelves in 2019ish.
It’s not a slight drop, either. Production was down 20% this year, and that’s going off the 2016 crop, which was already the lowest production year for three decades. Fire and drought have wreaked havoc on vines across the country, and there’s not much winemakers can do besides hope things take a breather this coming season.
You can plan on seeing a noticeable markup in French wine prices for the next 2-3 years as a result of the shortage over the last 24 months. Nothing too drastic, but probably 15% higher price tags or so. That’s another reason to stock up on the 2015’s while they’re available.
On the brighter side, the general shortage of French and Californian wines on the market are providing a space for some of the really fantastic South American wines to shine. These have been looked down on for years, but they’re finally starting to get the respect we think they’ve deserved for quite some time. And they’re very inexpensive! As far as value for money, wine doesn’t get better than these.
One of our favorite things about the South American bottles is the backstories that come with them. Lynne Rossetto Kasper had a lovely piece on The Splendid Table a couple weeks back about why it’s so much nicer to give a bottle from one of these fascinating vineyards than to go for the same-old-same-old Bordeaux that you’ve always given your mother at the holidays. Seriously: these places are amazing. We’ve had a few bottles from one vineyard which started as a government program to divert farmers away from the cocaine business, and it’s spectacular.
This is also turning out to be a great year for German wines. What, you ask? Do Germans even make wines? Well, of course. Everybody makes wine. What’s exciting is that the German vintages are finally starting to taste truly great! As climate change heats up Italy and France, it’s been withering vines. On the flip side, it’s making a lot of the regions along the Rhine much more amenable to wine production. German bottles are winning accolades in all the big wine and food journals. So, don’t turn your nose up at any German bottles you see in your wine shop next year!
All in all, it’s been a pretty mixed year. Most of the traditional hotspots are having a hard time, but that’s given us a chance to appreciate wine from parts of the world which usually have a hard time getting their fair share of praise.
Let us know how your year of wine has been! Have you been sampling new regions for the first time? Stockpiling your favorites from Europe? We’d love to hear!
We’re often asked by friends, family and readers about wine. Wine can be pretty intimidating, no doubt about it. Maybe the most common question everyone seems to have is how you store wine properly. Wine is one of the most delicate things you can buy, so learning how to store it is like buying home insurance for your living space. Basically, you’re asking to lose a lot of money if you don’t do it!
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Now, what’s the best way to store wine?
There are a lot of schools of thought about this. A lot of people just have a rack somewhere in their house, and that’s where the wine goes until it’s popped open. As long as you have somewhere dark and relatively cool, that’s not the worst solution in the world. Even a fridge can be ok as long as you don’t keep the wine there for more than a few days.
Still, the term “wine cellar” is used for a reason. Wine likes to be somewhere relatively cool, but not cold, with as close to no light as possible. Wine goes south in a hurry when it’s not stored properly. You can ruin a bottle in two weeks, just by storing it somewhere warm and dry.
Prime wine conditions vary by vintage, but all wines go through a similar series of chemical reactions as they age. You want an environment which supports that process. What that looks like on paper is about 55 degrees F, 70% relative humidity, and as close to no light as possible. Any extreme temperatures or exposure to strong light can change the chemical reactions inside the bottle, which is why poorly-stored wine doesn’t taste the way it should.
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Since the vast majority of us don’t have actual cellars available, the best way to go is to get a wine cooler to mimic cellar conditions inside a house or apartment. You can get freestanding or built-in models, and we’ve had good experiences with both. Personally, we prefer the built-in, but whatever suits your space is good.
At this point in the explanation, a lot of people we talk to ask why you can’t just use a fridge. Fridges are dark and cool, right? Nope!
Fridges are cold, which is not the same thing as cool. Not even remotely. Keeping wine in the fridge is actually as bad as keeping it somewhere that’s too warm. Fridges are usually kept somewhere just above the freezing point, but a good wine cooler won’t even have settings below 46F. The average fridge doesn’t have temperature controls, either. You just get those dials where you have to fiddle until you find a Goldilocks spot.
Your fridge isn’t always dark, either. Whenever you open the door, you’re sending bright light right through your expensive bottles. So, don’t think that a fridge is the same thing as a cooler or a cellar.
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After all, it’s not just any cellar that will do. Different wines like to be at different temperatures, so having a way to manage that digitally is a big convenience. That’s one reason that a lot of us would rather have a cooler even if we had a cellar handy.
There are a lot of reasons why buying a wine cooler is better than trying to create your own system. The temperature will always be stable, for one. You don’t have to worry about freak weather that warms your cool spot more than you thought possible. Wine coolers usually have circulating fans, too. All your bottles will be at exactly the same temperature. You don’t have to build or buy shelves since they’ll come in the cooler. You can get something with tinted glass to block light, and better than you can do anywhere in your house.
Our advice is: if you’re just getting into wine, and you have a somewhat decent way to store it already, don’t bother with a cooler. If you’re starting to get serious and buying relatively expensive vintages, you’re cheating yourself if you don’t have a proper cooler. That’s especially true if you live somewhere warm or stuffy. Anybody who’s trying to age wine at home should hands-down get a wine cooler.
Let us know if you have any extra questions, or if you want to share your creative wine storage solution!
We try to take at least two big trips every year. Travel is one of those things you just have to do for yourself, regardless of your income or your personal interests. Getting out and seeing the world is incredibly valuable. A lot of our favorite foods, drinks, and belongings have come from trips abroad.
By this point, we’ve been lucky enough to cover most of the places on our mutual wish list. We’ve been to Iceland, New Zealand, the UK, and Egypt in the past few years. We’ve thought about plotting a jaunt to Italy in the near future, and this brilliant new attraction has made us get serious about making plans and booking things!
There’s a new theme park in Italy called “Eataly”, and you can probably guess what the focus is. It’s marketed as a Disney World of Food, and as far as Disney World is from our list of must-see destinations, that’s undeniably exciting.
Essentially, Eataly is a showcase for all that’s good and great in the Italian culinary world. It’s absolutely massive, so you rent bikes to get around. 25 acres is big by any measure, but what’s great about this place is that they’ve essentially collected all the little artisan producers you see dotting the countryside and put them in one place.
They have a working dairy plant onsite, so you can see your favorite Italian cheeses being produced. Apparently, more than 200 livestock are housed there at any one time?! That’s a bit insane, but definitely something we’d like to go visit. It’s a pain to get to a lot of the Italian cheesemakers in the countryside, and this is a convenient way to see the process without making a trek.
The part we’re most excited about is the miniature forest that’s apparently inside, and home to a lot of truffle mushrooms. There are dogs living in the theme park, and every day they do a live demonstration where the dogs sniff out the mushrooms. How cool is that? Definitely not something you can see easily elsewhere. We’re big mushroom people, but basically, anybody who likes dogs ought to find that hard to resist.
And it would be misleading to leave you with the impression that we’re only going to see the sights. Come on–if you’re going to visit a place called Eataly, it would be ludicrous to NOT pig out. According to their website, you can get fresh ham raised at the park, lasagna, Neapolitan pizza, gelato, oysters, basically any staple of great Italian food. They even make the pasta right there in front of you. It might be the only theme park in the world where the food is the main attraction!
Anyway, we’re planning on going for about 3 weeks, next spring. Chime in with any must-see spots you have from your travels in Italy! Ciao.