Celebrate New Year’s Eve with
the Best Bubbly of 2011

Vouette et Sorbée is a biodynamic grower champagne house in the Aube that's becoming a sommelier favorite.

It’s hard to believe another year is coming to a close! As we get ready to welcome 2012, I can’t help but think back to all the delicious champagnes and sparkling wines I’ve enjoyed this year.

Here’s some of the bubbly that I’d love to taste one more time as the calendar changes:

NV Vouette et Sorbée Saignée de Sorbée

I heard about this grower champagne house in the Aube from both Christine Dufault and Rajat Parr while interviewing them for a story this year. I was thrilled to get to taste the range at the Arlequin Champagne Tasting. Each of the wines had a singular quality; the Blanc de Argile is extremely lean and austere, while the Saignée de Sorbée is a bold wine, extra-brut with flavors of plum, strawberry, minerals and smoke. About $88.

Champagne Lanson Black Label has a bright crisp quality balanced by the right hint of French champagne toastiness.

NV Champagne Lanson Black Label

I first tasted Champagne Lanson at the Grand Champagne Tasting at the Fairmont Hotel this spring, and rediscovered it again this winter after meeting Lanson Managing Director Paul Beavis. I love the way Lanson Black Label has a bright and fresh quality mixed with an edge of toastiness that to me says fine champagne. According to Beavis, the difference is that Lanson is made without malolactic fermentation, so the acids in the champagne stay bright and crisp, like a green apple. About $40

Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs tastes even better at the winery's Sonoma County tasting room overlooking the vineyards.

NV Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs

I love blanc de noirs  – sparkling wines made from a mix of pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes – for the way they showcase the flavors of those red grapes. This style is extremely food-friendly as well, working with richly flavored dishes like salmon, pork or lamb. Every time I taste the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs, it delights me with hints of strawberry, baked apple and white flowers.  About $14.

Schramsberg's first wine release was the Blanc de Blancs and it remains one of their best offerings.

Schramsberg 2008 Blanc de Blancs

Jack and Jamie Davies’ Schramsberg was the first U.S. winery to make a méthode champenoise blanc de blancs, which is crafted from chardonnay grapes. It’s still one of the best, with a 2008 vintage that’s vibrant with flavors of citrus balanced by a richness from two years on the yeast. This wine became internationally known in 1972 when then President Nixon served it at Toast for Peace in Beijing, China. About $25.

Four bottles of Krug Grande Cuvée on ice - what a beautiful sight!

NV Krug Grande Cuvée

With its blend of youthfulness and age, simplicity and complexity, each time I taste Krug Grande Cuvée, it inspires me. A tasting at the Hotel Vitale was even more memorable by the opportunity to meet the charming Maggie Henriquez, CEO and President of Champagne Krug. About $135

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?

Warm up the Winter with Four Roses Bourbon – Plus a Fat Washing Primer

Bacon-infused bourbon, apple cider and a 4505 Meats chicharron were winning ingredients in the Autumn Rose cocktail.

Of all the brown spirits, bourbon is the one I’m warming up to the fastest. I guess it must be the warm flavors of caramel and vanilla and the hint of sweetness from the corn mash that makes it easy to appreciate. I’ve sipped it on the rocks, but love the way it works in cocktails. I’m not the only one apparently: this spring, an organization called Bourbon Women had their coming out party in Kentucky. Founded by Peggy Noe Stevens – the first female master bourbon taster – the group celebrates the heritage of bourbon and educates women about it through tasting events around the country.

I got a personal lesson in the versatility of bourbon this fall when I judged a Four Roses Bourbon cocktail contest at Bourbon & Branch.The Four Roses legend starts with Paul Jones, Jr. who was in love with a local belle. He asked her to marry him and coyly suggested that if her answer was yes, she should wear a corsage of four red roses to the next dance. She did, and the rest is history. These days, Four Roses is admired by connoisseurs for Jim Rutledge’s careful blending five yeast strains and two grain mixes to create 10 distinctive bourbon recipes. Each blend is aged in new white oak barrels, and only Rutledge’s favorite is selected as their Single Barrel bourbon.

For their annual cocktail contest, creative Bay Area mixologists made diverse cocktails with their own corn milk punch, rootbeer and combination of amari and other brown spirits. But in the end, we were most taken with the way the bourbon was enhanced by a combo of bacon, apple cider and a spicy 4505 Meats chicharron in a drink called Autumn Rose by Christina Cabrera.

Autumn Rose

2 ounces bacon-infused Four Roses Bourbon
1/4 ounce Gran Classico
1/2 ounce fresh lemon juice
3/4 ounce apple cider
1/2 ounce honey
1/2 ounce maple syrup
2 dashes chocolate bitters

Add all the ingredients to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until well-chilled and strain into a coupe style cocktail glass. Now take a bite of the chicharron before sipping the cocktail.

Now Christina’s recipe used maple bacon infused honey. Since I didn’t have any of that around, I decided it was time to make some bacon-infused bourbon. This is a simple version of the technique called “fat-washing” that mixologists and chefs use to add the flavor of a fatty food like bacon or foie gras to a spirit.

Bacon-Infused Bourbon

4 pieces thick-cut, old-fashioned bacon, ie  applewood smoked
1 bottle bourbon

Basically, all you do is pour the fat released by cooking the bacon into the bourbon, or whatever spirit you’re infusing. Let it sit for a day or two and then freeze it before pouring the bourbon back into the bottle through a cheesecloth or strainer. The bacon fat will have transferred flavor into the spirit.

For a more involved description of fat-washing, check out this post on Blender Booze blog; I also like this profile of fat-washing pioneer Eben Freeman in Food & Wine Magazine.  I learned the lard ..er hard way that it’s important to let your bourbon sit in the refrigerator while it’s infusing with the bacon fat. I let it sit on the counter as one recipe suggested and the bacon fat took on a rancid odor, not the sort of thing one wants to drink. I also think the effect works best if you use a more smoky style of bacon.