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Sparkling Wine

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Bubbles!

I drink sparkling wine all year long. Happily. Oh, so, happily! This year in particular has been a fun one in the sparkler-sphere, too. We've found many wines that are unique AND affordable, so my inclination to bring them home has been even greater. Long story short, while I'd never turn down an opportunity to enjoy a few gorgeous Champagnes (that is, from the Mothership of Champagne, France itself) if you travel outside this elite sparkling region you can find some real values. Now, when it comes to the traditional time of year to pop a few corks (namely New Year's Eve), I'm super psyched to have several of these options to choose from before heading to my friends' to toast 2012. Here are a few that have caught my fancy so much so that they've inspired full-fledged wine notes. Ready? Set... GO!

Finca Flichman Extra Brut ~ Malbec is the sure-fire winning grape of 2011. But we wine nerds can't forecast a reason to make a change in 2012! This trend has every right to carry on with gusto, particularly when we can also find it in an everyday celebratory (and affordable) package! Finca Flichman serves up a pretty bubbly, with terrific florals, snappy cherry and even a dash of blueberry and black raspberry fruits on the palate. This dry, redish sparkler (a blend of Chardonnay and Malbec) certainly intrigues and delights every sip of the way. And yes, for $9.99 it over delivers on quality!

Dom. Collin Cremant de Limoux ~ This is a sparkling wine (aka Cremant) with pedigree and pizazz from the Loire Valley of France. The pedigree part is that they man behind the magic has a Champagne project, but he thought it would be fun to dabble in the Loire as well. A blend of mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (two of the three grapes permitted in Champagne) with a little Loire-tastic Chenin Blanc thrown in for good measure, the winemaking behind the wine ensures a toasty, brioche-like flavor and texture to the wine. Tiny bubbles deliver clean fruit notes (apple, lemon pith and pear) a touch of bitter almond, plus a whopping of cleansing mineral notes bringing the dry finish all the way home. Take this bad boy home for only $13.99. A party-pleaser for sure!

Selim Spumante Brut NV ~  This is perhaps the rarest sparkler I've ever encountered. Hailing from Campania, Italy it is no Prosecco – rather it is a blend of three grapes, one white (Fiano) and two reds (Aglianico and Barbera). Such a blend delivers a white sparkler with an intriguing and delicious flavor profile and texture: its smooth mousse offers up pink roses and lemon curd aromas and then delivers lifted, delightfully nuanced flavors including citrus, raspberries and bing cherries. A touch of talc provides a welcome and balancing minerality. Selim is a complex yet approachably delicious crowd pleaser for any occasion. Grab a bottle and discover what I'm so excited about! $20.99

Oriel "365" Prosecco NV - If you want something that offers a little something more in the traditional Italian sparkler-sphere, Oriel has just the thing. Their idea is to bring you an affordable Prosecco vehicle that is affordable enough you can enjoy bubbles ALL YEAR LONG, as Prosecco should be. (And yes, to answer your question, Prosecco is an Italian sparkler made from grapes of the same name.)  This not-so-simple, but oh-so-satisfying, lightly moussed wine with ample pear, lemon cream and yellow apple fruit takes a familiar experience up a notch. $17.99

Domaine Rolet Cremant du Jura Brut 2007 ~  For a non-Champagne sparkler, even with such great competition found this year in the marketplace, this wine might be the go-to Show Stopper for a pseudo Champagne. An offering from the off-the-beaten-track of Jura, France, this wine is a blend of Chardonnay, the indigenous Savagnin, and Pinot Noir. It has a luscious, rich texture yet fine bubbles and clean fruit. Specifically, quince and honeydew melon flavors offer a nice balance of tart/clean and savory/fleshy. A tangerine zip of acidity delights to no end. This bugger comes in just under $20 at $19.99. Happiness!

If you aren't on the bubbly bandwagon just yet, this weekend is a worthy one to jump on. Grab something fun and live it up! But please, have a safe, happy and healthy New Year!

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Tasting and traveling - and the two in tandem

Wondered where I've been? March was largely spent downtown or throughout Cambridge at various venues set up for trade folks to taste hundreds of wines, both those entirely new to market and also and equally important, newly released vintages of old friends. It was a more rigorous spring tasting season on "the circuit" (as we wine professionals call it) than last year, I hate to admit it. Meanwhile, I was preparing for my trip (now in motion...) to Spain, where I have been visiting what I call Cava Country, more formally known as Penedes, and also the Priorat.

My travels began a couple of days ago with Marc Picon at Pares Balta, which  proved more than I could have imagined, even knowing in advance that this is a fourth-generation run estate that has embraced organic viticulture since The Beginning, well before it was of interest or marketable to do so. They also operate in what is now a national Park.

When I arrived, Marc, my congenial on-sight host and the estate’s Export Manager, explained that Pares Balta's main priority isn’t showcasing the “music” behind their work in the winery when they are introducing people to Pares Balta (and yes, they make many, many different wines); rather they are focused on the land. I smiled and nodded a bit when he said this, because if you’ve taken a trip to any winery worldwide, I’m sure you, too, have heard the owner, winemaker or staff talk about the importance of terroir. Not to undermine their work or the sincerity of these statements, but I have to say, Pares Balta really does relish the earth and the natural course of things in an extreme way (and the result is extremely tasty!).

To explain better, Marc and I jumped in his SUV and began our “15 minute” journey up into the mountains where the Pares Balta vineyards are located, as I mentioned, now in a National Park. Yes, it is that serious. And yes, the ride was even more colorful than one of those Super Bowl SUV ads where you see trucks bouncing along easily over fallen logs, up cliffs and over boulders. If I could have taken a picture of it, I would have – but we were literally bouncing too much for me to capture the moment and video would have made any viewer nauseous.

Our first “stop” up the vigorous terrain was to the Pares Balta beehives. A costly undertaking, no doubt, PB has a beekeeper on staff to further support cross-pollination of the vines of course, but not just so they flourish; rather, so that the entire community flourishes, imparting natural, enhanced flavors in the wine. For example, the rosemary bushes growing alongside the trail flower. This flavor profile is gently communicated to the vines as the bees carry out their natural work. Brilliant. Nature helping nature help us.

Marc employed a terrific approach to best share both the Pares Balta way and what makes Penendes unique. We didn’t just bound up the mountain and look out the window. Instead, we stopped at various, specific vineyard sites to taste certain wines alongside the river in one case, and at the top of the mountain, in another. At each stop you could literally feel the change in climate, the quality of “freshness” in the air, the amount of (or lack of) wind, etc.. What makes Penendes so special was poignant and palpable: the varied terrain (a vivid mix of plots of clay literally across the path from plots of chalk) and microclimates.

What was perhaps most compelling to me was the hands off/hands on approach PB employs. They fully embrace what nature delivers on its own, and yet they don’t hesitate to employ (or encourage nature along?) either. Case in point, they use pheromones at the edge of the vineyards site as a natural ‘turn off’ to butterflies (the wind carries the "off-putting" scent down the rows), encouraging them to go ‘play’ in someone else’s vineyards. It’s one way to avoid pesticides and let the fruit mature unhindered by pests.

Tasting through many of Pares Balta’s wines was its own experience. Their range is from traditional Cavas, to rare single varietal bottlings that capture both the essence of the grape and also, critically and as expected, of the vineyard site’s terroir and aspect. As a case in point, Marc enthusiastically offered me a tasting of one of their rarest wines, a dry Gewurtztraminer. It was possibly the most varietally expressive Gewurtz I have ever experienced. (Yes! This grape is incredibly rare to Spain and more often found in Europe’s Germany and Alsace; the spice in the wine literally poked at my taste buds! But no, their production is ever-so-small, and therefore will never reach our New England shores.)

In addition, Marc enthusiastically designed a taste-off between two pairs of wines. The first was of two Garnacha’s from two different vineyard sites. Their flavors were of like family, but certainly of distinct breeding: 2008 Hisenda Miret, a more rugged, gamey beast that tamed willingy as it opened; and the 2008 Indigena, a fruit forward, approachable Garnacha with the flare of a rosey-cheeked flamenco dancer.

The second taste-off was between two Tempranillos hailing from two different clones, one wine was made from the local Penendes grape Ull de Lebre, and the other from a Pares Balta project in a much farther region, Ribera del Duero. The Absis is a Tempranillo-based wine that delivered a surprising helping of stewed plumbs, golden raisin, orange rind, blackberry and brighter raspberry fruits, with intense herbs and purple flowers, while the Ribera wine showed more masculine muscle, wet soil, fine dried herbs and baker’s chocolate flavors.

Long story short, I could have stayed all day! But appointments in the equally world-reknowned Priorat region beckoned….

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What to do with left over bubbly? drink it!

Did you end up with a few extra bottles of sparkling wine after New Year's this year? It seems to be the normal course of things - and many people hesitate to do the obvious thing with these wines, what with official "celebrations" behind us. But corks are meant to come out! Here's how I've gone about tackling this delicious, festive, "problem": This New Year the Prosecco of choice for my friends and I was Santome. This is one I'm sure I've blogged about in the past, because it delivers lifted, just tart green apple fruit and lemon zest flavors; it's more crisp, dry nature makes it a good one to make cocktails with if that's your bag, but it is also delicious all on its own. For $12.99 you have no guilt opening bottle after bottle - and if you stick with it all night, you're likely in a hangover free zone. But on December 31st we didn't quite make it through the full case, so I anted up for game night last weekend. Santome was the perfect accompaniment to the deviled egg appetizers I whipped up.

Next, I pulled out the bigger guns in my repertoire...

In my bubbly archives, I discovered I somehow still had one bottle of the 1999 Pierre Morlet Brut. With good friends who enjoy good wine, why not pop a cork? They are meant to come out after all, so what more of an occasion do you need? And this wine had already been in bottle for more than a decade. So as the pork tenderloin rested and the cinnamon scented butternut squash mashed potatoes cooled a little, we popped the cork on this bad boy, too. It had a lovely mousse, with just the right amount of toastiness, red and yellow apple fruits, and a lithe lemon cream texture. A wild accent of hazelnuts mid-palate made this wine a favorite among the group.

After savoring Pierre, we finished our bubbly spree with the very dry, mineral-laced Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut. Another winner, we enjoyed the texture of this wine also, with fine bubbles bringing pear and red apple fruit flavors quickly to bear. This wine was particularly memorable for the previously mentioned minerality - a clean, wet pebble/chalky essence. Delicious vin!

Remember, you don't need an official celebration or Real Occasion to enjoy sparkling wine. It is the most food friendly option available, pairing with every possible food, and delicious all on it's own. As you begin to dig your heals into 2011, I beg you to take sparkling wine with you on your travels more frequently! Why not make an easy night in with friends that much more enjoyable?

How often do you drink sparkling wine?

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TW Food does it again - wine dinner featuring the Jura region

I can't remember the last time I wrote a restaurant review. I do have a list of places on my 'to talk about' list, though; some of these spots are more remote or 'hole in the wall' than others and I selfishly find I like to keep these hidden gems to myself before I dig deep to overcome my personal/professional block and write about them. The good news for you, dear reader, is that when I do finally 'break down' and share my impressions of certain fine establishments around town, you know my writings are heartfelt.

Time and again my experiences at the somewhat off-the-beaten path TW Food restaurant in Cambridge are exceptional ones - so much so that it was the "Something New" gift card I imparted on two of my best friends earlier this fall as part 2 of  their wedding present (part 1 being "Something Old" - a gift card to the spot where they had their first official date). The recent special tasting of Jura wines with food pairings by the ever-meticulous head Chef/Owner Tim Wiechmann that I attended was no exception. A small, talented team (maybe just Tim, his attentive wife Bronwyn and their knowledgeable Sommelier Jillian Marini?) in a small, cozy/romantic space seems to be all you need to create an unusually thoughtful, unobtrusive experience for guests. An artisanal approach doesn't hurt either...

Jillian's personal wine curiosity means that TW doesn't just deliver an amazing gastronomic experience, but that you are in for a treat when you also opt for the wine pairing as part of their prefix menu. I don't think there is a more reasonably priced meal around town - let alone one that will allow you, already an 'explorer' by virtue of the fact that you sought out TW Food in it's Cambridge nook, to further discover several distinct parts of the wine world and delicious flavor combinations at one sitting.

TW is also committed to the local/seasonal movement. This means that their wine list, though small, packs a real punch and is always fine-tuned to work with the fare of the season. Right now they are rock'n a largely Jura wine selection. The Jura is a tiny, lesser explored wine region bordering Burgundy and Switzerland. Wines from these regions share a certain similarity with one another - but as I always find is the case in these parts, they have their own chutzpah and personality, too. In the Jura their focus is on lesser known varietals like Poulsard and Trousseau (reds), and Savagnin and Chardonnay (whites). It can get beastly cold there, so yes, it is right to guess the reds tend to have a levity or lighter-bodied quality to them. Minerality (terroir) cuts through and distinguishes the wines in a such a distinct way that I can only analogize to say, it reminds me of a chilly winter day when it smells like snow is coming -  you just know it to be what it is.

During dinner we enjoyed Peggy Buronfosse's Cremant Rose of Pinot Noir Brut (a lively, delicious, finely bubbled sparkler with raspberry and blueberry intonations) as well as her 2006 Savagnin/Chardonnay blend called "Les Belemnites, which reminded me of an aged Chablis for its richness, truffle tones and caramel nuttiness you can get from an aged wine. Stephane Tissot's old vine Poulsard (2007) reminded me of a Gamay/Pinot Noir blend - and was a fine match for the seared tuna at hand. Dessert need not have come for the tremendous Vin Jaune by Jacques Puffeney (1999) was treat enough for me; Vin Jaune is considered a specialty of the Jura and one not to miss when the occasion presents itself.

At last check, each of these wines is available right now at TW Food. They are certainly ones I consider "nerd wines" - perfect for the wine curious explorer. And 'tis the season for giving and indulging! Head over to TW Food and you won't be disappointed.

Have you had the pleasure of dining at TW Food? What is it that keeps you going back?

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Easter wine recs

Easter is a holiday that not everyone celebrates – nor in the same ways. Traditions are a bit more fluid somehow here in the United States. Maybe your family prefers a delicious Easter brunch after a morning visit to church and an Easter Egg Hunt for the kiddies. Maybe you do your own thing with your family in the morning, then visit with friends in the afternoon over a mid-afternoon dinner of baked ham or a leg of lamb. But one thing is certain: such a lack of specific tradition can cause some level of Easter week “panic.” Of course, there's no need to stress when a little advice is at the ready. Pop over to Wicked Local today to get some ideas for your celebration! Will wine have a place at your Easter table this year? What will you uncork?

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February Wicked Wines - just in time for Valentine's Day...

Whether you subscribe to the Valentine’s Day marketing machine or are just anxious for flowers to start popping up this spring, these February picks are sure to set your heart a’flutt’ah! But beware! Their versatility makes them great year round. Each of these is sure to transform your impression of what sparkling wines (and pink ones at that) are ALL about! Pop over to Wicked Local to see what I'm so excited about...

Which wine get credit as your first "Ah-Ha" rose moment?

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Bubbles, bubbles, bubbles! A quick guide to sparkling wine.

bubbly cork flyingChances are you’ve been tasting a bit of bubbly if you’ve been attending holiday wine tasting events or other parties around town. Sparkling wine comes in several different packages, but there are three main ones: Cava, Prosecco and Champagne – with domestic sparkling wines made in the style of French Champagne. There is literally something for every occasion! Pop on over to Wicked Local to get the inside scoop on all things bubbles - and then enjoy your holiday festivities. We'll see you after the New Year!

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The wine week in review

Jean Vesselle Grower Champagne RoseSome people hate holiday shopping. I, for one, love it. It's not the shopping part per se I like so much. It is the coming up with creative ideas to touch the hearts of the people in your life that's fun. I like giving more than receiving (though that has some perks, too). For those on a lower budget or who prefer the nod of something clever to something pricey, think about this idea (care of the New York Times) for the wine lover in your life.

For those on a much higher budget or those who prefer to give to charity, there are always holiday wine auctions. You too could be the lucky owner of something like a Doris Duke collectable: 1921 Ch. d'Yquem! For spirits lovers, there always unique finds like the 1788 Tour D'Argent Cognac. (LOL)

Better yet, for those on planet earth who like to be 100% absolutely convinced they've found THE perfect wine gift (or bottle to celebrate the New Year), don't forget about Saturday's 2nd Annual "Boisterous About Bubbles" Sparkling Wine Tasting at Ball Square Fine Wines in Somerville. Rumor has it not one, not two, not three, BUT FOUR tables will be uncorking several bottles of bubbly to delight you. Truly. If you don't know what Growers Champagne is (and why it is SO darn delicious) or are a little fuzzy on the finer points of sparkling wines from around the world, you MUST attend this soiree. This is a 1-of-a-Kind opportunity I give to you, reader. Tasting is believing. Don't miss out!

In all seriousness, which wine gift ideas are you toying with this holiday season?

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Wines for Thanksgiving!

Schloss Mulenhoff Dornfelder 07With only one weekend before Thanksgiving remaining, no doubt wine lovers throughout the country will be out and about buying wines for the big event. Indeed, it's up there as far as important wine events go! For your drinking (and reading) pleasure, it seemed prudent to round up a few of my favorite picks for the e-roster. Wheeee!!

REDS

2007 Schloss Muhlenhof Dornfelder - This bad boy comes in a 1L size. I hosted a small affair last weekend and it could have easily been the only wine I poured (it was gone WAY too quickly!) - offering great, concentrated red berry fruit flavors (cherries, raspberries) in a smooth, sultry package. Generally speaking, this grape (Dornfelder, that is) is a German red wine phenomenon for those who like a lot of fruit, a bit of "lift" and a welcome bit of earthy, mineral-driven nuance to their wines. No lie, Scholss Muhlenhof's is THE BEST I've ever encountered (so great is my love I'm tempted to buy a full case of the stuff to have on hand "just in case..." this winter). The extra glass the 1L size offers will NOT be wasted.  Only $15!

2006 Bethel Heights Eola-Amity Cuvee Pinot Noir -  A careful blend of 6 different vineyard sites, the  is a tremendous, mouth-filling example of Oregon Pinot Noir. Think of this wine as a smooth, deeply earthy Belgian truffle, filled with cherry and raspberry fruits. Truly a well-integrated, delicious wine worth the gentle splurge. (A winner destined for my own table.) About $31.

2007 Clos la Coutale Cahors - With the (worthy) Malbec craze stemming from the success of this grape in Argentina, many consumers forget Malbec is actually a French varietal. Many more do not know that arguably the best, single bottling Malbecs in France come from the Cahors region – and are labeled simply as such. This wine is  remarkably succulent, juicy and approachable. Enjoy black raspberry and blackberry flavors complemented with fresh strawberries! A touch of earthy rusticity makes this Malbec uniquely French. This one is a "bigger" wine than "traditional" Thanskgiving recommendations and would be a particularly good match for rosemary/garlic encrusted roast hen, or the like. About $17.

WHITES

Schoenheitz NV Edelzwicker - Edelzwicker means "noble blend". Indeed this wine includes as many as seven different varieties from Auxerrois to Sylvaner. The result is suprisingly coherent and delightfully flavorful. Well balanced, dry Alsatian goodness, this is another wine that comes in the 1 litre size bottle. About $15.

2006 Clos de Rochers Pinot Gris - While Alsace, France has long been the place for rich, but dry Pinot Gris, this Luxembourg beauty beats them at their own game. Ripe pears and yellow flowers abound on the nose and coat the palette while brisk minerality keeps things dry and balanced. This wine is absolutely worth the splurge – and certainly a great conversation topic if the family gets a bit unruly. (This one will also be on my own table!)  About $22.

2007 Anne Amie Cuvee A Mueller Thurgau -Leave it to the folks at well-known Anne Amie Vineyards to deliver an exceptional, if not lesser known, wine. The Cuvee A Mueller Thurgau’s tropical and floral aromas could very easily be bottled on their own and used by aroma therapists to rejuvenate clients. Pineapple, melon and white peach flavors comingle with a perky taste of fresh lemon juice. About $15.

SPARKLING FUN

Villa di Corlo NV Grasparossa Lambrusco - Versatile, slightly sparkling, fresh, fruity goodness. Lambrusco is pink - and the best are oh-so-dry. This is a wine for guests who deserve and enjoy a break from the norm. This particular offering shows ripe raspberry fruit backed by a coy minerality. Perfect simply when you want to dazzle without effort. About $17.

Poema NV Brut Cava - Today, if you look for it, exceptional Cava is available at a fraction of the price of Champagne. Case in point: the Poema makes drinking bubbly every day (or in a large party format) oh-so-easy and affordable! This is a fun and versatile bubbly with subtle flavors of peach, pear and warm, toasted bread. A bit of orange rind on the finish adds additional intrigue and nuance. Enjoy this one before, during or after your meal. About $11.

Which one of these is likely to grace your table? Is there another you have in mind for the big day??

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October's Wicked Wine Picks!

Oct 09 Wicked Wines - 3 of 4 shownOctober poses a cliche opportunity to pick truly wicked wines. But rather than picking “scary” (seriously out of the ordinary) wines for this month’s line up, we’ve gone a different route. October's wine picks reflect a greater need for something familiar and comforting in a climate-changing time. Better yet, they serve as an escape from the same-old-same, just in case you’ve gotten too set in your back to school routine or forgot to take a vacation over the summer. October is a month to mix it up! And so we have. Pop on over to Wicked Local today to see what fabulousness we've stirred up!

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