Saturday, December 17, 2011


Sometimes people ask me: if I could only drink one kind of wine for the rest of my life, what would it be?  Oh Wineaux, that’s too easy – Champagne. 

"Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast?  Doesn't everyone?” - Noel Coward

Many people jump on the bubbly bandwagon this time of year, with good reason.  Sparkling wine is a celebratory toasting beverage, but also comes in an incredible array of styles, making it perfect for food pairing. 

"Three be the things I shall never attain: envy, content, and sufficient Champagne." - Dorothy Parker

Stylistically, Bubblies typically fall under two categories, depending on the fermentation process: traditional style (or “méthode Champenoise”) which provides warmer, rounder notes of toasted bread and yeast, and Charmat (or tank-fermented) which is used for cleaner, crisper styles like that of Prosecco.

"I only drink Champagne when I'm happy, and when I'm sad.  Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone.  When I have company, I consider it obligatory.  I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am.  Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
- Lily Bollinger

Champagne Terms and Facts Every Wineau Should Know:
1) NV = non-vintage.  Not meaning ‘inferior,’ NV wines are actually painstakingly blended to reflect a ‘house style’ and to have consistent quality from year to year.
2) Vintage-designated wines are from grapes harvested in a particular year.  These usually rest “sur lie” (on the lees of the dead yeast cells that were used in the fermentation process) at least three years, sometimes much longer. 
3) “Blanc de Blancs” means white from whites – a sparkler made from 100% Chardonnay, rather than the allowable Champagne blend of Chardonnay with the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. 
4) “Blanc de Noirs” means white from reds – a white sparkler made only from either or both of the above red varietals.
5) “How sweet is Extra Dry???” This can be a little confusing.  From driest to sweetest (measured by grams per litre of residual sugar) it goes: Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry (Extra Sec), Dry (Sec), Demi-Sec, and Doux. Starting with Extra Dry, you’ll be aware of the elevated sweetness, and Demi-Sec and especially Doux are noticeably very sweet.  But don’t let those on the end scare you off – there are amazingly crafted sweeter styles of sparkling wines found all over the world.

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right." - Mark Twain

Finally: one bit of housekeeping.  All Wineaux should know that the term “Champagne” is ONLY used for wines from the particular region of Champagne in France.  ANYTHING else, no matter how wonderful, is called a sparkling wine.  And there are some wonderful sparklers out there, just don’t call them Champagne.

"In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it.” - Napoleon Bonaparte

Here is a round-up of Bubblies for all of your holiday needs, organized by price, with lists of my go-to dependables as well as some particular recent favorites.

Go-Tos: Domaine Chandon (US), Gruet (US), many Proseccos (Italy) and Cavas (Spain) – be careful with Prosecco, some value brands are not well-crafted.  Fave value Brut/Rosé Cava: NV Segura Viudas (~$10!!)

*NV Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobiaddene Rustico, Italy ~$13
Sensuous nose of lime, florals and grass.   Lemon curd and underripe melon also on the palate.  Rich mousse and sprightly acidity give a long finish with a nice weight. (This made my “TOP 20 UNDER $20” in 2011.)

*NV Clos de la Briderie Pureté de Silex Brut, Loire  ~$16
Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.  Strict biodynamic production, using natural yeast, etc. Fresh citrus notes but great roundness from lees and stone fruits.  (Also a “TOP 20 UNDER $20” this year.)

*NV Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG, Italy ~$18
Frothy pink sparkler, slightly sweet, bright raspberries, strawberries, some florals.  Touted as a dessert wine – on its own or it pairs very well with chocolate!  Definitely a party in a glass.

Go-Tos: Taittinger, Perrier-Jouët, Moët & Chandon, Billecart-Salmon (all Champagne), Mumm Napa DVX (US)

*2005 Sakonnet “Blanc de Blanc” Rhode Island ~$30
Don’t be afraid to try a sparkler from somewhere unusual!  100% Chardonnay, 5 yrs on lees. Very light and crisp with pleasant yeasty character.  Very nice!

*NV Piper Heidsieck Cuveé Sublime Demi-Sec Champagne ~$35
Nose of cake spice and herb stems. Sweet peaches, pineapple, bit of honey, creamy and soft. Not “too” sweet.  Hands-down the best example of Demi-Sec I’ve ever tried.

*NV Leclerc Briant “La Ravinne” Blanc de Noirs Cru Brut ~$42
Unusually 100% Pinot Menuier.  AND from a single vineyard!  Slightly peachy color with a spicy nose.  Notes of peach peel, mountain florals, plum and lime.  Slightly bitter, earthy, dry, good acidity.  May be tough to find but very much worth the effort!

Go-Tos: Most NV rosés and vintage bottlings from the above Go-To producers.  Many Champagne growers (as opposed to the big Champagne houses) also bottle in this price range – with a very small production but painstakingly handcrafted and high quality.

*2001 Argyle Brut Willamette Valley Extended Tirage, Oregon ~$55
A top American sparkler.  Fresh grapefruit, warm melon and taffy notes.  Elegant but flirtatious.  Very nice.

*2004 Ayala Blanc de Blancs Champagne ~$68
Wow nose of toasted buttered bread. Concentrated fruit, yeasty, very dry, tactile and flavorful with a finish for days. 

*2004 Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs Champagne ~$70
Unusual nose of Asian spice and violets, mandarin orange.  BIG.  Some toast, grass and lemon curd.  Good finish. YUM.

*NV Bollinger Brut Rosé Champagne ~$74
Fantastic berry and floral nose.  Those notes are lush on the palate, with a pleasing minerality and an intense mousse.

Go Tos: Krug Champagne, which is big and bold and probably my all-time favorite.  I’d drink it every day if I could afford to!  Their Multi-Vintage blend is fantastic, the vintages I’ve tried are all unique and sublime, and the single-vineyard 100% Chardonnay Clos du Mesnil is the pinnacle of the best of the best.  Also Dom Pérignon and Roederer Cristal Champagnes.

*1999 Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs Champagne ~$100
Compact mousse, nice salinity, orange blossom, ripe lemon, toasty/yeasty. Dense but smooth.

*NV Gosset Célébris Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne  ~$190
Gosset’s Tête de Cuvée (the premier Champagne produced by an individual house.)  Lavender perfume, a little caramel, yeasty notes, some age – big but focused.  Super creamy, very sexy.

*2004 Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Cristal ~$200
Rich and unctuous. Notes of brioche and white flowers, with a hint of green apple on finish.  Big wine!  A superstar.

*1999 Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil $290
From a single vineyard, and although over ten years old, this is the current release!  (There have been only 37 vintages produced since 1905.)  Soft soapy nose, huge florals, incredible mousse, tangy minerality.  My notes say “UH-MAY-ZING!”

*1975 Dom Pérignon Brut Oenothèque ~$1500
Incredibly, this was only disgorged (removed from the lees and then bottled) in 2009.  Color of light rose gold, tiny lazy bubbles and a supremely smoky nose.  Notes of honey, caramelized lemon tart crust, brioche and a bit of meatiness.  Mature and harmonious with a smooth mousse, just incredible.  A wine of a lifetime.

Whether your budget is ten dollars or fifteen hundred dollars, there is a sparkling wine out there for you, so have fun this holiday season!  Cheers, Wineaux!

“I am tasting stars!” – Dom Perignon

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

TOP 20 UNDER $20!

It’s time!  The long-awaited compilation for those with thirsty palates and savvy wallets has arrived.

Now that I’ve wrapped up the list, the theme of 2011 was generally out-of-the box ideas.  Not surprisingly, there were strong showings from France, Italy and Spain.  But South Africa provided three of the top 20, and Portugal, Argentina, Australia, Greece and Germany were also represented.  (I was shocked to realize no US wines made the list this year but 'that's the way the grape juice ferments'.)   Grape varieties were also all over the place, with some indigenous varieties, classic red blends, and TWO Rieslings!

The point of all this is to share with you some of my favorite wines that I have tasted over the past year that were incredible values.  Out of hundreds (if not thousands) of wines, I have culled these memorable standouts.

Read, take notes, get inspired, and most importantly – get out there and TASTE FOR YOURSELF!

#20) 2008 Vietti Moscato d'Asti Cascinetto, Italy ~$18
Very light and lightly sweet, with refreshing notes of peach & pear, this is a slightly sparkling wine perfect to get things started or wind things up. Charming and appealing.

#19) 2008 Azul Portugal Ribatejo, Portugal ~$12
A white blend of the Portugese indigenous grapes Trincadeira, Arinto and Fernão Pires. Lemony nose, with light acidity and notes of herbs, yellow apple, white flowers, and peach. Interesting and different. 

#18) 2009 Georges Duboeuf Morgon Jean Descombes, Beaujolais France ~$15
Notes of crunchy red fruit and violets. Good acidity, light in style but balanced with a lot going on.  Great example of Beaujolais.
#17) 2010 Pazo Señorans Albarino, Rias Baixas Spain ~$19
Perfumey and warm floral nose, with melon and a bit of spice. Round peachy fruit and jasmine florals.  Balanced acidity, rich but not heavy. 

#16) 2009 Bodegas Caro Amancaya, Mendoza Argentina ~$17
70% Malbec/ 30% Cabernet Sauvignon. Velvety plumminess, very smooth, with dense, dark fruits and herbs. Perfumey acidity lifts out blackberry and blueberry fruit.  Yum.

#15) 2008 Blason d'Aussieres Corbieres, Languedoc France ~$19
Great values continue to come from Southern France. This shows sage, cassis and cranberry couched in herbs. Looong finish, well-balanced, spicy and tart, notes of pepper, licorice, hint of barnyard. Great all-around.

#14) 2006 Annie Lane Cellars Clare Valley Riesling, Australia ~$12
Nose of round stone fruit and florals, with grass and white flowers. Bracing acidity. Light grassy aromatics, and a long, tart finish. Additional notes of honey and petrol show the few years of age.

#13) 2010 Nikiforou Cellars Moschofilero, Greece ~$12
Vibrant floral nose, with grapefruit, pear, florals and a some herb and mineral notes. Good balance and finish.  Wonderful example of the quality of Greek table wines of late.  Thirst-quenching!

#12) 2009 Protos Tinto Fino, Ribera del Duero Spain ~$15
Fantastic affordable Tempranillo.  Velvety plum and herby nose, behind-the-teeth sweetly tannic, good acidity but light in style, notes of bright plum and dark fruits – an all-around fun, ready to drink wine.

#11) 2010 Ken Forrester Estate Chenin Blanc Reserve, Stellenbosch South Africa ~$14
Light but well-balanced, with floral aromatics, rich and round notes of taffy, mountain flowers, and minerality.  Even with zippy acid, this is creamy and has a nice weight and long length with a bit o’ shpritz.  Perfect for food!

#10) NV Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobiaddene Rustico, Italy ~$13
Sensuous nose of lime, florals and grass. Those notes also on the palate with a hint of lemon curd and underripe melon.  Rich mousse and sprightly acidity give a long finish with a nice weight.  Extremely worthy substitute for celebratory Champagne.

#9) 2010 Cercius Côtes du Rhône VV, France ~$14
Complex nose of red berries, earth, cola and floral perfume.  Great fruit expression with fresh herbs, licorice, lavender and a peppery finish.  Lightish in style but sumptuous with balanced acidity and soft tannins.

#8) 2010 Castello Banfi San Angelo Pinot Grigio, Italy ~$16
A pear explosion on the nose, with notes of florals, honeysuckle, melon and a bit of spice on the palate, with light citrus and good acid.  Tuscany’s first Pinot Grigio is a winner, a bit more evolved than many typical PG’s from Northern Italy.

#7) Clos de la Briderie Cremant de Loire, France ~$18
A sparkling blend of Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc in the brut (dry) style. Clean citrus and grass with a roundness of peach and wax. Nice weight and mousse.  Interesting and different from the “usual suspects.”  Good fruit expression, well-balanced, and a bit of a flirt.

#6) 2009 St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett Goldtröpfchen, Mosel Germany ~$19
Pepper and honeysuckle florals.  Candied orange peel, wonderful fruit expression of passion fruit and mandarin, with minerality, white florals, hint o’herbs, perfectly balanced acidity, bright and rich.  Very slightly, barely sweet, but oh so balanced.

#5) 2009 Domaine Grand Nicolet Côtes du Rhône-Villages VV Rasteau, France ~$16
Very spicy, black bramble fruits and pepper nose.  Outrageously heavy-duty but still refined.  Layers upon layers of herbs, licorice, warm spice, blackberry liqueur, smoked meats, black cherry syrup and mocha with good acidity and silky tannins.

#4) 2009 Aviva Vino Bula Montsant, Spain ~$12
50% Carinena, 30% Garnacha, 20% Syrah. Wowowowowow. Dense, earthy, spicy and warm.  Great fruit expression of dark cherries, cocoa powder, mesquite and blackberry liqueur.  Rich and integrated, really incredible value and an across-the-board favorite at its tasting.  And for only twelve bucks!?!

#3) 2010 Boekenhoutskloof Wolftrap Rosé, South Africa ~$12
This rosé is a blend of 66% Syrah, 20% Cinsault and 14% Grenache.  Nose of green pepper and mint, bold and spicy on the palate with strawberries and watermelon. A true crowd-pleaser, versatile and scrumptious.  My mouth is watering just typing this...

#2) 2009 Ch. Peyraud Premieres Côtes de Blaye, France ~$12
Blend of 90% Merlot and 10% Cabernet Sauvignon with no oak influence.  Huge ripe crunchy red fruit, cranberry, cassis, nice acidity, silky tannins, lush & ripe & lovely.  What a surprise!  Incredible values coming out of this relatively new “Côtes” region abutting Bordeaux.  Do yourself a favor and dig some up!

#1) 2008 Spice Route Pinotage, Swartland South Africa ~$20
Deep fruit on the nose of torched berries. Sexy! Smooth & rich, blackberry and spice flavors inundate, so velvety and caressing, with a bit of tar mid-finish.  Drinking this is an experience! Pinotage is a South African grape variety that often passionately divides Wineaux.  But this wine is gorgeously tailored and was hands-down my favorite wine I tasted this past year.  (And did I mention SEXY?!)

As always, any errors or opinions are all mine.  Comments and questions heartily welcomed.