Tag Archives: sparkling wine

A WORLD OF BUBBLY

We interrupt our regular posting schedule to bring you a timely sparkling wine primer courtesy of our Blue Jean Sommelier, Anders.  If you’re still in need of a last-minute recommendation for New Year’s Eve, or simply want to know more about the types of wine you might encounter tonight, look no further.  Also, keep in mind–there’s no rule that says you must limit your consumption of bubbles to NYE!  Every day can be a holiday with one of these affordable bottles at the table.

If you’re new around here, be sure to check out Anders’ previous posts, too.

Wishing you all a safe, festive New Year’s Eve–check back tomorrow for a post about beginnings, endings, tradition, & shrimp creole.

Salud, L’Chaim, Cin-Cin, Prost, Sláinte, À votre santé, et. al!

Another New Year’s eve is upon us and again we find ourselves thinking about our favorite moments of the passing year and looking forward to the promise of the next.  In my opinion there are many beverages that go with fond nostalgia and anticipatory excitement, but none are perhaps quite as fitting as a delicious sparkling wine.  And – nothing really says PARTY quite as well as a chilled bottle of bubbly!


These days there are many choices from all over the world when it comes to selecting a festive vino frizzante, at a huge range of price points. Here is a rundown of many the options that are available to you and a little bit about what goes into each style.

CAVA
Cava is Spanish sparkling wine and although it can technically be made anywhere in the country at least 95% of it comes from Catalonia – vineyards that are not far from the city of Barcelona. Cava is made using the traditional method and can be crafted from the indigenous grapes Xarello, Parellada and macabeo as well as chardonnay and pinot noir.  Cava is an excellent source of value, you can read more about it here.

CHAMPAGNE
Still undoubtedly the king of sparkling wines but often quite spendy. One of the most important things to know is how Champagne is defined by French law. Sparkling wines from the Champagne region (90 miles NE of Paris) have to follow very specific rules to carry the name “Champagne” on their bottle (like using only Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or Chardonnay grapes, making the wines using the “traditional method” and aging the wine for at least 15 months). French lobbyists and lawmakers have long fought to make sure that the name Champagne is applied only to wines from the Champagne region.  The true quality of Champagne, however, is a result of intense care, precision and skill with which its grapes are grown.  It isn’t that this can’t be reproduced elsewhere, simply that the Champenoise have been at it for much, much longer than anyone else.

CREMANT DE…BOURGOGNE, LOIRE, ALSACE, ETC.
Cremants are sparkling wines from France that are governed by French wine law (meaning they also have aging, grape, vinification and other requirements), use traditional method and are often a GREAT source of value. I have always enjoyed Cremant de Alsace (Trimbach is a good producer) which typically used the Auxerrois grape as a base and can include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer among a few others.

PROSECCO
A sparkling wine made from the Prosecco grape. These wines are produced in the Treviso province of Northeastern Italy (north of Venice and northeast of Lake Garda).  Producers typically employ the Charmat method in making Prosecco, carrying out the second fermentation in large stainless steel tanks instead of in bottle.  As a result, Prosecco is typically less nuanced than traditional method sparkling wine but has bright fruit flavors and is typically best consumed in the year it is produced.

SEKT
Sekt is the name for “sparkling wine” in Germany and those found in the US are typically off-dry and crafted in large stainless tanks (Charmat method). The grapes for most Sekt are also not sourced from Germany itself but from Spain, Italy and France. Deutscher Sekt is the term for Sekt made from German grapes and is typically of higher quality. The grapes can very even more than the provenance, I have found examples made from blends of any of the following; Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. Sekt is often a source of great value but may take a lot of experimentation to find a bottle you like given the amount of variance. Translate German sweetness levels this way: Herb = Extra Brut-Brut (bone dry-dry), Sehr Trocken = extra dry (very slightly sweet), Trocken = dry (slightly sweet), Halbtrocken = medium dry (sweet).

AMERICAN SPARKLING WINES
Since there are few laws governing the creation of American sparkling wine there is no standard on which method to use in creating it or which grapes to make it from.  There are, however, many extremely quality focused producers who put forth great bottlings year after year, using the traditional method and classic grapes. Argyle, Schramsberg, Roederer Estate, J Wine Co, Iron Horse and Domaine Carneros are all excellent producers

Feeling quite festive this holiday season, I took upon myself the grueling task of tasting a collection of what I thought promised to be great quality for price sparklers that are widely available in stores. Here are my notes…

NV (Non-Vintage) Montaudon Champagne Brut (France) $24-$38

The Montaudon probably had the best bubbles of the group – it fizzed finely for 30 minutes. I found the aromatics initially disappointingly-dominated by sulphur dioxide (used in bottling) and overpowering yeast aromas. But after about 5 minutes the sulphur blew off and the yeast aromas integrated with really enjoyable notes of apple blossom (I think – not having sniffed an apple blossom for quite some time), ripe peach, apricot and rose. The palate on the other hand was a well balanced with awesome acidity and citrus flavors that leaned toward lime.

My Rating: Fizzle that Sizzled (Like Robert Downey Jr.- troubled at first but came back strong)

NV Henkell Trocken (Germany) $13-$17
This Sekt is a combo of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot noir and Chenin blanc. The resulting blend is incredibly creamy and left the inside of my mouth feeling like I had just downed an English muffin with my usual disproportionate amount of butter. This wine is also relatively sweet (at least 3% residual sugar) and therefore sent my mother running for another glass of brut champagne. I have to say I rather enjoyed both the creaminess and the sugar, I think I may have discovered another personal guilty-pleasure wine. Expect little acidity (not a great pairing wine) and ripe fruit flavors of guava, apricot, cider and bitter almond on the finish.

My Rating: For Sugar and Butter Lovers

NV Zardetto Prosecco Brut (Italy) $10-$15
The first thing that I noticed about the Zardetto was its gargantuan bubbles! I mean the little orbs were almost the size of Dip & Dots and streamed towards the surface like skin divers gasping for breath. Since typically the finer the effervescence the better, I would not say this is exactly a good thing. On the other hand I found this Prosecco’s aromatics alluring and complex. I got bright honeydew, something floral I couldn’t pin down, lilac and honey. The palate was simple citrus that I thought leaned toward lime and left my mouth feeling chalky.

My Rating: I Wouldn’t Dump it Down the Drain (But You Could Do Better)

NV Gruet Rose Brut (USA – New Mexico) $13-$18
Oh my god it’s pink!! Once you get over any adverse preconceptions about rose wine (I used to have plenty) and give this wine a shot I think you will be pleasantly surprised by its rich, creamy fruit and generous effervescence. Flaunts its traditional method-birth with a lot of yeasty aromatics and flavors (croissant, croissant, croissant) blended together with effuse grapefruit and raspberry. I thought it was quite spectacular for money I laid down and it’s from New Mexico!

My Rating: Class for the Coin

NV J-Vineyards Cuvee 20 (USA – California – Russian River Valley) $22-$28
What struck me most about the J Cuvee 20 was its balance and the excitement of what I like to call “the ride” – that is it kept my focused attention from the just slightly sweet attack (when the wine hits the tip of your tongue) through the mid-palate where it spoke overtly of lemon and sweet bread, had a very subtle creaminess to its mouthfeel and showed a generous acidity that could cut through any rich appetizer. It then finished strong with a wonderful minerality that meshed symbiotically with its lemon-citrus notes.

My Rating: Top Notch

A FAREWELL TOAST

The food world has been loudly buzzing since Monday’s shocking announcement of the Gourmet magazine shut-down. All day yesterday and into today, foodies, bloggers, industry professionals, and (former) Gourmet employees have vented, ranted, mourned, and waxed nostalgic on Twitter and other forums. (I’m no exception.)

Really, I’m not qualified to say much about the closing of the magazine except that I’m surprised and will miss it terribly. Gourmet helped shape me (and many a budding foodie, I’m sure), shaping my aesthetic, building my culinary vocabulary, and offering me exposure to various cuisines and the cultures behind them. I’ve never been much of a magazine subscriber, since there seems to be much more fluff than substance out there, but Gourmet was one I have been happy to pay for. So, even though I had originally scheduled this simple fig salad for today’s post, I just had to tack on a little farewell toast to Gourmet, featuring a cocktail from—of course—last October’s issue. Here’s to you, Gourmet, with many thanks.

champagne toast

FRENCH 75 COCKTAIL

serves 6-8

As you may already know, my honey is rather fond of sparkling drinks; I am rather fond of gin. This drink is the marriage of our alcoholic worldviews in a glass!

I think this would make an excellent substitution for mimosas at a brunch, or pair nicely with a birthday cake/celebratory dessert. They’re also pretty tasty just on their own.

ingredients:

a third of a cup (1/3) sugar

a third of a cup (1/3 ) water

½ cup gin (I used Hendrick’s)

3 T fresh lemon juice

1 bottle well-chilled Champagne

Make a simple syrup by heating the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved. Let the syrup cool, then add the gin & lemon juice. Chill the syrup until cold.*

To assemble the cocktails, pour 2 T of gin mixture into each glass. Slowly top off with Champagne.

[I rimmed my Champagne glass with some coarse sanding sugar, but the original recipe recommends you garnish with lemon zest—a candied version would be nice, too!]

*Gin syrup can be made ahead & chilled.

FALL FIG SALAD

More of an idea than a recipe, I owe the inspiration for this salad from my Shaila Aunty, who grows beautiful green figs in her Memphis backyard. She’s not actually my aunt; she’s one of the many men and women from our close-knit Indian community who raised me as one of their own.

I can’t adequately express how much or how many ways I admire my Aunty—she’s a passionate philanthropist, wife, parent, & friend, possesses an incredible talent for painting, reads prolifically, and is an excellent cook. She has loved and supported me since before I was born, and she taught me to put figs in my salad.

Figs are almost assaultingly sensual and luscious; I love how they look atop a bed of mixed greens. Since several varieties are still in season, fig salad can be a great counterpoint to roast chicken or other fall dish. If you decide to add prosciutto, though, you could serve large bowls of the salad alongside a vegetable soup with some crusty bread.  Leftover figs?  Serve them for dessert over vanilla ice cream.

ingredients: zoomed in fig salad

mixed greens

figs, quartered

Parmesan or Pecorino Romano

chopped pecans (I used candied, but you could use plain)

optional: prosciutto

dressing: balsamic vinaigrette–you could use pre-made or make your own, like I did.  Any chance to use my fig-infused balsamic!  But you could also try this method for quickly infusing your own (just substitute “fig” for “strawberry” in the recipe).

Set the quartered figs atop a salad bowl full of greens. Scatter generous handfuls of pecans over the bowl, then top with fat shavings of cheese. If using prosciutto, snake the strips through the salad before dressing it.

Share/Save/Bookmark

WINE TASTING BASICS PART II – KNOW THY WINE

Picking up where we left off last time– you’re on a date and have averted embarrassment, confirmed that the selected wine is sound and perhaps even impressed your companion with a theatrical display of swirling and sipping. But how do you know if you are treating your sweetheart to a magical bottle that transforms itself with every sip or if you just paid $60 for bottle that is on sale for $9.99 at your corner gas station?

wine tasting set-up

In a lot of ways, wine tasting is a very personal experience and ultimately your opinion is the only one that matters. That being said, there are widely accepted guidelines for what constitutes a good bottle of wine and understanding these guidelines can make your imbibing that much more rewarding.

There are four basic ways of analyzing a wine: by its visual appearance, the aromas it gives off, the way it tastes in your mouth, and the sensations it causes in your mouth. Really, you can break this down further into three simple components:

Appearance
Nose
Palate

Last time we covered the visual and olfactory sides of tasting but didn’t delve that deeply into what happens on the palate. There are 4 primary tastes that we encounter when tasting wine and one of them is almost entirely exclusive to fino sherry (saltiness).  The other three are sweetness, sourness (or acidity) and bitterness (astringency).  The sensations that wine can cause include mouthfeel (smooth, coarse, oily, sticky, etc), weight (body), temperature and the drying sensation caused by tannin.

None of these necessarily make one wine better than another, rather the collective taste mixed of the with the visual and aromatic components of the wine tell us whether this is a Jackson Pollock or just an over-excited toddler hurling paint at a canvas.  Again, wine tasting isn’t an exact science, but here are some factors that help inform you of a wine’s quality:

BALANCE: Do the aromatic, taste and sensation pieces meld together seamlessly?  Are the wine’s fruit-flavors in balance with its tannin and acidity?  Is this Riesling’s sugar well balanced with its acidity or does it taste flabby?  Does the oak character in the wine blend into the other flavor components or does it awkwardly stand out?

INTENSITY: Can you easily smell the wine or does it seem tight and closed?  Is it excessively obvious or is it wonderfully and mysteriously subtle?

COMPLEXITY: Does this Chianti taste like you just chomped on a big sour cherry and nothing else or does it have awesome layers of leather, violets, clay and oak as well?

DURATION: How long does the taste of the wine linger after you swallow? One minute? Three? Five? What do you taste?

VARIETAL CHARACTER: Does this wine taste like what you expect from this varietal(s) or a wine from this region?  If not, is this lack of varietal character to its detriment or advantage?

X FACTOR: Also known as the “Wow” factor, the excitement factor or distinctiveness.  This is what makes a good wine great or pushes you over the edge from like to love.

Here’s my challenge to you!  If you have two hours and $50 to spend on wine (if not, try halving the wine list), go out and find following wines and then taste them side by side. For an extra challenge, have a friend pour them for you and write down which is which.  If you both would like to taste, line up 4 glasses for each person and number them 1 to 4. One person pours the wines, the other person switches the glasses. Both record what they did and neither should know which is which until they compare notes.

2008 Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) $10.99
2006 A to Z Riesling (Oregon) $12.00
2007 Angeline Pinot Noir (California) $13.99
2007 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon (Washington State) $13.99

Taste through these wines organizing your thoughts by accessing the appearance, nose and palate. Then rate wines based upon the metrics above. Which wine do you think is of the highest quality?  Which do you like the most?  Finally, if you are tasting “blind,” reveal the wines’ true identities. Any surprises?

I find tasting wines next to each other a lot of fun and a great way to highlight differences. I hope you do too!  Below are my impressions of wines [see: Anders’ Wine Rating Scale]. Until next time… Sante!

nobilo 2008 Nobilo Regional Collection Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand) $10.99
Notice the rampant acidity- when you hold the wine on your tongue and then start to move it around in your mouth it makes your cheeks squeeze in.  I really like this wine.  New Zealand sauvignon blanc is always an easy wine to pick out of a multi-varietal blind tasting because they are typically quite fruity. This Nobilo delivers on this promise of fruit with juicy flavors of grapefruit, lime and passionfruit. I also got a little bit of cream on the nose and healthy bit of minerality on the finish. Made me think of licking wet rocks in my mouth as a kid. A classic example of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and stellar for the price.  I think it would be delicious with French bread and chevre.

Anders’ RatingTop Notch

2006 A to Z Riesling $12.00 a to z
Exotic spice, candy note, bosque pear, golden raisin and musk on the nose.  Distinct honey and citrus flavors on the palate- slightly sweet (off dry) with a voracious acidity.  I chose this one to demonstrate sugar in a wine but its generous acidity actual reduces the perception of the sugar quite well. Think about the sweetness when it hits the tip of your tongue. Really quite different from the Rieslings I am used to.  This probably will not appeal to everyone but I found it quite fun. Slightly fuller bodied than the Sauv Blanc, quite complex.

My Rating: Class for the Coin

angeline 2007 Angeline Pinot Noir $13.99
It has an unctuous mouthfeel, tastes slightly bitter and displays sweet aromatics of cooked fruit and vegetables (beets especially) eucalyptus and herbs. I think it is made from overripe and overpressed grapes.  It is not as acidic as Pinots can be and shows its alcohol on the nose. Not bad for a Pinot at this price point, but what does that say?

My Rating: Maybe Next Year

2007 Columbia Crest H3 Cabernet Sauvignon $13.99 h3
Amazingly soft for a 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Herbal aromatic notes, maybe a little thyme.  Some dairy notes on the nose as well. Shows its oak, but the wood doesn’t drown out the fruit. Lush berry flavors on the palate hang on through a finish that is impressively lengthy. Well balanced and a steal for $14 greenbacks. It is a wine that I think is easy to like and would appeal to a large group of drinkers.

My Rating: Class for the Coin

Share/Save/Bookmark

A BIRTHDAY & A WELCOME

Hello fine people!  I do so hope you are doing well and keeping cool out there as July winds itself up into August (to ask the proverbial rhetorical: when did that happen?)

I have two VERY EXCITING pieces of news for you today!  First, my Blue Jean Spouse & sweet love, Jill, is celebrating her birthday tomorrow.  Can I just say, I’m so achingly grateful that she came into the world and I’m tremendously proud to share my life with her.  Happy birthday, honey!

gala

Second, and there’s even a fun tie-in here, I am so pleased to announce that we have a new addition here at Blue Jean Gourmet!  My best friend’s brother, Anders, has agreed to be our guest sommelier, sharing his wine expertise with us monthly (read his full bio here).  He’ll post on special topics and tie-in with what we’re cooking around here, but he’s also happy to answer any wine questions you may have.  So please comment away!

I don’t know about you, but as much as I love wine of all kinds, the world of wine can be a little intimidating and needlessly snobby.  Anders, while he has the credentials and knowledge, is a totally approachable, down-to-earth guy and I think he will fit right in around here.  He’s even created his own clever Wine Rating Scale so you don’t have to fuss with boring points.  Not to mention, he’s totally handsome, right?  Anders

(I’m allowed to say that; I’m his sister’s best friend.)

So, enough from me already—I’ll turn you over to him.  Have a lovely weekend, everyone, and I’ll see you on Tuesday, when our regular, recipe-posts will resume.


Greetings to all of Blue Jean Gourmet’s faithful and happy birthday Jill!

Normally I would talk about how to take wine drinking (and tasting) to the next level in my first post.  But seeing that it is Jill’s birthday and given Jill’s proclivity for sparkling wine, Nishta asked me to touch on the subject.  So here goes…

Sparkling wine is a very special type of juice.  Originally it was actually the bane of winemakers in cooler climates.  For centuries, winemakers trying to make dry wines were puzzled by bottles that kept developing bubbles and often exploded in their cellars.  What they didn’t realize was that when they laid their wines down to spontaneously ferment over the winter, the cold temperatures of Northern France and England were halting the process and leaving excess sugar behind.  The winemakers would then bottle the wine which would later restart fermentation in the spring, creating CO2 and carbonating the wine.

Eventually some of our wine-consuming predecessors developed a taste for this frothy wine and savvy producers figured out ways to make stronger glass, better ferment the wine, and even remove the dead yeast cells from the bottles after an intentional second fermentation was completed.  As a result, today we enjoy crystal clear sparklers that seem to embody the spirit of celebration and whose combination of effervescence and high acid make them formidable pairing wines.

For Jill’s birthday, I want to focus on a sparkler that I find especially compelling because simply- it is darn good for the amount of money you have to shell out.  The bodacious bubbly in question is Cava; a Spanish wine that can be made in any of six different wine-making regions but typically comes from the Penedes region in Catalonia (about 50 kilometers from Barcelona).

The secret to Cava’s success is that it is required by law to be produced in what is known as the Traditional Method (just like Champagne).  This means every bottle has to go through its second fermentation in the bottle you buy it in rather than in a different bottle or in a massive tank.

This process has important implications on the size, longevity and abundance of bubbles as well as the potential for yeasty notes in the final product.  It’s these yeasty notes and fine bubbles that define high-end Champagne and can be found in Cava for sometimes as little as one-tenth of the price.  If you are wondering what exactly “yeasty notes” encompasses- they are flavors and aromas of bread, biscuits, brioche, etc. combined with a slightly creamy mouthfeel.

Some pairing ideas for dry white Cava: grilled shrimp with lemon juice and garlic, sushi or sashimi, fried oysters, crackers with Gouda.  Or, if you are an East-Coaster like me, try it with lobster and butter.  Cheers!

1+1=3 Brut NV                                              ~$15.99 Retail 1+1=3BrutNVCava

My first impression of the 1+1=3 is that when I sat down taste it 10 minutes after it had been opened and five minutes after it had been poured, is that it had already stopped bubbling, lame.  After putting to my nose my mood shifted as it displayed nicely subtle aromas of almond paste and clover.  It had a strong lemon flavor and a healthy acidity. Overall I wasn’t blown away and I was never the best student of arithmetic but I’m pretty sure 1+1=2.

Anders’ Rating: What Else is on the Shelf?


parxetcuvee21Cava

Parxet Cuvee 21 NV                                     ~$10.99 Retail

The Parxet was also not bubbling when I sat down, but showed some yeasty characters upon inspection with my nose.  Aromas of toasted brioche melded well with a very lemony palate.  To my surprise it became quite pleasantly frothy in my mouth, despite being previously devoid of bubbles.  It showed a racy acidity and a nuance of raw almond that lingered on the finish.

Anders’ Rating: Class for the Coin


Gramona Gran Cuvee 2004                         ~$19.99 Retail  GramonaGranCuvee2004

Hooray! Bubbles from the beginning! Awesome aromatic intensity- what was that?  Browned biscuit, amaretto cookies and pineapple on the nose? Yummy. The palate didn’t disappoint with a nice weight, creamy mouthfeel and flavors of pineapple and mandarin.  A good length too!  If you can spare the 20 greenbacks I would certainly give it a try. It kept me guessing as new flavors kept emerging.

Anders’ Rating: Top Notch


aria-pinot-noir-bottleSegura Viudas Aria Pinot Noir Brut NV    ~$12.99 Retail

The Segura was by far the champ when it came to bubble longevity, the CO2 just wouldn’t relent.  A strikingly floral and fruity nose of rose petals, red raspberry and tangerine.  I was surprised to get conspicuous blueberry on the palate, complemented by a generous honey note.  Seemed much sweeter than I actually think it was, probably could have used a little more acidity.  However, really fun and complex, my only caveat is that if you don’t like fruity and floral this probably won’t be your thing. It was absolutely stellar with smoked salmon and I am drying to try it with Tuna Maguro.

Anders’ Rating: Class for the Coin

Share/Save/Bookmark