How to Disrupt Your Regularly Scheduled Programming

Coach Brad Stevens’ Unexpected Move is Your Power-Move

Celtics Coach Brad Stevens' Brand-Boosting Move

It’s May 10th at the very end of the 3rd quarter of Celtics Game 5 in Boston when Washington Wizard Kelly Oubre Jr. finds himself at the free throw line – and MISSES.

Even if you’re not an NBA fan, let alone how *enthusiastic* Boston fans can be, you probably know unsportsmanlike conduct can get ugly. And the well-documented charge by Oubre of Boston's (undeserving) Olynyk two games earlier in the Playoff series was a textbook example.

It's now Game 5, tied at 2-2. The Celtics have returned home and are ready to prove themselves. They do so immediately, establishing a +/- 20 point lead in the first few minutes of the game.

Celtics fans had been charged up from the get-go, anti-Oubre chants further amplifying things well before he was even put into the game in the 2nd half.

It’s easy to argue it wasn’t necessary for Brad Stevens to make a lineup change right after Oubre misses that first free throw. But without missing a beat, right as the Garden explodes with joy over Oubre’s miss, Stevens sends Kelly Olynyk in.

The place detonates.

Timing is often an important part of the equation. You must also know your audience, which Stevens clearly does. There’s also something big to be said for giving people even more of the same (e.g. what they expect or crave from your product) – in this case, another intense emotional charge.
 

And – newsflash Event Managers! – nailing the timing doesn’t mean you have to be 100% planned. You can’t be afraid to be spontaneous when the opportunity presents itself.
 

[Rebecca S.] I know all too well that that lesson can go against the grain. I shocked myself, in fact, at the revelation as I caught my breath and sat back down at TD Garden. The event planning niche my team and I occupy is one that celebrates customization; Pour Favor Wine Events is not the bento-box of wine tasting events. 90% of what we do is carefully orchestrated to reinforce our client’s brand or culture. That takes even more planning.

At the same time, I couldn't help but pause... We’ve been at this for 9+ years. We have an incredible roster of partners, a rich skill-set among our staff members (beyond the obvious wine knowledge required) and have curated myriad events – we have a lot of inspiration to draw from. We could develop and implement a still-customized event pretty quickly.

It seems then, if you:

1)      Know your audience and

2)      Have a great supporting cast, whether your planning team or network of partners, and

3)      Are clear on your brand identity and/or event goals, you are in a clutch position.

 

The Stevens Take-Away?   Don’t hesitate to take advantage of the moment, and strike while the iron is hot to super-charge your own “fan base”, aka customers or guests, with a memorable event. Otherwise, the opportunity might pass you by.
 

We’re HERE when you need us.

How Wine is an Asset to Every Marketer’s Brand Strategy

People always ask how I [R. Schimmoeller] got into wine. To be honest, it was never something I thought would impact my professional path; it was purely a hobby. My day-to-day was related to brand strategy and business development. It wasn’t until later (on vacation) that I realized wine could be leveraged to tell a compelling story about a brand – and on a key, subconscious level.

Wine wields a powerful sword. It has the power to bring people together, reignite memories and provoke connections. In effect, the entire shared experience of discovering a new wine strikes a particularly memorable cord for people.

And marketers know that the more people connect to something (or someone) on a core level, the more compelled they are to act or engage. The challenge is that emotion is hyper-personal. It is incredibly difficult to pinpoint what ultimately triggers a consumer to buy – in large part because they often struggle to tell you why they prefer your brand over another themselves!

To develop a winning brand strategy the challenge (and fun) is to be as subtle as you are strategic. You must plant seeds through different channels and approaches, and with a consistent brand experience each and every time you do. Such a nuanced approach will intercept and ultimately engage consumers meaningfully.

For example, events offer a great opportunity to leave a particularly lasting impression – that you control. You know how rare this is in brand-work, where others’ perceptions are the reality you contend with. An event experience offers a chance for potential customers to interact with multiple pieces related to your brand, too – from your staff, to your physical office space, sometimes even to your actual product.

Now, how many times have you been to an event with just one wine?

If one wine has the power to compel curiosity and interest, imagine what happens when an entire flight (aka multiple wines) has been curated – very deliberately – to tell a bigger, even more captivating story that ties back to your brand. Think about it. Each wine offers an opportunity to elicit a reaction, to draw someone in. Together, each wine can serve as a chapter in your brand story; the flight delivers a beginning, middle and a (happy) ending.

Here are some starting points.

If you’re all about innovation, choose wines that are in some way; if you’re about luxury, go baller; if you’re showcasing a product with a customizable interface, craft an entire wine experience that has a personal, hands-on element. Ping me and I’ll give you a few specific ideas.

BOTTOM LINE. If you’re clever and creative, you can create a larger wine experience that’s fun and uniquely personal, that reinforces connections and celebrates your brand – without ever waving a big red flag. You will tickle your potential buyers’ subconscious in a truly memorable way. The key is to tell each wine’s story during your event synergistically and such that the subtly is not lost. Guests should go home appreciative of the artful tie-ins because you set the stage accordingly.

How a “Deal Breaker” Company Policy Turned Out to Be the Makings of a Killer Event

Photo Credit: RecycleNation.com

Photo Credit: RecycleNation.com

Have you ever been tasked with the seeming impossible?

“Hi, I’m the Event Director for our company and we are looking to host a wine tasting reception at our office – an event that will really blow the socks off of our guests. Our space is amazing, and we want to show it off. The thing is… we have a No Red Wine policy.”

If you can’t imagine a wine tasting event without red wine, you’re really, really, not alone. In fact, when that call came in, with that restriction, we thought – well, that’s one way to help us narrow the wine-flight-selection playing field!

Just because we hadn’t done it yet, didn’t mean we shouldn’t.

You couldn't help but pause. We’d never hosted an event without a key category represented. (Our clients would have thought we were nuts to suggest it!)

But just because we hadn’t done it yet, didn’t mean we shouldn’t. The event was definitely doable from a ‘diversity of selections’ standpoint. There is a huge breadth of white wine styles out there – more so than even white wine fans tend to explore.

And such a seeming omission certainly would set the stage for an unconventional, memorable event experience. It would also allow us to do what we do best: get people talking – connecting over a truly unique, shared experience.

This restriction was the kind of thing that was unexpected in its own right – and that could be the makings of a truly amazing event. Certainly, from complication comes creativity and the thing we all strive for in planning a memorable event – innovation.

Curiosity bred a higher level of interest and set the event apart from others in a way no one could predict.

The event allowed us to shine the spotlight on white and sparkling wines many hadn’t heard of, let alone tasted. This leveled the playing field among wine novices and more seasoned guests alike. Interestingly, too, not a single attendee “complained” that there weren’t reds on offer.

Attendees reveled in the chance to operate outside their comfort zone – and were in it together as they did. The seeming omission offered an immediate launch point to conversation, not to mention a more personal connection opportunity; curiosity bred a higher level of interest and set the event apart from others in a way no one could predict.

Planning an event, we all want to push the envelope. And no doubt, every time we set to it, something always comes up – there’s always a complication. The trick is to navigate these nuances, without compromising your endgame. Our team respected this planner for not allowing a challenging policy to put a wrench in the works from the get-go. She was willing to explore options, and leverage a seeming “deal breaker” restriction to innovate.

The result was one of our all time favorite events. So lesson learned! Don’t just embrace the unexpected, let it inspire you.

3 Reasons Why We Drink White Wine – in Winter

Few think of white wines as a winning choice any time of year, let alone now in the heart of winter here in New England. Red wine somehow seems the natural way to soothe the impact of the cold, dark days we experience.

In fact, once we shed our own similar inclinations, we discovered a surprisingly wonderful coping mechanism.

Here’s why adding white wine to your repertoire right now will help assuage your winter woes:
 

1.   Dry Air Begs for a Palate Pick-Me-Up

If you’re like us, you’re heading for the water cooler on the regular. Nothing seems to quench your thirst. Guess what? Many white wines can. Add a little zip to your regularly scheduled wine-down and you can refresh your taste buds (and your spirits) with the natural burst of mouthwatering acidity whites are best known.

 

2.    Hearty Fare Hearts Robust Wines

The importance of texture should not be underestimated either. Just as you reach for that soft, cozy blanket to wrap yourself up in, many white wine styles offer the same satisfaction. Here we're talking about wines that have a touch of heft, and can be deemed oily, or fleshy.

Why?

Robust whites complement the weight of heartier fare. Think Chowder or thicker soups like pumpkin, cauliflower, butternut squash, etc. Gratin potatoes. A tangy, goat-cheese quiche. Monkfish or Swordfish. Chicken casserole. Even an old-school (or re-imagined, newer school) Mac & Cheese.

You get the idea. Just be sure the weightier wine you select also has that essential acidity we talked about above, too. You’ll need that element to cut through the fat of such bold dishes.

 

3.   Winter Helps Ensure Whites are Enjoyed at the Right Temp

One guest at an event we hosted said oh-so-sagely, he feels “whites have to work harder to woo” him. When he tasted the white wine flight we had curated, he mused at how much more depth the wines had – he could taste their nuance.

So often whites are served way too cold. Whites show more layers of aromas and flavors when they are served at the ideal 50ish degrees Fahrenheit. And in New England many of us are blessed with enclosed vestibules or unfinished cellars that naturally ensure wines are stored, and then easily served, at the right temp. You don’t have to fuss with the fridge. Nature works to your logistical advantage. Meanwhile you’re able to discover what so many whites really have to offer.

 

Certainly white wine is a huge category, just as red wine is. The winter simply proves an unsuspecting time to explore the possibilities.

Satiate your cravings for comfort food, resuscitate your senses and otherwise bring life back to your body and soul by giving whites the chance they deserve this winter!

No-Brainer Holiday Wine Ideas: from What to Pour, to Boss & Co-Worker Gifts

Wine is both an entirely festive way to celebrate the holiday season and a winning approach for gift-giving. The trouble is knowing what to pour - when - and what to gift - to whom. Are we right?

This holiday season we're giving the gift that keeps on giving - easy answers. Below, you'll find wine solutions for your party planning conundrums as well as ideas for gift giving - from stemware to great reads.

Remember, there's naturally some overlap - often wine itself is a wonderful solution in and of itself. So take these ideas and run with them. You're sure to hit the nail on the head with a touch of your own personalization.

Sparkling Wines

From hosting to gifting, sparkling wine is a foolproof way to bring a natural, festive flare to bear. If you don't know your recipient (or his/her tastes) well, they are also a great answer to The Personalization Problem. No matter what, they add levity - and New Year's is a built-in opportunity to open and enjoy.

Here is our own Guide for Selecting the Right Sparkling Wine for the Occasion.



Need specific ideas?  Some of our favorite sparkling wines this year can be found below, beginning with the most affordable styles (e.g. Prosecco + Cava) to the most baller (Champagne). (Note: These specific wines are available to those of us shopping in the Greater Boston area. You can ask your local retailer to order any wine they don't stock.)
 

Marsuret Prosecco  |  Veneto, Italy (Valdobbiane)
Deliciously quaffable and festive, Prosecco wines have taken the world by storm. Here the Marsura family stays true to their 80-year tradition to produce a particularly winning option: zesty, delicately pear-nuanced with a touch more pizzazz than its counterparts.

When/For Whom? Cost-effective, basic bubbly that delivers a festive element/gesture. Ideal for any and everyday - from a holiday brunch to topping-off a "champagne" cocktail.


Dibon Cava  |  Penedes, Spain
Cava drinkers have gotten the memo for a footloose and fancy free sparkling beverage that’s closer to proper Champagne for its toasty notes and fleshier texture – at a fraction of the price. Frothy and fruit forward, Dibon delivers memorable peach and orange notes, backed by hazelnuts and citrus zest.

When/For Whom? Casually festive and versatile, but with a bit more to it. Appropriate to serve during cocktail hour, offer for a festive toast, or even segway into the first course. An affordable way to thank/appreciate colleagues, or supply a casual host/ess gift.


Cave de Saumur Crémant de Loire "49M"   |  Loire, France
Crémant wines come from elite regions of France - outside of Champagne - and are goldmines for exceptional sparklers. This hidden gem from one of our favorite CO-Ops is both charming and dry - and bursting with familiar fruit nuance. You can't go wrong with 49 Million, tiny, crowd-pleasing bubbles!

When/For Whom? Crémant wines are our Go-Tos because they are perfect for dialing things up a notch, without anyone knowing how much you spent. You'll be winning with a ~$20 budget.

 

Taittinger 2008 Brut Champagne  |  Champagne, France
This is the real deal, and then some. Featuring the 2008 vintage alone, this blend of all 3 legally-permitted Champagne grapes delivers tell-tale orchard fruits, a hint of stone fruits and mouthwatering citrus. Better still, its decadent brioche side makes you wonder if you just stepped into a Parisian bakery. . .

When/For Whom? To make an impression - this is brilliant, baller bubbly! Gift to your boss or open with really, really good friends.


Westport Rivers "RJR" Brut Sparkling Wine   |  Westport, Massachusetts
Massachusetts' own Westport Rivers Winery kills it when it comes to sparkling wine. And the RJR is their flagship - separating itself with a frothy, creamy mousse and giving you flashbacks to an autumnal New England picnic. (Bonus - this wine has been on the White House's go-to list!)

When/For Whom? Whenever you need a secret weapon or a local treat to gift/serve. Typically c. $37/bottle, we saw it recently for just c. $20!


choosing wines: Gifting + Celebrating

1.    Looking to make a BIG splash? Whether throwing a party or looking to impress your gift-recipient, this trick never fails.
 

2.    You can also boost your party vibe with a creative approach to wine selection that mitigates fussiness for you - and ensures guests stay engaged in the fun otherwise. Here's How.
 


beyond the bottle: the Essentials


STEMWARE.   There's no need to geek-out on this one. Simply give a great glass that works perfectly well for wines of ALL colors. Our pick is the Vinum Riedel Extreme Series. We use the (white) Sauvignon Blanc option for ALL of the wines we taste/evaluate - red, white or pink. We love the sleekness of the glass as much as its versatility. (If you specifically know your recipient is a red wine fan, you could opt for their Bordeaux/Cabernet/Merlot glass instead. Don't overthink it beyond that!)
 

DECANTER.   Did you know, there are 5 Good Reasons to Use a Decanter Everyday? And this essential tool isn't in everyone's at-home wine supplies repertoire - yet. You can use the holidays to change that with a lovely gift.

Here's one suggestion - a half bottle size. It won't break the bank - and offers a sweet alternative to decanting an entire bottle (not to mention delivering a user-friendly nudge toward that ideal everyday use).
 

GREAT READS, BY INTEREST. 

for Fans of History, Villains + Heroes, or Fiction/Non-Fiction Crossover Reads:  American Wine: A Coming of Age Story

Why Your Next Event Needs a “House Wine” + How to Choose

When was the last time you were at an event and you walked away from the bar talking about the wine? It’s hard to get excited about the same old selection you see ubiquitously at every one of “these things,” right?

If you’re like the corporate planners we polled this summer, the last thing you want is for guests to consider your event run of the mill. In fact, if you’re like them, you want your event to be memorable for the right reasons – with guests actively participating, having fun and connecting with each other.

You want your event to be fresh and add value.


Did you know wine selection is a key tool for making your event a success?

If you’re like the corporate planners we polled this summer, the last thing you want is for guests to consider your event run of the mill.

Let’s take one of our venue partners for example, a top-notch, full-service operation that must create stand-out events time and again to be successful.

They rightfully pride themselves not only on their immaculate space and thoughtful approach in planning, but also the farm-to-fork food experience they deliver. Their wine list needed to follow suit.

Called upon to help, we saw a unique opportunity to set them up for success – not only in working with their clients, but also by ensuring their wine list would pay itself forward to guests’ event experiences.
 

Why? Analysis Paralysis is an Event Killer. 
 

A key networking and guest-engagement opportunity is lost.

People (guests) who find themselves in unfamiliar territory are overwhelmed by too much choice. And people who consider themselves in the know become distracted by too many options (whether good ones, or more often, stuck determining the ‘best of the worst’). At an event, while the bar line grows and grows, conversation among party-goers becomes awkward as people fight their decision demons. Guests become stressed and just want to get back to the people they already know and the larger festivities. A key networking and guest-engagement opportunity is lost.

So we retooled their custom list aiming to:

a)  Streamline offerings, which even novice clients (like many guests) could comfortably choose from;

b)  Offer wine options that would stir the interest and enthusiasm of guests when they saddled up to the bar – and as they headed back to the festivities;

c)  Creatively reflect their brand.

From here our partner was ready and able to work with their own clientele to create a winning guest experience. In effect, their custom wine list became their secret weapon.

In effect, their custom wine list became their secret weapon.

As in the example above, you can – and should – use your wine selection to bring additional creativity to bear, get people engaging (in and outside of the bar line) and underscore your brand or event in a fresh, subtle way.
 


How do you go about it?
 

Streamline Selections, aka Operate in Technicolor.   While guests may not know the ins and outs of wine, they do know which color they prefer. Offer just one of each style: a white and a red, with one festive sparkling wine for good measure. That’s your flight of what we call “House Wines” – Analysis Paralysis abated.
 

Pique Curiosity.   Skip the Italian Pinot Grigio, California Chardonnay or Pinot Noir and the Argentine Malbec. You get the idea – these are the predictable options. Offer choices that have familiar nuances, but that guests might not ordinarily come across. Guests who consider themselves in the know try something new (or are excited to enjoy something they recognize isn’t often an option) while novices just enjoy for the sake of enjoyment.

Hint: Blends from France, Spain and Italy are often a wonderful starting point, or seek out wines from lesser-known countries like Austria (whites) or Lebanon (reds). Don’t hesitate to ask for guidance, or get outside help. Your local wine shop is a great resource to solicit input on lesser known crowd-pleasers.
 

. . . make things less fussy – and more fun – for guests.

Unleash Your Creativity.   Once you’ve decided on the wines, facilitate fun organically by renaming each selection in a spirited or meaningful way that will get folks engaging in line – and afterwards, with their choice in hand. Try playing-off of branding or corporate culture elements. Or use the excuse to celebrate (or roast?) particular staff members or departments. Want to detach a bit from work? Give the selections personas – like “Nuanced & Daring – Red” and “Lively & Luxe – Bubbly” for the sparkling wine.

ProTipWineFlight.png


Bottom Line: Wine naturally adds levity – and a traditional bar set-up offers an opportunity for guests from all corners to connect as they make their way to your Libation Station. By being both more deliberate in choosing a focused selection of your own House Wines and more playful in how you present them, you make things less fussy – and more fun – for guests.

Are You Maximizing Your Event’s Impact? Tricks to Turning Things Inside - OUT

image c/o LinetLinen.com

Whoops! You’ve just pulled your favorite top out of the delicate cycle and it’s inside out – fresh and loveable, but not quite ready to turn heads. With one quick adjustment you’re all set.

Culture becomes real, such that employees often will share their company experience with others – hint: your (potential) customers.

We've discovered companies that develop and reinforce a collaborative, fit culture from within are better positioned to pay it forward. Their approach internally allows them to turn what they do inside out, too, to reach customers—engaging them more memorably—because it is rather effortless to do so.

Aligning events with your values and the type of culture you have (or would like to have) means employees leave proud of what they do, who they do it with, and what they do it for. Values become more than a quip on a mug. Culture becomes real, such that employees often will share their company experience with others – hint: your (potential) customers.

Internal events then are also external, whether intrinsically or more deliberately (in terms of your guest list).
 

Let’s take a growing tech company in Boston for example.

Despite finding an exciting new space to relocate their operations, the custom buildout was faced with myriad challenges. What was set to be a late spring move-in became an autumnal hope. The leadership team tasked their support staff with reimagining their holiday party. Rather than taking things off-site to a well-vetted (aka trusted, surprise-free) venue, they embraced their core values of innovation and experimentation:

1.   The event would be hosted in-house, no matter how finished, in the new space.

2.   Rather than keeping their invite list internal, the company leveraged the event as an Open House celebration that included customers, prospects and partners as well as employees.

3.   They embraced the (on-going) element of surprise, making that core to the event. Invited to help, we proposed curating a truly unique, experimentation-rich wine tasting experience that not only underscored their event goals, but showcased their culture in a hands-on, unforgettable way. [Ask us how.]


How can you dial things so that your event can’t help but WOW?
 

Be Deliberate.  
Just like an architect builds from the ground up, so should your event. If your employees are sharing their day-to-day worklife experience, make your event a reflection of that experience, too.
 

Be Subtle.  
Events that maximize the opportunity to pay themselves forward, are authentic – culture-infused and value-based, but not overworked. Don’t be creative for creativity’s sake. Find natural ways to reinforce your culture through your event. In our experience, less is often more.
 

Get Personal.  
Creating an experience that can be personalized is a technique we use to help folks engage on a meaningful level. An attendee's event experience should be organic and seamless, or about them. Customers or prospects included in your events shouldn’t feel like they are being sold – whether a specific product, or your brand as a whole. And if it’s an employee event innately (not necessarily directly) celebrate your team first, their work and their accomplishments. This is not a time to promote the company.

... folks invest in you/your brand because it feels natural; employees offer their best because they want to.

All those who participate are simply along for the ride, and it should feel that way. Later, folks (continue to) invest in you/your brand because it feels natural; employees offer their best because they want to.

In other words, shared experiences are a wonderful way to dial things in personally, and leave a winning impression.

 

Certainly events are a wonderful way to celebrate, boost company culture, and reinforce camaraderie – and there is value in this alone. But why have the value end there or the impact expire with the evening? Let what you stand for become your muse, your WOW factor. Then invite folks in to experience organically why your company is unique.
 

Remember, attendees should leave the event feeling connected to the experience – and your team and your brand – in their own way. By setting the tone with subtle reflections of your culture, you can then create organic opportunities for people to connect. In so doing, your event will go from a single time, day and place on your guests’ calendar, to a memorable experience that leaves them wanting to participate and engage again and again.

How to Pair Wine + Cheese – 3 Easy Methods

Photo Credit: Shane Godfrey Photography

Photo Credit: Shane Godfrey Photography

It's a given that wine and cheese go well together. But that doesn't mean that every wine pairs well with every cheese - or vice versa.

How do you 'try before you buy'? Well, if you can't, use one (or more) of these 3 methods!
 

1.    PAIR TO COMPARE.

INTENSITY  of flavor is a wonderful starting point. Wine takes-on more memorable nuance with age, just as cheese does. Young fresh wines tend to be bright and quaffable. Wines become nuttier (oxidized), or perhaps you’ve noticed dried fruit flavors or aromas when tasting a truly aged wine. Just as a cheese “dries out” with aging, in a wine the fresh-fruit-factor starts to play second fiddle to dried fruits (e.g. figs, apricots, even raisins) or other traits specific to the wine (grape’s) particular kind. Pair two young things or two time-tested cheeses and wines together and you have a match! 

PROTEIN  loves protein. Remember from your own larger life experience that fat is a wonderful flavor vehicle. And as cheese dries out, fat and protein become more concentrated (dare we say… intense?). In wine, tannin – or the uber-dry feeling left on your tongue after you swallow – is a form of protein. So a very dry (or tannic) wine is a good match for heartier cheeses.

TEXTURE  is a fun one. It’s not hard to imagine that fatty or creamy cheeses can sing with buttery, oaky, curvy wines. How does a wine come to give that impression? The grape’s natural characteristics are partly in play, and winemakers can dial up the impact when they use American oak (in particular, as opposed to French or Hungarian, stainless steel or the like) to age their wines (yes, the duration of time in oak matters, too – like a marinade).

 

 

2.    PAIR TO CONTRAST.

SALTY vs. SWEET  Another familiar piece of advice, right? Sweet and salty are opposites that attract, and so yes, there is a very good reason why fruit (fresh or dried) and nuts often adorn a cheese plate.


TEXTURE vs. TEXTURE  Wait, didn’t we already cover this one? Yep! Just as you can complement textures, you can also contrast them. Boisterous, palate-refreshing sparkling wines are a wonderful counter to richer, lingering cheeses.


 

3.    PAIR BY PLACE.

This is one of our favorites. As the adage says, “If it grows together, it goes together.” There’s a reason why foods and wines from a certain place are grown there, styles evolve, etc. Tradition stems from local success. So don’t fight it!


 

Certainly knowing what a particular wine tastes like (both the grape’s own characteristics and as these are massaged per local traditions) is a great advantage - and just as important as knowing what a particular cheese tastes like. That’s where things begin.

So, start with what you know, whether it is a particular wine favorite, or a particular cheese. Pair focused on just that one element, referencing our guiding principles to find matches that sing (there are often more than one). Soon you’ll be connecting the dots about why a pairing works – or doesn’t! – on instinct and gaining confidence to take the ball and run with it.

 

The Recipe for a Perfectly Wine-Infused Summer

What better way to celebrate the dog days of summer than curled up in your hammock or beach chair with a book you can’t put down, and a glass of something lip-smackingly delicious close at hand?

Summer reading is highly personal – some relish a good bit of mindless fluff while others use the time poolside to catch up on thought-provoking or hobby-enhancing reads.

Occasionally, oh-so-occasionally, a book will allow you to achieve multiple ends: you learn something while being thoroughly entertained. Characters (however real or fictional) come alive so much so they feel like part of your life. Dots connect in ways they hadn’t before, and more memorably, because the story itself is so tangible.

a page-turning summer read for fans of history, fans of wine, fans of villains and heroes alike. . .

In his book American Wine: A Coming of Age Story, Tom Acitelli delivers a page-turning summer read for fans of history, fans of wine, fans of villains and heroes alike that stretches like a perfect summer day into today's 20-teens. Acitelli’s captivating, appropriately detailed narrative transports you at once from Rouen, France where Julia Child was first introduced to the concept of wine at lunch (! - 1948), to a then fledgling mid-1970s New York City and its finger-crossing venture Windows on the World, to Miljenko "Mike" Grgich's post-WWII Croatia, back to College Park, Maryland and Robert Parker's first sniffs and tastes in the late 1960s, to the epic Judgement of Paris, Robert Mondavi’s pursuits -- and beyond!

situated in Boston in particular it can be quite easy to look further east to the Old World of wine, rather than west to the New. . .

Whether you are new to wine, 'simply' believe it one of the best party tricks for bringing people together, and/or are a long-time fan, certainly gaining a little perspective and new insight is always winning - no matter the genre. And, we admit, situated in Boston in particular it can be quite easy to look further east to the Old World of wine, rather than west to the New, to understand and perhaps appreciate wine even more.

Acitelli breaks this bubble, illuminating not "just" his title's thrust, but the global political, economic, technological and cultural influences, anecdotes and characters essential to understanding how far the American wine industry has come in such a short time – and how essential all of the players and factors worldwide have been to achieving such an end.

As we often say, like looking at a piece of art for the first time, whether you're inclined to like it, love it or hate it, fuller appreciation emerges when its story – its context – is revealed.

Here Acitelli paints a large, overdue, page-turning portrait of (American) wine that, in itself, is lip-smackingly good.

Champagne or Sparkling Wine? How to Select the Right Bubbles for the Occasion

If you’re confused about Champagne and Sparkling Wine you’re in good company. Questions come up at nearly every event we host, regardless if sparkling wine is even one of the wines we’re sharing.
 

  •    Can you call this Champagne?
  •    What is Cava?
  •    What about Prosecco?


Today we take things sip by sip, exploring Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Sekt, and Crèmant sparkling wines in turn – so you will not only know the differences between them, but also which style is best suited for the occasion at hand. Let's dive in!
 

Champagne | Champagne, France
 

ONLY sparkling wine from Champagne, France is Champagne, and can be called (or labeled) as such. The northern most region in France, this incredibly temperamental, cool-climate locale with its chalky soils ensures grapes with very high acidity – exactly what you’re after when it comes to producing exceptional bubbly.

There are also only 3 legally permitted grape types that can be grown and included in a Champagne wine: Chardonnay (white), Pinot Noir (red) and Pinot Meunier (red). These can be blended (most often) or fly solo.

In addition to the tricky, cool climate (i.e. while you want ripping, fresh acidity, you also need grapes to ripen enough to give the wine some balancing fruit-mojo), the technique employed in making Champagne (méthode champenoise) is incredibly labor and time intensive. Winemakers must induce a second fermentation inside the bottle which, suffice to say, takes many, many steps over an extended time including, at the end, freezing the neck of the bottle to later disgorge unwanted sediment (key for flavor development, but not desired in the final product). The result is a bright, complex, layered and toastier/creamier style of wine.

Often Champagne is Non-Vintage (NV). Winemakers prefer to blend fruit from different harvests to achieve the “House Style” for which they are known. Only in exceptional vintages will wine be dedicated to a vintage year bottling.

INSIDER TIP.   While most of the Champagne we drink is dry (Brut), there are sweeter styles available. Extra Dry is actually slightly sweeter than Brut, followed by demi-sec and then, rarely, doux.
 

Cava | Penedès, Spain
 

Cava is the Spanish term for their own style of sparkling wine, and named after the cave cellars where the wine was aged.

It came into being in 1872 when Don José Raventos found himself tromping through Champagne, France and encountered their specialty. He was rightfully fascinated. Soon enough he had decided to employ the traditional French méthode champenoise technique at home, but wanted to put a uniquely Spanish spin on it.

First up, he used local, indigenous varietals: Macabeu (the dominant grape), Parellada and Xarel·lo – all white grapes – contribute their own unique characteristics to the blend and create a uniquely Spanish sparkler. (Producers today are also permitted to use Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Garnacha and Monastrell in the blend.)

Next was his approach to aging: Cava is aged for only 9 months on the lees (this technique helps give Champagne its famous toasty character).

The differences go on, but the important thing is the result: Cava is a cheery, slightly less robust, citrusy/fruity, sometimes slightly nutty alternative to Champagne.

INSIDER TIP.   Wander off the ubiquitous Cristalino or Friexenet paths and you’ll often find even more value, while supporting smaller producers.
 

Prosecco | Veneto, Italy
 

Venetians, for their part, turn to Prosecco – aka Italian sparkling wine – daily. And whether you know Prosecco yet or not, you’ve probably noticed it is certainly an affordable bubbly option.

What makes it different than its counterparts? This wine is named for the largest proportion of grapes used to produce it, Prosecco. It is widely considered more straightforward, lemon-limey and leaner than traditional Champagne.

Why? It’s snappy flavor and texture result because it is made using a different approach than its French and Spanish cousins. The Charmat method ensures the secondary fermentation (necessary to “trap” the CO2 and create the bubbles) occurs in large, pressurized tanks rather than in the bottle. This means the wine is oxygenated and bottled “on demand,” without a long aging regiment. And, since the wine is made in batches if you will, rather than bottle by bottle, this helps keep the price low.

INSIDER TIP:    Gravitate toward Prosecco if a sparkling cocktail is on the menu, too. It’s perfect for both sipping solo and for adding a little unobtrusive sparkle to your cocktail recipe.
 

Sekt | Germany & Austria
 

Fun Fact:   Germans drink more Sparkling Wine per capita than any other country. They also produce the most variety of options, all under the larger umbrella term “Sekt”.

Their bubbly can be made with any method described already herein. Naturally, pricier selections are made in the traditional méthode champenoise while cheaper offerings are bottled with the Charmat method. Stylistically you will taste the characteristics that each of these respective approaches imparts – leaner for the latter and toastier and richer for the former.

They can also be made from a wide selection of grapes, with the grape-type used also helping to dictate the flavor experience in the final product. E.g. Riesling Sekt tend to be more zippy with trademark high acidity; Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris deliver a fuller-bodied, rounder experience; and Pinot Noir rosé styles deliver more tang and berry fruit, with pretty aromatics.

While less widely known/imported, a German (and Austrian) sparkling wine experience is quite diverse – and certainly worthy of your interest.

INSIDER TIP:   Use your wallet as your guide. Spend more than $15 to avoid the plonk.
 

Crèmant de [Fill-In-The-Blank] | Non-Champagne Regions, France
 

You didn’t think France was having all of the sparkling wine fun in just one of its wine growing regions, did you?

Truth be told, French Crèmant is perhaps our favorite alternative to Champagne. Most often made in the same traditional method, each region in France has go-to varietals. These same grapes are pressed into service for their sparkling wines. For example, the Loire Valley is known for their Chenin Blanc. So Crèmant de Loire tends to be made from Chenin. In Burgundy they are world-famous for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so that’s what you should expect in bubbly forms.

INSIDER TIP:   Artisanal or small production winegrowers that decide to produce sparkling wine make a BIG commitment. They need the resources – economic and otherwise – to do so. If they are going down this path, they are doing it for a reason. In our experience, passion pays. Crèmant wines are an uber-affordable alternative to Champagne, with many exceptional selections falling in the $16-$22 range.

 

What’s the moral of the story?
No matter which country floats your boat, sparklers are not just for toasting and gifting; with the variety of styles available worldwide they can be for every day. And perhaps they should be! With their essential, naturally high acidity, sparkling wine pairs superbly with any cuisine. Plus, they’re just F-U-N.