The challenge, then, is to maximize the delight without inviting the regret. For us, the solution is the magnum. A large bottle holding 1.5 liters, or two ordinary bottles, the magnum is big enough to be impressive without edging over into mayhem. Nonetheless, produce a chilled magnum of something nice and plant it on the coffee table in front of your friends and it changes the dynamic almost as much as if you had produced the other kind of Magnum, the Dirty-Harry-do-you-feel-lucky-punk one. (In this case, the answer is "Yes, I do.") Split two ways, it will fuel an unforgettable night (and make for a morning that is, if not out-and-out rocky, at least a little gravelly); three, it's a memorable toot; four, a fine beginning. Even split among six, it offers more than a token toast. But it's not just the number of glasses it contains that makes the magnum such an engine of delight, or even the reputation it has for producing a champagne that is, all things otherwise being equal, tastier than that from a smaller bottle. It's the promise it contains.
A single bottle of champagne goes quick, too damned quick. There may be more or there may not. Even if there's another bottle at hand, you'll wonder if they're going to open it or they'll wonder if you are. With a magnum, more isn't a plan or a contingency. It's a reality, right there in the bottle. You can drink your first glass, the one that opens the afferent pathways of the brain, secure in the knowledge that the second, the booster, will follow—and if the group is a small one, so will the third, the exhilarator, and perhaps the fourth, the one that makes your head feel like it's bobbing on a string. We find that awareness to be almost as effective at loosening us up as the champagne itself.
As for the champagne: If your friends are deeply geeky in the world of wines, you can pop a magnum of, say, Bruno Paillard Brut Première Cuvée or Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, confident that they'll be impressed. (For ordinary drinkers, though, it's safest to stick to the big, famous producers.) Part of the appeal of a magnum is the extravagance behind it; if it's going to work, people have to know that it's special. We've always been partial to Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label, but we hope we'll never be so snobby as to turn down a glass or three of Moët or Mumm or Perrier-Jouët or their ilk. You don't break out a magnum of champagne to celebrate connoisseurship. You do it to celebrate the joy that comes from having friends to walk beside you on your crooked path through this world.
Published in Esquire By: DAVID WONDRICH.
Photo Credit: Tim Graham
A classic wine region, like a classic suit is perennial, but that doesn't mean the prices don't wax and wane. Whether it's a standout vintage, oversupply, exchange rates, or simply the vagaries of fashion, some wines become a bit more of a steal than others. Here's what to drink right now.
Brunello di Montalcino
A surfeit of great vintages—nothing less than four or five stars each year, going back to 2003—means there are too many superb Brunellos around, so prices are down as retailers try to make room for the 2010 vintage now being released. The Ciacci Piccolomini d'Aragona 'Pianrosso Santa Caterina d'Oro' Riserva 2007 ($89) demonstrates Brunello's capacity for combining power and elegance.
Skip Moscato for Alsace's Muscat, and trade in the Pinot Grigio for Alsatian Pinot Gris; this French white-wine region hosts many fantastic varietals along with the more commonly applauded Riesling and Gewurztraminer (collectively these are known as the four "noble varieties"). Look for Grand Cru wines like the Marcel Deiss Mambourg 2009 ($75), which is a fine blend.
Over-the-top, high-alcohol (15% ABV+) Zin captured people's imaginations and wallets over a decade ago but is fading now, though producers who never strayed from a more classic (and powerful) expression of the grape are still at it. Many of the best are actually field blends with other varieties. One great example: Ravenswood's muscular Icon 2011 ($75).
This is perhaps the most underappreciated in the world ever since we abandoned Poe's alluring Amontillado (one of several kinds of sherry) in favor of Grandma's sticky-sweet version. High-quality sherry is back on the market with a vengeance, but producers are hesitant to increase prices. Try the Bodegas Fernando de Castilla Antique Amontillado NV ($55 for 500ml) to see what Poe's obsessed victim was talking about.
After chasing inflated prices in Asia and finding it a fickle market, Bordeaux producers are once again courting wine drinkers in the U.S. market. St. Emilion, one of Bordeaux's subregions, is loaded with values right now, like the just-released Chateau Troplong Mondot 2012 ($85); keep an eye out for older vintages, too.
-From Details Mag., by Jim Clark
One of the fascinating things about wine (aside from its uncanny ability to help ease us over annoying Dow Jones industrial average related unpleasantries) is its ability to change flavor and even texture as it sits in your glass. Especially red wine. Wine, like most foods, is a complex mixture of chemicals that change with temperature and exposure to air. But wine has a particular class of compounds, called tannins, that almost magically transform from something that can seem harsh and unyielding to something softer and far more flavorful.
The name “tannins” is actually based on tanning hides – the same compounds help turn relatively fragile animal skins into more durable materials like leather. They’re part of a group called phenolic compounds and are found in the skins of red wine grapes, in coffee, tea, chocolate, and in certain leaves and vegetables. What they share is an ability to cause astringency, which is a tactile property, a sort of dry and rough feeling in your mouth, sometimes described as “puckery,” that comes when you eat certain foods. It’s not acidity, although highly acidic foods can cause a similar sensation. Think of drinking black coffee or a freshly-opened red wine – it feels a little rough in your mouth and almost leaves you thirsty. That’s because of the tannins, which also contribute some bitterness to the flavor.
The tannins bind to the proteins in your otherwise slick saliva (we know we know – eew) , and join the proteins together to form larger molecules. These larger molecules have a rougher feel to them. They contribute to what you perceive as the substance of the wine – you may have heard some wines described as “chewy,” and that’s because the larger molecules bump into each other and slow down the movement of liquid. The tannins, combined with the alcohol and some other components in wine, help create the impression of fullness of texture. They also help keep the flavor of the wine going while you’re eating food, rather than the wine being swept out of your mouth by your meal.
So what happens to wine when it’s exposed to air? Oxygen changes the tannins into compounds that are less bitter and less astringent, essentially softening them. This allows other flavors in the wine to come through, while still making the wine seem substantial. (You can also soften tannic foods by introducing other proteins for the tannins to bind with – this is what happens when you add milk to coffee, for example, and it seems easier to swallow than black coffee). Other flavor components in wine also develop with exposure to oxygen, but softening the tannins allows some of the more subtle flavors to emerge and all the other flavors to assert themselves. Aging wines in oak also helps soften tannins, both because a small amount of oxygen gets into the barrels, and also because some of the compounds found in the wood react with the tannins.
The amount of tannin people like in wine is a matter of personal preference – and what you’re serving with the wine. So if you need another fun parlor game to add to your repertoire, begin by gathering your finest leather accessories for the complete tannin experience. (And by “leather accessories,” we mean your Avallone handmade leather bag or wallet, so get your mind out of the gutter!) Then you can try an experiment with two bottles of first vine wines, the Cave la Vinsobraise Diamant Noir and Emeraude. Both wines are 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah, and both have a fair amount of tannins, mostly from the Syrah. Open them, pour a glass of each, and taste them (with a little water and bread in between to clean the palate). The Emeraude is aged in oak and will seem less tannic than the Diamant Noir, which is aged in concrete. Then let them both sit in the glass for half an hour or so, swirling them for aeration a few times during the wait. When you taste them again, you’ll find that they both are much less tannic, and some flavors that seemed muted before are now out in front. Also, the oak now seems to affect the Emeraude differently. Some describe the Emeraude as more elegant, perhaps because the oak reduces the tannins more. (If both wines still seem too tannic to you, check out the everyday reds category for wines with softer tannins.)
The subtle art of good food is all about striking a balance between flavors and textures. And no more is that clear than when it comes to pairing your dish with the right wine. Of course, we've all been told that we're supposed to drink white wine with fish and red wine with red meat. And while this is somewhat of a safe assumption, there's a lot more to consider when it comes to choosing a bottle. Wine and food pairing is a balancing act, more of an art rather than an exact science. So while there are no hard and fast rules for food and wine pairings, these simple guidelines can help you with the process.
MATCHING FLAVORS AND TEXTURES
You want to join foods with wines that share similar flavors and textures or, at least, complementary ones. Simply put, a delicate dish should be matched with a subtle wine and a hearty meal with a sturdier wine. For example, the rich, buttery flavors of a Chardonnay pair perfectly with lobster in a creamy, buttery sauce. And the peppery scents of a Syrah or Petite Sirah easily complement most red meat.
WHAT GROWS TOGETHER GOES TOGETHER
This one's an old rule—an expression used by chefs and wine lovers alike—but a solid tip nonetheless. There's a natural, organic relationship between the food grown in a particular region and the wine that's produced there. The agriculture and grapevines share the same terroir (climate, soil and geography), so they both have flavors that complement each other.
SMOKE WITH OAK
Grilled foods, barbecue or any items cooked in a wood-burning oven pair well with wines that have been aged in oak like Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Tempranillo. Oaked wines can be a little bold (and overwhelming to some dishes), but char-grilled foods tend to tone down that woody intensity, bringing out the lighter fruit flavors instead.
SWEET WITH SPICE
For spicier foods, you want a wine like a Riesling or Vouvray, that has retained some of the natural sugar from the grapes. Known as residual sugar, the sweetness will help cool down the spice's heat, balancing out the flavors of the food and the wine. What you don't want is a highly alcoholic wine like a Malbec or Sauvignon Blanc—the spices will actually intensify the alcohol and ultimately, make the food seem even hotter.
CUT THE FAT WITH ACID
Fried, rich or fatty foods should be paired with a zesty, acidic wine like Sauvignon Blanc or wines that are high in tannin such as Cabernet Sauvignon. The acids and tannins cut through the richness of the foods and essentially act as a palate cleanser so you're not overwhelmed by the heavier flavors. These also tend to work with dishes with a similar degree of acidity or bitterness like salads dressed with vinaigrettes, sharp cheeses or marinated meats.