Category Archives: Wine Recommendations

It’s bubbles for June, of course!

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What is so great about sparkling wines? Do they tickle our noses? Do they sparkle in our glasses? Are they fun to drink? Yes to all of the above and then some. For decades, bubbles in the glass have been used to toast, celebrate and dance the night away.  Now that we are in wedding season (June), sparkling wines and tying the knot are primed to be perfect partners.

Looking at the history of Champagne, Dom Pérignon (1638-1715), the monk and cellar master at the Benedictine abbey Hautvillers, is widely credited as one of the stars who helped improve the quality of Champagne. By the way, he did not invent or discover the champagne method, as some historians had implied. But without the good monk, the techniques of making sparkling wine may have taken a different path.

As a young wine professional, some 40 years ago, I found myself with one of the world’s finest Champagnes: Krug Grand Cuvée. By far one of my favorite sparkling wine memories. I just could not remember if the bottle or the room was spinning. All kidding aside, from Spanish Cava to Grand Cru Champagne, few wines provide smiles like a good bubbly. Sparkling and fun, there is a reason why they show up as invited guests at weddings, graduations (only for the adults, please) and other special moments. As I was looking at what to recommend, I found so many in my sweet spot that I couldn’t stop at three. I chose six that I felt needed to be showcased.

Bodegas Naveran Brut Cava 2011 is a sophisticated sparkler that is great when the whole family shows up and wants to dance the night away. Frisky, with appealing complexities, this is one of the best cavas in the marketplace. Also from Spain is the even more stylish Gramona Grand Cuvee Cava, dashing and almost handsome, this one is sure to sweep your guests off of their feet.

Going into one of the world’s secret sparkling wine regions, Adami Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Brut Bosco di Gica serves up seductive flavors reminiscent of the Champagne region of France. Many Americans enjoy drinking sparkling wines made in the USA and why not? Who can argue with the quality of the Domaine Carneros Brut 2009 or the Schramsberg Blanc de Noirs 2009? Time has already proven how outstanding both of those wines are. They taste delicious when they are released and age nicely over time.

You probably thought I forgot about Champagne from France!  Bruno Paillard Brut is one of the region’s finest. With plenty of fruit and complexity, this well balanced effort stands tall at the head of its class.

So go ahead and celebrate! Wine.com has sparkling wines from all over the world in a range of price points. You may also like to challenge the chef in the house to create a dish ideal for pairing with bubbles. You will be surprised how well it performs in a fine dining atmosphere.

A Trio of Top California Chardonnays

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On Thursday, May 22nd, the 5th Annual Chardonnay Day will be here and the burning question is… what will be in your glass? If one wants to get maudlin, it was only four decades ago when Chardonnay was not on the menu. If you asked any retailer in the early to mid-1970s, “what is your best-selling white wine?,” you can be sure the answer would not be Chardonnay. No, the most sold white wine of that era was California Chablis (which in fact, was not Chardonnay at all). We have come a long way!

To some folks (perhaps those in the ABC – Anything But Chardonnay – crowd) Chardonnays taste entirely too similar, and to some extent I would agree. Wineries have become so adept at producing well-made wines that it can be hard to distinguish one from another. Yet differences do exist and the hallmark of the finer producers is high quality and consistency. Over the last half-dozen years, three  successful California Chardonnays that have exhibited these traits include  MacRostie Sonoma Coast, William Hill Estate Winery Napa Valley and Mer Soleil Reserve. What makes them the darlings of the industry is that they have found a place in the market and stayed true to producing wines of high quality and consistent character.

The William Hill Estate Winery Napa Valley is rock solid in its makeup. Drawing from Napa’s cool Carneros and warmer St. Helena regions, the wine exhibits fine core fruit notes and a warm and balanced palate. When I am looking to feed my friends lightly grilled prawns, I often reach for a Sonoma Coast chardonnay and no one does it better than MacRostie. A bit subtler than the aforementioned  William Hill, MacRostie deftly defines the crisp nature that this AVA is apt to show. On the bold and powerful side, I recommend the Mer Soleil Reserve. Creamy and layered, one could easily pair this wine with organic roast chicken (I am a big fan of organic chicken because the flavors are sweeter and more distinctive). This trio ranks among my best choices in the marketplace, and may make one wonder: was Chardonnay always this good? Let’s dial back to the early 1970’s and take a look at the varietal’s place in the market.

One of California’s greatest wine books, The Fine Wines of California by Hurst Hannum and Robert S. Blumberg, published in 1973, listed 32 Chablis (from California) and only 20 California Chardonnays, including, Buena Vista, Chalone, Cuvaison, Hanzell, Charles Krug, Llords & Elwood, Robert Mondavi, Parducci, Simi and Stony Hill. Yet the real story in this era was that Americans were still drinking California Chablis. From 750 ml (called fifths at the time) to 4.0 liter bottles, California Chablis was the show. But Chardonnay’s time was about to come.

As a retailer in the 1970’s, I started moving away from Chablis, instead offering our customers the likes of Beaulieu Vineyard, Simi and Kenwood Vineyards. Over time I moved the clientele to Cuvaison, Chalone and Spring Mountain, among others. The “everyday” group consisted of fresh, frisky and fruit forward wines and the upper tier brought wines into the French Burgundy tier. Chardonnay enjoyed such a great launch pad at this time; it eventually became the white wine that ran the business. As the industry grew up, wineries such as Sonoma-Cutrer and Kistler Vineyards took a bold step and modeled their works after the Old World epicenter of Chardonnay, France’s Burgundy region. Yep, those high-priced vineyards that only the French and American wine aristocracy could pronounce.  Puligny-Montrachet was not in the common vernacular at that time.

Chardonnay, the most important white wine in the world, is ready to party. What will be in your glass on Thursday, May 22nd, The 5th Annual Chardonnay Day? I already have a few bottles in the fridge ready for action. Look forward to sharing some tasting notes with you then!

A delicious no-nonsense Rioja

14_04_16 1130 Rioja at The Wine Bar_1600_BlogLife does not have to be over-complicated, instead of fretting over every little thing that we are planning to do, we should just enjoy. The 2010 CVNE Crianza affords this possibility. So full of fruit and vitalilty, this one simply goes down easily. Made from 80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha tinta and Mazuelo (now say that three times or more), this wine is so Spanish. Yet it maintains an almost New World spin. This is Rioja of great pleasure. Tell the chef in the house to grill some lamb and get ready to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. #cvne #cune #rioja #crianza #spanishwines #tinto #grilled lamb

A serious pink that is a lot of fun!

11_09_13 Billecart-Salmon@Aleander's_640_BlogIn the world of pink (wines) no one can deny that Billecart-Salmon Champagne Rose is one of the kings of the wine world. Elegant, stylish and more fun, this serious wine is one of the world’s most renowned Champagnes. Made from Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, the winery actually positions this as a red wine. So don’t call it pink to their face, you may be the one who ends up blushing. An incredible food-pairing wine, I have often chosen this one with sashimi (yellow tail, red tuna, tuna belly…way yum).

The house of Billecart-Salmon goes back seven generations and is situated in the charming village of Mareuil-sur-Ay. Currently represented by the 6th generation, Francois and Antoine Roland-Billecart, this independent house seems to be in excellent hands. Chief winemaker, Francois Domi has been at the helm for nearly 30 years; the man has a great track record. Denis Blee, Director of the vineyard, has 20 years under his belt. With such a great production team, the vines cared for and respected. #champage #champagnerose #Billecartsalmon

Riesling love

Each country has a different way of indicating sweetness levels in wines. Because everything is strictly codified and regulated there, German wines are very easy to learn. On the label, they must have the region where the grapes are grown, the variety, the quality level, and in most cases the sweetness level.  All you need now is a Rosetta stone to crack the code. The most famous German varietal is Riesling, so here is a guide to sweetness levels with that variety in mind.

A QbA wine or Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (isn’t that a mouthful to say!) is the most basic of the 2 major categories of German wines. QbA wines can be grown in one of 13 different regions and the region must be stated clearly on the label. They must use grape varieties that are on an approved list. They must have a minimum alcohol content that is achieved, and they are what most people would call an “off dry” sugar level. For example, Ernst Loosen is considered to be one of the best winemakers in Germany, so his QbA wine is a lot higher quality than the average wine of that category. While the Dr. Loosen Dr. L Estate QbA 2012 is fruity, there is plenty of acidity in the wine to balance it out and make it more appropriate to serve with savory items and not dessert. I love this wine with cheese or roast chicken.

The next level up in German wines is called QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat). These wines have many of the same laws about regions and varieties. In addition, the sweetness levels of the wines are also regulated and must fall within a range that is specified for each level. From driest to sweetest they are Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Berenauslese, and Trockenberenauslese. In special years, grapes that achieve the Bereneauslese or sweeter level and are left to freeze on the vine create a very unique wine called an Eiswein. For the last several years, many German wineries are creating dry or “Trocken” wines. Many of these wines started life with an Auslese level of sugar, but are then fermented to dryness. A great example of a Kabinett level wine is Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Estate Kabinett 2012. It is a blend of grapes from the most famous villages in the Mosel: Graach, Bernkastel, and Wehlen. The bright apple fruit is balanced by flinty, minerally notes and a long crisp finish. I love this wine with grilled fish such as trout or salmon.

Unfortunately, in the United States, there is no special system to rate the sweetness levels in wines, so we have to rely on the winemaker’s description, a recommendation, or tasting the Riesling. Ernst Loosen also makes a high quality Riesling in Washington called Eroica. The Eroica Riesling 2012 is a very high quality wine that has more sweetness than his QbA or Kabinett wines. I love this wine with cheeses or, for an entrée, grilled pork chops with an apple and cornbread stuffing. The Eroica Gold Riesling 2012 is definitely a dessert level wine, which would be perfect with an apple or peach cobbler.

I hope you give Riesling a try. It is a noble grape variety that is very versatile where the wines can be crisp and refreshing to rich and sweet. Trying the wines from a great winemaker like Ernst Loosen is an easy way to learn about Riesling and the sweetness levels in wine. Go ahead and have an adventure tonight with a new wine!