Chablis:The Spirit of Chardonnay – In The Glass And At The Table

I love minerally, acid-driven white wines. They are refreshing and delicious on their own, and a great companion for a wide variety of foods at the table.

So, I was thrilled when I received four sample bottles of Chablis from Pure Chablis a couple of months back.

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About Chablis

Pure Chablis is a trade organization that promotes and strengthens the image of Chablis wine in the US. Their motto is “Pure Chablis, one grape, one region, one of a kind. Pure Chablis, only from France”

The groups advocacy for Chablis is necessary because here in the US, there are cheap jug wines labeled as either “Chablis” or “White Burgundy”  that are misleading consumers and giving the Chablis “brand” a bad name.

So what, exactly is Chablis? Here’s an overview of the region…

Chablis Map

  • Wine has been made in Chablis for centuries.  The founding of the village of Chablis dates back to Roman times, as do Chablis’ wines.
  • It’s the northernmost subregion of Burgundy.  It located in the Yonne department between Paris and Beaune, a short hop from the Champagne region.
  • Chardonnay is the only grape variety permitted in Chablis
  • Granted AOC (appellation) status in 1938
  • What gives the region its unique “terroir” is a combination of its climate (harsh, cold and wet), and its clay soil referred to as Kimmeridge clay, that is composed of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells.

A unique territory and terroir - Image courtesy of Pure Chablis

A unique territory and terroir – Image courtesy of Pure Chablis

  • Chablis has four appellations (in ascending order of quality, power and depth)
    1. Petit Chablis – Represents an entry-level Chablis.  Intended to be consumed young. Vineyards are located on flat ground.
    2. Chablis – The grapes for this level are grown on north and east-facing hills.  These wines tend to show a bit more minerality, due to the high limestone content in the soil of the region.
    3. Chablis Premier Cru – The grapes for this level are grown on south and west-facing hills.  As the name suggests, this level of quality takes it up a notch and produces wine with better aging potential.
    4. Chablis Grand Cru – This is the upper echelon of Chablis, with only about 230 acres situated on one hill, on the north bank of the Serein River.  There are only seven vineyards from which to source the Grand Cru Chablis grapes. This level has the greatest potential for aging.

And in my mind, nowhere in the world does the spirit of Chardonnay manifest itself better than Chablis.  That’s because of its unique terroir and because the wines rarely reveal any oak.   Instead Chablis is strongly influenced by its Kimmeridge soil that was a seabed some 150 million years ago. The result is wines that show a distinct sense of place and a minerality that I love.  I also think most of the wines end to be wonderfully undervalued.  There are plenty of very good to outstanding bottles to be had for under $20, and even the more expense Premier and Grand Cru bottles excellent relative value.

Chablis is Chardonnay, but not every Chardonnay is Chablis“ – Rosemary George,MW

 

Chablis In The Glass And At The Table

In the past I’ve mostly enjoyed Chablis as an aperitif, or with a typical food pairing for such as oysters, snails, light seafood dishes, and poultry.  But with its high acidity, I wanted to try it with some other food.

So, over the course of a couple of months, I paired it with a variety of foods/cuisines.  My tasting notes and the results of the pairings follow:

2014 Domaine Servin Chablis Les Pargues – France, Burgundy, Chablis
Very pale yellow-green color with beautiful hay, white flower, green apple, citrus and wet stone aromas. On the palate, it’s taut, and focused with mouth-watering acidity, and wonderful minerality with green apple, lemon and a hint of peach flavors. Long finish. (90 pts.)  Great QPR at $20 SRP!

The wine paired well with a homemade Salmon Burger.  Pairing the wine with a Chablis rather than a lighter bodied  Petit Chablis was a good choice.  

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A homemade Salmon burger! Yum!

2014 Jean-Marc Brocard Petit Chablis – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Petit Chablis
Very pale yello-green color with restrained apple, citrus and slate aromas. On the palate it’s light-bodied and fresh with apple, lime, a hint of grapefruit and under ripe white peach flavors and a solid satisfying finish. (87 pts.)

The wine was a very good paired with a few sushi rolls from our local favorite Japanese restaurant

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Take out sushi from our favorite Japanese restaurant

2014 Domaine Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis – France, Burgundy, Chablis, Petit Chablis
Very pale green color with wet clay, bruised apple, chalk and lime aromas. On the palate it’s very fresh with an appealing minerality, and green apple, lime and a hint of white peach peeking through. (88 pts.)

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We paired this wine with take out Thai food. It paired especially well with pad Thai and crab fried rice.  And it found what I call “peaceful coexistence” with yellow curry and lemon fish.  This was a bit of an eye-opener. In the past I’ve typically paired Thai food with Riesling, Gewürztraminer or perhaps a Viognier. Chablis is now on my list too!

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Thai take out with Pad Thai, crab-fried rice and lemon fish

2014 Domaine William Fèvre Chablis – France, Burgundy, Chablis
Very pale green color with buttered toast, green apple, lemon, lime and wet stone aromas. On the palate it’s approaches medium-bodied and is very fresh with green apple, mixed citrus and a hint of white peach flavors and an appealing minerality with a lingering finish. (90 pts.) Great QPR at $20!

We paired this with take out savory crepes from a local creperie.  It was an excellent match for both a Greek crepe of grilled eggplant, asparagus and tomatoes with feta cheese in pesto sauce, and a Florentine crepe of spinach and mushroom with mozzarella in pesto sauce

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A Greek crepe – grilled eggplant, asparagus and tomatoes with feta cheese in pesto sauce

My takeaway?  While Chablis has a well deserved reputation for being a great aperitif and an excellent match with fish, shellfish and light poultry dishes, it’s a more than capable partner at the table for a wide variety of dishes.  

For some great tips on matching food and Chablis click here

Check out the video below for more information about Chablis!

Wines provided as a samples for review.  Many thanks to Pure Chablis, the Chablis Commission and the BIVB!

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Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, InstagramVivino and Delectablefor all things wine. As a wino with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers! This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2016 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

A Taste of Molise: Authentic Italy

One of the things I love most about food and wine is their ability to transport one to a different place.  I think a place’s people, culture, and customs are reflected in its food and wine.  In that sense, one can virtually travel the world through food and wine.  And that is exactly what we are doing through Italian Food Wine and Travel (#ItalianFWT).  We are taking a virtual tour of Italy by exploring its food and wines.  This month we’re exploring Molise!

The thing I love about the “Old World” is its rich history.  Much of it unfolds before us like an epic drama rife with  epic battles for territories, assassinations, and self-proclaimed kingdoms.

For example, take Molise.  It’s the ancestral home of the Samnites – fierce gladiators would regularly take on, and defeat Roman legions.  But after the fall of the Roman Empire, Goths and Lombards invaded the territory, which was part of Abruzzo. But it’s also been part of Campania, and Puglia (Apulia) neighbors to the South.  It’s as if no one wanted the place.  It was eventually absorbed with Abruzzo to create the overarching Abruzzi region. It remained part of this combined region until 1963.

molise map

Image courtesy of http://www.e-rcps.com/

It’s a mountainous and sparsely populated region sandwiched between the Apennine ridge to the west and the Adriatic Sea to the east. It’s Italy’s second smallest region after the Aosta Valley, and certainly not top of mind for visitors to Italy.

It’s a remote land of immense natural beauty, history, art and age-old traditions that will take you on a journey off the beaten path to experience another kind of Italy – a largely undiscovered Italy.  Though its cities lack the luster of Italy’s more renowned areas, they possess a humble authenticity and charm that provide a window into old-fashioned Italian life and culture.

Wine has been made in Molise as far back as 500 BC with influences coming from the Samnites, Etruscans and Romans.  In the 18th and 19th century Molise’s boasted the most extensive vineyards in the Kingdom of Naples.  But the region extremely mountainous terrain discourage production of quality wine (I’m sure WWII didn’t help either) Today there are approximately 7,700 hectares under vine, including a mix of native and international grapes. The most common red varieties are Montepulciano and Sangiovese, but Aglianico, Barbera, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon grow too. White grapes include Trebbiano Abruzzese (and Bombino Bianco, with which it was long confused), Trebbiano Toscano, Malvasia Bianca Lunga, Malvasia Bianca di Candia, Falanghina, Greco, Chardonnay, and Pinot Bianco. About 10% of the region’s total wine production is of DOC wines ( Biferno, Molise and Pentro di Isernia).  Of the three Biferno is the most well-known.

In my glass

From producer Di Majo Norante comes the 2011 Di Majo Norante Molise Biferno Ramitello.   It’s a  wine made from a selection of the best Montepulciano (80%) and Aglianico (20%) grapes grown in the Ramitello vineyard. After fermentation in stainless steel, the wine was aged in a combination of stainless steel tank s and barriques for eighteen months.  It was ranked #74 Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2014.

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My tasting notes follow:

The wine is a deep black red color with appealing black fruit and floral aromas.  On the palate it medium-bodied, and fresh with a rustic edge, showing blackberry, plum, black cherry, black currant, spice and a hint of bittersweet chocolate flavors, and a lingering satisfying finish.

On my plate

As I was checking out the cuisine of Molise, quite naturally given its agricultural tradition, I keep coming across either pork or lamb dishes. Or seafood dishes.  I’ve been limiting my intake of meat since last year, so I wanted something vegetarian that would pair well with the red wine.  These days eating less (or no) meat is motivated by healthy lifestyle choices.  It hasn’t always been that way.  Molise has historically tended to be less prosperous than Abruzzo.  As a result, the currency in Molise was not money, but livestock. Because of this, the livestock that was raised was more valuable to sell in Abruzzo than it was to eat. This is why many of the dishes typically served in Molise were vegetarian.  I don’t know if it’s still that way today, but certainly there was a time when la cucina povera (“cooking of the poor”) was born of out of necessity rather choice.

With that in mind, I opted for Portobello Parmesan recipe by Giada De Laurentiis.

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Portobello Parmesan

The dish was a perfect weeknight vegetarian meal.  It’s definitely one I will make again. Portobello mushrooms have an inherently meaty quality.  The addition of Parmigiano Reggiano and Mozzarella cheese up the umami quotient which made for a wonderful pairing with the wine!

Check out more Molisan food and wine delight from my fellow bloggers:

If you’re up early enough, join us live on Twitter Saturday March 5th at 8am PST @ #ItalianFWT to chat about Molise.  Next month we travel to Puglia on April 2nd!

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Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, InstagramVivino and Delectablefor all things wine. As a wino with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers! This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2016 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

Cross-Cultural Food and Alscace Wine Pairings with Trimbach Riesling

I can hardly believe it, but after giving it much thought, I came to realize that I’ve never had a still wine from Alsace!  I’ve always wanted to because when it comes to dry white wines made from Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Gris, Alsace has a reputation for being the preeminent wine region in the world!  And I’m a big fan of all the aforementioned grape varieties, especially Riesling and Pinot Gris! 

Which is why I’m excited the French Winophiles (#Winophiles) virtual tour of France takes us to Alsace this month

Alsace Region 1

Image courtesy of Wines Of Alsace

While I’ve not had any still Alsatian wines, I’ve had quite a few Cremant d’Alsace, which is the sparkling wine produced in the region using the same painstaking traditional method used in Champagne.  Indeed, my current favorite under $20 sparkling rosé is the  Allimant Laugner Cremant d’Alsace Rosé.  If you’re looking for a sophisticated sparkling rose wine that won’t break the bank, I highly recommend checking out a pink Cremant d’Alsace!

About the Alsace

Alsace is tucked into the northeast corner of France.  It lies between the Vosges mountains and the French border with Germany, marked by the Rhine river.  Because of its strategic location, the region has switched back and forth between French and German sovereignty in recent centuries.  As a result, Alsace is a mish-mash of both cultures, as evidenced by its architecture,  and language (though mostly French is spoken these days, German, and other Alsatian dialects may be heard)

alsace-france-map

It shouldn’t come as a surprise then that Alsace wines are dominated by German grape varieties, (Alsace is the only French wine region to grow significant quantities of Riesling and Gewürztraminer), but crafted in a distinctive style.

Think German grapes with a French soul!

The Alsace wine-growing region is long and narrow.  Its wines are produced under three AOCs (aka Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée): Alsace and Alsace Grand Cru for still white wines (both sweet and dry), and Cremant d’Alsace for sparkling.  White varietal wines make up 90% of production.  The Riesling is the dominant grape variety, but Pinot Blanc is a close second, followed by Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

Alsace AOC wines make up 74% of the wines produced in the region followed by Cremant d’Alsace (22%) and Alsace Grand Cru (4%). All Alsace wines are bottled in a tall thin bottle known as a Flûte d’Alsace.

In my glass

Because Riesling is the signature grape of the region, and Trimbach arguably the region’s most renown producer, I chose the 2012 Trimbach Riesling.  It was ranked  of Wine Spectators Top 100 Wines of 2014. And the The price was certainly right at $17!

Everything about Trimbach, from its charming estate to its sleek wines to the family that makes them, is elegant, understated, and classic. – Ed Comstock; The Terroirist

Trimbach is a family owned and operated winery that has been making wine since 1626!

2012 Trimbach Riesling Alsace

My tasting notes follow:

The wine pours a pale golden yellow color with promising petrol, ocean spray, citrus, peach and touch of honey aromas. On the palate it’s between light and medium-bodied, and dry with mouthwatering acidity. It’s sleek, understated and impeccably structured with a great texture. It shows white peach, honey, and citrus (sometimes lime, sometime lemon, even a whisper of mandarin orange) flavors with a long concentrated finish.

The Food Pairings

I was all set to prepare an Alsatian dish – Choucroute au poisson –Sauerkraut with Fish in Cream Sauce, when my wife announced she was planning to prepare Chicken Estofado.

Sauerkraut, or choucroute as it is known in Alsace, along with pork are major players in Alsatian cuisine.  I’m not a huge sauerkraut fan, but I like to keep an open mind to new culinary experiences.  But I wasn’t bitterly disappointed when my wife told me of her plans.

Chicken Estofado is similar to Chicken Adobo, but the use of plantain and star anise gives the dish a distinctive flavor while adding a bit of spice and sweetness.

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Chicken Estofado – A Filipino dish I enjoyed for the first time during my first visit to the Philippines last month.

I had this dish for the first time when we visited the Philippines last month. It was my first visit. And this was one of the more memorable dishes for me.

My sister-in-law passed along the recipe (sort of a recipe really – more like an Ole Skool “here’s the stuff the goes into it with no specific measurements) to my wife.

Chicken Estofado
Author: 
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Filipino
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4 Servings
 
A variation of Chicken Adobo that uses plantain and star anise to create a distinctive variation on the Filipino classic
Ingredients
  • 2 cloves of garlic minced
  • ½ chopped onion
  • ½ c pineapple juice
  • 2 Star anise pods
  • 2TBSP Soy Sauce
  • 1 TBSP vinegar
  • 2 or 3 bay leaves
  • 1lb boneless chicken thighs, cut into chunks
  • Salt
  • Fresh ground pepper
  • 2 Plantain
  • 3 TBSP Olive Oil
Instructions
  1. Season chicken chunks with salt and pepper.
  2. Pan fry in a non-stick pan in 1 or 2 TBSP of olive oil until browned. Set aside chicken pieces
  3. In the same pan, garlic until fragrant and slightly brown. Add chopped onion and continue to cook another 5-10 minutes until soft.
  4. Add chicken back to pan
  5. Add soy sauce, vinegar, pineapple, bay leaves, and star anise pods.
  6. Cover and simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  7. While chicken simmering, in a separate pan , brown sliced plantain in 3 TBSP of olive oil for 5-7 minutes.
  8. Add plantain to chicken and simmer for the last 10 min or so of the simmering chicken.
  9. Serve over rice

The other dish we prepared was Seafood (Shrimp & Oyster), Chicken, and Andouille Sausage Gumbo(you’ll find my “base” recipe here). We usually make the dish every New Year’s day, but we were in the Philippines this year, so we didn’t get around to it until now.

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My Seafood, Chicken, and Andouille Sausage Gumbo. Since the Dungeness crab season has been postponed indefinitely, I topped with crab meat

The wine paired wonderfully with both dishes.  The wine’s crackling acidity provided cleansed the palate, and the weight and texture of the wine complimented both dishes.  If I While both pairings were very good, if I had to choose one over the other, I’d give the edge to wine with the Chicken Estofado.

Check out these other wonderful food and wine pairings my fellow French #Winophiles are featuring for this week’s Alsace theme!

If you’re reading this early enough, join us Saturday, February 18th for a live Twitter Chat at 10 am CST using #Winophiles.

Upcoming #Winophiles events: Loire Valley Tour

  • March 19th  – Pays/Nantes
  • April 16th – Anjou/Saumer
  • May 21st – Touraine/Vouvray
  • June 18th  – Upper Loire – Cheverny, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume/Pouilly-Sur-Loire

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Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, InstagramVivino and Delectablefor all things wine. As a wino with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers! This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2016 ENOFYLZ Wine BlogAll rights reserved.

A Taste of Greece: Grilled Branzini with Ladolemono Paired with Hatzidakis Assyrtiko

Wine Pairing Weekend is a monthly collaborative event for wine/food bloggers started by David Crowley of Cooking Chat.  It’s a great way to find food and wine pairings that work (or learn from the ones that don’t); along with tips on how to create your own food and wine pairing magic.  Camilla Mann of Culinary Adventures with Camilla is hosting “Let’s Talk Scorched Terroir – and Volcanic Wines – for this month’s #WinePW

The Volcanic Island of Santorini

As I began to consider this month’s theme, my initial thoughts turned to the Napa Valley (which has a fascinating geology that includes a vast array of soils of volcanic origin).  But I was leaning toward a white wine rather than a red.  Then as fate would have it, I saw a post from Camilla, our host for this month’s theme that featured an Assyrtiko (one of my favorites – Domaine Sigalas) from the Greek island of Santorini.

Bingo!

It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed one. In fact, my second post for #winePW was a fabulous blend of Assyrtiko and Malagouzia last summer.  And I’ve not had any since then!

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The breathtaking beauty that is Santorini seems to have risen from it’s volcanic ashes quite nicely…Thank you!

I hadn’t really given much thought to Santorini being a volcanic region. I’m more familiar with the Santorini pictured above.

But Santorini is a part of a volcanic island group at the central south end of Aegean Sea. The island caresses the vast crater left by one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in history – the Minoan eruption of 1613.  Thus, the island is also renown for its spectacular sea-filled volcanic caldera, which are surrounded by steep colorful cliffs. One of the island’s most fascinating sites is ruins at the Minoan site of Akrotiri. Click here for a cool video about the volcano!

On My Plate

One of my favorite restaurant’s in the Bay Area is a Greek restaurant in Palo Alto, Evvia. They serve a delicious oven roasted Branzino that is fantastic.  Inspired by that dish, I, decided to make Grilled Branzini with Ladolemono.

Branzino (plural, branzini),  is a European sea bass that is low in fat, but with a  wonderful richness when cooked on the bone. That’s because the fish has lots of cartilage.  So, when the flesh gets hot, it stays succulent long after the fish has hit the right temperature.

Grilled Branzini with Ladolemono

Grilled Branzini with Ladolemono

I purchased the Branzini from our local Whole Foods market,  The fish is farm-raised in Greece and was reasonably priced at $12.99/lb.

Ladolemono, with its one-to-one acid-to-oil ratio (as opposed to the usual one-to-three), is a classic Greek vinaigrette that gives a flash of brightness to the smoky, crispy skin of the branzino (would also be wonderful with  grilled octopus, shrimp, or squid)

Grilled Branzini with Ladolemono
Author: 
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Greek
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: Makes 2-4 servings
 
Ingredients
  • 2 whole bone-in branzini, cleaned
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup Ladolemono
  • 2 lemon thyme or thyme sprigs
  • Old Bay Seasoning
  • 1 lemon—1 thinly sliced
Instructions
  1. Prepare a grill to medium-high heat. Season the fish cavities with salt, pepper, and Old Bay Seasoning. Stuff each cavity with a thyme sprig, and 2 lemon slices. Rub the outside of the branzini with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Grill the branzino over high heat, turning once, until browned and crisp and just cooked through, about 7 minutes per side.
  3. Remove the lemon slices and thyme before plating, and discard. Transfer to a platter, drizzle with Ladolemono , and serve.
Notes
This is recipe is very simple and offers a very high taste/effort ratio

The fish turned out perfectly.  It had tender well flavored flesh (the Old Bay makes it pop), with  a hint of the lemon thyme and lemon placed inside the fish prior to grilling, And the Ladolemono was the perfect complement.  If you  haven’t tried whole Branzini on the grill, what are you waiting for?  

In My Glass

The 2013 Hatzidakis Winery Assyrtiko Santorini is a blend of Assyrtiko, Aidani and Athiri

My tasting notes follow:

Pale green color with gold highlights and apple, lemon zest, chalk aromas with a dusty note. On the palate, it’s medium-bodied with zesty acidity. It shows apple, lemon, white peach, and mineral flavors with a dusty grip and a lemony mineral driven finish.

The wine was fantastic with the Grilled Branzini.  The lemony minerality of the wine was a great compliment to the Ladelmono.  It was as if the wine was a bit of  spritz of lemon on the grilled fish.  And after taking a sip of the wine the grilled Branzini tasted better.  

The wine was very good on its own, but was better with food.  We had leftovers of the Branzini the next night and paired the wine with a homemade salsa, that included chunks of avocado on a bed of spinach.  It was a wonderful partner with at the table for both the fish and the salad!

Here’s what the #winePW crew posted about volcanic wines…
Come chat with us…

#winePW Twitter Chat September 12,  8 a.m. PT: Connect with us on twitter, using hashtag #winePW. We’ll chat for an hour about volcanic wines, food pairings, and #scorchedterroir. “October’s #winePW is hosted by @foodwineclick. Stay tuned for Jeff’s invitation that might have something to do with #MerlotMe Month.  Cheers!

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Martin Redmond is a Financial Executive by day, and a certified wine geek with latent foodie tendencies the rest of the time. In addition to the wine lifestyle and food he enjoys family, yoga, hiking, and traveling. He likes to get thoughts of wine off his mind by sharing experiences on his ENOFYLZ Wine blog, which features wine reviews, wine country travel, and wine and food pairings.

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine. Since I’m a wino with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers! Follow my reviews on Vivino and Delectable This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2015 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Champagne Chronicles-Day 2

I recently had the privilege of traveling to the Champagne region in France as a guest of the U.S. Champagne Bureau for the 2014 Champagne Harvest Media Trip.  Here’s what the Champagne Bureau said about the trip…

The trip to Champagne will be an opportunity for you to learn more about the production of Champagne and its unique qualities, as well as what the region is doing to protect its name in the United States.  The week-long trip… will give you the opportunity to visit select Champagne producers – from large houses to cooperatives and small growers – and learn about the appellation as a whole…you will also experience firsthand the winemaking process, from picking and crushing grapes to exquisite Champagne pairing dinners.

This is the second in what will be a series of five posts about my visit to Champagne (Click here for Day 1)

Our itinerary for Day 2 included:

Visit to C.I.V.C.

On what was a glorious day weather-wise, first up on our itinerary was a visit with the C.I.V.C., the governing body of the Champagne region.  The purpose of the meeting was to provide an overview of the mission of the C.I.V.C., and share some specifics about the region.  The presentation by Philippe Wibrotte, Head of Public Relations was information.  A few of my takeaways were:

  • What makes Champagne unique is the combination of climate, the predominately limestone sub-soil, and topography.
  • 100% of grapes in Champagne are harvested manually
  • There are 15,000 growers in Champagne, and 5,000 of those make Champagne from their own grapes.
  • Classification of grapes in Champagne is based on villages rather than specific vineyards. There are 17 villages ranked Grand Cru, and 42 ranked Premier Cru.
  • Champagne houses(there are 320)  account for two-thirds of all Champagne shipments and represent 90% of the export market.
  • There are 34,000 hectares of vines in Champagne.  38% of those are Pinot Noir, 32% are Pinot Meunier, and 30% are Chardonnay. There is a miniscule amount of 4 other permitted grapes – Pinot Gris (sometimes known as Fromenteau), Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier and Arbane.
  • 98% of Champagne sold is multi-vintage (that explains why vintage tends to be more expensive)
  • 1.4 billion bottles, about 3.5 years of production are in storage.
  • The C.I.V.C. is ferocious when it come to protecting the Champagne name and image of Champagne.  In the past, the C.I.V.C. has successfully barred the use of ‘Champagne’ in toothpastes, mineral water for pets, toilet paper, underwear and shoes.
  • Champagne producers have been using lighter bottles since 2011.
  • Production in Champagne is measured in bottles, not cases as it is here in the U.S.
  • The C.I.V.C. determines the dates harvest can begin for the 350 villages in the region. As announced the day after our visit, the 3-week window for picking grapes began on September 8th.
photo

C.I.V.C Headquarters in Epernay, France

After the presentation there was an educational tasting lead by C.I.V.C. enologist Marie-Pascale Do Dihn Ty

See below for gallery of C.I.V.C. visit

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Lunch

We dined at the restaurant in Les Grains d’Argent, a beautiful hotel surrounded by vineyards for lunch. 

See below for gallery from lunch

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“More than any other wine, Champagne unlocks wine’s archetypal promise:joy” – Karen MacNeil

Visit to Champagne Roger Coulon

Champagne Roger Coulon is a great example of Grower Champagne.  Grower Champagne comes directly from the families who own the vineyards, and make the wine. Located in the village of Vrigny, in the Montagne de Reims region of Champagne, the Coulon family has been winegrowers since 1806.  The family has gradually increased its holdings so that there are now 11 hectares under vine, spread over 70 parcels of land in 5 villages, most of which benefit from South-east facing slopes on sand, chalk and clay. Their Premier Cru vineyards are composed of  approximately 35% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay with an average vine age of 38 years. Using only wild yeasts, they produce about 90,000 bottles per year. The Coulon’s practice of lutte raisonée (reasoned agriculture) – the minimal use of herbicides and pesticides.

When we arrived, we were greeted by Isabelle Coulon, wife and partner of Eric Coulon, an eighth generation winegrower. After introduction and brief tour, Eric took us on a vineyard tour.

After the vineyard tour we returned their family home, which includes an amazing B&B – Le Clos des Terres Soudées, before settling down for a quick tasting. We only tasted three wines because we were strapped for time.

My favorite was the Réserve de L’Hommée Cuvée which is made with family’s oldest grapes. It’s intentionally made less sparkling(4.6 atmospheres instead of the typical 6) in order to get tiny bubbles that last a long time.  An equal blend of Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, it’s aged five years before disgorgement. It’s yeasty, and generous with apple, roast hazelnut, spiced orange and mineral character with a long finish. >>Find this wine<<

Learned about: Sexual confusion (er…this relates to moths, not humans) – A treatment against the grape moth, in which small packets of synthetic pheromones of female moths are distributed among the vines to confuse male moths and prevent them from mating. It’s considered a much more eco-friendly solution, albeit more expensive alternative to spraying vines with various chemical products.

Insider’s tip: Their B&B is awesome!  If I ever go back to Champagne, I know where I’m going to stay!

See below for gallery from visit to Champagne Roger Coulon

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Visit to Champagne Veuve Clicquot

When I saw a visit to Veuve Clicquot (“VC”) on our itinerary, it needed no introduction. The Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut (a.k.a. Yellow Label) seems to be the most popular Champagne sold in the U.S., and is certainly the most marketed brand of Champagne in the U.S. It’s currently the second largest house in Champagne producing about 14 million bottles a year. Approximately  20 % of their fruit comes from their own vineyards.  The other 80% is purchased from growers, with most of whom they have long-term (20-25 year) contracts.

Founded in 1772 by Philippe Clicquot-Muiron,VC has played a pivotal role in establishing Champagne as a luxury product. They are credited with many firsts including the riddling rack, and being the first Champagne house to produce rosé Champagne.

When we arrived at the Veuve Clicquot facility, we were met by their Chef de Cave (cellarmaster) Dominique Demarville, and winemaker Cyril Brun for a tour of one of their vineyards.  It’s clear that V.C. is laser-focused on working towards more natural viticulture for both estate and purchased grapes.

We must never forget that Champagne is a wine, and the quality is in the vines. – Dominque Demarville

After our vineyard tour we headed into Reims to V.C.’s private residence L’Hotel du Marc for dinner.  It’s a spectacular 19th century mansion that underwent a complete remodeling after V.C. was acquired by luxury group LVMH.

Inside the mansion, we tasted through eight still wines (vin clair in French) from various vintages that were both base and reserve wines used to make V.C Champagnes.  The wines were tart and very acidic, and I could barely discern the subtle differences the wines.  Though, the final vin clair we tasted was a multi-vintage blend with a 2013 base wine that showed the grapefruit profile I associate with the V.C. Yellow Label.  I came away from the experience with a whole new respect for the art of blending. 

Vins clairs tastings are a rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of the wine before the bubbles, and to imagine their development over time; they are a unique foray into the magical kingdom of champagne. – Caroline Henry

After the vin clair tasting, we tasted four more wines including a 2003 Bouzy Rouge, an outstanding still red wine not for sale to the public, and had dinner in the magnificent dining room.

My favorite was the 2004 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut Rosé Vintage – It has a harmonious, refreshing, slightly savory, strawberry, raspberry, citrus and mineral character. And it paired very well with the second and third courses of our meal.

Learned about: Inspired by the discovery of 47 bottles of Veuve Clicquot from 1839 to 1841 at the bottom of the Baltic Sea in 2010, that were in great condition, VC is experimenting with a “Cellar in the Sea“.

Insider’s tip: With about two-thirds of VC Yellow Label being composed of black grapes, it’s a great example of a medium-bodied Champagne that will work well not only as an aperitif, but also with a diverse selection of main courses, especially seafood!

See below for gallery from visit to Champagne Veuve Clicquot

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After dinner we found ourselves hanging out on the patio outside the stately Hotel du Marc, and I found myself savoring what was a deeply satisfying day on all levels.  What a fantastic day!

Stay tuned!

Champagne Chronicles – Day 1

Dreams do come true. When I first got into the “wine thing”, as I call it, I dived head first into the pool of knowledge. One of my resources was Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible. And one of my favorite chapters in that tome is “Champagne“.  Ever since then, the Champagne region has been on my bucket list of wine regions to visit.

Few wines captivate us to the extent Champagne does.  But then Champagne is not simply a wine; it is also a state of mind – Karen MacNeil

Imagine my surprise (shock really…slaw-jawed, I almost fell out of my chair!) and euphoria when I received an invitation from the U.S. Champagne Bureau for the 2014 Champagne Harvest Media Trip that read…

The trip to Champagne will be an opportunity for you to learn more about the production of Champagne and its unique qualities, as well as what the region is doing to protect its name in the United States.  The week-long trip is exclusively reserved for a small group of leading food and wine journalists from across the U.S., and will be scheduled for the first week of September, departing the US on August 31, and returning September 6. This trip will give you the opportunity to visit select Champagne producers – from large houses to cooperatives and small growers – and learn about the appellation as a whole. As a guest you will also experience firsthand the winemaking process, from picking and crushing grapes to exquisite Champagne pairing dinners.

This is the first in what will be a series of five posts about my visit to Champagne

After the 12 hour direct flight from San Francisco to Paris, I took the TGV (high-speed train) from Charles de Gaulle airport to Reims (click here for the tricky pronunciation).  It’s a quick 30 minute ride that gives you a taste of the bucolic French countryside with its undulating hills, farmland, crops and trees.  And to my surprise – not a vineyard in sight!

A filtered photo of the beautiful and historic Notre-Dame of Reims Cathedral

A filtered photo of the beautiful and historic Notre-Dame of Reims Cathedral

I arrived in Reims around 1:30 and got settled.  Our itinerary for Day 1 included a guided tour of the Reims Cathedral at 5:00p; followed by dinner.

After deciding against a nap, I decided take a walk to get acquainted with my surroundings, and see what I could see.

About Reims

Reims, the cultural capital of the Champagne region,  is a lovely town best known for its historical significance and its role in the production of Champagne.

Twenty-five French kings were crowned in its Cathedral, Notre-Dame de Reims  and celebrated in the adjacent Palais de Tau. These monuments, along with the  Abbey of Saint-Remi are included as UNESCO world heritage sites. Another historical site is the Porte de Mars, which dates back the third century AD, remains as the oldest artifact of Reims from the Gallo-Roman era.

The city was heavily bombed by the Germans during World War I.  At least 70% of the city was destroyed including The Cathedral which sustained heavy damage including the roof, hundreds of sculptures and the destruction of many of the arched stained-glass windows. The centenary of the World War I is being held this year.

Some of the most famous Champagne makers maintain their headquarters in Reims, including Taittinger, G.H. Mumm, Ruinart and Veuve Clicquot.

Photos from my walk about and visit to the Notre-Dame of Reims Cathedral are in the gallery that follow:

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Dinner

Dinner was at Le Millénaire, a chic first rate restaurant a short walk from the Cathedral. One of the things I most looked forward to during this trip was the chance to experience Champagne served with each course of a meal.  And my experience at Le Millenaire exceeded my expectations!

“I have yet to discover a dish that will not come alive in the presence of Champagne.” Anistatia R Miller, author of Champagne Cocktails 

Photos from my first Champagne pairing dinner!

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Wine(s) of the Day:

Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru.  My tasting note follows:

Vivid dark pink color with rich cherry, strawberry, damp earth and mineral aromas that bring to mind a still wine. On the palate it shows ample body with rich cherry flavors and an appealing minerality.  100% Pinot Noir.  A unique expression of Rosé Champagne that I very much enjoyed with my dessert.

Insider’s tip:

  • Reims is a great city where one can enjoy modern French culture in a sizeable city that isn’t Paris. There are plenty of things to do, and I could have easily spent an entire day exploring the city.
  • If you do plan to visit the Champagne houses in the area, plan to make your reservations many weeks in advance!

What a way to start my time in Champagne!  And it only got better…Stay tuned!

A Perfect Pairing: Shrimp Ceviche and Saké

See the photo below?  It’s a Shrimp Ceviche Tostada from one of my favorite local Mexican joints and a glass of SakéOne G Joy Junmai Saké.

And together, they were a perfect pairing!

The Food

If you’ve not had the pleasure of enjoying a Ceviche Tostada, it’s exactly what it sounds like – ceviche, which is raw fish (in this case shrimp) marinated (“cooked”) in lime juice, onions, spicy chiles, juicy tomatoes perched atop a crisp tostada.  Mine was also topped with slices of fresh ripe avocado.  And as you can see, I also generously applied a spicy hot pepper sauce that come with it (could be Tapatio Hot Sauce but I’m not sure).

The Saké

First let’s get this out of the way…Saké is not rice wine!  Saké is brewed like beer, but drinks more like fine wine.

SakéOne G Joy Junmai Saké is one of my favorites.  It’s an American made premium saké that classified as Junmai Ginjo Genshu.  

Saké is categorized based on grade, style and amount of polishing the rice receives -so Junmai is indicative of the grade, Ginjo is indicative of the style and Genshu in indicative how much the rice was polished – the lower percentage the better the quality.

Here’s my tasting note:

Practically clear color with apple, melon, lychee aromas. On the palate, it’s rich, and full-bodied with apple, pear, yellow plum and a bit of spice flavors. Medium-long finish.

A Perfect Pairing: Shrimp Ceviche and Saké

Premium saké is best served chilled in a stemmed wine glass for ultimate appreciation of aroma and taste!

The Pairing

Ceviche pairs well with a wide range of beverages. Classic matches are beer, Pisco Sour – a Peruvian cocktail made with pisco, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white, and high acid white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, or Grüner Vetliner, and Sparkling wine.

I’ve enjoyed ceviche with beer, high acid white whites, and sparkling wine. All co-existed peacefully with the ceviche.  All were good matches.

But, for me, none matched this perfect pairing!

And what is a perfect pairing? It’s when you:

  1. Take a bite of food and chew
  2. Take a sip of wine or other adult beverage with the food together in your mouth
  3. The two together do more than make each other better – they become a third even better thing!

Perfect pairings are rare.

This pairing was perfect for me because the rich, full bodied nature of the saké seemed to strip the heat and acid of the ceviche off the palate, while replacing it with bright fruit and some earthy notes.  The slightly sweet taste of the saké not only eased the heat brought on by hot sauce, but when combined with the sweet taste of the shrimp, it not only enhanced the taste of the ceviche, the saké tasted better too.    

The pairing opened up my eyes to the diverse possibilities of saké as a partner at the table. Granted, ceviche may not seem too far afield from the sushi and sashimi because of the raw fish element, but the flavor profile is quite different.

This was a pairing that has me looking forward to trying saké with foods other than sushi and sashimi!

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Wine of the Week: 2009 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Toulouse Vineyard

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  For this week, my Wine Of The Week is the 2009 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Toulouse Vineyard.

Winery

Phillips Hill Winery is a small boutique (~1,000 cases/yr) winery focused on producing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer from cool climate vineyards located in Anderson Valley. Phillips Hill Winery is located on Greenwood Ridge above Anderson Valley, in the Mendocino Ridge appellation.  I was introduced to Phillips Hill when the winery was recommended to me while I was tasting at Toulouse Vineyards earlier this year.

Phillips Hill

Toby Hill, a native California is the Owner/Winemaker of Phillips Hill. He was formally trained in the Arts.  With a BFA from California College of the Arts, Toby attributes his artistic talent to the Phillips side of the family.  His intense study and mastery of composition in the abstract has been translated into the delicate balance of making wine. From immersion as a practicing artist in New York, followed by later experience as an Architectural Color and Plaster business owner in San Francisco. In 1997 he purchased some land in the Mendocino Ridge Appellation overlooking the Anderson Valley. He built a house and adjacent art studio and kicked back for a time.

He got his start in winemaking after a local winemaker decided not to begin a brand and offered him four barrels of an unfinished 2002 vintage from Oppenlander Vineyard in Comptche in Mendocino County. Ultimately that led him to his new passion and personal re-invention in wine country.

What started as an opportunity to express his work on a wine label became a new artistic obsession for an expression not only on the bottle, but in the bottle as well – a transformation from the art of the visual to that of the sensory.

Phillips Hill wines strive for “old meets new world” style with elegance, finesse, and lower alcohol levels.  The day I visited, only reds were available for tasting. They were sold out of their Chardonnay, and Gewürztraminer.  I was very impressed by the wines I tried.

All the Phillips Hill Wine bottles labels features the artwork of Owner/Winemaker Toby Hill.

The Wine

The fruit for this wine is sourced from the Toulouse Vineyard. The wine was aged 11 months in French oak (33% new, 33% 1 year, 33% seasoned).  The wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered.

2009 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Toulouse Vineyard

2009 Phillips Hill Pinot Noir Toulouse Vineyard

My tasting notes follow:

Ruby color with aromatic dark cherry, red plum, brown sugar, spice, damp earth aromas. On the palate, it’s light-bodied silky smooth and well-balanced with cherry, wild raspberry, and spice flavors. Long finish; 14.2% alcohol, 275 cases produced, $40 SRP

Rating: A-: This is an outstanding wine that is a great expression of the grape.  I wish I’d purchased more, and I can guaran-damn-tee you next time I’m in Anderson Valley I will!

Pair with: Lobster bisque, paella, or coq-au-vin come to mind!

Sample purchased for review

Ratings Key:
(A+) – 98-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 94-97/Outstanding
(A-) – 90-93/Excellent
(B+) – 86-89/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2013 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Wine of the Week: 2010 Carlisle Sonoma Valley “Monte Rosso” Zinfandel

Every Thursday I feature a wine I particularly enjoy, whether it’s something new and different, is a great value, or from a producer worth checking out.  For this week, my Wine Of The Week is the 2010 Carlisle Zinfandel Monte Rosso Vineyard.

Winery

Carlisle Winery & Vineyards is a small Sonoma County based winery  based in Santa Rosa. According their website they specialize in the..

…production of old-vine, vineyard designated Zinfandels and red Rhone varieties (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Petite Sirah).

Mike Officer is the Owner/Winemaker.  He caught the wine “bug” early – at age 19 – when he tasted a late-harvest Riesling (It seems like we all start with sweet wines doesn’t it?) After graduating from college, he worked in software development for five years, but realized that was not his passion.  He knew the answer would involve wine, but he wasn’t sure in what capacity.

He decided to try winemaking,  starting with making 5 gallons of Zinfandel in his kitchen.  Some years later, he  and his wife Kendall found themselves making 300 cases of “garage” wine.  They decided to jump in with both feet and established Carlisle Winery & Vineyards in 1998.  They’ve focused on old-vine Zinfandel, and red Rhône blends, until the 2010 vintage, when they made their first white wines.

In addition to their own estate vineyard, they source grapes from Sonoma County, primarily the Russian River, and Dry Creek AVAs.  Officer always been a fan of old-vine vineyards.   In fact, of the 16 vineyard sources listed on their website, half ( Gold Mine RanchMartinelli Road VineyardMontafi RanchPagani Ranch VineyardPapera Ranch, Rossi Ranch Vineyard, Saitone Ranch, and Two Acres) are considered historic vineyards by the Historic Vineyard Society .

Carlisle wines are available via a mailing list.  The mailing list is currently closed, but if you would like to be added to the waiting list, click here.

The Wine

Fruit for this wine is from the legendary Monte Rosso Vineyard located in the Mayacamas Mountains. Monte Rosso has a reputation for producing wines of high acidity across all varieties (The vineyard is also planted to Cabernet Sauvignon) and producers. Wines are incredibly long lived.

The Monte Rosso Vineyard has a special place in my heart.  While a Zinfandel was my epiphany wine, it was Rosenblum Monte Rosso Zinfandel that blew my mind many moons ago. This one is better than that!

The wine is aged in 20% new French oak and bottle unfiltered, but given a light egg white fining to polish the mountain tannins.

2010 Carlisle Zinfandel Monte Rosso Vineyard

2010 Carlisle Zinfandel Monte Rosso Vineyard

My tasting notes follow:

Nearly opaque purple color with black fruit, bittersweet chocolate, earth, and slight roast meat aromas. On the palate, it’s full-bodied, but the mouthwatering acidity keeps it deftly balanced. It shows blackberry blueberry, black raspberry, mineral and a hint of bittersweet chocolate and a long finish 96% Zinfandel; 4% Grand Noir 15.8% alcohol; 410 cases produced

Rating: A-This is an outstanding Zinfandel! While it was a bit hot on the nose on day 1, that wasn’t the case on day 2.  Additionally, I made sure it was served at the appropriate temperature on day 2, and the heat wasn’t there. Perhaps a not so gentle reminder to serve reds at the appropriate temperature, especially as the weather warms up!

Pair with: A full-bodied wine such as this would pair well with robust dishes such as roast lamb, meat stews, hearty pastas, or barbequed dishes.  And this Zinfandel is more food friendly than most because of its lively acidity!

Sample purchased for review

Ratings Key:
(A+) – 98-100/Extraordinary
(A) – 94-97/Outstanding
(A-) – 90-93/Excellent
(B+) – 86-89/Very good
(B) – 80-85/Good
(C) – 70-79/Bleh
(D) – 50-69/#Fail

Follow me on Twitter @martindredmond for all things wine, and since I’m a wino, with latent foodie tendencies, you’ll also find food and wine pairings, and food related stuff! Become a fan and join ENOFYLZ Wine Blog on Facebook. Cheers!

This article is original to ENOFYLZ Wine Blog.com. Copyright 2013 ENOFYLZ Wine Blog. All rights reserved.

Best Wines to Pair with Paella?

Every cuisine has at least one – a one-pot meal, a dish of humble origins that is the quintessential definition of that place and people. There’s Gumbo, Cassoulet, Risotto, Irish Stew and Pad Thai to name a few. And the Spanish? Well, they have paella.  March 27th is National Paella Day.

Paella originated Valencia region of Spain. According to The Paella Company

Paella was originally farmers’ and farm labourers’ food, cooked by the workers over a wood fire for the lunchtime meal.  It was made with rice, plus whatever was to hand around the rice fields and countryside: tomatoes, onions and snails, with a few beans added for flavour and texture. Rabbit or duck might also have been added, and for special occasions, chicken plus a touch of saffron for an extra special colour and flavour. Paella was also traditionally eaten straight from the pan in which it was cooked with each person using his own wooden spoon.

There are three main types of paella; Valencian consists of rice, green vegetables, meat (rabbit, chicken, duck, pork), land snails, beans and seasoning; Seafood replaces meat and snails with seafood  such as prawns, mussels, and clams and omits beans and green vegetables, and Mixed, a combination of meat, seafood, vegetables.

Paella Valenciana (image courtesy of daytondailynews.com

Paella Valenciana (image courtesy of daytondailynews.com

In addition to the three main types of Paella, two other popular variations are Vegetarian, which typically contain vegetables like artichokes, lima beans, red and green peppers,and Paella Negra, which is typically seafood, cooked with squid ink, so it looks black.

Paella Negra (image courtesy of piospaella.com)

My personal favorite – Paella Negra (image courtesy of piospaella.com)

When pairing paella with wine, I recommend keeping a few food and wine pairing guidelines in mind:

  • What grow together, goes together – I prefer to pair with wines from Spain, Portugal, or wine from the neighboring Languedoc-Roussillon region in  Southern France.  Outside of Spain or France, consider Sangiovese or Pinot Noir for red wine.
  • Pair humble with humble, great with great – Paella has humble origins, I generally pair with inexpensive wines unless it’s a special occasion.
  • Sparkling wines go with almost anything – Pair Valencian, Mixed, and Negra paella with  rosé Cava and Seafood and Vegetarian with Brut Cava

Here are my wine paring recommendations by type:

 Valencian, and Mixed 

Pair with a chilled dry rosé. or an inexpensive red Rioja, other Tempranillo or Grenache. Here are a few I like (click on the link for where to buy):

Rosé

Reds

Tip: Avoid high alcohol ‘fruit-bombs’ or overly alcoholic, tannic reds.

Seafood 

Pair with Albarino, white Rhone blend, Brut Cava, or Rueda.  Here are a few to look for (click on the link for where to buy):

Vegetarian 

If vegetables include asparugus and/or artichokes, pair with New World Sauvignon Blanc, otherwise, chilled dry rosé, white Rhone blend, Pinot Gris, or Brut Cava will be nice matches.

Need a recipe? Check out his great recipe for Mixed Paella from The Not So Cheesy Kitchen.

I  hope you’ll join me in celebrating one of world’s most well-known and beloved dishes.  Have your favorite paella and a glass of wine today!

Viva Espana y Buen apetito!