February 2013
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Photo taken at Skil...
Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Photo taken at Skillogalee Winery in the Clare Valley in 2006. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Vintner Art
One of the best known red grape varieties on Earth, Cabernet Sauvignon boasts strong, complex flavor structures that only get better with age. Creating wine with this variety is somewhat of an art form. Soil, temperatures, growing season, maceration, aging process and duration of aging all play critical roles in determining the final result. Cab also blends extremely well with many different varieties, so the possibilities for this hardy grape go on and on! I’m still not a fan of red wines, the flavors are just too strong for me, but I’ve definitely developed a healthy respect for the creativity and skill that goes into producing red wine.

Cabernet Sauvignon is grown in nearly every major wine producing country on the globe, with major producers including France (Bordeaux), Italy (Chianti), Spain, the U.K., many countries in Easter Europe, and several countries along the Mediterranean. The U.S. is a notable producer, with California coming in as one of the top producers world-wide. Washington and Oregon also grow a lot of Cab. South America, South Africa and Australia are up and coming producers as well.

Warm Climates
The region in which the grapes are grown has a major impact on the resulting wine. The grape has a thick skin, making it resistant to frost and rot. This means that the grape can be grown in a large variety of climates. Cab Sav is one of the last major grape varieties to ripen, and in climates that have longer growing seasons and lots of sun, the grape can be brought to its full potential. Grapes raised in these warmer climates make excellent candidates for varietals.

Cool Climates
Cabernet Sauvignon is the most prominent variety in the infamous blend, Bordeaux. The Bordeaux region in France has a cooler climate, and Cab raised in cooler climates must be harvested earlier. Less ripened grapes are best in blends, where other varieties can make up for any weaknesses caused by early harvesting of the grapes. Bordeaux produces some of the world’s most sought after blends, and Cabernet Sauvignon plays a starring role, proving that it can be harvested early or late and still result in amazing flavor. One thing remains constant. Cabernet Sauvignon is well known for producing wines that are rich in flavor structure and complexity.

Maceration and Tannin
Cab Sav can be processed and aged in a wide variety of ways, each resulting in a very different result. The grape is very small and has a thick skin. A high seed to pulp ratio results in very high levels of tannins. Remember that tannins come from the skins of the grapes, so skins left with the juice for longer periods of time produce wine that is high in tannins. This duration period is known as maceration. Vintners that extend the maceration process produce wines that are very strong, with flavor structures that can be unpalatable for years.

Maceration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Maceration (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 Some regions are known for making Cab Sav that is quicker to mature, becoming palatable within just a couple of years in some cases. Cabernet Sauvignons produced in the Bordeaux region, however, are known to be unpalatable for up to ten years, and can be preserved for a further decade or more!  The reason behind all this aging comes down to the tannins. The Bordeaux region macerates its grapes for up to three weeks, which produces a Cab that is extremely high in tannins. This means that the wine will have to be matured for a long time before it becomes drinkable. Over time, the tannins soften enough to allow for drinking.
Aging  Wine, Sterling
Aging Wine, Sterling (Photo credit: MyEyeSees)

Oak Aging
Shorter maceration periods can help with high levels of tannins, but flavor structure suffers. Other methods that vintners use to soften tannins include oak barrel aging, micro oxygenation and the use of fining agents. Wine aged in oak barrels is subject to low, gradual levels of oxygenation. Less oxygen aids the tannins in bonding and creating larger tannin molecules, which are perceived as more mellow by the palate. Oak barrels also infuse the wine with softer “wood tannins” as well. Interestingly, oak harvested in different parts of the world will also affect the flavors in the wine; just one more method that vintners can use to create their idea of a good Cab Sav. The size of the barrel is also important as the wood to wine ratio will affect tannins.

Thinning the Tannins
Micro oxygenation is similar, meaning that wines are exposed to low levels of oxygen for similar results. Fining agents including egg whites and gelatin can be added to the wine to soften tannins as well. These positively charged molecules bond with negatively charged tannin molecules to create larger molecules that are removed during filtration.

With so many factors affecting the outcome of the wine’s flavor, this interesting grape allows vintners to exercise their creativity. Common flavors perceived in Cabs are green bell peppers and stewed blackcurrants. Grapes harvested in cooler climates tend to exhibit herbaceous flavors such as bell pepper. Grapes left to mature fully in warmer climates exhibit flavors of cooked blackcurrants. Other common flavors include mint and eucalyptus. Young Cabs can taste of black cherries and plums. As they age, the taste of cigar boxes, cedar and pencil shavings become perceivable. New World Cabs are known to be fruitier, while old world Cabs are austere and earthy.

The bold flavors in Cabernet Sauvignon pair well with heavy dishes. High alcohol content Cabs will pair well with spicy dishes. Meats and heavy sauces are always a win. Charred foods like those cooked on a grill do well to counterbalance the bitterness of a Cab. The bitterness of dark chocolate is also a good match. As the wine ages, its pairing possibilities open up as it becomes softer and more forgiving on the palate.

This completes my exploration of Cabernet Sauvignon. Join me next time for a discussion about Carmenere, a grape variety widely planted in Chile.

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29 years have passed and you’re probably here looking for gift ideas. Well, I have you covered. Customary 29th anniversary gifts are as follows:

Traditional: No traditional 27th anniversary gift
Contemporary: Furniture
Flower: No 29th anniversary flower

Dining Room in the U.S. Photo credit: Wikipedia
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This year, it’s all about the furniture. A new bedroom set makes a romantic anniversary gift that will put some fresh perspective and new colors into the most intimate space in your home. A dining room set or living room set can also breathe a breath of fresh air into the rooms you share each day. Furniture is expensive and whole sets can break the budget. If money is tight this year, small accent pieces are less expensive. My dad got my mom a china hutch one year and she absolutely loved it. Patio furniture is also usually a bit less expensive if you like enjoying evenings out on the deck. For a summer anniversary, a porch swing makes a wonderful gift. Share your evenings swinging away while enjoying a sunset!

Furniture gives you plenty of creative anniversary gift options to choose from. Perhaps you can celebrate your 29th anniversary while staying in and enjoying a dinner for two amid your brand new decor! However you end up celebrating, I hope it’s the best year yet. Join me next time for year 30.

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Ice Wine Grapes
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have never seen an ice wine or eiswein as it’s known in Germany. Bottles aren’t easy to come by, due to the difficulty in producing this sweet and fruity wine. Ice wines are produced in cold areas, and ice wine crops are highly difficult to harvest and seem to come right down to good timing. Ice wine grapes are frozen while still on the vine and then harvested at just the right time. A labor force must be on standby on the first perfectly cold morning to gather in the entire crop in just a few hours. Then the grapes must be immediately pressed in freezing temperatures by workers.

A Touchy Process
Different rules and regulations set in place by each producing country also make it difficult to classify just any frozen grape as ice wine material! Temperature, sugar content (brix or must) and other guidelines must be adhered to in order for a wine to be labeled as an ice wine. The freeze must be just right as well. Grapes sit on the vine waiting for the season’s first freeze, and if a freeze doesn’t occur in time, the grapes rot and the crop is lost. If the freeze is too severe, there will be no juice left to press out. The conditions for making this sweet dessert wine are touchy at best.

The process, though seemingly long and arduous, results in very small amounts of wine. Frozen grapes are picked and pressed. Water on the grapes is frozen and much remains in the press, but sugars don’t freeze, so the result is a small amount of highly concentrated, very sweet juice. The high levels of sugar make fermentation a very long process, taking up to months to complete. Normal table wines ferment within days or weeks.

Due to low yields, difficult production and selective production regions, ice wines are rare and expensive. It is usually bottled in half-sized bottles or smaller at prices that can hurt the wallet. Even a very small bottle can range from $50 to $100!

The main producer, thanks to its notably cold temperatures, is Canada. It’s the top producer world-wide, and Inniskillin Wines in Ontario, Canada is probably the most well-known maker of ice wine. Germany produces some of the world’s most famous and expensive ice wines. Production in the U.S. is limited mainly to Michigan, Colorado, Virginia and Washington. Production occurs in some other countries throughout the world, but these are the main producers.

In Austria, Germany, the U.S. and Canada, it is stipulated that a natural freeze must occur for a wine to be classified as an ice wine. In other countries, however, a process called cryoextraction is used to produce ice wines. Basically, grapes are mechanically frozen and then pressed. Ice wines produced through cryoextraction do not have as good a reputation as real ice wines, however, and do not boast the same quality of flavor and aroma.

Grape Varieties
The typical ice wine grape varieties include Riesling, Vidal and Cabernet Franc. These grape varieties are high in acidity, and acidity is a trademark of ice wine, lending it a fresh taste that is unique and refreshing. White grape ice wines are typically pale yellow to light gold in color, while red grape ice wines are light burgundy or pink. The reds are light rather than deep in color because the skins are not given time to steep with the juice, as with normal red wines.
Ice wine from the Niagara region
Icewine from the Niagara region (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Flavors and Aromas
A typical ice wine exhibits the aromas of exotic fruits and tastes of tropical mango and honey. Red ice wines can taste of strawberry and candied fruit with spicy and sweet aromas. They are typically medium to full bodied wines. A good ice wine has a long, lingering finish. The alcohol content of an ice wine, as in many dessert wines, is quite low, usually ranging from 7 to 13 percent.

The strong flavors of ice wine pair well with strong cheeses and flavor-rich Thai foods. It can also compliment seafood and salad well with bold flavors that soften the bitterness in some salads and the “fishy” taste of seafood. When pairing with a dessert, make sure that the dessert is not sweeter than the wine! Fruit-based desserts are a favorite with ice wine.

This finishes of my exploration of ice wine. Join me next time for a discussion about Cabernet Sauvignon.

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(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Congratulations on 28 years together. For hubbies with wives that love flowers, this is going to be a great year!

Traditional: No traditional 27th anniversary gift
Contemporary: Orchids
Flower: Orchids

Orchids are one of the most stunning floral gifts that a man can give a woman. These exotic blooms have long symbolized luxury due to their rare appeal. The orchid also symbolizes love, beauty, strength, and wealth. During the Victorian Era in England, orchids were prized by members of the upper class for their exotic and rare qualities. Today, an orchid gift is still considered a high-class floral gift.

Different orchid colors can symbolize different special qualities.

•    Blue orchids represent rarity, meditation and spirituality
•    Yellow orchids represent friendship and new beginnings
•    Lavender orchids represent grace, elegance and feminine beauty
•    Pink orchids represent joy, happiness, and innocence
•    Purple orchids represent royalty, admiration and respect

At 24K Gold Dipped Orchid - Lilac and Blue DendrobiumArttowngifts.com, we have a dazzling lineup of Gold Dipped Orchids in various colors! Real 11 inch orchids are preserved in lacquer to retain their natural colors and are finished with 24 Kt gold trim. These eye catching orchids will never fade and their everlasting blooms make fantastic accent pieces to finish off a room. You can also find Dendrobium Orchid Pins at arttowngifts.com. Pick the color of your choice to represent the qualities that you love about her!

Fresh orchids also make wonderful gifts for the home. Surprise her with a potted orchid that can be kept and repotted for continual enjoyment! My experience with orchids is that they need tender loving care and more attention than some other house plants. Be sure to research how to provide the best care for this beautiful flower so that it can grow to become a natural part of your home décor!

Enjoy your 28th anniversary! Join me next time for year 29.

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A glass of the California Meritage wine Opus O...
A glass of the California Meritage wine Opus One from Napa Valley. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
First let’s get the pronunciation right. I’m a words person, so I love languages and pronunciation and all that good stuff. When I saw the word Meritage, I was thinking French, so probably merit-aaahge like collage. However, the name is actually a combination of the words Merit and Heritage and is pronounced as such, sounding like heritage. Now that we have the specifics out of the way, let’s get down to business!

The Meritage Association
Meritage is a Bordeaux-style blend of red or white grape varieties. The Meritage Association, now called the Meritage Alliance, was founded in 1988 by a group of vintners in Napa Valley, California. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives apparently stipulates that wines be classified as varietals when one grape variety constitutes more than 75% of the wine. Being held to these standards was frustrating to wine growers.

A Classic Blend
Vintners wished to be able to create Bordeaux-style blends without being held to percentage guidelines that would result in the classification of such blends as "table wines". Of course, they could not name this style of wine Bordeaux, as this would infringe on the Bordeaux region’s legally protected right to the appellation, so a contest was held, bringing in over 6000 entries! Meritage was the chosen name for this new, yet completely classic style of wine.

Meritage Alliance Membership
Meritage Alliance membership has increasingly begun to spread outside of the U.S. to other countries including Argentina, Australia, Canada, France, Israel and Mexico. Members must adhere to rules laid down to protect the integrity of the namesake. It is recommended that bottles labeled Meritage are top blends, and certainly never the bottom of the barrel! It is also not meant to be a mass-produced wine, with no more than 25,000 cases to be produced by member wineries.

Red Meritage
Meritage can be a red or white wine, though white is much less common. A red Meritage must include at least two of the following varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Verdot or Carmenère with no one variety comprising more than 90%.

White Meritage
A red Meritage must include at least two of the following varieties: Sauvignon Blanc, Sèmillon or Muscadelle du Bordelais with no one variety comprising more than 90%.

My Tasting Experience
I located a bottle of Meritage the other night and gave it a try. I bought a bottle of Sterling Vintner’s Collection Meritage. The bottle cost around $8. It included a mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec at 13.5% alcohol. This was my first attempt at actually tasting a wine rather than gulping it, so go easy on my assessment!

Cherry, Vanilla and Chocolate
The first thing I noticed was the lovely color; very dark red, nearly purple. The alcohol taste was very strong, leading to a very warm, long lasting finish. I would say it had medium body. I picked out the taste of cherry and vanilla, very lightly. In the aftertaste, I thought I detected dark chocolate. The flavors were very complex, and I imagine this wine contains relatively high levels of tannins. It’s hard to tell without having any tasting experience to compare with, but I guess you have to start somewhere!

This completes my exploration of Meritage. Join me next time for a talk about Ice Wine.

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27 years have come and gone, and it's time to start searching for gifts again...

Traditional: No traditional 27th anniversary gift
Contemporary: Sculpture
Flower: No 27th anniversary flower

I’m sure there are couples who love sculptures; and if you do, this is the year for you! Choose a nice sculpture to highlight in your home. Garden sculptures can be nice too. A beautiful fountain in your yard or garden can make a bench and a book come alive with the sound of running water. If your anniversary falls during the summer, it might be nice to pack a picnic and sit out in the garden with your brand new sculpture! There are ways to make this gift idea creative and even romantic. I’m sure you will come up with something unique.

Congratulations on 27 years together. I hope this year was wonderful and that the next is just as much fun. Join me next time for year 28.
Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc (Photo credit: Giant Ginkgo)
Cabernet Franc is one of the major black grape varieties and is among the top twenty most planted grape varieties in the world. It is not known, however, for producing a top varietal. When blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, the grape truly shines. It is famously the third grape in Bordeaux and is used in many Bordeaux-style wines such as Meritage. (I will discuss Meritage in a future blog because I found it to be such an interesting subject.)

An Unripe Cabernet Sauvignon?
Cabernet Franc is generally outshone by its relative, Cabernet Sauvignon. A Cabernet Franc varietal may even be mistaken for an unripe Cabernet Sauvignon. Interestingly, the Cabernet Sauvignon variety is created from a cross of the Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc varieties. In this case, the child has outdone its parent! Though Cabernet Franc is a component of some of the top wines in the world, its reputation is beneath that of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon.

Aromas, Flavors and Serving
Though typically made for blending, some regions such as the Loire Valley in France produce varietals from Cabernet Franc. If grown in the right conditions, the grape variety can produce a more popular varietal such as Loire’s Chinon. Cabernet Franc varietals are known for having smooth tannins and aromas of spice and tobacco while exhibiting flavors of blueberry, raspberry and plum with delicate hints of pepper and violets. Cabernet Franc wine is typically medium-bodied with medium acidity and medium levels of tannins. Being on the lower end of the tannin spectrum as compared to many red wines, Cabernet Franc can make a light, fruity alternative to oft-heavy red wines. The grape is quite versatile though, and can produce a complex wine that will age nicely.

Production Regions
Cabernet Franc is most notably grown in France, Italy, Hungary, Canada and the US, though in many other places worldwide as well. It is now being used to make Ice Wine, which I will cover in a later blog. Ice Wine has been gaining popularity in Canada, which has a good climate for raising Cabernet Franc. The variety does well in cooler climates, and is sometimes used as an “insurance” grape because of its hardiness. While other crops may be damaged by inclement weather systems, this weather resistant grape provides some insurance against the failure of more vulnerable grape varieties.

Food Pairings
Popular food pairings include pizza, lasagna, poultry, green bell pepper and goat cheese. It is ideally served at 65 to 70 degrees. Serving it warmer will bring out the fruity side of the wine and also make it taste less dry. The wine can be served and enjoyed young, as a fruitier red wine nice for summer, or may be aged up to a decade to bring out more complex flavors.

Though often overshadowed by its relatives, Cabernet Franc holds its own as both a component of some of the world’s top blends and as a versatile and interesting varietal. This hardy grape is well received by some and ignored by others.  Are you a fan?

Join me next time for a discussion about Meritage. Cheers!

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