Savoring Champagne

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In the 1965 musical, The Sound of Music, a smiling Captain Georg von Trapp tells his 16 year-old daughter Liesl, “No,” when she sheepishly asks him “I’d like to stay and have my first taste of Champagne.” I was barely a teenager when I saw the blue-eyed Liesl posing this question to her father, but this scene has always stayed with me. This was about the first time I had my first sip of Champagne as I stole a glass that my parents had poured. All I can remember is they smiled and toasted a lot when they drank it. What is it about Champagne? Its magic and allure, what does it mean to different people? Whether it merely tickles your nose or tantalizes the palate, everyone has a slightly different spin on one of the most iconic beverages in the world.

When I started as a young wine professional, I had heard so much about Dom Pérignon that I could not wait to try it. As my career grew, I went onto Krug Grande Cuvée, Bollinger Grande Année, Louis Roederer Cristal, Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame and the like, but only as a member of the trade. My realistic budget keeps me at the non-vintage level.

The story of Champagne is enormous and complex. Long-time wine writer Ed McCarthy writes, “All great Prestige Cuveés demand 15 to 20 years of aging. Drink them young and you’re wasting your money.” While Mr. McCarthy can savor his old cellar treasures, we normal folks must make do with the beauty of non-vintage bruts and perhaps once in a while trek into the land of the sublime.

Non-vintage brut Champagne runs the show and defines each house’s style. I drink them fresh and zingy. If I am certain that the wine has just arrived then I may give it two to three years of bottle age. While I enjoy my red wines (cabernets, pinot noirs, zinfandels, red blends, etc.), I never get bored with a glass of Champagne. The aforementioned special offerings are wines that one must age. Over time, they will lose their vitality and gain incredible complexity that one can only experience from the terroir of Champagne, about an hour’s drive from Paris.

When Dom Pérignon is in its youth, it is elegant and refined. Generally not overtly yeasty, it is always enjoyable. As it ages, it changes and often becomes wonderfully complex and the rules of engagement change. Instead of merely toasting a great moment, the Champagne becomes a spectacular foil for the most imaginative chefs around the world. The 2004 Dom Pérignon is really fine and already shows core fruit, sweet earth and wild mushrooms in its flavors. Time will make this wine even better. I recommend patience of at least 10 years. When I was a teenager, I drank my first Champagne. Now as an old wine guy, I savor an old bottle just as I would aged Bordeaux, Burgundy or other classic still wines.

The Ultimate Wine Vacation?

tuscantableVacation: an extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.

Wine Lover: Someone who loves drinking wine, learning about wine, seeing wine regions, meeting wine people.

Ultimate Wine Lover Vacation: Taste Vacations

At Wine.com, we love to promote the wine lifestyle. We do it through awesome selection, helpful guidance and convenient delivery. But we can’t physically take you to wine country. Yet. Luckily… Taste Vacations can!  The newest venture from Zephyr Adventures, Taste Vacations is a new spin on their classic adventure outings.  In the past, adventures put a focus on physical activity while enjoying regional wine and food around the world. Though we all appreciate some physical activity in life, some of us see vacation as taking a break from hiking, biking and scuba diving, instead focusing on less movement, more eating, drinking and savoring. For those folks, Taste Vacations fits the bill. ,

Want to take a wine & food tour in Spain? Done. How about VIP treatment in Napa Valley? Check. Truffle hunting in Italy? They’ve got that, too.

Since Zephyr Adventures has been focusing on organizing tours for years, they know what they are doing. They have the wine connections, the food connections, and the inside scoop on what would make your vacation be the ultimate in taste.

We’ve always supported these Adventures, but loved the info they shared about Taste Vacations as it is sounds like a perfect fit for the Wine.com crowd.

So let us know – do you like the idea of Taste Vacations? What has been your ultimate Wine Vacation?

 

Austrian Wines- Grüner takes a Chardonnay Spin?

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It was some time ago (circa 2003), in a dark place when I tasted my first Grüner. I had no idea (well maybe a little) of what this unusual white wine was about. Where was I? In some San Francisco Bay Area wine bar with a couple of somm friends as I recall. So what is it about Grüner that drives us wine folks crazy? The wine generally comes in a hock bottle, with its German and low-alcohol history, but the Austrian white wines are far different from their German counterparts. Can we talk Chardonnay here? I was reminded of this when I posed a facebook question and my friend Alison Smith Story of Story Wine Cellars brought this notion to my attention. I never could understand completely why Grüner Veltliner was so appealing but I did enjoy the wine’s fatness without the aid of oak or residual sugar. I am now thinking, could there be a similarity between Grüner Veltliner and un-oaked Chardonnay.

Recently I dined in San Francisco at Anchor & Hope with Franz Leth Jr. of Weingut Leth (now in their 3rd Generation of this family owned and operated winery). Pairing his Grüner Veltliners with the Crab Louis, heirloom beans, olives, butter lettuce, and rémoulade worked perfectly as Franz talked passionately about the winery’s south facing vineyards, just to the north of the Danube River. The discussion proved enlightening as he talked about how the vineyard site encouraged excellent ripeness and great acidity. I have hundreds of buried notes in my cellar on Austrian wines. I will re-visit them and get myself up to speed on what is currently going on in Austria.

Stay tuned as the Austrian wines, food matching and discussion I enjoyed with Franz materializes in more Grüners in my future. I have finally emerged from that dark place, a decade ago, and become an enlighten advocate of Austrian wines. Now when you think of Chardonnay and seafood you may need to spin the choice to Grüner Veltliner as an alternative.

A Deal on Napa Valley Cabernets

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You may be skeptical of this, but not all Napa Cabernets require securing a loan. While some bottles may fetch upwards of $300.00 or more and consumers have been trained to spend at least $50.00 on a Cabernet with a Napa Valley AVA, there are still a few wineries that know their customers are still hoping to buy Napa cabs under $30.00. While they are not easy to find, they can be had. There still exists parts of the valley that are not considered the high rent district and at least a few companies have the wisdom of producing Napa Valley Cabernets in this price range. In my recent tasting journeys I have found a trio perfect for the bargain hunter.

First on the board is the Educated Guess. Almost fat and plump, this pretty wine always drinks well upon release. The 2012 version is sappy fine and just keeps on giving. I’d like this one with a juicy, rare slab of rib eye of beef. Coming up fast but certainly not behind is the succulent and mouth-watering 2012 Napa Cellars. A seemingly more serious wine, this cab shows a bit more weight and oak on the palate. The wine is very true to its Napa Valley heritage of bold fruit and firm, yet sweet tannins. The last wine of this trio is the 2011 Mount Veeder. Perhaps the most industrious of the group, there is just a little more to this one. Shows similar elements to the others, but it stays on the palate even longer. A solid cab in a decidedly difficult vintage, this one plays up the savory aspects of this varietal that is sometimes forgotten by the more expensive, highly-oaked wines from this this valley.

One can always spend a lot and acquire the best wines in the marketplace and I certainly encourage wine lovers to splurge when they can, but a little value shopping could yield some really fine “everyday” or more often enjoyment from this beautiful valley a couple of hours north of San Francisco. These three Napa Valley deals say that this valley has more than just the highest priced wines in the land.

Food & Wine Friday: Beef & Bordeaux – it’s what’s for dinner

For many people Bordeaux is a collectible, a wine for old-fashioned wine drinkers. It wasn’t that long ago that Eric Azimov wrote in the New York Times, “Bordeaux, once the world’s most hallowed region and the standard-bearer for all fine wines, is now largely irrelevant.” This great red wine from the Atlantic coast of France is, however, more affordable and more accessible than ever. Whether it is a cheeseburger on a Tuesday night or the finest filet mignon, there is a Bordeaux for every occasion.beef

Wines with the general appellation of Bordeaux are famous for being great values. The 2010 Saint Sulpice represents one of the best wines this level of Bordeaux has to offer. Located near Saint Emilion, this winery has some prime vineyard land to make great red wine. This easy drinking red has aromas of tea and black currants with soft, round cranberry and currant flavors on the palate. Enjoy the St. Sulpice with a flat iron steak and mashed potatoes.

Looking to the North, we have the region of Saint-Estephe. Wines from the cooler zone have a brambly and earthy character, which make them a great accompaniment to any hearty meal. One of my favorite go-to wines over the years has been the Chateau de Pez. This 2008 is dark and brooding with aromas of cedar and cigar box. The cassis fruit is supported chunky tannins. The big, chewy de Pez would be great with a rib eye steak.

Pessac-Leognan is the most southern region of Bordeaux. The creative and innovative winemakers of this growing area are making great wines for a very fair price. Ch. Haut Bergey is a great example of this innovative spirit. Purchased in 1991 by Sylvaine Garcin-Cathiard, every effort is made to create a hand-crafted wine of high quality. All of the improvements and hard work have paid off in this amazing 2010. In a vintage full of great wines, the Haut Bergey is a shining example of high quality for a fair price. Aromas of roasted coffee, vanillin, and tobacco lead to ripe black currant fruit on the palate. The sumptuous flavors are supported by fine tannins and bright acidity to the finish. Keep this wine in the cellar for another 5-10 years. I would pair the Haut Bergey with a standing rib roast…now that’s a great Sunday supper!

makingbeefAll this talk of Bordeaux has me yearning for some beef. One of my favorite local places to shop (in the Bay Area) is Schaub’s Meat, Fish, & Poultry in the Stanford Mall. They are famous for their “Fred steak,” which is a special dry cured beef that is amazingly delicious. Don’t be alarmed by the dark and blackened exterior— it’s just covering the yummy, beefy inside. Below, is an example of a top sirloin roast that my friends and I shared with a bottle of 2000 Grand Mayne, St. Emilion.

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