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Sparkling Wine

Drinks, Sparkling Wine

Why Pét Nat is the Bubbly to Drink Right Now

April 11, 2018

If you’re one of those people who scans the sparkling wine and champagne list at every hip restaurant you visit, you’ve probably noticed a lot of biodynamic bubbly. If you’ve ordered one, you’ve probably been thrilled with the luxurious mouthfeel, exotic aromas and exuberant flavors.

What the list probably doesn’t tell you is that these wines often are made using a process called pétillant-naturel  or  pét nat for short. For me, it’s one of the most exciting, unpredictable and delicious styles of bubbly to drink right now.

melaric globules roses wine

Everyone wanted more of the Mélaric Globules Roses, a méthode ancestrale cabernet franc sparkling wine from the Loire.

A pét nat sparkling wine employs a minimal style of winemaking perfect for multi-taskers.  It’s a one-step process that creates wine and adds bubbles at the same time. While the yeast is still eating sugar in the grape juice and producing alcohol and CO2 during the primary fermentation, the whole mixture is bottled.  While fermentation happens inside the bottle, like with champagne, but the final wine is very different from the precise and controlled méthode champenoise.

That’s because with pét nat wines, the yeast, effervescence, aromas and flavors that develop stay inside the bottle until you get ready to disgorge and drink it.  Also known as méthode ancestrale, this hands-off technique produces lively wines of such character that it’s been embraced by many biodynamic winemakers today.

I’m looking forward to trying more pét nat wines like the Johan Vineyards Melon de Bourgogne from Oregon — they also make a pét nat pinot noir rosé —  at the Demeter International Biodynamic Wine Conference on May 6-7, 2018 in San Francisco. In the meantime, here are a couple of my favorites:

Mélaric Globules Rosés

One night while making our way down Mississippi Street in Portland, we stopped at Olympia Oyster Bar. The wine list was overflowing with carefully sourced biodynamic and organic treasures. I loved all three sparkling wines, but the one that spoke to me was the biodynamic Mélaric Globules Rosés from the Loire. This cabernet franc wine delivered an intense explosion of  wild strawberries, red plums, earth and toast that immediately reminded me of  Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé with a sauvage edge. The stunning thing is that the Mélaric delivers so much flavor and impact for right around $22 a bottle — a fraction of the Billecart-Salmon.

The next day, the next week, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. But when I went home, I couldn’t find it

melanie and aymeric Hillaire

Mélanie and Aymeric of Vins Mélaric

anywhere. I sent plaintive emails starting with “AIDEZ MOI” to a handful retailers in France. But in the end, I located the wine at Corkscru, an indie wine importer and retailer in Portland run by a guy named Dan Beekley. He writes wonderful emails that evoke a sense of adventure and discovery. Read one and you’ll feel like you’re with him on a bicycle bumping down a dirt road in the Loire to meet a family and try their little handcrafted wine.

Aymeric and Mélanie Hillare, the duo behind Mélaric Globules Rosés live in the south Saumur, a beautiful region that’s a hotbed of biodynamic winemaking. They met studying viticulture at Montepelier and worked together at wineries in Bandol, Sauternes and Chinon. In 2006, they moved to the new appellation Saumur Puy Notre Dame, acquired vineyards and started making wine.

The Mélaric isn’t listed on the Corkscru website, but call and they’ll be happy to send you a bottle or six.

Sarah’s Rustic Bubbles

I met Sarah and her husband Guy a few years ago at a picnic during the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.  The dinner line was moving slooowly and Sarah has a big smile, so we started talking.   I learned that her dad, Kurt Schoeneman owned the acclaimed Ferrington Vineyard, which supplies pinot noir and chardonnay grapes to Williams Selyem for a vineyard designate bottling, along with Poe and Schramsberg’s J. Davies brand, among others.

We’d been out of touch for a while when we reconnected by email, and Guy told me about their family winery called Fathers and Daughters. Their first bubbly is a chardonnay blanc de blancs made in the pet nat style.  It’s a slightly wild form of bubbly, since the yeast does its thing and stays in the bottle until you decide to carefully chill the bottle, open it and drink it.

I almost don’t have words to describe this wine. It was a multi-sensory experience, starting with my heart racing a bit as as I got ready to disgorge in the kitchen sink.  I followed the instructions to get it really cold first , so when I uncapped it over the kitchen sink, so I didn’t lose much.

Aromas ranged from fresh golden apples to peanuts to white flowers. The wine had a beautiful mousse like a fluffy meringue. At times it tasted like chardonnay, other times it was like drinking a dry cider or an aromatic wheat beer.

It felt like the wine was alive — which is part of the joy of pét nat wines.

 

 

 

Drinks, Sparkling Wine

Drink This: Richard Grant Cuvée Rosé Brut

September 20, 2016

I never know where I’ll discover a great sparkling wine that I’ve never tasted before.

This summer, it happened at the grand opening of the Axiom Hotel, a tech-enhanced 152-room boutique hotel near Union Square in San Francisco. The owners kept vintage touches like scrolled columns and exposed brick, adding tech amenities like Bluetooth enabled 42-inch flat-screen TVs in rooms, Pac-Man and Space Invaders in the upstairs lobby and fiber-optic cable Wi-Fi that’s lightening fast and free.

The hosts were showing off their signature cocktails like the Axiom, an updated sour with rye, honey, lemon and two kinds of bitters. And it was hard to ignore the dancers in the green LED-light suits.image

But I was more interested in the unfamiliar bottle of sparkling wine I spotted behind the bar: Richard Grant Pinot Noir Cuvée Rosé Brut. When I finally got a glass at the downstairs bar, I loved the deep and intense flavors of berries and pink grapefruit in this dry sparkling wine.

Who is Richard Grant?

It turns out the full name of the man behind this wine is Richard Grant Peterson. Most California wine lovers don’t know who he is, but Dick Peterson just may be the most influential person in the California wine industry you’ve never heard of.

His two daughters are quite famous though: Holly Peterson is a chef and former instructor at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in St. Helena, while Heidi Peterson Barrett of La Sirena is the original winemaker who made cult labels like Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle and Grace Family famous.

Richard Peterson is a scientist and inventor whose wine career started with E&J Gallo in the late 1950s. He’s credited with bringing dry wines and bubbly to Gallo. Next he took over Beaulieu Vineyards from the legendary André Tchelistcheff, later working for The Monterey Vineyard and Atlas Peak.

His biggest impact may be his innovations in wine making techniques and equipment, such as creating the metal wine pallet system that’s used in wineries all over the world. When I interviewed Heidi Barrett a few years ago, she remarked how her dad unselfishly gave that invention — known as the Peterson Pallet — to the wine industry, never seeking a patent or any compensation. thewinemaker cover ss

And here’s another fun fact about Peterson: he created the first wine cooler. We turn up our nose at them now, but when I was just about 21, wine coolers opened a gateway to white Zinfandel, which led to Chardonnay and then international sparkling wine — and the rest is history! You can learn more about Grant’s childhood and his fascinating life in the wine industry in his 2015 autobiography called The Winemaker.

His sparkling wine probably owes some of its distinctive flavor profile to the fact that it’s made from the rare and ancient Wrotham pinot noir clone. Get a taste of Grant’s Pinot Noir Cuvée Rosé Brut at the bar at the Axiom, or order a bottle at Cellar Collections. Grant’s wine sells for an unbelievably modest $22, but trust me — it drinks like a wine twice the price.

Sparkling Wine, Wine Reviews

Can Sparkling Wine Age? You Bet!

December 26, 2013
wine_grape_clusters
This 1987 bottle of Schramsberg Reserve Sparkling Wine still had plenty of golden fruit, along with nutty flavors, when we opened it 26 years later.

This 1987 bottle of Schramsberg Reserve Sparkling Wine still had plenty of golden fruit, along with nutty flavors, when we opened it 26 years later.

So as I looked in my wine fridge for a wine to bring to a holiday dinner, I discovered a bottle of Schramsberg Reserve sparkling wine from 1987.  What a thrilling discovery – vintage bubbly! But I kind of worried too that I had aged it into a bottle of Napa Valley pinot noir vinegar.

Both the front and back labels call it “Napa Valley Champagne.” Back in 1987, a gallon of gas cost 89 cents. The most popular car was the Ford Escort (MSRP $6,895). That was also the year that The Simpsons and FOX Broadcasting debuted and Prozac went on the market. I was barely old enough to drink legally. So much has changed in the past 26 years.

Fortunately, well-made sparkling wine can wait. Once uncorked, the wine was a deep golden color with deep notes of golden apple, nuts, toast and Madeira wrapped in mouthwatering acidity. The bubbles were persistent but so very tiny, that we could really enjoy the flavor of the wine. It was beautiful on its own, as well as with Dungeness crab cakes and a juicy pork loin.

I resolved to start aging more sparkling wine — and think you should try it too.

Of course, if that bottle of bubbly you’re thinking of laying down costs under $20, you may have nothing but vintage vinegar at the end of your experiment. But if it’s a fine méthode champenoise wine that was carefully crafted and had some extended contact with yeast in the first place, it absolutely has that potential.

While they don’t have high amounts of tannin or sugar — two factors that allow other cult red wines like Screaming Eagle to age — sparkling wines and champagnes are naturally graced with a high amount of acidity. This acidity helps preserve the wine and allow it to develop in a positive way, just like a great German riesling or white Burgundy.

So next time you go to your favorite winery and pick up a bottle of their special release, consider putting it away in a cool place and forgetting about it for 20 years or so.

The back label says the wine is nutty, toasty and ?? - and it was still true 26 years later.

The back label says the wine is nutty, toasty and well aged – and it was still true 26 years later.

Champagne, Drinks, Sparkling Wine

5 Amazing Organic Sparklers for Earth Day

April 17, 2013
wildflowers_vineyard_recaredo

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

 

Bubbly Girl Cocktail Recipes, Drinks, Sparkling Wine

The Lava Lamp: Three Easy Holiday Cocktails in One

December 27, 2012
modernist_lava_lamp_cocktail

I have a confession: the Lava Lamp is probably the most simple cocktail from my book The Bubbly Bar. And maybe for that reason, or the fact that people love the tangy mix of pomegranate and sparkling wine, it’s also the most popular. If you’ve never tried it, here’s the classic recipe:

The Lava Lamp

1 ounce Pama pomegranate liqueur

4 ounces brut sparkling wine

3 pomegranate seeds

Add the pomegranate liqueur to a champagne flute. Top with the brut sparkling wine. Garnish with the three pomegranate seeds.

I’m glad people still enjoy this cocktail, but I’ve created a few variations on it, and I thought you might like to try them. I’ve found that all sorts of tangy deep red winter fruit juices like blood orange, hibiscus, pomegranate juice, cranberry work well too and make a lower calorie drink. I’ve subbed Pür Spirits Blood Orange Liqueur for the alcohol. And I’ve changed up the garnishes as well. Use the formula below to make your own variation on this holiday drink.

START WITH:

4 ounces brut sparkling wine (or brut rosé or sparkling water for a non alcoholic drink)

ADD:

1 to 1-1/2 ounces of either: Pür Blood Orange, pomegranate juice, cranberry juice, hibiscus juice, tart cherry juice, Cherry Heering Liqueur

GARNISH WITH:

3 pomegranate seeds or slivers of candied ginger, pickled cranberries, candied Meyer lemon peel, a candied hibiscus flower, a flavored cocktail foam

For a modernist (aka molecular cuisine inspired) take on the Lava Lamp, I topped it with a foam made with Pür Blood Orange Liqueur and pomegranate-cranberry juice. I know a lot of people have soda siphons like the iSi at home for making soft drinks; you can also use it to make a velvety foam to top cocktails. I mixed 1-1/2 cups of juice with 1/4 cup of the liqueur and 6 egg whites. Put it in a cold iSi soda siphon, charge it with one cartridge, then shake and chill.