2021 – Your Best Valentine’s Day EVER!

Valentines Day 2021 – a celebration like none we’ve had before!

(Internal dialogue) “Valentines Day 2021? This is gonna suck! Stuck in the same rooms since COVID lockdown began? How do we even BEGIN to make Valentine’s Day enjoyable this year?!”

By re-imagining the entire evening! Here’s how…

Valentine’s Day “Before Times” – Think about it. Before COVID, things weren’t really that great, come February 14th.

We’d make reservations at a great restaurant, over-pay for a Prix Fixe menu and a temporarily-inflated wine list, then wait at the bar for forty minutes past our reservation time because the restaurant packed in “just one more turn of the tables”, until finally (tipsy after our second cocktail) we’d have to call the sitter to see if he/she/they could work an additional hour…

Valentine’s Day in the Before Times

Come on, friends. We can easily cook up a more enjoyable Valentine’s Day than that!

Here are some fresh, wine-themed ideas for a truly memorable at-home Valentine’s Day celebration.

And remember, Valentine’s Day 2021 falls on a Sunday and is followed by a national holiday. Many of us will benefit from built-in snuggling and recuperation time on Monday morning!

Valentine’s Day 2021

Whichever activity you choose (ideas to follow), there are a few basic ingredients in our recipe for a memorable at-home Valentine’s Day. Start with the essentials listed here, then build on them using any of our ideas – or ones of your own:

The Basics

To begin with, we suggest these essential ingredients in our recipe for a memorable at-home Valentine’s Day. Bring in the basics listed here, then build around them using any of our event ideas:

  • Flowers: There is no better way to brighten your space than with fresh flowers. But before you resort to the standard – red roses – consider that many people have fallen seriously out of love with this old standard. Perhaps, in part, because rose prices get seriously inflated for Valentine’s Day! If you need creative ideas for flower arrangements, consult the florists at Foothill Flowers (800-742-2551) before placing your order.
  • Candles: Candle-making is now a common at-home business for many of the bartenders and waitstaff that once served our Valentine’s Day meals at now-shuttered restaurants. But as you shop for hand-made candles, note that the scented ones add unwanted flavors and aromas to your wine and food and often become over-bearing. Best to stick with unscented. You’ll find candles you like here on Etsy.

 

  • Play Lists: If your youthful dream was to be a DJ, you’ve probably already compiled a romantic playlist for Valentine’s Day. If not, just search your favorite streaming service for ‘Valentine’ or ‘Romance’, and find a list you like, one that will last… all night long.
  • Food: Whether your plans include cooking or ordering delivery/take-out, eating together is an essential part of a romantic evening. To make this night different from the prior 333 dinners you’ve shared during lock-down, why not dress up as if you were going out (when was the last time you did THAT?!) to make the evening more memorable… and the unwrapping more fun.
Visit Black Lapel, A Style Journey. Not an ad partner.

OK, Now Build on Those Basics! – build on this foundation with one or two of these ideas:

  • Wine and Chocolate Pairing – Contrary to popular belief, wine and chocolate don’t really pair very well. And many sparkling wines paired with chocolate can be downright offensive. But here’s my time-tested tip for making this fantastic – select an oxidized dessert wine (one with the nutty flavor also known as ‘rancio’) such as an aged Tawny Port, a Banyuls or one of the unique and special wines from the Rivesaltes. Pair these wines with three or four exquisite chocolate bars containing varying amounts of Cacao and vote for your favorite combination. Pure delight, and a great hopping-off point for one of the other activities below!
  • Spa Night – Grab some bath bubbles (our new favorite is from Alaffia – not an ad partner) foot scrub, lotion, face masks, massage oils and candles for an evening of pampering. If a good soak is how you like to begin your spa night, light loads of candles to enhance your relaxation and stress relief. Cap it off with a new pair of luxurious bathrobes to preserve the warm glow until bedtime. And to go with the bubbles for your bath, you’ll need some bubbles for your flutes of course! 
  • Movie Night – We’ve all watched a lifetime of movies during the pandemic, so suggesting yet another movie night for Valentine’s Day means we have to take it up a notch! Some ideas: 
    • Give each other a pair of luxurious pajamas to relax in as you watch the movie. Or as you don’t watch the movie, should distraction happen.
    • Pick a killer movie! Here’s LifeHack’s thoughtful list of the top 21 romantic movies.
    • Add plenty of popcorn and some great Champagne (trust me, this odd-sounding pairing works well!) If you can afford caviar, go for it!
    • Bonus Idea: Top this evening off with a gift of special Champagne glasses. My wife recently expressed an interest in the vintage Coupe glasses (see a non-vintage version, below), and I scored some points Christmas morning by presenting an unmatched collection I’d gathered from several vintage shops. Go ahead, draft off me.
12 for $77 at Bed Bath & Beyond. Not an advertising partner.
  • Bring the Valentine’s Day Heat! – Baking and icing heart-shaped cookies as a family provides a creative activity for any number of participants. And for wines to pair with sweet cookies or other deserts, remember the wine needs to be sweeter than the food. Don’t worry, I’ve got you covered.

 

  • Become Immortal – Well, a small part of you anyway, by recording a brief video of each family member. So that this can be done in a single evening, limit your time to about 5 minutes per video, with one family member acting as the Host to introduce the “guest” and ask questions such as these:

For adult couples:

    1. How did you meet?
    2. When did you know there was something special, beyond just dating?
    3. Tell us about your first date
    4. What did your family think?
    5. What was the best part of your wedding?

And for kids of any age:

  1. What is your earliest family memory?
  2. When have you been the proudest of another family member?
  3. What do you think is the best part of being in Covid lock-down with your family?
  4. What are you looking forward to once lock-down orders are lifted and your life is back to normal?
  5. What do you think is the right age for getting married?

In advance of Valentine’s Day, create a private channel on YouTube or create a folder on a cloud storage platform so you’re ready to store your videos in perpetuity. Then share the link exclusively with your kids and/or friends and family members.

Chordboard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Whether you use one of the ideas listed here or something you dream up on your own, we hope that Valentine’s Day 2021 becomes enjoyable and memorable for you and yours.

Happy Valentine’s Day, my friends!

Dave the Wine Merchant

What is Cognac? Which One’s the Best?

Although I’m a wine merchant whose license is limited to the sale of fermented and fortified beverages, my clientele often asks about Whiskies, Brandies and Cognacs around the holidays. Today’s posting is about Cognac, a Brandy from a specific area within France, the commune that lends its name to its famed beverage (please note, in this reference, a commune is a demarcated governmental area, not a residential facility inhabited by un-related families or individuals sharing living quarters, expenses and duties).

Cognac vs Armignac

The two beverages are similar, and yet different. Both are brandies from defined areas within France (see map), Cognac being north of Bordeaux, Armagnac 180 degrees to the south. And their products are polar opposites as well, with Cognac undergoing a double distillation in a pot still and Armagnac a single column distillation in small batches. This leaves Armagnac with more robust aromatics and a thicker mouthfeel which many find intriguing. Traditionally, Armagnac has been small-batch and vineyard-specific, while Cognac is a blend of brandies dominated by big brands seeking to produce a uniform house style (not unlike the large houses of Champagne).


Deciphering Cognac Labels

V.S. – “Very Special” Indicates the youngest brandy in the blend is at least 2 years old at the time of blending.

V.S.O.P.  – “Very Special Old Pale” The youngest brandy is 4+ years old.

Napoleon – Youngest brandy is 6+ years old.

X.O. – “Extra Old” Youngest brandy is 10+ years old.


 

Which Cognac is the Best?

This is a common question from those seeking to purchase a truly fine gift for a valued client of special loved one. But the question is impossible to answer, as it is subject to personal taste and style.

However, I can tell you what the most expensive Cognac is this year – the Rome De Bellegarde X.O. Cognac. Despite the brand’s long history (dating back to King of France Henry III), it has only been since 2018 that the new generation of owners resurrected the brands old panache, reinforcing its world-wide reputation for exclusivity. The world’s most expensive Cognac is from grapes grown in the Grand Champagne region, so named for its white limestone soils similar to those of Champagne. The family leverages their Cognac’s relatively small annual production by limiting sales to Rome de Bellegarde’s website and a handful of well-chosen retail partners around the world.

As a marketer by training and trade, I have to admire this year’s promotional partnership with Britain’s prestigious leather goods brand, Ettinger.  This exclusive tailor has crafted a highly exclusive (only 50!) sets of leather-bound flasks packaged with a 100ml bottle of the Rome de Bellegarde X.O. Cognac (in this case, aged for 25+ years).

If you’re lucky enough to purchase one of them when they go on sale Dec 14th, the privilege will set you back about $610 (at current exchange rates) before shipping and handling.  If you’re interested, put your hat in the ring now – Happy Holidays indeed!

Recipe: Chicken & (Variations on Bittman’s) Overnight Waffles

Delish Recipe - Chicken & Waffles

It may seem crazy to include waffles among my wine-friendly recipes. They’re usually a breakfast item and few wines pair well with the usual waffle toppings of fresh fruit, whipped cream and maple syrup. I can think of about one wine that would be up to the task (very sweet TBA Riesling, anyone?) but even that is far from a perfect pairing, at least to my palate.

No, the reason I include this recipe is because it is not only the best waffle recipe in the world (go ahead, make it and then try to argue the point), it is waaay better than most of the waffles they serve at even the best Southern restaurants that serve Chicken and Waffles. And adding chicken to a waffle creates a sweet-savory combination that expands the wine options significantly (see recommended pairings, below).

Pro Tip – The waffles need a little extra time in the waffle iron – about a minute longer than the  iron’s warning light thinks they need – to achieve the crunchy outside and soft inside that is the very definition of ‘waffle perfection’.  And while they are best when eaten within a minute or two, they freeze beautifully and come to life after a quick visit to the toaster.

Now if I could only bring my fried chicken up to the same level as my waffles (I’m trying this recipe from Delish now – see Bryce Johnson’s tempting food shot above!)

Ingredients:
1/2 teaspoon Instant yeast
2 cups All purpose flour
1 tablespoon Sugar
1/2 teaspoon Salt
2 cups Milk (use Buttermilk for a more savory version, or substitute 1C sour cream for 1C of the milk)
8 Tbsp butter melted and cooled
1/2 teaspoon Vanilla extract optional
Canola Oil for brushing on waffle iron
2 room-temperature eggs

Directions

The yeast will need 8-10 hours of fermentation to bring its full flavor and consistency to the batter, so advanced planning is required (but well worth it!). When preparing the initial batter, combine all the dry ingredients and then stir in the milk. Once combined, stir in the melted butter and vanilla. Cover with a clean tea towel and set aside at room temperature for 8-10 hours.

When you’re ready to prepare the waffles, preheat the waffle iron as you separate the eggs, integrating the yolks into the batter and beating the egg whites to soft peaks before gently folding them into the batter – don’t over-mix or you’ll lose the critical airiness that creates the perfect waffle texture. 

Most waffle irons sold today are made for the deeper, Belgian waffles that are perfect for this recipe. Pour 1/3 cup of the batter onto the waffle iron and bake until the waffle is done, usually 3 to 5 minutes, depending on your iron. Serve immediately or keep warm in a low oven until the chicken is ready to plate.

Remember, in the unlikely event there are any left over, they freeze well for weeks and can be easily called into action by a good toaster.

Wine Pairings – Off-dry, aromatic white wines from cool-climate growing areas. Candidates include Muscat, Gewurztraminer, Muller-Thurgau or Riesling!  Shop our aromatic White Wines here

Recipe: Frico Friulano

Cheese. Potato. Onion. What could be simpler? Actually, this regional dish requires a bit of finesse to turn out properly, but the yum factor is well worth it.

Next to the famed ham of San Daniele, Frico Friulano is perhaps the most iconic dish of the Northeastern region of Italy known as Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. This region is found just South of Austria and West of Slovenia, with its unique cuisine influenced by both. The foods you’ll enjoy here still feature pasta, but their exotic spices and sweet-savory influence are unique within Italy. 

Map of Friuli Venezia Giulia
Courtesy of Vineyards.com – https://vineyards.com/wine-map/italy/friuli-venezia-giulia

And the region is gob-smackingly beautiful. Though much of the region is over-shadowed by Venice, the entire region is postcard-worthy. Vineyards and fields of sunflowers provide a scenic stage for the chalky hills of the Dolomites and dramatic skies and cloud formations.

But enough about geography. Let’s get on with the food. Before making Frico Friulano you must first understand that there are two types of Frico – one is simply grated cheese placed in mounds on a silpat and baked until browned, then served as cheese crisps. Delicious and worth a try, but not what we’re here for today.

The second type is what’s pictured above – and both types of Frico call for the same Friulian cheese called Montasio. It can be hard to find on this side of the pond, but use it if you can and if not, reach for the Grana Padano or a good Parmesan instead.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound Montasio, grated
  • 1 medium potato, about 1/2 pound, peeled and grated
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Procedure

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat for a minute. Heat the oil for 10-15 seconds, then add the onion and cook until fragrant, another 3-4 minutes before adding the grated potato.  Toss the potato and onion until well mixed, add salt/pepper and cook, tossing frequently, until golden and crispy on the bottom – about 10 minutes.

Add the cheese and combine well, working quickly with a non-stick spatula. Once combined, scrape the sides of the pan and spread any excess over the top, smoothing it into a pancake-like disc.  Lower the heat and let cook untouched until the bottom is brown and nicely crusted (~5 minutes, but this will vary depending on your cooking surface). 

Flipping Frico – Loosen the Frico by shaking the pan, place a large flat plate over the pan, flip everything and then slide the Frico back into the pan, exposing the beautifully browned cheese on top. If your Frico breaks during this process, just piece it back together in the pan and nobody will be the wiser. Cook until the bottom is browned, about 5 minutes more, before sliding onto the serving plate.

Slice into wedges and serve with a simple green salad.

Wine pairing – any crisp, aromatic white will be good, but if you can find a white wine from Friuli the pairing will be perfect!

The Frico Friulano at Frasca da Gianni
Frasca da Gianni
Frasca da Gianni – outdoor patio

Ribera del Duero – Affordable Tempranillo

When it comes to red wines, Spain is known for two primary regions – Rioja and Priorat.  And just as Priorat has Montsant as its more affordable cousin, Rioja has Ribera del Duero. That said, some of Spain’s top producers are found here – the wines of Vega Sicilia, Moro, Pesquera and Pingus are highly sought after by international collectors and compete for their cellar space with the best of Rioja.

As with Rioja, Tempranillo dominates the wines of Ribera del Duero. Red wines are required to contain at least 75%Tempranillo, with the remainder being limited to a small group of acceptable blending grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec, with up to 5% being allowed from Garnacha or Albillo (the only white grape allowed by DO regulations). Albillo is used to soften red wines to allow for more near-term drinking, and to lift the aromatics. Visitors to Ribera del Duero may find the Albillo bottled as a white wine, but it’s not allowed for sale outside the region.

Ribera del Duero is located just West and a bit South of its more famous sibling, Rioja. (map by Wine Scholar Guild – a great resource for your wine curiosity)

I was recently sent three bottles of Ribero del Duero wines to review, priced between $17 and $24.  In general, they are an exceptional value for fans of the new world style – that is to say, big fruit and tons of oak influence – which is odd, as Spain is and old world wine producer by any measure.  But Rioja started the love affair with oak, particularly American oak, and Ribera del Duero is following suit.

The one delicious exception to this rule was the distinctive Tempranillo (100%) from Bodegas Torremorón, both for its unique approach to production and its story.

Unique Production Approach

The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks before filtration and bottling without any time spent in oak. This lack of oak influence and the old vines (some as old as 112 years – note the gnarled vine on the wine’s label, above) yields a wine offering a pure Tempranillo experience like no other I’ve tasted. Bright, crackling fruit flavors are balanced by noticeable tannins in this young wine (2018) yielding a light-to-medium-bodied wine with a modest 13% ABV. Some dusty earth notes come through on the mid-palate leading to a finish featuring earthy beets, cigar box /sweet spices. A good food wine for lighter dishes such as grilled meats and roast poultry. You can find this wine for under $20. Sorry, I don’t have it in stock.

Unique Story

Founded in 1957, Bodegas Torremorón is a cooperative of growers and vintners who craft pure examples of high-elevation Tempranillo. Travellers to this remote location in the north-central area of Ribera del Duero will find the very tiny village of Quintanamanvirgo (population 94). Don’t blink or you’ll miss it. Bodegas Torremorón is one of only two businesses in town, and all 94 locals work for the winery! I can’t imagine living in a town of 94 and working for the same enterprise. Do they gossip about who has the most lowest picking metrics, or who slept through their early-morning punch-down duty? Doesn’t the thought of it make you want to visit, to see this place yourself? I’ll go with you, once we can travel again.

The vineyards, which range in age from 80 to 100 years old, reside just outside town in the province of Burgos. At an elevation of 2,703 feet, the grapes benefit from a continental climate featuring hot days and cool nights throughout the growing season; the moderately low annual rainfall lengthens the ripening period, resulting in greater complexity and aromatic intensity in the grapes. Consequently, these wines are darker and more concentrated than those from the west side of Ribera del Duero.

Of the three wine samples we tasted, all under $30 at full retail, this was by far the most interesting. I encourage you to seek it out. And if you love Tempranillo but thought you couldn’t afford them, many wines from Ribera del Duero producers offer great value relative to their pricier cousins from Rioja.

Best Use for Pineau des Charentes

What is this odd wine? Let’s start with the pronunciation – Pineau is pronounced much the same as Pinot but with the second syllable leaning a little more towards “new” than “no”.  Charentes is a bit trickier, and the best I can do to describe it as “Shah-rhont”, with the second syllable rhyming with a word somewhere between “won’t” and “runt”.

Charente is located in western France, named for the Charente River. The department’s most famous towns, also on the Charente river, are Angoulême (a regional center for the wine trace) and Cognac (which needs no introduction!)  

Map by worldatlas.com, by John Moen

The Wine

Pineau des Charentes is a fortified wine that is a popular aperitif in the region but little known beyond its boundaries. It’s produced by blending unfermented (or lightly fermented) grape juice with Cognac, with finished alcohol of about 17%. It’s crafted in two styles – white and red – as determined by the grape juice used. It is aged for at least 12 months in oak, then at least another 6 months (for white) or six months (for red). There is also a very minuscule amount of pink produced as well. Most Cognac producers also craft a bit of Pineau des Charentes. You can find a bottle for sale in the U.S. for anywhere from $20 – $70, depending on how long it’s been aged, the Cognac used, etc.

Pineau des Charentes vary from white to Rose to Red, depending on the grapes that produced the juice.

Serve the wine slightly chilled (about 50 degrees – I don’t recommend serving it on the rocks, as some do) and serve in a sherry glass to amplify the aromas. It’s most commonly served before the meal, and although an aperitif is normally dry, this is an exception. Don’t worry, it does a fine job of tickling the appetite into full force. If serving with or after the meal, an aged version (Old or Very Old are the two classifications) will be far more satisfactory. Serve these higher-end versions just barely chilled – about 60 degrees.

However, as sweet wines go, I Pineau des Charentes to lack sufficient acidity to remain interesting throughout even a modest amount. To illustrate what I mean, think of a refeshing glass of cold lemonade – a perfect balance of sweetness and acidity. If too little sugar is added, the lemonade is unpleasantly puker-producing! But if the sweetness is too high relative to the acidity, the once refreshing drink is reduced to a sweet, cloying beverage.

As an aperitif, serve at 50 degrees.

As a result, I found the best use for Pineau des Charentes to be in mixed drinks. The simplest is to mix an ounce with about 4-5 ounces of sparkling wine and garnish with a long lemon peel.

Simple enough! But cutting-edge bartenders have discovered Pineau makes a great cocktail ingredient and cocktalians will want to have a bottle on hand next to their Salers, Amaro, Vermouth, Pastis and dry Sherry. After testing several cocktail recipes, the one I liked best was the Aquarelle, from bartender Brian Elder at NYC’s The Eddy. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients

  • 1 oz gin
  • 1/2 oz Pineau des Charentes apéritif
  • 1/2 oz Salers apéritif (high-quality gentiane liquor, about $20 for a fifth)
  • 1/2 oz Strawberries muddled with sugar
  • 1 oz Fresh lemon juice
  • Garnish: Basil sprig

Muddle the strawberries in a double rocks glass, add the lemon juice and then the gin/Pineau/Salers.  Top with crushed ice and the basil sprig.

Cheers!

Rosé All Day, 2020

Image from Wine Folly, a great source for fun wine info!

The popularity of dry Rosé continued its upward trend in 2019 and now accounts for over 19% of all U.S. wine sales among both men and women.  But today’s demand surge comes after many decades of winelovers shunning the category.

And I’m agey enough to know why! I clearly recall the White Zinfandel craze of the late 70’s and early 80’s – a sweet wine designed to appeal to a generation raised on Colas and KoolAid. The wine was a huge success for a decade, but became anethema to serious wine lovers as they discovered dry Rosés they could take to the table, just as they do in the old world wine regions, where Rosé  is a staple in every seaside village in Europe.

The current Rosé boom can be attributed largely to the efforts of one man, Sacha Lechine, the son of Russian wine writer Alexis Lechine, an influencer in his day and owner of Château Prieuré-Lichine, control of which was turned over to Sacha at the young age of 27.

When Sacha decided to make the greatest Rosé in the world in 2006, he introduced the world to the first Rosé ever to be priced at $100 a bottle (Garrus). Garrus Rosé led Sacha’s more affordable line up – in descending order of price – Les Clans, Rock Angel and Whispering Angel (which now sells for about $20 a bottle), the latter having been dubbed “Hamptons Water” for its popularity there. I’ve made inquiries as to whether Hamptonians actually use it for bathing, but have no reply at the time of this writing. But it’s easy to see how the wine was so named – Sacha’s Rosés are dry and light enough to drink all day, a foundation of the current style of Rosé that has become so popular.

Sadly, Sacha’s wines are so easily found they no longer qualify for my portfolio of interesting wine ‘discoveries’. But with popularity comes higher prices, and many of the following Rosés are even more affordable than his Sotto Voce Angel!

As evidenced by the five arrows that define the family seal (on this bottle, you’ll see it on the necker) this wine is from the Rothschild family (the Lafite side of the family, not the Mouton side). The logo has been in use since  the mid 1800’s, and represents the five siblings that inherited the family business – as the deathbed story goes, the patriarch called the family together during his final days and asked each of the siblings to break a bundle of five darts. When they were unable to do so, he proceeded to break each of the five darts separately, illustrating that the family’s strength was in staying together.  

The Los Vascos is a wine I don’t carry, as it’s commonly available in distribution and doesn’t qualify for my “Discovery” status, so there is no link provided here. But I endorse it as an affordable and delicious Rosé. You can generally find it for about $15. 

From Rothschild’s Chilean property, this blended wine is predoiminantly Cabernet – a grape I don’t care for when made as a Rosé. This wine is a delicious exception! It’s refreshing crispness makes me wonder if acid was added, as Cabernet is not known for high acidity, but manual additions of acid during the winemaking phase tend to leave a wine with slight traces of a flavor that reminds me of children’s aspirin or vitamin C, elements I did not detect here. Or perhaps its deliciousness is from the blend of the more traditional Rhone varieites that make up the balance. Either way, don’t question it, just twist off the screwcap and enjoy!

Bucklin Rose of Old Hill Ranch, $23.99

The Bucklin Rose of Old Hill Ranch is a blend of Zinfandel (62%) and the classic grapes of the Southern Rhone – Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Counoise (38%) . The vineyard has existed since the 1860’s, and owned by the Bucklin family since 1981.

The grapes are harvested early (a sign the Rosé is an intentional product and not just the by-product of red wine produciton), whole cluster pressed, then the juice is fermented cold using indigenous yeast and finished dry. The wine is very pale in color, beautifully aromatic and crisp on the finish. Alc. 12.8%. 282 cases produced.

The Bucklin family history is rich and colorful and deserves more space than I have here. So for the curious with a bit of time on their hands, you can read more here.

Five Roses Rosato, $16.99

The Wine – A field blend of Negroamaro (NEH groh ah MAH dho, sort of) and Malvasia (MAHL vah SEE ah)  from Southern Italy. The Five Roses Rosato was first produced in 1943 – the first rosé bottled in Italy and the first Italian rosé to be sold in the U.S. For several generations, each of the de Castris had five children, just by chance, hence the name ‘Five Roses’.  This is their most famous wine internationally.

The Winery -Leone de Castris began exporting in the early 1800’s, nearly 140 years after the company was founded in 1665. Visitors can enjoy the exporter’s gourmet restaurant and luxury hotel, Villa Donna Lisa.  Leone de Castris produces only Apulian products, such is their commitment to the Puglia region of southern Italy (“the heel of the boot”) – a region made famous for its food and wine by the famous A-16 retaurants in San Francisco and Oakland. Their mission is to make the highest-quality Apulian products possible – in the land where they were born and raised.

Malabaila, Italian Sparkling Rose, fermented in bottle! $19.99

This is an example of what the Italians can do with sparkling wine outside of Prosecco.  From the Alba region, consisting of 100% Nebbiolo (which makes sense, right?  Pinot is the dominant grape in most sparkling Rosés, and Nebby has similar acidity and body, so…).  Fermented in bottle on the lees for 48 months.  I got the LAST of this wine from the distributor.  Woot! Just 8 bottles left in stock.

Tasting notes – Crisp red fruits blend with rich stone fruits and finish with an herbal note.  The lack of any dosage means this is a bone-dry, crisp and mouth-wtering wine,T so don’t be afraid to pair it with food! Try a bottle before they’re gone!
Provence Rosé “Le Provencal” $19.99

And this final Rosé brings us full circle – back to the Provence region of France where Sacha Lechine started the whole dry Rosé movement over a decade ago.

The Wine
Food-friendly, crisp and refreshing, and with moderate alcohol (12.5%), it even comes in the distinctive bottle shape French Rosé producers nicknamed ‘the corset’ – what’s not to love! Classic Provence Rosé – Strawberry, peach and citrus, with a zingy crispness and added interest from the wine’s native minerality.
 
The Producer
Established in Vidauban in 1922, the Mâitres Vignerons de la Vidaubanaise today controls 600 hectares of vines in the heart of the Appellation Côtes de Provence. Located on the limestone foothills of the Maures Massif in the southern Var (between the Mediterranean Sea and the Alps) the terroir benefits from the Mediterranean climate so beneficial for traditional southern varietals such as Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan and Rolle. The various vineyard parcels are vinified separately, allowing for more character and complexity in the winemaker’s final blend.
Dave the Wine Merchant
“Discover your next favorite!”
www.DaveTheWineMerchant.com

Tariffs: Far-Reaching Ripples

Summarized from The Drinks Business - Bordeaux Wine Trade Demands Compensation for U.S. Tariffs, by Phoebe French

Bordeaux producers are traditionally among the wine world’s wealthiest estates, offering some of the most reliably high-priced wines to wine lovers as well as investors. Their “en primeur” idea (buying cases in advance of the wine’s release for a lower price) helped investors taking fine wine seriously.

But today their story is very different. For the first time in this old dog’s memory, a confluence of factors have conspired against the Bordelaise – disruption in their key markets (Hong Kong unrest, China’s higher tariffs, Brexit uncertainty) all of which set them up for the crowning blow – US tariffs of 25%, with threats of far greater tariffs (up to 100%) yet to be settled. For perspective, the U.S. only puts a 10% tariff on aircraft purchased from Europe, the industry that launched this tariff war in the first place.

As a result, Bordeaux wines are plummeting in price (well, their price before tariffs, anyway) and the wines are reportedly selling for less than the cost of production. As a result, Bordeaux estates are fighting bankruptcy at an increasing rate, and are petitioning their government for three hundred million Euros as compensation for their hardship, just as the U.S. has given to its farmers.

I wish them luck. Our globe would be far less interesting to live on without the wines of Bordeaux.

Source:  Summarized from The Drinks Business, “Bordeaux Wine Trade Demands €300M Compensation for U.S. Tariffs” by Phoebe French.  Read the full article here.

Sonoma Becomes 99% Sustainable

To Your Health! The health benefits of moderate drinking.

According to today’s Wine Enthusiast posting by Virginie Boone, Sonoma County wine growers have become 99% sustainable. Larger in size then their neighbors in Napa, Sonoma weighs in with over a million acres, only 6% of which are planted to grapes. But the value of that crop has helped most of the region overcome the pressure from housing and commercial development – the same influences that threatens agricultural land in Napa Valley (read James Conaway’s book ‘Napa at Last Light…’ to get a broader perspective). The labor shortage and expense of providing H-2A housing at no cost is seen as a recurring theme of concern, along with the pros and cons of vineyard automation as an alternative to human labor.

In her article, Boone highlights some of the inspiring personalities behind this drive to sustainability. Recommended reading!

SMACK DOWN: Champagne, Cremant, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Cava and Pet-Nat!

Line-up for 2019 blind tasting: Global Sparkling Wines. Dave the Wine Merchant

Since December sales accounts for about 33% of all sparkling wine sales, it seems a good time to explain some basic differences between the most popular types of Sparkling wine – Champagne, Cremant, Prosecco, Franciacorta, Cava, and Pet-Nat! 

To see our selection of sparkling wines, click here.

Comite Champagne - logo

Champagne: Though this is often used as the generic term for any sparkling wine, it is actually highly regulated. For a sparkling wine to be called champagne (the word is lower case when referring to the wine, upper case when referring to the region) it must come from the demarcated region due East of Paris. Other distinctive features of champagne is that the wine is made from three primary grapes – Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (moon yay), a mutation of Pinot Noir. In addition, these wines must undergo their secondary fermentation in the very bottle you buy, as described in the steps, below.

This process used to be called “Method Champenoise” around the globe, but champagne producers lobbied the EU to require the term “Method Traditionelle” be used unless the wine is from the demarcated Champagne region. But the process is the same:

  1. Harvest occurs early while the grape’s natural acids are still high and sugars are low
  2. Dozens of lots of still wine are produced, not intended for consumption, these wines are quite astringent and searingly crisp!
  3. Master blenders then go to work to pull from various lots, creating the house style, intended to be consistent year after year
  4. The blended wine is bottled with some yeast and a small dose of sugar and then the bottle is capped so the CO2 from the fermentation can’t escape
  5. The resulting fermentation goes into the wine and creates the joy of the bubbles!
  6. After the yeast have consumed all the sugar, the spent yeast cells are left for years in the bottle, adding dough/bread notes and softness that offsets the astringency of the base wine
  7. When time to bottle the final product, the spent yeast cells are moved to the neck of the bottle, which is then frozen, the cap is popped off, and the force of the bubbles pushes the ice plug out leaving the remaining wine crystal clear.
  8. Finally, the bottle is topped off, and a final dose of sweetness may be added at this point before the bottle is corked, cleaned, labelled and sent out for celebrations everywhere!

Cremant de __________: This is the term applied to most French sparkling wines that originate outside Champagne and are produced using the “Methode Tradionelle” process (above). Other than the region and the allowance of additional grape varieties beyond Champagne’s traditional threesome, the wines are generally of excellent quality and value. The most common include Cremant de Bourgogne (Burgundy, using Chard and/or Pinot), Cremant de Loire (Chenin Blanc and a smattering of red grapes), Cremant de Alsace, Cremant de Savoie…

Prosseco: One of the most popular sparkling wines due to its affordable price and light fresh taste of apples and pears, Prosecco is the one sparkling wine on the global stage that does not ferment in the bottle. Instead, fermentation takes place in large tanks after the initial fermentation. Because this process can occur on an industrial scale, Prosecco is far less expensive than most global sparkling wines. There are two style, Spumante (sparkling) and Frizzante (lighlty fizzy), but the highest expression comes from the small region of Conegliano Valdobbiadenne.  The grape, formerly called “Prosecco”, was changed to Glera in 2009. Same grape, different name. Because Italy.

Franciacorta: This is Italy’s finest sparkling wine and is limited to the Province of Brescia in the beautiful Lombardy region (right), granted DOCG status in 1995. Allowable grapes number almost 20, and the dosage (final addition of sweetness) categories are the same as those of Champagne, but the Non Vintage wine can’t be released until at least 18 months in bottle, and Vintage Franciacorta for 30 months.

Cava: The majority (95%) of the cava is produced in Spain’s Penedes region in Catalonia. But there are also cava cellars in the regions of Aragón, Castilla y León, Extremadura, La Rioja, the Basque Country, Navarre and Valencia.

Typical grapes include a very different trio than those used in Champagne – Macabeo (white), Parellada (white) and Xarel-lo (also white!) – though Pinot is also allowed. The Rose version of Cava is made by bleeding off juice from red wine (Garnacha, Pinot noir, Trepat or Monastrell). Cavas must undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle, or else be designated as Sparkling Wine.

Pet-Nat: Hipster wine bars are over-flowing with Pet-Nat wines, described as the world’s trendiest sparkling wine. I find they are divisive among many wine lovers. The term is short for Petillant Naturel a sparkling wine that is fizzy, easy-drinking and intended for near-term consumption. Unlike all the wines above, you’ll find bottles of Pet-Nat are closed with a crown cap (like you’ll find on a Coke bottle). The secondary fermentation is started (yeast and sugar added to the bottle), and after several months, that bottle is sent to market without any disgorgement, dead yeast cells still in the bottle, leaving the wines hazy and flavorful. Because the wine is a natural product undergoing changes from week to week, Pet-nats seldom taste the same from bottle to bottle or month to month, and can often be a bit, um, ‘enthusiastic’ upon opening – be sure to have a towel handy and open over a sink!

Pet-nat wines can be a bit, um, enthusiastic upon opening!

Post by Dave the Wine Merchant