Tag Archives: sparkling wines

Gifts: A Book and a Bottle

15 Dec

The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil, Workman Publishing, $24.95 (paperback)

The holiday season is here in full force, which for many of us means it’s time to buy presents galore. While finding perfect gifts is the hard part of the season, this year there’s an easy choice for the wine lovers on your list: Karen MacNeil’s The Wine Bible has just been revised and updated.

MacNeil is a multi-award-winning, preeminent wine writer, educator and consultant.  e-RobertParker.com says, “No one combines style, knowledge, skill, passion and presentation better than Karen MacNeil.” And The Wine Bible is a classic that belongs in every wine library. Because it’s so comprehensive, I think it should be one of the first books in that library.

For one thing, it’s simply lots of fun. Not every book that’s 996 pages is. But this eminently browsable tome is chockablock with informative asides, tips, engaging anecdotes, definitions, glossaries, photos, maps, labels and recommended producers. It informs and, thanks in part to MacNeil’s colorful, dramatic writing, entertains.

I especially enjoy the many short, creative topics. For example, in her chapter on Burgundy, MacNeil includes sections titled “History, Monks, the Establishment of Terroir and the French Revolution”; “Where’s the Boeuf?”; and “The d’Or in Côte d’Or.” Other intriguing sections include “Sauerkraut, Skunks, and Sweaty Socks” and “Chateauneuf-du-Extraterrestrial.”

For this second edition (the first dates to 2001), MacNeil has tasted more than 10,000 wines and visited dozens of wine regions around the world.  Sections on the wines of China, Japan, Mexico and Slovenia are new. The history, food, wines, grapes and wineries of each region are, of course, covered. So are tasting wine, shopping for wine, choosing wine glasses, matching wine and food, cooking with wine, storing wine, and many other -ings. And much more.

Bottom Line: The Wine Bible makes wine almost as enjoyable to read about as it is to drink.

If you’re looking for a bubbly wine–a sparkling gift for many people–I recommend Lucien Albrecht’s Crémants d’Alsace–and so does MacNeil. She includes Albrecht in her “Alsace Wines to Know” section.

Romanus Albrecht started the winery in 1425, and over the centuries other Albrechts have been responsible for significant innovations and advancements. In 1971, for example, Lucien Albrecht helped gain Appellation d’origine Contrôlêe status for Crémant d’Alsace; he’s considered one of the founding fathers of this AOC regulated category.

Crémants d’Alsace are some of the best French sparkling wines from regions outside Champagne. Lucien Albrecht Crémants are especially well regarded by many. In 2004 they won an unprecedented four gold medals at the Crémant Wine Challenge tasting. French wine expert Jacqueline Friedrich calls Lucien Albrecht wines “excellent … on every level” in her book The Wines of France.

There are two versions–a white and a rosé (which I prefer):

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut (50% Pinot Blanc, 25% Pinot Gris and 25% Riesling): Fine and elegant bead (bubbles); light, delicate palate; crisp acidity. Well balanced, fruity finish.

Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé (100% Pinot Noir, the only red wine grape allowed in Alsace): Aromas and flavors of strawberry, rhubarb and cherry. Exuberant mousse (the sparkling effervescence of a wine). Crisp acidity. Creamy texture. Long finish.

The suggested retail price for both is $21.99, but I’ve seen them on winesearcher.com for as little as $15.

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

Ideal for Holiday Celebrations: The Loire’s Sparkling Wines and Cabernet Francs

7 Nov

By Sharon Kapnick

At some 630 miles, the Loire is France’s longest river, flowing through France’s most diverse wine region. It’s the region that sets international benchmarks for three important varieties–Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. While the French certainly appreciate Loire wines–they’re the most popular wines in restaurants in France–they don’t get the attention they deserve in the U.S.

Indeed the Loire is perhaps France’s most overlooked region here. That’s a shame because many Loire wines are delicious, especially food friendly and also offer excellent value (as wines from underappreciated regions do).

And, this time of year, its sparkling wines and Cabernet Francs are perfect for celebrations, Thanksgiving and other holiday meals.

The Loire Valley is France’s second-largest producer of sparkling wines, known as fines bulles. They come from six appellations: Anjou Mousseux, Crémant de Loire, Montlouis sur Loire, Saumur Brut, Touraine Mousseux and Vouvray. The méthode traditionelle, the same process used to make Champagne, is used. And there are other connections to Champagne: In 1811, Jean-Baptiste Ackermann, whose family owned a famed Champagne house, began making Saumur’s first sparkling wines. Over time other Loire sparkling wine houses came to be owned by Champagne producers. In fact, until the 1930s, Loire sparkling wines were usually called Champagne, even though they tend to be fruitier, less effervescent and are made from different grapes (although Chardonnay is often allowed).

Today Saumur, in the central Loire, produces almost as much wine as the other five appellations combined. Made mostly from Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, Saumur’s bubblies are generally fruity, fresh and aromatic. They’re among the most prestigious of the Loire. Sparkling Vouvrays, made only from Chenin Blanc, come in two styles: pétillant, or slightly sparkling, and mousseux, fully sparkling. These wines have good acidity due to the cool climate, fruity flavors from the Chenin Blanc grapes, and mineral qualities imparted from the soil. Some of the best sparkling wines are Crémants de Loire. In her excellent book A Wine and Food Guide to the Loire, Jacqueline Friedrich describes their “bead [as] elegant, the structure firm, the flavors subtle, the finish long and toasty.”

The Loire also offers lovely red wines. If you like Cabernet Sauvignon, which is best with red meats and too powerful to accompany most foods well, you will probably also like its lesser known relative, the more approachable Cabernet Franc. (Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc are thought to be Cabernet Sauvignon’s parents.) Many of the best come from Chinon, in the Touraine district.

Cabernet Franc is light- to medium-bodied, crisp, lively, fruitier and more aromatic than the weightier Cabernet Sauvignon. Its refreshing acidity and low tannins make it notably versatile. In addition to being a smart choice with salmon, chicken, duck, game birds, veal, pork, lamb, beef, game and sausage, Chinon reds complement vegetables well. They’re an excellent choice for barbecues as well as  a terrific choice for Thanksgiving because they can handle and enhance all the diverse flavors. Loire Cabernet Francs are made in two styles:  1) light, fruity wines best when served slightly chilled and drunk young and 2) medium-to-full-bodied, richer, more tannic wines that benefit from significant aging.

In her Loire book, Friedrich extols the virtues of the varietal: “Cabernet Franc is favored for its concentrated berry flavors, its supple texture, its finesse, its gentle tannins, and its lively acidity, all of which account for the fact that it charms when young and beguiles when aged.” The Wine Spectator calls Cabernet Franc one of the wine world’s greatest values. Add to that its remarkable food friendliness and its relatively low alcohol content, and you realize that Chinon’s Cabernet Francs are wines to get to know and to serve often.

RECOMMENDED SPARKLING WINES

Due to their fruit-acid balance, the Loire’s sparkling wines complement food very well. They are an excellent, less expensive alternative to Champagne.

Bouvet-Ladubay Signature Saumur Brut  NV (SRP* $13): Bouvet-Ladubay has been one of the best producers of the Loire’s sparkling wines since 1851. Today it buys grapes from some 100 growers. Aromas and flavors of citrus and toast. Light, crisp, well-balanced acidity.

Bouvet-Ladubay Saphir Saumur Brut 2009 (SRP $17): Aromas and flavors of white fruit, peach, flowers and honey. Creamy, smooth texture. Elegant. Crisp, clean finish. Full bodied, some minerality.

Château Moncontour Vouvray Tête de Cuvée Brut (SRP $20): The vineyard dates back to the 4th century and is one of the oldest in the region. Château Moncontour became the King’s property when Charles VII built it in the 15th century for his mistress Agnès Sorel.  Aromas and flavors of apples, citrus, almonds and minerals. Crisp acidity. Delicate mousse, light, elegant, charming.

Château Moncontour Cuvée Prédilection Brut 2009 (SRP $21): Moncontour’s best sparkling cuvée. Aromas and flavors of hazelnuts, fresh white and green fruit and a touch of toast. Lively acidity. Complex.

Other Producers to Look For: Ackerman-Laurance, Domaine des Baumard, Marc Brédif, Champalou, Gaudrelle, Gratien & Meyer, Domaine Huët, Langlois-Château, Monmousseau, Veuve Amiot

 
RECOMMENDED CHINON CABERNET FRANCS

Marie de Beauregard 2010 (SRP $20): From Guy Saget Estates, a family owned and managed Loire Valley winery, now in its 8th generation. Aromas and flavors of blueberry, blackberry, plum and sweet spices. Elegant, easy to drink, well balanced, silky tannins.

Justin Monmousseau 2009 (SRP $14): Better known for its sparkling wines, Monmousseau also offers several premium still wines. This very reasonably priced Chinon has aromas and flavors of red fruits and black cherries. Well-balanced fruit and tannins. Full bodied, earthy and spicy.

Charles Joguet Cuvée Terroir 2009 (SRP $20): The goal of this blend from several cuvées of the domaine is to show the harmony of Chinon’s terroirs. Aromas and flavors of black cherry, blackberry and plum. Some minerality. Fresh. Supple tannins. Vines average 30 years old. Consume when young.

Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses 2005 (SRP $22): Aromas and flavors of dark cherries, berries and cassis. Light bodied, silky tannins, elegant. Excellent mineral content. Good acidity. Vines approximately 50 years old.

Other Producers to Look For: Philippe Alliet, Bernard Baudry, Couly-Dutheil, Château de la Grille, Olga Raffault

*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 got samples of some of these wines and tried some at a tasting for members of the press.