T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut Cava

Elyssia is separate label produced by Freixenet (pronounced ‘fresh-eh-NET) one of the largest producers of sparkling wine in the world.  You may know Freixenet from their ubiquitous black Cordon Negro Cava, which is the #1 imported sparkling wine in the world.

This Cava is different in that none of the grapes used in the traditional Cava blend are present in this bottling.  Instead Pinot Noir, a grape not widely associated with Spain, and Trepat, a little known indigenous black grape used mostly for Rosé Cava are used.

Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut Cava

Elyssia Pinot Noir Brut Cava 

Region: Spain>Catalunya>Cava

Variety – 85% – Pinot Noir/ 15% – Trepat

Residual Sugar – Unknown

$19, 11.5% a.b.v.

Production method: Méthode traditionnelle;

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance: Lovely blush pink salmon color

Aromas: Fresh bread dough, raspberries, and cherry aromas

Body: On the palate, a moderately aggressive mousse, medium bodied, dry with a bit of fruitiness, and soft acidity

Taste: Raspberry and ripe cherry with a hint of tangerine on the back palate.

Finish: Short-Medium

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate refreshing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This was delightful as an aperitif and with food.   I enjoyed this with a traditional Filipino style meatloaf called embutido, and glazed carrots.  But this would be a versatile pairing partner for a host of foods such as  sweet and sour dishes, or mildly seasoned pork, or poultry dishes.

This is good value for a sparkling Rosé at $19.  I recommend!  86 pts   (Click here to find this wine)

Wine Words Demystified: Breathe

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials 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 breathe (a.k.a “aeration”)

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

The process of intentionally exposing wine to oxygen to “open up” and soften it…as when a young wine is poured into a carafe or a decanter or even just swirled in the glass

There are two primary situations to let a wine “breathe”  The first is part of the wine tasting process when you swirl the wine in the glass.  Swirling the wine in the glass draws air into the wine.  The mixture of the air and wine releases and intensifies (opens up) the aromas of the wine.  Thereby allowing you to make a preliminary judgment about the wines aromas.  Which is likely a harbinger for how the wine will taste since 80%  of what we taste is attributable to what we smell.

The second reason is to “soften” a wine that is too tannic (the presence of tannic acid in the wine creates the perception of sandpaper on your tongue).  The air reacts with the tannic acid can soften, or mellow the wine so the perception of tannins is lessened.

Mostly red wines need to “breathe” to improve (though some white wines may also benefit from breathing), especially young wines that tend to be more tannic like Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, and Nebbiolo.

Beaulieu Vineyard: Tasting A Benchmark California Cab

I recently had the pleasure of visiting Beaulieu Vineyard, located in the Rutherford District, in California’s Napa Valley.  Beaulieu Vineyard (“BV”) is one of Napa’s oldest and most iconic wineries.  Georges Latour, and his wife Fernande established it in 1900.  As legend has it, upon seeing the four acres of land they were to purchase, Fernande proclaimed ”Quel beau lieu” which translates to ”What a beautiful place“.

BV has at least three claims to fame.  The first is that it was one of the few wineries to thrive during Prohibition.  The vast majority of nascent wine industry in California was devastated during the thirteen year “Noble Experiment”.   It did so by selling sacramental wines to the Catholic Church in San Francisco.

BV’s second claim to fame is that they were trailblazers in terms of winemaking techniques for Napa Valley wines.  BV hired Napa Valley’s first trained enologist-the legendary “Maestro” André Tchelistcheff in 1938.  Tchelistcheff is widely regarded as the most influential post-Prohibition winemaker in California history.  He created Georges de Latour Private Reserve, (the first separate “private reserve” bottling), and made it  during its glory days from 1938 to 1973.  He also introduced new techniques and procedures to Napa Valley, such as aging wines in small French oak barrels.  Interestingly, after Tchelistcheff left BV he consulted Warren Winiarski, another winemaker in the Vintners Hall of Fame, on the 1973 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar  Cabernet Sauvignon.  That wine won the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976 , put California on the wine map, and destroyed the myth of French superiority.  Tchelistcheff returned to Beaulieu as a consultant in 1991.  He was the inspiration for the BV Tapestry Bordeaux blend.  And later, in the ’80′s, BV conducted a 10-year clonal study of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes that was, at the time, the most thorough clonal study on Cabernet grapes in the world.  That study resulted in UCD clones 4, and 6 that are the primary grapes used the Georges de Latour Private Reserve.

And last, but not least is the iconic Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

Beaulieu Vineyard Reserve Tasting Room

BV Reserve Tasting Room (click to enlarge)

I had the opportunity to taste current releases of several of their Cabs (including the iconic Georges Latour Private Reserve) and their Bordeaux Blend .  My guide for the tasting was Larry Dalby, Wine Educator who was very knowledgeable and informative.  What I really enjoyed about the tasting was an opportunity to “deconstruct” the famed Georges Latour Private Reserve.  I had the chance to taste Clone #4, and Clone #6, each on its own as a stand-alone bottling.  I thought each was outstanding on its own, but together they were the embodiment of the synergies that can be achieved with blending – the whole was more than the sum of the parts!

It was an excellent tasting, and  proof positive of Beaulieu Vineyards resurgence as a benchmark Cali Cab.  See my tasting notes that follow:

  • 2008 Beaulieu Vineyard Tapestry Reserve - USA, California, Napa Valley Ruby color with black cherry, black currant, and cedarwood aromas. On the palate, medium-bodied, smooth, balanced, and still young with black cherry, black currant, vanilla flavors. Medium-long finish. Classic Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (70)%, Merlot (16%), with the rest being Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, and Malbec (90 pts.)
  • 2006 Beaulieu Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon Clone 6 - USA, California, Napa Valley, Rutherford Garnet color with dark fruit, black currant, anise aromas. On the palate, full-bodied, elegant, with well-integrated tannins and black cherry, cassis, coffee, and cedarwood flavors. Long finish. Aged 21 months in new French Oak. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from Rutherford AVA. (91 pts.)

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T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like….NV Gruet Brut Blanc de Noirs

This week’s sparkler is produced by Gruet Winery, which is based in New Mexico.  New Mexico isn’t exactly top of wine when it comes to wine, much less sparkling wines, but Gruet’s lineup of non-vintage wines are very compelling as value plays.  They produce vintage, and non-vintage sparkling wine, along with still wines.

Gruet was established by a family who previously made Champagne in France.  While traveling through the Southwest in 1983, they fell in love with New Mexico and decided to produce sparkling wine here in the US.  The vineyards are located in Engle near the town of Truth of Consequence (you gotta love that name!) about 170 south of Albuquerque.  The vineyards, at 4300 feet elevation are some of the highest in the US, and the climate features hot days and cool nights which is conducive to slow ripening that produces grapes with good acidity and fruit.  Additionally, the soil is similar to the soil in Champagne. Together, the climate and soil create a great environment for the three grapes typically make up Champagne and sparkling wine blends – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.

Their first harvest was 1987, and they released their first sparkling wines in 1989.  In 2008 Gruet sold 100,000 cases of wine, that was distributed in 48 states.

NV Gruet Brut Blanc de Noirs

NV Gruet Brut Blanc de Noirs

Region: USA>New Mexico

Variety – Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier

Residual Sugar – Unknown

$14, 12% a.b.v.

Production method: Méthode Champenoise;

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance: Salmon color with an abundance of dispersed tiny bubbles

Aromas: Apple, red fruit, and brioche aromas.

Body: On the palate approaching medium bodied with a moderately aggressive mousse.

Taste: Pear, with a touch of red fruit, sweet baking spice and nuanced citrus flavors.

Finish: Short

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate refreshing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This was delightful as an aperitif and with food.   Try this one with tapas, especially seafood tapas, or maybe grilled seafood such as grilled scallops.

I’ve previously reviewed their NV Sparkling Rosé, and the NV Brut, but this is my favorite from Gruet so far.  That’s probably because I prefer bubby made in the traditional method with a healthy dose (nah…scratch that – dominated by) Pinot Noir.   Very good value at $14. I recommend!  87 pts   (Click here to find this wine)

Wine Words Demystified: Balance

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials 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 balance

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

An equilibrium among the components of wine (ACID, ALCOHOL, FRUIT, TANNINS, and so on) such that no one characteristic stands out like a sore thumb.  Great wines have balance.

In other words no single component should overwhelm the others.  The usual suspect for an unbalanced wine is fruitiness.  What’s wrong with fruity you may ask?  After all wine is made from grapes shouldn’t it be fruity?  Yes, it should, but using orange juice as an example, there’s a difference between fresh squeezed orange juice, and cheap supermarket orange drink.   With fresh squeezed orange juice there’s some acidity to balance the sweetness of the juice.  With the cheap orange drink there’s only the sweetness of the fruit.

Everything You Need To Know To Enjoy Sparkling Holidays!

More than any other time of year, the holiday season is the time for bubbly.   The challenge is the terminology around sparkling wine can be confusing.  For example, and bubbly labeled “Extra Dry” is actually sweeter than one labeled “Brut”, which is the standard for dryness in sparkling wine.  And since retailers are heavily promoting bubbly during the holidays, the myriad of choices can be overwhelming.  How do you know which one to pick?  I’ve been tasting sparkling wines from around the world and blogging about it in my “TGIF Champagne…and the like” on weekly basis for the last 10 months.  That’s a lot of bubbly! I’ve learned a lot about bubbly along the way. Here’s a quick primer to help you navigate the sparkling wine landscape before you head out to the store this holiday season.

Català: Bombolles de xampany rosat

Image via Wikipedia

Types of sparkling wines:

Champagne – Sparkling wines are produced all around the world, but due to a legal treaty, the term “champagne” is reserved exclusively for sparkling wines produced in the Champagne region of France (although thanks to being grandfathered in to a trade agreement between France and the US, Korbel refers to their sparkling wines as “California Champagne”) Champagne is widely regarded as the best sparkling wine.  Most champagne producers have an entry-level champagne that falls in the $35-$45 range.

Cava – Sparkling wine produced in Spain using the traditional method.  Typically made from grapes indigenous to Spain.  Good to very good Cava can be found in the $10-$20 range.

Prosecco – Sparkling wine produced in Italy typically using the Bulk Charmat method.  Asti is another Italian sparkler produced in the Asti region of Italy.  Good to very good Prosecco can be found in the $10-20 range

Cremant – Sparkling wine produced in France outside of the Champagne region using the traditional method.  This is where you’ll find more budget-friendly bubbly from France.  Look for Crémant from Loire, Rhone, and Burgundy for good value.

Methods of producing sparkling wines

All sparkling wines begin life as still wines.  Then they go through a secondary fermentation.  Unlike still wines, which go through one fermentation, sparkling wines go through two fermentations.

When a wine undergoes secondary fermentation in tanks or vessels, that is known as the Bulk Charmat method (a.k.a. Metodo Italiano).  When a wine undergoes secondary fermentation in the bottle, it is known as the Traditional Method.  The Bulk Charmat method is a less expensive method of producing sparkling wines.  However, the wine produced using the traditional method can be more complex with smaller, longer lasting bubbles.

Styles of sparkling wines:

Non-vintage (“NV”)Most sparkling wine is a blend of wine from multiple vintages. Most of the base for the blend will be from a single vintage with typically anywhere from 10-15 % being from older vintages.  If a producer determines the grape harvest from a particular year is exceptional, then they may produce a “vintage” sparkler using grapes harvested in that year only.  Most sparkling wine producers produce a non-vintage bubbly because blending enable production of a consistent taste from year to year.

Blanc de NoirsSparkling wine produced exclusively from black grapes, such as Pinot Noir, or Pinot Meunier.

Blanc de BlancsSparkling wine produced exclusively from Chardonnay grapes.  If someone on your list is a fan of Chardonnay look for this style.

Rosé – A sparkling wine produced by either leaving the clear juice from black grapes to soak in the own skins for a brief period of time, or by adding the juice adding a small amount of red wine to the blend thereby producing a pink bubbly.  Rosés tend to be the most food friendly (and expensive) style of sparkling wine, though you can find some good ones for less than $20. Rose bubbly makes a great gift, and is a perennial top seller during the holidays because if its attractive hues hint at cranberris, holly berries and other seasonal ingredients.

Prestige Cuvée – In Champagne, a producer’s top of the line sparkler.  

Sweetness of Sparkling Wine:

The amount of residual sugar in sparkling wine determines its sweetness.  There are well-established guidelines for this.  Starting from the driest (least amount of sugar) they are:

Brut nature, or sans dosage  – no sugar added

Extra brut  – very dry

Brut – Dry; the most popular style and probably the most food friendly

Extra DryOff dry; meaning sweeter than Brut, but not as sweet as “Sec”.  These make very good aperitifs

Demi-sec – Sweet; pair with desserts or fruit

For specific suggestions of sparkling wines to try, check out these posts:

Top 10 Sparkling Wines Under $20

And the winner is…

T.G.I.F. Champagne and the like…2008 Raventos i blanc Cava L’Hereu Reserva Brut

For this week’s sparkler it’s back to what’s becoming a favorite of mine, Cava.  Unlike Champagne, Cava isn’t from a particular region, rather it’s a term used for Spanish sparklers made in the traditional method (known as Méthode Champenoise) used in France.  While there are some other regions in Spain that also make Cava,  about 95% of the production  comes from the traditional home of Cava, in the Penedes region in Catalunya (a.k.a. Catalonia)  The basic rules for making wines that may be called Cava are as follows:

  • Must be made in the traditional method.
  • Must age on lees in the bottle in which it will be sold for a minimum of 9 months, 18 months for Reservas and 24 months for Gran Reservas.
  • All the grapes used for must be white grapes – the 3 most common being Macabeo (a.k.a. Viura), Parellada (pronounced pa-re-yada), and Xarel.lo (pronounced cha-rel-low) – unless you are making a Rose, in which case certain red grapes are permitted.

The producer, Raventós i Blanc, is the only Cava producer to estate grow (on about 200 acres of land that has been in the family since 1497!) and bottle all their wines.  After commissioning an in-depth study of their unique estate, it was determined that there are 44 individual parcels, each managed separately.  All the fruit is biodynamically farmed, handpicked and processed via a gravity flow system.  Their Cavas are all vintage dated, which also sets them apart.

I previously reviewed (and very much enjoyed) the 2007 vintage of this wine, so I was eager to try the 2008 vintage.

2008 Raventos i blanc Cava L'Hereu Reserva Brut

2008 Raventós i Blanc Cava “L’Hereu” Reserva Brut

Region: Spain>Catalunya>Cava

Variety – 60% Macabeo, 20% Xarel.lo, 20% Parrellada

Residual Sugar – 6g/Liter

$18, 12% a.b.v.

Production method: Méthode Champenoise;

My tasting notes follow:

Appearance: Very light straw color with tiny bubbles

Aromas: Green apple, brioche, and faint mineral aromas.

Body: On the palate a creamy, delicate mousse uncommon at this price point.  Approaching medium-bodied mouthfeel

Taste: Green apple, citrus and mineral flavors.

Finish: Medium

Pair with: The beauty of sparkling wines is their versatility with food, because of their palate refreshing quality (think scrubbing bubbles;-). This was delightful as an aperitif and with food.   Try this one with tapas, especially seafood tapas, or maybe grilled seafood such as grilled scallops.

This is another winner from Raventós!   It’s a classy Cava that delivers exceptional value for the money!  90 pts   (Click here to find this wine)

Wine Words Demystified: Body

You know the deal, the more some folks learn about a topic, the more shortcuts/slang/acronyms/initials 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 body…

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

The perceived weight of a wine in your mouth.  The perception is dependent on alcohol – the higher the alcohol content, the more full-bodied the wine.  As a point of reference, consider the relative weights of skim milk, whole milk and half-and-half.  Light-bodied wines feel like skim milk, medium-bodied wines like whole milk, and full-bodied wines like half-and-half

In other words, the texture of  the wine in your mouth.  Generally speaking the more full-bodied the wine, the better it’s perceived to be.

Top 10 Sparkling Wines Under $20 Redux

Since February, I’ve been enjoying sparkling wines from around the world on a weekly basis, and blogging 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 find these wines.

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)

Wine Words Demystified – Legs

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

This week’s word is legs…

According to Karen MacNeil‘s The Wine Bible:

…legs are rivulets of wine that have inched up the inside surface of the glass above the wine, the run slowly back down.  Myths has it that the fatter the legs, the better the wine.  This is not true.  The width of legs is determined by the interrelationship of a number of complex factors, including the amount of alcohol, the amount of GLYCEROL, and the rate of evaporation of the alcohol.

In other words, legs has to do with the alcohol content of wine. As such, they are most visible in a wine with high alcohol content.  I should note that a wine’s body is affected by the alcohol content, so I think there is some relationship between the legs and the body of a wine.  However, there are many other more reliable factors than legs. Therefore, I consider legs to be a poor indicator of quality.