Put a Cork In It: Tips to Save Your Leftover Thanksgiving Wine

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/24/16

The year’s most bountiful meal usually comes with one conundrum: how long can we make our leftovers survive?  Your turkey dregs (and all the trimmings) are one thing – simply store properly and enjoy for days to come.  But what about all that wine?

As you know, there’s no wrong Thanksgiving wine.  With so many flavors and textures on the table, you can pretty much open whatever you want – it’s bound to match something.  But wine in excess means you’re likely to have half-empty bottles on Thanksgiving night.  Wouldn’t it be nice for it to still be drinkable when you have yet another turkey-stuffing-and-cranberry sauce sandwich three days later?

At our house, we’re never really concerned with preserving wine.  The best way to ensure wine does not spoil is to make sure there’s none left.  Consider that Tip #1.

Also, keep your wine standing up, rather than on its side – that’ll minimize how much of your wine’s surface area is exposed to oxygen, fresh wine’s biggest culprit.  And avoid temperature extremes, especially heat (i.e., don’t keep your bottle by a window, where sunlight can find it).

For other unique ways to lengthen your wine’s lifespan, I turned to a few friends who are in the business of making reds and whites last as long as possible.  Restaurant and winery folks, mostly, like Stephanie Varner, who manages the Rusack Vineyards tasting room in Ballard Canyon.  “Don’t forget to make ice cubes with leftover wine!” she told me.  Love it.

Laura Booras, general manager at Riverbench Winery, tells me that a wine’s age will make a difference.  If a wine is aged, say more than 15 years, it will definitely show signs of aging faster if you leave it open longer. In fact, many older wines will lose their freshness, delicacy, and nuances overnight, so it’s best to finish them the night you open them.”  And she has a warning for those who decant.  “The surface area has been more exposed, so it’s going to oxidize and age much more quickly.”

Riverbench runs tasting rooms in both Santa Maria and Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, where several commercial products have proven successful, including vacuum seals.  “But what about bubbly?” I ask Booras, well aware of the winery’s fabulous annual sparkling wine production.  She says she’s kept bubbles fresh for up to three days with a stopper called Tablecraft 398, which you’ll find at the Riverbench tasting rooms and on Amazon.

Tatiana Konovalov, assistant food-&-beverage manager at Four Seasons Resort the Biltmore in Montecito, touts this stopper, too.  “It fully seals the bottle, but be careful,” she says.  “It becomes pressurized!”

“If you consistently find yourself unable to finish quality wines,” Konovalov adds, it may be worth investing in a Coravin system, which can cost a couple hundred dollars.   “It uses a sharp needle to puncture the cork and uses argon capsules to pressurize and release wine,” she says.  “This system can only be used on cork sealed bottles and never on Champagne.”

Larry Schaffer, winemaker at Tercero Wines in Los Olivos, eschews gadgets because “the best solutions to any problem are the simplest.”  He touts refrigeration.  And, to minimize oxygen exposure, he tells his wine club members to have screw-capped half-bottles handy at home.  “The next time you’re not able to finish a bottle, put what’s left into the 375-ml bottle and fill as much as you can,” he says.  “Your leftover wine will now be in a vessel that has a lot less headspace – open air between the wine and the top of the bottle – and will be under a much tighter closure.”

Tom Dolan manages a spectacular wine list at his Toma Restaurant in Santa Barbara.  But at home, his wine preservation solution involves multiple bottles, too.  I always marry one bottle to another and fill till it overflows out the top, then seal it!” he says, thereby creating his own special blend.

I met Jon McDaniel when he ran the program at the Los Olivos CafĂ© a few years ago.  These days, he’s beverage director and sommelier for LessLaw Hospitality, the group that runs Chicago foodie hotspots like The Gage, Acanto, Beacon Tavern, The Dawson and Coda di Volpe.  “Wine is a living, breathing thing, so the moment you open up the bottle, the clock starts ticking,” he reminds me.

If you like big reds with your Thanksgiving bird, like cabernet and zinfandel, you’re in luck.  “The tannins and the higher alcohol are going to help maintain the structure of the wine and keep the taste for a couple extra days,” McDaniel says.  So if your last bottle is a light red, “like Beaujolais or pinot noir, it’s best to know you only have a day or so left.”

In the rare occasion when I do have to keep wine an extra day or two, my go-to solution is sticking the cork back in.  But not so fast, says McDaniel.  “Put in the same end that was touching the wine first.  I have seen corks that didn't taint the wine with TCA (a bacteria that will 'cork' the wine) initially.  But when you put in the other end of the cork first, you can come back the next day and have a corked or spoiled wine.  So even though the cork will expand a bit, try and put the wet end of the cork back in first.  And save your money on fancy wine stoppers with jewels or turkeys on them, they just don't work.”

If all else fails, refer back to Tip #1.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Fifteen and Counting: Margerum Wine Company Marks Milestone

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Bob Dickey 
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 11/3/16

Doug Margerum is marking his winery’s past 15 years by looking to the future.

Doug Margerum
“I’m hoping that our M5 White will become as accepted and germane to the Santa Barbara County wine scene as the red,” he told me this week.  Indeed, the Margerum Wine Company “M5” – a red blend of syrah, grenache, mourvedre, counoise and cinsault – has become the label’s flagship wine and, easily, one of Santa Barbara’s best-selling blends. 

The white version is brand new: a blend of grenache blanc, rousanne, viognier, marsanne and vermentino that premiered with the 2015 vintage.  It marks Margerum’s takeover of the prized Honea Vineyard near Solvang, where he’s replaced Italian grape varieties with classic white wine grapes from the Rhone region of France.  The 2016 M5 White ($27) will hit store shelves next summer.

Rhone wines have been a calling card for Margerum Wine Company (MWC) ever since its launch in 2001: along with the M5, Margerum produces the popular UBER – a yearly co-fermentation of his top syrah vineyard sources – as well as several vineyard-specific and reserve syrahs.  He’s always had his eye on sauvignon blanc, too.  “We set out to make a Loire-style sauv blanc with low alcohol and bright fruit and acid – a sauvignon blanc for restaurants and savvy consumers,” he says.  “And that’s still one of the main things we do.”

Other pet projects – from the recent launch of his Barden label to focus on pinot noir and chardonnay from Sta. Rita Hills to numerous private label ventures to a boutique lineup of spirits – are added feathers to the Margerum cap.

From his staying the course, and from his steadfast focus on limited-production and handcrafted wines, have come Margerum’s 15 years’ worth of accolades.  Awards, high scores and honors galore.  Like having his Syabrite Sauvginon Blanc poured during a White House State Dinner this summer for Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsein Loong.  “Serendipity,” says the winemaker.  “The sommelier for the White House bought a bottle, took it home, loved it, then brought it to Michelle Obama, who apparently loved sauvignon blanc.”  A case of Syabrite also followed the Obamas on their recent vacation to Martha’s Vineyard.  And the wine was poured during last week’s Julia Child Award gala in Washington DC, where celeb chef Jose Andres was overheard numerous times raving about it.

The attention Margerum appreciates the most, though – more even than critics that dole out points – is that of industry people on the front lines, like wine stewards and retailers.  “It’s been great to see those who sell wine, and serve it and drink it actually embrace what we make for what they are: quality table wines meant for food,” he says.

Wine Cask owners Margerum and Mitchell Sjerven
Understating the critical amalgam between wine and food is one thing Margerum did bring to his winemaking project 15 years ago.  The UCSB grad had run his family’s Wine Cask restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara since 1981.  Soon after, he’d launched the Wine Cask Futures Program to help bring international attention to Santa Barbara wines.  And by 1994, he’d made the Wine Cask one of a handful of restaurants around the world to win Wine Spectator’s coveted Grand Award.  Today, he runs the Wine Cask with celebrated restaurateur Mitchell Sjerven and it remains one of the highest-rated eateries on the Central Coast.

Reminiscing on his first 15 years, Margerum recalls fondly the generosity his colleagues have shown him.  He considers winemakers Jim Clendenen and Bob Lindquist his mentors, for example.  And both winemaker Fred Bander and the Firestone family shared winery space with Margerum during his label’s first decade.  For the last five years, Margerum has called a 12,000-square-foot temperature-controlled facility in Buellton home.

Fifteen years in, Margerum enjoys a special vantage point.  Santa Barbara’s young wine scene is in the midst of a very gradual turnover, as pioneers who launched the industry in the 1970s and 80s are now working side by side with the 20- and 30-somethings who’ll carry it forward.  Partnership and comradery, says Margerum, is pervasive.  “Everyone here seems to actually like each other – they communicate with each other and taste with each other and share ideas with each other,” he says.  “It’s unique compared to other areas.  And it continues a Santa Barbara tradition: quality wine made by smaller producers who in turn train and put out into the world other small producers.”

And in these first 15 years, being witness to that, Margerum adds, “is what I’m most happy about.”

Margerum Wine Company is celebrating its 15th anniversary with the public this Sunday, November 6th, from 2 to 5pm, at the Wine Cask.  Tickets ($30, $20 for wine club members) are nearly sold out.  Get yours through the MWC website.


40th Pick: Santa Barbara Wine Industry Celebrates Brander

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
photos by Bob Dickey
story published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 10/6/16
updated November 2, 2016

Fred Brander greets guests during his 40th anniversary fete
“Some people call this place Branderland,” vintner Fred Brander tells the large crowd gathered before him, with a big smile. “And I like that.  It denotes a sense of place.  It implies that what you’re drinking has provenance and an origin.  And that’s what makes wine special.”
Brander Vineyard is certainly a landmark in Santa Barbara wine country.  In a youthful viticultural area dating back just to the early 1970s, this vineyard was one of the first.  And, 40 years after its first grape harvest, it remains one of the best.
Brander's Dia de los Muertos-inspired altar
The throng that that came to the sprawling Santa Ynez Valley estate a few Sundays ago to raise a glass and mark a milestone certainly knows that.  It was an impressive mix of winemakers, restaurateurs and culinary influencers – people who call Brander both colleague and friend.  They noshed on food by some of the area’s best chefs – Michael Hutchings doled out a cassoulet with homemade sausage while David Cecchini pulled dozens of handmade pizzas from the wood burning clay oven.  Plenty of Brander wines to go around, too, including the very first taste of the 2016 vintage – a cloudy, still-fermenting barrel sample of a sauvignon blanc-riesling blend.  A selection of top sauvignon blanc wines from around the world was poured inside the winery.  Pictures of past vineyard events – including the famous Bouillabaisse Festivals hosted here between 1989 and 2012 – hung on the walls of Brander’s private art gallery. And in a candlelit corner of the barrel room, on an altar inspired by the upcoming Latin American Dia de los Muertos holiday, black-and-white photographs honoring men and women now deceased who helped shape Brander’s career:  his parents, winemakers Andre Tchelistcheff and Chris Whitcraft, wine merchant Frank Crandall, chef Julia Child and wine critic Robert Lawrence Balzer, among others.
Dozens of international sauvignon blanc wines were poured
“This place has always been a family business,” Brander told his guests of his eponymous vineyard; his 25-year old son Nik, who helps manage the winery, was standing nearby.  The property was an investment by his parents – Swedes by way of Argentina – that allowed the UC Davis graduate to plant vines in 1975 and harvest his first grapes in 1977. 

Forty vintages later, some key things at Brander Vineyard have not changed: the focus on sauvignon blanc, mainly, the Bordeaux white grape that gained Brander recognition from the get-go.  In 1977, “we barrel fermented that first sauvignon blanc,” Brander told me recently.  “There wasn’t a lot of barrel fermentation going on back then, so it was a novel thing.  It captured a lot of attention, and a gold medal at the L.A. County Fair, and that was instrumental in my focusing on that variety.”
Several of those original sauv blanc vines remain on Brander Vineyard, and the grape accounts for 75% of its annual production today.
Hundreds came out to celebrate Brander Vineyard's 40th vintage
But sauvignon blanc is also part of what’s new and different here.  What was a single bottling in the beginning now sees up to 11 different renditions each vintage. “So we’re maintaining but perfecting what we do with this grape,” says Brander.  He’s also growing several different sauvignon blanc clones these days, versus just one back then.  “There’s so much diversity of plant material now, different clones and rootstock, that it gives us endless possibilities of expression of sauvignon blanc,” he tells me.  And the vineyard is farmed biodynamically now, with special attention to canopy management.
Brander’s won acclaim for other Bordeaux grapes, too, of course – merlot, cabernet franc and a collector’s worthy reserve cabernet sauvignon program.  And as he turns the page on another decade, he’s not settling.  Just a few weeks ago, his team, led by winemaker Fabian Bravo, harvested first estate petit manseng, a rare grape native to southwestern France that makes “a somewhat sweet but super high-acid” wine.”  It’ll be released in late 2017.
Brander’s 40th anniversary vintage is made further special by this year’s birth of the Los Olivos District AVA, recognition by the feds that the 23,000-acre area, which includes Brander Vineyard, is uniquely suited to grow world-class grapes.  It was the culmination of 10 years of research and petitions by Brander.  “It’s one more way of defining yourself,” the vintner told the revelers who’d come to celebrate him.  And, returning to the theme of provenance and origin, he adds, “It helps mark the discovery of who you are, and of how you hope to translate that into your wine."
Brander Vineyards & Winery, 2401 N. Refugio Rd., Santa Ynez. 805-688-2455. brander.com.