California Wine

The Wide World of Sparkling Wine

Champagne, Sparkling Wines … always make any occasion festive! But it is a very complicated subject. What makes Champagne, Champagne? And what’s the difference between Champagne and Sparkling Wine?

During our March Fine Wine Divas event, we set out to explore the subject. Here are some of the highlights and the group favorites.

What is Sparkling Wine?

Sparkling wine is a wine containing significant levels of carbon dioxide – making it fizzy. This carbonation may result from natural fermentation in the bottle or in a tank (see “How is Sparkling Wine Made?” below), or as a result of carbon dioxide injection.

Sparkling wine is usually white or rosé, but there are examples of sparkling red wine such as Italian Brachetto and Australian Sparkling Shiraz.

Types of Sparkling Wines

  • Champagne: The classic example of a sparkling wine is Champagne. This wine is exclusively produced in the Champagne region of France. While many other countries produce exceptional sparkling wines, they cannot be called “Champagne.”
    • Since 1985, use of the term “method champenoise” has been banned from all wines produced or sold in the European Union.
    • Blending is the hallmark of Champagne wine – usually involving a blend of Chardonnay (finesse and ability to age), Pinot Noir (body) and Pinot Meunier (fruit and floral notes).
    • The majority of Champagnes produced are non-vintage (NV, no year or vintage listed), but vintage Champagne is produced when the producers feel that the grapes from that year have the complexity and richness to warrant being on their own.
  • Crémant: Sparkling wines designated as Crémant (or, “creamy”) were originally named because their lower carbon dioxide pressure gave them a more creamy rather than fizzy mouth-feel.
    • French law dictates that a Crémant must be harvested by hand with yields not exceeding a set amount for their AOC. The wines must also be aged for a minimum of one year.
    • The Loire Valley is France’s largest producer of sparkling wines outside of the Champagne region.
    • The designation “Crémant” is not limited to use within France, and other EU countries that fulfill the production criteria may use it.
  • Prosecco: Prosecco is an Italian sparkling white wine made from Glera grapes.
    • As opposed to champagne, Prosecco is almost always made by the Charmat, or “tank method.” Large steel tanks keep the wine under pressure to capture the fresh fruitiness of the prosecco grape.
    • Prosecco can be either Spumante (more bubbly) or Frizzante (less bubbly), but the taste is usually Dry or Extra Dry.
  • Cava:  Cava is Spanish white or rosé sparkling wine produced mainly in the Penedès region in Catalonia (southwest of Barcelona).
    • Cava is produced in the method champenoise, but includes grape varieties different than those used to make Champagne.
    • In 1872, Cava was first created by Josep Raventós after seeing the success of the Champagne region.
    • Cava can be produced in six Spanish wine regions, and must be produced in the traditional method utilizing a combination of the following grapes: Macabeu, Parellada, Xarel-lo, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Subirat.

How Is Sparkling Wine Made?

  • The Traditional Method: The classic way is the méthode traditionelle (traditional method), or méthode Champenoise (Champagne method), developed in Champagne, France. Wine is produced in the normal way, then bottled with a sugar and yeast mixture to sit for a second fermentation. Carbon dioxide is produced during this fermentation creating the tiny bubbles. The yeast cells die and sink to the bottom of the bottle, referred to as the lees. While the wine is aged on the lees, complexity in the flavor develops (Champagne requires a minimum of 15 months for this second fermentation). Next the sediment is removed through ‘riddling,’ the tilting of the bottle on riddling racks to allow the sediment to move to the neck. The neck is then frozen, the cap removed, the plug of frozen sediment shoots out from the pressure. The bottle is then topped up with dosage (small amount of sugar solution, amount added varies based on sweetness and dryness levels desired), recorked and wire caged. Whoosh! Quite a process. Now you know why Champagne is expensive!
  • The Charmat Method: This method, also known as the Italian method, is quicker and used to make many less expensive sparkling wines. In this process, the yeast and sugar are added to the wine in the pressurized stainless steel fermentation tanks.Then this wine is bottled.

For our Fine Wine Divas event, we tasted the following 8 Sparkling Wines:

  • Baby Prosecco Veneto IGT, Veneto, Italy ($10)
  • NV Codorníu Anna de Codorníu Cava Brut, Catalonia, Spain ($16)
  • 2008 Trump Sparkling Rosé, Virginia, USA ($29)
  • 2008 Argyle Willamette Valley Brut, Oregon, USA ($25)
  • J Cuvée 20 Brut (NV), California, USA ($28)
  • NV Louis de Sacy Brut Grand Cru, Champagne, France ($37)
  • 2006 Marguet Pere et Fils Grand Cru Brut Champagne, France ($50)
  • 2010 Inniskillin Sparkling Ice Wine, Ontario, Canada ($70)

And the evening’s favorites were…

J Cuvée 20 Brut (NV)

  • Variety: 49% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir, 2% Pinot Meunier from Russian River Valley, California
  • Aroma: Nose of lemon peel, honeysuckle, and delicate yeast.
  • Taste: Flavors of apple, grapefruit, angel food cake and almond. Balanced acidity.
  • Price:  $28 available on www.jwine.com
  • My thoughts: Judy Jordan has developed an amazing wine here, and in the Sparkling Rosé they have. Founded in 1986, Judy started the company after working for her father’s Jordan Winery. You can taste the care put into the wine…grapes are hand-harvested and pressed in a special gentle press.


2008 Argyle Willamette Valley Brut

  • Variety: 63% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay from Willamette Valley, Oregon
  • Aroma: Nose of pear, apple, citrus and brioche.
  • Taste: Flavors pear, Meyer lemon and toasted bread.
  • Price: $25 available from Argyle Winery
  • My thoughts: With Oregon known for its incredible Pinot Noir, it’s not surprising to find this incredible Sparkler there. Argyle has produced world-class, award-winning Champagne-style Sparkling Wine since 1987.

2010 Inniskillin Sparkling Ice Wine

  • Variety: 100% Vidal Blanc, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada
  • Aroma & Taste: Nose and flavors of peach, apricot and honey.
  • Taste: Tropical fruits and honey.
  • Price: $80 available from Inniskillin
  • My thoughts: Ice wine is created by leaving the grapes on the vine into the winter months in order to concentrate the flavors. This wine packs a sweet punch but it’s a perfect after dinner drink.

While many in the group liked the Marguet Pere et Fils Grand Cru Champagne, the majority of the likes went to the above three. Nice work North America!

For more on tasting of Sparkling Wine, see Around the World of Sparkling Wine. And check out this great Sparkling Wine infographic.

Cheers to the world of Sparkling Wine!

 

The King of Red: Cabernet Sauvignon

Cabernet Sauvignon, one of the BIG six grape varieties, is often referred to as the King of Red. At a January event of the Fine Wine Divas, as we tasted through eight fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon wines from around the world, I was reminded of what makes this grape fabulous!

Cabernet, as it can simply be referred to, is originally from Bordeaux, where the cross of it’s parents, Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc, arose in the 17th century. It’s genetic parents were only recently discovered. And while many now associate California and Napa with Cabernet Sauvignon, Bordeaux still grows more of the grape than any other region in the world.

What makes Cabernet the King?

  • Cabernet can and does grow almost anywhere. Every country that makes wines, produces a Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • It’s easy to grow and can do so in a range of climates, although it prefers heat and dryer soils.
  • It’s a VERY hardy grape. With thick skins, it’s hard to distort the characteristics. It maintains its flavor and structure very well.
  • Its thick skins also make it resistant to disease.
  • It’s the second most planted grape in the world (Merlot is first).
  • It’s an ideal wine for aging and loves oak aging. With five to ten years being optimal, it’s tannins are soften and new flavor and aroma complexities develop.
  • It’s also great for blending due to it’s big tannins.

Cabernet Sauvignons makes a big wine that becomes silky and elegant with age. They are usually medium to full-bodied with firm tannins and bright acidity. It’s characterized by fruit notes of blackcurrant, cassis, blackberry and non-fruit notes of green bell pepper, cedar and tobacco.

Friday night we tasted around the world, New World (South Africa, Chile, US) and Old World (France).

  • South Africa: 2006 Thelema Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Chile: 2010 Concha Y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon, Puente Alto 
  • US/Washington: 2006 L’Ecole No. 41 Cabernet, Walla Walla
  • US/Washington: 2008 Buty “BEAST” Phinny Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon
  • France/Bordeaux: 2005 Château Brane-Cantenac, Margaux
  • France/Bordeaux: 2005 Château Léoville Poyferré St. Julien
  • US/California: 2008 Ehlers Estate “1886” Cabernet Sauvignon
  • US/California: 2002 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

And while all the wines are truly fabulous, a few stood out as my favorites.

2006 L’Ecole No. 41 Cabernet, Walla Walla

  • Variety: 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, Columbia Valley, Washington
  • Aroma: Spiced plum, earthy, leather
  • Taste: Medium-bodied, smoky plum and dried cranberry notes with hints of cocoa.
  • Price: $30
  • My thoughts: Overall Washington state Cabernets are meant to be approachable at a young age. And it’s said they seem to capture the best of France and California in a single wine. This is a fabulous example!

2008 Ehlers Estate “1886” Cabernet Sauvignon

  • Variety: 83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 12% Cabernet Franc, 4% Merlot, 1% Petit Verdot, from St. Helena, Napa, California
  • Aroma: Floral, red berries, spice
  • Taste: Silky wine with notes of black cherries, cinnamon and toffee
  • Price: $90
  • My thoughts: Yum is this a good wine…like chocolate covered cherries! And such a gorgeous bottle! St. Helena is a very historic wine growing region with cultivation dating back to mid-1800s. This vineyard is farmed with strict adherence to organic and biodynamic farming standards. 100% of the proceeds from sales of the wines is returned to the Leducq Foundation, supporting international cardiovascular research. Tastes good and does good!

2002 Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley

  • Variety:  83% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc, 2% Petit Verdot, from California
  • Aroma: Plum, rose, sandalwood
  • Taste: Black plum, berries, tobacco and dark chocolate
  • Price: $99
  • My thoughts: This velvety wine was Rated 91 by Wine Spectator. Silver Oak has been making stunning wines since the early 1970s and this one is divine!

For the group of fifteen Fine Wine Divas, in addition to the Ehlers and Silver Oak, the favorites were 2005 Château Léoville Poyferré St. Julien and 2008 Buty “BEAST” Phinny Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon. We had a mix of Old World and New World lovers.

Have a favorite Cabernet? Share it with us here. And if you’re interested in our Fine Wine Divas group in DC, let us know.

Cheers to the King of Reds!

Around the World of Sparkling Wine

I’m always a big fan of sparkling wine, special occasion or none. And the holidays are the perfect time to bring out ANY bubbles.

Last week, I attended an “I Brake for Bubbly” tasting at The Curious Grape, a local wine bar and shop, for a great tour through the sparkling wine world….Austria -> Chile -> France -> Spain -> California -> Italy.

Through this tour you’ll see what makes Champagne, which can only come from Champagne, France, so special, and what the climate, grape varieties and process create for sparkling wines from other regions and countries.

First a little overview about how sparkling wine is made.

  • The Traditional Method: The classic way is the méthode traditionelle (traditional method), or méthode Champenoise (Champagne method), developed in Champagne, France. Wine is produced in the normal way, then bottled with a sugar and yeast mixture to sit for a second fermentation. Carbon dioxide is produced during this fermentation creating the tiny bubbles. The yeast cells die and sink to the bottom of the bottle, referred to as the lees. While the wine is aged on the lees, complexity in the flavor develops (Champagne requires a minimum of 15 months for this second fermentation). Next the sediment is removed through ‘riddling,’ the tilting of the bottle on riddling racks to allow the sediment to move to the neck. The neck is then frozen, the cap removed, the plug of frozen sediment shoots out from the pressure. The bottle is then topped up with dosage (small amount of sugar solution, amount added varies based on sweetness and dryness levels desired), recorked and wire caged. Whoosh! Quite a process. Now you know why Champagne is expensive!
  • The Charmat Method: This method, also known as the Italian method, is quicker and used to make many less expensive sparkling wines. In this process, the yeast and sugar are added to the wine in the pressurized stainless steel fermentation tanks.Then this wine is bottled.

Now onto the tour…

Flight 1: Austria for Riesling Sekt

Sekt is the name used for sparkling wine in Germany and Austria. Both wines we tasted are from Weingut Steininger, a small family-owned winery in the Langenlois Valley of Kamptal, one of Austria’s northernmost growing regions. This is a very interesting tasting to compare…

  • 2009 Steininger Riesling Sekt, $25.99: The grapes for this wine come from the lower part of the slopes and a nutrient rich soil. It’s 100% Riesling grapes made using the Traditional Method and aged on the lees for at least one year. The result is a bready nose and apple flavors. Very nice!
  • 2008 Steininger Riesling “Heiligenstein” Sekt, $51.99: Heiligenstein means Holy Stone and is among one of the world’s most famous vineyards for Riesling. It’s very high altitude vineyards, grown on steep terraces of solid rock. First fermentation for this wine in neutral oak casks is one year, then aged on the lees for two years. No dosage is added. It produces a more concentrated sparkling wine with minerality and stone-fruit with bigger bubbles. A real treat!

Flight 2: Chile & France for Chardonnay-based Sparklers

  • 2011 Cono Sur Brut, Bío Bío, Chile, $18.99: This is a quite nice entry level sparkler made of 90% Chardonnay, 6% Pinot Noir and 4% Riesling. You wouldn’t expect a sparkling wine from Chile, but this one comes from the very southern part of the country, with sunny yet cold weather perfect for growing sparkling wine grapes. While made using the Charmant Method, they age the base wine for four months in barrel before second fermentation, then allow the wine to rest on the lees in tank for three months before bottling. Very balanced with nice minerality!
  • Non-Vintage Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Champagne “Hugues de Coulmet” Brut, Champagne, France, $51.99: Pierre Moncuit is a small boutique producer dating back to the 1940s. Their 36 acres of Grand Cru Village are in the the southern part of the region, which produces some of the region’s best grapes as they are grown in very chalky soil, giving great minerality to the wine. Although this is non-vintage, all Pierre Moncuit’s are made with single vintage grapes. Aged three years for second fermentation in the bottle before disgorgement. Very special boutique Champagne!

Flight 3: Spain & California for Red Grape-based Sparklers

  • Non-Vintage Canals Canals Cava Brut Nature Rosat Reserve, Penedes, Spain, $15.99: Cava is sparkling wine in Spain. Cava mainly comes from Penedes region. Cava is made with Spanish grapes using the Traditional Method. This wine is made from Garnacha, Monastrell, Trepat and Pinot Noir. Reserva in Spain means it’s been aged at least 15 months. Brut Nature means no sugar is added to the dosage. Ths wine has been aged 24 months in second fermentation. Very nice!
  • 2008 Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs, Carneros, California, $21.99: Carneros is the cold end of the Sonoma and Napa Valley. Founded by Spain’s Freixenet, the second oldest Cava house dating back to 1889 in Spain, they started Gloria Ferrer and planted the first grapes in 1980. Made with the Traditional Method from 92% Pinot Noir and 8% Chardonnay and aged 18 months on the lees, there is also 5% non sparkling rosé added to give it the pretty pink color and creamy round texture. Lovely subtle strawberry and vanilla notes.
  • Non-Vintage Roederer Estate Brut Rosé, Anderson Valley, California, $28.99: Roederer Estate Brut is the first California sparkling wine to be produced by Champagne Louis Roederer, the fine winemaker of France. The Anderson Valley is the coolest of California’s sparkling wine regions, also very wet so hard to ripen the grapes. This blend is 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay with 5% non-sparkling Pinot Noir added for color. Roederer follows the common Champagne practice of holding a portion of each year’s harvest in “reserve” to enrich the non-vintage blend in any given year. This wine is made of 10-20% reserve wines aged in oak for roundness and aged 24 months on the lees. A Champagne like sparkler from California!

Flight 4: France & Italy for What’s Hot Now

  • 2010 Domaine des Nugues “Made by G,” Beaujolais, France, $19.99: This wine from the Beaujolais region is 100% Gamay grapes, however sparkling wines aren’t allowed to be labled Beaujolais, thus the name Made by G. These grapes are hand-harvested and fermented, then fermented again using Traditional Method for a few months on lees. No sugar is added, the sweetness coming just from the Gamay grapes.
  • 2011 Tenuata Il Falchetto Moscato d’Asti “Ciombo,” Piedmont, Italy, $17.99: As an Italian wine it is considered Frizzante, their main term for sparkling wines. This wine is made of 100% Moscato grapes and tank fermented. The grapes are grown in the Ciombo region on 25 year old vines. The results is a very intense, floral, honey wine with low alcohol. It’s a perfect after dinner offering.

And that was our flight around the world of sparkling. What’s your favorite sparkling wine?

Cheers to Bubbles!

Thanksgiving Perfect Wine Pairings

There are no shortage of wine recommendations out there for what to serve with your Thanksgiving feast. Rather than sharing a lengthy list (I stick by my list from last year), I thought I’d share what I’m serving (or bringing to friends, as is our tradition) this year.

Sparkling & Rosé

This is a great way to start the Thanksgiving festivities. My choice in both categories is my favorite Sonoma winery discovered last December, VJB Vineyards & Cellars. Both wines just arrived in their new tasting room when I visited again last month.

  • Sparkling: The new VJB Prosecco is produced in the Valdobbiadene district near Veneto, Italy and is imported directly. It’s a dry, light-bodied, sparkling wine with a refreshing aroma of apples, citrus and flowers and well-balanced acidity ($28).
  • Rosé: VJB Le Due Rosé, 2011 Tempranillo Rosé is full of strawberry and watermelon with nice spice and tannin. Not your typical Rosé, it’s perfect with Thanksgiving ($24).

White

Depending on your mood and preference, you can go with white wines…

Red

Depending on your mood and preference, you can go with red wines…

  • Beaujolais Village: Unlike Beaujolais Nouveau, this Louis Jadot 2011 has been aged. While still 100% Gamay grape variety, it has more structure with notes of dark red fruit and spice. And it’s a great value ($10).
  • Pinot Noir: This is my special wine for Thanksgiving this year, picked up in Oregon this summer, Pfeiffer Winery 2007 Pinot Noir Blue Dot Reserve. Pinot Noir is a perfect red for Thanksgiving, especially one that has aged perfectly. Pfeiffer’s 2007 is also called the Presidential Pinot as it was chosen to be served at Blair House as part of Obama’s 2009 pre-Inauguration festivities.

For more recommendations, here are resources I use…

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wine Discoveries: White & Rosé Speed Tasting at Wine Bloggers Conference 2012

In addition to visiting three fabulous wineries at the 5th Annual Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, we had the opportunity to travel Oregon and around the world via wine glass.

One lively tasting opportunity was the Live Wine Blogging, think speed dating for discovering new favorite wines. This fast paced hour has wineries visiting tables and giving several minute presentations on the one wine they are pouring. Our table for the Whites & Rosés session had 9 wineries pour for us of the 29 pouring. Here were my favorites and where you can find them…

Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyards Va de Vi

  • Variety: 89% Pinot Noir, 8% Chardonnay, 3% Muscat from Sonoma, California
  • Aroma: Apple and pear notes
  • Taste: Vanilla peach with hints of citrus
  • Price: $22
  • My thoughts: In Barcelona they say, “Va de Vi!”, “it’s about the wine!” This new sparkling wine from Gloria Ferrer, the first sparkling wine house in California’s Carneros region, celebrates their Spanish heritage. I really liked the mouth feel of this wine…small bubbles and velvety with a touch of sweetness. You can order it here.


Recuerdo Wines 2010 Torrontés 

  • Variety: 100% Torrontés from Uco Valley in Mendoza, Argentina
  • Aroma: Floral and citrus
  • Taste: Crisp honeysuckle and peach
  • Price: $15
  • My thoughts: New white grape discovery for me. As the team sampling said, “It’s the new Sauvignon Blanc.” Perfect as I’m a Sauvignon Blanc fan. This wine “captures the best of Argentina’s unique terroir.” Recuerdo Wines, which means ‘memory’ or ‘momento’ in Spanish, is an interesting partnership between Blackbird Vineyards in Napa Valley and The Vines of Mendoza in Argentina. You can order this wine and their Malbec here.

Benton-Lane 2011 Willamette Valley Pinot Gris

  • Variety: 100% Pinot Gris from Monroe, Oregon
  • Aroma: Honeysuckle and grapefruit
  • Taste: Crisp refreshing honeydew melon, peach and hints of lime
  • Price: $17
  • My thoughts: 2011 was one of the coolest growing seasons on record for Oregon but it produced perfect fruit for Benton-Lane’s Pinot Gris. They predominately make Pinot Noir, which is very nice, but I loved this Pinot Gris. Benton-Lane is family-owned, and since their first vintage in 1992, have produced estate grown fruit using sustainable farming practices. They have received more Top 100 Wines of the World than any other Oregon winery. You can order their wines here.

Next Live Wine Blogging, Reds!