Tag Archives: champagne

A Balanced Bookshelf: Recommended Reading for Every Wine Lover

Every wine lover, from the novice drinker to the seasoned professional, knows that the world of wine can be an intimidating one. Between regions, grape varieties, science, history, and more, there is a never-ending world of knowledge to be uncovered. Though it may seem overwhelming at times, learning about wine can be an exciting and fulfilling lifelong pursuit. Fortunately, there is a wealth of reading material out there to shed light on the universe of vines, grapes, and wines, and the people responsible for bringing them to your glass. In today’s fast-paced world of digital media, most people rely on blogs and online publications for information—but there’s nothing like a great book to enhance one’s understanding of a subject, whether it is a broad survey or a deep dive into a specific topic. We have curated a list of some of our favorite books about wine, with something for everyone, whatever your specific interests may be.

For the Beginner:

Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine
Madeline Puckette
The colorful illustrations and infographics in this book are about as approachable and unpretentious as it gets. If you’re starting from square one and feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of learning about wine, this beautifully designed guide will instantly put you at ease and make your studies as fun as they are informative.

Windows on the World Complete Wine Course
Kevin Zraly
This is a solid overview of the world’s wine regions and grapes, structured like an Intro to Wine course. If you don’t have the time or money to take a wine class in person, this is the next best thing, and its various editions published over the last 25 years have been the gold standard in basic wine education texts.

24-Hour Wine Expert
Jancis Robinson
If the wine industry had a queen, it would be Jancis Robinson. Beloved by wine professionals throughout the world, Her Majesty Jancis has a rare knack for explaining both the simplest and the most complicated concepts in wine with equal dexterity. This quick, easy-to-read guide is perfect for beginning to build the foundations of serious wine knowledge.

For the Generalist:

The World Atlas of Wine
Hugh Johnson
Now in its seventh edition, this is the holy grail reference book for the wine regions of the world. Filled with colorful, detailed maps and high-quality photos, this is the best resource for understanding the “sense of place” behind the wine in your glass.

The Oxford Companion to Wine
Jancis Robinson & Julia Harding

This indispensable volume is a must-own for every serious wine lover. With alphabetized entries covering just about every topic imaginable, you likely won’t be reading this one from cover to cover. But if you’re in need of a quick overview of,  say, canopy microclimate, the Vermentino grape, or the wines of Bulgaria, this is the first place you’ll want to look.

The Wine Bible
Karen MacNeil
Another perennial favorite, this friendly paperback is one reference book you will actually want to sit down and read, though it works equally well if you simply want to focus on one topic at a time. While it looks dense, the relaxed, conversational tone is engaging and easy to follow throughout.

Wine Grapes
Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, & Jose Vouillamoz
Are you noticing a pattern here? Yes, Queen Jancis strikes again. This rather impressive (and heavy) tome is not for the faint of heart. A guide to 1,368 commercially relevant grape varieties throughout the world, this book covers the origins and relationships of those varieties, the regions in which they are grown, and the aromas and flavors they typically express.

For the Storyteller:

Judgement of Paris
George M. Taber
A must-read for any lover of Californian wine, this story chronicles the now-infamous Paris Tasting of 1976, in which wines from Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Chateau Montelena beat out their French counterparts in a blind tasting judged by French wine experts. The event caused quite an uproar, and was responsible for putting the Napa Valley in a prime spot on the international wine stage. This compelling account of the tasting as well as the events preceding and following it is written by the sole journalist who reported on the tasting.

A Hedonist in the Cellar: Adventures in Wine
Jay McInerney
This guy knows how to have fun with wine. In a serious of short essays, the beloved novelist and bon vivant who wrote Bright Lights, Big City brings you along on his imbibing adventures with a lively, colorful, and at times irreverent writing style. It’s such a delight to read, you might not even notice how informative it is.

Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times
Don Kladstrup
Travel back in time to the early days of Champagne. This book will lead you through the Belle Epoque and a series of wars up to the present day to discover the rich and captivating history of everyone’s favorite bubbly beverage. Required reading for anyone who loves Champagne—which is pretty much everyone.

For the Hardcore Wine Geek:

Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine
Barry C. Smith
This is about as cerebral as a wine book gets, and it is only recommended for the most passionate of oenophiles. Each chapter features a different expert (including philosophers, a linguist, and a winemaker, among others) posing a different philosophical question related to wine—for example, how much do we need to know about wine in order to appreciate it? Can too much wine knowledge actually detract from our enjoyment of a beverage? Each expert argues both sides, leaving the reader to ponder his or her own stance on the matter.

Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture
Patrick E. McGovern
The history of civilization is intrinsically linked to the history of wine. Much debate exists over the true birthplace of wine, and biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern takes us further back in history than just about any other writer to authoritatively uncover the origins of the domesticated vine. This book provides stunning insight into ancient and biblical cultures through a wine-tinted lens.

It’s bubbles for June, of course!

13_07_19 1000 John Clark_400_Blog

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 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

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!

Yes, you CAN find great value Champagne

Champagne has its reputation for a reason. It crafts wine like no one else. You can think of the market in Champagne like real estate in Manhattan. There is only ONE Manhattan and it will always be a high-price market due to the small land size and the high demand for what it has. Champagne is similar. There is only one, it’s unique, and people are willing to pay a premium for what it has to offer. Read more here on Champagne 101.

The thing is, Champagne represents celebration and happiness. When we show up to a party with a bottle of Champagne, or give it as a gift, we bring a big smile to someone’s face. It brings joy. It warms the heart. But it also typically carries a very large price tag.

Good thing we have some value Champagne on hand for you! What makes a good VALUE Champagne? Well, it has to first, come from Champagne. Second, be under $50 and third, knock your taste buds off their socks. Or maybe the phrase should be knock your taste buds off your tongue? Either way, there needs to be a “wow” factor.  This is a tough find, but one that is well worth seeking out – after all, finding a good Champagne under $50 = big score.

We’re featuring some of our great value finds today, including one of my all-time favorites, the Canard Duchene Brut Rose. This wine is amazing. It’s a beautiful package, but the wine inside is absolutely delicious, too! At $39.99, totally worth it.

Another favorite happens to be the Pommery Brut Royal. We’ve got it today at $34.99. An all-around classic, it’s the kind of bubbly you want have in your hand for all holiday dinners and parties all season long.

One go-to for me every year is the Gosset Brut – this is one of those excellent non-vintage Champagnes that always lives up. It’s on the medium-bodied side and an ideal companion to the whole meal, from appetizer to main course.

And then there is grower Champagne… that refers to Champagne that comes from the actual grower of the grapes. Much of Champagne comes from Champagne houses, who purchase grapes from a number of growers. This means the grower has complete control, from vine to the final dosage. We have an incredible example of this in the Jean Vesselle Brut Reserve 100% Grand Cru. At under $50, you absolutely have to try this wine. It’s structured and seductive, layered and complex. Seriously a winner!

Other great Champagne winners under $50 include:

Nicolas Feuillatte Blue Label Brut
Laurent-Perrier Brut
Canard-Duchene Authentic Brut
Ayala Brut Majeur
Piper-Heidsieck Brut Cuvee
Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut