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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

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

December 31, 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

Drinks, Sparkling Wine

Sparkling Moscato from Moldova – Who Knew?

August 3, 2011

Sunday afternoon brought a wine tasting party with the lovely ladies and a couple gentlemen from Cuisine Noir to celebrate the launch of the first print issue in September. As our publisher Sheree Williams finished some last minute cooking, I made tasting sheets for the guests to write down their comments.

I shouldn’t have been surprised — but I was — to come across a pretty pink bottle of Moscato from Moldova. The aromatic Moscato grape is most famously made into aromatic, fruity, sweet-tart wines in Italy, but it gets around. It’s not unusual to see Moscatos from all over the world such as the organic Makulu Moscato from South Africa and the memorable Two Hands Brilliant Disguise Moscato from Australia.

And if you like your moscato to be refreshingly fruity, then you’ll enjoy the Exclusiv Rosé Moscato that was  just released in the U.S. in June. It’s bursting with peach and berry aromas and flavors, but the sweetness is balanced by enough acid to make you want to take another sip.

According to the Moldova Wine Guild’s website, wine has been produced in Moldova — a boot shaped country between Romania and Ukraine — for more than 4,000 years. The Greeks and Romans helped the Moldovan wine industry along, but things really took off in the 15th century. That’s when the ruler Stefan the Great established a government position of chief wine steward or cupbearer (paharnic in Moldovan) whose job it was to make sure the vines were flourishing and winemakers were keeping quality up.

Moldova experienced a Prohibition in the 16th century when the Ottomans took over and forbade wine-making. The industry bounced back when Moldova became part of the Russian empire. Affluent Russians established winemaking estates growing native varietals like Rara Neagrā and Feteascā Albā, a white grape. Later, French experts brought in many noble grape varieties like merlot, cabernet sauvignon and aligoté. By 1837, Moldova produced 1.1 million cases of wine a year. While part of the former Soviet Union, Moldova made a third of all the sparkling wine and half of all still wine consumed in Russia.

Moldova’s wine industry had other setbacks in a phylloxera outbreak, both world wars and the Gorbachev era when many vineyards were ripped out. But each time, the industry has rebounded and now they’re producing a range of dry and sweet wines that use indigenous and international grape varietals.

And judging from the quality of the Exclusiv Moscato, Moldova will be sending plenty of well-made and affordable wines our way.




Food + Recipes

Parmesan Toasts – A Champagne-Perfect Snack for #Let’sLunch

July 8, 2011

As the hostess of The Bubbly Girl, it’s probably no surprise that I think about enjoying champagne and sparkling wine a lot. But many people are surprised to learn that these effervescent wines are perfect for pairing with all kinds of foods.

When people hear the word “champagne,” high-end fare like caviar, lobster and cracked blue crab comes to mind. Those are all delicious with champagne and it’s sparkling sisters. But so are a range of foods that aren’t so high-falutin.

Potato chips, popcorn, french fries – basically anything salty, slightly greasy or crispy is wonderful with champagne and sparkling wine.  Pizza and prosecco is fabulous. A juicy burger can be deliciously paired with a sparkling wine, as long as it’s got some gravitas from long-aging or richness from pinot noir.

The recipe section of The Bubbly shares recipes for seasoned popcorn, savory cheddar shortbread and all sorts of foods that play well with bubbly. When I was invited to contribute a recipe to the #Let’sLunch champagne-friendly snacks lunch, I wanted to do something new and easy.

I kept thinking of the ghetto-gourmet spread I made for grilled corn on the cob this past weekend. The mix of mayonnaise, grated parmesan, seasoned salt and chili powder was exquisite on corn — and tasted pretty good by itself.  I thought this slightly salty, slightly rich spread would taste even toasted on a baguette. You’ll find these Parmesan Toasts are perfect with sparkling wines of all kinds and they couldn’t be easier to make.


Parmesan Toasts

1/4 cup mayonnaise

4 tablespoons grated Parmesan (the crumbly kind)

seasoned salt, to taste

dash of paprika

1/4 French baguette, cut into thin rounds

Mix the mayonnaise, Parmesan, salt and paprika in a small bowl to make a uniform paste. Spread the mixture onto the baguette rounds, so you can’t see through to the bread.

Toast under a broiler – watching them carefully – until golden brown.

Eat while warm with your favorite bubbly.

© 2011 Maria Hunt aka The Bubbly Girl.

Celebrities & Champagne

I’m Deep, I’m Sparkling, I’ve Got Issues: I Am the Ocean Reserve by Iron Horse

March 16, 2011
Four dollars from every bottle of Iron Horse Vineyards' Ocean Reserve goes to the National Geographic Ocean Fund.

Four dollars from every bottle of Iron Horse Vineyards' Ocean Reserve goes to the National Geographic Ocean Fund.

It’s nearly St. Patrick’s Day and while as a native Chicagoan perhaps I should be longing for green beer, I’m not. With all the environmental tragedies and woes on all of our minds this week, I’m thinking about environmentally green choices that help Mother Earth.

The deep blue sea always seems bedeviled by the worst of it, what with being the final resting place for so much pollution and overfishing of so many species like blue fin tuna, which wrecks the whole eco-system.

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed my first clean and crisp taste of Iron Horse Vineyards’ I Am the Ocean, a sparkling wine that is being offered in partnership with National Geographic’s Mission Blue. I love the labels with haunting images of fish or a sea turtle and the label copy, a tongue in cheek reference to the “I am Thankful or “I am Thriving” dish names from Cafe Gratitude.

But the message is real; the ocean does gives life to all of us on earth, and it is a limited resource. Things are only going to get worse if all of us don’t start to change our habits, from choosing unbleached toilet paper to really separating the recycling from the garbage to stopping eating fish like Chilean seabass and farmed Asian tilapia which are restricted on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List.
(Want to find environmentally-sound seafood away from home? There’s an iPhone sustainable seafood app for that.)

Another way of helping restore the ocean is with your purchase of I Am the Ocean Reserve, a blanc de blancs made from chardonnay grapes from the 2005 harvest. Four dollars of every bottle’s $40 price supports efforts to establish marine protected areas and ending over-fishing. Apparently the Obamas – fans of great American wines – will be drinking a toast to the ocean soon as Daniel Shanks, the White House director of food and beverage, recently ordered five cases of Iron Horse’s Ocean Reserve. It’s also on the list at notable restaurants like Le Bernardin in NYC and Providence in LA.

You could sip Ocean Reserve with some corned beef and cabbage, but I’ll probably pair this clean tasting wine with hints of toastiness from the longer aging with seafood.

Over the holidays, National Geographic posted recipes for a sustainable seafood feast created by Barton Seaver, a chef and activist. His menu included Wahoo Tartare with Nutmeg, Mint and Lemon and Grilled Clams with Lime Oregano Butter.

If you’re interested in doing more, consider visiting Green Valley and Iron Horse for the Eat Drink & Be Green Earth Day celebration on April 17 this year. Ted Turner will be there, along with lots of great food, art and wine. You’ll find the Sonoma County AVA known as Green Valley is one of the most beautiful places anywhere. I love travelling the winding roads, around the green curving hills and past the majestic barren oak trees spreading their branches toward the blue sky.

It makes me want to make sure it stays that way.