Sparkling Wine Smackdown…Ten Sparklers; One Winner!

The most recent meeting of the Pacific Pointe Wine Tasting Club (“PPWTC”) was all about bubbly.  It also happened to be the 2nd anniversary of the PPWTC.  It was a great night of bubbly, food, and friends.   It’s been most is gratifying to experience the growth, and evolution of our wine club, and its members.

I want to give a special shout out to Jojo and Joy for co-hosting these last couple of years.  They are always fabulous hosts, and throw a great party…er wine tasting club meeting ;-) second to none!

As for the 10 sparklers, it was a diverse group dominated by California sparklers, but that also included 2 bottles from Champagne, a Prosecco from Italy, and even a sparkler from Bulgaria (which turned out to be pretty much undrinkable – I knew something was up I pulled the plastic cork)!

All Set Up And Ready For The Sparkler Smackdown (photo courtesy of Jojo Ong)

The ten sparklers we blind-tasted, in order, were:

  1. NV Domaine Chandon Brut Classic (Napa Valley>Yountville)
  2. NV Trader Joe’s Blanc de Blancs (California)
  3. NV Mumm Napa Cuvée Napa Brut (Napa Valley)
  4. NV Sarl Chopin Champagne Charles de Marques Brut (Champagne)
  5. NV La Marca Prosecco di Conegliano Tiffany Blue Label (Italy>Veneto>Prosecco>Conegliano)
  6. NV Nicolas Feuilatte Champagne (Champagne)
  7. NV Gloria Ferrer Brut (Sonoma County)
  8. 2007 Domaine Carneros Brut (Napa Valley>Carneros)
  9. NV Mumm Napa Brut Prestige (Napa Valley)
  10. NV Christa Sparkling White Wine (Targovishte, Bulgaria)

PPWTC 2nd Anniversary Photo (photo courtesy of Jojo Ong)

The winner with an average score of 89.6 point is….

NV La Marca Prosecco di Conegliano Tiffany Blue Label

No surprise here for me.  Prosecco is fruity and easy, and this one is very good!  Around $12. Here’s a tasting note from the La Marca website:

This sparkling wine is pale, golden straw in color. Bubbles are full textured and
persistent. On the nose the wine brings fresh citrus with hints of honey and white floral
notes. The flavor is fresh and clean, with ripe citrus, lemon, green apple, and touches of
grapefruit, minerality, and some toast. The finish is light, refreshing, and crisp

It’s widely available…pick up a bottle and give it a try! Cheers!

TJ’s Two Buck Chuck-10 Years and 600 Million Bottles Later…

I was in a Trader Joe’s (“TJ’s”) today, and happened to notice the headline “Happy Anniversary Charles Shaw” on the Fearless Flyer.  The article noted “Two Buck Chuck” has been sold at TJ’s for  10 years, and a bit to my surprise, they’ve sold about 600 million  of Two Buck Chuck  (“TBC”) (along with the requisite marketing plug that it still sells for $1.99 ten years on – it is marketing after all…)  They also went on to proclaim…

Charles Shaw wine displayed in a Trader Joe's ...

Image via Wikipedia

…they’ve proven that a wine doesn’t need to be expensive to be good, drinkable wine.  These are not expensive; they are good, and they’re very drinkable.

I recall when it first came out,  I used to buy it pretty regularly.  At the time I’d just started to drink wine on a somewhat regular basis (maybe a bottle or two/week compared to five or six now), and I thought it was good.  I probably drank it, off and on, for about a year before I stopped drinking it.  Two Buck Chuck went on to spawn plenty of imitators, and a $2-$3/bottle wine can be found pretty much every where today.

Nowadays, I only consider Two Buck Chuck for Sangria.  From time to time I’ve heard tales of TBC winning blind tastings, and scoring well at this or that wine competition (don’t get me started on wine competitions).  So from time to time, I’ve wondered  if maybe I should be buying it as an everyday wine.  Then I snap out of it, as I say to myself “Life is too short to drink bad wine” (although, it would certainly make me appreciate the other wines).  Of course, what’s considered “good”, and “bad” wine is in the palate of the drinker.

The situation reminds me a bit of high-speed internet vs dial-up.  Once you’ve experienced high-speed internet, you can’t ge back to dial-up (at least I can’t!)  Of course it helps I’ve got the disposable income for high-speed internet.  I suppose if I my disposable income didn’t allow it, and I wanted internet service badly enough I could settle for dial-up.  But until then… It’s the same thing with wine for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got no objection to a what I think is good $5 bottle of wine.  In fact, I picked up a couple of bottles of Chariot Gypsy  while I was at TJ’s.  Is there that much difference between a $2 bottle of wine, and a  $5 bottle of wine?  Will I enjoy a $5 bottle of wine two and a half times as much as the $2 bottle?  Probably not.  Then again, we as consumers aren’t completely rational.  I don’t know if that’s good or bad…it just IS.  When was the last time you bought a bottle of TBC?

21st Century Hip Hop – Less Gin and Juice; More Wine!

Check out the latest from B.o.B…at about the 2:30 mark – where Merlot, Rosé, and Burgundy are weaved into the lyrics.  Nice touch!

This is just the latest.  Drake, a fan of wine, has a reference to wine in “Say Something”.  And  before the fallout with Cristal, some of the biggest names in Rap/Hip-Hop were plugging the luxury Champagne.  Nowadays, Moscato di Asti is getting a more than its share of love from Rap/Hip-Hop artists.  Since Millenials are driving Moscato sales, it makes me wonder about the influence that song lyrics have on popular culture, and vice-versa.  What do you think?

Cheers Yo!

T.G.I.F. Champagne And The Like…NV Deligeroy Cremant de Loire Brut

This week’s sparkler is a Crémant (Pronounced “Creh-MAHN) from Loire France, specifically Saumur, which is produces the most sparkling wine in France outside of Champagne.  Crémant is produced using the same techniques used in Champagne, but can’t be called Champagne because it isn’t made in the geographic region.  This one is priced like a Prosecco or Cava, but approaches an entry-level Champagne.  Very nice QPR!

Deligeroy Crémant de Loire

NV Deligeroy Cremant de Loire 

Region: FranceLoire ValleyCrémant de Loire

Variety -  Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc

Residual Sugar – Unknown

$12 – Retail , 12.5% a.b.v.

Production method: Méthode traditionnelle;  Aged an average of 4 years on lees

My tasting notes follow:

Pale yellow color with a bit of bronze tinge and brioche pear, raspberry, and mineral aromas. On the palate it was light-bodied,and between dry, and off-dry with good acidity,prickly mousse, and pear, raspberry, and mineral flavors. Medium finish 12.5% ABV. A Blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This was very nice as an aperitif, and just as nice with food.  I enjoyed with an impromptu salad my wife threw together of romaine lettuce, grilled asparagus, chopped egg, and avocado, dressed with Creamy Garlic Horseradish Dip.  And later with an avocado, sea salt, and salsa.  It was an excellent pairing with the sparkler matching the creaminess, and the diversity of the food, and the food making the Crémant taste better!

This is a very good sparkler, and compares favorably with entry-level Champagne. I recommend!  87pts   (Click here to find this wine) Wine tasted 2/24/12.

Wine Words Demystified: Wine Diamonds

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s phrase is Wine Diamonds..

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

 Tasteless, odorless, harmless salts of tartaric acid that can precipitate out of a wine that has not been COLD STABILIZED.  Tartrates look like small white snowflakes. 

Wine diamonds in the bottom of a glass of white wine (photo courtesy of melpriestley.com)

Tartrate crystals are also known as “wine diamonds.”   The crystals are formed by the union of naturally occurring tartaric acid (yup..the same stuff that is in cream of tartar used for cooking) and potassium.  The reason you rarely see wine diamonds is that most wineries put their white wines through a process called “cold stabilization”, where the wine is chilled for a couple of weeks at temperatures close to freezing.  This causes the crystals to separate from the wine and stick to the sides of the holding vessel.  Then the wine is filtered and the wine diamonds are removed.  Wine diamonds are naturally occurring and are not considered to be a flaw.
Wine diamonds are completely a cosmetic thing, and don’t affect the flavor, or quality of the wine,  although they can certainly affect the perception of the quality of the wine.  Which is why they are filtered out, so the wineries don’t have to explain it to consumers who can find them disconcerting.   I’ve seen them in the bottom on bottles of white wine (You can’t see them in red wine), but sometimes they are found on the underside of corks.   I once purchased a case of Chardonnay that had wine diamonds at $3/bottle (normally $19).  The wine was just fine!

Recap of 6th Annual Dark & Delicious – The Petite Sirah Event Of The Year!

I attended the 6th annual Dark & Delicious (“D&D”) last Friday.  D&D is an excellent opportunity to take a walk on the “dark side” for  Petite Sirah (“P.S” – a.k.a. “Pet”.)and food lovers.  The event is put on by an advocacy group of P.S. winegrowers, and producers knowns as P.S. I Love You.  This year’s event featured 58 wineries, and 36 food companies.  Petite Sirah tends not to be top of mind when it comes to red wine (or actually in the case of P.S., mostly inky purple-black wine) but for those of us who love P.S. this is the event of the year.

Here’s a quick 411 on P.S.

  • Created by François Durif, it is the love child of a noble grape, Syrah, and an obscure peasant grape Peloursin in 1880
  • 90% of the world’s P.S. vineyards are in California
  • Produces big, masculine, typically ink-colored wines that tend to be tannic with moderate to high-acidity
  • Sometimes referred to as Durif

P.S. I Love You Does Sound Better Than Durif I Love You!

It was a great night of wine and food.  And for the first time I came across a winery that referred to one of their P.S. as Durif – Berryessa Gap. My favorite wines were Aver Family Vineyards (2008 Blessings), ClayhouseBerryessa Gap (2006 Rocky Ridge Collection Tradition), Robert Biale, Rosenblum, and Stage Left Cellars (2006 Russell Family P.S),  along with Ondonata, and Ridge Vineyards, newcomers to the event.  I attended the event last year, and there seemed to be a bit more diversity of style this year.  I tasted more exemplars of P.S. showing more restraint and balance, than last year.  Petite Sirah can be an overly exuberant, jammy wine.  Perhaps that’s why I saw more chocolate vendors than I have at any other wine event.  And that style has plenty of fans, but I welcomed the change of pace.

Paella Struesel

In addition to the great P.S.  there was plenty of food.  I was impressed by diversity of food.  There were dishes like, Paella strudel, Sous-Vide Pork Belly with Umeboshi Plum Sauce with Micro Greens, and my dish of the night Bhel Puri, an “Indian Street Food” of puffed rice, garbanzo flour noodles, wheat crisps, Russet potatoes, Jazz apples, Sweet onion, Zante currants, mint cilantro chutney, tamarind chutney, and blackberry chutney which was just fabulous with Petite Sirah.

Er…I had one or three too many of these…Amazing!

After tasting sampling the P.S. with a variety of foods, I gave it try with chocolate.  Cabernet, Merlot, and Zinfandel, the varietals most often paired with chocolate has something to worry about.  I generally prefer dessert wines with my chocolate, ,and P.S. with my meal, but for fans of dry red wines P.S. works quite well too.  That lead to my favorite chocolate and P.S. pairing of the night – Bacon Salted Caramel (made with Zoe’s Meats applewood smoked bacon, organic sugar and an English dark cane syrup dipped in 72% E. Guittard chocolate and finished with applewood smoked salt) from Nosh This and two Petite Sirahs from Stage Left Cellars.

It was a great event.  Dark & Delicious will continue to be circled in red on my calendar of “must attend” wine events.  It’s a purple-teeth stained great wine and food event!

Wine Words Demystified: Punt

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word is Punt

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

 The indentation found in the bottom of many wine bottles.  The punt may be shallow or, as is the case of Champagne bottles, quite pronounced.  The punt adds stability by weighing the bottom of the bottle and strengthens the glass at the weakest point.

The "punt" of a wine bottle (image courtesy of Call Me Thirsty)

I like punts, and according to Wikipedia:

A punt, also known as a kick-up, refers to the dimple at the bottom of a wine bottle. There is no consensus explanation for its purpose. The more commonly cited explanations include:

  • It is a historical remnant from the era when wine bottles were free blown using a blowpipe and pontil. This technique leaves a punt mark on the base of the bottle; by indenting the point where the pontil is attached, this scar would not scratch the table or make the bottle unstable.
  • It had the function of making the bottle less likely to topple over—a bottle designed with a flat bottom only needs a small imperfection to make it unstable—the dimple historically allowed for a larger margin of error.
  • It consolidates sediment deposits in a thick ring at the bottom of the bottle, preventing much/most of it from being poured into the glass;
  • It increases the strength of the bottle, allowing it to hold the high pressure of sparkling wine/champagne.
  • It provides a grip for riddling a bottle of sparkling wine manually in the traditional champagne production process.
  • It consumes some volume of the bottle, allowing the bottle to be larger for the same amount of wine, which may impress the purchaser.
  • Taverns had a steel pin set vertically in the bar. The empty bottle would be thrust bottom-end down onto this pin, puncturing a hole in the top of the punt, guaranteeing the bottle could not be refilled [folklore].
  • Prevents the bottle from resonating as easily, decreasing the likelihood of shattering during transportation.
  • Allows bottles to be more easily stacked end to end.
  • Bottles could be stacked in cargo holds on ships without rolling around and breaking.
  • Punts are also used to help pour the wine, providing a grip for the thumb on the bottom bottle for easy pouring.

Punts are cool IMHO…do you use them to pour your wines?  I do, especially the deep punts…

Value Alert – 90pt Gem From Spain for $12!

Several months ago, I attended a La Mancha tasting in San Francisco.  I blogged about it in a post entitled Is La Mancha Ready For Primetime?  Of course, most of us are familiar with La Mancha thanks to the famous book by Miguel de Cervantes entitled The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (or perhaps for the less literary types such as myself, the Broadway musical The Man of La Mancha) 

These days La Mancha is trying to make a name for itself with its wines.  Here’s the 411 on La Mancha:

  • Part of the Castilla-La Mancha autonomous community
  • Largest of 9 DOs in Castilla-La Mancha, which is the largest continuous vine-growing area in the world
  • Climate – According to a local proverb – “nine months of winter and three months of hell
  • Authorized red grapes: Cencibel (a.k.a Tempranillo, Grenache, Moravia, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah
  • Authorized white grapes: Airén (pronounced “Aye ran”), Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura), Chardonnay, Verdejo, Moscatel de grano menudo, and Sauvignon Blanc
  • Achieved DO status in 1976
  • There are  5 wine classifications rather than 3 typically found in Spain.  In addition to the traditional Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva classifications, La Mancha also has Young (Jóven), and Traditional classifications. The wines classified as “Joven” typically see no oak.  And according to LaManchaWines.com, the Traditional is “Made with the traditional system, reinforced by the latest technological advances. They keep a distance and equilibrium point between the young and aging wines.”  In other words, it’s a New World style.
  • Known for producing wines with great price/quality ratio, and formerly known for producing bulk wines

The orange tag indicates this is classified as a "Tradicional" wine (click to enlarge image)

2009 Bodegas Volver La Mancha Single Vineyard - $11.99 at Costco

2009 Bodegas Volver La Mancha Single Vineyard

My tasting notes follow:

Inky purple-black color with black fruit, clove, allspice, and tobacco aromas. On the palate medium- full bodied, and smooth with well-behaved tannins, and with vibrant black cherry, plum, a touch of black currant fruit and spice flavors. Medium plus finish.  - 90pts

This wine,  which is  classified as “Tradicional,” is a fine example of a wine that can win over New World palates and put La Mancha on many a wine lover’s map, particularly if seeking great price/performance.   It’s 100% Tempranillo.  The grapes were sourced from a 72-acre vineyard planted in 1967.  It’s fermented in barrel and aged 14 months in new French Oak.   Rated 92pt by Wine Advocate.   I’ll be buying more, and highly recommend you give it a shot!   I purchase the wine at Costco.  But it’s widely available.  Click here to find.

Wine Words Demystified: Corked

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials/technical jargon can be tossed around.  I’m here to help you understand those sometimes mysterious words and phrases, thus - Wine Words Demystified!

This week’s word is Corked

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

 A term used to describe a wine that smells like a wet dog in a basement or, sometimes, like wet cardboard.  Wines become corked or corky when certain bacteria in the cork cells interact with minute amount of chemical residues that many remain in corks or wine bottles after they are cleaned.  A corked wine has a defective aroma and flavor, although it will not harm the drinker.  Corked wine cannot be predicted.  Any wine regardless of its quality or price can be corky.

I had recently had my first corked wine.  Scratch that…I had my first two corked wines.  There were both from the same producer,  and both Petite Sirah, one from the 2005 vintage and one from the 2006 vintage.  While it was pretty disappointing, I actually felt fortunate to not have had a corked wine up to that point.  Estimates on what percentage of wines vary, but mostly I’ve seen between 1%-7%.  Given how much wine we drink, and this was our first, I’m surprised it hadn’t happened sooner.

Image courtesy of My Grape Escape.ie

It is also referred to as cork taint, and the chemical compound 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA).

Of course corked wines can be avoided altogether if a screwcap, or other non-cork closure had been used.  Have you have any corked wines?  How often has it happened to you?  Did it influence your opinion of screwcap vs. corks?