All posts by Gwendolyn

The legend of Fume Blanc

One of the reasons I love wine is its combination of history, geography, biology, chemistry and marketing. Yes, marketing. Though many romanticize about wine in its purest form, with what’s inside the bottle marketing itself, the fact is wine is a beverage that sees plenty of marketing – through traditional marketing channels, wine publications and even pop-culture (remember Merlot’s demise after Sideways?).

The original bottle look for Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc
The original bottle look for Robert Mondavi Fume Blanc

One of my favorite stories in the marketing world of wine is that of Fume Blanc. In the late 1960s, Sauvignon Blanc suffered a negative reputation. It was too sweet, or too grassy, poorly made, hard to pronounce, and generally avoided by many wine drinkers. About this time, the late, great Robert Mondavi had an opportunity to produce some promising Sauvignon Blanc. Though he knew it would be delicious, he also wanted to sell it, and labeling it as Sauvignon Blanc may not do the trick. Taking a cue from the Sauvignon Blanc-saturated region of Pouilly Fume in France, Mondavi labeled his wine Fume Blanc and used that name for his SB, which was dry-fermented and aged in oak barrels.

Since you’ve most likely seen a bottle of Fume Blanc, you probably know that this marketing decision paid off and easily accounts for Sauvignon Blanc’s popularity today. Mondavi did not trademark the term, so other wineries jumped on the bandwagon, crafting Sauvignon Blanc in the same style and using the Fume Blanc term. These days, Sauvignon Blanc enjoys a stellar reputation and is proudly displayed on labels in California. But many, particularly those established wineries with a few decades under their belt, still use the Fume Blanc moniker for their Sauvignon Blanc. What’s the difference? Though there are plenty of exceptions (as there always are), Fume Blanc typically sees a bit of oak and displays rounder, richer, more melon-like flavors. Sauvignon Blanc aims to bring out the grassy and sharper citrus aromatics of the varietal.

The California wine industry owes much to Robert Mondavi, but the story of Fume Blanc remains one of my favorites to show this legend’s bright mind and influence on California wine. It’s spring, so pick up a bottle of Fume Blanc and toast the man who brought it to life!

 

The Odd Couple: Strip Steak & Sancerre

Wine people seem to always ask other wine people to recall their most memorable wine, or their most exciting wine pairing . I always falter with the first, being lucky enough to have had many an amazing wine memories, but the second I have nailed down. I was in Genoa, Italy with my now-husband after we’d just missed our outbound train to Nice. We had just learned that driving in Italy has a learning curve and we were very far down on it. We found a hotel nearby, wandered the streets and settled on a lovely little restaurant, where we found a most agreeable sommelier. Ordering the local steak, he suggested we pair it with a Sauvignon Blanc from Alto-Adige. Sorry? Don’t you have a more suitable suggestion that might be RED? He asked us to trust him on this. To this day, that pairing is my most memorable. Simple, grilled, local meat and a delicious, local white wine. Not the pairing you would expect, but it was one that wowed. So it makes sense that the other night I found a similar delight.

After the initial sticker shock of realizing how much I just spent on grass-fed NY strip steak at Whole Foods, my husband set out to find a suitable big, blustery Cabernet worthy of drinking with $50 steaks. But the Cabernet was just making the cut for me. So I poured some of the Sancerre we’d brought home and voila. A match. The Sancerre on its own had faltered a little too close to all grass, no fruit and a bit too acidic. One sip after the steak, the fruit coated my mouth, the acidity cut through the fat of the steak and the wine was twice as good as before. It brought me back to that time in Genoa, nearly 10 years ago, and reminded me that food and wine pairing is not a science, it is an art. And one NY strip may taste well with a Cab, but mine was shining with my Sancerre.

A celebration of Australian Wine

AustraliaVineyardsAustralia Day! It’s a great day to do a little education on Australian wines. Not to mention stock up on some of my favorites.

Australia has been in the wine production business for centuries, but only in the last 60 years has it focused on creating dry wines, and only in the last 30 years has it really been internationally recognized in the wine world. Lucky for us, Australian Wine is not a fad –  it’s only growing in quality and popularity.

Australia is one of my favorite wine regions. I once designed an online course for Australia and through all the research and map-drawing and wine tasting, I realized that this may be one of my favorite wine regions. After a visit in 2007, I was not only thrilled with the wines but also the people – seriously, some of the most friendly people we’ve met in the wine industry have been these fantastic people!

wineaustraliaFor our Australia Day celebration at Wine.com, we’re offering 10% off any 6 or more bottles of Australian wine and trust me, it’s not too hard to stock up on a whole 6 bottles. Just depends on your style.

Shiraz? Yes, this is the most popular and most planted grape in Australia, and makes some of the most delicious and diverse wines out there. From value to collectible and from bright and light-bodied to dense and mouth-coating. If you prefer a lighter style, head to Victoria (Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Bendigo and the like). Big and bold you seek? Barossa is the way to go. And if you’re somewhere in the middle we recommend McLaren Vale Shiraz for you.

Cabernet Sauvignon – two places that do it best. Margaret River in Western Australia (think Bordeaux style) and Coonawarra in South Australia. Coonawarra Cab has such a delicious and distinct flavor profile, it’s almost hard to describe. Eucalyptus, sweet mint, floral, brambly, dark berry fruit… all around a wonderful style of wine. And if you want the structured style of Cab, pick up a bottle from Margaret River to pair with a steak. Sure to delight.

Chardonnay lovers can head to a number of regions, like Margaret River (please try the Leeuwin Estate Artist Series if you love good Chardonnay – you will never go back), Yarra Valley and Eden Valley.

Dry Riesling fans should most definitely pick up wines from the Clare Valley – mineral, wet stone and lime characteristics will jump out of the glass and the acidity will have your mouth singing with glee!

aussiecloudsGrenache, especially of the old vine sort, makes some amazing wines, but also excels in the GSM blends- also known as Rhone blends – you’ll find some excellent ones in South Australia around Adelaide, particularly in McLaren Vale.

Pinot Noir continues to rock from Yarra Valley and surrounding regions, and then you have grapes like Vermentino and Sangiovese making an appearance. In all, it’s kind of like California, where you can find a little bit of everything to fit everyone’s tastes.

Now, here are some of our favorite producers you must look for: Peter Lehmann, d’Arenberg, Yalumba, Penley Estate, Leeuwin, Robert Oatley, Clarendon Hills, Penfolds and plenty more.

Make sure to use code AussieDay at checkout to receive 10% off 6 or more bottles on Wine.com. (ends 1/26/14 at midnight).

Cheers!

Sparkling Wine Guide

wedding bubblyThe holidays are in full swing and that means people are breaking out the bubbles. Parties, celebrations, fantastic gifts, family gatherings, holiday meals… so many things that require some delicious Champagne and sparkling wine. But the stress of picking the best one can be overwhelming. Stress no more and read on for our helpful cheat sheet for sparkling wine.

Champagne
Let’s start with the big one, Champagne. While you often hear this word used to describe all sparkling wines, this is not the case. True Champagne must come from the region of Champagne and it must be made in the traditional champagne method, which means the second fermentation takes place inside the bottle. A few more things to know…

The facts about Champagne and sparkling wine & tips on how to read the label

The grapes
There are 3 grapes used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Some wines have all 3 grapes, some have only one or two. These three grapes are also typically used for sparkling wine made in the traditional style from other regions.
On the label you may see the following (and these hold true for sparkling wines made in the traditional method in regions like California and Australia as well):
Blanc de Blanc – means “white of white” and is made only of Chardonnay; lighter in style & crisply delicious – for the value blanc de blancs, try them as an apperatif or with seafood. That said, some of the great ones have fantastic ageing potential. The classic, rare Blanc de Blancs Champagne on every collector’s list? The Salon Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil-sur-Oger 1999.
Blanc de Noir – means “white of black” and is a white champagne made from either Pinot Noir or both Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (both red grapes); usually fuller-bodied than blanc de blanc, this style enjoys the ability to match with a variety of foods. One of our favorite values from California is the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs.
Rose – could be only one grape or all three, but must contain some % of a red grape – that’s where it gets the pink color! Champagne is actually one of the only regions of France that blends red and white wine to create rose, rather than the saignee method, or bleeding. Also a great match with food – and good for any reason you might be in the mood for pink. An awesome value rose Champagne? Try the Canard-Duchene Authentic Brut Rose – absolutely fantastic for under $50!

Non-Vintage vs. Vintage
Non-vintage wines are exactly what they say they are – not from a particular vintage. They are blends of a few wines from different years. Champagne begins as a blend of still wine. If the Chardonnay of 2005 is not acidic enough, they’ll pull some of the 2003 or 2004 Chardonnay and blend it in for acidity. The goal is consistency. So that the NV of Veuve Clicquot you buy this year will be consistent with the one you bought last year. Most NV Champagne represent a house “style” that the winemaker tries to maintain so that the consumer knows what they are getting. NV wines should be drunk within a year or two of purchase. The most classic of NV Champagne is the Veuve Clicquot Brut Yellow Label. But for me, I’ll pay the extra $10 for the Bollinger Brut Special Cuvee. I’d drink it every night if I could!

Some years the vintage is so perfect that the houses of Champagne declare a vintage year. The blend is made only from grapes in that vintage – no adding of back vintages allowed. Vintage wines are low in supply and high in demand, and therefore a bit more pricy than that NV. Most vintage champagnes can age about 10 to 15 years, sometimes much longer. Some houses don’t even release their Champagne until 10 to 15 years later because of the amount of bottle aging they prefer – Dom Perignon released their 1999 vintage about the same time Krug released their 1995! And Salon recommends that their vintage Le Mesnil sur Oger age for at least 20 years after the release date (which is 10 years after the vintage).

Other label tid-bits
Premier Cuvee or Tete de Cuvee – means the top of the top, the best of the best blend of the house. A classic example?  Krug’s Grand Cuvee.
Premier Cru and Grand Cru – Some vineyards in Champagne, like other areas of France are labeled Premier Cru or Grand Cru vineyards. If a house purchases all of its grapes from grand cru or premier cru vineyards, they may put that on their label.

Levels of Sweetness
Extra Brut – Bone dry
Brut – very dry, but with a touch more dosage
Sec – off-dry, which means a hint of sweetness
Demi-Sec – technically means “half dry” but really is half sweet
Doux – sweetest of the Champagne, more rare, often more expensive, and a delicious balance of sweetness and acidity.

Sparkling wines in regions like California and Australia will also use the above labels.

Cava & Prosecco
Cava: The sparkling wine of Spain. Cava can come from quite a few regions in Spain, but generally offers the same style: it’s dry, crisp and affordable. Need a good party wine? Cava is the go-to. Have a budget but want something delicious? Go with Cava. One of our favorites for everyday drinking  – Juame Serra Cristalino Brut Cava.

Prosecco: From the region of the same name in the Veneto area of Italy, Prosecco is made from the Glera grape. It is produced using the tank method, which means instead of having the biscuit and bread-like flavors of the Champagne method, the wine delivers up-front fruit and floral aromatics. Fresh, fruity and floral = Prosecco. Grab a bottle of Carletto – it embodies the fresh, fruity and floral mantra!

Cheers & enjoy the bubbles!