Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tracking Wines: CellarTracker

There I am, standing in the huge retail outlet surrounded by thousands of different wines and I can't remember which wines I needed or even which wines I enjoyed and wanted to keep as my current "house" wine.

I do not have a particularly large collection of wines, but I like to record information about the wines that I have bought for future reference. 

I have been using an application for a few years that not only tracks the wines that I have on hand, but also all of the wines that I have ever bought and consumed. It is called CellarTracker

I have found CellarTracker to be very a intuitive way to document my wine purchases and consumption. I especially appreciate the feature that tracks wines which need to be consumed before the become over mature (over ripe?). It is fully functional on smart phones and is always with me and I find that incredible useful. 

Not only does it track my inventory, any spreadsheet could do that, but it allows me to rate the wines I have been drinking and share my critique with others. And they share with me, too. It is a wine lovers site because an abundance of information is available about the wines--to include how much the average price people are paying for it. I have been disappointed to find that what I though was a really good price point, wasn't. 

I really enjoy this site and I use it all of the time. Yes, there is a cost for the full features, but it is not much more than a bottle of wine per year to have all of the options at my fingertips. There is a free version, but its limited features are little more than simple tracking mechanism for your wine inventory.

The other fabulous part of CellarTracker is that the wine ratings are by real people and not only wine professionals. If a wine is good, it gets good ratings. I have found that the ratings and the descriptions are very consistent and valuable in determining whether I will like a previously untasted wine.

RECOMMENDATION: Get CellarTracker and try it out. Consider it a learning experience.

-- Bob and Christina Doan

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Century Club

No, I'm not trying to live to be 100 years old, but that would be nice!

I was introduced to a new way to stimulate my wine education and have fun at the same time--it is The Wine Century Club

It is a club for people who have tried wines made from 100 different grapes. 

What a novel idea. 

Most people don't realize that there are more than 5,000 different varieties of grapes in the world. Most are made into some kind of wine somewhere. 

The big Bordeaux red varietals are--Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Pinot Verdot, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Lot's of people know these wines. And the basic whites of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris. Sauvignon Blanc, and Riesling are also well known. 

But sampling wines made from 100 different grapes it truly a task that requires some planning and thinking. I have good records of the wines I have bought and consumed. By going back through my records, I can document only 89 different grapes from which I have enjoyed wines. I was disappointed, but now I have a new quest.

Of the 89 grapes from which I have enjoyed wines, I am most embarrassed that I have had wine made from the Concord grape--the same one that is used in grape jelly and the Catawba grape. I am excited, however, that I have had wines made from grapes grown in Georgia (the country), Israel, South Africa, and Uganda in addition to the better know wine growing regions in the world.

So I have 11 grapes to go to join The Century Club. I think I am going to enjoy this quest. Why not join me?

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Friday, March 21, 2014

Planning a Day of Winery Visits

Finger Lakes Winery Map
Many of us are fortunate to live within an hour's drive of wineries and can decide to take a day trip to experience the current offerings. I find that there is nothing more exciting that to walk into a tasting room and be greeted by the words, "just released" and have the opportunity to taste the newest and best wines that the winemaker can produce.

Other's of us may decide to travel to a region to experience the wines produced there. It could be a vacation or a stop along a business trip. 

The key to successful winery visits is planning!

A map is essential to understand the relative locations of the wineries. But, don't stop there. I have driven miles into the backwoods to find a winery listed on the map only to find out that it is closed, although other information suggested it should be open.

Check the internet for the latest information on the winery. Look for hours of operation as these may change seasonally and look also whether there is a tasting room. I had discovered nice wineries listed on maps that do not have a tasting room. 

Armed with the assurance that the tasting room that will be open during the hours of your planned visit, don't stop there. Research the kinds of wines produced so that you know what to expect when you walk into the tasting room. The internet is a good place to accomplish this task as well. Often wineries will publish the wines available for tasting with reviews and descriptions. But, do not be afraid to stretch yourself a bit and taste different wines. 
Tasting Room at Veritas in Virginia

Tastings are not free! They can vary widely in cost from a couple of dollars to $50 for a tasting and tour or more. The website can prepare you for the options and also advise as to whether reservations are required. Yes, some wineries require reservations.

Some wineries, which offer a wide variety of wines, may offer different tasting experiences, for instance a reserve tasting which includes their best and most expensive wines, or a red or white only tasting. My preference is to taste the most expensive and supposedly best wines that a winery produces, so I usually do the reserve tasting. It is simple economics: I don't buy many wines that cost upwards of $80 plus per bottle and the tastings allow me to discover the differences in the construct and flavors of these wines. They help me to answer the question: is there a difference between $15 and $100+ per bottle wines?  The answer is: definitely!

Entrance to the Endless Summer Tasting Room
One last thought. Tasting rooms vary greatly. They range from small rooms in barn-like structures with a bar and some bottles of wine to those adorned with elaborate areas and beautiful artworks, like the one at Veritas in Virginia. Be sure to enjoy the ambiance, it says a lot about the owners and their approach to the wines. I like the smaller rooms where you can often find the owners or winemakers pouring the wines and talking about their characteristics and their vineyard.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Monday, March 17, 2014

Aeration: One Key to Great Tasting Wines

I have been known to uncork a bottle of wine and immediately pour it into a glass for to drink. Probably not the best approach, although that is how most vineyards do it with their wines when they are trying to sell them. 

Pouring the Wine into
the Decanter
Decanting really makes a wine taste better as does opening the bottle about an hour before you want to drink it--like I can really think that far in advance.

The greatest decanter/aerator that I have found is a gift I received for Christmas, it is the Menu Winebreather Carafe. I have aerators and I have a decanter, but I have found that I actually use this aerator because not sonly does it work, but it is fun to use. AND, it can be used on multiple bottles, unlike a regular decanter.
Returning the Wine to
the Bottle

The fun part is that the wine bottle is attached to the carafe and turned upside down, whereupon all of the wine runs into the carafe and is aerated--infused with air, during the process. It takes only about two minutes and the wine is immeasurable improved. But wait, there's more, instead of leaving the wine in the carafe it can be returned to the wine bottle for serving. This frees up the carafe to aerate additional bottles of wine. I usually find that when my friends are over that we have three or four different wines open to accommodate their tastes and this carafe can do the job for all of them. 

CAUTION: Do not use this aerator for unfiltered wines. These are wines that have sediment in the bottle. Using this decanter for unfiltered wines will cause the wines to become cloudy and may add unfavorable flavors to the wine. Don't worry, most wines these days are filtered, but you should always check. Use a traditional decanter or a hand aerator for unfiltered wines.

RECOMMENDATION: Every wine lover needs gadgets and this one should be in the wine tool box. Average cost is about $50 on line. A great gift idea!

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Springtime on the Back Deck with Fess Parker

Fess Parker wine on the Back Deck
There is nothing better than sitting on the back deck with my favorite wine poured into one of my favorite souvenir glasses from a winery that I have visited. 

The winery is Fess Parker and the iconic coonskin cap is on the glass. 

I had the opportunity to visit Fess Parker winery and vineyard and enjoy first hand their down home hospitality while relishing in the memory of one of my favorite actors from my childhood.

Fess Parker Winery and Vineyard Tasting Room
The winery and tasting room is spectacular. They offer a great Wine Club program and one of the best wine marketing programs to the members of any of the wine clubs in which I am a member.

That, and the wines are great and modestly priced as well. Fess Parker winery produces wines that have a nice complexity and should appeal to all kinds of wine lovers. In addition to wine, they also offer a selection of vinegars and oils which are largely unique. 

RECOMMENDATION: Try some Fess Parker wines. Better yet, visit the vineyard and get a glass from your tasting. They do not ship the glasses, I tried to get one to replace a broken glass. I am a red wine drinker and I joined the Wine Club because the Pinot Noir's and the Syrah's are very enjoyable and drink like wines significantly more expensive.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Opening Wine Bottles with Panache (not Grenache)

The wine bottle is on the counter, ready to open. Friends are gathered waiting to enjoy it.  All eyes are on you and you are confronted with the sometimes stressful and potentially disastrous challenge: How do I look like a pro opening the wine bottle? 

I have a number of cork removal devices in my arsenal from classic cork screws to my favorite removal device: the Cork Pops Legacy bottle opener.  Impressive name, huh?

The Cork Pops Legacy uses a direct approach to remove the cork from the bottle: an injector pierces the cork to allow the introduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the bottle to force the cork out. I like this approach because the corks are removed completely without telltale dust and pieces which may remain after using more traditional cork screws. It also generates a satisfying "pop" when the cork comes out of the bottle. (Starts the evening off with a fun "wow" factor)

The Cork Pop Legacy includes an integrated safe cutter to remove the foil from the top of the bottle.

I have used my Cork Pops Legacy for three years and found it incredibly easy to buy additional CO2 cartridges, I use Amazon and usually have them within two days.


1. Old corks in deteriorating condition sometimes do not work well because they do not create a seal along the injector and the CO2 escapes. 

2. Some synthetic corks create so tight a seal that the gas cannot eject the cork and a manual extraction method must be employed.  

3. Do not let children handle the Cork Pops Legacy--the injector is very sharp and can easily pierce skin and cause injury. 

RECOMMENDATION: I highly recommend this accessory. I use it almost exclusively and have found it to be extremely reliable and effective. For less that $30, it makes a great gift for your favorite oneophile. It also makes a great gift for yourself.

-- Bob and Christina Doan, Elkridge, MD

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Creatively Transporting Wine

Transporting wine home after a tasting or shopping excursion is one of the scariest things I do with my new acquisitions. I find wine boxes provided by the wineries to be flimsy and I often feel that the bottoms are going to fall out before I can get my wine into the house. 

I have taken trips by aircraft to visit winery destinations and I was faced with figuring out how to ensure my precious cargo arrived safely back at home. Somehow, wrapping fine wine in clothing and placing the bottles into my suitcase just didn't do it for me. I have been able to stuff 9 bottles into my suitcase and they all arrived home safely--but suitcases generally are not designed for the added weight of the wine bottles. 

A friend recently introduced me to a solution that makes me a lot more comfortable about shipping my valuable wine acquisitions. It is called The Wine Check. It is really ingenious and has received great reviews. It can be checked as baggage on airlines or used as a wine storage center in the car. I have purchased one and it is patiently waiting for my next wine excursion, which could be this weekend as I sojourn to visit some local Maryland wineries and vineyards.

I like the idea and the concept. Place the bottles in tight fitting styrofoam sleeves to protect them from the bumps of travel and insulate them from the cold of the airline cargo holds during flight. Even in the car, the bottles are insulated from the winter cold or the summer sun while driving from winery to winery seeking the best that the vineyards have to offer.

On top of that, there are convenient handles and wheels to make transporting wine less of a back breaking experience.

The images above are my The Wine Check and am preparing to use. I am very excited and I found the price for protecting my valuable new acquisitions very reasonable. I found mine online at Brookstone, by the way, to avoid the seemingly high shipping costs of ordering it directly from the manufacturer.

RECOMMENDATION: A valuable accessory for every wine lover.

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Winery Sponsored Wine Clubs

Have you thought about joining a winery/vineyard sponsored wine club? Many wineries offer the opportunity to join their wine clubs while at the vineyard for a tasting. I am usually torn if I really like the wines, but I need to be careful not to join too many wine clubs

Wine Club Shipment Arrives

Winery/Vineyard based wine clubs are fun. The best ones are close enough to allow participation in the Club events which cement the relationship between the club member and the winery/vineyard. 

What are the advantages of becoming a member of a wine club associated with a winery? Activities, education, wine, and having new releases automatically shipped to the door. The wine club that I have most enjoyed is the one at Keswick Vineyards in Virginia. Through this club I developed a connection to the owners and more importantly the winemaker. Being a member of this club has stimulated my interest in wine--going beyond just drinking to beginning to understand the agricultural challenges and with winemaking science of wine making. One of my most memorable Wine Club events was walking through the vineyard in the summer heat and having everything explained buy the owner and the winemaker--and then sitting down to lunch and continuing the education and enjoying wine before it was released. I have gained a deep appreciation that wines do just happen, they are made and the vineyards don't grow grapes--they grow wine. Everything is focused upon the eventual release of the wine in the bottle.
Arcadian Grand Cru Wine Club  New Arrivals

I am a member of a couple very special west coast winery clubs, too. I enjoy getting their wines every quarter, but it is impossible for me to participate in the events that they hold. I feel disconnected with them, but certainly enjoy their wines and look forward to each shipment to renew my connection with the wines and the winemaker. . And I know that the next time I visit their tasting rooms or wineries, I will receive special treatment. 

When deciding to join a wine club consider proximity to be able to enjoy the activities, the shipping costs in addition to the monthly or quarterly wine shipments, discounts on purchases, additional options--like barrel ownership, and whether the you generally like the wines because you will likely get to sample many wines that you would not normally purchase.

It is OK to test out a wine club and don't forget, if it doesn't meet your expectations, you can cancel your membership--usually after one year.

Happy Wine Drinking!

-- Bob Doan, Elkridge, MD