And the winner is…

For the September bi-monthly meeting of the Pacific Point Wine Tasting Club, we blind tasted 10 sparkling wines.

It was a fun evening filled with lots of sparkling wine, food, and we learned a thing or two about sparkling wine in the process!

The sparkling wines were geographically diverse. While half of the wines were from California, there were 3 from France (including one from Champagne), a Prosecco from Italy and Cava from  Spain.  Almost all were the drier “Brut” style.  And there was one Rose, which happened to all be the only vintage wine.  All the other were non-vintage (“NV”) wines, and all the wines were between 11% and 12.5% A.B.V (Click here for a video explaining the difference between vintage vs. non-vintage Champagne).

On top of the aforementioned wines we also had a couple of bottles of Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut from Washington State to get us started.  Somehow they disappeared before the scoring began (They coulda been a contender;-)!

Food pairings for the evening included mixed nuts, popcorn with truffle butter, and Brie for appetizers, with broccoli cheddar quiche, spinach artichoke quiche, and Salvadoran chicken tamales for entrees, and a fruit cheese tart, and shortbread cookies for dessert!

In order, we tasted the following sparkling wines:

NV Paul Cheneau Lady of Spain Cava ($12) – Blend of 45% Macabeo; 40% Xarel-lo; and 15% Parellada

NV Domaine Carneros Brut ($25) – Blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay

NV Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée ($9) – 100% Chardonnay

NV Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label ($40) – Blend of two-thirds black grapes (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), and one-third Chardonnay

NV Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut ($17)– Blend of 91%-Pinot Noir/9%-Chardonnay

NV Francois Chidaine Montlouis Brut ($20) – 100% Chenin Blanc

NV Candoni Prosecco Brut ($14) – 100% Prosecco

NV Mumm Napa – Brut Prestige($19) Blend of 51%-Pinot Noir; 46%-Chardonnay; 2%-Pinot Meunier; 1%-Pinot Blanc

NV Laetitia Brut Cuvée($22)– Blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Chardonnay

2008 Antech Cremant de Limoux Cuvée Emotion – ($14) – Blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Mauzac, Pinot Noir

Hard work, but somebody's gotta do it!;-)

In a very close contest, the winner was the Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée!

The first runner up was the  Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut,and the second runner-up was the Francois Chidaine Montlouis Brut.

As is usually the case, (at least so far in our wine tasting club – but as I understand it, it’s pretty common for wine tasting clubs, and other blind tastings) the least expensive wine was the winner!

I find it interesting that of the top 3, all were single varietal wines (Two were 100% on white wine grapes, while the other was 91% of red wine grapes, Pinot Noir, with the balance being Chardonnay),  rather than the typical sparkling wine blend of 3 different grapes.   Lastly, I also think it would have been interesting to have had an “Extra Dry” sparkling wine or two in order to compare the sweetness of  Brut to  Extra Dry sparkling wines.  Hmmm…sounds like another sparkling wine night down the road?!

Tiny bubbles make me happy…

Murganheira Bottle of sparkling wine.

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I prepared Garlicky Shrimp Pasta last night.  It’d been a while since I made it, and my vague recollection was that the next time I make it, add a bit salt and add more red pepper flakes to make it spicier.  Well, I got carried away on both counts!  It turned out to be a bit saltier, and spicier than I’d intended.  Oh well – live and learn…now what wine to serve?

I needed something that would stand up to the abundance of garlic (the shrimp are marinated in raw garlic for 20 minutes, then cooked in olive oil “blessed” with garlic) , and spicy heat of the red pepper,  yet not overwhelm the tender mild flavor of the shrimp.

Sometimes in such situations it’s best to not have too many options.  As fate would have it, my choices were limited to what was chilled in the fridge.    The choices boiled to a Viognier, or a  Prosecco, which I happen to have on hand for the next meeting of our wine tasting club.  I decided to go with a Sorelle Bronca Prosecco.  It was an excellent pairing with the pasta dish! The Prosecco was off-dry, which means it had a touch of sweetness to it.  That touch of sweetness offset the spiciness of the dish wonderfully.

There was even a bonus the next day when to my surprise, we enjoyed the leftover Prosecco with Salvadoran chicken tamales, and homemade salsa.  How’s that for versatility?!

Sparkling wines (Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, etc.) contains high levels of acidity and depending on the variety (see my Champagne Day post) a small amount of sugar. Those two characteristics make sparkling wines very versatile food wines that complement a wide variety of foods from a mild poached fish to spicy ethnic foods.  And then there is  effervescence of sparkling wines which cleanses your palate with each sip.  Start with a Brut, or Extra-Dry sparkling wine depending on your tastes and the dish.  If the dish in on the spicy side, I’d recommend an Extra-Dry sparkling wine.

Mostly we’ve enjoyed sparkling wine with sushi (it’s the perfect foil for sushi dipped in wasabi, and soy sauce!).  But if  you’re like most folks, the only time you’ve had sparkling wine were for special occasions, or in a Mimosa for brunch.  It has so much more potential for enjoyment!  Start small by having sparkling wine with appetizers like Brie and Gouda cheese, smoked salmon, mini quiches, buttered popcorn, or salted mixed nuts.   Or if you’re ready to try it with a meal, aside from the aforementioned sushi, try it with take-out Chinese, a risotto, or pasta with oil and garlic.  My only cautionary note would be too avoid dishes with tomato based sauce because the acidity of the tomatoes clashes with the acidity of the sparkling wine.

I’ve found the best way to learn about wine is to experiment, and as with life there are no failed experiments, only unexpected outcomes!

The famous British economist John Maynard Keynes once remarked…“my only regret in life is that I didn’t drink enough Champagne”.   Whether  it’s Champagne, or any of the other varieties of sparkling wines …life is too short for regrets!  Find a bubbly you like.  Keep it chilled, and have it with a meal!

Do you know the way to Viognier?

The clarification process can bring out the cl...

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We recently went to dinner at our favorite Thai restaurant.  We decided to take a bottle of 2008 Yalumba Viognier –Eden Valley South Australia ($14/bottle; 14.5% A.B.V).  It’s a wine I purchased from my favorite wine store, K&L Wine Merchants six months ago.  It paired wonderfully with the Thai dishes we selected, Crab fried-rice, Pad Thai, and a moderately spicy dish called “The King and I”.

Have you tried Viognier ( pronounced Vee-on-yay)?  If you haven’t you’re in a a treat!  Viognier is a white wine grape that can be difficult to grow, but in loving hands, it produces wine that is  intensely aromatic with stone fruit, tropical fruit,   spice, and floral notes on the nose.  It can be made into dry, off-dry, and dessert style wines.  It’s made all around the world, including France, South America, Australia, and here in the US.  In California  the Rhone Rangers have been tireless advocates of Viognier along with other Rhone varietals.

While I’m not an “ABC” (Anything But Chardonnay) guy, and I do enjoy Chardonnay, I generally  find other white wine varietals more interesting.  Probably because I feel other white wine varietals like Riesling, and Gewurztraminer are more versatile with the foods I tend to eat. That’s definitely the case with Viognier.  It pairs better with the foods I enjoy.   Beside Asian food, Viognier should pair well with grilled seafood, and shellfish including lobster.  It would also pair well with foods served with fruit salsa.  Be sure to keep the wine chilled, otherwise it can taste too “warm” – out of balance.

Since I’m a red-wine drinker, probably 3-1 compared to white wine, I also find it interesting that Viognier is added to Syrahs for it’s aromatics.  Whenever I’ve had a Syrah that included Viognier, I’ve really enjoyed it.

As for the Yalumba Viognier we had last night I scored it 90 points – Here are my tasting notes: Very light straw colored, with a touch of green.  It has a wonderfully perfumed nose with stone-fruit, flowers, and a touch of spice.  The light color of the wine belies its elegance.  On the palate it was viscous,  medium-full bodied, round, and creamy with  nice acidity. I picked  up ripe pear, and pineapple with a hint of spice with a long finish.   Great QPR (Quality-Price Ratio) at $14.

Looking to find a Viognier locally here in Northern Cali?  Try Rosenblum Cellars Kathy’s Cuvee Viognier ($18).  It’s has more residual sugar than the Aussie Viognier.  It’s the first Viognier we tried, and it’s one of our favorites too!

Find your way to Viognier!