Bubbles Galore in Champagne and Sparkling Wine

4 Jun

I’ve always loved bubbles. When I was young, like many other kids, I enjoyed playing with them in the bathtub, in my soda glass or in the backyard. Now that I’m older, I enjoy them in seltzer, Champagne and other sparkling wines. I even have an entertaining bubble screen saver on my computer. (I’d like to be able to say I never met a bubble I didn’t like, but the financial kind aren’t much fun.)

These days my favorite bubbles are the plentiful carbon-dioxide ones in all kinds of sparkling wines. I find their effervescence invigorating, refreshing and uplifting. They always improve my mood. But they’re not there just to cheer. Their presence plays an integral role in the wines: They affect mouth feel (tingly), look (vivacious) and taste (hopefully wonderful). They even affect the aroma, because they guide it toward the nose.

How many bubbles does it take to accomplish all this? Quite a few. Until recently, I thought there were 49 million in every bottle, as the Champagne Wines Information Bureau reported some time ago, citing the research of scientist Bill Lembeck.

Lembeck, simply put, determined how much carbon dioxide is in a standard 750-ml bottle of Champagne and divided it by the volume of an average bubble. With the help of a device called an optical comparator, he figured that out to be 4.2 millionths of a cubic inch.

But according to new research reported in the New York Times (“TAKE A NUMBER: One Million,” May 6), French physics professor Gérard Liger-Belair, author of Uncorked: The Science of Champagne, has determined that a 3.4 oz. glass of Champagne is blessed with some 1 million bubbles before it becomes flat in roughly 4 hours. (There are about 7.5 glasses this size in a 750-ml bottle, which translates to 7.5 million bubbles per bottle.)

There are, however, other estimates. Until recently Liger-Belair himself claimed that there were 15 million bubbles per glass. He later admitted that the formula he used to reach this conclusion was too simple. To arrive at his new estimate, he took additional factors into account (see below). The California Wine Institute’s website states that there are approximately 44 million bubbles in a bottle of sparkling wine/champagne. In The Wine Bible (2001), Karen MacNeil wrote that Champagne producer Bollinger has claimed there are some 56 million bubbles in a bottle of Champagne. According to Champagne expert Tom Stevenson’s Champagne &  Sparkling Wine Guide 2003, Moët & Chandon used a camera-based, computer-linked “artificial vision system” to record the release of bubbles and concluded that there are on average 250 million bubbles in a bottle of sparkling wine.

The calculation is complex, which explains the widely varying results. Many factors affect the number of bubbles–the concentration of the gas, the type of glass, the temperature of the wine and the room, the angle of the pour and the size of the bubbles among them. All must be taken into account.

So it seems this is another one of those mysteries that won’t soon be solved, unless, as my husband jokingly says, someone sits down and counts every bubble. In the meantime, I’ll just have to be content with knowing there are more than enough bubbles in these wines to make me very happy, pour myself another glass and leave it at that.

RECOMMENDED CHAMPAGNES AND SPARKLING WINES

Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Réserve Champagne NV (SRP $36*): Nicolas Feuillatte is currently the fourth best-selling Champagne brand in the U.S. Sales of it rose 12% here last year, considerably more than any of the other Top 5 brands.

This Brut Réserve comprises 20% Chardonnay (contributes elegance and finesse), 40% Pinot Noir (adds roundness and structure) and 40% Pinot Meunier (supplies fruit character). It has aromas and flavors of apple, pear, apricot and peach. It’s delicate, fresh, clean, lively, complex and well balanced–and an excellent value. It’s a good choice as an apertif and complements chicken, salmon, shellfish, sushi, cheese, fruit and dessert.

Barons de Rothschild Brut Rosé Champagne NV (SRP $150): The Barons de Rothschild have been making Bordeaux since the 1850s. Three arms of the family–from Château Lafite, Château Mouton and Château Clarke–recently teamed up to produce Champagne, which first arrived in the U.S. in 2011.

This elegant Champagne, 85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir, is fresh, vivacious, complex and well balanced, with aromas and flavors of raspberry, strawberry and citrus. Exuberant mousse –the bubbles are seemingly endless, even days after the bottle was first opened. Serve as an aperitif or with sushi, sashimi, tuna tartare, berry soup or fresh strawberries.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé NV (SRP $22): Crémants d’Alsace are the leading sparkling wine, after Champagne, on the French domestic market. The word crémant used to signify the least fizzy Champagnes. Today it indicates some of the best French sparkling wines made by the méthode traditionnelle (formerly called the méthode champenoise) from regions other than Champagne.

Albrecht’s Rosé Crémant is 100% Pinot Noir. It has aromas and flavors of strawberry and cherry, along with crisp acidity, a creamy texture and a long finish. Serve as an aperitif or with charcuterie and mild cheeses.

Veuve Ambal Cuvée Marie Ambal Crémant de Bourgogne Brut NV (SRP $25): Burgundy’s sparkling wines, called Crémants de Bourgogne, are also made using the méthode traditionelle. This Veuve Ambal uses the main Champagne grapes–Pinot Noir and Chardonnay–in equal proportions. It features floral and fruity aromas and flavors, especially of pink grapefruit, and toasty notes. It’s well balanced and full flavored. Serve as an aperitif.

Ferrari Brut Trento NV:  (SRP $25): Giulio Ferrari was the first viticulturist to bring Chardonnay vines to Italy in the early 1900s. In the years since, Ferrari has become one of Italy’s best sparkling wine producers. Its wines are made using the metodo classico, aka méthode traditionelle.

This elegant Brut, 100% Chardonnay, has aromas and flavors of apples, apricot, lemon and wild flowers. It’s fresh, clean and balanced. Serve as an aperitif or with seafood and other light dishes.

Valdo Brut Prosecco NV (SRP $14): 100% Glera. (Glera grapes used to be called Prosecco. Now only the wines themselves are.) According to IRI Infoscan, Valdo is the No. 1 Prosecco in Italy. This Valdo Brut is fruity, fresh, floral and versatile, with aromas and flavors of peach, apricot and pear. It, like other Proseccos, is made using the Charmat method, in which the secondary bubble-producing fermentation takes place in large stainless-steel tanks, not in bottles. This technique is especially appropriate for Prosecco because it preserves the wine’s fresh, fruity character. Serve as an aperitif or with appetizers, seafood and other light dishes.

Anna de Codorníu Brut Cava (SRP $15): The Codorníu winery, founded in 1551, is one of the largest producers of Cava, Spain’s popular sparkling wine. In 1659 the heiress of Codorníu, Anna, married winemaker Miquel Raventós, bringing together two important winegrowing families. In 1872 Cava pioneer Josep Raventós produced the first bottles of Spanish sparkling wine made by the méthode traditionelle. Anna de Codorníu, a tribute to the last descendant to carry the Codorníu surname, was launched in 1984. It was the first Cava to include Chardonnay.

This Cava, 70% Chardonnay and 30% Parellada, has aromas and flavors of tropical fruit, pineapple, citrus, peach, apple and lime. It’s well balanced, crisp and refreshing. Serve as an aperitif or with shellfish, white fish, sushi and sashimi.

Korbel Brut California Champagne NV (SRP $13): Korbel calls its sparkling wines Champagne, but since they’re not made in Champagne, many would not. They are, however, made using the same process as Champagne, the méthode traditionelle. And, in any event, many of Korbel’s bubblies, year after year, offer excellent value for very good sparkling wine.

This Brut is a blend of Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, French Colombard and Pinot Noir. It  has aromas and flavors of citrus, baked apple and raspberry and is crisp and refreshing. Pair it with oysters, smoked salmon, fried and salty foods, shellfish, sushi, egg dishes and roast poultry.

Korbel Brut Rosé California  Champagne NV (SRP $13): A blend of Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Gamay, Zinfandel and Chenin Blanc. Its aromas and flavors are mainly strawberry and black cherry. Flavorful, bright and aromatic. A versatile wine, it complements grilled and barbecued foods, tomato sauces, pizza, turkey, ham and creamy vegetable side dishes.

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of actual prices.

Note: I received samples of these wines.

Oregon’s Archery Summit Hits the Target

20 Mar

Christopher Mazepink,  winemaker and general manager at Archery Summit, isn’t the least bit fazed by Pinot Noir. Perhaps that’s because he went straight from graduate school at Oregon State University to making it. Instead of being intimidated by the famously persnickety grape, he’s excited by the challenges crafting topnotch Pinot Noir presents.

Mazepink quickly fell in love with the varietal. He especially relishes the winemaking process, the grapes’ diversity at different sites and Pinot Noir’s distinctive character. Pinot Noir has, he says, “more personality than any other grape…. It will never be formulaic…. You’ll never see the same vintage twice.”

Oregon’s Pinot Noirs are considered by many to offer the best of California and the best of Burgundy. Mazepink thinks that “people are chasing the Oregon style” for this reason. The wines combine the ripe fruit flavors of California Pinots with the minerality, freshness of fruit, and savory, spicy character of Burgundy wines. They’re generally good both when young and when aged five to eight years.

Much is done at Archery Summit as it is in Burgundy. Its caves are modeled after the subterranean cellars of the famed Côte d’Or. Mazepink uses Old World techniques–including wooden tanks, native yeasts and large percentages of whole clusters–as well as Pinot-centric technological innovations to craft his Pinot Noirs. He’s been known to occasionally stomp the grapes with his feet. (Some of the best Ports are still made this way.)

At Archery Summit, Mazepink makes six to eight Pinot Noirs each year. The grapes are grown in the AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) that he considers to be the Willamette Valley’s finest. “I firmly believe that the best wines in Oregon,” he says, “are made from the Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge AVAs,” where the winery’s six estate vineyards are located.

Archery Summit’s wines often receive high ratings. The Wine Spectator recently rated four of its 2011 vineyard-designated wines  (Archer’s Edge, Archery Summit, Arcus and Renegade Ridge) 90 or above. Mazepink, who started at Archery Summit in 2013, is used to receiving similar scores from Robert M. Parker’s Wine Advocate and other publications as well.

Mazepink thinks like you might. “I’m a consumer first,” he says. “Our wines are made to go with a wide range of food.” And that, says this food-and-wine lover, is just how it should be.

Premier Cuvée Willamette Valley Pinot Noir 2012 (SRP $54*): This wine is a blend of grapes from six vineyard estates in the Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge AVAs. Whereas its single vineyard wines are about the place, Archery Summit’s blends are about the style and the vintage, and the 2012 vintage was stellar. Aromas and flavors of blackberries and other dark fruits. A touch of cinnamon and star anise spice. Lush and layered. Sustainably farmed.

Vireton Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2012 (SRP $24): One of Mazepink’s mandates at Archery Summit is to raise the profile of its Pinot Gris, and this is the first nationally distributed white wine from the winery. It offers fresh fruit, fresh acidity and fresh minerality. Aromas and flavors of apple, lemon, lime, white peach and tropical fruit. Flinty minerality. Lively. Notable textural richness and residual flavor.

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of actual prices.

Hardys: Australia’s Wine Powerhouse

8 Jan

By Sharon Kapnick

Although it isn’t particularly well known in the U.S. these days, Hardys is the biggest-selling wine brand in the U.K. According to the 2013 Intangible Business Report, it’s also the most powerful Australian wine brand in the world and the second most powerful wine brand–only Gallo surpasses it–overall. (Intangible Business is a leading independent international brand valuation and strategy consultancy in the U.K.)

In addition to these high standings, Hardys winemakers have been praised by Australia’s leading wine critic and authority, James Halliday. In the Wine Atlas of Australia, he wrote, “Hardys has a dedicated and highly talented winemaking team which often seems to be one step ahead of the field.” He’s also lauded its “diverse portfolio of exceptional quality wines.”

Hardys obviously is a brand to explore. Its first vineyards were planted in 1854 by Thomas Hardy, whose goal was “to create wines that will be prized in the markets of the world.” Today the fifth generation of the Hardy family aims to do the same.

I recently had a chance to try several Hardys wines with chief winemaker Paul Lapsley. The popular Nottage Hill line is priced at just $13 SRP (suggested retail price). The 2012 Pinot Noir is outstanding, which is no mean feat.  (As Ray Isle writes in Food & Wine’s blog, “With Pinot, it’s tricky even getting ‘good’ and ‘affordable’ into the same bottle.”) With aromas and flavors of red and dark cherries, raspberries and herbal hints, it’s light, lovely and very food friendly. And it’s a great buy.

Another good value is the 2011 William Hardy Shiraz (SRP $17), one of the newly introduced William Hardy wines. It’s a blend of grapes from at least five regions. “Australians don’t hesitate to blend cross-region,” Lapsley said. “The goal is to make the best wine you can.”  With aromas and flavors of blueberry, dark cherry and plum, this Shiraz is soft, round, full bodied and complex, with balanced acidity.

Tintara’s 2010 McLaren Vale Shiraz (SRP $19) sticks to grapes from one region. It’s distinguished by flavors of dark red fruits, a silky round texture and a complex fruit character.

Eileen Hardy is the top tier, which aims to showcase the breadth and depth of Hardys wines. I tried the 2012 Chardonnay, which was elegant, well balanced and creamy. The 2013 Decanter Asia Wine Awards gave the 2010 Eileen Hardy Pinot Noir from Tasmania the International Trophy for Pinot Noir. (These wines are expected to reach the U.S. in the next year or so. Estimated prices are $90-$100.)

The wines range from eminently affordable to a bit of a splurge. Hardys offers something for everyone.

Grower Champagnes

10 Dec

By Sharon Kapnick

They don’t have familiar names like the Big Brands. But they do have lots of charm, personality and character. They are–ta-da!–grower Champagnes. Unlike the prestigious Champagnes with household names, they’re made in limited quantities using grapes from choice, small vineyards that are lavished with individual attention.

These handcrafted, artisan Champagnes aren’t meant to taste the same year after year. They’re created by small growers who prize “individually distinctive flavors,” writes importer Terry Theise. That’s partly why growers are now making wines of their own instead of just selling grapes to the Big Houses (aka the Grandes Marques) like Veuve Clicquot or Taittinger.

The growers like to capture the terroir--the unique flavors derived at specific parcels of land–that is often blended away by the Big Brands, which instead strive to maintain a consistent house style. They prefer to keep their wines original and are less bound by convention. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, for example, are the usual grapes used in Champagnes; but Moutard Père & Fils and L. Aubry Fils also use Pinot Blanc and/or the obscure grapes Fromenteau (aka Pinot Gris), Arbanne and Petit Meslier in some of their Champagnes. (These grapes were common in Champagne centuries ago; today these seven grapes are the only ones still allowed in Champagne.) Fleury Père & Fils has adopted organic and biodynamic growing methods, which it claims open “the soil and vines to cosmic influences.”

Grower Champagnes have been arriving on U.S. shores in discernible numbers since the mid-’90s. According to the Comité Champagne (CIVC), the trade association of independent Champagne producers and houses, the volume of grower Champagne shipments to the U.S. is, well, growing. In 2012 it comprised 4.2% of total volume, up from 3.8% in 2010 and 2011. They’ve caught on with sophisticated Champagne lovers in part because, as Theise writes, “it’s nicer to buy Champagne from families [rather] than from factories.”

Savvy sommeliers adore these Champagnes, which appear on many top restaurant wine lists. They bring cachet to the lists. Jacob Daugherty, sommelier at David Bouley’s cutting-edge kaiseki restaurant in New York City, said Brushstroke’s list sticks to  grower Champagnes. There’s not a Grande Marque to be found.  Paul Grieco, co-owner of the Terroir wine bars and Hearth restaurant in New York City, said, “The public’s thirst for uniquely great products allows the smaller estates to flourish. They add luster to the polished sheen the Champagne region already wears.”

All this is available at excellent prices, usually no more, and often less, than famous-label Champagnes. Daugherty said, for example, that the highly respected Vilmart grower Champagnes offer 90% of the quality of the famed Krug at one-fourth the price. Robert Rogness, co-owner of Wine Expo in Santa Monica, Calif., which carries an extensive line of grower Champagnes, also touts the good value of these wines. He said, “The best Champagnes cost much less than the most famous Champagnes because the price of fame is so high.”

To identify grower Champagnes, look for RM (récoltant-manipulant, or grower-producer) on the label. Other producers to seek out include Paul Bara, Henri Billiot , Gaston Chiquet, Egly-Ouriet, René Geoffroy, Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, Larmandier-Bernier, J. Lassalle,  Pierre Peters and Vilmart & Cie.

My Favorite Wine Book

19 Nov

If I could own only one book about wine, it would be What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea — Even Water — Based on Expert Advice from America’s Best Sommeliers by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page (Bullfinch Press; $35). It’s a treasure trove of wonderful ideas for food-and-wine pairing. Page and Dornenburg enjoy educating consumers and taking the fear out of wine-and food pairing. They do it brilliantly–clearly, comprehensively, enthusiastically. And, for What to Drink with What You Eat, they enlisted the advice of more than 70 other wine experts, including master sommeliers, chefs and others at some of the country’s best restaurants

The heart of the book is Chapter 5 (matching beverages to foods) and Chapter 6 (matching foods to beverages). Here you’ll find wines to complement hundreds of ingredients, cuisines, and dishes, practically anything you can think of: cassoulet, ceviche, chicken tikka masala, osso buco, ceviche, dim sum, steak tartare, French toast, sushi, sandwiches, more than 100 cheeses–even gefilte fish. Also included are matches for fast foods like pizza, McDonald’s Big Mac, even a Kit Kat candy bar, for which they suggest a blended African tea.

There’s an important chapter on the fundamental rules of food-and-wine pairing and lots of other helpful, interesting information, like “Wines to Have on Hand So You’re Ready for Any Occasion,” “If You Like This, You Might Also Like That” and “Desert Island Lists of Some of America’s Leading Beverage Experts.”

Bottom Line: With Page and Dornenburg as your guides, soon you’ll be thinking like a sommelier. What to Drink with What You Eat is a must-have book for anyone interested in the topic. It’s empowering and eminently browsable. And it makes a great holiday present–for yourself or for others who love food and wine.

Beyond Beer: The Best Wines to Accompany Chinese Food

2 Oct

By Sharon Kapnick

Years ago, my friends and I would invariably drink beer with Chinese food. While beer was, and remains, a fine partner with many Chinese dishes, we were learning to love wine. We were captivated by the whole new world of exciting bouquets and flavors. We just had to discover what wines went best with Chinese food.

So we did some research and some experimenting, and learned a thing or two. Because different people have different tastes, you’ll probably have to do some experimenting of your own. But here are some guidelines that will help:

GENERAL PRINCIPLES
When matching food with wine, there are several basic rules to keep in mind:

1) Similar foods and wines pair well. A delicate dish, for example, demands a delicate, light-bodied wine, and a hearty, rib-warming meal calls for a rich, powerful, full-bodied wine.
2) Contrasting foods and wines can also be good partners, although these matches are trickier.
3) Food and wine should complement, rather than overpower, each other. As wine importer Rudi Wiest likes to say, “Whatever’s on the plate is already dead. You don’t have to kill it again.” You don’t want a wine that will overwhelm a dish; you want one that will stand up to it.
4) Fiery dishes are best with wines that are low in tannins and alcohol, which fan the flames, and with off-dry (slightly sweet) and sweet wines, which tone them down.
5) In general, the lower the alcohol, the sweeter the wine.
6) If beer goes well with a dish, sparkling wine usually will too.
7) Here’s a rule of thumb: The milder the dish, the drier the wine; the spicier, the fruitier; the hotter, the sweeter.

There are other factors that should be taken into account, like cooking methods. Fried foods, for example, are great with sparkling wines because the bubbles cut through the richness. And then there’s seasonality: The wine you chose to accompany roast duck served on a cold winter’s day shouldn’t be the wine you pour with roast duck on a patio. Sauces, too, play a crucial role in deciding what wine to select, which is especially important in a cuisine like Chinese. In fact, as wine importer Terry Theise advises, you should “match the wine to the sauce, not to the meat. Orange-flavored beef calls for sweet Riesling, not Châteauneuf-du-Pape.”

TAO OF CHINESE MEALS
It’s also important to keep in mind two other distinctive things about Chinese food: 1) the frequent combinations of sweet, salty, sour and spicy flavors, which play a great part in determining which wines are appropriate, and 2) the wide array of vegetable, tofu, seafood, poultry, pork and beef dishes served at the same meal. Given all these factors, it may be tempting to raise your hands in surrender and say, “I’ll have a Tsing Tao.” But, in a way, all these considerations make the choice of wine easy: The best thing to do is to serve the most food-friendly wines.

SPARKLING WINES
And there are no more versatile wines than sparkling wines. One of their many virtues is that they can be served throughout the meal. While sparkling wine may not necessarily be the best wine for a particular dish, it’s usually at worst a good accompaniment–and often much more. Sparkling wine doesn’t have strong flavors or tannins that overwhelm food; its thousands of tiny bubbles do a stellar job of cleansing and refreshing the palate; and its acidity and fruit temper spicy heat in food. Sparkling wines are wonderful with Chinese food. (The Chinese themselves gravitate toward bubbles with meals, although bubbles of a different sort: They often mix carbonated drinks like 7-Up with wine, whiskey or brandy.) These days there are many excellent, inexpensive sparkling wines on the market.

If expense is not an issue or you are celebrating a special occasion, you might opt for Champagne. As importer Theise says, “Don’t forget Champagne! In fact, never forget Champagne.” (Actually, I personally would be likelier to forget my own name than to ever forget Champagne!) Champagnes and some sparkling wines come in several sweetness levels: Brut nature (aka Extra brut and Ultra brut): bone dry; Brut: no perceptible sweetness; Extra dry: slightly sweet; Sec: noticeable sweetness; Demi sec: very sweet; Doux: sweetest of all. (Brut is most common.)

ALSACE WINES
After sparkling wines, when eating Chinese, I turn to Alsace and its food friendly, aromatic white wines. Their fruity flavors and (generally) high acidity cool the palate and complement flavorful, spicy and sweet dishes. Their lack of oak is also a plus. “[Aromatic] white wines excel particularly with cuisines that are challenging for other wines,” especially those with some sweetness or hot spiciness, write Mary Ewing-Mulligan and Ed McCarthy in Wine Styles. “Alsace wines in general are great choices when the meal has you wondering what wines could possibly work.”

There are several Alsace wines to consider. Riesling is its outstandingly flexible star. (Actually many think it’s the greatest and most versatile of all white wines.) It’s an excellent choice when you want one wine to serve with many different dishes-–from seafood to fowl to meat. It can be fruity, flowery, sometimes minerally, usually crisp, often elegant. Pinot Blanc, sometimes called the poor man’s Chardonnay, is a light, crisp, fresh, lively, delicate, all-purpose wine. Pinot Gris is like Chardonnay in weight and texture. It’s dry, rich, round, opulent, powerful, complex, sometimes smoky, with lots of fruit flavors. While it has the acidity of a white wine, it’s full bodied and can often take the place of a red. Pinot Gris is an excellent choice with very flavorful dishes. Gewürztraminer is extremely expressive and exotic, highly aromatic, with scents of lychees, rose petals and honeysuckle. It’s full bodied and sometimes slightly sweet. For these reasons, it’s often recommended with spicy cuisines.

GERMAN RIESLINGS
Also at the top of the list as accompaniments to Chinese food are German Rieslings. Generally low in alcohol, they have high acidity, which makes them crisp, fresh, zesty and good with food. The sugar in them is balanced by acidity. They can handle the wide range of dishes served at Chinese meals. (Some pair Rieslings with game, like venison, pheasants and wild duck. Others recommend them with braised meat or steak.)

German Rieslings are made in several ripeness levels, which are indicated on the label. The most important styles for our purposes include: Kabinett-–light, delicate, refreshing wines from ripe grapes with a touch of sweetness; Spätlese–-fuller, more flavorful wines, characterized by high acidity and light sweetness, from grapes picked at least a week after normal ripeness; and Auslese–fuller, riper wines with significant sweetness, made from ripe and overripe grape clusters.

The Kabinetts favor subtly flavored, delicate dishes with light sauces. The Spätlese cut the heat of spicy foods and are also good with dishes with some sweetness. The Ausleses demand aggressively flavored dishes, including sweet-and-sour and orange-flavored sauces that benefit from wines with more residual sugar.

OTHER RIESLINGS
New York, Washington, Oregon, parts of California, Austria, Australia and New Zealand also produce very good Rieslings. This varietal has been regaining popularity as people learn how food friendly it is.

MORE GOOD OPTIONS
There are some other fine choices. Albariño is the floral, citrusy, sometimes minerally, usually dry white wine that the Spanish drink with all fish and seafood; you might try it with the same. Sauvignon Blanc has herbal elements that pair well with ginger and distinctive herbs like cilantro, aka Chinese parsley. It also complements fried appetizers and seafood well. Tangy, racy New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs come to mind first. Grüner Veltliner, Austria’s dry, high-acid white wine, can also be herbal, slightly vegetal, spicy or fruity, with mineral undertones. It’s appropriate with vegetable or shellfish dishes. Off-dry (slightly sweet) Chenin Blancs match well with moderately spicy Chinese food. Pinot Bianco is the Italian version of Pinot Blanc, and Pinot Grigio is the lighter Italian version of Pinot Gris. White Burgundies are elegant and complement elegant dishes. And then there’s Viognier, which the Wall Street Journal describes well: “At its best, Viognier can have the cleanliness of Riesling, the juiciness of Sauvignon Blanc and the orange-blossom charm of Muscat. It tends to taste of peaches, apricots and mango, and sometimes has a bit of weight.”

Rosé is another food friendly wine that takes to Chinese food. Jeff Morgan, author of Rosé and co-owner of SoloRosa, a rosé-only winery, writes, “Rosé is blessed with a fruit-driven, bright-edged core that blends well with the fiery, ripe fruit found in chiles. Refreshingly chilled, dry, pintk wine also cools down the palate.” He recommends it with many dishes, but especially with Szechuan cuisine. If you are a red-wine lover, I recommend Pinot Noir with Chinese duck and meat dishes. Some enjoy Beaujolais, Cabernet Franc, Zinfandel, Côtes-du-Rhône, Shiraz or Syrah, inexpensive red Bordeaux and Barbera.

I suggest you experiment and seek the guidance available at a good wine shop. Chances are, you’ll find many pairings that appeal to you. And if not, remember, there’s always Tsing Tao.

WINES PAIRED WITH REGIONS
Cantonese (some sweetness, not very spicy, sweet-and-sour, fermented black beans, soy sauce, salty): sparkling, Pinot Blanc (seafood), Riesling (seafood), Pinot Gris, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer (roasted meats and poultry), rosé

Szechuan (spicy, hot-and-sour sauces, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic): sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Moscato d’Asti, rosé, Beaujolais

Hunan (similar to Szechuan): sparkling, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Beaujolais

Shanghai (slightly sweet): Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer
SOME FOOD AND WINE COMBINATIONS TO TRY
spring rolls and egg rolls: sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, rosé
salt-and-pepper shrimp, salt-and-pepper squid: sparkling wine
barbecued spare ribs: sparkling wine, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Albariño, rosé
noodles with sesame sauce: Gewürztraminer
soup dumplings: sparkling wine
dim sum: sparkling wine, Riesling
deep-fried dishes: sparkling wine
Singapore-style noodles: Sauvignon blanc, rosé
shellfish dishes: sparkling wine, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Albariño
hot pepper prawns: sparkling wine, Viognier
lobster Cantonese: white Burgundy
lobster with ginger and scallion sauce: white Burgundy
chicken with cashew nuts: Gewürztraminer
stir-fry chicken and vegetables: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer
kung pao chicken: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Albariño
General Tso’s chicken: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Blanc, rosé
vegetable lo mein: Sauvignon Blanc
minced squab with hoisin: Zinfandel
sesame chicken (Pinot Grigio, Riesling),
moo shu chicken: sparkling wine, Pinot Noir
chicken chow mein: sparkling wine
Peking duck: Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Noir
tea-smoked duck: Pinot Noir
roast duck: Pinot Noir
sweet and sour pork: Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, rosé
moo shu pork: Chenin Blanc, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, rosé
twice-cooked pork: sparkling wine, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Albariño, Pinot Noir
Chinese beef dish at tasting: Pinot Gris
orange-flavor beef: Riesling

PRODUCERS TO RELY ON
Sparkling wines: Lucien Albrecht, Bouvet-Ladubay, Domaine Chandon, Codorníu, Cristalino, Chateau Frank, Freixenet, Gramona, Gruet, Korbel, Albert Mann, Marquis de la Tour, Larry Mawby, Mionetto, Château Moncontour, Monmousseau, François Montand, Raventós I Blanc, René Muré, Saint-Hilaire, Segura Viudas, Valdo, Veuve Ambal, Veuve du Vernay, Willm, Yarden, Zardetto

Champagne: Aubry, Henri Billiot, Bollinger, Chartogne-Taillet, Gaston Chiquet, Egly-Ouriet, Nicolas Feuillatte, René Geoffroy, Pierre Gimonnet, Gosset, Alfred Gratien, Charles Heidsieck, Henriot, Jacquesson, Krug, Jean Lallement, Larmandier-Bernier, J. Lassalle, Lanson, Laurent-Perrier, Moët & Chandon, Dom Perignon, Pierre Peters, Philipponnat, Louis Roederer,  Pol Roger, Moët & Chandon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, Vilmart & Cie

Alsace wines: Lucien Albrecht, Paul Blanck, Léon Boesch, Albert Boxler, Marcel Deiss, Helfrich, Hugel, Josmeyer, Marc Kreydenweiss, Kuentz-Bas, Albert Mann, René Muré, Ostertag, Stoeffler, Schofitt, Trimbach, Weinbach, Zind-Humbrecht

German Rieslings: Georg Breuer, J.J. Christoffel, Darting, Dönnhoff, J.u.H.A. Strub, Kerpen, Dr. Loosen, Meulenhof, Monchhof (Robert Eymael), Egon Müller, J.J. Prüm, Schaefer, Selbach-Oster, Two Princes, St.-Urbans-Hof, Von Schubert, Robert Weil, Zilliken

Other Rieslings: Chateau Ste. Michelle, Eroica, Chehalem, Covey Run, Dr. Konstantin Frank, Grosset, Heron Hill, Hogue, Lamoreaux Landing, Pacific Rim, Pikes, Poet’s Leap, Sheldrake Point, Swedish Hill, Villa Maria, Hermann J. Weimer

Pine Ridge Vineyards: Much Too Good to Miss

15 Sep

By Sharon Kapnick

The talented Michael Beaulac, general manager and winemaker at Pine Ridge Vineyards, has a way with a wide range of wines sold at a wide range of prices. His 2012 Chenin Blanc + Viognier at an SRP* of $14 and his 2009 Fortis at an SRP of $150 are both stunning. I could drink the Chenin Blanc + Viognier day after day after day. If I could afford it, I might do the same with the Fortis.

While Pine Ridge (pineridgevineyards.com) specializes in appellation-driven Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignons from the Stags Leap, Rutherford, Oakville, Carneros and Howell Mountain districts, it also makes Chardonnay, Rosé, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Port and a couple of red blends.

But the Chenin Blanc + Viognier is a revelation. (It’s so special, it even has its own website, pineridgecbv.com):

2012 Chenin Blanc + Viognier (80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Viognier): Pine Ridge’s Chenin Blanc + Viognier dates back to the early 1990s, when it started out as an experiment. Now the CB + V is one of its most popular wines. And it’s one of the most appealing wines I’ve come across in a long time. Pine Ridge’s website explains its appeal well: “This unique marriage of two varietals that would never share the same bottle in their native France unites the crisp, honeyed fruit of Chenin Blanc with the plush body, light floral aromas and juicy stone fruit notes of Viognier…” Wine guru  Robert M. Parker Jr. has been rating it 90 year after year. I’d rate it as “much, much too good to miss.”

It has aromas and flavors of honeydew, white peach, green plum, apple, grapefruit, pineapple and pear. It’s lush, lively, slightly off dry, well balanced and versatile-–not to mention unique and delicious.

But Pine Ridge is known for its Cabernet Sauvignons. Here are two from the excellent 2009 vintage for Cab lovers:

2009 Stags Leap District Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP: $85): Aromas and flavors of bing and dark cherries, raspberry, boysenberry and strawberry, with touches of briar, espresso spice, dried violets, caramel, baking spice and sugared cinnamon toast. Silky tannins. Excellent balance. Supple palate. Velvety finish.

2009 Fortis Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon: Fortis is the tête de cuvée from the vineyard blocks that are standouts regardless of appellation. This Fortis has flavors and aromas of cassis, black mission fig, blueberry, blackberry and raspberry, with hints of caramel, dried rose petal, vanilla, chocolate ganache, espresso bean, brown butter and toast. Creamy tannins. Rich. Complex. Full bodied. Smooth and lasting finish.

*Wines can usually be found for less–-sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of actual prices. And Pine Ridge has a wine club that offers the wines at discounted prices.

Note: I was sent samples of the red wines and had the white at lunch with the winemaker.

Wine Trends

10 Aug

This week the Wine Spectator ran an interesting story called “Forecasting Wine’s Future.” The author believes that the large Millennial generation (ages 21 to 34) will shape wine’s future.  While he doesn’t always support his thesis–and I hate to see older folks dismissed once more–the trends themselves are real.

What is clear to me is that Americans of all ages have become more sophisticated about wine. As they’ve become more confident, they’re making bolder, and sometimes wiser, decisions.

Here’s the link to the story (www.winespectator.com/webfeature/show/id/48776) and the main points:

1. Dry Rosés are no longer just a summer pleasure. Their popularity has soared, and they’re now turned to year-round.

My take: While Rosés scream summer–and Thanksgiving–to me, they’re lovely and extremely versatile no matter what the season. If you like them, by all means serve them year-round with appropriate dishes.

2. Sparkling wine has experienced phenomenal growth and is no longer only a special- occasion wine.

My take: As a sparkling wine lover, this brings me great joy. The wines are festive, versatile and lively, and many are reasonably priced. They turn every day into a special day.

In my experience, with the right stopper, sparkling wines often stay sparkling for days. A bottle doesn’t have to be finished in one fell swoop.

3. This young generation is buying more imported wine.

My take: Why not?

4. Americans are experimenting with more grape varieties.

My take: Again, why not? There are hundreds of varieties and blends to explore, and many delicious wines to discover.

5. Alternative packaging such as boxes, TetraPaks and other environmentally friendly containers are gaining ground.

My take: I’ve been writing about this trend for years. It’s great that wine lovers in the U.S. have become more environmentally conscious and that they’re catching up with the rest of the wine-drinking world. These containers also tend to be convenient–easier to use and carry than bottles. And I’m all for easy.

It’s comforting to know that at least where wine is concerned, the U.S. is heading in the right direction.

Grüner Veltliner: The Genius Grape

18 Jul

Interested in trying a white wine that’s a little different and a lot delicious? I suggest Grüner Veltliner, the flagship wine of Austria. An under-the-radar wine, it’s not nearly as well known as it deserves to be. That’s a pity, because it complements so many foods beautifully.

Sommeliers love Grüner Veltliner because, as importer Terry Theise has written, it “answered a food prayer…. It’s the wine that will partner all the foods you thought you’d never find a wine for … artichokes …, avocado, every manner of obstreperous veggie … a really peppery salad.” It’s ideal for vegetarians. And it’s lovely with lobster, shrimp, crab, scallops, sushi, caviar, fish, poultry, veal and pork. Of course, it also complements Austrian cuisine. Theise, who partners with Michael Skurnik Wines, calls it “the world’s most flexible dry white wine at table.” It’s certainly one of them.

What are Grüner Veltliners, a.k.a. GrüVes or G.V.s or Groovys, like? They’re aromatic, usually dry, usually light to medium bodied, crisp and fairly high in acid.  “If Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc had a baby, it would be Grüner Veltliner,” writes Theise. Austrian wine importer Monika Caha suggests that if you like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio, you’ll like Grüner Veltliner. Jodi Stern, manager of wine importer Winebow’s Austrian portfolio, believes that G.V.s combine qualities of Alsatian and Loire wines: They offer, she says, the “complexity, sensuality, depth and body of Alsace” and the “mineral, spark and loveliness of the Loire.”

Due to its unique character, Willi Klinger, managing director of the Austrian Wine Marketing Board, calls it the genius grape. Now, he may be biased, but he’s definitely onto something.

Some G.V.s are lively, simple, meant for everyday use and best drunk young; others are more complex and structured and age well. The price usually serves as a guide to which style the wine is.

Here are a couple of G.V.s to turn to regularly:

The Grooner 2012 (SRP* $12) is from the Forstreiter family, who’s been making wine in the Kremstal, along the banks of the Danube River, in the Niederösterreich region since 1868. They operate a small winery where grapes are hand harvested and  sustainable agriculture is favored.

Grooner, a Monika Caha selection, has aromas and flavors of green apples and citrus, with tropical fruit notes. It’s easy drinking, well balanced, fresh, dry, zippy, with good acidity. Grooner is a great aperitif, an ideal summertime wine. It’s recommended to accompany oysters, fried chicken, crisp pork belly, pizza, sushi, spicy cuisines from Korean to Indian, barbecue, salads, veggies and more. And it’s topped with a convenient screw cap.

Berger Grüner Veltliner 2012 (SRP $14; 1 Liter) also hails from the Kremstal subregion in Niederösterreich, the largest of Austria’s four major wine-growing areas. It represents roughly 60% of all Austria’s vineyard plantings, and produces mostly white wines.

Berger is a  perennial favorite. It’s the best-selling wine in Theise’s Austrian portfolio. It’s light, fruity, juicy, fresh, crisp and zingy, with some lime, some pear, some mineral notes. And it’s crowned with, well, a convenient crown cap.

*Wines can usually be found for less–sometimes considerably less–than the SRP (suggested retail price). Check out wine-searcher.com to get an idea of actual prices.

Franciscan Estate’s Delicious White Wines

25 Jun

I recently enjoyed two lovely white wines when lunching with Janet Myers, the very talented director of winemaking at the venerable Napa Valley Franciscan Estate winery. Because they were so good, I requested a sample of a third, and it too was a hit.  I loved all three wines. I hope you too get a chance to enjoy them.

Equilibrium White Blend Napa Valley 2012 (SRP $23): Franciscan explains that the name means “to come together in a state of harmonious balance.” Crafted by experts in blending, this wine does just that. The unique mix of Sauvignon Blanc (72%), Chardonnay (17%) and Muscat (11%) swept me off my feet. As in any admirable combination, the grapes bring out the best in one another.

The wine has aromas and flavors of white peach, nectarine, pear, melon, passion fruit, guava and citrus, as well as floral notes of honeysuckle and jasmine. It’s fruit forward. Crisp. It has a full, round body on the palate. Try it with spicy barbecue and Thai and other Asian cuisines.

Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2012 (SRP $17): Franciscan says, “We took this wine on a little trip–the Loire meets New Zealand by way of Napa Valley.” They source grapes from a few Napa Valley sub-appellations and use a few small-lot winemaking techniques. Fruit from vineyards characterized by a mineral quality receive low, cold fermentation in tank to highlight the purity and minerality, as is done in the Loire. Berries from vineyards that produce rich, expressive fruit are treated to a New Zealand technique: giving the must 6 to 8 hours of skin contact. The resulting wine combines the best of three countries. It’s delicious, with aromas and flavors of lime, grapefruit, honeydew and green apple. Some citrus and tropical fruit.  Complex and vibrant. Long mineral finish.

Cuvée Sauvage Chardonnay Napa Valley 2011 (SRP $40): In 1987 Franciscan was the first Napa Valley winery to make a 100% wild-yeast-fermented Chardonnay. The yeasts found on the grape skins carry out the fermentation. (The more common procedure is to inoculate the juice with commercial yeasts.) Each yeast contributes its own character to the wine, creating layers of complexity. In a kind of domino effect, as one strain slows, another starts. It’s a risky and unpredictable procedure that’s a Burgundian tradition, but many in California considered it too unpredictable to be attempted there. It requires winemaker expertise, constant attention to each barrel, a bit of praying and perhaps even a touch of luck.

Aromas and flavors of apple, pear, crème brûlée, honeysuckle and citrus. Full bodied. Elegant and sophisticated. Well balanced. Creamy flavors, crisp acidity, foundation of minerality. A beautiful wine.

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