The ultimate holiday indulgence: Champagne and caviar

The holidays are ripe for indulgence. It’s a perfect time for pampering family, friends and yourself. The ultimate culinary extravagance is the pairing of champagne and caviar: bliss! Both are tiny festive balloons bursting with joy, just for you.

Champagne and Caviar

What’s so special about the salted eggs of a sturgeon? It’s that almost magical pop of the delicate shell that showers your mouth with insanely delicious buttery, saline and fishy goodness. Nothing else can replicate the tactile experience or flavor.

Who was the first person to eat the gray-black eggs of a scary fish that looks like it just swam out of the brackish waters of Jurassic Park? Some say Greek philosopher Aristotle and his cronies were diggin’ sturgeon roe way back in the fourth century B.C. While the Persians (aka, Iranians) may be the first to salt sturgeon eggs from the Southern Caspian Sea, it’s the Russian czars who gave caviar its fame as an extravagance. Its popularity spread when the Russians started selling it as a luxury item to European royalty in the 16th century.

Caviar caught on big in the United States in the late 1800s, and by 1910, sturgeon were almost extinct in the U.S., resulting in the halting of domestic production. Similarly, the sturgeon population in the Caspian Sea and Black Sea was decimated by overfishing, poaching and pollution. In 1988, sturgeon was listed as an endangered species, but poaching for the lucrative black-market trade after the fall of the U.S.S.R. devastated the industry. Wild beluga and osetra sturgeon have been fished to near extinction.

As a result of scarcity and regulations limiting the harvest of wild sturgeon, caviar prices have soared. Fortunately, farming sturgeon provides cost-effective and sustainable access to the good stuff.

Caviar

Order Like a Pro

You don’t have to be an in-the-know aficionado to get good caviar in a restaurant or store. Just follow a few basic tips.

  • Buy enough. You’ll want at least a 30-gram tin (about 1 ounce) for two people, but the ideal serving is 50 grams per person.
  • Know what you are getting. Caviar is the unfertilized salt-cured fish egg that can come from 26 different species of sturgeon. Look for nationality and species of fish on the tin—Russian sevruga, Iranian osetra or California sturgeon—to know what you are getting. While items like salmon caviar are technically roe and not caviar, it is common to find affordable eggs called whitefish caviar or trout caviar. Caviar is graded by the color, size and texture of its beads. The finest caviars are larger eggs that are lighter in color with firmer beads that pop in your mouth. If you are new to caviar, try milder styles like Chinese shassetra or American white sturgeon. Make sure it is fresh. Caviar stays fresh for four weeks unopened when well refrigerated. Once opened, caviar starts to soften and gets fishier. It will only keep for a day or possibly two when stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
  • That beluga isn’t what you think it is. Beluga is widely regarded as the finest caviar, but in 2004, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed beluga sturgeon as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. It’s currently illegal in the U.S., however, you may see river beluga caviar, or kaluga caviar, on a menu. It’s a scrumptious substitute with large, firm and luscious pearls.  Sustainably raised caviar is a good thing. Because most species of sturgeon are now considered endangered, sustainably raised, farmed caviar and other fish roe are great alternatives to wild caviar. Wild-harvested sturgeon are killed for their eggs, while eggs from farm-raised sturgeon are live harvested. Look for farm-raised varieties like white sturgeon or paddlefish roe.

Beluga Caviar

 

The Proper Way to Eat Caviar

Eat caviar in small bites, served right out of the tin with a nonmetallic spoon made of mother-of-pearl, wood or even plastic. Let the eggs spread on your tongue and pop those lovely pearls on the roof of your mouth to let the rich, nutty, buttery, salty, fishy flavors explode across your palate.

Alternately, caviar is delightful when served with blini, toast points or cold boiled potatoes with a dollop of creme fraiche—all excellent neutral backdrops that won’t compete with the flavor of caviar.

 

How to Select Champagne

Champagne is a must for pairing with caviar. The tart acidity of champagne and silky texture exquisitely enhance the enchanting, salty flavor of the caviar. It’s a match made in heaven. Even when excluding all styles of sparkling wine made outside the champagne region of France, there are still several styles to choose from. Follow these tips to simplify the selection of champagne.

  • Ask for advice. Go to a restaurant with a sommelier who can make suggestions or visit a reputable wine shop and ask for advice from the smart people who work there. Sommeliers and wine-shop owners spend all day, every day recommending wine, and are great resources for finding the best champagne for the money.
  • Know what you like. Do you prefer sweet or dry? Demi-sec, sec and extra dry are sweet, while brut and extra brut are dry.

Do you like your wine to be tarter or richer? Champagne made with all chardonnay grapes, called blanc de blanc, is more elegant, with lemon-juice freshness and high acidity. Champagne made with pinot noir is typically bigger, richer and more structured.

Pick your year. Champagne made with wine from multiple years is called non-vintage and will have “NV” on the label. It is usually less expensive than vintage-dated champagne. If you choose vintage champagne, some good years to consider are 1995, 2002, 2004 and 2008.

Consider being adventurous.  If you want a solid champagne without spending a lot of time scouring the wine list, pick a non-vintage bottle from one of the major houses, like Bollinger, Krug, Moët & Chandon, Piper-Heidsieck, Taittinger or Veuve Clicquot. If you feel more adventurous, try a grower champagne, or fizzy wine made by the same house that grows up to 88 percent of their own grapes rather than buying it from other sources. Look for a tiny “RM” on the label, meaning récoltant-manipulant, which signifies it is an independent grower and producer. It’s possible to find high-quality champagne at a great price from houses like Egly-Ouriet, Guy Charlemagne, Pierre Gimonnet & Fils and Serge Mathieu.

Where to Get it in Austin 

There are several stores in Austin that sell quality caviar, but two with high-quality caviar year-round include:

Lone Star Caviar

512.636.8265

As the only caviar-specific retailer in Central Texas, Lone Star Caviar sells a wide array of wild caviar, from domestic sturgeon in a 4-ounce container for $280, to golden osetra imported from Iran in a 3.5-ounce tin for $350. To ensure freshness, the retailer only keeps a small amount in stock. Proprietor Bill Kirchenbauer recommends calling ahead to pre-order. He delivers in the Austin area usually within 24 hours.

Whole Foods Market

Each Whole Foods location carries a limited selection of caviar year-round and increases the selection to six to 10 varieties during the holidays. Ryan Boudreaux, a seafood coordinator, says Whole Foods carries caviar from small, sustainably farmed, artisanal companies like Tsar Nicoulai Select California Estate Osetra. Various quality levels are available, from a farmed white American sturgeon for $40 for an ounce, to a reserve-style white sturgeon caviar for $90 an ounce.

Whole foods follows its seafood-sustainability practices for the purchase of caviar, which precludes it from buying Russian sturgeon. It only carries fresh caviar. Boudreaux recommends customers talk to a fishmonger to check the date of caviar before buying it. It has a finite shelf life of 60 to 90 days. He recommends packing it in ice, even for a short drive home.

Caviar

Clark’s Oyster Bar

1200 W. Sixth St.

Champagne and Caviar at Clark's
Champagne and Caviar at Clark’s

 

This neighborhood seafood restaurant and raw bar has the casual charm of a beachside bistro. Known for its outstanding oysters and bangin’ cocktails, it also has a respectable selection of champagne and caviar.

The sparkling-wine list offers a diversity of styles and prices, with nine types, ranging from $44 to $240 a bottle.

“Our sparkling-wine selection gets rotated frequently,” says June Rodil, master sommelier and wine and beverage director for McGuire Moorman Hospitality. “I think it’s important to have a mix of non-champagne as well as champagne from the big houses, grower-producers and non-vintage and vintage to fit the menu.”

The Clark’s caviar lineup, chosen by Chef John Beasley, follows the same principle of offering a variety of styles and prices. Beasley selects caviar and seafood only from sustainable sources. He looks for clear consistency of the beads and flavor varieties for five to seven styles. The menu caries inexpensive golden whitefish roe and wild paddlefish caviar starting at $30 an ounce, as well as a selection of white sturgeon and osetra for as much as $240 for 50 grams. Each is served in a traditional setup, with a mother-of-pearl spoon, blini, creme fraiche and a selection of garnishes. The Clark’s servers are trained to provide recommendations on caviar to help guests make a good choice for their taste preferences and budget.

“Less expensive fish roe, like paddlefish, have a more mellow, murky and earthy flavor,” Rodil says, “When you move up to sturgeon, you’re starting to get an unctuous, rich, beautiful, rounded bead with an almost mineral and clean taste.”

The perfect pick: For a flawless pairing, Rodil recommends the royal white sturgeon caviar and Guy Larmandier Grand Cru Champagne, served in half bottles.

“A half bottle is the perfect amount to have by yourself with caviar,” she explains. “It’s made with 100 percent chardonnay and super powerful. The caviar is a little quieter, so it goes well with the chardonnay. The wine is like a laser cutting through the creaminess of the caviar, creme fraiche and egg. [It’s the] perfect texture with the texture of the caviar. It’s a middle-tier splurge, so you can get it again if you fall in love and not feel too guilty.”

 

Congress

200 Congress Ave.

Champagne and Caviar at Congress
Champagne and Caviar at Congress

 

One of Austin’s finest fine-dining restaurants, Congress really knows how to do elegant meals. Caviar feels right at home here. Champagne is a staple.

The Congress wine lists boasts more than 20 types of sparkling wine, the majority of which are Champagne. The list runs the gamut, from the non-vintage André Clouet Grande Reserve Brut at $68, to the prestigious 2000 Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill Brut for $436.

Executive Chef David Bull has gathered stacks of prominent national awards for his craftsmanship of cuisine. Among his stellar dishes, he always has a selection that includes caviar.

“We change our caviar selection four to five times a year,” Bull says. “We want the right seasonally available ingredients. In the fall and winter months, the quality of caviar is much better. It’s all about the spawning. We incorporate farm-raised golden osetra from the Caspian Sea in a dedicate dish made with cauliflower mousse with a brown-butter cracker to highlight the flavor of caviar. It’s interactive. Use the crackers to dig in. It’s a fun experience.”

Bull’s driving force when sourcing caviar is to find high-quality eggs with the right color and separation of whole eggs that aren’t broken, as well as a good flavor profile, but caviar that’s still affordable so it’s not intimidating. However, his top priority is to serve sustainable ingredients.

“It’s a chef’s responsibility to make sure he’s not serving an endangered animal,” Bull says. “I make sure we are getting farm-raised caviar.”

It might not always be on the menu, but Congress offers stand-alone caviar service. During the holidays, look for farm-raised golden Caspian osetra served with a boiled egg, red onion, parsley and capers and toasted brioche. It’s served by the ounce for about $70.

“It’s a great bar snack if you can afford it,” says Jason Stevens, ‎director of bars and beverage at La Corsha Hospitality, which owns Congress.

The perfect pick: Stevens gets downright misty eyed when he describes the perfect combination of champagne with that bar snack.

“I like a non-vintage champagne, like Krug Brut Grande Cuvee, that has a little bit of age because it is important to have a nuttiness come out in the champagne to match the nuttiness of the caviar,” he says. “It’s really beautiful. The flavor is one thing but the textural element is another. When eating caviar, it’s so fun for me to crush the caviar on the soft palate of my mouth and let that buttery oiliness come out. The bubbles of the champagne combine with it to create an elegant, creamy mousse. The high acid cuts through the richness and lets the delicate aspects come out to play.”

Alternately, he recommends a very cold shot of vodka.

“I would make a shot with five parts of potato vodka and one part of super chilled akvavit,” he says. “Take a bite of caviar, take a taste of vodka and then more caviar. Rinse and repeat. What a lovely way to spend the evening.”

 

Jeffrey’s

1204 W. Lynn St.

Champagne and Caviar at Jeffery's
Champagne and Caviar at Jeffery’s

 

A couple years ago, Bon Appétit magazine named Jeffrey’s one of its Top 50 New Restaurants when it reopened under new ownership by McGuire Moorman Hospitality, which also owns Clark’s. It’s accurate to say it has only gotten better with age.

With one of only three master sommeliers in Austin responsible for the wine list, it’s no surprise Jeffrey’s stocks an exquisite selection of champagne. Wine and Beverage Director June Rodil organized the list by grower champagnes and négociant-manipulant champagnes in either brut or rosé. It touts superb bottles such as 2004 Bollinger Grande Année Brut, 1988 Le Brun-Servenay Champagne Exception Avize Grand Cru and 1989 Pierre Paillard Grand Cru Brut.

“We have a lot of guests who are really into wine,” Rodil says. “Our sommelier team can answer their deep questions and get people conscious about what they want to drink. We have a large selection of great champagnes, with about 35 labels. I print our list every week and that changes regularly.”

French-trained Executive Chef Rebecca Meeker, who honed her culinary skills at Chef Joël Robuchon’s restaurants in New York and Taiwan, along with Chef David Whalen, sample caviar weekly to find the very best. Like the champagne list, the caviar selection changes regularly to ensure Jeffrey’s always has the freshest possible high-end caviar. The restaurant typically carries one or two styles, such as Iranian osetra or royal osetra from Israel.

Jeffrey’s serves caviar in a traditional way, accompanied by blini, creme fraiche, chopped onions and chopped boiled eggs. As an alternative to the mother-of-pearl spoon, Rodil recommends “caviar bumps.”

“It is super trendy,” she says. “People eat caviar off the back of their hands. It makes a lot of sense, as long as your hands are clean and free of odor. After all, you know you’re own scent, and because of that, caviar is the only flavor you taste. Caviar is such a delicate thing, you don’t want any other flavors interfering.”

The perfect pick: To go with that royal osetra caviar bump, Rodil recommends a 2006 Louis Roederer Cristal Brut.

“Cristal is a pinot noir-dominant blend,” she says. “It’s delicate, with the big richness to go with the intensity and the richness of the bubble of royal osetra. It is richness of bubbles paired with the richness of the bubbles. The 2006 vintage is big, lush, with great acidity. High-status caviar deserves to be served with high-status champagne. People think about Jeffry’s as a celebratory meal. It’s easy to indulge here.”

 

LaV Restaurant & Wine Bar

1501 E. Seventh St.

Champagne and Caviar at laV
Champagne and Caviar at laV

 

Elegance without pretense is the pervasive vibe at LaV. The atmosphere is imbued with subtle sophistication, from the art on the walls and the light fixtures to the intricate details of the dishes on the French Provençal-inspired menu. In this setting, champagne and caviar almost seem like a must.

With one of the city’s most expansive wine lists, overseen by Sommelier Rania Zayyat, it’s easy to find an exquisite bottle of champagne. LaV has more than 40 Champagnes available, with bottles starting at about $100 and increasing to the $975 1989 Krug Collection. The expansive list can be a bit overwhelming, but Zayyat, an advanced sommelier, helps guests easily navigate the waters.

Caviar at LaV is on the down-low. It isn’t printed on the menu and is only offered by the server.

“It’s for people in the know,” Zayyat says. “It’s contagious. When people hear about it or see people eating it, they want it.”

If you are one of the people in the know (and you are now), you’ll find Black River osetra from Uruguay available in a 1-ounce portion for $200. The organic and sustainably farmed sturgeon from the Rio Negro River is malossol style, meaning it’s cured with a little salt to preserve it and retain its natural flavor. The dark-gray medium-sized pearls are served with a touch of whimsy: LaV rolls out the tin with a mother-of-pearl spoon and the traditional accouterments, including creme fraiche, egg yolk, egg whites, shallots and chives, but instead of blini, it offers house-cut potato chips.

The perfect pick: Zayyat recommends picking champagne that isn’t too old or too rich.

“You’ll want carbonation and freshness,” she says. “Caviar is so delicate of a flavor, you don’t want to overpower it with something too old, oxidized or too rich. Blanc de blanc is a great accompaniment. It is more elegant with more acidity, lighter body and finesse that goes well with the saltiness and brings out the nutty, creamy flavor and sweeter finish of the osetra. Champagne is a perfect palate cleanser and it softens the brininess of caviar. The carbonation goes well with the popping of the beads on your tongue. Champagne goes great with fried food. The potato chips we’re doing are a perfect match. It’s very fun and playful.”

As an alternative, Zayyat says Russian vodka is classic. She recommends slightly chilled Beluga Noble Vodka as an amazing pairing.

Russian House

307 E. Fifth St.

Champagne and Caviar at Russian House
Champagne and Caviar at Russian House

 

This is a vodka den. The Russian-themed family restaurant, bedecked with Soviet-era flags and paraphernalia, has 101 flavors of infused vodka in a dizzying array of fruit, herbal, floral and dessert flavors, as well as unexpected flavors like bacon, cigar and a Stubb’s BBQ flavor, in decanters that line the wall behind the bar. Executive Chef Vladimir Gribkov’s signature infused vodka has 35 Russian herbs and spices, and tastes a bit like brandy.

Owned by husband-and-wife team Grivkov and Varda Salkey, Russian House is a celebration of Russian culture beyond just food and drink. Salkey, a member of the Russian Olympic basketball team, and Grivkov, a chef for more than 25 years in Europe and Russia, moved to the U.S. and saw an opportunity to open the first Russian restaurants in Austin. The menu features classics like cold beef tongue, borscht, golubtsy and family recipes that have been passed down through the generations.

The menu also includes a nice assortment of roe and caviar, chosen by Grivkov. It starts with treats like a boiled egg stuffed with red salmon caviar and progresses to Russian Siberian sturgeon baerii and, at the top of the heap, beluga supreme malossol for $220 for a 20-gram portion. This is the river variety and not the illegal wild beluga.

General Manager Roman Butvin escaped the cold winters of Moscow to move to Austin, and joined the team at Russian House shortly after it opened in 2012.

“Both red [salmon] caviar and black [sturgeon] caviar are popular in Russia,” he says. “The salmon caviar is more affordable, easier to find and has very fine roe. Black caviar is a bit more upscale. All of our black caviar is from the Caspian Sea.”

Russian House offers a traditional caviar service, with the caviar in a crystal bowl accompanied by a plate of baguettes, blintzes and blini, as well as Russian-style non-pasteurized butter, creme fraiche, capers and onions.

“In Russia, we eat it either with blini or a baguette with butter on top and caviar,” Butvin says. “We also serve boiled eggs with a mixture of cream cheese topped with red caviar. It’s a festive Russian appetizer.”

The perfect pick: Butvin suggests pairing caviar with vodka or champagne, but notes vodka is really the way to go.

“We have pairings [that] are with plain vodka and not-infused vodka,” he says. “It’s important to keep the flavor of the caviar prominent, and you don’t want to interfere with the flavor of the infused vodkas. We have set vodka-and-caviar pairings on the menu, with all of the bestvodkas included, like Stoli Elit, Double Cross, Russian Standard Platinum, and our most expensive vodka is also called Beluga.”

Russian House also offers a selection of champagne, including André Clouet, Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon Nectar Imperial and vintage Dom Pérignon.

 

This story was originally published in the December 2015 issue of Austin Woman Magazine

What are you drinking? 

The Definitive Guide to Holiday Wine

Definitive Guide to Holiday WineThis story was originally published in the Winter 2014 issue of Austin Man Magazine. It looks fantastic in print, so grab an issue or two. 

December is stuffed with more parties, festive meals and holiday get-togethers than anyone can possibly manage. Getting in the way of that merriment is the mad scramble to meet year-end work deadlines, extra family obligations and the dreaded burden of shopping for gifts. The last thing you need is the extra stress of figuring out what kind of wine to buy for dinners and parties. Relax. We’ve got you covered. Here is your map and compass for navigating holiday wine shopping.

Ready Set Pop the Cork

PERFECT PARINGS: PICKING WINE FOR YOUR HOLIDAY MEALS

Holiday dinners can be a cacophony of conflicting tastes with several dishes demanding your tongue’s attention. Selecting the right wine to pair with diverse dishes like ham, goose, turkey or prime rib and truffled creamed spinach, scalloped potatoes and cranberry relish is downright daunting. The three keys to success are:

Pick a variety of versatile wines, make sure you have enough and don’t be a Scrooge.

Sparkling wine is a sommelier’s clutch wine for crazy food pairings. No matter what is served with it, those festive bubbles perk up the palate and put a smile on your face. The characteristic that makes bubbly so food-friendly is its high acidity. Several styles of white and elegant, refined red wine share that same trait.

Don’t be caught with thirsty guests. It’s safe to plan to serve one bottle for every two people at the table (two if I’m on your guest list).

Marc Hebrart Rose Sparkling

 

The best way to start off any holiday celebration is with a kiss under the mistletoe, quickly followed by a lovely Champagne toast. It’s a perfect mate with soft, creamy cheeses; curvy mounds of mashed potatoes and just about any luscious dish you encounter.

Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ de la Marne NV. As exhilarating as a kiss with a strawberry tucked in her lips, the vivacious bubbles and lush, layered berry flavors of this rosé satisfy. Intense, complex flavors riding an edge of tremendous acidity and minerality make it extremely versatile with food. It’s a bargain for $45.

White

Serving holiday dinner without a white wine is like watching old reruns of Sex in the City without your girlfriend. You just wouldn’t do it. Put food-friendly sauvignon blanc on your shopping list.


2013 Fall Creek Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc
. This is a beautiful Texas wine that you might mistake for French. Locals and out-of-town visitors will both appreciate an enchanting local wine with fresh scents of honeysuckle and green apples, and bold flavors of lemon zest, peach and apricot. It’s perfect for savory, spicy and sweet dishes alike, at $12.

Red

 

Holiday WineThat shimmering Christmas goose or succulent turkey breast might make you crave white wine, but pinot noir will give it wings. Its bracing acidity, sumptuous fruit and soft tannins make it the perfect bedfellow with not only fowl, but also just about anything. Pinot noir is elegant and complex without being fussy.

2012 Starmont Stanly Ranch Estate Pinot Noir, Carneros. Only 214 cases were made of this exquisite wine, made with handpicked grapes from a single vineyard. Vivid violet scents marry with tart red plum, cherry, strawberry, caramel and cedar flavors. Its velvety texture has the right balance of acidity, smooth tannins and light alcohol to let the fruit flavors ease into a long finish with toasty fig and vanilla. Pick it up for $55 a bottle. When a holiday feast calls for a big red meat beast, nothing fits the bill quite like a sumptuous cabernet sauvignon.

2011 Merryvale Profile, Napa Valley. Serving the signature wine from this storied St. Helena winery will signal to your guests that you mean business. Only 957 cases were made of this family-owned estate wine with fruit grown on the east-facing hillside of Spring Valley. The 2011 is a blend of cab, cabernet franc, petit verdot and malbec, giving it brooding flavors of plum, blackberry, black cherry and dark chocolate. Bring on the tenderloin or beef Wellington. This spicy treasure with grippy tannins will bring out the best in any rich dish. It runs $175 a bottle.

HOLIDAY PARTY WINE-BUYING GUIDE

Holiday parties are fun, and buying the wine for them can be almost as enjoyable. Take the stress out of planning the wine for your party with these simple tips.

Get the Right Amount. Figuring out how much wine to buy is as simple as understanding how many servings are in a bottle, how much your guests will drink and the number of guests you expect.

Step 1: Serving size

  • One 750-milileter bottle = five 5-ounce servings
  • One case (12 750-milileter bottles) = 60 servings

Step 2: Consumption average

  • Assume guests at a holiday party will knock back two glasses of wine per hour.

Step 3: Simple equation

  • One hour at two glasses per person x 10 guests = four bottles of wine. Extrapolate from there.

Get the Right Mix. If your party begins before 5 p.m., get a mix that includes 40 percent sparkling wine, 30 percent white wine and 30 percent red wine. If your party starts after 5 p.m., your mix should include 30 percent sparkling wine, 20 percent white wine and 50 percent red wine.

Get the Right Wines. It’s always nice to pick crowd-pleaser wines that are both versatile with food and recognizable. Buying full cases will typically land a 15 percent discount.

SPARKLING WINE CHOICES

Prosecco From Italy. If you like a slightly less fizzy and sweeter wine, try Italian Prosecco. It’s made with the Charmat method, in which the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless-steel tanks rather than in the bottle. Prosecco is readily available at prices that won’t kill your budget. Delicious wines to consider are Nino Franco Rustico, La Marca Prosecco and Enrico Brut.

Cava From Spain. Spanish sparkling wine called Cava is typically made using the same traditional method as Champagne, but with different grapes. It’s known for its high acidity, fresh-cut citrus and melon flavors, and lighterstyle body. Both the white and rosé Cavas are dry (not sweet) and refreshing. Excellent bargains are easy to find. Try Juvé y Camps Brut Rosé, Gramona III Lustros or Segura Viudas.

Sparkling Wine From the U.S. Domestic bubbles typically deliver great value. American sparkling wines are typically rounder and mouth filling. Quality American bubbles are made in the traditional method in California, Oregon, Washington and even lesser known wine-producing states like New Mexico and North Carolina. Some solid choices are Scharffenberger, Argyle Brut and Roederer Estate.

Champagne From France. If you go for Champagne, you will spend a little extra. It’s worth it. To get the best bang for your buck, consider grower-producer Champagne, meaning wine made by the same house that grows as much as 88 percent of their own grapes. Look for a tiny RM on the label. Small growers are able to control their crops and the quality of the product by bottling their own. Put Billecart-Salmon, Pierre Gimonnet & Fils and Guy Charlemagne high on your list.

WHITE WINE CHOICES

Chardonnay From France. Chardonnay is extremely popular, and also pairs well with a wide variety of foods. Consider Bourgogne blanc wines from producers like Joseph Drouhin or Bouchard Père et Fils. Chablis and Mâcon are outstanding growing areas of Burgundy, making crisp yet creamy wines with ripe peach, lemon peel and honeysuckle flavors. Try Domaine Daniel Dampt and Domaine Guillot-Broux.

Sauvignon Blanc From the U.S. or New Zealand. Zippy, light and refreshing sauvignon blanc is always a crowd pleaser and readily available at great prices. Juicy wines from New Zealand shimmer with lime, grapefruit and edgy jalapeño pepper. Cloudy Bay, Kim Crawford and Greywacke are good bets. U.S.-made sauvignon blanc has the same bracing citrus flavors as its New Zealand sisters, but trades fresh-cut grass for the jalapeño. Solid producers include Matanzas Creek, Galerie and Cliff Lede.

RED WINE CHOICES

Syrah Blends From France. The Côtes du Rhône region of France produces earthy, fruity and food-friendly wines made with a mix of grapes, including grenache, syrah and mourvedre. The medium-bodied wines pack bold flavors of blackberry, licorice, herb and black olive on a graphite backbone. They are great on their own or go well with a wide variety of holiday nibbles. Saint Cosme Côtes du- Rhône Rouge and Domaine d’Andezon Côtes du Rhône are solid wines to consider.

Cabernet Sauvignon From Chile or Australia. Cab is king in the familiarity column. Bordeaux and California cabernet are some of the most sought-after wines in the world. To get similar pizzazz with less impact on the wallet, go for wines made in Chile and Australia. Chilean cabs pair dark fruit and chocolate flavors with herbal and peppery tastes. Strong choices are Santa Rita, De Martino and Montes. Australian cabs are powerful, with rich black currant and cedar flavors. Try Ringbolt and Penfolds.

Go Big

WHAT ARE YOU DRINKING’S PAIRING GUIDE

Red Wines

Pairing Guide

 

White Wines

Pairing Guide White

What are you drinking? 

Recipes for romance: Perfect wine and food pairings for Valentine’s Day

Kittens love wineNothing ignites passion as well as wine properly paired with a meal made of aphrodisiacs. Making a romantic dinner for your sweetie at home on Valentine’s Day is a great way to avoid the crowds and the inevitable wait for a table. It also positions you much closer to the boudoir, should everything go as planned at dinner.

Some think that aphrodisiacs are just a myth. Others believe that the food we eat affects our hormones, our energy levels, our brain chemistry and other physiological properties that influence arousal. Whether you believe in the physical or psychological properties or not, it sure is fun to eat healthy food that could increase your chances for extra fun.

Here is your recipe for romance, a four-course aphrodisiac and wine pairing menu that is sure to delight your valentine.

Oysters and a Champagne cocktail
Oysters have long enjoyed association with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, and are arguably the most well known aphrodisiac. In addition to the lovely appearance, oysters have tons of zinc, which enhances male virility, buckets of iron that can boost the energy and are high in omega-3, which promotes a sense of well-being. What could be sexier than to pair that with a gorgeous Champagne cocktail?

Rosé et ReimsThis is a special Champagne that will cost you a few dollars, but your love is worth it. You don’t have to be a Georgia O’Keeffe scholar to understand the beauty of the distinct floral design on the bottle of Perrier Jouët. It, along with the delicate pink hue of the cocktail, will set the tone before you even take a sip.

The rich berry flavors of the Lillet Rosé coupled with the frolicking bubbles and crisp acidity of the Champagne are a perfect accompaniment to the briny oysters. Both Lillet and Perrier Jouët are available at Austin Wine Merchant, going for $20 and $125 respectively.

Rosé et Reims

Serve in a Champagne flute. First, add four dashes of grapefruit bitters to the glass. Add Lillet Rosé, and then top with Champagne. Garnish that gorgeous drink with a long orange twist.

Kendall-Jackson ChardonnaySpicy salad and seductive Chardonnay  
For a second course try a light and lively salad made with a mix of lust-inducing ingredients including a bed of arugula and basil, luxuriant avocado, firm asparagus and spicy red Fresno peepers. Peppery arugula has been considered an aphrodisiac for centuries. Crammed with minerals and antioxidants, it blocks out libido-leeching contaminants. Layer that with thinly sliced, sweet smelling basil. The scent is enough to drive many people mad, but it also improves circulation and heats up the body. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Next, add chilled, blanched asparagus that has been marinated in rice vinegar and sugar to give the salad extra depth. Asparagus has long been considered a natural aphrodisiac in part because of its phallic appearance, but it is also rich in potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamin and folic acid.

Shapely, creamy avocados add a sensuous touch. They are rich in vitamin E for a boost of vigor and folic acid, vitamin B6 and potassium which boosts immune system. Bright red Fresno peppers get the blood rushing and encourage beads of sweat to glisten while you’re still at the dinner table. Hot peppers are loaded with capsaicin, which elevates  body temperature and heartrate to get you hot and bothered. Finish the sexy mix with a drizzle of lime juice and olive oil, which is loaded with antioxidants for a healthy glow.

A crisp California Chardonnay will bring out the creaminess of the avocado and tame the bitterness of the arugula. Go for the good stuff. Kendall-Jackson 2012 Grand Reserve Chardonnay is made with grapes grown in Monterey County and Santa Barbara County where the cool, foggy nights give the wine an acidic edge and lush tropical fruit flavors. The peach and lime flavors are as bright as your lover’s eyes and this creamy, smooth wine is as luscious as a kiss. Kendall-Jackson 2012 Grand Reserve Chardonnay is easy to find at wine shops like Specs for around $22.

Purple Angel by MontesAngels and lamb
The main course is where we stoke passions with a hearty dish and a voluptuous red wine. There have been many health claims about red wine in recent years, but the most important one for Valentine’s Day lovers is that Italian scientists say a glass of red wine each day can boost your libido.

With that in mind, picking the right red wine first and then pairing the meal seems appropriate for Valentine’s Day. Purple Angel by Montes is a special wine worthy of the most romantic dinner. Hailing from the Colchagua Valley, Purple Angel is one of Chile’s most sought after wines. It is made with Carmenere, Chile’s top indigenous grape and a touch of Petit Verdot grown on steep slopes.

Purple Angel has a lot of heart. The wild, brambly scent — lush with blackberries and dusty mocha — is a dead giveaway for what you’ll taste. Bold, dark, brooding and ready for a romp, this succulent red is loaded with blueberry, blackberry and stewed plum layered with black olive, clove and dark chocolate. The tannin bites in a flirty way. The finish is long, just how you like it. This wine is as potent as your lover knows you will be.

Serve it slightly chilled and decant it for about an hour to let it open. It is available at Specs for $60.

Carmenere is versatile to pair with food, but it goes particularly well with grilled meats like lamb seasoned with rosemary, garlic, black pepper and topped with mushrooms sautéed in butter. You can pick up lamb at Whole Foods Market or Central Market. Mix up a simple marinade and fire up the grill. The elegant, yet audacious Purple Angle paired with the lamb will make every morsel taste heavenly.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano, crumbled
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper
  • 1 (2- to 3-lb) butterflied boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat

Preparation

Combine oil, lemon juice, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper in sealable plastic bag or a glass pan. Add lamb and let that baby marinate, chilled for around four hours. Bring lamb to room temperature, about one hour, before grilling. Grill on a lightly oiled grill rack, turning over occasionally until the temperature reaches 125° to 128° F for medium-rare. It should take about 10 to 15 minutes on a hot grill. Let lamb stand 20 minutes before cutting across the grain into slices.

 Hatzidakis Vinsanto 2003 Sweets for your sweetie
To cap off a delightful meal, let’s end with the granddaddy of all aphrodisiacs: chocolate. We all know that it makes us feel good, but beyond the sheer enjoyment there is also some science at work. Chocolate has several compounds including anandamide, whose name is taken from Sanskrit word, ananda, which means “bliss, delight,” and phenylethylamine, a naturally occurring amphetamine known as the “love drug,” and serotonin, that lovely chemical that makes us feel lovey-dovey. No wonder chocolates pack the shelves on Valentine’s Day.

If you really want to impress your sweetheart, serve gourmet chocolate truffles handmade right here in Austin. Delysia Chocolatier makes treats for lots of occasions and has a special Valentine’s collection which features raspberry, champagne and dark chocolate truffles. You can pick it up at Con OlioBreed & Co., Savory Spice ShopMecca Gym & Spa or Delysia’s online shop for $20.

Delysia ChocolatiersThere is nothing like a sweet desert wine to go with chocolate for the perfect romantic nightcap. Hatzidakis Vinsanto 2003 from the Greek island of Santorini is gratifyingly sweet without being syrupy. It’s made with a blend of 80 percent Assyrtiko and 20 percent Aidani Greek grapes. The grapes are picked when they are really ripe to allow the natural sugars to develop. They are then left to sun-dry for 15 days before being crushed, fermented and aged for six years in oak barrels.

This wine tastes like honey-dipped raisins rolled in nutmeg and baking spice with a hint of coffee. Its full, round and velvety smooth with body has balanced sweetness and refreshing acidity with a long finish. Serve it in aperitif glasses or regular white wine glasses. It’s not fortified, so the alcohol level is about the same as typical table wine.

A little hard to find, this wine is worth the search. Your favorite local wine shop will likely order it for you, or you can find it online for about $60.

Now you have your menu for Valentine’s dinner that is sure to spark romance. We’ll leave the rest up to you.

This story was originally published on CultureMap.

Disclosure: wine samples were supplied by Kendall-Jackson, Montes and Hatzidakis. 

What are you drinking? 

Thanksgiving Wine Picks: Why Not Serve Pinot Noir with Turkey this Year?

Thanksgiving wine recommendationThis article originally appeared in the November issue of Austin Woman Magazine, and it looks way better in print.  Photo by Rudy Arocha; Platter, wine glasses and runner available at Breed & Company, 718 W. 29th St., 512.474.6679; Cheeses compliments of Antonelli’s Cheese Shop, 4220 Duval St., 512.53.9610; Wine available at Twin Liquors.

This year, Thanksgiving falls on the first day of Hanukkah. It’s hard enough to pick the perfect wine for Thanksgiving dinner, but for families celebrating both holidays, it’s even trickier. A surefire key to success is selecting more than one type of wine. Bubbles are a must on the table, and it is also a great idea to have an elegant, refined red wine. A complex menu like those served at traditional Thanksgiving and Hanukkah begs for versatile wines.

Sparkling wine is as adaptable as a little black dress during holiday party season. No matter what foods you serve with it, those festive bubbles perk up the palate and put you in a good mood. Sparkling wine also has high levels of acid that cut through any rich and fatty foods like mashed potatoes with gravy or fried latkes.

You might not think of red wine when you gaze at that succulent turkey breast, but pinot noir deserves a seat at your table. Its lush fruit, mild alcohol and soft tannins give it the versatility to pair well with not only turkey, but also with red meats and just about any dish. Pinot noir is the ultimate svelte, elegant, complex wine, and red Burgundy is the best there is in the category.

Similarly, the Syrah-driven wines of the Côtes du Rhône region of France are earthy, fruity and foodfriendly wines. Unlike some of your relatives, these wines won’t dominate the conversation—or the food. The subtle, medium-bodied wines go with white meat or a traditional Hanukkah brisket equally as well.

Whether you are cooking at home or attending dinner at a friend’s house, plan to have one bottle of each for every two people. As a guest, you might not need to supply all the wine, but you should always bring a bottle of something to augment the host’s supply. It’s a nice gift if it isn’t served.

Here are my bubbly and red recommendations for your holiday feast:

Bargain Bubbly: Gruet Brut Non Vintage French Champagne may be the standardbearer for sophisticated bubbles, but domestic bubbly typically delivers better value. Quality American sparkling wines are made in the traditional method in California, Oregon, Washington and even New Mexico. French Champagne maker Gilbert Gruet moved to New Mexico in the early 1980s to make Gruet sparkling wine. Gruet brut is bright with flavors of apple, grapefruit, a hint of lemon zest and an edge of stony minerals that make it a natural dance partner with any food. Pick it up at Twin Liquors for $15.

Splurge Bubbly: Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ This Premier Cru rosé from the small French Champagne grower/producer Marc Hébrart is as refined and silky as you would expect from a Grand Cru. Its gorgeous salmon color and streaming bubbles are a delightful visual accompaniment to any table. It has a nice balance of fruit and earth with fresh apple, strawberries and funky goat-cheese scent. It finishes with crisp minerals and tart acidity. It’s a steal for $55, available by order at Austin Wine Merchant.

Bargain Red: Domaine d’Andezon Côtes du Rhône 2011 Domaine d’Andezon from the Southern Rhône tastes like a much more expensive wine made in one of the more prestigious regions to the North. This blend of mostly Syrah and Grenache has rich violet color and lush black fruit and wildflower aromas. The blackberry, licorice, herb and black-olive flavors are balanced with graphite minerality. It pairs well with duck, venison and brisket. It is available at Twin Liquors for about $15.

Splurge Red: Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru “Clos des Issarts” 2010 The famed wine village of Gevrey-Chambertin in the Burgundy region of France produces some of the world’s most sought-after Premier and Grand Cru wines. The Faiveley has rich extraction, resulting in a dark ruby color. It has opulent, long-lasting scents of forests, fennel and ripe cherries. The well-balanced wine tastes of cherries, strawberries, mocha and dried mushroom. It has a silky texture, despite the racy acidity and firm tannins. It is elegance in a bottle for $95 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

What are you drinking?

Tis the Season wine list: Top 10 holiday wines, from sparkling to dessert

 Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut

 Co-authored by Jessica Dupuy
Looking for the perfect holiday wine? If you need a little help, and you’re willing to take the advice of two relatively well-informed wine enthusiasts, then look no further than our very own “‘Tis the Season wine list.”

CultureMap contributor Matt McGinnis of WhatAreYouDrinking.net and food editor Jessica Dupuy bring you a short and simple list of 10 wines. Two sparkling wines, two whites, two reds, two dessert whites and two dessert reds.

Matt McGinnis: “If you follow just one guiding principle for selecting wine for your holiday celebrations, by all means make it this one: don’t be a Scrooge. Whether you are hosting guests or celebrating just with your family, the holidays demand that you go the extra mile. You don’t have to be ostentatiously extravagant or break the bank, but don’t skimp on the most important element of your holiday meal, the wine.”

Jessica Dupuy: “McGinnis’ list may appeal to the Champagne and Lace wine lover, but let’s say you’ve got to host a large group of people and don’t want to shell out the big bucks for a crowd who — most likely — doesn’t care what alcohol-infused beverage you put in their hands. Or let’s just say it, you’re like a lot of us Scrooges out there and are just plain cheap, my list is the one for you.”

Sparkling Wine 

McGinnis Picks: Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru
The first wine you should grab for any holiday occasion is bubbly. Every aspect of opening, pouring, serving and drinking Champagne excites the senses in ways no other wine can. This Christmas, look for a smaller Champagne house that grows its own grapes and produces its own wine. You can find these Champagnes, known as grower-producers, by looking for a tiny “RM” on the label. This is a good short-hand for finding high-quality bubbly without overpaying.

Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru fits the bill for “party-in-a-bottle.” Once popped open, riotous showers of bubbles race to the top of the glass to form a creamy mousse and the bubbles continue to dance and play on the tongue with aplomb. It fills the nose with walnut, apple and pear with the burst of each festive bubble. The Godmé has toasty bread and bright green apple, ripe strawberries flavors and a jangling citrus zip.

The best way to start off any holiday celebration is a kiss under the mistletoe quickly followed by a toast with lovely Champagne. It’s a perfect mate with soft creamy cheeses, ripe berries and just about any hors d’oeuvre you choose to serve before dinner.

I picked up this lovely bubbly from The Red Room Lounge for $55.

Dupuy Picks: Gruet Rosé Non Vintage
While Matt’s philosophy is certainly altruistic if not a bit showy, there was a time when shelling out a few extra bucks to ensure you could show up to a holiday dinner with a good wine was key. But these days, the global market for wine has been blown wide open with a whole slew of impressive wines on the shelves for under $15. You just have to know how to find them.

Everyone loves a good celebration. And a few bubbles in the bottle is a sure fire way to summon a good time. While the best from the large French Champagne houses or even the most delicate of small production grower-producer Champagnes can be instant show-stoppers, I’d suggest panty dropper. And sparkling wine is no doubt the go-to wine for that. But you’re just as likely to turn heads with a little bubbly from the sandy loam soils of New Mexico.

The Gruet Rosé is bright with flavors of strawberry and raspberry as well as hint of lemon zest and warm limestone. When it comes down to it, it’s really just as sophisticated as the real deal. It doesn’t hurt that the winery was started by a French family in the mid-1980s while looking to make a mark with wine on the American frontier.

You can find Gruett Rosé at Spec’s for about $15.

White Wine

McGinnis Picks: Fritz Haag 2010 Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese
Coming to Christmas dinner without a white wine is like going to church without any pants. You just wouldn’t do it. Riesling is among the most food friendly wines on the planet and a sure bet to pair well with almost anything you choose to serve at the holidays. I recommend an ever so slightly sweet Spätlese variety which will accompany savory, spicy and sweet dishes alike.

Here is the second place where you shouldn’t be a cheapskate. Spend a bit more to get a fine German Riesling like the Fritz Haag from the Mosel region. This is an absolutely delightful wine that smells of honeysuckle, ripe pear, baked apples and cotton candy. It has luscious cocktail pears and peaches, honeydew flavors balanced with an electric acidity that makes it sing. It’s great with your salad and appetizer courses.

Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr Riesling is available for $40 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

Dupuy Picks: Domaine de Bernier Chardonnay
McGinnis’s shrewd selection of German Riesling for the holidays is certainly noble, but potentially foolish. I’m not about to waste a few drops of precious angel tears on someone who doesn’t appreciate them. And when it comes to holiday celebrations, you are usually running the gamut of wine drinkers who love anything from the oakiest of Rombauer Chardonnays to the most delicate of German Rieslings. I’m in favor of meeting somewhere in the middle.

Offer all the citrus and apple notes that a fine Chardonnay can offer, with an extra boost of minerality from the French region of the Loire Valley. This crisp little wine barely has a kiss of oak, but finds its strength in its acidity, which makes it a great food wine for your average turkey dinner to grilled fish or pork tenderloin.

Whole Foods Market has this wine for only about $10.

Red Wine

McGinnis Picks: 2011 Domaine Chignard Fleurie ‘Les Moriers’
Christmas dinners can be a cacophony of clashing flavors with several brash dishes competing for your tongue’s attention. It’s tough to pair a red wine with diverse dishes like goose, turkey or beef Wellington and Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and Waldorf salad. Beaujolais, made with the Gamay grape, are soft, fruity and versatile enough to go with almost any dish.

The engrossing experience of drinking a Beaujolais cru is a departure from the unfussy toss back of inexpensive Beaujolais Nouveau. It has bold scents of wild strawberries and maraschino cherries. Unlike the Nouveau, it has complexity on top of the fruit-forward juiciness. The sassy cheery cherry and blueberry flavors are balanced with granite minerality, crisp acidity and soft tannins. It is a festive accompaniment to almost anything you choose to serve.

This lovely Beaujolais is among the sumptuous selections of French wine at the Austin Wine Merchant for $25.

Dupuy Picks: Marquee de la Musa Garnacha
True, Beaujolais is an elegant and beautiful choice — and I look forward to joining McGinnis’ holiday dinner to enjoy some. But just as with Riesling, it’s the type of wine that is more on an acquired taste for some than for others. I choose to move to the warmer climate of Spain, specifically to the Cariñena region where Garnacha (Grenache in French) reigns supreme.

Similar to the Gamay grape found in Beaujolais, Garnacha is a thin-skinned grape often used to bring more depth of fruit to blends with a breadth of earthiness and tannin. This wine is light, but with a fair amount of complexity. And as it is a warm climate grape, it lends itself to foods with a little spice — as is fairly typical of holiday dinners in Texas. Smoked pork loin with an apple, cranberry and jalapeño chutney would be ideal for this wine.

You can pick this up at Whole Foods Market for about $9.

White Dessert Wine

Sandeman SherryMcGinnis Picks: Sandeman Royal Corregidor Rich Old Oloroso Sherry 20 Year Old
Sherry is one of the most complex and difficult to produce wines in the world. I could bore you with the intricacies of how it’s made, but suffice to say that if someone shares Sherry with you, it’s because they think you are worth it. That’s reason enough to put it on the holiday table.

The Sandeman aged Oloroso smells as good as a holiday party with roasted candied pralines, almonds and baked pear. It tastes like kissing the gorgeous, foul-mouthed intern in the coat closet at the end of that Christmas party; nutty and bitter mixed with 20-year-old sweetness and the saltiness of a reluctant tear. I can’t imagine another wine combining sweet, bitter and brine in a more pleasurable way.

Back at home, serve it slightly chilled, but not refrigerator cold, in a tulip shaped white wine glass. It is a perfect compliment to the end of a holiday meal. Its rich raisiny sweetness goes well with many traditional holiday deserts like gingerbread, rum cake and chocolate-cherry trifle.

This diminutive 500ml bottle will set you back $20 at the Austin Wine Merchant.

Dupuy Picks: King Estate Pinot Gris Ice Wine
While McGinnis is manipulating the intern into the coat closet, I’d rather keep my dessert wines on the classy side. They can be sweet, but more in the vein of angelic seraphim and cherubim rather than tawdry underaged tarts. So I’m going with a lovely little ice wine from Oregon.

The King Estate uses the often mis-represented Pinot Gris grape for this crisp and delicate wine brimming with ripe pear, apricot, peaches and wildflower honey. At only 11 percent alcohol this wine is searingly delicate, but the fragrant aromatics and the higher level of residual sugar will do doubt ensnare your senses. Serve chilled alongside a cornmeal cranberry-orange zest cake and you’ll certainly hear the songs of angels.

Technically, I’m barely shaving a few dollars off the price of his Sherry with my ice wine, but with the difference, you can still do your best to entice the intern with a Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boy — she probably won’t know the difference. You can also find this at Whole Foods Market for about $18.

Red Dessert Wine

Graham's 20 Year Old Tawny PortMcGinnis Picks: Graham’s 20 Year Old Tawny Porto
Port has always been one of my favorite fortified wines. The Port screams “Happy Holidays!” Drinking Port at Christmas is definitely a British tradition, but it’s getting more and more traction in the states as people are more open to explore fortified wines. This 20 Year Old Tawny has a boozy nose of dried orange peel and figs. Port is always bold and this one doesn’t disappoint. Orange, cherry, leather and cigar cling together in a sweet vanilla present.

When you are all done with your feast having eaten every tidbit of Who-pudding and every morsel of roast beast, sip on this nectar and you won’t have a care in the least. Sit back by the fire and sip a snifter of joy while enjoying visions of sweet fairies dancing, oh boy. It’s just as sad to finish the glass as unwrapping the last present under the tree.

The Austin Wine Merchant has a good selection of Port and this one goes for $50.

Dupuy Picks: Pedernales Cellars Glögg
McGinnis does have me here. I am a sucker for Port. But while he’s savoring his last drop of Tawny, I’ll likely be polishing off the last of the dirty dishes from the Holiday feast. But I’d never leave my guests without something to talk about. Which is why I’m going with something a little unorthodox: a Swedish-inspired wine made from a local Hill Country producer.

Glögg is a seasonal holiday fortified red wine infused with a whole range of spices including cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. It’s typically served warm with a cinnamon stick and handful of raisins or dried cherries tossed in the bottom of the glass — an excellent treat to enjoy when the Glogg is at its end. This velvety red sticky is made in homage to Pedernales Cellars co-founder Fredrik Osterberg who grew up in Sweden and now finds his home among the rolling landscape of the Texas Hill Country. Serve this libation with a handful of Swedish-style ginger snaps and know that you’re not only spreading good cheer but supporting a local producer all at the same time.

Currently Glögg can only be found at the Pedernales Cellars winery in Stonewall for about $19. You can order it online and still probably stay under the price of McGinnis’ Port.

This story originally appeared on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?

Exclusive reds and fine champagnes: Big Reds and Bubbles returns for tenth annual fete

Lamarca ProseccoAustinites love a good party, and Thursday, for the tenth year, hundreds of people will pack into the Driskill Hotel to sip some of the world’s finest champagne and exclusive red wines at Big Reds & Bubbles hosted by The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas.

At this year’s annual fête, Nov. 8, guests will be greeted with a glass of bubbly served by the bubble girls, wearing little more than strategically placed bubbles. Who could ask for a better way to start a party?

“There is no other wine event like this in town,” says the foundation’s president-elect, Mark Shilling. “Big Reds and Bubbles is elegant and festive, it’s held in a beautiful location, it has high-caliber wines and incredible food that reflects Austin’s foodie movement. Let’s face it — it’s your gateway party to the holiday season. People get dressed to impress for Big Reds and Bubbles and that sets the tone for the cooler weather parties.”

The star of the show is definitely the wine. “Big Reds is a good way to experience several wines in an approachable, non-snooty way,” Shilling says.

Suzanne and Matt McGinnis  Big Reds & Bubbles Well, there is a little touch of snooty wine drinking. The event starts off with a sold-out, private VIP pre-party hosted by June Rodil, Wine & Spirits Magazine’s Best New Sommelier in 2011, featuring 10 big reds and sparkling wines. Rodil will describe the highly sought after wines and then give her recommendations on the must-have wines poured at the rest of the event.

Don’t worry if you didn’t get a VIP ticket, there will be plenty of excellent wine for us. Principle sponsor Glazer’s is arranging for approximately 130 wines from 60 producers to be poured at the party.

“Glazer’s is deeply involved in and committed to the food and wine industry in Texas,” said Stephen Hansen, portfolio marketing manager of Glazer’s Texas Fine Wine Division. “Our commitment aligns well with the Foundation’s mission of improving the wine and food community with education and scholarships. Food and wine are inextricably linked and are absolutely essential to our culture, to who we are. Big Reds and Bubbles is an excellent way to experience the culture of food and wine.”

Bryce Gilmore and Jack Gilmore Big Reds & BubblesThe “big” will shine through in glasses of California Cabernets like Miner Oracle, Chappellet Mountain Cuvee and Sterling Vineyards Platinum. Well known wines like Beaulieu Vineyards will be poured next to wineries that are new to the event, like Donati Family, Lange Winery and Gerard Bertrand.

Bubbly conversations always flow better with a flute of champagne. This year’s bubbles come from stand-out wines from Louis Roederer, Laurent Perrier and Beau Joie as well as a phenomenal selection of Prosecco from producers like Montesel, Nino Franco, La Marca, and Cava from Juve y Camps and Segura Viudas.

20 of Austin’s acclaimed chefs will serve inventive nibbles to pair with all of those fantastic wines. I’m looking forward to trying a preview of Bridget Dunlap’s new place, Mettle. Another new joint serving up the goods is Guests LaV Austin, which will be opened by Chef Allison Jenkins in fall of 2013. There will be plenty of good eats from the likes of The Carillon, Jack Allen’s Kitchen, Barley Swine, Max’s Wine Dive, Noble Pig, Wink and Swift’s Attic.

Chef Brad Sorenson

Returning as emcee this year is Chef Brad Sorenson of The Next Food Network Star fame. He’ll give us the inside scope on his soon to open Nova Kitchen & Bar on Rainey Street, while rallying the crowd to spend big on the silent auction. He’ll have plenty to sell with desirable auction items like a three liter bottle of Miner Family Wines The Oracle 2007, three cases of exquisite Spanish wines and a private tasting for 10 at the Red Room Lounge hosted by Advanced Sommelier, Bill Elsey.

Proceeds from the event benefit The Wine & Food Foundation of Texas’s education and scholarships which promote excellence in the culinary and viticulture arts.

Tickets for the event are available online for the price of $85 for foundation members and $100 for the general public. The Foundation reports that ticket sales are ahead of schedule and they expect the event to sell out with 400 people in attendance. 

This article was previously published on CultureMap.

What are you drinking? 

How to romance your date on Valentine’s Day with the right wine

Everybody wants to get laid, and Valentine’s Day is either a blessing or a curse when it comes to the pursuit of nook-nook. It’s potentially an excuse to have hot monkey sex with your partner, to bed the hottie you’ve been lusting after or to go down in flames desperately hungering for the delicious treat that you’re not getting.

The pressure is on. Expectations for action are higher than any other night of the year (except maybe senior prom).

Whether you’re in a relationship or hoping to be, it’s always helpful to pull out all the romantic stops to increase your odds of having a tawdry evening. One tried-and-true and fantastically effective aphrodisiac is to treat your sweetie to an elegant dinner. Wine is an integral part of a romantic feast and a critical element in getting cupid’s arrow to fly straight. Wine also holds the potential to turn you into a hapless mess if you aren’t comfortable ordering it — nothing kills the mood quicker than incompetence.

Fortunately for you, there are people trained to make you look good enough to get in the game. (Well, at least when it comes to ordering wine.) Here are tips from some top sommeliers on how to order wine competently, plus some suggested wines to help you round the bases.

Expert Advice

Christy A. Canterbury, Master of Wine

New York City based Sommelier, Christy Canterbury, recommends doing your homework before heading you the door. “It’s a huge help to check a restaurant’s on-line wine list before you go! Double check that the list is current, either from the date on the

Christy A. Canterbury Photo by Michael Seto

web or by calling the reservationist.”

Canterbury recommends sparkling wine as a great Valentine’s Day wine, and “rosé Champagne in particular works like a charm.” Here are her suggestions for rounding the bases

  • First base: “Frankly, the goal is at least second, and Champagne should get you there! Maybe rosé sparkling wine not from Champagne is the First Base wine? You’ve got to be thinking special occasion wines after all. Bump up the quality to really swoon your date.”
  • Second base: “Rosé Champagne! Or, try an old-school Rioja Reserva from a producer like CVNE Compañía Vinícola del Norte de España or Lopez de Heredia. A cool thing about Rioja is that the wines are released later, so it looks particularly special because they are older than most wines you usually drink…as well as other wines on the wine list.”
  • By-pass third and head for home: “Red Burgundy. Pinot Noir is the ultimate svelte, graceful, sexy wine, and Red Burgundy is the best there is in the category. Splurge for a Premier Cru if you can, but there are lots of good Village-level wines out there. The 2008 and 2009 vintages are on lists now and are spectacular. Only go for the 2007s if you like really racy, lean, mineral styles of wine.”

Canterbury is a consultant to wine competitions, freelance writer and teaches at primo wine schools. She is the former National Wine Director for Smith & Wollensky Restaurant Group and Global Corporate Beverage Director for Culinary Concepts by Jean-Georges. She holds a Master of Wine, is a Certified Sommelier via Court of Master Sommeliers and is Winner of the Villa Maria Award for Outstanding Viticulture Examination Paper.

Bill Elsey, Sommelier, Wines.com | Red Room Lounge

Bill Elsey recommends putting Sommeliers to work to use their knowledge to your benefit. Just give them a few parameters to work within to get the best results. Start by knowing what type of wine your date likes to drink. Do they prefer sweet or dry, white or red, light or full bodied, or fruit forward or earth driven?

Bill Elsey

Next, tell the Sommelier how much you are willing to spend on a bottle. Elsey says, “A smooth way of handling this without coming across as cheap or as though you are trying to show off is to point to a certain wine on the list and say to the Sommelier, ‘I’m looking for something in this area,’ to signal the amount that you would like to spend.”

Finally, if you are completely open to suggestions, give the floor to the Sommelier and let them guide you with wine and food pairings with each course. “Food and wine pairings are fun and they take some of the pressure off when choosing one bottle to go with the entire meal that may have several different dishes.”

Elsey suggests dry rosé Champagne for a perfect Valentine’s Day wine. In particular he suggests

Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ de la Marne NV. The pink color is perfect for Valentine’s Day and the rich and layered flavor with tremendous acidity and minerality make it extremely versatile with food. To bring you home, he advises:

  • First base:  “Dry Riesling. A great way to compromise if there are sweet and dry wine drinkers on a date. All of the lemon, apple and citrus fruit that comes with Riesling without the sweet finish. Look to Australia for Pewsey Vale dry Riesling from the Eden Valley or to Austria for Emmerich Knoll Federspiel dry Riesling.”
  • Second base: “Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir is always a safe go-to for both red and white wine drinkers and Oregon is my favorite New World region for Pinot. These wines typically are fruit forward, but not overly extracted with out of balance alcohol. Look for 2008 as a stellar vintage from the Willamette Valley. Retour and Domaine Serene are two of my personal favorite producers.”
  • By-pass third and head for home: “If you want sex potential, order a wine that needs to be decanted. This adds another element to the dining experience and is sure to score you points. Look for wines that benefit from age such as: Barolo, Barbaresco, Bordeaux, and wines from the Northern Rhone. Personally, I’d go with Barbaresco. These wines show depth of flavor, are elegant and beautiful on the nose. Like a woman who has it all together – confidence, beauty, finesse, maturity. I love the Nebbiolo grape and it is fairly off the radar for most wine drinkers, so it shows you know a little something about classy wines when you order one. Look for 1996 or 1997 vintages, both great years for Piedmont. One of my all-time favorite producers is Pio Cesare.”

Bill Elsey is a Certified Sommelier via Court of Master Sommeliers, a Certified Specialist in Spirits and a Champagne and Cork Specialist through the Society of Wine Educators and is winner of Texas’ Best Sommelier 2011 at TexSom.

Scott Ota,  Wine Captain and Sommelier of The Driskill Grill

Scott Ota suggests that you start the conversation by asking your date his or her preferences. The Sommelier should be able to make recommendations based on your date’s answers. Be confident, and ask questions.

Scott Ota

He agrees that you can never go wrong with bubbles Valentine’s Day and recommends an elegant and refined Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Champagne is just downright sexy. Ota’s preference is Pierre Gimonnet 1er Cru Cuis, N.V. “It’s ridiculously delicious, and you don’t have to break the bank. Its premier cru, and cheaper than Veuve Clicquot! Go with quality, not the big name.” If you are looking for lovin, here are Ota’s propositions:

  • First base:  “Pinot Noir is always a good choice because it is smooth and feminine, often very food-friendly and easy-drinking. For around $50 or under, I love Evening Land Blue Label Pinot Noir from Eola-Amity Hills in Willamette Valley, OR. The wine is gentle, but structured, with plenty of fresh red fruits. If you want to spend a little more, you can’t go wrong with Burgundy. Domaine Leroy Monthelie AOP Rouge 1999is jaw-dropping good. A stunning wine that features farmer’s market fresh fruits and blooming rose petals.”
  • Second base: “Cabernet Sauvignon is a great choice. A well-structured Cabernet is classic, confident, powerful and alluring. For under $50, I’d go with Terra Valentine 2009 Cabernet from the Spring Mountain district of Napa Valley. It has bold, rich black fruits mixed with judicious oak that provides spice and chocolate. If you’re willing to splurge, I recommend the 1989 Château Beychevelle, a fourth growth Bordeaux from the commune of Saint Julien. The ‘89 vintage was stunning, and the wine gives just about everything that you could want in a great bottle of Cabernet.
  • By-pass third and head for home: “A second bottle.”

Ota is a Certified Sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers, and Wine Captain and Sommelier of The Driskill Grill

Davis Smith wine director at The Black Pearl Seafood and Martini Bar in Ann Arbor, MI

Davis Smith recommends open communication to make sure your special night goes off without a hitch. Sommeliers are required to study the wines of the world for countless hours to find a wine that’s perfect for every customer. Start by describing the kind of wine you like and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Sommeliers love curious customers.Davis Smith

When picking a romantic wine Smith’s mind goes immediately to bubbly. A bottle of bubbly is sure to set the mood on Valentine’s Day and it’s hard to find a bad pairing for sparkling wine, making you look like a pro. Look for Cava, a sparkling wine from Spain that is very high in quality and very low in price. You get great freshness and a wonderful savory character from Cava that is tough to find in other sparkling wines at the same price. His other proposals for wines to get ya knockin’ boots are:

  • First Base: “Moscato d’Asti is a great way to start off the evening. Slightly sparkling and slightly sweet this Italian wine goes great with salads, generally the first thing set on the table, especially if there is a salty component to the salad. This wine has blown up in the marketplace lately and is widely available.”
  • Second Base: “Port is a great wine for after dinner. This fortified dessert wine has a boost in alcohol and is super rich, thick and delicious. A glass of this after dinner makes you feel warm on the inside and the deep dark aromas of berry, cassis and chocolate make for a nice mood setter for after you get home.”
  • By-pass third and head for home: “The wine your date likes. Talk to your date about what they like about a wine and listen very carefully. Take this into account and engage the Sommelier, asking questions that will lead the two of you to a wine that your date will love. Show them that it’s not all about you and that you’re also a good listener. That goes a long way.”

Davis Smith is a studying Sommelier. He also produces content for two blogs: his own personal website, winestateofmind.tumblr.com, where he does video and text reviews of wine; and for FindTheBest.com, a comparison website, where he writes posts in an educational capacity. Davis’ goal is to educate and empower people so that wine is no longer intimidating. His philosophy regarding wine is simple; keep an open mind, be honest, and drink what you enjoy.

Passion Preferences

Whether you choose Champagne, Pinot Noir or Cabernet Sauvignon, wine experts agree that the surest path to passion is to listen to your date and order what they like. Now get out there and make it happen.

This story also appeared on CultureMap.

What are you drinking?

Bubble Basics: picking a sparkling wine for New Year’s Eve

Everything about Champagne is sexy; from your initial thoughts about it, to the way the cork pops to announce its ready, to the way it looks in a glass. What could be more seductive than your date’s delicate fingers wrapped around an impossibly thin stem below a sleek curving flute? Her hot breath fogs over the cold glass like the car windows of your youth. Pour a little more in and let the mousse carelessly foam over the rim and cascade down the side.

Sparkling wine is a must for the holiday. Whether you want wine for the ball drop, a balloon drop or just a pants drop, bubbles are the way to go. The only thing not sexy about Champagne is figuring out which bottle to buy. The best approach is to buy sparkling wine in a reputable wine shop or in a restaurant or bar and ask for advice to pick a great bottle.

I sat down with the sommelier from the acclaimed Driskill Grill, Scott Ota, to get a few of his tips. His advice is to be ready to answer a sommelier’s questions. Do you prefer it to be lighter or bigger? Chardonnay dominant wine, or Blanc de Blancs, is more elegant with lemon juice freshness and high acidity. Pinot Noir driven wine is typically bigger, richer and more structured Do you prefer sweet or dry? The code words going from sweet to dry are Demi-sec, Sec, Extra dry, Brut and Extra Brut. Do you want white or rosé?

Do you have to have Champagne, or are you open to any sparkling wine?   

Prosecco: If you like a slightly less fizzy and sweeter wine, try Italian Prosecco. It’s made with the “Metodo Charmat-Martinotti” or Charmat method, where the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks rather than in the bottle.

Cava: Spanish Sparkling wine called Cava typically is made méthode Champenoise. It’s known for its high acidity, fresh-cut fruit flavors and lighter style body. It spends a little less time on the lees than Champagne, letting the acidity shine through.   

U.S. Sparkling Wine: Domestic bubbles typically deliver great value. Like their cousin still wines, American sparkling wines are typically rounder and mouth filling. Quality American bubbles made in the méthode Champenoise are made in California, Oregon, Washington and even lesser known wine producing states like New Mexico and North Carolina.   

Champagne: If you go for Champagne, consider going for Grower Champagne, meaning fizzy wine made by the same house that grows up to 88 percent of their own grapes rather than buying it from other sources. Look for a tiny RM on the label, meaning Récoltant-Manipulant. This is in contrast to négociant, or a house that sources grapes from many growers. Farm to Table is a big movement, so let’s think of this as “Farm to Bubbles.” Small growers are able to control their crops and the quality of the product by bottling their own. The top seven big houses produce about 50 percent of all Champagne made in the world. Big Champagne houses are all about the house style and small growers are all about the taste of the land, making it more terroir driven. The best thing about Farmer Fizz is that you get so much quality for so much less money than from a big house. I’ll drink to that.  

 The last question you’ll need to ask yourself is, “How much are you willing to spend?” Here are Scott’s picks for various price levels.

 Budget minded: “I love Cremant. Its méthode Champenoise and a great value. One I really like is Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. Its 100 percent Pinot Noir made with the skins left on for a bit to give it the color of a delicate pink rose. It sells for $48 at the Driskill (around $15 retail) and is available by the glass.

Have a little extra to spend: Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ is a steal at $82 a bottle (around $56 retail). It’s a premier Cru that drinks like a Grand Cru.  This small grower/producer makes only 5,800 cases total for all of its lines. 

Devil-may-care: What is that one special bottle you would get if money were no object? Scott recommends the Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Special Club 2004, which goes for about $95 retail (I got a bottle for that price at Austin Wine Merchant) or for $155 at the Driskill. Pierre Gimonnet et Fils has been rated as “outstanding” by Robert Parker and one of the top 15 producers in Champagne. The Gimonnets are one of the great grower families of the Côtes de Blancs, producing arguably one of the finest Chardonnay Champagnes. This will be my toast on New Year’s Eve because Beautiful Wife is worth it.

The Taste

All of this talking about sparklers made us mightily thirsty, so we popped a few corks to try some out. We chose one of the largest and most famous Champagne houses, a small grower/producer and a non-French to see how they compared.  

Marc Hébrart N.V. Premier Cru Brut Rosé, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ

Marc Hébrart produces its Champagne with Premier Cru Pinot Noir and Grand Cru Chardonnay from Vallee de la Marne. They export only five percent of the 5,800 cases of Champagne made, making this a special find. 

Look Such a seductive look in the glass. An elegant ballerina wearing soft pink crinoline dancing with effortless effervescences, her lithe limbs spinning a silky mousse at the mouth of the flute. She bends toward you begging for a kiss with a rose held between her teeth.  
Smell Pleasant aromas of roast apple, apple pie and rose petals.
Taste A nice balance of fruit and earth with fresh apple, strawberries, and funky goat cheese scent. It finishes with crisp minerality, tart acidity and flowers. The lively bubbles give way to a smooth silky mouthfeel. Drink this with your love at the stroke of midnight. I poured a second taste and considered trying to swipe the rest of the bottle when Scott wasn’t looking.
Price $82 at the Driskill or about $56 retail

Bellavista Franciacorta

For a non-French selection, Scott chose Bellavista NV Cuvee Brut Franciacorta DOCG. It’s made from 90 percent Chardonnay using the méthode Champenoise and spends 18 months on the lees in bottle to round it out.   

Look This Italian sparkler has a lovely straw color and happy fizz jetting to the top forming a fine mousse that dissipates quickly.
Smell It has a bracing nose of mineral limestone and toasty apple.
Taste The Bellavista is elegant with ripe pear and apple flavors dominating the front followed by hay and pie crust lingering in a smooth creamy mouth. It is not highly acidic, and instead is round, full and yeasty. Your New Year’s Eve date will be impressed. This one begs you to drink a second glass.
Price $75 at the Driskill or about $48 retail

 

Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label  

We selected Veuve because it is one of the largest houses and most widely recognized Champagnes in the world. This venerable house, founded in 1772, produces consistently fine Champagne.

Look Tiny bubbles stream eagerly through light gold bliss into a creamy mousse.
Smell The non-vintage Yellow Label Brut has lovely scents of caramel, honey and pear.
Taste A predominance of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier give Veuve rich fruit and roundness. It has exquisite flavors of oxidized apple, yellow apple skin, peach and vanilla. You should definitely order this drink if your date is highly conservative and brand conscious. It will not let you down.
Price $90 at the Driskill or about $45 retail.  

 

If you want to taste your way through excellent bubbles, the Driskill is a fine place to do so. The Driskill is thought of as a special occasion dining location, so they are embracing it with a fantastic wine program. They strive to have the best Champagne list in Austin with 20 champagne labels — including 12 grower producers — and 12 other selections of bubbles. Hey, bubbles are Scott’s drink of choice and an excellent food wine.   

Are you ready to get a bottle or three for the holiday? One glass and you are champagne; floating effortlessly, more buoyant than in salt water, more buoyant than in helium, humors soar. A second glass and you know that giddiness isn’t reserved for school-girls.  Go for it.

Happy New Year!

What are you drinking?

Budget Bubbles: Select a Delicious Sparkling Wine for your Holiday Party

Champagne is synonymous with celebration. There is something special about a tall, slender champagne flute with tiny bubbles streaming to the surface like thousands of balloons released to the gods, like so many comic thought bubbles floating over a crowd and bursting into fits of laughter. Any holiday party is incomplete without a toast with bubbles. Don’t send your guests home sobbing like unfulfilled children with coal in their stockings on Christmas morning, serve sparkling wine for Chrissakes.

Don’t despair if your wallet is a bit moth-eaten and too slim to cover for the expensive stuff from the Champagne region of France, there are plenty of lovely sparkling wines that can meet your budget. Sparkling wine goes by lots of different names, depending on where it’s produced. In the U.S., we have the evocative name, sparking wine. Other names around the world include Mousseux or Crémant in France, but not from Champagne; Prosecco, Trento and Asti in Italy; Cava in Spain; Sekt in Germany  and Austria; Espumante in Portugal, and Cap Classique in South Africa.

Here are a few tips for choosing a sparkling wine:

  1. Go to a reputable wine shop and get advice from the smart people that work there. They spend all day, every day recommending wine to people like us and are a great resource for finding the best wine for the money.
  2. Steer clear of Cold Duck.
  3. Look for the words “méthode Champenoise,” “traditional method” or “méthode traditionnelle” on the bottle. This signifies that the sparkling wine was made with the most complex of the four methods for making bubbly. When selecting an Italian wine, completely disregard this tip and instead look for “Metodo Charmat-Martinotti” or “Metodo Italiano.” This will ensure that you don’t get a horrid bottle of rot gut made with an injection of CO2 like the aforementioned Cold Duck. This method guarantees you will get a horrendous headache in the morning and you’ll be in desperate need of my hangover helpers.

If you still want a little help in picking a delightful sparkling wine for your holiday party, never fear, I have three recommendations for you. Beautiful Wife and I did your homework for you. We tasted three bubblies priced $10, $15 and $18 and here is your cheat sheet for wine shopping.

Valdivieso Champenoise Brut Nature

Our first wine is our least expensive and comes from the venerable Viña Valdivieso winery in the Curico Valley of Chile. The winery’s claim to fame is that it has evolved from the first company in South America to make sparkling wine, Champagne Valdivieso founded by Alberto Valdivieso in 1879.

Valdivieso Champenoise Brut Nature is made in the traditional method with 60 percent Chardonnay and 40 percent Pinot Noir. This wine is aged 24 months with yeast in the bottle. The wine makers achieve an elegant dryness by adding no additional sugar in the dosage when the bottle is topped off after disgorgement. Here are my tasting notes.

Look Like bright spun gold, with a hint of pale salmon at the edge, studded with millions of tiny diamonds. Valdivies has abundant fine bubbles and a soft mousse.
Smell A glass of delicate lemon meringue pie accompanied by a thin slice of green apple.
Taste A creamy, smooth holiday treat of tart green apple, toasty bread crust and a long finish with hints of bitter pecan.
Price $10

After the official tasting, we finished this bottle first. It has the smoothness, complexity and brightness that we like in a sparkling wine. At 10 bucks a bottle it’s a steal. We grabbed a bunch of it for our holiday parties and pop-in guests.

Crémant d’Alsace Brut Lucien Albrecht

Next up, a French-styled wine from Domain Lucien Albrecht in the village of Orschwihr in southern Alsace. This place has some serious wine history, records of wine production dating back to 728 AD.

Crémant d’Alsace Brut Lucien Albrecht is made from 100 percent Pinot Blanc grapes grown in clay-chalky soil. It is made méthode Champenoise with malolactic fermentation. Here is what you can expect.

Look Northern sunlight on a December afternoon, pale yellow, bright and transparent. This one has slightly larger bubbles than the first streaming with mid frequency for a gentle mousse that disappeared quickly.
Smell A cold winter’s day with dusty, minerally limestone and faint honey suckle.
Taste A bite of fresh grape fruit and tapioca with a silky-smooth, balanced feel. The Lucien Albrecht has a mid-length, slightly bitter finish.
Price $15

This was my third favorite of the three, but is a wine I have bought before and will buy again. The crisp

Carpene Malvoliti DOCG Prosecco Cuvée Brut

Carpene Malvoliti is one of the largest producers of Prosecco and has been making the bubbly from grapes grown in the DOCG hills of Conegliano and Valdobbiadene Veneto  region of Italy since 1868.

Carpene Malvoliti DOCG Prosecco Cuvée Brut is made from 100 percent Glera, aka Prosecco, grapes with the Charmat- Martinotti method, which puts more emphasis on the fruit by aging it for only three months on the yeast. This wine is the epitome of Prosecco with medium effervescence and round fruit flavors. This is what it tastes like:

Look The glint of light from the star on the top of your Christmas tree, light straw yellow with slightly larger bubbles than the other two wines. The slow rolling bubbles generate a generous mousse.
Smell A Christmas fruitcake with peach pits, toasted apples and floral scents.  My 7 year old son confirmed the peach and apple notes.
Taste Full, lush peach juice dribbling down your chin balanced by tingly bubbles, slight acidity and a smooth, clean, long finish.
Price $18

Prosecco is a food lover’s wine and pairs well with anything on your table. It’s also great all by itself. The Carpene Malvoliti is a solid wine, but for $8 less I can buy a lot more of the Valdivieso to serve at a big party.

Any of these three sparkling wines are good selections to serve during the holidays or any time of the year. They are delicious on their own, go well with food and are good in mixed drinks like mimosas or a festive Poinsettia Cocktail. What’s a Poinsettia Cocktail you ask? Here’s how you make this simple, festive drink:

  • Healthy measure of Sparkling wine
  • 1/2 oz. Cointreau
  • ½ oz. Vodka
  • 3 oz. Cranberry Juice

Add chilled Cointreau, vodka and cranberry to chilled champagne glass. Give it a quick swizzle and top that gorgeous princess with with sparkling wine or Champagne just before serving. Now that says holiday a heck of a lot better than a roasted chestnut on Santa’s lap.

Happy Holidays!

What are you drinking?

Picking the Right Wine for Thanksgiving Dinner: Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru

Some people get all stressed out about Thanksgiving. First there are the dysfunctional family issues. I’m not getting into that mess. Next there is the obvious challenge of preparing all of those courses of difficult recipes and getting them on the table at the same time. Worrying about over cooking turkey is enough to spike your blood pressure all by itself. And finally the challenge of pairing the right wines with all of those crazy foods is bound to give you an aneurism. What wine goes with Jell-O ambrosia, sweet potatoes, turkey and gravy all in the same meal? Chill out. I’ve got some ideas for you.

In the next few posts I’ll review a few wines that are sure-fire wins for the Thanksgiving table. I won’t cover everything, but will get you started in the right direction. There are plenty of varietals to choose from in red, white, rosé and sparkling categories.  Think of wines that are versatile, not too powerful in either flavor or alcohol and higher in acidity to cut through the fatty foods.

Bubbles, Bubbles, Bubbles

First and foremost no holiday meal is complete without sparkling wine. If you host a meal without it, you should have your hospitality license revoked. At least do me the courtesy of leaving me off of your guest list. Shame on you! Whether it’s Champagne, Prosecco, Cava or good sparkling wine from any region is up to you. I’m a fan of serving sparkling wine from the U.S. because it’s an American holiday, but you can never go wrong with good Champagne.  

If you’re inclined to go with the French stuff, try Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru.  Godmé is a small producer based in Verzenay, a grand cru classified city since 1895, on the slopes of the Montagne de Reims in Champagne France. The Godmé family founded the Champagne house in 1930 and produces eight sparkling wines in three classifications from grapes grown on 27 acres. They consider their wines Champagne for food.

Buying non-vintage (NV) Champagne is a good way to get quality juice without the destroying your wine budget.  Champagne houses shoot for consistent quality and taste year after year by making a base wine that is a blend from multiple years.  In the case of the Godmé Père et Fils NV Brut Réserve Premier Cru, 50 percent of the base wines are at least three years old. The Godmé NV Brut assemblage is: 50 percent Chardonnay, 15 percent Pinot noir and 35 percent Pinot Meunier. They let the brightness of the fruit shine through by fermenting in steal and aging 10 percent in old oak barrels. The result is a lean, dry, gorgeous, concentrated and exceptionally polished wine.

Look The jewel of your Thanksgiving table, sparkling like a lemon chiffon diamond.  
Smell Pear butter spread on a fresh-baked baguette.
Taste This wine has considerable complexity. It opens up with floral hints and moves to a round taste that is both rich and crisp at the same time with apple, ripe pears, apricots and buttered fresh bread. It finishes long, with sweet and gentle smokiness. It is firmly structured with energetic, yet soft effervescence and a creamy mouse. This can take on Waldorf salad and fried turkey with both stems tied behind its back.
Price $45

Don’t get worked into a tizzy when selecting wine for Thanksgiving dinner. Champagne is a sure bet with high levels of acidity and a trifling amount of sugar. These two elements make it the magical match for almost any food that you could dream of serving at the holidays. Now that’s something to be thankful for.

What are you drinking?