Zak Miller, Domaine Carneros Winemaker

Last year I was invited to a wine pairing dinner at Avra Estiatorio in Beverly Hills featuring the wines of Domaine Carneros. Joining us for dinner was no other than winemaker, Zak Miller. I have only ever tried the widely distributed opening pricepoint sparkling from Domaine Carneros, so I jumped at the chance to taste other selections from their portfolio.

Zak has been at Domaine Carneros for 11 years. Fun fact: His wife is also a winemaker and they met in college while both studying forestry. What are the odds of that?!? Before landing in Carneros, Zak made wine in both Chile and New Zealand to hone his craft.

How do I know Zak is a good fit for Domaine Carneros? Well, at dinner Zak proclaimed “bubbles go with everything except toothpaste and coffee”. That, my friends, is a good fit.

Domaine Carneros was founded in 1987 by the prestigious family behind Champagne Taittinger. Their founding winemaker Eileen Crane created a classic California expression of the Taittinger style that they describe as “noble French heritage with pure Carnero's verve”. Domaine Carneros is a “grower-producer” or what we’d call Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) in Champagne.  This means that the wine is made from a grower who produces wine made from their own estate grapes.

At Domaine Carneros, all wines are from the Carneros AVA with 95% classified as estate fruit. But there is a movement towards all estate fruit starting this year, 2020. Their estate vineyards total 400 acres across six sites. In fact, only the wines in distribution use bought fruit and that is because they’re fulfilling on long-term contracts.

With a Champagne house as your parent, does Domaine Carneros have to follow the direction of said parent?  Nope, Taittinger gives no influence on winemaking to Domaine Carneros. They can do as they please. With that said, let’s taste!

Wines Tasted

Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs 2012 ($120)

100% estate-grown Chardonnay. This is the “tête de cuvee”, their finest sparkling wine, and is frequently named “America’s best sparkling”. 3000 cases made a year. I get beautiful leesy notes and grilled pineapple 4sho on the nose and palate, as outlined in their tasting notes below.

Winery Notes: Lovely notes of white flowers, Meyer lemon, poached pear, and a hint of grilled pineapple. The palate opens up to honeysuckle and crème brûlée. The full mouth feel leads to a very round and long finish.

Brut Cuvée 2015 ($36)

51% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir, and 2% Pinot Gris

Creamy and less leesy than the La Rêve. Smooth and very easy to drink.

Winery Notes: This very focused and elegant wine displays lovely notes of key lime, honeycomb, and lemon curd. This round wine displays a palate with hints of lime blossom, baked pear, and lemon meringue, resulting in a creamy texture and a long finish.

Estate Pinot Noir 2016 ($44)

100% Pinot Noir

Raspberry and cherry notes. Duh. Plus, what Zak called “Carneros baking spice”.

Winery Notes: Packs a full range of red and darker berry flavors. Beginning with the nose, one encounters bright raspberry and cooked cherry notes along with hints of sassafras and freshly turned earth. 10 months of barrel age lends a sweetness that balances the supple tannin. Of particular note is the juicy and sweet-fruited entry upon the palate, backed up by delicate spice notes that lead to a lengthy, warming finish. The hallmark of Domaine Carneros Pinot Noir is the texture, and this wine delivers with a supple and silky mouth-feel.

Cuvée de la Pompadour ($40)

59% Pinot Noir and 41% Chardonnay

Beautiful rosé notes of rose petal, peach, and strawberry. Quite a nice for it being non-vintage (NV). And for the nerds, 9.5g/L of residual sugar, so a true Brut.

Winery Notes: This wine’s aroma, delivered on a delicate mousse, hints at raspberry, apricot, and rose petal. The palate displays peach, raspberry jam, tangerine, and orange for a soft, delicate mouthfeel and a smooth long finish.

This was a lovely rosé color, but the bottle went quick!

Nino Franco Wine Logo

Everyone knows that Prosecco is on fire......did somebody say brunch?  Last week I shared about a quality-level Prosecco worth exploring with my piece: Prosecco....Not Just for Mimosas.

What is #WineStudio?

#WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program produced by Tina Morey, Certified Sommelier who's been in the food and wine industry for over twenty years. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, yet only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation. Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic.

Last week I shared a post (check it out HERE) about Prosecco and discussed the quality to be found in Congeliano Valdiobbiadene DOCG. For just a small step up in price ($15-$20 vs $10-$15) you can get a decent step up in quality…..and who doesn’t want that?! Here we explore a producer who is one of the pioneers of quality Prosecco.

In September 2017 WineStudio students delved into wines from Nino Franco. The winery, located at the foot of the Prealps, was founded in 1919 by Antonio Franco in Valdobbiadene. Today the 4th generation of the Franco family is at the helm. It started with Antonio, then to his son Nino, then to his son Primo, and now Primo’s daughter, Silvia.

Below are my notes from the wines tasted as well as some notes directly from the winery.

Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

 

Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG $19

“Rustico” is connected to the old local tradition of making wine using a short second fermentation in the bottle and leaving the sediments in the wine. Although no longer the technique, the name has remained. This wine is a beautiful pale lemon color with white flower (honeysuckle) and green fruit (pear, green apple) on the nose. Super duper creamy on the palate. This wine is crisp and fruity...everything I want in a Prosecco.

Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG $27

I’d like to think that I’d call this wine in a blind tasting. It has a Prosecco nose with both floral and stone fruit easily detectable. This wine has a more sophisticated palate than a “usual” Prosecco. Nice and dry, as I like it, with great stone fruit on the finish.

Primo Franco Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG $29

This wine was interesting from the get-go. First off, I did not recognize the closure on this wine. In fact, I had never seen it before. I had to consult with my WineStudio pals who clued me into the “agrafe closure” which is used traditionally with Champagne. Peter Liem of Champagneguide.net gives this description:

Agrafe—Literally means "staple" (as in Swingline); in Champagne, this is a large metal clip used to secure the cork before capsules were invented, typically during the second fermentation and aging in bottle. A bottle secured with this clip is said to be agrafé.

 

Nino Franco Wine Logo

 

This wine has a nice depth of flavors, including tart green/stone fruit, delicate white flowers, and a surprising, yet pleasant, savory note.

Grave Di Stecca Brut Sparkling $49

Fun fact: the grapes for this wine are sourced exclusively from an ancient origin vineyard called (you guessed it!) “Grave di Stecca”. This wine is deep gold color and in one of our Twitter chats, the Nino Franco representative we were chatting with said this is ”more like a sparkling Grand Cru Chablis”. Great comparison!

That is just a snapshot of the Nino Franco Prosecco portfolio. The next time you are in the market for a sparkling wine, why not try out Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, as you can get a quite good level of quality at a price that won’t break the bank, as many options fall under $20 a bottle.

Cheers!

When I was in college in my 20s, day drinking wasn’t what it is now. This was before Sunday Brunch became a “thing” and before Vegas started doing “day parties”. In my 20s, it was a simpler time. Binge drinking only occurred at night (much easier to manage!). Weekend days were spent recovering, eating Taco Bell, and watching bad TV. Nowadays millennials partake in all sorts of day drinking that I can’t keep up with! I’m convinced that had $15 bottomless Mimosas been a thing when I was young, that I would not have graduated college and would still be on my couch popping Advil like it’s going out of style! How do these kids do it? Consuming 4 or 5 drinks before noon? Lord.

With that being said, it cannot be denied that millennials are changing the landscape of alcohol consumption. Studies* have shown that they care more about the story behind the brand, than an ad from a brand. They like to engage with brands in different mediums, such as through social media or at a pop-up event. They yearn for authenticity and an “experience” and are not nearly as brand loyal as their parents were/are.

*These are paraphrased notes from trade articles I have read, industry event presentations, as well as WSET classes in which we discussed production and consumption patterns in wine and spirits. I am not an expert here, hence the absence of concrete statistics. My goal is solely to share information that will emphasize and help you understand my point.

Prosecco is the world’s most popular sparkling wine. Worldwide production and consumption of Prosecco is rising rapidly. In 2015, 355 million bottles of Prosecco DOC were produced. This is compared to 309 million bottles of Champagne produced in 2016.

*I did not have figures for both in the same year.

Many mimosas are made with Prosecco as the sparkling base. Sure, there are many other options: Cava, domestic sparklings, Cremant, and even Champagne. But who wants to taint a glorious leesy Champagne with orange juice? Now I love a mimosa as much as the next gal. One of my wine-isms is that “there is a time and place for every wine”. No wine snobbery or pretense here. I can enjoy a mimosa while eating breakfast on vacation, or when my husband surprises me with breakfast in bed. But sometimes I want more. I don’t want the simple, uncomplicated drink that goes down too easy. I want something that makes me think. Or something dry, with no sweetness or residual sugar.

Newsflash: Prosecco is not just for mimosas. Yes, it is a good partner to the OJ, but I submit that there are more sophisticated Proseccos that can stand alone. That want to stand alone. And I think there are young people who are willing to try something new. Something with a story.

Prosecco generally hovers around $10-$14 a bottle. A steal compared to Champagne which rarely goes under $40 a bottle. What I love about sparkling wine is that there is a whole world of options between basic Prosecco which tends to be a bit too sweet and fruity for my taste, and Champagne, which can be a bit pricy and too serious. How about a delightful sparkling option that showcases fresh fruit, floral notes, and acidity, that can also be dry and refreshing, not cloying. Insert Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG. In 2015 there were 84 million bottles of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG produced.

How does Conegliano Valdobbiadene differ from regular Prosecco DOC?

Location: The Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco area extends over 15 townships located in the hills north of Venice.

In the Vineyard: The region benefits from stony soils, cooling Adriatic breezes, and a moderate climate. The hills are very steep and grapes are hand-harvested, versus manually harvested.

In the Glass: The wines range from driest (Brut), to sweetest (Dry), to everything in between (Extra Dry).

Price: Basic quality Prosecco DOC mostly falls in the $10-$15 range, whereas Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG falls into the $15-$20 range. Still quite affordable!

In November I attended a lovely Prosecco Superiore DOCG masterclass led by Alan Tardi, wine expert and educator. He gave a great class on the region and we tasted a plethora of Congeliano Valdobbiadene wines. These were not Prosecco examples for mimosas! They were elegant and sophisticated wines that can stand on their own in the glass. Thank you to Gregory White PR for the invite!

 

 

Next time you are in the aisles looking for a sparkling wine to take home, spend a couple extra minutes reading the label. Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene won’t break the bank and is a nice step up from other opening pricepoint Prosecco DOC.

Next week we will delve into the Prosecco producer Nina Franco as we continue my #WineStudio series!

Cheers!

Wine lives and breathes, like a character in my life. Moscato d’ Asti is that beautiful, feminine, and delicate friend. The kind of friend that makes you wonder how she makes it look so effortless, yet, every time she manages to knock it out of the park. While you’re barely able to slip on your leggings and get out of the door, she shows up on time (or early!), is as polished as ever, and smells like roses and sunshine.

Every time I stick my nose in a glass of Moscato d’Asti, I get this feeling. It’s the smell of the most delicate perfume from an antique crystal container that you dab behind your ear. It instantly makes you feel like a lady.

Now for some reason, “moscato” is a bad word in the United States. Moscato is usually taken to be crappy and sweet and for those who know nothing about wine. For Moscato d’ Asti, this could not be further from the truth. It’s like judging Champagne based off a $4 bottle of Cook’s “Champagne”.

In June, I attended a Moscato d’Asti Masterclass at Mr. C’s in Beverly Hills. It was a top-notch event with a panel moderated by Tim Gaiser, MS. The panel consisted of winery representatives (often family members) from 6 different Moscato d’ Asti wineries. The food spread (courtesy of Mr. C’s) was incredible, and the wines paired beautifully.

Panelists

Michele Chiarlo: Stefano Chiarlo

Wine Warehouse (Saracco): Davide Visentin

Coppo: Luigi Coppo

Marenco: Andrea Marenco

I Vignaioli di Santo Stefano: Gianpiero Scavino

Caudrina: Marco Dogliotti

The Geographical Region

Piemonte is a large region in northwest Italy. Asti is a town within Piemonte that is east of Barolo and Barbaresco on the hilly right bank of the Tanaro River.

The Wine Region

In Asti, the vines are found on terraced, steep hillsides at 200m-600m. The DOC was granted in 1967, with DOCG status granted in 1993.

Grapes are hand-harvested with maximum yields of 10hL/ha. And the good diurnal shift (meaning the high difference in daily temperature between the lowest and highest temps) gives floral aromas and good fruit/acid balance.

In 2014 UNESCO declared the vineyard landscape of Piemonte, specifically the Lange-Roero and Monferrato, as a World Heritage Site. This was the first “terroir” to get this declaration. Champagne hillside, houses, and cellars were later declared in 2015.

The Wines

Moscato d’Asti is a slightly sparkling (aka frizzante) DOCG wine made in the province of Asti with the Moscato Bianco grape. It is low in alcohol, and generally sweet. The maximum ABV is 5.5%, meaning that the fermentation is stopped midway, leaving some natural, residual sweetness.

In order to retain fresh primary fruit aromas and flavors, the grapes are pressed slowly and cold stored until fermentation. Fermentation is long and cool in closed stainless steel tanks, with the resulting carbon dioxide causing the slight effervescence. The wine is then bottled, with no second fermentation, as the natural bubbles still remain.

Moscato d’Asti is known for its refreshing acidity and its combination of both floral and stone fruit aromas and flavors.

Wines Tasted

Nivole Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Michele Chiarlo)

$20 retail, 5% ABV

As expected, this is a very delicate and feminine wine with notes of sage, stone fruit (peach), citrus (grapefruit), and meringue. Michele Chiarelo produces over 250,000 cases annually. These vines are in Canelli, one of the most famous municipalities in Asti. This wine would be good as an aperitif with fresh strawberries or as a foil to spicy food.

Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Saracco)

$15 retail, 5.5% ABV

This wine is under screw cap, which is unusual for an Old World wine. Saracco produces 700,000 cases annually. I get peach, orange blossom, and thyme on this wine. Overall, a delicate aroma with a significant amount of floral on the palate.

Moncalvina Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Coppo)

$20 retail, 4.8% ABV

Luigi was our spokesperson here, and Coppo was founded by his great-grandpa in 1892. According to Luigi, the taste of the grape at harvest should be close to the taste of the finished wine. These vines are also in Canelli. This wine has a fresh, light nose with notes of floral plus pear and peach. The winery tasting notes say this wine would pair well with Robiola di Roccaverano (an old goat cheese typical of Piemonte), which sounds delightful!

Scrapona Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Marenco Vini)

$15 retail, 5.5% ABV

Marenco Vini produces 30,000 cases annually. It is a family winery with the 4th generation at the helm. The Scrapona vineyard is in Strevi. Some wines are under cork and some are under screw cap. They’d switch to screw cap tomorrow, but the Italian consumer has not been as quick to embrace the screw cap. This wine is estate bottled and gives citrus, lime, passion fruit, and orange blossom. Plus an earthy savory nose reminiscent of forest floor. They store the grape juice in tank and do multiple fermentations per year, so as to bottle the wines fresh and to preserve the fruit and floral notes.

Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016 (Vignaioli di Santo Stefano-Ceretto)

$20 retail, 5.5% ABV

This wine had a brighter yellow color than the others. Pronounced rose petals and ginger spice on the nose. The palate is full of elderflower, lime, and peach. The winery produces 260,000 cases annually and has been harvesting earlier due to climate change, as their grapes tend to reach phenolic ripeness earlier.

La Caudrina Moscato d’Asti DOC 2016 (Caudrina)

$20 retail, 5% ABV

Caudrina produces 120,000 cases annually. It is a family owned winery started in the 1940s wih vineyards in Castiglione Tinella. This wine has a lovely citrus note (clementine or orange blossom) with an oily, full body.

Thank you to IEEM-USA for my invite to this event! Cheers.

Happy Consumerist Friday, known as Black Friday to most! Black Friday is a day that I proudly do not like to participate in. Most people start their holiday shopping on Black Friday, whereas I do not to participate in holiday shopping at all. As a general rule, I don’t do gifts. I don’t give them and I don’t request them.

About 10 years ago I woke up one day and decided that gifts don’t make me happy. I don’t remember exactly what was going on in my life, or if it was around the holidays, but I do remember how strongly I felt. I was never a good gift-giver. I was always that person who struggled with what to get people. I didn’t get the warm fuzzies when I found the perfect gift, I felt bad for the environment when I wrapped my presents with wasteful papers/bows/ribbons, and then I found myself reluctantly giving and receiving these gifts. Gifts didn’t mean anything to me. It felt like this ritual you were “supposed” to do and I hated it. I had hit a breaking point. NO MORE GIFTS! I felt that I could no longer give gifts in good conscience. It felt against everything that I believe in.

I sent a mass email to everyone I knew and I let them know how I felt. I let them know that I would no longer be accepting or giving gifts. I felt that this would be easier than dealing with it on a case by case or holiday by holiday basis. Tell everyone in one clean swoop, and hope for the best! The great thing is that I got no backlash. I got many messages back of love and support for my declaration. A lot of people agreed with me and felt the same way, but they said they didn’t feel they could make the same declaration. Maybe friends/family wouldn’t understand and would judge them. Or maybe there were kids in the family who they didn’t want to disappoint.

Sometimes I do give gifts. It makes me think of one of my favorite quotes: Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. A gift might happen here or there if I find something great….and I am ok with that. I still buy presents for weddings, baby showers, and wedding showers. Those are usually useful things that are needed in a home. Aside from those occasions, if I feel the need to give a gift, I have a few things that work within my moral and ethical beliefs. I’ll give an experience OR something that can be consumed. This can mean a vacation, a trip to the theatre, or a nice dinner. Also, wine and spirits are a GREAT gift for someone who likes to drink. It is something they can enjoy and can think of you when they open the bottle. With these types of “gifts”, it’s all about the memories. A sort of mental “consumption” with the memories living in your head and in stories you tell versus wasteful consumerist consumption with the wrapping paper/ribbons/bows living in the landfill and the actual gift-getting thrown away one day as well.

There you have it. Let’s face it, A LOT of Americans spend a lot of time complaining about the holiday season. They complain how busy they are, they complain they have too many parties to go to, and they complain that they have SO much holiday shopping to do. I can’t remember the last time I complained about the holiday season. It’s one of my most favorite times of the year. It gets cold(ish) for us Californians, there’s tons of opportunities to eat great food and drink good booze, and there are endless opportunities to spend time with the people we love. How great is that!

Next time you find yourself dreading a trip to the overcrowded mall to pick up a gift, take a breath, and think about taking a bottle of bubbly to that person instead. Bubbly relieves stress….not causes it.  Have a look at this festive bottle of Chloe Prosecco. An elegant bottle and fun, lively juice inside!

Chloe prosecco

Chloe Prosecco DOC SRP $16.99

Winery Notes: This wine is bursting with fresh fruit and fine bubbles, with notes of peach, green apple, citrus, and white flowers on the nose and palate. It is light straw in color with greenish hues. Opulent yet balances with elegant acidity, this wine offers a crisp finish with a hint of minerality, revealing the proximity to the mountains and calcareous soils where the grapes are grown.

Click HERE to see where you can purchase Chloe Prosecco (courtesy of Wine-Searcher.com).

Disclaimer: I received this sample for review

A special thanks to Create Promotions for granting me a Weekend VIP pass in exchange for coverage of Bubblyfest By the Sea 2016. I had a wonderful time up in Pismo/Avila Beach soaking up the sun and bubbles!

Being an Angeleno, I drive up the coast frequently for short trips to Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Sonoma, etc. For ease, I usually head up the I-5N, as the route is more direct and generally faster than taking the coastal trip up the 101N. However, Pismo Beach is (obviously) right on the coast, so the 101 coastal journey is your best bet. And what a lovely drive it was. I hit no traffic (shocker, I know), and arrived in a little less than 3 hours. If you haven’t driven up the California coast, I highly recommend it. The endless ocean views with the sun gleaming on the water are awe-inspiring.

I rented a studio from AirBnB that was one block from the beach in a little area called Shell Beach. I had my own “apartment”, an outside sitting area, and even a friendly dog named Jackson! Below is a recap of the Bubblyfest events I attended.

Jackson!

Winemaker Seminar Series presented by San Francisco Wine School 

This session was led by David Glancy MS, founder of the San Francisco Wine School. The class was held in the stunning “Beach House” at the Avila Beach Golf Resort. All the windows were thrown open and we enjoyed the sounds of the waves crashing and a nice ocean breeze. It was an intimate class of about 12-15 of us, and David was enjoyable and full of knowledge; my favorite combination in wine education! We learned the history of sparkling wine in Europe, the difference between a grower Champagne and one in which grapes are purchased, and the evolution of the sparkling wine market throughout the world. He recounted a story of eating empanadas and drinking a sparkling Bonarda in Argentina as one of his favorite drinking stories. Damn, I’d love to get my hands on a sparkling Bonarda! David was then joined by a panel of 3 California wineries who produce sparkling wine. Jim Shumate of Pomar Junction in Paso Robles was the first speaker. Their sparkling is made by Rack & Riddle. We were then joined by Neil Roberts, viticulturist at Clavo Cellars in Paso Robles/Templeton. Neil manages 30+ vineyards in San Luis Obispo and Monterey. Lastly, we had Clarissa Nagy of Riverbench in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. She became winemaker in 2012 and in 2014 produced their first 100% estate bottling! Clarissa shared the fun fact that there are over 40 sparkling wine producers in Santa Barbara County alone! During this seminar, we enjoyed wines from: Le Grand CourtagePierre SparrBouvetJCBGossetTaittingerGremilletRiverbenchPomar Junction, and Clavo Cellars.

Tasting Mats

Jim Shumate of Pomar Junction

Corks & Cocktails

The thing about being a wine student and blogger is that I taste a lot of wine. But, surprisingly, I do not drink a lot of wine. Most of my encounters with wine are in class, in a tasting group, or at a wine event in which I am attending as press/trade. In those cases I have to protect my palate to be able to taste a lot of wine in a short amount of time.  But the Corks & Cocktails event was a different animal.  This was Bubblyfest’s Gatsby-inspired cocktail party with live music, free-flowing bubbles, nibbles, and other fun surprises. Guests were encouraged to dress up, have fun, and enjoy the incredible ocean views that this town has no shortage of. I made the decision to Uber and really enjoy this party...and I’m glad I did! Instead of just talking about it, here is a pictorial recap of the evening!

That view though

Musical delights by the Tipsy Gypsies

Nibbles + Sunset = BLISS

One of my fav pours that night: Hillersden Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc

Gratuitous coupe selfie!

Their take on an old-fashioned (which included bubbly!)

Raspberry flavored cotton candy (by Haute Sugar Co) + Alma Rosa Brut Rose

Music, dancing, and bubbles

On Saturday I woke up early, got some work done, and walked to the local coffee shop a block away. Here I grabbed a homemade cinnamon roll (!) and a cappuccino and headed to the beach. The morning sun and waters were absolutely gorgeous. Oh, and oodles of puppy porn to satisfy your morning appetite!

Grand Tasting

The Grand Tasting is the largest event at Bubblyfest. Over 60 wineries poured selections from their sparkling collections. What I liked about the event is that it was outside with PLENTY of space. A lot of these big tasting events can be indoors in way too crowded rooms. Also, all the vendors were tented, which made the event more comfortable for everyone to enjoy. Highlights are below!

J Winery Brut 2009 Vintage

Myers Deovlet Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut

Derby Blanc de Noirs

Riedel Masterclass Glass Seminar

This was a unique and fascinating wine glass tasting, conducted by Riedel Ambassador Susan Dubrow. Susan masterfully demonstrated the relationship between the shape of a glass and our perception and enjoyment of wines. We had 4 different glasses in front of us: a New World Pinot glass, a Chardonnay glass, a Champagne glass, and a Champagne flute. We also had some wine pours in front of us in plastic cups: an oaked Chardonnay, an Oregon Pinot, and a Champagne. Lastly, we had different flavors of Lindt chocolates in front of each glass. The seminar involved tasting the various wines out of various glasses. It was CRAZY how different a wine can taste out of each glass. I’m not a big proponent of advocating for people to go out and buy millions of different glassware, but this seminar made it clear that having at least a couple different glass shapes is worthwhile. The chocolate pairings were just for fun, but oh were they delicious.

Overall, this was a VERY well executed weekend festival. Lots of pre-communication emails, educational (yet fun) seminars, a great cocktail party, and a manageable tasting event. Bravo to the entire team who helped put it all together! I will definitely be back for Bubblyfest 2017!

Photo credit: Jeremy Ball

Today I am making the drive up the coast to Avila Beach for BubblyfestBubblyfest is the definitive festival for all things sparkling! In fact it is the only dedicated sparkling wine festival in the United States (that I know of!). Thank you to Create Promotions for granting me a press pass to cover the event. Stay tuned for my bubbly-related posts both before and after I attend Bubblyfest events such as: seminars, grand tastings, and even a 1920s themed cocktail reception! Also, follow me on Twitter @SOMMspirations for an up-close look at all the Bubblyfest events! Ok, back to the juice.

One of the most oft misused wine terms is “Champagne”. Similar to how the word “Kleenex” is synonymous with tissue, in our cultural lexicon, “Champagne” is synonymous with any sparkling wine. If you are drinking a wine in which the grapes were grown in the Champagne region of France, you are in fact drinking Champagne. If the grapes were grown anywhere outside of the Champagne region, then it may not be referred to as Champagne. Well then, what is it to be called? Below is a list of different types of sparkling wines. Yes, there are more than these, but I chose to highlight the most popular styles.

*Note that I referred to Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine for some of the technical information and definitions. I affectionately refer to this book as “The Bible”. In my religion, Jancis is the patron saint of wine. Yes, I’m Jewish, but that’s besides the point.

Types of sparkling wine:

Champagne. Oh Champagne. Where do I start? As mentioned above, sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if the grapes are grown in the Champagne region of France, which includes Montagne de Reims, Cote des Blancs, Vallee de la Marne, Cote de Sezanne, and Cote des Bar. Aside from region, there are other rules that need to be adhered to in order to call it Champagne. The grapes can only be: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Also, the bubbles in the wine need to be created by the methode champenoise. This means that the second fermentation happens in the bottle in which the wine is sold. A base wine is made and bottled with an addition of sugar and yeast (liqueur de tirage). The bottle is closed with a crown cap and the second fermentation will happen in the bottle, creating bubbles...voila! There are a few other steps, but those are the basics to get you started. See my previous post entitled “How Do Bubbles Get in Bubbly?”. Champagne is a wonderful thing. It used to be served only on celebratory occasions, but now the tides are turning. See HERE for an article that NPR came out with last week. I personally prefer to imbibe Champagne when I am in the mood to pay attention. I LOVE to savor all the notes that come with Champagne including: toastiness, yeastiness, and a leesy quality.

Photo Credit: thetipsygrape.com

Cremant. It’s easier to start with what Cremant isn’t. Cremant isn’t Champagne. Cremant is the term used to describe any sparkling wine in France (outside of Champagne) that is still made in the traditional method (known as methode champenoise in Champagne). Familiar cremants include Cremant de: Bourgogne, Loire, Alsace, Jura, Limoux or Bordeaux. Grape varieties vary by region. Cremants are useful when you don’t want to spend as much on your bubbly. Many Cremants can be had for $12-$20, whereas the bulk of Champagne is over the $35-$40 mark.

Cava. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine also made in the traditional method. Cava is predominantly made in Catalunya (though production in a few other regions is allowed). The three main grapes used are Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo, though the trend is moving towards including traditional Champagne grapes, mainly Chardonnay, much to the dismay of Cava traditionalists. Cava generally has a zesty citrus/lemon note, acidity, and a nice nuttiness. I’d describe it as a bit easier to drink than Champagne. I choose Cava when I want a less serious bubbly and when I want to save a bit of money. You can generally find Cava in the $10-$20 range.

Prosecco. Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine made in the Veneto region. By volume, it is the most produced and consumed sparkling wine in the world. The varietal is Glera, also known as the Prosecco grape. Prosecco is made in the tank method, which means that the second fermentation (how the bubbles are created) takes place in a tank versus in a bottle. This production method is much cheaper than doing the second fermentation in the bottle. A Prosecco is going to be much fruitier than the other types of sparkling wines discussed. Prosecco is frothy, usually has some residual sugar, and has fruity and floral notes. Basically, I use Prosecco as my brunch bubbly. It’s not too serious, good with food, and goes down easy when you’re drinking at 10am! A decent Prosecco can be had for $12-$15.

Lambrusco. You might not know that you’ve had Lambrusco, but if you’ve had a chilled sparkling red wine, it probably was Lambrusco. Lambrusco is an ancient varietal grown mostly in central Italy in the Emilia-Romagna region. It is also the name of the sparkling wine made with that grape. Lambrusco was HUGE in the 70s in the US. A little brand named Riunite cornered the market and many Americans in that time period had experience with a (probably sweet) Lambrusco. Lambrusco has now grown up and it is no longer your grandma’s wine. Many producers are vinifying the wine dry or off-dry. Lambrusco has a nice food-friendly acidity, a tannic grip, and notes of berry. It pairs well with cured meats and hard cheeses. Typically, a good bottle of Lambrusco can be had for $14-$18. As a general rule, you’ll never pay more than $20 for a bottle.

Franciacorta. This one you might not have tasted, as a huge percentage of the production stays in Italy. But, if you ever get a chance to try one, I highly recommend it. Franciacorta is Italy’s answer to a high-quality sparkling wine made in the traditional method. Franciacorta is made in the Lombardia region with grapes such as: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris. It usually has extensive aging on the lees (what the hell does that mean? Read HERE) and thus has a nice yeasty, toasty note as does Champagne. Prices for Franciacorta are similar to Champagne.

Sparkling Wine. Are we done yet? Almost. I’ve highlighted many types of sparkling wine from around the world. You may be thinking: what about all the bubbly made in California, or that New Zealand sparkling you tried last week? Essentially, (most) all other sparkling wine around the world is called just that: sparkling wine. No fancy name, no delimited areas, no required grapes or production methods. This includes, but is not limited to any sparkling wine made in the US, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, etc.

If you learn one thing today, it’s to learn how to order a glass of bubbly. If you’re specifically looking for say Champagne, Prosecco, or something of the like...say it! If you know that you want to drink something with effervescence, then ask if the establishment has any sparkling wine. My biggest pet peeve is if I ask if they have any sparkling wine, and they say “yeah, we have Champagne.” And pull out a Cava, or Prosecco. Or if I specifically ask for Champagne and they pull out something else. Look at it as your winely (I made that word up) duty to spread the good gospel of proper bubbly lingo!

From what I hear, there will be 70 sparkling wines available for tasting at Bubblyfest. That’s a lot of bubbles! I will definitely report back on some of my favorites. Remember to follow me on Twitter @SOMMSpirations to follow my Bubblyfest adventures! Below is an agenda of my trip:


Friday October 7

2:30pm-4:30pm Winemaker Seminar Series presented by San Francisco Wine School

Learn the origins of sparkling wine from the south of France to the south of England and eventually Champagne. Taste through Cremant and other sparkling wines from regions all around France to find out how they are different and why. Follow the evolution of global bubblies as they reached California and led to the wines of today. David Glancy will be joined by Pomar JunctionJ Vineyards, and Riverbench to taste and talk about their sparklers to wrap up the session.

6pm-8pm Corks & Cocktails

Enjoy an evening under the stars, as our popular Gatsby inspired Cocktail Party returns for another jazz filled evening by the sea! Sip from 4 unique Sparkling Wine cocktails from recipes concocted by our partner Wineries, and Sparkling Wines by the glass.  Dance the night away to the gypsy jazz stylings of The Tipsy Gypsies.

Saturday October 8

11am-noon VIP Tasting

This one-hour tasting on the ocean view terrace at Avila Beach Golf Resort's Beach House will feature 4 highlighted wineries pouring 1 special bottle from their collection, not available at the Grand Tasting.

Noon-1pm Riedel Masterclass Glass Seminar

In a unique and fascinating wine glass tasting, Riedel Ambassador Susan Dubrow will demonstrate the relationship between the shape of a glass and our perception and enjoyment of wines.

Stay tuned for more from Bubblyfest!

**This post is being entered in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge hosted by wine blogger, The Drunken Cyclist. See more details HERE. The winner last month was my blogger buddy Jim of JvB Uncorked. He won with THIS POST on the topic of “solitude”.   Jim also selected the topic of “bubbles” for this month’s challenge. Enjoy!

**Voting began on Tuesday, September 13.  Please vote HERE.

I remember that feeling of excitement when bubbles were blown in my vicinity when I was a little girl. The goal was to either catch them on your finger or pop them, but you pretty much HAD to get up and do something. Because…...BUBBLES! Fast forward 30 years and I pretty much still have the same reaction to bubbles, aka sparkling wine. I hear a cork pop, or I see a glass of sparkling wine and I just HAVE to get up and do something! My name is Brianne and I was a kid who loved bubbles and I am now an adult who loves bubbles. Bubbles are alive in the glass and somehow make life more exciting.

Interestingly enough, sparkling wine was first made by mistake. Fizziness in wine was considered a fault during the winemaking process. At the risk of this post becoming a history lesson, let’s fast forward to a time when wine was intentionally made fizzy and consumed with bubbles. In a nutshell, sparkling wine was first made accidentally. Through years of trial and error, a sparking wine was successfully produced. Because of the involved process, sparking wine was more expensive than still wine, and hence became a drink of the wealthy upper class. It became a status symbol to have sparkling wine in your home and serve it at dinner or at an event. How is sparkling wine made? Take a look at my previous post HERE for a quick read on how bubbles get in bubbly.

Somewhere along the way, sparkling wine (mostly Champagne) became associated with celebration. It is served at important life events such as weddings, it is used in the symbolic gesture of a “toast”, and is also used to christen a ship before its maiden voyage.

Let us deconstruct the bubble. Sparkling wine (whether it’s Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, etc) is a sensory experience. We HEAR the “pop” of a cork after it is released from the bottle. Visually we SEE the bubbles race up the side of glass after the frothy liquid is poured. If you sniff a glass of Champagne, you can SMELL the yeasty lees on the nose. Put the juice in your mouth and you can TASTE the complexity and FEEL the effervescence of bubbles on your tongue.

Bottom line, Champagne is sexy as hell. The sensory experience above can be read as a step-by-step recounting of opening up and enjoying a bottle of Champagne, or it can be read as a metaphor for the excitement of being with a lover for the first time. The sounds of lovemaking, the smell of each other, the taste and feel of that lover on your lips, and final release. The parallels are clear. In fact the two are quite complementary. A glass of bubbles before or after lovemaking is quite extraordinary.

Sparkling wine is no longer something reserved for the upper class elite in society. That’s why god invented Andre and Cooks, both of which both clock in at about $4-$5 a bottle! Not my bubbles of choice, but there is something for everyone. We can all have the experience of a celebratory glass of bubbles. But why wait for a wedding or a toast? Let’s all enjoy bubbles when we please. There is nothing more satisfactory and pleasurable than sitting on the couch with a glass of bubbles on a Tuesday night while watching TV.

Bubbles are alive in your glass.  They are dynamic, moving, and ever-changing.  Like us.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy a glass of humanity.  Enjoy a glass of bubbles.  Why?  Because the meaning of life is to live it.

**Please vote HERE for this blog post in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge.

Speaking of bubbles, in about a month I will be attending BubblyFest in Avila Beach. Bubblyfest is the definitive festival for all things sparkling! Thanks to Create Promotions for granting me a press pass to cover the event. Stay tuned for more bubbly related posts as I lead into the event!

Most people can wrap their heads around how alcohol is made. It’s a simple fermentation process. Yeast converts sugar (i.e. grape juice) into alcohol (i.e. wine). Bada-bing, bada-boom, you have yourself some vino. If we’re talking about spirits, a distillation process happens after the fermentation, but that’s a different blog entry!

I have always LOVED bubbly. All kinds of bubbly: serious champagnes, nutty Cavas, or fruit-forward Prosecco. Team bubbly all the way. As a novice wine drinker a few years back, I did always wonder how the hell the bubbles got into the bubbly and how the bottles literally didn’t explode from the pressure. Well, here are the steps to get bubbles in bubbly. What I’m going to explain to you is the “traditional method” or the “methode champenoise”. This style is used in Champagne, Cremants in France, and with Cavas from Spain.

Step 1: a still, dry base wine is made (usually in stainless steel tanks) as described above (fermentation: yeast converts sugar into alcohol). If you were just making regular non-sparkling wine, you’d be done. This is the basic process that is done day in and day out to make still wine.

Step 2: That wine is then bottled. After the wine is put in the bottle, additional sugar and yeast (i.e. the liquer de tirage) is added for a second fermentation to take place IN the bottle. A closure is added to the bottle. The 2nd fermentation creates carbon dioxide (CO2) inside the bottle as the yeast is eating the sugar. This CO2 has nowhere to go and essentially carbonates the wine and creates bubbles!

Step 3: During this time period yeast autolysis takes place. Yeast autolysis is when the dead yeast cells (i.e. lees) breakdown in the wine. These dead yeast cells impart what are called autolytic flavors.  This is pretty much what makes Champagne taste like Champagne. The flavors include: yeastiness, toasty flavors, biscuit flavors, and doughiness. The length of time the wine is spent sur lie (i.e. resting on the lees) is determined by how much of these autolytic flavors the winemaker desires. It can be anywhere from a few weeks to a few years!

Step 4: next is the riddling of the wine. The bottle is slowly moved from a horizontal to a tilted vertical position. This moves the sediment to the top of the bottle. This process can be done manually or by machine.

The bottles have to be manually turned

Step 5: Disgorgement follows in which the neck of the bottle is submerged in cold brine to freeze it. The closure is removed and that frozen sediment piece pops out.

Frozen Sediment

Frozen Sediment post-disgorgement

Step 6: A dosage (or a liquer de expedition) is added back to the bottle. This is a small amount of base wine and sugar. The amount of dosage added determines the level of sweetness of the wine. The bottle is then sealed with a sparking wine closure (including the wire cage) so that the contents are under pressure until that cork is popped.

So the next time you're at a cocktail party and Champagne is served, you can share with everyone how bubbles get in bubbly.  Answer: it's due to the 2nd fermentation in which CO2 is generated in the bottle and cannot escape.  The result: bubbles.  Voila, you just upped your wine game!

Fun Fact: On a bottle of sparkling wine, how many times does the wire cage have to be turned you get it off?  Answer: Six…..always six turns.

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