All About Wine

Wine Tasting 101

We all know how to drink wine but tasting it properly is a whole different ball game. Whether you are blind tasting or simply trying to understand what is in your glass, it is important to learn how to taste correctly. Since white and red wine are completely different animals, we will focus on white wine in this post.



The first step is to look at what is in your glass. Besides figuring out the obvious, if it’s red or white, decide its coloring. The best way to do this is by tipping your glass slightly so you can see the color in the light.  Darker colored whites are typically from a warmer climate, older in age or aged in oak barrels. Lighter colored whites indicate cooler climates, younger grapes, and steel barrels. Also, determine its hue (green, silver, orange).  Next you want to inspect the viscosity, or legs, to figure out the alcohol content. You can do this by twirling your glass and seeing how it moves down the side. The stronger the legs the higher the alcohol.  In some whites, you may see the presence of gas.



Looks can sometimes be deceiving but the smell can tell you almost everything you need to know about a wine. To smell the wine you need to, again, twirl your glass and stick your nose right inside the top of the rim. Before anything make sure your wine hasn’t gone bad. If it smells like vinegar or has a musty odor then dump it out. If your wine is good, continue. Start by smelling for fruit and floral notes. Fruits can be described as malic, citric, stone, and tropical fruits or melon. Next, smell for earth and mineral notes. These can be organic or inorganic and range from mushrooms and soil to limestone and petrol. The last step in the smelling process is to decide how the wine was aged. If it was aged in an oak barrel, you will come across notes of wood and spices.



Finally, it is time to taste! Even though the nose has the power to pick up essential characteristics of the wine there are many things you can’t tell by just smelling it. Taste can provide you with two elements, structure and flavor. The structure is determined by a wines sweetness, acidity, and body. The flavor can either enhance what you smelled or realize new characters that you were unable to pick up on the nose. Taste also has the most complexity. Sometimes the taste changes from when the wine first touches your mouth to how it finishes. Make sure to let the wine sit on your tongue for a moment so you can really notice the structure and flavor.



It is important to fully observe everything you see, smell, and taste before making a conclusion about a wine. Sometimes, your impression of a wine can change when you realize its complexities. Understanding how to define the characteristics of a wine is not only useful during a tasting but also when you are ordering. Ultimately, you can figure out the varietal, where it’s from, and the vintage just from tasting.

The Truth about Preservatives in Wine


Preservatives often get a bad rap. Although they are essential to the longevity of food and beverages, they are assumed to be unhealthy chemicals. Alcohol, acidity, tannins, and sulfites are the preservatives found in wine. Without these ingredients, the wine you love would turn to vinegar.


Alcohol and Acidity

The most fundamental preservative in wine is, of course, alcohol. It comes from yeast turning the sugar from grapes into ethanol. It can also be added in a process called fortifying. Wine, in most cases, has an alcohol content of 10-15%. Although the effects of alcohol may be your favorite part about this preservative, it also gives wine its essential body and viscosity.


The acidity also plays an important role. Grapes’ tartaric, malic, and citric acids give wine its notoriously tart flavor. Microbes cannot grow if the pH level is anywhere around 3-4; normally, wine has a pH of 2.5-4.5. The combination of alcohol and acidity prevents the growth of pathogens and microbes that would make wine unsafe to drink. For wines with more sugar and less alcohol, winemakers often have to use an additional process called sterile filtration to ensure the removal of bacteria.



Tannins come from oak barrels and the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes. They are found exclusively in red wines because the grapes are fermented with the skins on. You’ll often here the term tannins used during a tasting to describe a wine’s structure. They act as an antioxidant and are crucial to the aging process of red wine.



Seeing “contains sulfites” on a bottle of wine causes uneasiness amongst some wine drinkers. Sulfites, or SO2, can occur on grapes naturally or be added during the wine making process. Their purpose is to serve as an antioxidant. The oxygen removal prevents microbial growth and preserves the flavor. While high levels of sulfur compounds can give off a rotten egg smell, low levels can give wine the aroma of tropical fruits and minerals.


Although SO2 is toxic in the form of gas, it is safe to consume in food and beverages. It is only unsafe to those who are allergic, which is less than 1% of the population. Higher amounts of sulfites are found in dried fruit, french fries, and bacon than in wine. Eventually, sulfites dissolve as wine ages and could be completely gone by the time you open a vintage bottle.


You may see wine advertised as “Preservative Free” what it really means is that no sulfites were added during the winemaking process. If a wine is truly “Preservative Free,” it is called grape juice. Unless you have certain health restrictions, the preservatives in wine are perfectly safe for consumption and are vital ingredients that make up our favorite drink. So, let go of the stigma and pour yourself a glass!

Wine Hacks: How to… Save a Corked Bottle


You’re on a date and things are going surprisingly well. Unfortunately, dinner has come to an end and it’s time for the check. In an attempt to keep things going you, invite them back for a glass of wine. You get back to your place and, thankfully, you have one bottle left in your pantry. You open it, pour yourself a glass and are immediately overwhelmed by the musty odor. Oh no, it’s corked! What do you do?


Plastic Wrap Theory

In the past, when we’ve come across a tainted bottle we would pour it right down the drain. But, what if you could make a bad bottle of wine drinkable again? We did some research and came across the idea of using plastic wrap to save a corked bottle. We were skeptical, but decided to give it a try.

Let’s start with the “science” behind it. When a bottle is “corked” or suffers from “cork taint” it contains trichloroanisole (TCA). Plastic wrap is made up of Polyvinylidene Chloride, a derivative of trichloroethane, which acts as a sponge to absorb the TCA.


Vinum 55 Experiment

Materials Used:

Glad Plastic Wrap
Corked Bottle of Wine
3 wine glasses
3 Decanters




Step One:
Opened a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley, poured a glass and realized it was corked.




Step Two:
Loosely crumpled a sheet of plastic wrap into a ball and placed it into the first decanter.




Step Three:
Kept the original glass, for comparison, and poured the rest of the bottle into the first decanter.




Step Four:

Poured the first decanter into the second decanter with a fresh ball of plastic wrap.

After a few minutes, we tried a glass of the twice-decanted wine.

Verdict: It smelled like a good bottle of wine but still had a slightly musty taste.




Step Five:

Poured the rest of the wine from the second decanter into the third decanter with a fresh ball of plastic wrap.

We waited another few minutes and poured a glass.
Verdict: The cork taint was gone and the wine was perfectly drinkable.



Although we were sure the wine tasted better, we wanted to see if it was still good to someone who hadn’t tasted the original. So, we called over our tech guy, Klaus, who is a wine enthusiast that would be able to tell if the bottle was tainted. He didn’t know about our little experiment. We asked him to try a glass of wine and tell us what he thought about it. He said he would “definitely drink it again” on his own volition.

To our surprise, the plastic wrap worked! We would definitely forgo a corked bottle during one of our tastings, but would use this trick again in a bind.

In just a short amount of time, you can save your night with a package of plastic wrap and a little white lie. It may not be the best wine you’ve ever tasted, but good enough to serve to guests without them knowing the bottle was corked.

Modern Cellar Mistakes

When you think of a wine cellar you picture a dark room with lots of wood and bold Italian architecture. But this traditional style may not fit your sleek, 21st Century home. We are starting to see collectors choose modern over traditional designs for their cellar. There are many things to consider when deciding if the modern cellar design is right for you.


What is Modern?

Modern design, an ambiguous term, can be easier defined by the materials it includes. Glass and metal, combined with clean lines and industrial lighting, can give any space a modern feel. Stainless steel is your best option for metal because it will survive the cellar’s climate. While these materials may give you the look you want, keep in mind their upkeep. Glass and stainless steel require frequent cleaning because they easily accumulate dust and fingerprints.

Another element that adds to modern design is technology. In 2016, you have the capability of controlling the functions of your cellar by a remote or tablet. These functions can range from temperature controls to lighting design. Unlike traditional cellars, the wide array of technological features blend seamlessly with a modern look.


Glass Half Empty

Living in Arizona we face a dangerous predator, the sun. Have you ever been in your car for a long time and end up with sunburn on one side of your face? That’s because glass is not powerful enough to completely block UV rays. Glass walls and doors may be a beautiful look for your cellar but can have harmful consequences. UV light causes degradation of organic compounds, such as tannins, that contribute to the flavor, aroma and structure of wine. These effects are irreversible and can ruin a perfectly good bottle of wine. You will often hear about climate controlled glass enclosures, but the perfect temperature and humidity means nothing if your wine is being ruined by UV light. Unfortunately, wine can’t put on sunscreen and a pair of sunglasses to avoid the harmful rays. The only way to keep your wine safe is to store them completely out of the sun.


Mold School

Wine’s taste is greatly impacted by the storage environment. Wine cellars require a relative humidity of 50-70 percent. The Phoenix area has an average relative humidity of 37 percent. This means you will need to create moisture to achieve the best cellar conditions.

Moisture leads to mold and mildew growth. The glass and stainless steel used in modern cellars tend to be more “sterile” and don’t allow for mold to grow like stone or wood. Since wine absorbs the aromas in its environment, the presence of mold impacts the flavor. Wine stored in cellars devoid of mold usually lack in complexity.

Although it is ideal to have mold growth within a cellar, it can be dangerous if it spreads into the walls of your home. Removal can be expensive, and require you to tear down your beautiful wine cellar, if it’s not dealt with right away. Therefore, it is important the humidity barrier is installed properly to prevent this issue.


Keep in mind when creating your dream cellar; the design is more than just traditional vs. modern but functionality vs. aesthetic.

Climate Controlled Wine Storage in AZ

Service is our Style

Vinum55 is a service-driven, state of the art facility where your wine passion is our profession. Our Cellar Manager is a Certified Specialist of Wine, studying for Advanced Sommelier certification, who has over 17 years’ experience in the wine business. Our Assistant Cellar Manager is a preliminarily certified Sommelier, and studying for his Certified Sommelier, also with 10 years’ experience with wine. Feel confident that your collection of wine is handled with capability and care. Our enthusiasm and professional wine training complement our desire to service our clients beyond their expectations.

Delivery Acceptance

Have you ever missed your delivery of your favorite allocation of wine? Have you ever had to drive tothe UPS or FedEx facility to pick up your wine, to make certain it did not get too warm? With Vinum55’s complimentary delivery acceptance, shipment issues are in your past. Simply change your ship to address to our facility on any wine order. We will sign for your shipment and place it immediately in your locker.

Wine Inventory Management

Have you been hanging on to that special bottle, looking for the perfect special occasion to celebrate,only to find the wine is past its prime? Is your collection a little unorganized? Let us manage your inventory for you. We will enter all your wines into a software tracking program, taking note of the location of each bottle and placing your wine in cases that are designed with optimal aging in mind.After inventory of your collection, we evaluate the drinkability of your collection, letting you know what wines should be enjoyed first, while still in the prime of the wine, and what wines are best with additional time in the bottle. From that point forward, we continue to communicate with you regarding your collection and wines that are ready to be enjoyed. Life is too short to let your wine get past its prime! Contact our Cellar Manager for more details.

Logistics Assistance

Is there a move in your future? We offer Logistics Assistance, whether your move is in town, to a new state or even a new country. We have formed alliances with local, national and international logistics firms who take service as seriously as we do.

In-Home Collection Management

Is your home cellar in need of organization? We offer Inventory Management for your collection at home. We can perform an inventory, enter your wines into a software tracking program with specific location, and make recommendations on wines that are ready to be enjoyed.

Concierge Services

Whether it’s after-hours delivery directly to your home or retrieving specific bottles from your locker and having them ready for immediate pick-up by you, our Cellar Manager is available to make your storage experience an ease.

The Cold Truth about Wine Storage

While the topic of which varietals, vintages and regions comprise the best collection will always be heartily debated, one thing that’s definitive in the wine community is no matter what bottles your collection consists of they need to be properly stored.

Whether you’re a casual collector with only a few cases, or view your collection as a more long-term investment with thousands of bottles, it is vital that they be protected with a temperature-controlled environment.

The general rule is that any sustained temperatures of 70°F or above can lead to deterioration and is cause for concern. Here in the desert where we regularly see triple-digit temperatures, secure, consistent, and monitored temperature control is supremely important. Basically, if you are storing your wine in the garage, you’re doing it wrong.

70°F or above can lead to deterioration and is cause for concern

Vinum 55, the Valley’s premier wine storage facilities, offers the most ideal environment for your collection. The storage areas at all Vinum 55 locations maintain a 55°F temperature — the industry recommended standard. Specialized refrigeration units and back-up generators ensure that your wine continuously receives the optimal care it needs to ensure it retains its integrity and value.

Whether you are looking to store a prized bottle, have outgrown your kitchen wine cooler, or are looking to take your love of wine to the next step, Vinum 55 has a custom, private wine locker with your name it.

Organize Your Wine Cellar

How should you organize your wine cellar or wine refrigerator? This can be a debilitating question, leaving you frozen in your tracks, just thinking about the endless options of how best to organize your wine. By varietal? By region? By vintage? By drink dates? Red here, white there? Before the anxiety attack takes you over completely, take a deep breath. We have advice that can help you decide your best method of organization.

Home Cellar Organization

When we have handled the home cellar organization projects, I usually spend a little time with the collector to get a better sense of their ‘wine habits’. Do they like to drink their wines younger or with age? Do they prefer red over white, or do they enjoy a true variation of wine? What is the bulk of their collection, is it Napa reds, Burgundy, Bordeaux…etc. From there, I evaluate the space to see how it can be best utilized, based on their habits. If there are a few whites, but mostly reds, I will keep the whites together, then organize the reds further, usually by varietal and region. If a client has a large cellar and many wines that need to be enjoyed(because they are in their prime), I will keep those together, then organize the rest by when it will be ready to enjoy, especially when dealing with full cases of wine. I’ve found that there is usually a bulk area for ‘daily drinker’ type wines, or for less expensive wines. I usually put the most commonly enjoyed or largest quantity type of wines in an accessible area of the cellar.

Tracking your Collection

Perhaps the most important thing to do: Put the collection into Cellar Tracker or Vinfolio. This keeps track of what is in the cellar down to the bottle, can help when choosing a wine to enjoy with dinner, or a collection to pull for a gathering. These software systems also offer detailed tasting notes and the ability to add your own tasting note. You can also keep track of purchase information, when you drank the wine or if you gifted a bottle to a client or friend. You could also barcode your entire collection, making it nearly impossible to lose track of or delete the wrong wine. I prefer Cellar Tracker, because they utilize an app called VinoPal that is very visual and easy to use.

Put the collection into Cellar Tracker or Vinfolio

To have a detailed bottle inventory can really help with valuation of the collection as well. Both Vinfolio and Cellar Tracker offer the ability to determine the value of your wine collection, which can be useful when insuring your wine collection.

Epiphany Wine

Lately, it seems that the conversations around me have been about epiphany wine.  I’ve read about it on wine blogs, and it’s been the topic of conversation at PWS among members.  It’s fun and interesting to hear the stories around what wine it was that changed one’s perspective on wine and created a desire to go deep into the wine world.

I did not grow up around wine at all, in fact, my first foray into the wine world came at age 25.  I was working at Bandera in Scottsdale, Arizona, for Bobby Fitzgerald.  We needed a new Bar Manager and Bobby asked me to take over.  I could not have known less about wine!  One of my wine sales reps took me under her wing (Thank you, Lisa Ford!) and began to teach me about wine.  As I tasted, I learned mostly about New World wines from California.  It was a good place to begin.  I truly enjoyed wine, but it was not yet my passion.

Over the next few years, I got married and had 3 beautiful boys.  My professional focus was not on wine, but I still held my position with Hillstone Restaurants throughout that time.  I worked toward finishing my bachelor’s degree, bit by bit, but at the time, my focus was on our boys.  As they went off to elementary school, my then GM at Houston’s in Scottsdale was complaining that he had been assigned the task of doubling the wine list.  I offered to take on the project and for the next 3 years ran the wine program, still focusing mainly on wines from California.  It was a fun time, especially working with Barry Cothran and learning about wine and how to run a cost effective wine program.  I also began to teach the staff about the wines we offered.

It was time for a change after 14 years with Hillstone, and I landed at Tarbell’s,  Learning wine from Mark Tarbell was an eye-opening experience that I would not trade for anything! I learned a great deal:  how to taste, evaluate and how to pair wine with fantastic food.  One evening, a regular client had a wine dinner in the semi-private room and brought in a 1947 Cheval Blanc.  The client is particularly generous and gave the staff a taste of the wine to try.  I must tell you, I had no idea whatsoever what I was tasting.  What I did know is that the wine had been open and decanted for about 2+ hours.  By normal standards, for a wine that old, it should not have still been good, it should have had too much oxygen by then. (When on old wine is opened, usually it should be enjoyed within about an hour before it falls apart in the glass.)  The Cheval Blanc was full of life, beautiful depth and complexity and could age even longer than the 65 years it already had. But, I still had no idea what I was tasting, or truly how special it was.  When I got home from Tarbell’s that night, I googled the wine, and let me tell you, I was so excited for what I found.  This wine was one of the most remarkable wines on the planet.  It was one of the most expensive wines ever auctioned at Christie’s in New York and one of the most remarkable wine vintages to date.  The story of 1947 Cheval Blanc is well chronicled:

Lucky for me, soon after I was granted the opportunity to study and work for my Certified Specialist of Wine (CSW) degree through Mark at Tarbell’s.  In studying and taking this test, I found a new passion that far surpassed my passion for science and medicine with my recently earned degree in Biology.  I love to taste wine, blind taste especially, read about wine, think about wine.  I owe that to a special regular client at Tarbell’s and 1947 Cheval Blanc.  That is where it began for me, and it continues with my position at PWS and continuing to study for and obtain a second wine degree.

The question that is so fun to listen to the answer to is:  What is your epiphany wine and why?  Your palate may have evolved past that epiphany wine, (or not, in my case!) but that should not diminish the importance of the wine that drove you to collect, enjoy and learn.