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http://www.wine-searcher.com – Our Top Stories of 2013

Ex-porn star Savanna Samson now makes wine in Tuscany

© Welcome Books | Ex-porn star Savanna Samson now makes wine in Tuscany

We reveal the articles that slipped down best with readers.

 

 

1. From Sex to Sangiovese: Porn Star Savanna Samson

The combination of sex and wine proved irresistible to Wine-Searcher users. Under her real name, Natalie Oliveros, former on-screen sexpot Savanna Samson has morphed into a serious vintner. This story was the year’s favorite by a country mile, perhaps encouraged by a photograph of her lying naked on a bed of grapes. The former film star now owns La Fiorita, a winery in the Tuscan region where Brunello di Montalcino is produced. She makes several sangiovese-based wines, as well as some unusual indigenous blends, with the help of winemaker Roberto Cipresso.

2. Top 12 Wine Fakes

This was Maureen Downey’s selection of her favorites from among the many counterfeit wines she has encountered. From melted crayons used to recreate the wax seal on a bottle of dodgy 1870 Lafite, to “1950s” capsules bearing today’s recyclable symbol, there were some audacious, almost comedic, shockers. Downing noted: “Every time I think I have seen ‘the worst,’ I run into something that is even more of a howler.”

3. 10 Things Every Wine Lover Should Know About La Mission Haut-Brion

Jane Anson took readers through the iconic wrought-iron gates of this historic estate. From religious ownership and expropriation during the French Revolution to today’s aristocratic proprietors, the Bordeaux estate has a colorful history. These days, it is often referred to as the sixth first growth.

4. Obama Inauguration Irks Champagne Producers

The menu for the president’s inauguration luncheon was hastily changed after it stated that “Special Inaugural Cuvee Champagne, California” would be served with Hudson apple pie, sour-cream ice cream, aged cheese and honey. While fussing over the wording might seem like semantics, the U.S. Champagne Bureau protested that the Champagne name was being used incorrectly. With their tails between their legs, the organizing committee agreed to change the error in time for the lunch.

L-R: The revolutionary new Coravin device; Barack Obama's inauguration got the organizers in hot water with the French

© Coravin/AFP | L-R: The revolutionary new Coravin device; Barack Obama’s inauguration got the organizers in hot water with the French5. How to Drink Wine Without Opening the Bottle

Only want a glass of wine but don’t want to open a bottle? Coravin – a new “wine access system” that was dubbed “a killer device” by Robert Parker – has the capacity to deliver. The device pierces the cork of a wine bottle with a needle and allows the user to pour out some wine without any oxygen getting in. Perfect for a single glass of wine on a week night or for trying fine wines one glass at a time.

6. Top 10 Wine Trends for 2013

It was our first story of 2013, and one of the most popular: Tyler Colman‘s take on the year ahead. His predictions included the demise of “point-spewing critics” and overly elaborate wine lists. Colman is currently polishing off his crystal ball for a look ahead to 2014.

7. Fine Wine Flops in 2012

A reflection on last year’s fine-wine scene from London-based exchange Liv-ex made gloomy reading for wine investors in January. The Eurozone crisis, sluggish Asian demand, and a weak U.K. economy shared the blame for falling prices. Unfortunately, this year hasn’t been much better: after a promising start, a “mispriced en primeur campaign” has given Left Bank investors little to smile about. And with the Bordeaux 2013 vintage being described as “shit” by leading consultant Stéphane Derenoncourt, 2014 might be another gloomy year.

8. 10 Things Every Wine Lover Should Know About Ace of Spades

The bling Champagne brand with the ostentatious gold bottle and a price tag to match. Armand de Brignac, aka Ace of Spades, is one of the most expensive – and desired – brands on sale in night clubs around the world, no doubt helped by rapper Jay-Z’s public affection for the brand. Champagne specialist Peter Liem regards it as very well made, but not very exciting, although its lack of complexity apparently contributes to its commercial success.

Robert Parker gave 12 Napa wines perfect scores

© Jason Tinacci | Robert Parker gave 12 Napa wines perfect scores9. Parker’s Perfect Napa Dozen

While there are plenty of critics of Parker and his 100-point system, he still makes headlines. After Antonio Galloni‘s rather acrimonious departure from The Wine Advocate, Parker returned to his role as Napa reviewer this year. With a reputation for loving the bold wines of Napa, he could find no fault with 12 wines from the “gorgeous” 2010 vintage. Superlatives flew from his mouth: Shafer Vineyards’ Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon was “mindblowing,” while the 2010 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, was “utter perfection.”

10. America’s Most Expensive Wines

Not surprisingly, some of the producers anointed by Parker also appeared in our list of U.S. wines with the biggest price tags. Are these eye-watering prices justified? Per Holmberg from Christie’s in New York says: “If you consider first-growth Bordeaux prices, then yeah, by all means.” Enjoy every sip if you are drinking one of these wines over the holidays!

 

The Science of Bubbles

http://www.wine-searcher.com
L-R: Flower-like bubbles at the top of a Champagne glass; Champagne corks leave the bottle at 30 mph; Champagne under the microscope

© Gérard Liger-Belair/iStock/AFP | L-R: Flower-like bubbles at the top of a Champagne glass; Champagne corks leave the bottle at 30 mph; Champagne under the microscope

How to find “finesse” in Champagne, and the best glasses to drink it from.

Pop! The Champagne cork just flew off at 30 mph, and as much as 80 percent of the CO2 contained in the bottle raced out into your dining room. Better drink up fast!

Opening the bottle carefully is one of the ways to most enjoy a bottle of sparkling wine, says Gérard Liger-Belair, a physicist who has written a book on the topic.

Liger-Belair became interested in the science of Champagne while languorously drinking a beer after his finals at Paris University more than 20 years ago. He liked the sound, a small popping you can hear as the bubbles burst at the surface. He liked the way they propelled the drink’s aroma into the air. And he found the bubbles at the surface of the glass beautiful.

Many physicists might have been content to study the bubbles of beer. But this was Paris, and a French physicist. So he went to nearby Reims, in the heart of Champagne, to study, photograph and occasionally drink bubbles. There are worse jobs.

While there, he also observed a change in world taste. In the recent past, Champagnes with bigger bubbles were considered better. But perhaps because of the proliferation of sparkling wines made through methods other than secondary fermentation in the bottle, today there is a desire for finer bubbles.

If finesse is what you seek, here’s how to find it.

“The two main factors responsible for finesse of the bubbles are the level of dissolved CO2 in the Champagne, and the height of the glass,” Liger-Belair says.

Let’s take those factors one at a time. First, how much CO2 do you have?

The average bottle of Champagne contains about 9 grams of dissolved CO2 – enough to produce about 20 million bubbles. You don’t want to have no CO2, because then you’ve got flat wine; ugh. What you might want is a wine with less than the average amount.

“The age of the Champagne is a parameter of importance,” Liger-Belair says. Corks do not provide an absolute seal, so some CO2 escapes over the years. “Old Champagnes show small bubbles because of their age.”

Many experts would choose the tulip-shaped glass in the center from this line-up of Champagne glasses

© Fotolia | Many experts would choose the tulip-shaped glass in the center from this line-up of Champagne glasses

Another factor is the amount of sugar added to the bottle for secondary fermentation. More sugar = more bubbles. Drier Champagnes will generally have a finer mousse. This is part of the reason for the current trend for zero-dosage sparkling wines.

In Franciacorta, Italy, vintners produce a style of wine they call satèn with fewer bubbles. Maurizio Zanella, president of Ca’ del Bosco in Franciacorta, said: “You can eat without turbulence in the stomach. You don’t have to burp. These are wines you can eat with, but with quality.”

Now, let’s talk about glassware.

The last 30 years have seen a complete shift in Champagne glasses from the wide, shallow coupe that was allegedly modeled on Marie Antoinette’s breast.

In order to showcase the bubbles, restaurants moved to the flute – a tall, narrow glass.

“Bubbles grow in size as they rise toward the Champagne surface,” Liger-Belair says, and today this is a mixed blessing. You can see more and bigger bubbles in a flute with a large pour, and for this reason it’s still the right glass for celebrations such as weddings, where the visual aspect is most important.

However, many winemakers, sommeliers and glass producers have discovered that the flute is not the best way to drink Champagne because it concentrates CO2 at the top of the glass, making it painful to try to enjoy the aroma.The chief executive of Riedel, Maximilian Riedel, is even waging war on the flute. “It is my goal that the flute will be obsolete by the day that I pass away,” he recently declared.

He’s supported by leading Champagne producers, including Krug and Dom Pérignon. Olivier Krug told Wine-Searcher that a flute “can never express” the generosity of its Grande Cuvée; he worked with Riedel for five months to design and develop a glass specific to the wine – Le Joseph. Likewise, Dom Pom’s cellar master, Richard Geoffroy, is no fan of the flute. He recommends a Spiegelau Authentis for the house’s vintage Cuvée and a Riedel Vinum XL pinot noir glass for its Rosé.

“I like the Riedel Champagne glass,” says Hugh Davies, CEO of Schramsberg, a sparkling-wine specialist based in Napa. “It is bowled at the bottom and a bit more narrow at the rim. This really helps us enjoy the aroma of the sparkling wine. I am not a fan of really tall flutes. They may assist in presenting bubbles, but they aren’t as good for exploring the aromas and flavors of the wine.”

Gérard Liger-Belair testing Champagne at his University of Reims laboratory

© Hubert Raguet | Gérard Liger-Belair testing Champagne at his University of Reims laboratory

Liger-Belair is working on designing the perfect Champagne glass, so look out, Riedel. For now, he recommends using a white wine glass for enjoying the aroma, with a larger pour than you would use for still wine. Test this for yourself: the higher the pour level, the more bubbles you will see, even though the level of dissolved CO2 is the same.

Don’t use a wide glass unless you’re trying to tame an overly bubbly wine, in which case you can follow a trend among some high-end sommeliers: decant it.

And don’t worry about getting your glasses precision-cleaned. Bubbles don’t form on perfectly flat surfaces; they form on microscopic particles like dust, or imperfections in the glass itself. Gas builds up there, trying to escape the liquid, until it makes its race to the surface.Visually, sparkling rosé is prettiest, and not just for the color. “The foam of rosé Champagne seems more persistent, probably because of the tannins found in red wine,” Liger-Belair explains.

To preserve the bubbles, you should keep a stopper in the wine while it’s in the ice bucket, and certainly overnight in the refrigerator. The firmer the seal, the better it will preserve the wine; the idea that something like a teaspoon on top will help is an old wives’ tale.

“Inevitably, the second time the Champagne will be served, its level of dissolved CO2 will be less than the first time,” Liger-Belair says.

No matter what stopper you use, CO2 will escape the liquid to fill the space under the cork. The more wine you drink, the larger that space gets. So the more delicate your bubbles are to start with, the more imperative it is to finish that bottle tonight.

That gets back to your bottle-opening technique. If you can ease off the cork, you’ll preserve those precious bubbles that Dom Pérignon allegedly called “drinking the stars.” That quote may be apocryphal, but looking at Liger-Belair’s photographs, it also seems accurate.

Related story:

Scientists Uncover the Secrets Behind Champagne’s Bubbles

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