As magical as it is to open any bottle of sparkling wine, opening a big bottle of bubbly when entertaining makes an even grander statement. Whether it’s a magnum which holds the equivalent of two regular bottles of wine or a massive 4-bottle Jeroboam, bigger bottles are a smart and easy way to please a crowd.
Looking back on bottles of bubbly with friends over the years, the larger format bottles seem to stand out. We celebrated wrapping up shooting for my book The Bubbly Bar with a magnum of Veuve Clicquot; I remember sharing the same wine with Tony Hawk and his friends at a party in their backyard. Krug’s rich and toasty Grande Cuvée flowed freely from magnums at an over-the-top press trip to show off the brand’s custom hot air balloon.
The cool thing about larger bottles is that ounce for ounce, they’re no more expensive than the 750. And besides their impressive size, larger format bottles win in the taste department when compared to the usual 750 ml bottles. I learned this lesson after a long and windy drive up to Mendocino County to visit Roederer Estate. The tasting room hosts pour their non vintage brut from a 750 ml bottle and a 1.5 liter magnum and letting guests taste the two side by side. The wine from the 750 was deliciously crisp and bursting with fresh green apples; the same wine from the magnum had these richer, toasty notes that usually are found in a wine that’s much older and more expensive.
The weather was odd this Earth Day 2010, with strong showers and wind alternating with patches of sun. It’s like Mother Nature is bi-polar, or she’s trying to show off all of her stuff in one day.
One of the best ways to show your love for the planet and your body is by drinking wine made from organically grown grapes. These wines used to be hard to find, but these days with increased awareness about the dangers that pesticides can pose to the earth, farm-workers and end consumers, there’s lots of choice. One of the best places to find international organic wines online remains The Organic Wine Company and Whole Foods Markets around the country also have a good selection. Read up on all sorts of organic wines at Organic Wine Review.com.
I especially like sparkling wines made from organic grapes. My favorite sparkling wines have a sheer and elegant quality to them and this seems to be magnified in sparkling wines and champagnes made from organic grapes.
Plus I find that winemakers who produce an organic sparkling wines – one of the hardest styles to make – share this reverence their vineyards and nurturing them so they yield the best clusters of grapes. On a recent trip to Spain, winemaker Ton Mata of Cavas Recaredo told me that he tested out growing without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, his vineyards let him know that this was what they needed. Now their production of 300,000 bottles of long aged cavas called gran reservas are all made with organically grown grapes. I found the same passion for the land talking to Jim Milone of Terra Savia in Mendocino and Eileen Crane of Domaine Carneros in Napa.
Some people feel guilty about drinking wine that has had to be shipped for thousands of miles, because of the fossil fuel burned up along the journey. So in the interest of being completely eco-friendly this Earth Day, I’m offering a list of some great green wines from around the world.
Terra Savia Blanc de Blancs – I stumbled across the wine at Andy’s Market in Sebastopol one day and bought it because I was thrilled to find an organic grape sparkling wine for under $25. My friends and I loved its bright green apple notes and clean flavors balanced with a hint of toastiness.
La Cantina Pizzolato Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene – For five generations the Pizzolato family has been growing grapes in the northern Italian town of Treviso. In 1991, their Treviso vineyards were certified organic. They now produce a range of organic proseccos including from the Treviso and Valdobbiadene DOCs as well as a sparkling chardonnay and a raboso, a red grape that produces sprightly, fruity wines. The prosecco typically sells for around $15-16.
Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé Cuveé de la Pompadour – Since 2005, all the wines from this Taittinger-owned house in Napa have been made from organically grown grapes; the estate’s vineyards were certified organic in 2008. Winemaker and CEO Eileen Crane says the vines just seem more vigorous, it’s better for the workers and the wines taste even better. The Brut Rosé is completely dry, but has wonderful strawberry and plum flavors thanks to the predominance of pinot noir. It’s $25 to $30 a bottle.
Cavas Recaredo Brut Nature Cava 2006 – There are so many little details that go into producing Cavas Recaredo, which are poured at the best restaurants in the world including Arzak and The French Laundry in Yountville. All the cavas are aged long on the yeast to produce a complex flavors, they’re aged on the cork, disgorged by hand and are finished with no sugar in the dosage, making them brut nature in style. About $35.
Many people visit Barcelona, the city that’s the capitol of Catalan culture here in Northern Spain, but it seems that relatively few ever make it to the wine country just an hour outside the city. I’ve barely been here for 24 hours in Vilafranca del Penedes and have learned all kinds of things already. Burbujes – which means bubbles – is my favorite new word in Spanish. And the Casa Torner I Guell in central Vilafranca is a very beautiful and modern hotel in the Mercer Group that just needs guests to fill it up.
Vilafranca is a town that’s in the cava region, but it’s actually the center of still wine production as well. The architecture here is a mix of modern and gothic and the town’s streets are lined with interesting little shops and of course wine bars.
Yesterday afternoon, I met with Maria Del Mar Torres who runs the Institut del Cava and Luis Vallespin of the Consell Regulador de Cava. The Institut is a membership organization made up of 70 cava producers while the Consell is a government organization that oversees cava production, registering vineyards, controlling yields, and setting standards for alcohol levels and labeling.
I’ll be meeting winemakers and learning the stories behind a dozen wineries, as well as tasting lots of different styles of cava and Catalan food, so stay tuned.
I know the summer seems a very long way off right now. So just for fun, I created this slide show of some of the places and people I visited this summer on my Bubbly Bar book tour. Maybe these pictures of wineries in Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino will inspire your summer vacation plans this year. Cheers!
While the first bubbly we think of may be champagne from France or California brut, actually bubbly is made all over the world.
The other day I was telling a PR friend named Debbie about tasting a great sparkling wine from Virginia called Thibaut-Janisson. I met winemaker and owner Claude Thibaut at Le Grand Champagne in Washington DC. A few weeks later, Thibaut Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay was featured at the Obama’s first state dinner honoring India’s prime minister, as this Washington Post story “Drinking Local at the White House” details.
“Well, I have a sparkling wine from Georgia,” Debbie said. Georgia — why not? — I thought. Wine is now made in all 50 states. But when the bottle of Bagratioini 1882 arrived, I realized my mistake. This wine was from the Georgia back in the former USSR.
According to the company’s web site, Ivane Bagrationi –Mukhraneli is descended from an ancient royal family that started making sparkling wine in Georgia back in the mid 1800s. In 1882, the wine won an international Grand Prix held in St. Petersburg. The winery was formally established in 1937.
Bagrationi 1882 Reserve was the first wine I tried. I took a sip and was rewarded with a crisp nicely balanced, methode-champenoise wine with fresh citrus and light peachy flavors and creamy bubbles. Ah yes, I could taste the juicy chardonnay. I looked at the label and discovered I was wrong again. The Bagrationi 1882 is made with native Chinuri, Tsitska and Mtsvane grapes grown near the Black Sea. I also liked the 1882 Classic, a lighter style of wine, made with the tank fermentation method.
I decided I could get used to drinking sparkling wine from Georgia. The only challenge is getting my hands on more; a review of Wine Searcher.com only turned up a handful of shops including All Corked Up in Santa Clarita, Georgian Wine House in Maryland and Schneider’s Capitol Hill in Washington DC that carry the Bagrationi 1882 wines, which can range in price from $12 to $24 a bottle. Of course, if you ever find yourself in Tblisis, they are happy to arrange tours and tastings.
On the whole, I think 2009 will be remembered as the year of moderation. Nearly everyone is looking for ways to be smarter about how they spend their money. While champagne and sparkling wines seem like a luxury – and they are a luxurious experience — they don’t have to come with a high price tag. One of the most useful features of my book The Bubbly Bar is a guide to buying bubbly in every price range. Since I wrote the book, I’ve continued to discover affordable sparkling wines that are great for sipping alone or in cocktails. Here’s my list of bargain bubbly available nationwide for New Year’s Eve 2010.
If you find yourself in Tampa, Fla. for a few days, chances are you’ll end up at the restaurant Columbia. A Spanish/Cuban restaurant in the Ybor City area, Columbia has been in business since 1905, making it the oldest restaurant in the state of Florida.
It’s a vast space with curved arches over the bar, indoor fountains and an extensive glass-walled wine room that showcases many wines from Spain and California. The restaurant is famous for its 1905 salad made from a trademarked recipe, deviled crab croquettes, paella and simple Cuban style dishes like ropa vieja served with perfectly sweet fried plantains and rice.
Scanning the drink menu, I wanted to order the pitcher of Sangria de Cava — and my adventurous friend Melonyce agreed to split it with me. I love white sangria and I created my own version in my book The Bubbly Bar: Champagne & Sparkling Wine Cocktails for Every Occasion that’s available now on Amazon.com. Cava is the sparkling wine from Spain, typically crafted from the local grapes xarel-lo, macabeo and parellada using the same methods as champagne. Columbia uses Cristalino Brut Cava, which is crisp with lemon and apple flavors, a hint of minerality and nice bubbles. Made in Spain’s Penedes region by Jaume Serra winery, Cristalino is very easy to find in your local wine shop and a favorite of many for its quality and affordable price – usually under $10.
Our waiter brought out all the ingredients including a half bottle of Cristalino Brut Cava and then mixed the white sparkling sangria table-side. As he worked, I jotted down the recipe for Columbia’s Sangria de Cava.
Columbia’s Sangria de Cava
2 flat wheels of orange, cut in half
4 flat wheels of lime, cut in half
2 flat wheels of lemon, cut in half
1 shot orange liqueur
1 shot brandy
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup lemon and lime juice combined
1 shot simple syrup (see note)
1/2 bottle brut cava
2 maraschino cherries
Add orange, lime and lemon slices to a sturdy glass pitcher. Using a wooden spoon or a muddler, smash the fruit to release its juices. Add the orange liqueur, brandy, juices and simple syrup to the pitcher. Stir and then top off with the chilled cava. Garnish each glass with a maraschino cherry.
Note: To make simple syrup, mix 1/2 cup sugar with 1 cup water in a small saucepan and stir over low heat until the sugar dissolves. Let cool and store in a clean bottle for up to two weeks. It’s an easy way to sweeten tea and lemonade without any pesky sugar crystals.
Serves 2 people.
Barack and Michelle Obama hosted a glittering reception this week for ambassadors to the U.S. from such far-flung places as Libya, Singapore, Chile and Japan. And what kind of bubbly did they serve to this international set? Turns out it was the Russian Cuvée from Iron Horse Vineyards in Sonoma County.
Besides being a fine example of sparkling wine crafted right here in the US of A, the Russian Cuvée has a history in diplomatic circles. It was the wine served at the historic Reagan-Grobachev Summits that helped end the Cold War in the late 1980s. The wine is similar to Iron Horse’s crisp Classic Brut, but the Russian Cuvée has a slightly richer and sweeter finish.
I heartily endorse serving Russian Cuvée – or any great bubbly – with potato chips; it’s a simple and magical combination. But at the White House party they went all out, serving a menu that included Tequila Smoked Salmon on Crisps, Petit Filet Mignon Sandwiches and Leek Tartlets as well as Fruit Cocktails with Whipped Cream and Marshmallows and Blueberry Vanilla Tartlets for dessert, according to a menu posted on the blog Obama Foodarama.
In case you hadn’t noticed, May wedding season is in full bloom. Champagne and sparkling wine are classic beverages for this celebratory season, but few seem as appropriate as Iron Horse’s Wedding Cuvée. The peachy pink wine is ideal whether you’re looking for a wedding toast or a sparkling wine to give as a wedding present along with a pair of champagne futes. Crafted from pinot noir grapes with a hint of chardonnay, the Wedding Cuvée has a soft richness to it with a hint of fruit at the end.
Joy Sterling, who runs her family’s winery, says she always loves the moment when she pours Wedding Cuvée at tastings. “Everywhere I go I meet people who became engaged over it, had it at their wedding, in the delivery room and for anniversaries,” Sterling says. I like sipping it on its own, but the wine also shines with salmon in a spring preparation with morel mushrooms and wild spring onions. It would also be delicious with lighter pork dishes or this soup made from the wild onions called ramps Epicurious.com. Sterling says she enjoys it with bittersweet chocolate with a high cocoa content – she swears the combination is like eating chocolate-covered strawberries.
If you happen to find yourself with a free Friday afternoon in Sonoma County, then reserve a spot for Iron Horse’s After Hours, a new happy hour with wine and food pairings. It’s available for up to 30 people from 5:30 to 7 p.m. every Friday through October. To make a reservation, contact tasting room manager Lisa Macek at (707)887-1507 or email her at email@example.com.