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To Decant or Not to Decant: How to determine if a wine just needs to breath, or really needs a decanter

It's ok, you can admit it. You don't really get why decanting a wine, or "letting it breathe," is such a big deal. And you know what? That's totally fine! First of all, it's not a deal breaker for all but the nicest older wines that have a lot of sediment at the bottom. Other than that, no wine "needs" to be decanted. Plus, even if it benefits from some fresh air, you probably won't be drinking it fast enough to not have some level of opening up occur. (Ahem!...that is not a challenge!) 

That said, many wines do improve, in some cases dramatically, with a minimal amount of time open to sweet, sweet oxygen. There are also some simple hacks you can use in most cases to speed up the process.

Before we get started on this topic, let's first answer a simple question: do you need a decanter? The short answer is probably not. Decanters are actually not designed to aerate wine. Aeration comes as an added bonus - or drawback, in some cases. Decanters instead serve to remove the sediment that builds up in wine as it ages in the bottle. Sediment can sometimes even be found in young wine that has a lot of extra stuff in it. This generally only applies to medium to big red wines, especially ones that are unfiltered, unfined, or older than 10 years. The sediment at the bottom of some red wines is in no way a sign of poor quality. In fact, it often signifies a fine wine. Said sediment is not, however, pleasant to consume. Hence the invention of the decanter!

Finca Adalgisa - Malbec 2011 - A beautiful, bold red that benefits from breathing, but does not have to be decanted. In other words, unlikely to have sediment, but decanting would help the wine open up.

Finca Adalgisa - Malbec 2011 - A beautiful, bold red that benefits from breathing, but does not have to be decanted. In other words, unlikely to have sediment, but decanting would help the wine open up.

So, the first thing we've determined is that if you know, or can reasonably assume, that a wine is going to have a sediment, then you should either use a decanter, or skip the last inch or so at the bottom of the bottle. Here are ways to determine that:

1) Is it red? Whites usually don't have enough extra particles floating in solution to form a significant sediment, so the only reason to use a decanter on a white would be to aerate it.

2) Do you know that the wine is unfiltered? There's a couple ways to determine this. The first is whether the producer tells you, generally as part of the marketing or label information. Many "natural wines," for instance, tout that they do not filter. The second is to know something about the region. More traditional regions often do not filter or fine (process by which tannins and other particles are removed or altered) their wines. The third is to see if whomever you're getting the wine from knows. Never be afraid to ask!  

3) How old is it? The older the wine, the more likely that it has sediment.

4) What is the grape or blend of grapes? Are they thick-skinned, like Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec, or thin-skinned, like Pinot Noir or Nebbiolo? While all of these grapes can leave sediment, Cab and Malbec will leave more sooner. 

Ok, now that we've answered the question of whether you need a decanter, the next question is whether it's worth the expense. This depends on whether you drink the types of wines mentioned above, that would "throw a sediment." There's an aesthetic angle here as well: decanters are beautiful, so if you have the space, why not? You may not use it often, but when you do, at the very least it will be a conversation point. But for the purposes of aerating a wine, they are not necessary, as you will see below.

Viña Tondonia Rioja - 2004 - Likely to have sediment, and not so old as to be fragile, so decanting is preferred. This same wine in 15 years, you would want to research whether to decant as you may loose the bouquet by doing so, or throw off the wine's delicate structure.

Viña Tondonia Rioja - 2004 - Likely to have sediment, and not so old as to be fragile, so decanting is preferred. This same wine in 15 years, you would want to research whether to decant as you may loose the bouquet by doing so, or throw off the wine's delicate structure.

Now, on to the central question of when to aerate a wine, and how to do so! 

Many more wines will benefit from breathing than need to have sediment removed. This is why the term "decant" and the term "aerate" have come to mean nearly the same thing to most wine drinkers. Decanters expose so much of a wine to oxygen that using one is generally the best way for a wine to open up. In addition, many of the characteristics that make a wine throw a sediment over time are the same characteristics that can key you into the need to let a wine breathe. The biggest and most important exception is very old age. Some old wines absolutely need to breathe. Others, you run the risk of blowing off the bouquet, the formation of which was a major point of aging the wine in the first place. Paradoxically, the very wines that decanters were made for are not always the ones that should be put in one. Sometimes you really just need to sacrifice the dregs of the bottle.

Here's a rundown of how to tell if a wine needs to breathe:

1) Open the bottle and pour about an 1/8th of a glass. Enough to smell and taste, but no more than that.

2) Give the wine a quick swirl, and give it a sniff. What do you smell? If the answer is nothing, you almost certainly need to aerate the wine. If the answer is a slight sulfur smell, it should also breathe for a bit. Finally, can you smell the wine, but certain tones are overly prevalent, or muted? If all you're smelling is the tones from oak, it needs to breathe. If you smell a bunch of things other than fruit, it most likely needs to breathe.

3) Take a sip. Are the tannins all you get? If your mouth tingles all over and the wine is slightly bitter, and you can't really taste much else, it needs to breathe. Does the wine taste too one-dimensional? Are you only getting one or two types of flavors, when you know the wine is supposed to be complex? Then it needs to...you get the idea.

4) Give the wine one final, intense swirl in the glass, and repeat. If the wine still feel "tight" or "off" or "limited," you know what to do.

Adrianna Vineyard "White Stones" - Chardonnay 2012 - As a bold, rich white with some age to it, this wine should breath. As a white, it will have no sediment. Decanting not recommended, since it will be difficult to keep the wine chilled once in the decanter.  

Adrianna Vineyard "White Stones" - Chardonnay 2012 - As a bold, rich white with some age to it, this wine should breath. As a white, it will have no sediment. Decanting not recommended, since it will be difficult to keep the wine chilled once in the decanter.  

There are multiple options for aerating a wine. The easiest thing to do is to pour yourself about half a glass, put the cork back in, put your thumb on it and give it a good shake for 5 seconds. The surface of the wine will be covered in bubbles, which means you did it right. This method has some caveats:

1) Don't do this to an elegant, light bodied red. In other words: never do this to a good Pinot Noir, or anything like one.

2) Even more important: Never do this to a wine that is more than 5 years old, no matter what type it is.

3) Though this will speed up the process, it's not the same thing as giving the wine time to breathe naturally. 

The extension of this is to buy an aerator. While they're a bit gentler on the wine, and they do work, they're more a novelty item than a necessity.  

Another method, which works for all wines, is to play a little psychological trick on yourself. There are a couple variations on this, but this is my favorite. Pour yourself a smaller than normal glass, but not much smaller, since it's your reward. Leave the cork off the bottle. Put the bottle far away from yourself, like the other side of the kitchen or even another room. Put the glass on the counter and tell yourself you're not going to touch it until you finish some task. If you're cooking, maybe it's when you get the dish into the oven. Whatever it is, try to make the task at least 10 minutes long. If after completing the task you've had enough and you need to cave, go grab the glass and get back to whatever you were doing. If you chug it, so be it, but you'll usually find that by this point you've involved yourself so much in the task at hand that you will drink this first glass pretty slowly. By the time you're ready for glass number two, most wines will have breathed well enough to give you the flavors you paid for.

Paixar - Mencia 2002 - This wine should definitely be decanted, as it is both likely to have sediment, and would love a gulp of fresh air. Mencia as a varietal produces wine similar to Cabernet Franc, so we can assume it has thrown some sediment over the last 15 years.

Paixar - Mencia 2002 - This wine should definitely be decanted, as it is both likely to have sediment, and would love a gulp of fresh air. Mencia as a varietal produces wine similar to Cabernet Franc, so we can assume it has thrown some sediment over the last 15 years.

Finally, be prepared for the inevitable wine that needs many hours to fully open up. Drinking a wine during this process is actually very fun, because each glass, really even each sip, will be different. You still want to give the wine an initial 30 - 60 mins though.

If you are hosting, just serve whites, roses, aperitifs, and light reds first, and leave the wines that need to breathe open. However, if you do so, you need pour a tiny bit out, otherwise the surface of the wine exposed to the air will not be big enough to make a difference. If you have multiple bottles of the same wine, pour a bit of each into one glass and put it aside for yourself for later. Or, if you know the wine that needs to breath is for the main course, go ahead and pour everyone's glasses ahead of time. 

Clua "El Solà d'en Pol" - Rosé 2016 - A wine that you can just pop the top off of (unscrew in this case) and pour. No need for breathing or decanting. In fact, you should replace the cap after each pour to keep it fresh.

Clua "El Solà d'en Pol" - Rosé 2016 - A wine that you can just pop the top off of (unscrew in this case) and pour. No need for breathing or decanting. In fact, you should replace the cap after each pour to keep it fresh.

The final piece here is to always remember context. If you're at a house party and the wine you brought is a crowd pleasing sipper (or chugger), aeration shouldn't even be on your mind. If you're having anniversary dinner, take all the care you can to make sure the wine drinks perfectly. If you're hosting but most people won't really be paying too much attention to the wine, then all you really need to do is make sure you don't pour the end of the bottle (with all the sediment) into your mother-in-law's glass if you don't want to hear about it for the next 20 years.

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One Year In! What to expect when you walk into Grand Cata

On May 18th of 2016, we celebrated our grand opening! To commemorate this, we wrote a post on this blog that detailed the shop as it stood at the time. Though much remains the same, since the initial design really captured the feel we wanted, we have made some changes. If you’re a regular to the store, this piece may help you find some hidden gems. If you have yet to visit, this guide can help you find what you’re looking for quickly and easily!

The store is organized into seven sections:

Heritage Wines Wall - Portugal, Italy and Spain, plus sparkling wine

The Central Marble Island, where we do our Daily Cata and have our Spirits selection

Beer Coolers

Hall of Fame

Fortified Wines and Vermouth

Latin American Wines Wall

The Communal Table Area - Seasonal Wines, Cocktail Ingredients, Cheese Cooler

Let’s talk about each section very quickly! Keep in mind, when you visit the store, all bottles have the price written on the back of the bottle in removable marker. Most of our selection falls between $14 and $25.

Latin American Wines Wall

We organized the rest of the store the way we did to put this wall in context. The Latine American Wine Wall is to yourfar left as you walk through the door. While we have all the styles from the two most prominent wine producing nations, Argentina (the first two rows from the right) and Chile (the next two and a half), we also specialize in wines from less famous regions. Brazilian wines, for instance, can be found on the far left on the bottom shelf, and wines from Uruguay in the next column to the right. We also feature Bolivia and Mexico, as well as some domestic wines. In this last case, each wine must pay honor to our theme. As an example, we carry wines from Shafer because the winemaker is Mexican-American - and his work is exceptional!

Heritage Wines Wall

As you enter Grand Cata, the ramp slopes down to the right, leading you directly to the wall where you will find “heritage regions,” or areas of Europe that played a significant role in the cultural evolution of Latin America. We have selected what we feel are the three most important:

Portugal, in the first column on the far left

Italy, in the next two, and then

Spain, in the next two after that.

Also in this section you’ll find our sparkling wines. Here and our “Hall of Fame” are the only parts of the store where wines from the New World and Old World are mixed. You’ll find exquisite Cavas, Traditional Method (Champagne style) Sparklers from Brazil and Argentina, Prosecco, Lambrusco, and our one French wine, a true Champagne called Ayala.

Along the front window, in the corner and in the first column, you can see the biggest change from when we first opened our doors: food, spices and recipe books! Our mission is not only to represent the culture of Latin America through wine, beer and spirits, but also through food and gastronomy. When we first opened, we hadn’t yet found the right goods to fulfill this part of our mission. Now we have! All throughout the store you will find food products that fit this bill, from chocolate to plaintain chips to quince spread!

Central Marble Island

If you keep walking, on your left will be our “Daily Cata” counter, where starting at 5pm during the week, and 3pm on the weekends, one of our Catadores will happily pour you what we’re sampling that day. The “Daily Cata” can range from wine, to beer, to spirits, to cocktails, and we often include a little snack as well! On Saturdays, you can purchase whatever we sample here for 10% off!

The island is the largest section of the store, acting as a bridge from the Old world to the New World. On the counter near the register we have a rotating selection of delectable snacks, including dried meats, olives, Quicos, almonds, and chocolate covered figs. Among these you’ll encounter fun gift ideas, like Champagne scented candles or gourmet single origin coffee from El Salvador.

Our liquor, liqueur, aperitif and amaro selection rests on beautiful stainless steel shelving. The first column is Rum, the next Agave spirits, followed by Pisco and Whiskey, then Aperitifs and Amaro, finishing with Brandy and Liqueur. At the very end of the shelves, we’ve placed our “Natural WInes“ section. Please note you can walk along the back of the island to get a better view of our spirits.

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Beer Coolers

Located in the back right of the store as you enter, we hand select our beers based on style and season. Some are from Latin America or Europe, and some are from the US, with a few being locally produced as well.

Hall of Fame

Along the back wall you’ll find our “Hall of Fame,” where some of the greatest wines from all the regions we represent are displayed. These are all sublime, from Argentine Malbecs that will put the whole “Malbec Craze” into perspective, to Magnum sized bottle of classic, aged Rioja Gran Reserva.

Fortified Wines and Vermouth

After exciting the “Hall of Fame,” you will pass a fridge with chilled whites, roses and sparklers. After that, you come to our Vermouth and Fortified wine section, which features all types of Sherry, Port and Madeira, as well as additional offerings from Latin America and Europe, such as Rancios from Catalunya.

The Communal Table

At Grand Cata, we want to foster a sense of community. A centerpiece of the store is our huge communal table, which we use to host wine classes, which often involve the winemaker. You can also reserve this table for a private event and we will work you to pick out a theme to learn about. For instance, if you’ve visited Chile and would like to expand your knowledge of wine from there, we’d would love to make it happen! All we ask in this case is for 48 hours notice.

When we are not hosting events, the table displays seasonal wines and cocktail ideas.

Also in this section you’ll find our cheese cooler, cocktail ingredients, bar accessories, and more spices. The cheese cooler also contains dessert wines that pair fabulously with the cheeses, as well as sausages and cured meats. And yes, we have jamon serrano here!

So there you have it! Grand Cata one year after our grand opening. We’ve learned a lot from you, our customers, and have enjoyed every minute of the ride so far!

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Revealing the mystery of Sherry

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Revealing the mystery of Sherry

Sherry, a historic and mysterious fortified wine that comes in different styles which can be a bit confusing for all of us. At Grand Cata we love and embrace Sherry as a unique expression in the fortified wine category deeply rooted in Jerez, Spain. A style of its own, with specific climate conditions influenced by the warm breezes of the Atlantic Ocean, a terroir influenced by the Albariza chalky soils with aging techniques using the Solera System develops wines with that are unique and complex with many styles and flavors. There's always a Sherry for every palate. 

To make it easier to appreciate and understand, this is what you need to know about this historic libation:

Sherry is a wine style created in Jerez, Spain centuries ago when the Moors introduce distilling to Spain the Sherry style came about. Sherry comes in many forms and flavors from bone-dry to middle of the road dry, off-dry and sweet. This wine is aged in criaderas always filled 2/3 of the way using the solera system of aging using fractional blending of aged sherry with younger sherry. The main grapes used for Sherry production are Palomino, Pedro Ximenez and Moscatel, the lighter styles such as manzanilla and fino are protected by the development of flor: a cloudy yeast the grows on top of the wine to protect the freshness of the wine and hinders oxidative qualities and complexity. Being a fortified wine adding grape based brandy during fermentation to stop the conversion of sugars to alcohol once the right amount of alcohol is achieved, alcohol levels can range from 15-22 % ABV. So in other words, please enjoy with moderation. 

 

Styles: Dry - Sweet:

Manzanilla: a light version of Sherry, bright, briny, salty, with balanced acidity, showcasing tart green apples, pronounced minerality, the perfect balance of fresh and complex. This style is meant to be drunk young, slightly chilled and paired with manchego, fresh olives and boquerones. 

Fino: a light version of Sherry, bright, briny, slightly oxidative with toasted almonds, dry pear and apple, fresh acidity, the perfect balance of fresh and complex. Enjoy lightly chilled and paired with goat cheese, pan entomatado with olive oil.

Amontillado: a medium body, rich tawny color, aromatic, nutty, dry apricot, peaches, hints of honey, fig and caramel, bright, fresh with long finish, amontillado can be dry and off-dry. Pairs well with cured meats and creamy cheeses with quince paste. 

Oloroso & Palo Cortado: a medium plus body, dark tawny color, aromatic, oxidative, dry stone fruits, hints of balsamic vinegar, black olives with a long pronounced finish. Oloroso can also be versatile, dry, to off dry and very complex. His side kick Palo Cortado is the perfect blend of an amontillado's freshness with the depth and complexity of an Oloroso. Both Sherry's pair well with blue cheeses, marcona almonds and jamón ibérico. 

Pale Cream, Medium and Cream: a medium plus body Sherry and sweeter style of Sherry: ripe, oxidative, complex showcasing cooked stone fruits with hints of figs, caramel, honey, orange peel. This style come a bit off-dry and sweet and still has a clean finish with a fresh acidity that makes it enjoyable by itself. 

Moscatel & Pedro Ximenez: a full body Sherry and sweetest of them all. Rich, thick, almost syrupy showcasing ripe cooked raisins, dates, plums, dark fruit marmalade, with hints of licorice, cassis with some herbs and spices. This is definitely a dessert wine that you can pour on top of fresh vanilla ice-cream with sautéed bananas with brown sugar and brandy reduction. 

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Grand Cata's Wines of the Year, 2016

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Grand Cata's Wines of the Year, 2016

2016 has been a great inaugural year for all of us at Grand Cata, as we shared with you our store opening and the careful (participatory) process of building our curated wine selections with the best representation from Latin America and European heritage countries.

We have tasted more that 1,500 wines this past year, where we always try to share honest wines that express the lesser known terroirs of our countries, that expresses as well what Grand Cata represents in the nation's capital. By investing so much in our selection process, we can pass that value to you in order to share the best and most unique flavors of Latin America.

The rules

In order to rank these top picks amidst the feedback of our staff and community, we applied a few ground rules:

1) We considered all wines available at the store in 2016, not necessary those released from the winery this year.

2) We consider the selections to be the best possible representation of their varietal and place.

3) You can still purchase these wines! They are all available at Grand Cata. 

With this in mind, we present our top 5 picks from 2016.

LOS VINOS: 

5) Bodegas del Desierto, Desierto 25, Cabernet Franc, Patagonia, Argentina 2014, $21

This wine represents a big discovery for Grand Cata: Cabernet Franc from la Patagonia, Argentina. The Bodegas 25 is well-balanced and with very round elegant tannins. The mid palate is full of red fruit, chocolate and spices. An awesome wine and the winner of the staff popular vote at Grand Cata.

4)  Valle dell Acate, Zagra Grillo, Sicily 2014, $22

It must have been one of the hotter wine regions of 2016. Sicilian wines are often expressive with mineral components. This grillo, a local varietal, is a textbook example of a quality wine with balanced acidity and herbal tones. A wine that can be enjoyed as an aperitif or dinner companion. We really enjoyed this wine this year. Zagra is a winery that it has been around for generations and its wine represent that history.

3) Viñedo de los Vientos, Angel's Cuvée Ripasso de Tannat, 2007, $50

This wine made of 100% Tannat grapes is the clear example of a powerful and elegant red wine from Canelones, Uruguay where the Río de la Plata meets the Atlantic Ocean. This bottle represents the full potential of wines from the South American continent. It’s made in the style of Ripasso from Valpolicella, Italy, which includes the use of some dry grapes and is fermented in oak barrels. At Grand Cata, we love the tannins, structure and the smooth finish of this tinto. This is a must to try for the holiday season.

2) Bodegas Carrau, "Sust" Brut Nature, Uruguay, 2012, $25

Another favorite from Uruguay and the favorite sparkling wine tasted this year by Grand Cata. This bottle from Bodegas Carrau is an homage to Juan Carrau Sust, one of the pioneers winemakers of Uruguay. Made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this bottle carries the best of the Old World traditional method or champenoise with the awesome fruit of the sandy soils of Uruguay which give a layer of complexity to their wines.

1) Matorral Pais, Maule, Chile 2010, $36

This natural wine from Maule Valley in Chile was the biggest and most delightful surprise of the year. A limited production from a centennial family-owned winery brought the unexpected to our glasses. Light bodied, fruity, juicy, with firm tannins. The Matorral’s expression of the Pais grape showed us red cherries, plums and even some tropical fruits. The wine is alive and a unique example of the new Chilean wines.  

Pais grape was brought by the Spanish Missionaries to the Americas back in the XVI mostly to be used in the Mass. It was the most popular grape in the continent before the introduction of the now more traditional grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. After many centuries of almost anonymity, Pais is coming back.

 

 

 

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Descorchados: Uncorking the Exciting Diversity of New Latin Wines

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Descorchados: Uncorking the Exciting Diversity of New Latin Wines

This event was to celebrate the publication of the 2016 edition of Descorchados, or “Uncorked”, a comprehensive guide to the wines of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and Uruguay. While the guide series has existed for many years in Spanish, this is the first year the guide was published in English as well, marking a big turning point for producers and consumers alike in the relationship between the makers of the South and the enthusiastic drinkers here up North. Read more.

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