T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…NV Conte di Santa Chiara Prosecco

It’s Prosecco for my weekly bubbly tasting this week.  I picked this up on a whim from K&L Wine Merchants.  The price was certainly right at $8.99, and it had quite a few favorable staff reviews. And I’ve had good success with wines from K&L  that had at least 5 favorable staff reviews.  Here’s one of the reviews from the K&L Wine Blog:

“This is the perfect party Prosecco! I poured this at one of our local events. It was a hit! I kept the price to myself until they tried it. Every single person was shocked that something so good could be so affordable!! Bring some to your next party and watch it disappear.”

NV Conte di Santa Chiara Prosecco

NV Conte di Santa Chiara Prosecco

Where it’s from: Italy

The grape(s) Glera

Production method: Methodo Italiano (Charmat Bulk)

Alcohol: 11% Retail: $9 

My tasting notes follow:

Very light straw color with a good amount of bubbles that persisted longer than most Proseccos with fruity stone fruit and flora aromas. On the palate it’s light bodied, with a surprisingly soft mousse. It’s crisp and dry while maintaining some nice fruit flavors of white peach, nuanced apricot, and apples. Short finish. Great QPR! – 86pts

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate cleansing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This one would make a very good aperitif, or to take along on a picnic!

I enjoyed this. It’s a nice value play.  I’d buy again if it was available.  When I checked at K&L it was wait listed!

T.G.I.F. Champagne And The Like…2008 Murgo Brut Rosé

This week’s sparkler is from Italy, and it is not Prosecco.  It is a Rosé from Sicily!  As if being a sparkling wine from Sicily isn’t atypical enough in my mind, it is also produced from the Nerello Mascalese grape, with which I was not familiar.  I found this one when I went to a local wine shop called the Wine Mine.  The shop was recommended to me by my wine-loving friend Farah.  I wish I’d gone sooner!  We went for a weekly tasting of Spanish wines, but quickly discovered they have quite a selection of wines from around the world at very good prices!  I asked one of the shopkeepers for the “best sparkling rose under $20″, and she recommended this one.

I found a couple of things interesting about this sparkler when compared to the more well-known Italian bubbly – Prosecco, and Asti Spumante.  First, with both Prosecco, and Spumante, it is recommended they be consumed within a couple of year of production.  This one is vintage dated, 2008 and I found it fresh, and lively.  The other thing I noticed is that it held on its bubbles much longer than the Prosecco I’ve had.  Both these facts lead me to believe it was produced in the “Methodo Classico”, which is the Italian name for the classic French method.  In fact, this wine was matured in stainless steel vats for 8-9 months, then with yeast for 18-26 months. On the other hand Prosecco, and Asti Spumante are produced in what is called the Metodo Italiano(Charmat) process. With that process, while the wine is also matured in stainless steel vats, it is for a shorter period of time, and does not include any aging with yeast.  How the bubbly was made definitely shows in this Italian sparkler compared to others I’ve had.

2008 Murgo Brut Rose

Where it’s from: ItalySicily

The grape(s)  Nerello Mascalese

$20 – Retail , 12.5% a.b.v.

Production method: Metodo Classico; 

My tasting notes follow:

Vivid pink red color with spiced strawberry, floral, and a hint of yeasty aromas. It has lots of dispersed, persistent pinprick bubbles. On the palate, it has a creamy mouthfeel, and is medium-bodied, and fresh with spiced strawberry, and a hint of citrus  flavors. Short finish. 

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.  This would be a great picnic wine because it’s so versatile!  It would also pair well seafood dishes.

I really enjoyed this, and it’s got very good QPR at $20.  I will be buying more.  I highly recommend.  88pts

Wine Words Demystified: Old World

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 Old World

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

 Old World refers to those countries where wine first flourished, namely European ones and others ringing the Mediterranean basin.  Old world techniques, by extension refer to ways of growing grapes and making wines that rely more on tradition and less on science.

In other words, Old World refers to countries like France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Germany.  Tradition, of course, has it’s place in wine making, especially when it comes to where grapes are grown.  However scientific advances, including things like the organic movement have blurred the lines between the Old World and the New World (United States, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Chile).  Sounds a lot like Ole Skool/Nu Skool to me!

Image courtesy of Google Images

Which wines do you prefer Old World, or New World?

Value Alert – 90pt Stunner from Italy for $13!

I love it when I find a great value such as this wine – the 2007 Leone de Castris Salice Salentino Riserva, especially when it’s from a wine region and made from a grape varietal new to me.  I’m still very much in the “promiscuous” phase of my wine lover evolution, so I like to pick up wines on a whim.  That’s what I did with this one when I was a my favorite wine store, K&L Wine Merchants. The $13 price and the 91pt Wine Advocate score caught my attention.

2007 Leone de Castris Salice Salentino Riserva

The wine is from the Salice Salentino DOC of Puglia, which is located in “the heel” of the boot of peninsular Italy.  Puglia has had a reputation for producing mostly low-quality bulk wines (a.k.a. “plonk”).  In the 21st century though, a growing number of winemakers are more interested in quality than quantity, as evidenced by the fact that Puglia is the second largest producer (after Sicily) of organic wines, and substantial investments by Antinori (along with flocks of consulting oenologists, and flying winemakers).

The flagship red grape of the Salice Salentino DOC is Negroamaro , which translated to English means dark (negro), and bitter (amaro).  Other sanctioned grapes in the Salice Salentino DOC are Malvasia Nera, Chardonnay,  Aleatico Dolce and Pinot Bianco.

My review follows:

Dark garnet color with aromatic dark fruit, smoke, and licorice aromas. On the palate full-bodied , powerful, yet refined, and well structured with vivid fruit, fine-grained tannins, and good acidity with blackberry, black currant, and spice flavors. Long finish. This Riserva is 90% Negroamaro and 10% Malvasia Nera, aged in neutral French oak.  13.5% ABV.  Great quality-price ratio on this one!

I’ll definitely be buying more!  To find this wine, click here

What’s The Difference Between Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio?

A bunch of Pinot gris grapes.

A bunch of Pinot gris grapes - Image via Wikipedia

I was having scallops for lunch the other day, and was in the mood for something other than Chardonnay, or Sauvignon Blanc.  I looked at the wine list and decided on the, Bottega Vinaia  Pinot Gris Trentino.  It was a very good wine – Nice tropical, apple aromas, medium bodied with a tropical/apple/vanilla flavors.

When I got home I was looking for some information about the wine, and noted it was referred to as Bottega Vinaia Pinot Grigio Trentino on the wine label.  That brings me to the question my wife asked me during lunch…

“What the difference between Pinot Gris, and Pinot Grigio”?

The answer?  There is no difference in terms of the variety of grape.

It’s the not so unusual case of the same grape going by different names.  Pinot Gris, as it is known in France tends to be fuller-bodied style wine with tropical aromas/flavors.  Whereas in Italy, whereas the grape is known as Pinot Grigio is a lighter, crisper style wine with citrus aromas/flavors.

But outside of France, or Italy what wine makers call their wines made with this grape tend to be a stylistic decision.  It’s the same thing with labeling a wine either a Syrah, or a Shiraz when it doesn’t originate in France or Australia.  What you label the wine can set expectations for what’s in the bottle. Ironically, the wine I ordered was from Italy.  Even so, stylistically, since it was a richer wine with a tropical aroma/flavor profile the restaurant choice to refer to the wine as a Pinot Gris.  In this case, I got what I expected – a fuller-bodied wine.

Generally speaking then if you’re looking for a light-bodied wine with a citrus aroma/flavor profile – order a Pinot Grigio.  On the other hand if you looking for a medium/full-bodied wine with a tropical aroma/flavor profile order a Pinot Gris.

Top 10 Sparkling Wines Under $20

Over the last 30 or so weeks I’ve enjoyed sparkling wines from around the world on a weekly basis, and blogged about it in my “T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like… series.  One of the things I’ve learned, is that there are plenty of sparklers that offer great bang for the buck.  I’ve found some very good to excellent sparklers for less than $20, including, to my surprise a few Rosé sparklers, which are among the food friendliest of wines.  My top 10 list follows
  1. NV Taltarni Brut Tache -  (Australia)  Lovely pale salmon color with floral, stone fruit (peaches/apricots), and fresh-baked scone aromas. On the palate, approaching medium-bodied, with a creamy mousse with watermelon, red berry, and a bit of hazelnut flavors. Dry with a light fruitiness, good acidity, and a clean medium long finish.
  2. Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rose - (California) Delicate pink color with strawberry and bread dough aromas.  On the palate, moderately creamy mousse, good acidity, focused, fruity, yet dry, and lively, with strawberries, raspberries and a touch of citrus, and spice flavors. Medium finish.
  3. 2008 Raventos i Blanc L’Heure Blanc Brut Reserva - (Spain)  Very light straw yellow color with plenty of tiny bubbles, and yeast, green apple aromas. On the palate, a wonderful creamy mousse uncommon at this price point, dry, and approaching medium-bodied with apple, and a hint on citrus flavors. Medium finish
  4. NV Graham Beck Brut Rose - (South Africa) Watermelon pink color with a hint of silver with aromas of yeast, and raspberries.  On the palate, a creamy mousse, fruity, yet dry, with crisp acidity and raspberries, cherries flavors, with a slight mineral overtone, and a hint of citrus on the back palate.  Short-medium finish. Great QPR!
  5. NV Gruet Blanc de Noirs - (New Mexico)  Salmon color with an abundance of dispersed tiny bubbles with brioche and apple aromas. On the palate approaching medium bodied with a moderately aggressive mousse, balanced with pear, sweet baking spice, vanilla, and nuanced citrus flavors. Short finish .
  6. 2008 Antech “Cuvée Eugénie” Crémant de Limoux - (France) Light straw color with brioche, Fuji apple, and floral aromas.  On the palate, crisp with zippy acidity, a moderately creamy mousse, and sweet green apple, pear, and toast flavors.  Medium finish.
  7. NV Jean Louis Denois Brut Tradition - (France)  Light straw color with bread dough, and apples aromas.  On the palate creamy, dry, and crisp, with good acidity with pear, apple, hazelnuts flavors along with a touch of minerals. Medium finish. Very good QPR.
  8. NV Segura Viudas Brut Reserva - (Spain) Light straw color with fine bead of bubbles with bread dough and lemon-lime citrus aromas.  On the palate, light bodied, with moderately creamy mousse with green apple, and tart citrus flavors. Short finish. This one is “everyday” sparkler for me.  It’s a great value at $9/bottle!
  9. Mionetto Brut Prosecco Treviso -  (Italy) Very light – the color of clarified butter, with sweet bread,wet stone and citrus aromas. On the palate, closer to off-dry than dry for me, fairly well-balanced, with sweet lemon-lime, fuji apple, and slight vanilla flavors.  It grew on me more and more with each sip. Medium finish.
  10. 2008 Korbel Natural - (California) Pale golden-yellow color with yeast ,red fruit, and apple aromas.  On the palate light bodied, crisp, between dry and off-dry.  Straight-forward with cherry, apple, minerals, and a touch of honey flavors.  Short-medium finish.
Click here to search for these wines online

In addition to the sparklers noted above, there are a handful of sparklers I heartily recommend that didn’t make the list because they retail for more than $20.  However, because they are widely distributed, they frequently go on sale. When they do – grab a bottle and see for yourself!

(Listed in order of preference)

What I’ve learned tasting 30 Sparkling Wines In 30 Weeks..

Murganheira Bottle of sparkling wine.

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been drinking sparkling wine on a weekly basis since February, and blogging about it in my “T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…” series.  During that time, I’ve tasted sparkling wines from not only the usual suspects, France, California, Spain, and Italy, but also countries that aren’t “top of mind” when it comes to bubbly like Argentina, Austria, Australia, Portugal, and South Africa.  I’ve had more bubbly since February than I’ve had the last 10 years!

I’ve learned a handful of things about sparkling wine as I’ve worked on perfecting my palate for bubbly.  What do I mean by perfecting my palate?  It has nothing to do with developing greater tasting acuity.  Rather, it’s about “living” with a particular wine, learning everything you can about it, and buying as much of that wine as you can.   It’s been an immensely pleasurable pursuit, which has turned me into a bubbles fiend!  Here’s what I’ve learned…

Sparklers are wines with bubbles

Duh! Here’s what I mean.  Like still wines, sparkling wines are made from a variety of grapes.  They are easy, complex, and everything in between.  They are light, medium, or full-bodied. They can be bone dry, or sweet. They are made in white, pink (Rosé), and red styles. Some are made to drink now, others can be aged for many years.  And most importantly, just like still wine, sparkling wine is an every day wine.  It’s so much more than a beverage for celebration.  Yet, those bubbles seem to add a dash of magic to any occasion.  I can’t resist sharing this quote that sums it up for me…

When Lily Bollinger was asked “When do you drink champagne?”, she replied:
“I only drink champagne when I’m happy, and when I’m sad.
Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory.
I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”

It’s great with a wide variety of foods

On a recent Saturday night at Chez Redmond, we had a diverse assortment of leftovers for dinner, including, steak, chile rellano, salad topped with tomato, and avocado salsa, and chicken apple sausage.  We enjoyed this diverse range of food with a sparkling Rosé that paired nicely with the leftovers.  Put simply, sparkling wines are food wines.  Of course, like still wines, I recommend pairing light-bodied sparklers (most Cavas, Prosecco, and other light-bodied sparklers) with lighter fare.  At the other end of the spectrum, I’d pair a steak with a fuller-bodied sparkler, especially a Rosé.

You don’t have to spend a bunch to drink it all the time

The average price of the sparklers I’ve tasted over the last 30 weeks was $17.  The most expensive was $33.  I’ve discovered an everyday Cava that’s less than $10 that has a good quality-price ratio.  And, many good sparklers can be found for under $20 (Look for my Top 10 Sparklers Under $20…Coming soon!)  At the same time, I’ve come to realize that I’m willing to spend more for sparklers that I enjoy.  Like most folks, I used to think sparklers were limited to being consumed as apéritifs, or for celebrations.  Consequently, I wouldn’t spend as much for “better” sparklers.  Yet, I’d spend $30-$50 for a “better” bottle of still wine. Ironically, now that I’ve come to realize sparklers can be consumed throughout a meal, I’m willing to pay more for the pleasure.

It’s a deathbed wine for me

Yep…if I had a choice, I’d have a great Rosé Champagne (at least for the first couple of courses) to celebrate going to my Sweet Reward.

Cava – It’s not just for Mimosas anymore

I’m really digging Cava, at least Reserva level Cava.  It hasn’t always been that way.  I pretty much limited my consumption of Cava to using it for Mimosas.  That was before I discovered a couple of Raventós i Blanc Cavas, one a traditional white, the other their outstanding Rosé.  I’m sure there are others awaiting my discovery.

Here’s my hearty recommendation friends.  Go out and buy a bottle of bubbly today, whether it be Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Cava, or Prosecco.  Enjoy it as more than an apéritif.  Wait a day, or a week, or maybe two. Repeat indefinitely!

“May your glass always be filled with warm memories, and the taste of a life well lived linger on your tongue” – Unknown

p.s. To view the sparklers reviewed in the “T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…” series, just type in T.G.I.F in the Search box above.

A Taste of Little Known Wines – Anniversary Dinner at À CÔTÉ

My wife and I celebrated our anniversary at À CÔTÉ, a Mediterranean themed small-plate restaurant in Oakland.  What I like about small-plates dining is that you get to enjoy a diverse selection of dishes.  À CÔTÉ, likewise has a diverse selection of wines from around the world.  Their wine list might challenge some Jeopardy contestants who choose Geography! It includes lesser known regions of renown wine regions such as Italy (Sicily, and Campania), and France (Corsica), along with countries not well known for their wines such as Croatia, Hungary, Greece, and the Republic of Georgia (Click to view their wine list ).

Not only were the countries of origin diverse, but the grape varieties included little known varieties such as Coda di Volpe, Biancoella, and Grecomusc, which is a grape rare, indigenous grape only grown in Irpinia.

My wife elected to go with a flight of three white wines from Campania, Italy, which included the aforementioned little know wines. I chose to start with a glass of Sherry.  We ordered Marinated Olives, Pommes Frites with Aioli, and Catalan Pork Empanadas with Green Garlic Crema to start with. We followed that with Mussels with Pernod from the Wood Oven, and Seared Scallops with Carrot Risotto, Sorrel Sauce and Sugar Snap Peas for the “main” course.  In addition to the Sherry, I ordered a flight of two Weißherbst-German Rosés.

The tasting notes for the wines I ordered follow:

NV Tio Pepe Fino Sherry – Very pale green color with. Offers aromas of salted nuts and brine. On the palate focused, light bodied, and dry with flavors of lightly salted hazelnuts, and brine.  Medium short finish.  I really enjoy this one!  Sherry was an “acquired taste” for me. But I really enjoy it because it pairs well with so many foods.  Whether it was the olives (the most well know pairing for Sherry), the Pommes Frites with aioli, or the empanadas, the Sherry worked very well with the food, and the food made the Sherry taste fruitier.  I wish I could tell you how the Sherry paired with the mussels and the scallops, it was gone by then (although I’m sure it would have paired very nicely with those too)! – 87 pts

2008 Matthias Dostert Roter Elbling Rosé Color of the eye of partridge. The nose offered red fruit, and slight vegetal aromas.  On the palate, it was off dry for me, fruity with peach, and vanilla flavors and a hint of minerality.  Light-bodied with a short finish. It was my first taste of Roter Elbling. I found the vegetal notes to be off putting for a rosé .  However, it was a good pairing with both the mussels, and scallop entrees - 83 pts

2008 Franz Karl Schmitt Pinot Meunier Rosé –  The color of strawberry soda.  Strawberry aromas, with flavors of raspberry, spice, and on the back palate, a hint of grapefruit. Between short and medium finish. I found this one interesting because it was my first experience with Pinot Meunier on a stand- alone basis.  It’s a grape that is typically part of the traditional Champagne blend. It was dry, and was a good pairing with both the mussels, and scallop entrees.  I enjoyed it a bit more with the entrees, and enough to try it again.- 85 pts

For dessert we chose Coupe À CÔTÉ – Triple Bittersweet Chocolate Ice Cream, Hot Fudge, Caramel Cream,Pecan Praline & Caramel Brownies.  We paired it with 1997 Cossart Gordon Madeira Bual Colheita - Dark orange color.  Nose offers dried citrus and an earthy note.  On the palate, dried stone fruit, and citrus with good acidity, and a long finish.  This was a very good Colheita, and it paired well with the dessert.  I particularly enjoyed the acidity, which provided a very nice juxtaposition to the richness of the dessert.  - 88 pts

Coupe À CÔTÉ

As for the dessert…put simply…it was one the best desserts I’ve ever had!  À CÔTÉ – great food, and great wine list. I highly recommend!

In Vino Veritas!

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…Sorelle Bronca Prosecco

This week’s sparkling wine is a Prosecco from Italy, the N.V. Sorelle Bronca Prosecco – Extra Dry.  For many years Prosecco was used to describe both the grape, and the region where the grape are grown.  In mid 2009, Italian wine regulations were revised to clearly state that Prosecco was no longer to be classified as a grape, but a region that was clearly delimited and known as the Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, which is a classified as a DOCG, the highest status for Italian wines.  Nowadays, the grape is known as Glera.

What makes Prosecco different from the sparklers we’ve tasted is that Prosecco is not made using the Méthode Champenoise  where secondary fermentation occurs in the same bottle in which the wine is made.  Rather, according to the “Wine Bible”…

 ”Prosecco is not made by the Champagne method, but rather by the Charmat process, in which the wine undergoes a secondary fermentation in pressurized tanks rather than in individual bottles”

Sorelle Bronca Prosecco

Sorelle Bronca Prosecc0 – Extra Dry

Region: Italy; Veneto; Valdobbiadene

Variety – 100% Prosecco

Dosage – 16gr/Lt

$17, 11% abv

Production method: Charmat Bulk

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance: Light straw color.

Aromas: Pear, Fuji apple with slight floral note.

Body: Tiny, delicate, dispersed bubbles. Light bodied, fruity and crisp with good balance of fruit, acidity, and minerals. 

Taste: Fuji apple and pear.

Finish: Short

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food. We enjoyed this with a Crab Frittata. This one would be enjoyable both as an aperitif, and with food.  Would pair well with Salvadoran tamales, Garlicky Shrimp pasta, and lighter cuisine.

I enjoyed this more than most other Prosecco I’ve had because it’s a balanced off-dry style.  While not complex it is enjoyable, and I would buy again.  I recommend – 85pts

Chocolate Truffle Tart and Sparkling Wine – An Odd Couple?

I truly enjoy it when my adventure through “Winedom” takes me to unexpected places, particularly when it comes to wine and food pairings.  Such was the case when a friend suggested I give Rosa Regale a try after reading my post about our wine club’s blind Champagne Tasting.  He didn’t say much about it other than it was “great” with chocolate.  Better yet, the next day he gave me a bottle.  Yes indeed – action does speak louder than words!

After receiving the bottle, I was intrigued because Rosa Regale is a red sparkling wine.  I’m no stranger to red sparkling wine, having enjoyed one for Thanksgiving, but a red sparkling wine that would pair well with chocolate, I had to know more!

Here what I found out – Rosa Regale is produced in Italy’s Piedmont region in the Brachetto d’Acqui DOGC – Denominazione Di Origine Controllata e Garantita, which is a specific geographic area in Province of Alessandria. It’s a spumante (which means foaming) made from the Brachetto grape sourced exclusively from a single vineyard known as La Rosa. The Brachetto, is a red grape used to produce both still and sparkling wines.  It tends to produce light bodied, highly aromatic wine with a distinctive strawberry aroma.  And to my surprise I also discovered that Italy produces more sparkling wines from more different grape varieties than any other country in the world!

I decided to try the Rosa Regale with a Chocolate Truffle Tart for our Christmas Eve dinner.   The Chocolate Truffle Tart is dense, rich, intensely chocolate dessert with soft, almost gooey center abounding with bits of chopped bittersweet chocolate on top of a flaky chocolate crust that contains a touch of cinnamon.  The filling is topped with unsweetened cocoa that contrasts beautifully with sweetness of the filling.  And since up to this point whenever I’d thought of a wine to enjoy with chocolate, I thought of Port, I decided to also pair the dessert with a 1997 Dow’s Colheita Porto I had on hand.

I tried the dessert with the Rosa Regale first, and it was a wonderful pairing indeed!  The Rosa Regale was sweet enough to stand up to the sweetness of the Chocolate Truffle Tart.  I picked up raspberry flavor when I tasted the Rosa Regale, and that raspberry flavor was fabulous with the dessert.  And the two together brought to mind a bittersweet flourless chocolate cake topped with a raspberry coulis.  But what I really enjoyed about the Rosa Regale was how the acidity and effervescence inherent in a sparkler cleansed my palate for the next bite.  When pairing food and wine, options include mirroring the food, or setting up a contrast.  For me the Rosa Regale was more of a contrast because it wasn’t as sweet as the dessert, but the fruitiness was a delightful compliment to the dessert.  On the other hand, the Porto more so mirrored the sweetness of the dessert. The Porto also paired well with the dessert, but I enjoyed the Rosa Regale more.  Not only because of the contrast, and effervescence, but also because of the versatility of Rosa Regale.  Flexibility is an important consideration for me when pairing food and wine, and I can easily see how the Rosa Regale would work not only with dessert, but as an aperitif,  appetizer, or with a variety of entrees, (Spicy ethnic foods come to mind – for other pairing suggestions with Rosa Regale click here).  It easily trumps Porto for food pairing flexibility.

Yes indeed…the more I learn, the less I know…and thankfully so!