Sip a Sparkling Viola Cocktail: Inspired by Viola Davis

Inspired by actress Viola Davis, the Sparkling Viola cocktail is a deliciously bubbly mix of violet and blackberry garnished with edible flowers and edible 24 K gold.

For the first time in a few years, I’ll be tuning into the 88th Academy Awards on Sunday. I’ll be watching because I really want to see Viola Davis with the award for Best Actress.

This amazing actress, wife and mother is getting her long-overdue star turn for her work in The Help, a movie about a group of maids in 1960s Mississippi.

She may seem like a late bloomer, but Viola Davis has been practicing her craft for years, giving deeply moving portrayals of people who were often in some kind of pain. One of my roles favorite was on the show “Without a Trace.” She played a mother grappling with the disappearance of her son, and the fact that TV news blasted the story of a missing blond girl, while ignoring her son’s plight.

Davis is making the most of her star turn with gorgeous awards show ensembles, which inspired the Polyvore set by Svud Je Holivud. Viola’s bubbly, dark and lovely and it inspired me to toast her with a special golden Oscar’s cocktail.

The viola, a dainty flower related to the violet and pansy, is one of my favorite edible flowers. They come in a range of gorgeous shades, and they have so much personality with markings that resemble a face. Candied or in cocktails, they have a sweet cucumber taste.

The Sparkling Viola
1 ounce Rothman & Winter Crème de Violette Liqueur
3/4 ounce blackberry syrup
4 ounces demi sec champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
1 fresh blackberry
1 organic viola flower
24K edible gold leaf flakes

Add the violet liqueur and blackberry syrup to a champagne flute. Top with the sparkling wine. Garnish with the blackberry. Lay the viola on top of the cocktail and top with a sprinkle of gold.

© By Maria C. Hunt aka The Bubbly Girl. All rights reserved.

 

 

Viola Davis

So Fresh: Champagne Lanson San Francisco Launch

Enguerrand Baijot, Brand Director for Champagne Lanson, pouring Extra Age Brut     at a recent launch party at The Bubble Lounge in San Francisco.

“When you see a champagne ad, what does it show?” asks the Frenchman. He answers his own question. “A car, a pretty girl or some jewelry. But what does that have to do with what’s in the bottle?”

The Frenchman in question is Enguerrand Baijot, scion of the family that owns Champagne Lanson. He visited San Francisco this week for a tasting at The Bubble Lounge as part of the brand’s re-launch in the U.S. market.

He makes a good point; most champagne ads celebrate lifestyle, rather than flavor. The Lanson difference, Baijot says, is the way they emphasize their wine-making style which creates a uniquely fresh and bright tasting champagnes.

“Lanson is the only champagne that talks about what it going on inside the bottle,” Baijot says.

When it comes to flavor profile, it seems most champagnes are in one camp or another. They’re either quite austere, acidic and young tasting or they have the deep, toasty flavors that come with age.  A rare handful, including Lanson, manage to capture both of those characteristics.

Since the house was founded by Jean-Baptiste Lanson in 1837, the key to this balanced flavor profile has been a combination of long-aging and the house style called non-malo.

“Lanson is a champagne that sings,” says Baijot. “It’s about purity and freshness.”

It’s kind of wine-geeky, but malolactic fermentation is a natural process that happens in winemaking after the sugar in the grape juice has been converted into alcohol. Wine grapes are full of bright, fresh malic acid that’s similar to the flavor of a green apple. During malolactic fermentation or ML, malic acid is converted into lactic acid, a rounder softer acid found in yogurt, butter and cheese.

Lanson cools their cuvées before they’re bottled to become champagne, so that ML doesn’t happen. As the Champagne region gets warmer, which robs the grapes of their natural acidity, Baijot says he expects to see more champagne houses adopting their style.

Since Lanson champagnes are made without malolactic fermentation, they have a higher acidity that imparts a bright taste and makes them perfect for aging.

Lanson champagnes are predominantly made with Pinot Noir. And to make sure their wines have a delicious depth of flavor, all Lanson champagnes — from the entry-level NV Black Label to the top of the line Gold Label —  are aged much longer than is required. Black Label is aged for three years while the Gold Label, Extra-Age Brut and Extra-Age Rosé are all laid down at least five years.

The Lanson Extra-Age Rosé with its lovely cranberry notes, is poured by the glass at all Alain Ducasse restaurants around the world. The recently-released 2002 Gold Label —  a marvelous display of precociousness and maturity crafted exclusively from Grand Cru grapes – is  being poured for all United Airlines international first-class passengers.

This summer, look for a new Lanson Extra-Age Blanc de Blancs and a White Label Sec Champagne, a slightly sweeter cuvée that highlights the fresh fruit flavors in the wine. Baijot says it’s designed to be featured in fruit-based cocktails, like Raspberry Champagne Mojitos and Kir Royales.

It’s hard to leave a Lanson tasting without being a smarter champagne drinker.  But just in case, they share copies of The Little Black Book of Champagne, a concise guide to the champagne method, grapes and famous Bubbly Girls including Lily Bollinger, Marilyn Monroe and Kate Moss. Visit the L’Academie de Lanson website to order your complimentary copy of The Little Black Book of Champagne.

1313 Main: A Lucky Wine Bar for Bubbly Lovers

The downtown Napa wine bar 1313 Main features adiverse selection of wines, servers that know Napa like insiders and a comfortable modern setting.

A couple weeks ago, a friend asked me the word for being afraid of the number 13. It’s triskaidecaphobia, though I admit I had to look up the exact spelling.

I didn’t think much of it until I realized that this month, which began with Sunday the 1st, would include a Friday the 13th.

But 13 isn’t always an unlucky number. A trip to Napa that started out poorly – when I discovered I’d left my wallet at home – ended with me feeling quite privileged to experience 1313 Main.

There’s a clever logo of mirrored 13s on the front, along with a window showcasing some of their favorite champagnes and sparkling wines. Inside, 1313 has a modern decor done in a range of neutral tones accented by warm red and carnelian touches.

Like most wine bars, 1313 Main offers a selection of flights. The Bubble Trouble features NV Mumm Napa Brut Prestige, NV Taittinger Cuvée Prestige and NV Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. Since I was still getting over a cold, I limited myself to a taste of the Lucien Albrecht, a pristine 100% pinot noir traditional method wine with subtle flavors of plum and berries. The two-ounce tastes range from $3.50 for the Mumm Napa to $5 for the one I chose to $10 for Champagne Collet.

Every Friday, 1313 features a Bubble Bar with a rotating list of 13 sparkling wines by the glass. The lineup usually includes wines like sparkling vouvray from Domain Vigneau-Chevreau, Gruet Brut Sauvage and Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rosé. The lineup also includes something amazing, like Krug Grande Cuvée or Salon which are rarely seen in wine bars, let alone by the glass.

Can’t wait for my next visit to see what’s featured on the Bubble Bar.

Drink to Your Health: Studies Show Bubbly & Red Wine Good For You

Enjoyed in moderation, red wines like this sparkling shiraz can help prevent diseases like breast and prostate cancer, according to scientific studies.

Booze of all kinds gets villfied in January, as if it’s the (fill in the name of your favorite tipple here)’s fault that we drank too much of it over the holidays and gained weight or started the new year with a horrific hangover.

So in the interest of equal time, I thought I’d highlight some of the scientific studies showing that drinking in moderation is good for your health.

Most people know that red wine is good for your health. But did you know that champagne and sparkling wines have health benefits too?

A 2009 study conducted at the University of Reading in the UK found that polyphenols found in champagne raised nitric oxide levels in the blood vessels, keeping them relaxed. This is important because increased blood flow helps prevents any blockages which can lead to strokes or other problems.

A new wine health study by Cedars Sinai Medical Center reported on Science Daily found that moderate red wine consumption may reduce one of the risk factors for breast cancer. The 36 women in the study drank 8 ounces of Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay for 30 days and then switched varietals for the next month. The study found that the Cabernet Sauvignon drinkers had elevated levels of testosterone along with lower levels of estrogen, which has been found to foster the growth of cancer cells. The doctors believe plant chemicals in the skin and seeds of red wine grapes cause the beneficial effects.

And men shouldn’t feel left out either: a 2003 study found that the red wine antioxidant resveratrol may help inhibit the growth of prostate cancer. The study by researchers at MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas found that a glass or two a day should do the trick.

Many people start the year with a month-long liquor fast to give their livers a break. But we needn’t bother, according to a report from the British Liver Trust covered by the BBC. Instead, it’s more effective to give the liver a little break each week, by skipping alcohol for a few days.

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?

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.

Real champagne for $20? Mais oui if you know where to shop

Champagne Didier Chopin, a real brut rosé from the Champagne region of France, was one of the bargains I found at Grocery Outlet in Oakland this weekend.

For the past few weeks, a new friend has been telling me about the wine bargains he finds at a placed called Grocery Outlet. Actually, he calls it Gross Out, so  can’t say I had been in a hurry to get over there. But when he brought a couple white wines to dinner that were surprisingly good, my curiosity got the best of me.

It looks like a bodega outside, with bins piled high with oranges and mini watermelons. Inside, racks are piled equally high with everything from toilet paper and toothpaste to flower pots. I snagged some organic baby green mix in the produce section, then went to track down the wine. Along the way I noticed a very extensive cheese section, where a woman explained to her friend what “ricotta salata” was.

On the display opposite the cheese, I spotted my first wines. I picked up an Italian one in a familiar berry shade of magenta. The label said Casorzo D.O.C. Ricossa Antica Casa.  The description on the back read: “a semi-sweet sparkling frizzante style wine of fragrant floral aromas with hints of rose petal and a soft smooth taste.”

That description told me I had found a wine that contained some brachetto, the red grape from Piedmont typically made into sweetly balanced sparklers with distinctive rose and berry aromas and flavors. A wine with word brachetto on the label will usually run $18 to $22. Grocery Outlet was selling it for $7.99 – perfect for making sangria.

There's some brachetto blended into this Italian dessert wine that was just $7.99.

In the wine aisle, I spotted all kinds of wine, mostly unfamiliar. Many of the wines were blends, such as the Spanish white Pazo de Monterey that my friend had brought to dinner. It was marked $2.99 here, but drank much better. A Google search revealed that the blend of treixadura and godello grapes that had soft apple and floral aromas sells for $9 to $12 around the country.

But in the refrigerated wine case, I found the real bargains. Among a bunch of half bottles of botryitized semillon from Australia – a super bargain at $9.99 -  I spotted a few bottles of rosé sparkling with the name “Champagne Didier Chopin” and “product of France.” I didn’t know this wine either, but that doesn’t mean much since there are hundreds of smaller producers in Champagne that never make a name in the US.

I Googled the name from my phone and learned that Msr. Chopin started making wines in the Vallée de la Marne nearly 20 years ago. His brut rosé sells for around $55 in U.K. He’s a négociant -manipulant, meaning that he buys pinot noir and pinot meunier grapes and then fashions them into wine. We savored this fruity deep pink wine with its bold berry flavors and aromas. Even more delightful was picking it up for $19.99 at Grocery Outlet.

I’ll definitely be going back for more.

 

 

 

Best Discoveries from the Champagne Grand Tasting

The Champagne Grand Tasting by the Champagne Bureau featured more than 32 champagne houses pouring their best bubbly. Â Â Â Â Courtesy Dakota Fine Photography/CIVC

The Grand Champagne Tasting at the Westin St. Francis last week was glorious. Walking into the light-filled room done in gold and crystal on the 32nd floor of the Westin St. Francis was like stepping into champagne heaven.

Around the room that offered a panoramic view of San Francisco on a sunny day, more than 100 different styles of icy champagne rested in silver buckets, just waiting to be tasted.

The first of its kind tasting was presented by the Champagne Bureau, the U.S. office of the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne (CIVC), a 70-year-old trade organization. The CIVC’s main mission is making sure the trademarked word champagne isn’t applied to sparkling wines from other places in the world.

“We have to defend this idea that champagne is from Champagne,” said Thibault le Mailloux, the new communications director of the CIVC visiting from France.

One of the best ways to do that is by letting people taste fine champagnes from smaller houses that often don’t get as much attention from consumers.  “We thought this was an opportunity to show the diversity and richness of the Champagne area,” le Mailloux said.

My favorite discovery of the day was the brut rosé by Charles de Cazanove, a lively wine that tasted of wild strawberries. It’s also poured at Daniel Boulud’s DBGB Kitchen + Bar in NYC’s East Village, so you know it’s gotta be good.

I experienced some other new wines as well:  Champagne Thienot 1999 Grande Cuvée Alain Thienot, a $150 prestige cuvée that offered bread and toasty notes and finished with a surprising youthfulness; and the Champagne Mailly 2000 Grand Cru Les Echansons.  The wine crafted from 75% pinot noir/25% chardonnay had lovely notes of quince jam followed by brioche. Juice from their oldest vines goes into the 11,000 bottles of this cuvée dedicated to sommeliers.  Oh, and the 82-year old Mailly doesn’t use pinot meunier.

But as the ultimate comfort beverage, I think champagne is also about re-experiencing favorite flavors in wines like:

  • Vilmart et Cie’s 2001 Coeur de Cuvée, a delicious rosé that tasted of dried stonefruit and toasted nuts;
  • Bollinger’s 2002 La Grande Année, disgorged just two months ago and tasting richly of dried stonefruit;
  • the juicy and crisp Bruno Paillard Brut Premiere Cuvée, an amazing champagne value from the newest house in Champagne – (also love the Aria from La Wally on their website)
  • Pol Roger‘s NV Brut, a wine with a remarkable balance of freshness, delicacy and age;
  • Philipponnat’s 2004 Grand Blanc bursting with apricot flavors poured by Msr. Philipponnat himself and
  • Devaux’s Cuvée D with its delicate flavors of mushroom and subtle fruit.

 

Big Bottles of Bubbly Make for Big Fun

This chart from Champagne Drappier illustrates wine bottle sizes from the personal sized bottle to the improbable Melchizedek, which could satisfy 200 of your closest friends.
This chart from Champagne Drappier illustrates wine bottle sizes from the personal sized bottle to the improbable Melchizedek, which could satisfy 200 of your closest friends.

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.

Krug's Grande Cuvée tastes even better when its poured from a magnum.
Krug's Grande Cuvée tastes even better when its poured from a magnum.

Some fun larger bottles to try include Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut, the nearly organic Drusian Prosecco, Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut and Joy!, a sparkling wine from Iron Horse that’s aged for 10 to 15 years. It’s only available in magnums, to make sure there’s enough liquid happiness to go around.