“Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards, and which incorporates itself with the grapes to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy!” —Benjamin Franklin
Wine snobs, read no further, because I’m not writing this for you. I’m writing for people who, like the wise old printer, philosopher, statesman and co-creator of America, looked upon wine as a way for people to be happy, to connect to one another, and to celebrate living.
What better time than the holidays to celebrate living — with wine?
If there is a place that believes that the purpose of wine is to be enjoyed and not to be the subject of snobbery and pedantry, it is Sip, Wine & Beer at S. Orange St. in Escondido. A lovely new business, operated by Jeremy & Cassandra Schaeg, Sip is happy to educate people about wine; and in fact assumes that a significant part of its clientele will have a minimum knowledge. But that they want to learn.
They are happy to teach you, to introduce you to new things that will please your palate and refresh your spirit. Our guide through this little journey is Cassandra Schaeg. Please note that Sip carries all of the wines that we will be talking about — or did at the time of the writing.
For the holidays let’s start with a wine that is known for its Thanksgiving connection: Beaujolais is a light wine from France that is only available for a few weeks right around Thanksgiving. Note: this has nothing to do with France caring anything about America’s quintessential holiday. It just happens this particular wine, which is not at all expensive, is available right now. It should be enjoyed fairly soon, because it’s not a vintage that improves with age. I can certainly identify with that!
“It’s good to have a lighter wine when you are eating a lot of food,” says Cassandra. “It won’t make you feel stuffy. It goes well with turkey and Thanksgiving dinner. The key is to keep it light.”
They carry this wine in a variety of brands.
Several other light wines suitable for this time of year include Viognier, Chenin Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc. All three are white and light.
“Buying wine as a gift is tricky if you don’t know their taste buds,” says Cassandra. “You want to be safe and the safest bet is a sparkling wine — not to be confused with Champagne.” The only thing that can legally be called “Champagne” comes from the Champagne region of France.
A good example of an actual Champagne is Varichon & Clerc Privilege Blanc de Blancs, from Savoie & Jura, France. “It’s nice and festive and easy to drink. You can add garnishes like fresh fruit, e.g. strawberries and make it sweeter (although not in the glass, of course.) It also makes great mimosas,” says Cassandra. A bottle costs between $15-$20. Sparkling wines are even more reasonably priced, ranging from $10-15.
Proseccos are a sparkling wine from Italy. Sip is the first wine merchant in Southern California to carry Jacuzzi, which comes from Milan, Italy through a division of Cline Family Cellars out of Sonoma. Cline purchased the Jacuzzi winery and bottles its product.
“We sell about three of Cline’s varietals and they’re darned good,” says Cassandra. Even though winter is approaching, we all know that we are just as likely to have summer weather in November or December as not. Prosecco is especially nice for summery brunch on a hot day served with fruit.”
If you have been invited to Christmas dinner, or you are hosting the same, you have several good choices.
“Since the food is still going to be rich, you will want a wine that isn’t heavy,” says Cassandra. If you like reds, try a Pino Noir, and if you like whites, a Riesling.
Sparkling wine is also good. One is the most original, unusual and funky sparkling wines that is flying off the shelves is a wine with flair and fruit, Sparkletini, which might strike you as being a little like Boone’s Farm but with a bubbly kick. It’s actually a Spumante, a malt beverage made in Italy by Verdi. It comesin a fun, festive bottle for $18 a bottle.
One thing that Sip is launching for the holidays is the “SIP SACK,” which holds four bottles of wine and makes a great wine accessory. When you purchase such a gift for a friend, says Cassandra, “you want to give a variety.” But the “SIP SACK” is a versatile gift because you can leave it up to the recipient to pick the wines — or, if you feel confident enough you can pick them. The SIP SACK never costs more than $100 for four bottles.
The SIP SACK isn’t just for the holidays, however. It is a monthly wine club where Sip selects six wines each month, of which you get to pick 4 wines one low price. You will also receive a SIP SACK reusable tote to refill wines each month. Given that Californians now have to pay for their shopping bags, this is a pretty good deal!
Another fun gift is a wine tasting. Sip holds a number of these throughout the year. You can find out more about them on their website (see below.)
Gifts for wine lovers don’t have to be expensive, although they can be, as we will see a little later in the article. Aerators, which you fasten onto the mouth of the bottle, agitates the wine as it pours, oxygenating it. The difference in flavor is night and day.
“It gives you the full flavor of the wine,” says Cassandra. “The full complexity and taste.”
If you open a bottle of wine it is generally good for about 48 hours. However, if you’d like to stretch that by several days there is the wine preserver. It is a device that costs about $12 and acts to create a small vacuum in the bottle.
The “big gift” is the Coravin Wine System that is pricey, but could be the most important investment that a person with a wine cellar could make. That is because it allows you to taste wine from an expensive or rare bottle without having to decant the entire contents. The product was first introduced three years ago, and was immediately embraced by the restaurant industry.
The Coravin injects a needle through the cork and pumps CO2 which forces the wine out. Because the oxygen is removed from the bottle the wine cannot oxygenate, i.e. degrade.
“It is an invention that has worked wonders for us here,” says Cassandra. “We don’t have to throw away a bunch of wine anymore. I have wine here that I haven’t opened for more than 60 days and the wine was still good. The manufacturer claims that you can extend your wine even longer than that. A person who has a wine cellar really needs to get one.”
When in doubt about your wine gift, come into Sip, Wine & Beer and Cassandra or Jeremy will be able to help you narrow your choices down. “It all depends on your palate, and we are pretty good at helping people to pick wines that fit their palate.”
And now one for myself
I finished my tour of wine gifts by sampling something that I may very well have to buy for myself. During Christmas gift-giving I actually do buy myself the occasional gift and pretend that it was someone else who did it.
The wine is Heintz Sonoma Coast Late Harvest Chardonnay, a syrupy dessert wine that is so concentrated that it has a natural alcohol level of 12 percent, unlike, say a fortified wine such as Port. I’m a big fan of Port, and so when Cassandra brought out the bottle and splashed a tiny amount into a glass, I knew I was in for a treat.
It looks like honey in the glass and made me think, “This must be what liquid cocaine would be like.” A single sip warms the chest and causes the soul to laugh. And the taste? Sublime. Just as old Ben said, the purpose of wine is to make us happy.
A bottle of this wine will go a long way. It would be a crime to drink it quickly.
For more information about wine, wine events and location, visit www.sipwineandbeer.com
Sip Wine and Beer
129-131 S Orange St.
Escondido, CA 92025
Hours of Operation
Wednesday-Saturday 4 p.m.-11 p.m.
Sunday Noon-4 p.m.