Members of the Vintner’s Circle wine making family won big at the 2012 WineMaker International Amateur Wine Making Competition, sponsored by WineMaker magazine. Andover shop wine makers Deborah and Dennis Haff took prizes in several categories and the Andover wine making team of Jacquie Pellek and Gayle Lembryk also made the judges take notice. Vintner’s Circle wine makers Steve and Lorraine Polakowski won for the second year in a row. (more…)
It’s that time of the year again – the time when Vintner’s Circle releases its much sought-after Limited Edition wines! Our Limited Editions are great ways to try distinctive regional specialties (like this year’s Austrian Grüner Veltliner) and unique proprietary blends (like this year’s Pacifica White or the perennially popular Chocolate Raspberry Port). The wines are, as their name suggests, available for a short time only, and you must reserve your sessions or kits soon in order to start making the wines after the new year.
This season, we’re offering three Limited Edition red wines and two Limited Edition white wines. (more…)
For juicy, dripping, hand-sticky end-of-the-summer fruit, it’s hard to beat a raw peach. But alas, we all don’t live in permanent supply of perfectly ripe peaches, and even September supermarket fruit can be tough specimens. This recipe for ice wine poached peaches is an easy way to turn sub-par stone fruit tender and flavorful, delicious on their own (more…)
Congratulations to the winners of the 2010 WineMaker International Amateur Wine Competition!
This year, there were more than 4,500 entries to the competition, from all fifty US states, eight Canadian provinces, and eight other countries (including submissions from Spain and Turkey!). All of us at Vintner’s Circle would like to pass along a special kudos to our customers who received awards:
Dave Becker won five medals! He received two gold medals: one for his 2008 Niagara Mist Peach Chardonnay, and another for his 2008 White Chocolate Port. He won three bronze medals for his 2007 Vidal Ice Wine, his 2008 Okanagan Peach Ice Wine, and his 2009 Banana Pineapple Viognier.
Doug Lemon won a bronze medal for his 2008 homemade fruit mead, a blend of blueberry honey and blueberries.
David Ugi won two medals; he received a silver medal for his 2009 Okanagan Red Meritage and a bronze medal for his 2009 Exotic Fruit White Zinfandel.
We’re proud of our award-winning wine makers, and we’re already excited for next year’s competition!
We bottled our first batches of wine this weekend. We made a lot of wine. Now comes the difficult part: waiting.
We made two batches: a German Gewurztraminer and an apple wine, made from fresh cider from a nearby Jersey farm. Though I know good wine comes from great patience, I’m planning to break out a few bottles for Memorial Day weekend. Apple wine, spiked with sweet, citrusy pineapple, in a big glass next to the pool – really, what could make for a better holiday?
Gewurztraminer, for those of you who are not familiar with this chunkily named wine, is a white wine grape famous in Germany and in Alsace, France. It can range from a dry, full-bodied wine to a very sweet dessert drink. I love it for its spicy aromas and full feel in my mouth. When I tried the first glass this weekend, I was struck by its pungent scent of lychee. Lychee is a tropical (and subtropical) fruit with sweet white flesh and a distinct, heady aroma.*
I’m excited to see how our wines progress over time. Now they are in our cellar, stored upright in boxes (this position made possible by their synthetic corks) next to the bundle of root vegetables from the local co-op. Maybe we’ll open a bottle next week, to taste the fresh flavors; then in a month, then in two months, and so on. These wines are good quality, but not meant for extreme aging, so I hope that we can enjoy a big batch of mulled apple wine this Christmas, made deeper and more intense with cinnamon and orange (and maybe a splash of brandy). The prospect of mulled homemade wine will certainly make the passing of Memorial Day weekend so much easier to bear.
Who has made wine already, and can talk about the waiting game? I’d love to hear how you enjoyed your batch (or two, or three). Also, I’m calling for any tried-and-true, family recipes for mulled wine. Please share yours!
*Lychee also presents something of a conundrum: when trying to describe a wine that someone is not familiar with, how can I use a fruit that may be equally unfamiliar? Lychees, lucky for us, are becoming more and more common in restaurants and in the international aisle of supermarkets. You may also come across them in swank lounges: my first experience with the fruit was a lychee martini, with the small white cylinder taking the place of a classic olive. (I like it more in Gewurztraminer.)
A short story, by way of introduction:
Yesterday, while I was at the office, typing away like the Very Important Person I am, my boss David called out to me, “Jolan, would you like to taste some wine?”
Why, yes, I would.
David was speaking with a frequent visitor to Vintner’s Circle, a gentleman named Frank. Frank had brought in a case of red Meritage, a red wine blend from California, which had been made at our Hackettstown location the previous year. Frank explained that he tried a bottle from the batch earlier in the week, but was disappointed when tasting it: the wine had an off flavor, slightly sour.
We opened a few bottles, to see if it was the entire batch that was flawed, or simply one or two bottles. (Quality assurance, you see.) We were surprised to find that only some of the bottles were off – the others still had the pleasing characteristics of a young, fresh Meritage. Those that were flawed had muted aromas and a distinct sour taste, centered on the middle of the tongue. If all the bottles were made as one batch, and given equal ingredients, temperatures, and processes, what could cause a few to be flawed and the rest to be good?
Yesterday’s tasting and my ensuing homework (David: “Jolan, bring home these three bottles and taste them.”) got me thinking about common wine flaws, and how to recognize them. Part of our detective work yesterday afternoon involved weaning out possible flaws: cork taint, for instance, wouldn’t be an issue with the bottles, because we use synthetic corks. I’ve put together a short list of the most frequent wine flaws, as a helpful guide to recognizing what, exactly, it might be that’s making your tongue pucker.
Trichloroanisole 2,4,6 (aka TCA, aka cork taint)
Trichloroanisole 2,4,6 is one of the most common wine flaws found in a bottle. I’ve heard statistics that claim TCA is found in three to five percent of bottles – one source even claimed that TCA is in one out of every ten. That may be true, but most of us aren’t sensitive enough to the chemical to actually recognize the faintest of taints. TCA comes from natural corks: many are bleached for aesthetics, and if a cork is not properly cleaned after this process, the chemical compound TCA can occur. TCA causes aromas and flavors of wet cardboard (think of old, musty boxes found in your leaky basement), and results in what we called “corked” wines. TCA can be faint, or strong, but if you can recognize it, your wine is most certainly flawed.
(Note: Wine bottles stopped with synthetic corks and screw tops, or wine in bags, are not susceptible to cork taint.)
Sulfur is an important part of wine making. Sulfur functions as a preservative, and has been used for hundreds and hundreds of years. Sulfur even occurs as a natural part of the fermentation process. However! Too much sulfur dioxide can result in aromas of burnt matches, with bitter flavors. Too much hydrogen sulfide can result in aromas of rotten eggs, with soapy flavors.
Brettanomyces (aka Brett)
One of the more famous quotes in the wine world comes from Anthony Hanson, a British Master of Wine who once said, “Great Burgundy smells of shit.” This is one of the most unappetizing ways of describing wine that I can think of, even if it does refer to one of the world’s most regal and prestigious drinks.
Brettanomyces is a strain of yeast that can occur in wine, both before and after bottling, most commonly due to unsanitary winery conditions. Brett has been hotly debated, because when present in small amounts, it can lend a certain unique complexity, with flavors and aromas of clove, smoke, and leather. (Ever have a really, really good red Burgundy? See the above quote.) When too intense, however, Brett can cause wine to reek of barnyards and dirty socks. Definitely a good reason to send a bottle back, and try again.
Wine making has been a valued family tradition for hundreds (and in some places, thousands) of years. The practice still holds strong across the world, from California to Italy to France (Zind-Humbrecht wines are a personal favorite of mine). In honor of this upcoming Father’s Day, Vintner’s Circle is looking for great, old family photos of fathers and sons making wine together. We’re always happy to illustrate the connection between making wine and celebrating life, and would love to bring our fan’s family photos into the picture.
So start digging in your basement, attic or garage for those musty boxes labeled “Old Pictures”. Send your favorite picture or two to info [at] vintnerscircle [dot] com. If yours is chosen, it will be showcased on the front page of our website in June!
March 17th, 2010 by jolan in wine making
There is a serious trend in the United States, and it’s all about drinking wine. Wine drinking per capita is steadily increasing, and it has spread from the farthest hills of Napa Valley to the familiar green hills of New Jersey. As a natural extension of this increase, people are becoming more and more interested in what goes into each bottle on the kitchen table: what kinds of grapes are involved, what else may go into a bottle, and how, exactly, wine is made.
Wine is the product of a simple equation: sugar + yeast = alcohol + carbon dioxide, with the equation sign representing the fermentation process. Sugar comes naturally from grapes, though some wine makers will add sugar or grape juice to the juice to increase the resulting alcohol level; this process is called chaptalization. Yeast can be found on its own in grapes; however, many wine makers will add yeast to help along the fermentation process. During the fermentation process, the yeast eats the sugar, and the byproduct is alcohol. Carbon dioxide, which is a gas, is released when making still wine. (Do you ever wonder how Champagne gets all its bubbles? Champagne begins as any other still wine, like your bottle of Chardonnay, or your bottle of Pinot Noir, but it goes through a second fermentation in the bottle, capped, which means the carbon dioxide can’t escape. Instead, the gas remains locked in the wine as tiny bubbles, just waiting to burst out when you open that bottle on a special occasion.)
All wine making follows these basic principles of fermentation. In the vineyard, wine making depends very much on seasons. Grapes are harvested in early fall, after a long summer of ripening. After the grapes are harvested, they are crushed (usually by machine, though in a few traditional regions of the world, people still stomp to make juice) and transferred to whatever fermentation vessels the winery has – these can be giant, stainless steel tanks, or big, open-top oak barrels. After fermentation is complete, the wine is transferred to another vessel where it will age; these too can be large, stainless steel tanks, or smaller oak barrels. After the wine has been aged, it is bottled and shipped. All of these steps, in addition to the grape variety and region in which the grapes were grown, affect the final flavors and aromas of wine. For instance, you may have heard someone describe a wine as “oaky” – it’s not that the wine is oak-like, but rather, this is a simple way to describe all the aromas and textures that oak barrels pass on to wine during the wine making process: aromas of vanilla, cloves, and caramel, and added weight in the mouth thanks to the tannins that oak barrels impart.
While the many steps and equipment may make wine making seem like something best left up to professionals, as we have seen, wine is the product of a simple equation. As such, wine making can be scaled to a much more manageable, indeed pleasurable, process at home. Though some home wine makers will buy or grow grapes themselves, and go through the crushing process at home, most buy grape juice. This is not Welch’s from your local super market, but rather, juice from grapes grown all over the world, so you could easily make, say, an Italian Chianti, a Spanish Rioja, or a South African Chenin Blanc in your own backyard (or basement, or kitchen, or laundry room). Buying juice from trusted growers has an added benefit: you can make wine year-round, instead of waiting on the seasonal harvest. Instead of large fermentation tanks, homemakers use plastic carboys, which serve as a neutral place for the fermentation process – similar to stainless steel. For those who enjoy the flavors, aromas, and textures that oak imparts, oak chips can be added to the wine, which adds a familiar touch without overpowering the wine’s natural taste.
Another option outside the winery is to make wine at a shop. Vintner’s Circle is a unique place, in that its shops provide the professional guidance and equipment to those interested in making their own wine, but would like to avoid any smells or messes. Customers can make wine in four easy steps, and have a batch of personalized wine in eight weeks. Wine making at Vintner’s Circle goes beyond making wine; it is the experience, as well as the wine, that is incredibly special. Vintner’s Circle is a place for friends and family to gather, to spend time together, and share in making something very personal. Wine is something that, by its very nature, brings people together; wine making at Vintner’s Circle means that the unifying aspects of wine start at the beginning of a bottle of wine, not just at the end.
Spring weather has caught up with us quickly. Already, you may be dreaming of the seasons to come: bright sun, outdoor barbecues, afternoons by the pool. If you like a cold glass of wine in the hot weather, you should consider making a batch of refreshment wines.
Refreshment wines are simply that: refreshing. Refreshment wines mix traditional varietals, like Merlot, Shiraz, or Cabernet Sauvignon, with the fresh flavors and sugars of natural fruits, like kiwi, pomegranate, and blackberry. Refreshment wines have subtle aromas of both their grape and fruit varieties, with bright color and clarity. They are best when served chilled, and can be enjoyed anywhere you can take your cooler.
By starting your batch of refreshment wine this spring, you’ll have a few cases of great tasting wine by the beginning of the summer. The wine making process takes just under two months, and refreshment wines don’t need to be aged. In fact, these wines are delicious, and best enjoyed, when young and their flavors are bright.
Though fantastic when sipped on their own, refreshment wines are also great with food. They seem perfectly matched for many of summer’s dishes: juicy burgers with ketchup, grilled chicken, and ribs with spicy barbecue sauce all have sweet notes that pair well with the sugars in refreshment wines. Even traditional summer desserts, like strawberry shortcake and blueberry pie, are easily enjoyed with a glass of Strawberry White Merlot or Blueberry Pinot Noir. The next time your neighbor brings over a peach cobbler to your backyard party, think of opening a bottle of Peach Apricot Chardonnay.
March 1st, 2010 by David in wine making
It’s that time of the year again – awards season! The Grammys, the Oscars, the Olympics all give out distinguished trophies to the top competitors in their respective fields, and the Vintner’s Circle is getting in on the action.
Vintner’s Circle invites its friends and customers to become involved in the exciting world of wine competitions. Last year, customers proudly submitted bottles of their handcrafted batches and won seven different medals!
Join Vintner’s Circle and WineMaker Magazine as we are now accepting entries for the best consumer handcrafted wines from across North America.
Enter your wines today at any Vintner’s Circle winemaking shop. Entry cost is $25 per bottle. To thank you for bringing in a bottle of your precious wine, we will email you a $25 coupon to be used towards your next winemaking session or winemaking juice kit.
Bring your handcrafted wines to your local Vintner’s Circle winemaking shop today to enter them in the 2010 WineMaker Competition. Results announced May 22, 2010.
Don’t have a bottle to submit? Start your batch today to be ready for next year’s competition.