Five Wonderful Organic Champagnes & Sparkling Wines for Earth Day 2013

Wildflowers grow in the biodynamic vineyards at Cavas Recaredo in Spain.
Wildflowers grow in the biodynamic vineyards at Cavas Recaredo, a high-end producer in Spain’s Penedes region.

Isn’t that a pretty picture? It’s from the 100% pesticide and herbicide-free vineyards of Cavas Recaredo in Spain. Earth Day is approaching, and I’m looking forward to celebrating at the Iron Horse Vineyards’ Green Valley Earth Day Party.  Since I last wrote about organic champagne or sparkling wine for Earth Day, there has been a large increase in the number of organic wines on the market, and that applies to bubbly as well.

While some people aren’t convinced that wines made from organically raised grapes taste any different, I swear I always pick up an extraordinary level of clarity in these wines. It feels like drinking a liquid crystal, if that makes any sense. And of course, the fact that the grapes aren’t sprayed with chemical fertilizers or pesticides means that it’s better for the workers who have to tend those grapes as well as Mother Earth.  Here are some great organic champagnes and sparkling wines to uncork this weekend or anytime:

recaredo brut nature 2006 label

Cavas Recaredo  – One of the most distinctive wineries I visited in the Penedes region of Spain was Recaredo, which has produced cava since 1924. Ton Mata, the lead winemaker and owner, took me on a tour of the lovely natural vineyards with rusty red soil studded with mineral deposits where he grows the xarello, parellada and macabeo grapes according to biodynamic methods. Biodynamic is a more exacting standard than certified organic, meaning that the growers work in harmony with nature and their practices help nourish the soil. He’s also a believer in long-aging of his xarello-dominant wines and the brut nature style, in which no sugary dosage is added at the end. It doesn’t get much more biutiful than this when it comes to Catalan sparkling wine.  About $38.

mionetto kind cocktails

Mionetto Prosecco Organic D.O.C. – Just like the other high-quality proseccos it makes, Mionetto’s organic brut  has floral aromas and bright, fresh flavors of golden apple and citrus. It’s made from organically grown grapes, and vinified separately in the winery. The materials that go into the bottle, label and shipping package are all recycled. Click here for a recipe for my Kind Cocktail from Alicia Silverstone’s San Diego book party with Mionetto Organic.   About $15.

Fleury Brut Rose

Fleury Organic Champagne – While you’re toasting Mother Earth, be sure to raise a glass Fleury, the first producer in Champagne, France to plant organic vineyards. Actually, the Fleury vineyards have been 100% biodynamic since 1992. Whether you like lean blanc de blancs, juicy rosé or richer blanc de noirs, Fleury makes it it in a crisp, pure and organic champagne. I’m sure they’d appreciate a like on the Fleury Champagne Facebook page.  About $40 to $50, depending on the wine.

 

Korbel OrganicBrutLarge1

Korbel Organic Brut Non-Vintage – When the largest producer of sparkling wine in the U.S. starts making an organic cuvée, you know it’s much more than a niche trend. Korbel’s Organic Brut is clean and tastes of bright citrus, green apple and white peaches. The blend of French colombard, chardonnay and sangiovese grapes was made with the same method used in Champagne, France. About $12.

tarantas sparkling rose

Tarantas Sparkling Rosé – While Spain is known as the land of cava, there are other styles of sparkling wine made there. This sparkling rosé from family-owned Tarantas fits the latter category, since it’s made from certified organic bobal grapes that were grown in the hills near Valencia, Spain. While this wine isn’t sweet at all, it has flavors and aromas of strawberry and red currant. It pairs with all sorts of Spanish foods from jamon to paella, and apparently the bobal grape (aka carignane d’espagne) has super-high levels of the antioxidant resveratrol, as if you needed another reason to try a bottle.  About $15

 

Delicious Chocolate & Champagne Candies for Valentine’s Day

Words of love are screen-printed on champagne ganache chocolates filled with raspberry pâte de fruits. Sea salt caramels topped with red salt complete the box from Socola Chocolates.

Probably because they’re both foods associated with indulgence and pleasure, people love to talk about eating chocolate while sipping champagne for Valentine’s Day. Know what that combo makes me think? Yuck!

A typical brut champagne is far too acidic to pair with a sweet food like chocolate, so even your favorite champagne will taste tart and thin. And the wine does nothing to improve the flavor of the chocolate. It’s really a waste of both.

Here’s how we can stop the madness:  with chocolate truffles that are made with champagne! This way, the champagne lends brightness, fruit and a hint of luxury to the chocolate.

If you’re feeling ambitious, it’s easy to make Chocolate-Champagne Truffles yourself with this recipe from Martha. She rolls hers in white sparkling sugar, but it would be fun to use different colors.

But if you don’t fancy cleaning chocolate and sugar off your kitchen cabinets and floor, here are some great champagne and chocolate truffles to buy for your sweet — or yourself for Valentine’s Day:

Socola Chocolatier’s Aphrodite’s Delight: This chocolate gift starts with raspberry pâte de fruits enrobed in champagne ganache; each one is topped with the word love in different languages. The other half of the box is filled with grey sea salt chocolate caramels topped with red Hawaiian salt. Super-cute sisters Wendy and Susan, who are based in San Francisco, just became the featured chocolatiers for Zaarly, a cool site that curates all sorts of services. New members can go to Zaarly and snag the 12-piece Aphrodite’s Delight box for just $15; shipping is free in San Francisco and $5 elsewhere.

 

 Recchiuti Champagne Truffles: Chocolatier Michael Recchiuti adds the deeply toasty and fruity Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs to super creamy dark chocolate. They’re rolled in powered sugar as the final step. Pick them up at the Recchiuti shop in the Ferry Building, at the new Chocolate Lab Café in Dogpatch or online.

 

Moonstruck Chocolate Pink Champagne Truffle Heart: I met a sweet lady from Seattle’s Moonstruck Chocolates at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco and was eyeing these cute pink hearts. A candied raspberry is at the center, surrounded by a white chocolate ganache flavored with champagne and raspberries and finally a white chocolate shell. Like all of their confections, it’s hand painted.

 

 

Teuscher Champagne Truffles: While I’ve not tried these yet, the website for the Palo Alto-based confectionery makes a compelling claim: company founder Dolf Teuscher Sr. invented the chocolate truffle back in 1946 in Switzerland.  A buttercream center infused with Dom Perignon Champagne is wrapped in either dark or milk chocolate. The milk chocolate original is dusted in confectioner’s sugar for a juicy sensation, while the dark chocolate is rolled in bittersweet cocoa powder for a drier, deeply flavored bite.

 

Vosges Haut Chocolat Champagne Truffles: These truffles and I go way back: We’re both from Chicago. The stylish chocolatiere Katrina Markoff mixes Krug Champagne Grande Cuvée with 85% chocolate and a splash of rosewater. The truffle is finished with a dusting of cocoa powder before being popped in a purple box.  You should know that the Vosges website has a range of other Krug and chocolate gifts, just please promise you won’t drink the champagne and the chocolate together.

On the Occasion of her 100th: A Julia Child Champagne GIF

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If you’ve never visited Julia Child’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian, stop by the next time you’re in Washington, D.C. I think the kitchen reveals more about a person than any other room in the house, and Julia’s is no exception.

The exhibit which recreates the kitchen where she created recipes for so many of her books. It’s relatively small, but carefully organized. Besides a well-used six-burner stove, there was a wall grid with an inventory for wine (including ’66 Chateau Margaux, Nuits St. George ’71 and a ’59 La Rioja Alta); a small dining table, and places for each pot, gadget and utensil, carefully outlined on the wall.

What brings warmth to the exhibit is Child’s lilting voice, coming from a TV monitor that plays various film clips. During my favorite segment, she’s telling the interviewer about her most prized kitchen gadgets, which include a champagne stopper.

To show off how well this one works, Child tells how Barbara Fairchild — then editor of Bon Appetit Magazine — had come for a visit.

“I gave her some of my very best Champagne,” says Child, ever the gracious hostess. She’s referring to an iconic bottle of Dom Pérignon, but doesn’t mention the brand by name.

They didn’t finish it, but thanks to Child’s trusty champagne stopper, the Dom still had its fizz three days later. I hope the other interviewer got to help her kill the bottle when the cameras were off.

I only got to interview Julia Child once — for an article on the true origins of the Caesar Salad — but she had a wonderful memory and was very excited to share what she knew with a young writer. I think perhaps that may be her most important legacy.

Hot Air Balloons & Bubbles: A Drinkable History Lesson

The custom of serving bubbly after a hot air balloon flight dates back to the 18th century.

If you’ve ever been on a hot air balloon flight, at the end of the magnificent journey, you probably enjoyed a glass of sparkling wine or French champagne. But did you ever wonder how the custom of serving bubbly after a flight began?

AshleyMcCredie, a blogger and content coordinator for Cloud 9 Living, an experience gift company, shares the story of how the champagne toast got its start.

“In late July I was lucky enough to have the once-in-a-lifetime type opportunity of a hot air balloon ride. I didn’t know much about hot air ballooning, and one thing that really stuck with me was the story behind the tradition of a champagne toast at the end of each flight.

My pilot, Jeff Meeker of Fair Winds, briefed us on the tradition and history behind the bubbly toast while presenting us all with a split of Korbel, a California sparkling wine. When I came home I wanted to dive more into the facts and story behind this, and here’s what I found.

The creation of the hot air balloon dates back to the 1700s, and the first flight occurred on Oct. 19, 1783 in France.

In 18th century France, there were educated people living in the city and there were landowners and peasants in the country. People in the rural areas often had little contact and connection to what was going on in the city.

So, picture this, you are a peasant working in the fields and all of the sudden you see this balloon floating through the air with fire coming out of it. Is it an alien? An attacker? For peasants who hadn’t heard of hot air ballooning,  the sight of a balloon falling from the sky surprised and often frightened them; especially when they saw the pilot’s face covered in black from ash and soot from the fire keeping the balloon aloft.

To avoid being attacked by the people they surprised, hot air balloon pilots carried Champagne or wine with them as a way to let onlookers know they were human and to thank them for the safe landing in their field.

Today, the toast often goes along with the Balloonist’s Blessing:

The winds have welcomed you with softness

The sun has blessed you with its warm hands

You have flown so high and so well

That God has joined you in your laughter

and set you gently back into the loving arms of mother earth.

 So, if you do take a flight, hopefully you’ll get to celebrate the experience with a toast and a cold glass of bubbly at the end!”

When she’s not hot-air ballooning, Ashley McCredie is a freelance blogger and writer, a photographer and a traveler. Follow her on Twitter at @ashleymccredie. 

Prosecco Party: Getting Bubbly With Francesco Zonin

Francesco Zonin is the president of the US branch of his family's Italian wine cooperative. He stopped in San Francisco during a whirlwind tour of the US last week.

 

Francesco Zonin is at a loss for words.

Dressed in a dark bespoke suit crafted by a tailor in Naples, the president of Zonin USA is  friendly but reserved, with the bemused air of  someone who has been very fortunate in life. During a tasting with friends and writers (including BrokeAss Gourmet Gabi Moskowitz and Morgan First of Second Glass/Wine Riot) on the patio of Colosseo in North Beach, the model-handsome scion of one of the most important wine families in Italy seems like he’s used to being master of his universe.

Yet, when I ask him why Prosecco has gotten so popular, Zonin gives that Italian “non lo so” shrug.

“We’ve been trying to figure that out over the past few days,” he says, sipping a glass of their flagship wine. “The answer is we really don’t know.”

“Prosecco is gaining market share from other sparkling wines in Italy,” Zonin says.  “And sparkling wine sales are growing in the US.”

If it seems like prosecco is everywhere lately, it’s not your imagination; prosecco sales in the US grew by 50 percent in 2011, according to the Champagne Category Report. It’s estimated that prosecco is on place to outsell Champagne for the first time ever in the U. S.

Prosecco 1821 is the flagship wine for Casa Vinicola Zonin.

“We have an idea that depending on the style of wine it’s made with a grape that’s lightly aromatic. It’s between brut and extra dry, so it’s refreshing and as with any Italian wine, it is a perfect match with a lot of food.”

He was right about that. Our hosts at Colosseo put out a spread of prosciutto, dry white cheese, salami followed by a first course of fritto misto. The 1821 Prosecco — Zonin’s flagship wine — paired beautifully with all of these foods, gently cutting through the fattiness while lifting the flavors.

This sparkling wine made in Northern Italy is so appealing because it’s easy to drink, without the strong carbonic acid burn that you get while drinking other sparkling wines.

While we call both the wine and the grape prosecco, it;s actually made from the glera grape. While it’s made in a number of places in Northern Italy, like Friuli, the best prosecco comes from around the towns of Conegliano and Valdobiaddene. I believe so many people enjoy prosecco for the same reason they’ve taken to wines like pinot grigio and gruner veltliner: It’s refreshing, uncomplicated and affordable.

Zonin says Italians are discovering the same thing, and rather than treating prosecco as an aperitif, they’re drinking it more than ever, too.

“We needed an excuse to drink it before, but the interesting thing is in Italy, people are starting to have sparkling wine more often,” he says. “The phenomenon (to drink prosecco) during lunch or during dinner is recent.”

Prosecco is also my favorite mixing bubbly of all time; its softer green apple and pear flavors don’t compete with other elements in a drink. In a vintage Bubbly Girl post called La Dolce Vita, I shared five prosecco cocktail recipes using everything from strawberries and limoncello to lavender and honeydew melon. And if you haven’t tried it yet, the Lilikoi Batida, a creamy passion fruit cocktail from the Four Seasons Maui Resort at Wailea, is crazy-good.

The fashion for cocktails made with prosecco makes Zonin smile; the family is the supplier to the Cipriani restaurant Harry’s Bar in Venice, which made the Bellini popular.

Since white peaches are in season, check out this post on Maria’s Good Things, for an easy recipe from the chefs of Zazu Restaurant for Bellini sorbet with sparkling wine.

 

 

Drink American Bubbly, Just Like the Obamas

The Obamas feted British Prime Minister David Cameron and his wife with sparkling wines by Iron Horse and Thibaut-Janisson at a star-studded State Dinner.

There’s not much chance that I’ll ever have a wardrobe as cool as Michele Obama’s, or get to take the trips they do or meet the people that want to rub shoulders with POTUS and FLOTUS.

But, I can drink the same wines the Obamas do. That’s the cool thing about wine and food; it’s aspirational and accessible all at once. I think that’s why we’re all curious to know celebrities and other people who can eat and drink anything are enjoying at special events, like the White House State Dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Since everybody’s living the vida locavore these days, White House Wine Steward Daniel Shanks makes his selections from among domestic wines. The official wine list wasn’t released by the White House, but according to a report by Jon Bonné in the SF Chronicle’s Inside Scoop, two American sparkling wines were featured at the Cameron dinner.

Both are great methodé champenoise sparkling wines that I’ve tasted before. The NV Thibaut-Janisson Monticello Brut (about $29), crafted in Virginia is a crisp, elegant wine would complement dishes like the halibut in a crisp potato crust. The 2007 Iron Horse Vineyards Green Valley Russian Cuvée (about $38) from Sonoma is a subtly fruitier style that was poured with the steamed lemon pudding dessert.

U.S. Sparkling wines by Iron Horse and Thibaut-Janisson were featured at the White House British state dinner.

Both wines have been served at the White House before and would be equally welcome at your house. Incidentally, Iron Horse has gotten a lot of inside -the-beltway exposure lately. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Vice President Joe Biden and visiting Chinese VP Xi Jinping toasted with the 2007 Iron Horse Chinese Cuvée during his visit last month.

Here’s a fun video of the White House chefs preparing for the dinner; it’s narrated by Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford.

The Best Bubbly in the Air

Virgin Atlantic debuted a glamorous champagne coupe as part of their new Upper Class meal service that began March 1.

Last time I flew on Virgin Atlantic, I remember catching a glimpse of the champagne bar in Upper Class as I trudged to the back of the plane. Now there’s even more to envy: Virgin Atlantic’s new meal service offers retro luxe champagne coupes to serve their Champagne Lanson Black Label.

“We’re very much about trying to make a unique experience,” says Sarah McIntyre, a Virgin Atlantic spokeswoman. “People associate glamour with Virgin Atlantic and champagne comes hand in hand with glamour.”

They’re not the only airline flying high with champagne service. Each year, Business Traveller Magazine give their Cellars in the Sky awards to the airlines with the best wine lists. The magazine rates the quality and diversity of wines offered in business and first class flights.

When the 2011 awards were announced last month, Qantas Airlines’ wine list took the most awards, including best First Class Sparkling – and why not when they’re pouring 1999 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne?

Wines served by Cathay Pacific like the 2008 Vincent Girardin Puligny Montrachet Vielles Vignes were ranked highly. And Brazilian carrier TAM’s 2012 wine list turned heads with pours like Champagne Drappier La Grande Sendrée in first class and Drappier Carte d’Or in business class. And airline sommelier Arthur Azevedo has trained flight crew in matching wines with foods too. Maybe someday they’ll pour some Brazilian bubbly on flights.

The magazine rated 250 wines that were entered into the competition by 53 international airlines.

Uncorked: Discovering My A-ha Moment with Champagne

An a-ha moment is when something becomes very clear to you. Kind of like the ideas in  Oprah’s back page column “Things I Know for Sure.”

During the recent Mutual of Omaha campaign to capture real people telling their own stories, I talked about the a-ha moment on the way to my becoming The Bubbly Girl. I remember being in Aspen for the Food & Wine Classic and sitting with a group of people at Nobu. One of managers at the restaurant asked me “why Champagne?”  I think I felt put on the spot a bit; it’s not often a stranger asks you to defend your chosen avocation. But I realized, “why not Champagne?”

I love wines with bubbles. I like the way there’s a sense of danger associated with opening a bottle, if you don’t handle it right. It’s like an implied message that this is special stuff and you have to respect it. The physical properties of a méthode champenoise wine force you to observe the ritual of chilling it, not shaking it up, holding the cork carefully so it doesn’t fly off in your face. Even an expensive bottle of Bordeaux doesn’t have that kind of power.

Then there’s the moment when the cork leaves the bottle – either with a pop or soft sigh. Either way, that bubbly is talking to you, loud and clear. Other wines speak once you get them in the glass and start to taste, but bubbly can make a statement before you take a single sip.

And then there are those bubbles, those magical and mesmerizing streams of tiny pearls that erupt once champagne or sparkling wine is poured into a flute. I love the way they a release a stream of memories; maybe it was the Sunday afternoon bubbly with a boyfriend or girlfriend,  the Dom Perignon at a wedding, the prosecco and prosciutto on a trip to Italy or the before-dinner champagne with a friend who’s not with us anymore. Thinking back, those moments were all happy ones, and that glass in our hand connects us to all those bottled up good feelings.

Plus when it comes to food-pairing, bubbly just happens to be the best category of wine in the world. I like the idea of  bringing more happiness to people’s lives, especially when it’s something as simple as opening a bottle of bubbly.

I think we have – or can have – a-ha moments all the time. Maybe even every day. We just have to be paying attention to that little voice inside that tells us “this is not for me” or “yes, this is what I want to do”

So what’s your a-ha moment?

The Nutty Persimmon: A Halloween Cocktail in Orange & Black

Persimmon creates a delicious and seasonal orange cocktail for Halloween drinking. A fresh candied walnut makes a spooky garnish.

When it comes to creating orange drinks for Halloween, most people reach for a can of pumpkin. Or more creatively, some sweet potato puree. But both of those are so thick and starchy, they make rather substantial drinks.

I’ve discovered that persimmon is the perfect orange base for a Halloween cocktail. They’re a beautiful hue, persimmons are really coming into season in mid-October and their sweet unassertive flavor mixes well.

Visit Maria’s Good Things for more persimmon recipes.

I paired my persimmon syrup  (created by mixing a cup of organic persimmon puree with a brown- sugar simple syrup) with some preserved fresh walnuts from Harvest Song Ventures. They’re black, soft and sweet,  and often paired with blue cheese or even foie gras. The  baby walnuts do look rather alarming, so  you could say they were decaying eyeballs, spider eggs or something equally gross for Halloween.
The Nutty Persimmon

1-1/2 ounces persimmon syrup
1-1/2 ounces Laird’s applejack (or bourbon)
1 teaspoon walnut syrup
juice of 1/4 lemon
shake nutmeg
shake powdered cinnamon
float of blanc de noirs sparkling wine
1/2 fresh walnut, for garnish

Add the persimmon syrup, applejack, walnut syrup, lemon juice and spices to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well-chilled, then strain into a small martin glass or a coupe. Top with the blanc de noirs and stir lightly. Garnish with the fresh walnut half.

Makes 1 cocktail

Champagne: The ultimate lifestyle & luxury drink for #ChampagneDay

Krug Champagne commissioned a $500,000 hot air balloon as a symbol of the brand's image as a luxurious hand-crafted product.

I love champagne. Its effervescence excites me, its crispness makes me smile and its very aura is appealing. I drink it all, from the little grower champagnes to the Grand Dames. No other drink has the same complex creation, the unique history or the emotional impact.

Today on Champagne Day, I’m sharing a piece I wrote a few years ago about the way champagne is marketed to maintain its unique pop culture status.

Clear morning sunlight is just breaking over the distant hills, but I’ve been sipping champagne for an hour, floating in a hot air balloon at 2,500 feet above the Sonoran desert near Phoenix. A white scarf that recalls the magnificent men in their flying machines is draped around my neck.  The silence is broken by the roar of the propane burners that keep the elegant white balloon with its silvery vine logo afloat.

The occasion? Krug Champagne is flossing its unique brand of bespoke luxury in this $500,000 balloon outfitted with hand-tooled white leather, a mid-fight repast created by a French culinary designer and a pilot with a British accent.

Welcome to the new world of luxury champagne marketing. It’s not enough to tout the tastiness of your bubbly in a competitive industry set at just under $6 billion in 2010 according to trade group Comité Interprofesionnel du Vin de Champagne. Whether with cleverly designed bottles and baubles, super-exclusive cuvées or champagne lifestyle experiences, venerable maisons are busy dreaming up ever-more opulent ways to one-up each other and attract attention.

Veuve Clicquot hired über-designer Karim Rashid to create a curvy pink tête-a-tête style loveseat with an ice bucket built into the center that sold for $10,000. His latest effort is Globalight, a $4,500 limited edition champagne cooler and carrier that keeps your rosé at the ideal temperature while bathing it in soft pink light.

Piper-Heidsieck – which first linked fashion and fizz with a bottle dressed in a Jean Paul Gaultier  red vinyl corset – has dressed Rosé Sauvage in a pink and black upside-down bottle by Viktor & Rolf. Last year they released a Christian Louboutin-designed crystal slipper (which also might be idea for Cristal-sipping). This year’s conceit was a bondage bottle dressed in black fishnets and a mask by Gaultier that cost $285 (at Park Avenue Liquor Shop) if you could even get your hands on one.

Perrier Jouët By and For – a true bespoke bubbly — burst on the scene this spring as the most expensive champagne to date. Celebs Sophie Marceau and Marianne Faithfull have jumped at the chance to be one of the lucky 100 to buy a case for about $98,000. The price includes a trip to Paris for four, “personality” champagne blending with the chef de caves, and lunch at the Maison Belle Epoque in Epernay. If that’s not enough, then consider dropping another $165,000 for the Van Cleef & Arpels anemone flower brooch set with 450 diamonds and 259 yellow sapphires that commemorates the launch.

But by far the most egregious example of the power of marketing is Armand de Brignac champagne, aka “Ace of Spades” that was introduced by rapper Jay Z. A few years ago, the Cattier family had little success selling champagne for about $64 a bottle in the U.S. Their fortunes changed after Cattier Champagne – poured into a shiny gold bottle – appeared in the Jay-Z video “Show Me What You Got.” Now it sells for $300 a pop.

Though the flying Krug room takes champagne marketing to new heights, at least there’s a historical precedent. In the late 1700s when the French balloon aviation pioneers took a flight, they always carried a bottle of champagne as a peace offering since the balloon were prone to landing unexpectedly in some poor farmer’s field.

“That’s the same wine in the bottle and the taste has not changed,” said Rémi Fritsch-Frontages, Krug’s brand director. “What you create around it that makes people see it with new eyes.”

So what’s next? The Krug Formula One race car… the Krug yacht?  Or maybe they’ll follow the lead of Hermès and launch the Krug Kopter.