Best Bets for Budget Wedding Bubbly

When it comes to wedding day wine picks, many couples are scouting for good (cheap) bubbles to raise their glasses in the traditional toast. There’s no doubt that Champagne is often the first stop on the wedding wine train, but for savvy, budget-bound folks, there are plenty of solid sparkling wine options that cost significantly less than classic French Champagne. Enter, Crémant, Cava, and domestic sparkling wines.

Crémant: Beyond Champagne, Best Bets for Well-priced French Bubbly

Crémant wines are regionally-inspired French sparkling wines made (way) outside of the strict delineated boundaries of Champagne. Crafted in the same traditional, time-consuming method as Champagne (dubbed “méthode champenoise“), with both bottle fermentation and lees-aging, these sparkling wines may stray well beyond the conventional grapes used to make Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier). Crémants offer a lively glimpse of a particular growing region’s given grapes all wrapped up in a sparkling, celebratory twist. For couples interested in toasting their vows with a classy crémant, bottle labels offer key clues as to which region a wine represents. Take Alsace for example, carrying front label terms like “Crémant d’Alsace,” essentially communicating that this particular bubbly hails from the tasty growing region of Alsace, in northeast France, and may very well carry Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, or even regional Riesling within. The same is true for bubbles from Burgundy (“Bourgogne” in French and on the label), which will spotlight “Cremant de Bourgogne” front and center, or lively Chenin Blanc ambassadors from the Loire Valley, dubbed “Cremant d’Loire.”

Crémant Producers to Try:  Gerard Bertrand, Chateau Gaudrelle, Jean-Baptiste Adam, Louis Bouillot, Lucien Albrecht, JCB, Pierre Sparr, Simonnet-Febvre

Cava: Spain’s Snazzy Sparkling Wine

Shining bright as Spain’s signature sparkling wine, Cava courts many couples with well-priced, fresh-faced, food-friendly bubbly that is made in the same traditional method as Champagne, where the second, bubble-capturing fermentation takes place in the bottle (not a tank). Built on the back of three local, Spanish white wine grapes: Macabeo, Xarel-lo, and Parellada, Cava hails predominately from the Penedès region of northeast Spain (just west of Barcelona), and accounts for a significant 10% of Spain’s total wine production. Cava’s consistent claim to sparkling wine fame lies in its outstanding quality to price ratio. Couples looking to cash in on Cava savings will find remarkable bottles readily available for well under $20 (and often under $10).

Cava Producers to Try:  Bodegas Codorniu, Freixenet, Jaume Serra Cristalino, Bodegas Muga, Poema, Segura Viudas

American Sparkling Wines: Bringing Serious Bubbles to the New World

While many couples say they want Champagne to toast their nuptials, most mean they want festive (persistent) bubbles rocking the flute, but don’t necessarily want to pay premium prices. Keep in mind, Champagne is only Champagne if it’s made within the strict geographical boundaries of Champagne, France. Champagne is a place. It lies about an hour and a half east of Paris. Every other bottle of bubbly made outside of this small growing region is categorically considered sparkling wine. At its cheapest, Champagne still commands right around $40 a bottle. The good news is that many of the top Champagne houses have extended their inspiration and influence to vineyards around the globe to make some serious sparkling wine from regional grapes, at considerably lower price points.

Today, most wine regions offer at least one rendition of sparkling wine. However, the U.S. has taken its sparkling wine endeavors to new heights, with many domestic producers finding their funding and future in Old World Champagne houses. For example, as the name implies California’s Domaine Chandon shares its heritage and sassy style with French Champagne idol Moët & Chandon. Or take Mumm Napa, whose prestigious roots trace back to parent company G.H. Mumm, the largest producer of Champagne in the Reims region, and today Mumm Napa leads Napa’s sparkling wine initiatives with innovative style and ongoing accolades. Last, but certainly not least, take Louis Roederer, premium producer of the highly exalted Cristal Champagne, quietly and audaciously esteemed by royalty and rappers alike, which has significant investment in the cool climate of Mendocino’s Anderson Valley for all estate grown grapes that make their way into Roederer Estate’s renowned sparkling wine renditions. While California bubbly often bares more forward fruit character than its classic, counterpart, the method and tradition remain very much the same as Champagne.

Domestic Sparkling Wine Producers to Try:  Domaine Chandon, Domaine Carneros, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Gloria Ferrer, Gruet, Iron Horse, J Vineyards, Mumm Napa, Roederer Estate, Schramsberg

 

Nebbiolo Prima

 

A showcase of just-released Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero wines

Every BaroloBottlesBlindMay Albeisa, the Unione Produttori Vini Albesi (Union of Producers of wines from the Alba area), hosts journalists from all over the world for an event called, Nebbiolo Prima, one of the most important Italian wine summits of the year. This year over 250 wineries submitted a total of nearly 500 of their just-released Barolo, Barbaresco, and Roero wines as part of this blind tasting and pre-marketing event.

Up for examination were the following wines: Barolo (2012 and 2010 Riserva), Barbaresco (2013 and 2011 Riserva), Roero (2013 and 2012 Riserva).

While the entire tasting is done blind (producer names are not given until the end of each tasting day), the village denominations are grouped and revealed to the journalists beforehand.

With over 100 wines to assess each morning, there isn’t time to deeply analyze each and every one. Having done the event many times, I focus on getting an overall impression of each vintage for each denomination and villages, while noting obvious standouts. I make brief tasting notes for each wine and score top wines with three stars down to 2.5, and so on to 0.5 stars. I don’t give any stars to wines that are acceptable, however not spectacular in any way.

Barolo
The 2012 growing season started with a very wet winter and spring. Warm temperatures and continued precipitation in June contributed to vegetative growth but reduced berry set. Neither was a huge concern as less compact clusters help prevent disease and the soil’s water reserves helped the vines survive a very hot late summer. Though results for 2012 Barolo were mixed, some villages—and wines—clearly outshone their counterparts.

Barolo vineyards Sep 2012 fogWithin the 2012 vintage, I awarded the most points to wines in the Barolo “più communi” (many villages) category. These are often labeled as “Classico” or simply state “Barolo” on the label. They show big, sweet, dense, red cherry, cinnamon, marzipan, potpourri, chalky but ripe tannins, and are quite balanced overall with integrated floral notes. (39 wines; 18 total stars for the category)

Barolo from the village of La Morra scored highest of all of the single villages. The best 2012 La Morra Barolo reveal pretty mint and rose, sweet aromas of wild strawberry, and a polished texture; others are huge in structure with tannins that need to resolve. But even some of the more challenged samples retain enough fruit and non-fruit characters to support the power. One particularly striking example of the potential of this vintage was Renato Ratti’s Barolo from the Conca cru. Intense and gorgeous aromas of rose, licorice, and fresh herbs pop out of the glass. This complex young wine is already in balance, showing potential for a long life ahead. (57 wines; 32.5 stars)

Ripe red cherries, smoke, dark earth, and sweet tannins characterize the best Barolos from the Verduno village. One of my favorites was Alessandria Fratelli’s San Lorenzo Barolo. Its aromas of red cherry, cologne, spice and forest floor lead to a full, lush mouthfeel and that is still a bit tight but pleasant. (14 wines; 6 stars)

The Castiglione Barolos show a concentration of ripe unctuous black cherry; they have bold structure and sweet perfume. One of the most representative samples of the best from the village was Cascina Bongiovanni’s Pernanno Barolo, which is full of heightened black cherry, sweet rose, and fine-grained tannins. (18 wines; 7.5 stars)

The best 2012 Barolos from the Barolo village are identified by smoke, tar, earth, and rose with ripe red and blackberry, marked aromatics, a juicy mid-palate, and polished tannins. Two single vineyard Barolos from Borgogno, the Cannubi and Fossati, were among my favorites. The Cannubi shows lovely aromatics of mint and cherry whereas the Fossati, while also pretty on the nose, shows a bitter spice quality that isn’t unpleasant—both still prominently showing their youth. (41 wines; 16.5 stars)

The Serralunga Barolos are profoundly structured with distinct aromas of tobacco and fireplace. The best ones integrate rose petal, potpourri, and forest aromatics with ripe red cherry fruit and refined tannins; on the other hand, some are thwarted by oak. Standouts included GD Vajra’s Baudana, which is a gorgeous wine with mixed berry compote in the mid-palate, scents of perfume and ash, and a linear, powerful finish. Another extraordinary Barolo from the village was the Pio Cesare Ornato, which gives off the canonical tar and roses, with a hint of fireplace. It is clean, pure, on point, and balanced. (46 wines; 16.5 stars)

The Monforte wines in general had aromas of candied fruit and cocoa, were concentrated with super ripe blackberry, raspberry, and black plum on the palate, and the tannins were strong and rough in many cases. Sorì Ginestra from Conterno Fantino was an outstanding example of the best from the village in 2012; while fleshy and certainly in its adolescence, it isn’t coarse like some. The Pecchenino was the prettiest with currant, blackberry, eukalyptus, and silky tannins. (43 wines; 9.5 stars)

Barbaresco
The 2013 growing season in Piemonte was a funny one in that everything was delayed by about two weeks. Low temperatues slowed the vegetative cycle in the spring and while cool weather can lead to good acidity levels in resultant wines, it also necessitated longer hang time in the fall, which led to a vintage with mixed results. While aromatics could be lovely, some wines were herbal and thin. Some examples seemed too advanced or were thick with bitter tannins. The best 2013 Barbarescos find a nice balance in range of aromas and flavors. The wines came in all over the board.

barbarescoAlbino Rocca’s single cru Angelo Barbaresco was my highest scoring 2013 Barbaresco from the Barbaresco village. Its engaging bouquet of ripe, red cherry, smoke, dried violets, and sweet rose surprised me and stood out among the other 100 wines that Tuesday; the palate is juicy and finish, long and fine-tuned. (33 wines; 16.5 stars)

Among the 2013s from Treiso, many were smoky, tight and rustic with some problems of over-oakiness. But some of the better ones showed elegance. (19 wines; 11stars)

One of the best examples among the 2013 Neive Barbarescos was Moccagatta’s Basarin. Scents of camp fire, cinnamon, black cherry, and fresh herbs reveal themselves, leading to a wine that is both delightful and supple on the palate. (39 wines; 19.5 stars)

The Barbaresco “più communi” (many villages) category didn’t show so well overall. Though the Produttori del Barbaresco’s 2013 Barbaresco comes forward a little too bold, it shows consistency and balance of ripe fruit through to the finish. (12 wines; 3 stars)

Roero
The 2013 vintage of Roero (23 wines; 19 stars) and 2012 Roero Riserva (24 wines; 16 stars), as a whole, were the best I’ve ever tasted! Normally as a category Roero can be a mixed bag but not in these vintages; overall they were some of the best wines of the week. The besbarolosheett 2013s did an amazing job showing off pretty Roero aromatics, redolent of orange peel, strawberry candy, and mint or sometimes a mix of dark fruit, forest and cocoa. Either way the wines are perfumed, lush and charming. One of the best examples of the latter style was Malvirà’s 2013 Roero Classico. Their 2012 Riservas showed amazingly well too; my favorite was the Vigna Trinità. Powerful aromas of violets and roses lead to a refined integration throughout the palate of bold and juicy fruit as well as cocoa-powdery tannins. Other notable bottlings from the 2012 Malvira Riservas were the Vigna Mombeltramo and Vigna Renesio.

There were 66 wines in the Barolo 2010 Riserva and Barbaresco 2011 Riserva categories, though overall I scored them low in stars. The same can be said for the Barolos from Novello (14 wines) and Barbarescos from Alba (4 wines).

Find more information about the event and the Albeisa organization at these links.

http://www.albeisa.it/pagine/eng/albeisa.lasso

http://www.albeisa.it/welcome_eng.lasso

 

 

 

 

Drink Like a Founding Father this Independence Day

Back in the early days of  America, when water wasn’t always safe to drink due to lack of proper sanitation, our Founding Fathers needed to find some way to stay hydrated. Ingeniously, those clever men who brought us the Declaration of Independence also came up with a foolproof way to consume liquids without the risk of water-borne disease: alcohol. It was widely understood that alcohol killed bacterial contaminants, and while it came with its own set of risks, it was deemed much safer (and much more fun) to drink.

While distilled spirits and beer were popular choices, our Founding Fathers (especially noted connoisseur Thomas Jefferson) often turned to wine as their beverage of choice. Early attempts at planting grapes in the New World were unsuccessful, as the European grape varieties brought over by colonists were not suitable for surviving American pests and vine diseases. Therefore, imported wines were widely preferred. In honor of Independence Day, raise a glass of one of the following wines to our Founding Fathers:

Port

While today we think of this sweet, fortified Portuguese wine as an after-dinner drink, our Founding Fathers would often consume Port alongside the meal itself. If you prefer bright, fresh red fruit flavors, try a Ruby Port. For more complex notes of caramel, nuts, and dried fruits, turn to a Tawny style.

Sherry

Like Port, Sherry was also frequently drank with dinner. This fortified wine from Jerez, Spain comes in a wide variety of styles ranging from bone-dry to sticky-sweet, but the sweet-toothed  colonists tended to have a preference for the sugary stuff. Dry styles, like Fino, Amontillado, and Oloroso, can pair beautifully with a meal, while sweeter styles like Pedro Ximénez and Cream Sherry are perfect for dessert.

Scuppernong

You won’t find Scuppernong in many wine shops today, but in colonial times this was one of the few Native American grape varieties to be planted successfully with appealing results. In fact, Thomas Jefferson was so fond of it that he planted it at his Monticello estate. It is still produced by some wineries in North Carolina, where it is the official state fruit.

Bordeaux

This French import which is associated with class and quality today has maintained that stature since the days of our founders, when it was a favorite of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and John Adams. Back then, Bordeaux was also known as “Claret” – named as such for the pale color it took on in the early days of its production (the word is derived from the latin for “clear”). By the Colonial Era, it had come to resemble the deep red hue we know today, but the name stuck, and is still commonly used in the British wine trade.

Madeira

While Madeira’s heyday in America has long since passed, it was actually one of the most important alcoholic beverages in the days of our Founding Fathers. So important, in fact, that it was used to toast both the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. George Washington is said to have drank a pint of Madeira every day with dinner. And with good reason—that stuff is delicious. Whether you prefer the searing acidity of the Sercial style or the candied sweetness of Malmsey, this intentionally oxidized and cooked fortified wine from the eponymous Portuguese island deserves to make a comeback. Why not give it a try this July 4th?

The Next Great Grape: Garnacha From Cariñena

At times, it can be a little bit tricky to keep up with the world of wine. Ancient grapes like Saperavi and Trousseau cycle back into fashion just as quickly as brand new regions are planted with vines. Learning about wine can sometimes feel a bit like waiting in line at Disneyland—once you’ve made it through the room of Cabernet, Pinot, and Chardonnay, you turn the corner and there’s a whole other room filled with obscure varieties and appellations to learn. In fact, the more you learn about wine, the more you realize there is still left to learn!

To help you stay ahead of the curve, we’ve done our homework on one of Spain’s most exciting up-and-coming regions. It’s still under the radar, so even your wine-loving friends will be impressed by your discovery. The region is Cariñena—open any reference book like the Wine Bible or the Oxford Companion to Wine, and you might find one mere sentence about this northeastern Spanish DO. Located in Aragon between Catalunya and the Pyrenees Mountains that form the border between France and Spain, wine has actually been made there since the Roman era, and DO status was achieved in 1932. So in reality, the only thing that’s new about this region is the public’s interest in it.

When we think of Spanish wines, we typically think of Rioja or the much younger DO Ribera del Duero. But with its signature Garnacha-based reds and other high-quality reds and whites, Cariñena is poised to become the next big thing from Iberia due both the affordability and crowd-pleasing approachability of its wines. While Garnacha is the most widely planted grape, Mazuelo (known elsewhere as Carignan, or Cariñena—a grape that originated in this region with which it shares its name), Syrah and Tempranillo are also common. These are used to produce smooth, fruit-forward red wines (often made from old vines) as well as bright, red-fruited dry rosés. White wines are commonly made from the Viura grape.

Since these wines are so budget-friendly, you have nothing to lose by giving them a try! Add a bottle to your next order and before long, you’ll be singing the praises of Cariñena to your uninitiated friends.

 

Wine-Buying Tips for Father’s Day

This Father’s Day, shake things up and give Dad the gift of wine inspired by his hobbies and personality. It’s a given that a variety of occasions can influence the purchase of a flashy wine bottle, but buying wine based on Dad’s personal passions offers up a lively avenue to celebrate dear old Dad this Father’s Day.

The Golfing Dad

Whether it’s wrapping up 18 holes or going for an easy nine, avid golfers can sip vinous inspiration from some of the best in the business. Cart jockeys and mulligan-makers alike can share the green and the grape with high flying pros like Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Jack Nicklaus or Ernie Els. Got a Dad that tends to be a “King of Cabs?” Then reach for Arnold’s California-based Cabernet Sauvignon, carrying dark fruit and layers of spice and herbs alongside dusty, easy-going tannins.

Looking to escape to the “Land Down Under”? Greg Norman can get Dad there with his signature red, a bold wine spotlighting plenty of forward fruit dominated by blackberry with a mix of mocha and a wisp of smoke. Dubbed Limestone Coast Shiraz, this bottle is easy on the budget and ultra food-friendly.

With vineyards situated on the granite-layered soils of Stellenbosch, South African pro golfer Ernie Els makes the most of his roots (and vines) by digging deep to build Bordeaux and Rhone-based blends. Known in golfing circles as “The Big Easy” thanks to both his signature swing and solid stature, Els’ bottle by the same name is built on the sturdy back of Shiraz (60%) and well-rounded by Cabernet Sauvignon (20%), with a healthy mix of the Rhone’s finest varieties singing backup.

The Grill Master Dad

Whether he really is master of the grill or just wants to be, giving Dad a bottle or two of versatile wines that promise to make the most of grilled grub will thrill any fire-loving, tong-bearing man this Father’s Day. For burger lovers, whether it’s bacon-wrapped, bison-based or simply beef with a slab of cheddar, opt for the dense fruit and laid back structure of California Zinfandel. A best bet is Seghesio Zinfandel 2014, which comes straight from the cattle-driven country of Sonoma’s Alexander Valley. Or scout for Lodi’s Michael David Earthquake Zinfandel 2013. The name is a nod to San Francisco’s devastating earthquake of 1906, and made with grapes planted around the same time, promising a truly “old” vine wine.

Dad, the Adventurer

If Pop is the type that likes to bust paradigms and climb mountains (or ladders), dreams of living off the grid (or simply offline), and looks for adventure in life whether it’s new routes or new grapes, then we’ve rounded up some wines that are often off the radar. Got a white-wine loving Dad? Shake it up with Sardinia’s Vermentino, a lively, crisp wine that typically gets along just fine sans oak. This Italian darling promises heady aromatics and a remarkable propensity for all sorts of food, especially shellfish, pesto, and veggie themes. Check out the 2014 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino for some serious Sardinian love delivered via exotic tropical fruit, bright acidity and a clean, crisp finish.

Prefer an out-of-the-box red wine discovery for Dad this Father’s Day? No worries, with over 800+ grape varieties, Italy promises more wine adventure than virtually any other wine growing region on the planet. Pushing way past Chianti and Barolo, the Veneto wine region, bordered by Venice and the rugged Dolomites, produces an easy-going red wine blend that stems from an ambitious trifecta of grapes: Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara. Want to give this classic Valpolicella style a swirl? Then look for the fuller-bodied, red cherry flavors of Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 2011. Prefer to go full throttle with the same grape trio? Then opt for the deeply concentrated, stouter-styled Amarone—enter Masi. As an innovative producer of world class Amarone, Masi’s appassimento methods produce top notch wines from semi-dried grapes. To offer Dad a high-octane taste of the Veneto, there’s no better ambassador than Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 2010. Ready to roll now or happily held for another decade, Masi’s Amarone is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Dad, the Intellectual

If Dad leans more towards brains than brawn, then Burgundy begs for consideration this Father’s Day. Known for highly cerebral wines that thrive on taking a specific speck of soil and fanning it into a concentrated conversation piece, not to mention an all-senses-on-deck tasting experience, the best of Burgundy guarantees the essence of time and space, history and geology, culture and conscience. Burgundy offers a thoroughly classical education in one delicious glass. Diving into Burgundy is a no-brainer for Dads possessing a penchant for the scholastic, and a top pick on the Burgundy wine trail is Albert Bichot Aloxe Corton Grand Cru Clos de Marechaudes 2013. From this engaging red wine diplomat of organic origins, expect complexity with a serious side, and well-developed fruit supported by fine tannins. If Dad’s palate steers toward Burgundy’s whiter side, then check out a classic from premier producer Louis Jadot, in the 2013 Louis Jadot Chasagne-Montrachet Abbaye de Morgeot, which comes with a round of dried flowers, subtle citrus, and vivid minerality.

So, which wine will I give my golf-course-living, grill-loving, airplane-flying, Soduku-playing Dad this Father’s Day? Good question. It will likely be an older Amarone (with some selfish strings attached).

 

 

 

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