▶ Wintertime at Montemaggiore: a slower time of year?
Italians say, “At the table, one never grows old”. Like a fine wine, this proverb has many layers of meaning, but at a high level: the world slows down at the dinner table, while you enjoy the simple pleasures of food, wine, and company. We hope you have many occasions in 2015 to slow down, relax at the dinner table, and enjoy the moment! To help you do just that, continue reading our latest news from cooking classes to olive oil to a wintertime recipe. We finish off with some useful tips and tricks for serving wine at a dinner party, which we've gathered over the years of being in the wine business.
Wintertime Projects at Montemaggiore
If there were ever a “down-time” in the wine business, it’s the month of January. Not that there is ever a break for anyone who has their own business, as many of you know. After the busy grape harvest, followed quickly by the olive harvest, then the frenetic holiday season, we certainly welcome a bit of a breather. Of course, we are still very busy here in the vineyard and winery:
- Maintaining Equipment: Vincent has been trouble-shooting the electrical systems on our 30 year old tractor, shoring up weak vineyard posts, and fixing gates.
- Erosion Control: we had a huge rainstorm in December (7” in 24 hours with 10” total for the storm) and had a mini-landslide on the edge of our vineyard, so we’re doing some remediation involving the layering of straw, vine clippings, and tree trunks.
- Pruning: Our vineyard worker, Pedro, has finished pruning about 75% of the 14,000 vines in our estate vineyard. Because we use a method called cane pruning, which is more labor-intensive, the entire task takes him about three months total. As of the end of January, he is mostly done. There's just the cabernet, a bit of syrah, and the viognier left to prune.
- Pre-bottling Wine Preparation: Lise is busy doing final blends on the 2013 red wines and 2014 whites (and rosé)in preparation for bottling in April.
- Ordering of Product Packaging: Also for bottling, we need to coordinate sensory testing on corks, updating our wine labels (and submitting them for approval by the federal government), and of course ordering bottles/capsules/corks/labels.
- Business Planning: setting the overall calendar for the year, scheduling events, deciding on strategic directions, and assessing inventory. Unfortunately, business planning is the last thing that we like to do!
Our exciting news is that our son just adopted an Australian cattle dog named Oreo (shown in photo at top). Our beloved dog Zeppli passed away about a year ago, but our friends at Herd it through the Grapevine found us a great new dog, which Paolo is in the process of training. So this is what we’ve been up to, just in case you were interested!
New Cooking Classes planned for 2015, from Sicily to Ligouria
Chef Gloria has planned five bimonthly Italian Regional Cooking Classes for 2015, starting off with Sicily in mid-March. These popular events are a wonderful way to share Sunday afternoons with friends both old and new: cooking, laughing, eating, and enjoying Montemaggiore wines. You'll go home inspired, with flavorful new recipes and a deeper appreciation for Italian culture.
These small cooking classes are hands-on and fairly informal. You can be intimately involved with every course, or perhaps you’d prefer to mainly watch—regardless, you’ll have great fun and a great meal. Tickets to cooking classes make a wonderful gifts, and if you aren’t sure of the gift recipient’s schedule, we have just introduced gift cards which can be used for any of our 2015 cooking classes.
Featured Wine: 2009 Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah
As you probably know, Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah is Montemaggiore’s flagship wine, thus the ultimate expression of our estate vineyards and hand-crafted winemaking. But you may not realize that the 2009 Paolo's Vineyard Syrah, from a nearly picture-perfect vintage, is at its peak. With a dry mild spring, a warm (but not too hot) summer, and an almost perfectly dry harvest, this wine exhibits classic Montemaggiore characteristics of fruit, spice, balance, warmth, and elegance. This wine tastes magnificent right now, and the aromas will remain in your memory for quite some time.
When we first released this wine in 2012 to our wine club members, this wine had exuberant blackberry and blueberry flavors—and the texture had a bit of the youthful “grip” that Lise likes. Now (five and a half years later) the flavors have melded together and become more nuanced, while the youthful exuberance has calmed down to velvety smoothness. The wine has definitely filled out and deepened, with increased complexity—all without loosing balance. If you have this wine in your wine closet or cellar, open it this week and let us know what you think. If you don’t have any left, we know how you can acquire some! The 2009 Syrah also has a lot of life left in it, and should last for at least another decade to come.
Seasonal Recipe: Baked Polenta with Mushrooms
During the winter, our meals gravitate toward comfort food that warms both body and soul. It’s also the season when Lise’s favorite wild mushrooms abound in northern California, although mushrooms have never been our twelve-year-old’s favorite. To our surprise, Paolo recently pronounced “mushrooms are beginning to grow on me.” So we took the opportunity to make Baked Polenta with Mushrooms—after Vincent checked behind Paolo’s ears for emerging funghi ☺. The creamy texture of the polenta and earthy flavors of the mushrooms pair really well with a well-aged Syrah, such as the above-mentioned 2009 Paolo's Vineyard Syrah. We hope you enjoy this easy yet versatile recipe which can be either a vegetarian entree or a hearty side-dish, baked in a single pan or divided into single-serving ramekins.
2014 Extra Virgin Olive Oil is here!
The season for olio nuovo has past but now we’re bottling our traditional Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The Tuscan varietal olives were harvested in November from our 2.5 acres of trees, which you see on the drive up to our winery. The freshest olive oil is released as Olio Nuovo, which goes from tree to bottle within days. A few months later, after the solids have had a chance to precipitate, we bottle the rest as traditional Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
2014 was an early year for olives due to the drought, thus we are releasing our EVOO a bit early this year. We picked the the olives over four days in mid-November and our yields were somewhat on the low side. Like most artisan olive oils, it has fairly intense olive and grassy flavors. Since the oil is made from Tuscan varietals, it leaves you with a final spicy kick. Our EVOO is most impactful when given the spotlight: dipping with bread or drizzling on hearty winter soups.
Annual Food Pairing Challenge on February 21st
Just a quick reminder to Wine Club members that one of our most fun events of the year, the Food Pairing Challenge is coming in a few weeks on Saturday, February 21. This event is our excuse to have a lot of fun with friends while tasting good wines and good food.
Passport Breakfast on April 25th
Are you planning to attend Passport to Dry Creek Valley on April 25 and 26? During this festive two-day extravaganza, wineries in our region open their doors, offer great food-wine pairings, and arrange live music. Although Montemaggiore doesn’t participate in Passport itself due to our secluded spot, we do host breakfast for our friends on Saturday morning before the wineries open. Please email us to RSVP for breakfast if you are interested. Note that tickets to the main event, Passport to Dry Creek Valley, are sold first-come-first-served starting today (Sunday, February 1) on the Winegrowers to Dry Creek Valley website.
Wine Etiquette: tips & tricks for serving wine
Choosing the wines for a dinner party is exciting because you'll get to open all those wonderful wines. But once you’ve decided on the wines, a whole host of daunting questions emerge. Should the wine be decanted? What temperature should I serve it at? What if the cork crumbles? How much should I fill each glass? Below are our tips for serving wine—remembering that we value the quality of food, wine, and conversation over formal etiquette!
The right equipment requires planning ahead
Wine Service “equipment” is something you will want to address long before your party—but you may already have this category completely under control. The types of equipment we think are most important are the glassware (crystal), the wine opener (worm, not screw), the decanter (easy to clean), and your wine storage area (constant temperature).
- A decent storage location is critical to wine quality. You don’t need an underground cave or a temperature controlled cellar—even a rarely opened interior closet will suffice. But you do want a place that doesn’t expose your fine wine to light or to temperature changes greater than >10F. Constancy of temperature is more important than the actual temperature. This means anywhere in your kitchen is definitely out! Additionally, the bottles should be stored on their side (or upside down) to keep the cork moist, if you plan to store them for more than a year.
- Glassware should be crystal (or contain zinc or magnesium oxide) which refracts more light. Lise is especially picky about really sparkly glasses, which shows off wine at its best. The minerals also make the glasses sturdy enough to be spun very thin, which is nice.
- Using glasses of varying sizes isn’t as important as having the right bowl. The bowl of the wine glass should have (a) a cut rim rather than a rolled rim, and (b) a slightly narrower opening at the top, thus propelling the wine's aroma toward your mouth and nose. Most people prefer a glass with a wider bowl for reds because it allows a wine breathe and volatilize the aromas, but most of our dinner parties make use of a single glass with a wide bowl (we prefer more full bodied whites with complex aromas anyway).
- The corkscrew should have a worm as opposed to an auger. If the cork is at all dry or long, a fat auger will just drill a hole in the cork and then come out without actually extracting the cork. There are many designs, but the best corkscrew is the one you feel most comfortable with! Lise likes the compactness of the classic waiter’s corkscrew especially for one or two bottles, while Vincent likes the lever-based mechanisms (e.g., Rabbit) when he has to open several bottles. We also always have a pronged cork puller for older bottles whose corks may crumble.
- A decanter is optional, but ideally it would have a wide bowl (it’s that breathing thing again), be easy to pour (the stylish ones tend to be difficult), and be easy to clean (sparkling!). We have never found a decanter that meets all three criteria—but let us know if you have! Don’t have a decanter?
There are lots of other wine gadgets which may be helpful, but we like to keep things simple.
Pre-party preparations require the most attention
Most of your attention to wine service should be spent on the pre-party preparations, which include: setting the table, selecting the right sequence and quantity of wine, decanting the wine, and serving it at the right temperature. The first two are fairly straightforward, but temperature and decanting require more thought.
- For a weekend dinner party, count on one bottle per person. Four wines and eight people means two bottles of each wine. But a few extra bottles never hurt!
- Wines should be served progressively from light to heavy, dry to sweet. The general order should be: light whites, full-bodied or highly aromatic whites, rosés, light reds, high tannin reds, dessert wine. The ordering of courses and their ideal pairings may dictate a different progression—Lise has been known to serve our Rosé before the 3Divas due to optimal food pairings—in which case consider either separate glasses or a brief water rinse. Remember that sweet dessert wines are best serves as a dessert, not with a dessert.
- Set your table with all the necessary glasses ordered from water to white to red. We like water glasses that stand out by either by color or shape, because it’s embarrassing not knowing which is which. Place the water glass above the knife with the wine glasses to its left because: (1) everyone needs to drink more water, so that glass should be the easiest to grab, and (2) water pitchers tend to be much heaver than wine bottles so this facilitates refilling. When serving a dessert wine, we prefer to bring out separate glasses as it is served. There are many sets of conflicting etiquette rules regarding placement of glasses, so we prefer just to be practical.
Although there's no need to be exceedingly precise, the temperature at which to serve wine is very important. If a wine is too warm, it will taste alcoholic and flat or flabby. But if it’s too cold the aromas and flavors will be muted and, for reds, the tannins may seem harsh and astringent. Often, white wines are served too cold right out of a 35F refrigerator, while reds are opened at a toasty 70F room temperature, both of which discredit the wine. Here are our general guidelines:
In order to reach those ideal temperatures, put a bottle of red wine in the refrigerator for 15-30 minutes before serving, or a bottle of white/rosé in the refrigerator about two hours ahead (and then take it out 15-30 before serving). To measure the precise temperature of the wine, you can use a wine thermometer (the infrared ones don’t require the bottle to be opened), but in our opinion, it's overkill. A few other tips: (1) when in doubt, serve the wine a bit too cold because it warms up in the glass quickly (especially if you instruct people to cup their hands around the bowl); (2) we generally like wines cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter; (3) lower quality wines are better when they are cooler. Don't have time to chill the wine?
The other major thing to contemplate before your dinner party is whether to decant the red wines. At Montemaggiore, we decant wines for two reasons: to aerate a really young wine or to remove the sediment from an older wine. If a wine is less than five years from vintage and it’s full-bodied like a Cabernet or Syrah, aeration will release more nuanced aromas and “open up” the wine’s flavors. The tricky question is how long ahead of time to decant. While a young, intense, tannic Bordeaux first growth may need up to 6 hours, with Montemaggiore wines we think 2 hours is a good rule of thumb. Don't have time to aerate?
Older or fully mature wines can benefit from decanting to remove the sediment (the dark residue on the bottom or side of the bottle). If you don’t remove the sediment first, it will likely end up in everyone’s glasses which can be annoying although not harmful. You'll want to leave the bottle upright for at least one day prior, and then decant just before serving. Don’t decant ahead of time because the fragile aromas of older wines dissipate quickly.
Dinnertime etiquette is somewhat intuitive
At this point, you have everything you need for great wine service, and it’s a mere matter of actually serving the wine. Here are a few practical tips, which you may already know:
- If the meal is served buffet-style, a great option is to simply leave the wines on the sideboard for people to choose and serve themselves.
- If you're pouring the wine after everyone is seated, serve women before men, oldest to youngest. Miss Manners would say that you should follow this strictly, but that can involve dizzying circles around the table. We typically start with the "most special" (or oldest, or closest) female and then make one round of the table serving the rest of the women. Then we do a similar round for the men.
- Wine should always be poured from the recipient’s right because that’s where the glasses are!
- Fill the glass to just below the widest part of the bowl, between ¼ and ⅓ full. This will allow people to swirl the wine without much danger of spilling. The only exception comes when pouring champagne into a flute.
- In order not to drip, slightly twist the bottle at the end of the pour. If you are serving many people, have a napkin handy because you are likely to drip somewhere along the way.
- Ask permission before you refill someone’s glass, or if they are deep in conversation try to at least catch their eye as you pour (so they can stop you). There’s hardly a worse crime than having a great wine just languish in someone's glass at the meal's end.
- Before you take the last pour of an especially nice wine, ask everyone (or at least those around you) if they would like to share it. If they take you up on your offer at least you'll be perceived as polite.
Afterwards... the cleanup
So you’ve had a great party, and everyone has left. You still have a lot of work to do!
- If you have partially full bottles, reduce oxygen contact and store in the refrigerator. We use a Vacu Vin to extract air, but you could also pour the wine into a smaller vessel (e.g., a 375ml bottle). Storing the wine at a cold temperature discourages oxidation and keeps the wine fresher.
- Clean the red wine stains in your tablecloths and napkins with Wine Away or OxyClean (or both). If you don’t have these products, you can use a mixture of dishwashing liquid and hydrogen peroxide.
- Clean the wine glasses with lots of hot water and a good cloth towel. We try not to use soap, which can leave an odiferous residue—but sometimes you'll need a little soap to get rid of lipstick or greasy fingerprints (just make sure you rinse really well). The right towels for cleaning glasses will be absorbent without leaving any lint. We never put good wine glasses in the dishwasher because Lise insists that they must sparkle.
Wine disasters are often easily mitigated
Life is never ideal, so here are some backup plans:
- If you don't have a decanter, just pour the wine into any other vessel, then pour back into the wine bottle. Uncorking a bottle of wine and letting it sit for an hour is useless because the narrow bottleneck still prevents much air from opening up the wine.
- When you don’t have time to aerate the wine, pour a small glass from the bottle, recork the wine, then shake, shake, shake the bottle vigorously for about a minute. Or you can just instruct everyone to swirl, swirl, swirl the wine in their glass.
- If the cork starts to crumble, try to extract the rest with a pronged cork puller like the Ah So. If that doesn’t work, just push the whole cork in the bottle. Then pour through a fine mesh strainer (we have one for loose tea) or coffee filter.
- When you don’t have time to chill the wine, put the bottle in a bucket full of ice water, then add salt. Ice water conducts heat more effectively than just ice, and salt lowers the freezing point of the water making it colder than “sweet” water. You probably only need 15 minutes to chill a white wine this way.
The only true disaster is when you’ve run out of wine. For this, we regret that there is no hope.
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Final Note: As always, we welcome your visit to our mountainside estate vineyards and winery in Sonoma County. Simply request an appointment on-line or give us a call (707.433.9499). If you have wine-loving friends who might be interested in learning about Montemaggiore, enjoy a glass of Montemaggiore wine with them!
We wish you many enjoyable winter nights at the dinner table, full of good food, wine, and conversation—perhaps it will seem that you aren't growing old!