Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Serving Wine at a Formal Dinner

The following is excerpted from "Prepare and Serve a Meal and Interior Decoration" by Lillian B. Lansdown, and is nice description of pairing different kinds of wine with the individual courses of a formal dinner. It also contains some very precise serving temperatures which are of interest.

The theory of alcoholic beverages at the formal dinner is a simple one. Certain fixed and definite rules obtain and are generally observed. Three wines may be served, though the best social form prefers one or two.


Sherry or Madeira may accompany the soup course. They should be poured after the soup has been placed, and served from a decanter. In general wine should always be poured slowly, and glasses should be filled only two-thirds. The etiquette is for the waitress to pour a little wine into the host's glass, then filling the glasses beginning at the host's right. Sherry should always be served cold, at a temperature of 40 deg. Fahrenheit; the Madeira may be served at a temperature of 65 deg. F., or that of the room.


Sauterne or Rhine Wine go with the fish course. They are poured, like the Claret, at the end of the preceding course, before the next course comes on. They (like Sparkling Burgundy and Champagne) are served from the bottle, and the bottle should be held in a folded napkin or bottle holder. The mean average temperature of Sauterne should be 50 deg. F. Some prefer it decidedly cold (chilled in the icebox), others only slightly cold. Rhine Wine should always be cold: 40 deg. F.


Claret is the wine for the entree and, as a rule, is served from a claret pitcher. Being a light wine, it may be served with the Champagne and instead of it to those who do not prefer the Mumm. Claret should be poured at the end of the course immediately before the one with which it is served. The room temperature or one of 65 deg. F. is the proper one for Claret.


These wines are served with the meat courses. In order that Champagne or Sparkling Burgundy may come on the table at the proper temperature (Champagne 35 deg. and Burgundy 70 deg. F.) it must be ice-packed for several hours before serving. Care must be taken, however, that it does not frappe when, if required at short notice, it is salt-and-ice packed half an hour before serving. Sweet Champagne, on the other hand, is improved in flavor if slightly frappeed. It should always be served very cold. Like Sauterne, Champagne and Burgundy are served from the bottle. In serving them the wire should be cut, and the cork carefully worked out of the bottle by pressing it up with the thumbs. It is wise to work out the cork under the edge of the table, since it is sometimes projected with much power. The temperature for Port is 55 deg. F.


Cordial glasses holding a small quantity are used for serving these sweet, aromatic beverages. Cordials are served plain, with crushed ice or with cream. In serving Creme de Menthe the straw is unusual in private home service, though customary in some hotels. Creme de Menthe glasses should be filled two-thirds full with fine crushed ice, then a little of the cordial poured over it. Chartreuse (green or yellow), Benedictine, Grenadine, Apricot Brandy, Curacoa, and Dantzig Eau de Vie arc usually served without additions or ice. Benedictine or Creme de Cacoa, however, may be served with a dash of plain or whipped cream. The exceedingly sweet Creme Yvette should he served with cracked ice, like Creme de Menthe. Noyau, Kirschwasser, Maraschino and Grenadine may be served as cordials, or reserved for the flavoring of puddings, ices and sauces.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Aging Red Wine in Wood Casks

The following description of the care needed to properly age red wine in wood casks is excerpted From "The Wine Press and the Cellar: a Manual for the Wine-Maker and the Cellar-Man", by E.H. Rixford, 1883.

The time necessary for wines to remain in wood in order to acquire the highest degree of perfection which they can acquire in casks, depends upon the quality of the wine; wines of strength and. body require more time than feeble ones.

Our author says that, on the average, the poorest wines of the Medoc become bright about the end of two years, and if they are kept longer, they lose their mellowness. But on the other hand, the firm and full-bodied wines of the same localities require to remain in wood a year longer to arrive at perfect maturity. Certain wines strongly charged with tannin, coming from certain localities, and those made from the verdot grape, are long in developing, but they keep so much the longer.

When they have attained their entire development and the separation of the lees is complete, they must be bottled, for they will lose their qualities if left in casks. In bottles they arrive at perfection; they acquire bouquet while they preserve their mellowness, but in casks, they finally lose their fruity flavor and velvety smoothness, and become dry.

And he gives the following summary for the care of Old Red Wines:

1. They should be kept in places perfectly closed, and before turning the bung to one side, we should be satisfied that they are perfectly bright, quiet, and well behaved.

2. They should be drawn from the lees twice a year; the casks should be kept full; and they should be kept from secondary fermentations by watching and opportune racking.

3. Keep down the loss by evaporation by all means possible, and keep them in close cellars, in strong, well hooped casks, and avoid spillage..

4. Bottle them before they lose their fruity flavor, and as soon as they cease to deposit.

Thus will they acquire all the qualities of which by their nature they are susceptible.

But if they are kept in places to which the air has free access, the evaporation will be great; and if the casks are left with spillage caused by too frequent sampling, or too infrequent racking, they will work, become dry, lose their mellowness, arid become slightly affected by acetic acid, produced by contact with the air.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Nicholas Longworth and Wines of the Ohio Valley

Nicholas Longworth was a prosperous lawyer and real-estate investor in Cincinnati, Ohio in the early 19th century. This account of his interest in wine-growing along the Ohio River is excerpted from "Great Fortunes, and How They Were Made", by George MacLean, 1871.

Mr. Longworth retired from the practice of the law in 1819, to devote himself to the management of his property, which was already sufficiently important to require his undivided attention. He had always been an enthusiast in horticultural matters, and believing that the climate of the Ohio Valley was admirably adapted to the production of grapes, had for some time been making experiments in that direction; but he fell into the error of believing that only the foreign vines were worth cultivating, and his experiments were unsuccessful. The foreign grape did not mature well, and the wine produced from it was not good. In 1828 his friend Major Adlum sent him some specimens of the Catawba grape, which he had procured from the garden of a German living near Washington City, and be began to experiment with it in his own vineyard.

The Catawba grape, now so popular and well-known throughout the country, was then a comparative stranger to our people, and was regarded even by many who were acquainted with it as unfit for vintage purposes. It was first discovered in a wild condition about 1801, near Asheville, Buncombe County, North Carolina, near the source of the Catawba River. General Davy, of Rocky Mount, on that river, afterward Senator from North Carolina, is supposed to have given the German in whose garden Major Adlum found the grape a few of the vines to experiment upon. General Davy always regarded the bringing of this grape into notice as the greatest act of his life. "I have done my country a greater benefit in introducing this grape into public notice," said he, in after years, "than I would have done if I had paid the national debt."

Mr. Longworth's experiments with the Catawba were highly successful, and induced him to abandon all his efforts with foreign vines, and undertake only the Catawba, to which he afterward added the Isabella. He now entered systematically upon grape-growing. He established a large vineyard upon a hillside sloping down to the river, about four miles above the city, and employed German laborers, whose knowledge of vine-dressing, acquired in the Fatherland, made them the best workmen he could have. He caused it to be announced that all the grape juice produced by the small growers in the vicinity would find a cash purchaser in him, no matter in what quantities offered. At the same time he offered n reward of five hundred dollars for any improvement in the quality of the Catawba grape.

The enthusiasm which he manifested, as well as the liberality of his offer, had a decidedly beneficial effect upon the small growers in the neighborhood. "It proved a great stimulus to the growth of the Catawba vine in the country around Cincinnati," to know that a man of Mr. Longworth's means stood ready to pay cash, at the rate of from a dollar to a dollar and a quarter a gallon, for all the grape-juice that might be brought to him, without reference to the quantity. It was in this way, and by urgent popular appeals through the columns of the newspapers, that he succeeded, after many failures, and against the depressing influence of much doubt and indifference, in bringing the enterprise up to its present high and stable position.

Many had tried the manufacture of wine, and had failed to give it any economical or commercial importance. It was not believed, until Mr. Longworth practically demonstrated it, that a native grape was the only one upon which any hope could be placed, and that the Catawba offered the most assured promise of success, and was the one upon which all vine-growers might with confidence depend. It took years of unremitted care, multiplied and wide-spread investigations, and the expenditure of large sums of money, to establish this fact, and bring the agricultural community to accept it and act under its guidance. The success attained by Mr. Longworth soon induced other gentlemen resident in the vicinity of Cincinnati, and favorably situated for the purpose, to undertake the culture of the Catawba, and several of them are now regularly and extensively engaged in the manufacture of wine. The impetus and encouragement thus given to the business soon led the German citizens of Hamilton County to perceive its advantages, and, under their thrifty management, thousands of acres, stretching up from the banks of the Ohio, are now covered with luxuriant and profitable vineyards, rivaling in profusion and beauty the vine-clad hills of Italy and France. The oldest vineyard in the county of Hamilton is of Mr. Longworth's planting.

Mr. Longworth subsequently increased the size of his vineyard to two hundred acres, and toward the close of his life his wine houses annually produced one hundred and fifty thousand bottles of wine. His vaults usually contained a stock of three hundred thousand bottles in course of thorough ripening.

His cellars were situated on the declivity of East Sixth Street, on the road to Observatory Hill. They occupied a space ninety feet by one hundred and twenty-five in size, and consisted of two tiers of massive stone vaults, the lower of which was twenty-five feet below the surface of the ground. The manufacture of the wine was placed under the charge of a celebrated chemist from Rheims, and the mode of preparation was as follows:

After the pressing of the grape, the juice is subjected to the vinous fermentation, by which ten or eleven per cent, of alcohol is developed. In the following spring, it is mixed with a small quantity of sugar, and put into strong bottles, the corks of which are secured with twine and wire. The sugar accelerates a second fermentation, which always takes place about this time, and thus a strong movement is produced inside the glass, which generates gas enough to burst the vessels briskly, adding thereby considerably to the cost. This is known as the gaseous fermentation, and the effect of it is to render the wine more enlivening, more stinging to the taste, and more fruity. "This last effect results from this, that the flavor of the fruit mostly passes off with the carbonic acid gas, which is largely generated in the first or vinous fermentation, and in a less degree in this second or gaseous fermentation." It is impossible to avoid the loss of the flavor in the first fermentation, but the strong bottles and securely-fastened corks preserve it in the second. The liquid, which is muddy at first, becomes clear in about a year, a thick sediment having collected at the bottom of the bottle. The bottles are then placed in racks, with their necks downward, and are shaken vigorously every day for about three weeks. This forces the sediment to settle down in the neck against the cork. When it is all in the neck, the wires are cut, and the cork blown out by the gas, carrying the sediment with it. Fresh sugar, for sweetness, is now added, new corks are driven in and secured, and in a few weeks the wine is ready for the market.

Mr. Longworth continued his wine trade with great success for about twenty-five years, and though for some time his expenditures were largely in excess of his income from this source, he at length reaped a steady and increasing profit from it, which more than reimbursed him for his former losses. He was very fond of the strawberry, and succeeded, by careful and expensive cultivation, in making several very important improvements in that delicious fruit. His experiments in the sexual character of the strawberry are highly interesting, but must be passed by here. He manifested no selfishness with respect to his fruits. He was anxious that their cultivation should become general, and his discoveries and improvements were always at the service of any and every one who desired to make use of them.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sparkling Wines in Germany

Excerpted from "Facts About Champagne and Other Sparkling Wines", by Henry Vizetelly, 1879

It is generally asserted that sparkling wines were first manufactured in Germany more than half a century ago from the inferior Neckar grape both at Esslingen and Heilbronn—the latter rendered memorable by the exploits of Götz von Berlichingen, whose iron hand distributed blows which effectually “cured headache, toothache, and every other human malady.” Subsequently, towards 1830, a former chef at Madame Clicquot’s establishment at Reims came to Herr Lauteren, of Mayence, and suggested to him to engage in the manufacture of sparkling Rhine wines, a proposal which the latter soon afterwards profited by; and eight years later Herr Rambs, of Trèves, vineyard proprietor and wine-merchant, aided by a French cellarman, made the earliest attempt to manufacture sparkling moselles, their first trials in this direction resulting in a breakage amounting to fifty per cent.

For some years the great anxiety of manufacturers of sparkling hocks was to render their wines as much as possible like champagne, which was only to be accomplished by disguising their true flavour and dosing them largely with syrup. In this form they satisfied, and indeed still satisfy, their German and Russian consumers; but of late years England has set the example of a decided preference for the drier kinds of sparkling wines, the result being that the character of the wines destined for the English market has undergone a complete change.

Next to its sweetness the principal difference between German champagne, or Moussirender Rheinwein as it is usually called, for Continental consumption, and sparkling hocks designed for the English and other markets, consists in the former being made principally from black grapes, pressed immediately they are gathered and not allowed to ferment in their skins, while the latter are made almost exclusively from white grapes. The vineyards yielding the black grapes used for these sparkling wines are mainly situated at Ingelheim, midway between Bingen and Mayence, and in the Ahr valley, between Coblenz and Cologne. At the black grape vintage, which precedes the gathering of the white varieties by some three or four weeks, the fruit is conveyed to the press in high tubs, carried on men’s backs, and holding about 40lbs. apiece. The old wooden presses are mostly employed, although of late small transportable presses with iron screws, and of French manufacture, are coming into use. In order that the wine may be pale in colour, the grapes, which, like those of the Champagne, are of the pineau variety, are pressed as soon as possible after the gathering; the pressure applied is, moreover, rapid and not too strong, and the must is separated forthwith from the skins and stalks.

On the other hand, the white grapes used in the making of German sparkling wine, and which are almost exclusively of the far-famed riesling species, are treated precisely as when making still Rhine wine—that is, they are crushed in the vineyards by means of grape-mills, and afterwards pressed in the usual way. The must for sparkling wines, whether from black or white grapes, is run at once into casks to ferment. If possible it is conveyed in large casks known as stucks—immediately after the pressing, and before fermentation begins—to the manufacturer’s cellars in town; but if this cannot be accomplished it remains in the cellars of the district until the first fermentation is over, which is in December or January. It is then racked off its lees, and the produce of 176 black and white grapes is blended together, only a small proportion of the former entering into the composition of true sparkling hock, which should retain in a marked degree the subtile and fragrant perfume of the riesling grape.

The process pursued in the manufacture of sparkling hocks is the same as that followed with regard to champagnes. The quantity of grape sugar generated in these Northern German latitudes being far from large, both hocks and moselles invariably need a small addition of saccharine, previous to their being put into bottle, to insure the requisite effervescence, whereas in the Champagne the practice of adding sugar with this object is not the uniform rule. After the wine is bottled it remains in a cool cellar for eighteen months or a couple of years, being constantly shaken during this period, in the same way as champagne, in order to force the sediment to deposit itself near to the cork. By this time the added as well as the natural sugar contained in the wine has become converted into alcohol and carbonic acid; and after the sediment has been expelled from the bottle the operation of dosing, or flavouring, the wine takes place.

Sparkling hocks intended both for the German and Russian markets are frequently almost cloying in their sweetness, as much as one-fifth of syrup being often added to four-fifths of wine. The sparkling moselles, too, for Russia, and not unfrequently for England also, are largely dosed with the preparation of elder-flowers, which imparts to them their well-known muscatel flavour and perfume. The manufacturers say they are doing their best to abandon this absurd practice of artificially perfuming sparkling moselles; but many of their customers, and especially those in the English provinces, stipulate for the scented varieties, possibly from an erroneous belief in their superiority. Effervescing Rhine wines of the highest class have a marked and refined flavour, together with a very decided natural bouquet. Moreover, they retain their effervescent properties for a considerable time after being uncorked, and appear to the taste as light, if not precisely as delicate, as the finer champagnes, although in reality such is not the case; for all sparkling hocks possess greater body than even the heaviest champagnes, and cannot, therefore, be drunk with equal freedom.

Great impetus was given to the manufacture of German sparkling wines during the war of 1870, when the Champagne was in a measure closed to the outside world. At this epoch the less scrupulous manufacturers, instigated by dishonest speculators, boldly forged both the brands on the corks and the labels on the bottles of the great Reims and Epernay firms, and sent forth sparkling wines of their own production to the four quarters of the globe as veritable champagnes of the highest class. The respectable houses acted more honestly, and, as it turned out, with better policy, for by maintaining their own labels and brands they extended the market for their produce, causing German sparkling wines to be introduced under their true names into places where they had never penetrated before, the result being a considerable increase in the annual demand, even after the stores of the champagne manufacturers were again open to all the world.