Category Archives: Wine Education

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!

Make every night a Bordeaux night

BordeauxVineyardsChateauNo need to save Bordeaux for special occasions or let it languish in your cellar for decades. There are plenty of perfectly drinkable – and affordable! – bottles of Bordeaux for everyday drinking.

A little incentive for you? We’re offering 10% off 6 bottles or more from our Affordable Bordeaux list through 11/24.

We certainly have our own favorites on here, but we’re also interested in hearing your favorite Bordeaux under $50. White, red, rose? Do you drink it at dinner, give it as gifts or sip it on its own? Share with us and you’ll be entered to win a $50 gift card from Wine.com (which we are sure you will want to spend on Bordeaux). Share on Twitter @Wine_com or on this blog.

Contest ends 11/22 at 5pmPST so share away! #drinkbdx

What do “legs” tell us about a wine?

“Legs” in a wine glass are the tears that stream down the side of the glass after you’ve swirled it. Some take special notice of these legs – are they fast or slow? Thick or thin? Whatever speed and shape they take, what does it even mean? The legs of a wine show you nothing of the wine’s quality, and studies have shown they don’t really show much about a wine’s viscosity, either. Legs are created in a glass by a number of different relationships between the liquid and the glass surface and between the water and alcohol components of the wine. The way the legs fall usually has to do with the level of alcohol in the wine and the speed at which it evaporates, and  thicker and slower legs can indicate a higher alcohol level. In short, watching the legs flow down a glass may be pretty, but won’t give you much insight into the wine.

Patriotic Drinking

The Fourth of July weekend is upon us again, and as a history major, I love to ponder our founding fathers around this time. As a University of Virginia graduate, I am quite partial to all fun facts and notes about Thomas Jefferson. Though I don’t agree with everything he did as a politician or even a person, there is no denying his inventive mind and complex character. Plus the fact that he is what many like to call the first ‘wine connoisseur’ of our nation – or at least, the most well known.

But he’s not the only one who enjoyed wine – and other potent potables. During colonial times, alcoholic beverages, such as beer, wine and spirits, were considered more healthy than drinking water. Water contained bacteria and could be more dangerous to one’s health than alcohol. So when that is the case, best to find a signature drink! Here are some favorite tipples of a few founding fathers.

George Washington: Madeira is said to be his favorite drink, and it was in fact one of the most available beverages in the colonies (and states), as it was hard to ship European wine overseas without spoilage. But Washington also ran a distillery on his property at Mount Vernon. In fact, it was the largest whiskey distillery in the country in the 18th century. Granted, it was constructed in 1797, but it was able to claim that title!

John Adams: Again, Madeira was a favorite for this second president, but he also enjoyed cider and beer. Hard cider, that is. As an ambassador to France, he also had is fair share of wine, but was not known to indulge quite as much as Benjamin Franklin when hew as in the position.

Thomas Jefferson: Wine, of course! Not only did he collect wine from the famous Bordeaux chateaux, he also tried planting European grapes on his Virginia estate. Though that experiment did not take off back then, it certainly is growing now and the VA wine industry is improving every year. A few of his favorite chateaux in Bordeaux included Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau d’Yquem. He was a man with expensive tastes…

I’d love to know what Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Paine and Patrick Henry liked to drink most, but can’t seem to find much research out there on it. What do you know about our other founding fathers and their drinks?

 

What is a gooseberry, anyway?

milespinotAs you hold the wine glass in your hand, you read the tasting note: aromas of cassis, blackberry, plum sauce and cigar box. You dip your nose in for a whiff. All you get is the smell of wine. And so goes the disconnect between those writing the tasting note and the everyday drinker.

Thing is, the person writing the tasting note probably doesn’t have any better sense of smell than you, he or she simply has more practice. In other words, better sense memory. When an “expert” taster smells wine, they are using their sense memory bank to gather what they smell. If they write down strawberry, it’s because they have smelled a strawberry before and they are able to connect the aroma in the wine with the aroma they once associated with strawberry. You’ve probably had a strawberry before, but may not be able to immediately recognize it in a wine (unless someone suggests it), because you have not had the practice of having to do so many, many times. Learning to assess a wine and its components, like aromas and flavors, are just like learning a sport or a language or a new skill – you just have to practice.

So next time you bite into a strawberry, think about the flavor, the smell and everything about it. Same goes for all food and flavors – the more you remember, the more you can associate when you assess a wine. Some things you may never be able to taste – gooseberry is a common term for Sauvignon Blanc, particularly from New Zealand. But they are not frequently found state side, so you may not be able to stock that away in your sense memory. Some things you may never WANT to taste – Sancerre is sometimes referred to with an aroma of “pis du chat,” or “cat pis.” No need to have that in your sense memory. The gist of the message here, should you want to improve your ability to assess a wine’s aromas and flavors with a wide vocabulary, is to practice! Practice tasting food, remember smells, practice tasting wine and start putting the two together.