While some of us insist that Champagne is an everyday wine, majority treat it as a “special occasion” only. Of course, every day with the name ending in “day” is worthy of a special celebration, but jokes aside, most of us need a good reason to pop the cork on that tickling, gently foaming, playful and refreshing nectar.
Lucky for all “special occasion” folks, one such special occasion is almost upon us. What can accentuate “love and romance” better than a glass of bubbly? Yes, bring the Champagne as Valentine’s Day is only a week away!
To help you celebrate and maybe even answer a question or two which I’m sure you always had, I [virtually] sat down together with A.J. Ojeda-Pons, sommelier at The Lambs Club, one of the popular New York restaurants by the Food Network’s best-dressed star and Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian. I need to mention that in addition to being a WSET Advanced Sommelier, A.J. knows a thing or two about style – in 2014, he was the official winner of the U.S. Best Dressed Somm contest by Penfolds and GQ Magazine. And the Champagne? Just take a look at the A.J.’s LinkedIn profile, which says “Drink Champagne Every Day”!
Here is what transpired in our conversation:
[TaV]: Champagne is perfectly appropriate for any celebration, however, it is most often associated with Valentine’s Day – well, after the New Year, of course. When celebrating Valentine’s Day, would you recommend Champagne as the one and only choice of dinner wine, or would you use it just as an opener and then continue with whites and reds?
[A.J.]: Ah! My motto is “Drink Champagne Every Day,” so I often have a whole meal drinking just Champagne. Besides, drinking champagne before a meal is the most civilized thing you could do.
I know that it may be hard for some people to drink bubbles throughout a meal, but if you tailor your menu choices with the champagne that you are drinking, you can have an amazing experience (Think Crudos, Oysters, Fish or Seafood Tartare, Veal, Rabbit or Fish and avoiding red sauces or rich, creamy preparations). Otherwise, if you can’t commit, plan to drink the Champagne for at least half of the dinner and then switch for your main courses. In regards to desserts, champagne could sometimes be a total clash (due to its crispness and acidity) but a nice sorbet or fruit-based dessert will do.
[TaV]: To continue the previous question, just in case you suggested to stay with Champagne all the way, can you make some recommendations for different Champagne or Sparkling wines to complement a three course meal, including dessert? I’m talking not so much about particular producer names, but more about the styles and types of the sparkling wines.
[A.J.]: I like to drink a champagne that has more complexity throughout a full meal, so in that case I would go straight to a vintage champagne, even though it is always more expensive. You will benefit from the extended period of aging, it will have more nuanced layers and complex flavors, and will make it easy to pair with different flavors in various dishes.
[TaV]: Now, let’s actually talk about names. Splitting into three price categories – under $20, $20 to $60 and my favorite, “the sky is the limit”, what are the special Champagne and sparkling wines would you recommend to our readers in each price category?
[A.J.]: For the under $20 category, you won’t find any champagne in the market, unless it is a half bottle, but for that price point you are better off selecting other sparkling wines that are made in the méthode Champenoise. There are not a lot out there, if you can find them, because generally they are not exported or their production is very limited.
For example, from Italy you could try to get Franciacorta from the Lombardy region, from producers like Berlucchi, Il Mosnel or Mirabella. From the Veneto, you could try Il Buglioni spumante, and don’t forget that the Dolomites produce great sparkling, like Castel Noarna and Endrizzi. In Spain you can find great Cava from producers like Gramona, Mestres and Naveran.
If you are really in love with French sparkling, Crémant de [Bourgogne] (Veuve Ambal, Clotilde Davenne), [Jura] (Domaine de la Renardière, Rolet Père & Fils) [Alsace] (Albert Mann, Pierre Sparr or [Limoux] (Tocques et Clochers, Paul Mas) is your answer.
In the $20-60 sweet spot, you’re going to have the majority of Champagne options, from producers like Benoit Lahaye, Laurent Perrier, Dhondt-Grellet, Andre Clouet, Ayala, Billecart-Salmon, Aubry, Deutz, Henriot… open the floodgates!
Sky is the limit… yes, always! Find the Tête de Cuvées from Billecart-Salmon (Le Clos Saint-Hilaire), Pol Roger (Sir Winston Churchill), Charles Heidsieck (Blanc de Millenaires), Krug (Clos de Mesnil) and of course, Moët & Chandon (Cuvée Dom Pérignon).
[TaV]: What do you think of Grower’s Champagne? It is often hard to find, and if you can find it, it usually comes with very little information – is Grower’s Champagne worth seeking?
[A.J.]: Grower Champagne is by far my favorite type of champagne. Yes, they are hard to find at some stores but you can actually purchase quite a few online, if your state allows. Think about it, they ?own the land, they farm it, quite often respecting nature to the T, they produce and sell their own champagne, they don’t sell the fruit to big houses or mass producers. I stock on these a lot.
There are many styles to look forward to and many small producers that just are thrilled to share their farmer love in the language of a great bottle of champagne.
[TaV]: Over the past few years I had a number of delicious encounters with so-called Pét Nat sparkling wines – what do you think of them? Is this a fad, or will we see more of them? Do you offer Pét Nat at your restaurant?
[A.J.]: These are fun and can be quirky, but really excellent options to explore. I don’t think they are a fad, but you will see them more often in natural wine bars. They’re versatile with food, I must say.
We carry a couple at The Lambs Club and we offer on-and-off a choice by the glass depending on the season. I like them a lot. They are approachable, easy drinking and they also have a variety of styles from different countries. My favorite from California: Birichino, New York State: Channing Daughters, and from France: Chahut et Prodigues and Taille aux Loups!
[TaV]: In your opinion, what is the ideal vessel to serve the Champagne in? Is it the ever so popular flute, or should we rather serve and drink Champagne from the standard white wine glasses?
[A.J.]: Avoid flutes like the Black Plague. They are indeed obsolete, although they are alright for Prosecco. A regular white wine glass will be much better and, in fact, many crystal/glass makers have completely changed the shape of flutes to more white wine glass-shaped. You will be able to experience a lot more of the aromas of the champagne. Great champagne deserves a great glass. I prefer larger Burgundy or Bordeaux glasses for Vintage champagne.
[TaV]: What are your most favorite Champagne producers, if you have any?
[A.J.]: I have so many that I will need an extra page (back to my motto and hashtag, #DrinkChampagneEveryDay) but, here’s a few: Dhondt-Grellet, Billecart-Salmon, Agrapart, Savart, Tarlant, Robert Moncuit, Delamotte, Krug, Guillaume Sergent, Pierre Moncuit, Besserat de Bellefon…
[TaV]: Can you share your most mesmerizing Champagne experience, or most memorable Champagne bottle you ever had?
[A.J.]: It was a Heidsieck Monopole 1945. I was working a collector’s dinner and they had brought so many incredibly old vintage champagnes, but this one was my eye opener. All I could think about was ‘drinking this back then when the war finally ended.’ Seriously.
[TaV]: Last question – do you have a favorite Champagne quote? You know, like the famous [supposedly] Napoleon’s quote “Champagne! In victory one deserves it, in defeat one needs it” – do you have one (or more) which you like the most?
[A.J.]: Yes!!! Always a current quote from the poet Paul Claudel: “In the little moment that remains to us between the crisis and the catastrophe, we may as well drink a glass of champagne.”
There you have it, my friends. Hope you will find our conversation interesting, but most importantly – you don’t have to wait for the Valentine’s Day to get some fizz on. Pop that cork already, will you? Cheers!
Today, class, we will be talking about things obscure. Yes, things obscure, but not in the whole entire world, of course, but in the world of wine.
In your opinion, if we use the word “obscure” in conjunction with the word “wine”, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? For starters, let’s think about the meaning of the word itself. Here is how New Oxford American Dictionary defines “obscure”:
Now that we are clear on the meaning, let’s go back to our original question: “obscure + wine” – is it good or bad?
Reading wine’s description, have you ever come across the words “obscure grapes”? I’m not talking about the stuff you read on the back label, as there you will rather find the words “indigenous grapes”, “traditional grapes”, or maybe, “local grapes”. But if are reading blogs, or any of the “peer reviews”, I’m sure you’ve encountered the “obscure grapes”. I get it – “obscure” often implies that we got something to hide in a bad way – but not in this case. Referring to the definition we just saw, “obscure” here simply means “not discovered or known about”. Need examples? How about Trepat, Bobal, Gros Manseng, Khikhvi – heard of those grapes?
My favorite part is that obscure often translates into pleasure – lots of pleasure for the oenophile. Unlike most of the other food and drinks humans consume, wine taste is largely perceived. We have expectations for how Cabernet Sauvignon or Chardonnay should taste, and when we don’t find that taste while drinking one of the “well known” wines, we often get disappointed. But when presented with the “obscure bottle”, all those preconceived notions are largely thrown out of the window, and we take wine for what it actually is – which gives us a great chance to enjoy something we wouldn’t otherwise.
It is not only wine drinkers who get more pleasure from the obscure grapes – when using those little-known grapes, winemakers are also not bound by any “customer expectations”, which gives them more freedom to express themselves. From the personal experience, I found that more often than not, I truly enjoy those obscure wines, and quite honestly, I like hunting down those unknown wines and grapes because of the pure mystery in the glass.
By the same token, lesser known wine regions (read: obscure) have the same advantage for both oenophiles and winemakers. What do you expect when you see Czech Republic, Georgian Republic, Mallorca or Valle d’Aosta written on the bottle? Most likely, you wouldn’t know what to expect, and thus you would take the wine for what it is. However, when you drink Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or Spanish Rioja, you have a set of expectations in your head, and you always are ready to say “ahh, this doesn’t taste anything like Napa Cab”. Presented with the Czech Pinot Noir or Chinese Cabernet Sauvignon, you have no choice but to try it and decide whether you like it or not. Same as in the case of the obscure grapes, winemakers get an opportunity to freely create without the need to comply with a given set of expectations.
What we need to keep in mind though that the concept of “obscure” is very personal. For someone who lives in the Republic of Georgia, Georgian wines are very far from obscure. For someone who grew up in Conca de Barberà region in Catalonia in Spain, Trepat might be a perfectly familiar grape. But looking at the big picture, all of us, wine lovers, have our own, personal obscure territories – and this is where we might discover great pleasure. What makes it even more interesting is that the more we learn about the wine world, the more we understand how still little we know. And so we can keep on that road, shedding the light on obscure and making it (if we are lucky) dear and familiar, one discovery at a time.
I wish you all, oenophiles, lots of pleasant encounters with obscure sides of the wine world – as this is where the pleasure is hiding. Cheers!
This post is an entry for the 27th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC30), with the theme of “Obscure”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude, Bubbles, Smile, Winestory
Yeah, I know – it’s been more than two weeks since Thanksgiving… Well, okay – let’s still talk about it.
I gave you some ideas about the Thanksgiving wines and food with my earlier post, so let me just start with the “prep” picture again:
All the birds you see in this picture were converted into a Turducken – chicken inside the duck inside the turkey, all fully deboned except the legs and wings of the turkey. The dish was conceived in the 1980s in the South, popularized around the country in the mid-1990s, and now freely available for order most everywhere (or at least this is my impression).
Deboning takes a bit of a skill, but nothing impossible. There are different schools of thoughts as to how to assemble the birds and what to put between the layers – I used two different types of sausages – you can see them in the picture above. Overall, I tried to follow the recipe on Serious Eats, which is one of the very best “turducken how to” instructions you can find – “tried” is the best way to put it, as I made a few essential mistakes (not cooking the chicken fully first), which led to slightly overcooked dish – nevertheless, it was very tasty, and I would gladly do it again, despite the need to put in the work. Here are my “step-by-step” pictures, from the deboned chicken to the final dish:
There was plenty of other dishes at the table, but turducken was a star.
Now, let’s talk wine. As you can imagine, Thanksgiving gathering is a not the right place to take detailed notes on the wines. Therefore, I’m sharing here my general impressions.
The day before Thanksgiving the Fall shipment arrived from Field Recordings, and the first bottle which caught my attention was a California Pét Nat:
Pét Nat is a short for Pétillant-naturel, a sparkling wine made with méthode ancestrale, when the wine is bottled before the first fermentatoin is finished – very different from traditional méthode champenoise, where the sparkling wine is made with secondary fermentation in the bottle, done with addition of yeast and sugar. Pét Nat are typically fresh, unfiltered and unpredictable, which makes them even more fun than traditional Champagne. This 2016 Field Recordings Pét Nat Arroyo Grande Valley (100% Chardonnay) was delicious – fresh, creamy, with aromas of toasty bread and fresh apples – an outstanding rendition of Chardonnay.
This wine was the only deviation from Lodi. Our next wine was 2015 LangeTwins Estate Grown Sangiovese Rosé Lodi (12% ABV). While cold, it was crisp and loaded with cranberries, perfectly delicate, without any excess of sugar. As it warmed up, the strawberries took over, mellowing the wine out and making it slightly bigger in the body – and delicious in a whole new way. In a word, a treat.
I can’t describe 2013 Borra Vineyards Heritage Field Blend Lodi (14.5% ABV, 70% Barbera, 10% Carignane, 10% Petite Sirah, 10% Alicante Bouschet) with any other word but riot – tar, tobacco, roasted meat, herbs, dark, muscular, yet round – unique, different and irresistible – the bottle was gone in no time.
2013 Bokisch Vineyards Graciano Lodi (14.5% ABV) was yet another treat – bright, clean, with a good amount of red fruit, herbal underpinning and firm structure. I’m very particular to Spanish grape varietals, and this Graciano rendition was definitely a world class, reminiscent of the best classic versions of the same from Rioja.
NV Lucas Late Harvest Zinfandel Lodi (15.8% ABV) happened to be an enigma. When I tasted the wine at the winery, the wine was mind boggling – rich, concentrated, and perfectly balanced. This wine is quite unique as it is made using the appasimento process, with the grapes partially dried under the sun for a few weeks to concentrate the flavor, before pressing. The bottle which I brought home, was a poor relative of the one I had at the winery – it was not bad, but was completely lacking the opulence and depth of the one I had at the winery. Oh well – this is still one of the pleasures of the wine drinking – you never know what you will find in the bottle.
That essentially concludes the report from our main Thanksgiving celebration. Next day, however, we left to see our close friends in Boston, and at their house, we had two unique wine encounters. One was 1993 (!) Nissley Fantasy Sweet Rosé Wine Lancaster County Pennsylvania (made out of Concord grape). The expectation was that the wine already turned into a vinegar, but instead, we found a port-like wine, with lots of sweetness and also some acidity, so well drinkable overall.
The last surprise was 2006 Yellow Tail Reserve Shiraz Australia (14% ABV), which was still well drinkable, with good concentrated dark fruit, touch of spices, good balance and full body. Well-drinkable 10-years old red wine shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone – but this was actively ridiculed by all the aficionados “creature label” wine, which is not expected to last that long. The bottom line – this wine still delivered lots of pleasure.
Now we are fully done here – this is the story of my Thanksgiving celebration. Did you have any memorable wines this last Thanksgiving? Any unique and interesting dishes? I would love to know. Cheers!
More than 3 years ago, an interesting tradition was born in the world of wine blogging (a brainchild of The Drunken Cyclist, with the help of the supporting cast of characters) – the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge. Every month or so, wine bloggers en mass subject themselves to the masochistic practice of taking a random word and creating a soulful connection from that word to the beloved world of wine – all of it on a tight deadline.
Writing a post for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (MWWC for short), I always want to put out a regular post, and then at the end, simply state “and by the way, this was written for the MWWC, ha”- just to show how easy it was. Of course, this practically never happens – like today, with the theme of our epistolary exercise been “Bubbles“, and my writing taking place during the very last hour (sigh).
When oenophile hears the word “bubbles”, the first reaction it triggers is “Champagne!”. It gives us such a pleasure to write about the world of “Sparklers” – the ingenuity of Dom Perignon, the resourcefulness of Widow Cliquot, the battles of I-was-the-first-to-make-my-wine-sparkle.
There are many other connections of the bubbles to the world of wines – think about bubbles you see on the surface of the juice during fermentation – those are some bubbles! Or think about simple, tiny bubbles of oxygen, making it through the cork and allowing the wines to age gently and gracefully – these bubbles are critical. And then there are maybe bubble issues for the wine collectors? Will that price of DRC or Petrus ever come down?
Yes, I will take my own, different course, and will not write about Champagne or Sparkling wines. For sure.
Do you believe me? Who said “no”? How did you guess?
Banal or not, but I have a good reason to write about sparkling wines – Prosecco, to be more precise. A few weeks ago, I was offered to review some Prosecco wines. At first, my reaction was “I’ll pass”. But reading the email more carefully, my interest piqued. I always thought of Prosecco wines made from 100% of grape called Glera (yes, there are few exceptions, like Bisol, but just a few). These three Prosecco wines were all blended – Processo DOC rules allow up to 15% of other grapes in the blend – and the blends were all unusual, so the intrigued brain said “why not”?
As we are talking about Prosecco, I need to share some fun facts with you – who doesn’t like statistics, right?
French Sparkling wine and then Champagne had been around for a bit less than 500 years. Prosecco’s history is only a bit longer than 100 years, and only in 1989 (27 years ago!) Prosecco made it for real outside of the Italy (here is the link to my post about it, in case you are interested in history). However, according to Nielsen report, Prosecco sales in US in 2015 grew by 36% (Champagne – 8%). In 2015, Italy produced its largest Prosecco crop ever with 467 million bottles – that is triple of only 7 years ago; out of this amount, 48 million bottles were exported to the US – and still US is only #3 importer of Prosecco behind UK and Germany.
Moving right along, let me decipher a cryptic title of this post for you (not that you cared much, right?).
Zonin family got into the wine business in 1821, almost 200 years ago. Now in the 7th generation, the family manages about 5,000 acres of vineyards, mostly in Italy. Zonin had been making Prosecco for the very long time, but considering the ever growing interest, they decided to offer a new line of Prosecco wines, called “Dress Code”, suitable for different mood and a company. The “Dress Code” colors include white, grey and black, so you can wear a different color every day. Of course, these are only colors of the bottles, nobody added squid ink to the wines… yet? Hmmm, note to self…
Here are the notes for the wines I tasted:
Zonin Prosecco White Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 91% Glera and 9% Pinot Bianco cuvée): simple overall. On the nose, touch of white fruit. Good creaminess on the palate, touch of white fruit, very restrained, good acidity, but again, overall is a very muted expression. 7/7+, Decent everyday glass of bubbly.
Zonin Prosecco Grey Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 87% Glera and 13% Pinot Grigio cuvée): white stone fruit on the nose, white flowers. Palate: light, creamy, effervescent, refreshing, distant hint of sweetness, round, good acidity. 8-, nice upgrade from the “white”.
Zonin Prosecco Black Edition Prosecco DOC (11% ABV, SRP $16.90, 90% Glera and 10% Pinot Noir cuvée): promising touch of fruit with lemon and rocky minerality on the nose. Perfect acidity, elegance, finesse on the palate, touch of white stone fruit, lime and noticeable nutmeg. Most elegant out of three, a “little black dress” if you will. 8/8+, one of the most elegant Prosecco I ever had.
So, what color are your bubbles? My favorite was black. Cheers!
This post is an entry for the 27th Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC27), with the theme of “Bubbles”. Previous themes in the order of appearance were: Transportation, Trouble, Possession, Oops, Feast, Mystery, Devotion, Luck, Fear, Value, Friend, Local, Serendipity, Tradition, Success, Finish, Epiphany, Crisis, Choice, Variety, Pairing, Second Chance, New, Pleasure, Travel, Solitude
One of my favorite ways to start a conversation is to ask a trivia question, so here it is. We all take Prosecco for granted – if one wants to casually have a glass of wine with bubbles, Prosecco would handily beat any other sparkling wine as a top choice, no matter where in the world you are. Now, for the trivia part: do you know when Prosecco first appeared in London? I will give you few moments to ponder that question. Meanwhile, few basic facts: Prosecco hails from the hills of Veneto, where wines (still wines, it is) were produced for more than 500 years; Charmat-Martinotti method, used in the production of Prosecco, with the secondary fermentation taking place in a steel tank instead of the bottle (“secondary fermentation” is what produces those adorable bubbles), was first created in 1895. So when do you think Prosecco showed up in London?
The answer: 1989. And all due to the tenacity and passion. Bisol family had been producing the wine in Veneto for more than 20 generations (yes, I do call this a passion). When Gianluca Bisol approached his father and said that he wants to bring Prosecco to London, the father’s response was very quick (cue in Italian pronunciation and emotional hand gestures): “you are crazy!”. That didn’t stop Gianluca, and to London off he went. It appears that his father was almost right – selling unknown sparkling wine, door to door, in the downturn economic times, was not going swimmingly well, by any measure. Until a lucky coincidence (well, people would call it “luck”, but we all know that luck usually works best after applying lots and lots of hard, dedicated effort), when at one of the best restaurants in London, Gianluca met wine director who was not only Italian, but also born and raised in the same Veneto region, and was extremely happy to see his beloved Prosecco. As they like to say it in the books, the rest was history. Today, Prosecco outsells Champagne in UK 3 to 1. And annual production of Prosecco hit 540 million bottles in 2015. Just to finish with historical references, Prosecco made it to the US in 1992/1993 (in case you are wondering).
I had a pleasure of meeting Gianluca Bisol at lunch at Marta restaurant in the New York City, and we spend two hours talking, tasting wines and of course, eating tasty food (detailed account follows). This is where I heard the story of Prosecco concurring the UK, as well as many other interesting facts which all together can be summarized in one single word – passion. Passion for the land, vines and wines. Passion for the whole Veneto region. Passion for the traditions which are more than 20 generations strong. But also a passion for the not stopping, for continuing to innovate and to create – new wines and also new wineries.
Our tasting included 7 different wines, out of which 4 were Bisol wines, but 3 were from the winery called Maeli Colli Euganei, the winery which Gianluca helped to start in 2010. Actually the plan was that at the lunch, Gianluca will be joined by Elisa Dilavanzo, the owner of Maeli winery – unfortunately, Elisa got sick and had to stay behind, so Gianluca had a duty of representing both wineries – which he completed with flying honors, as you can imagine.
We started our tasting with 2014 Maeli Fior d’Arancio DOCG Sweet (6% ABV, SRP $27, Residual sugar 115 g/l, 100% Fior d’Arancia, a.k.a. Yellow Muscat) – nice sweetness, clean, minerality, beautiful sweet nose, bright white fruit, nice honey notes. The grapes for this wine come from volcanic soils, which gives it an interesting complexity, saving it from been “one singular note sweet bore”. It is not surprising that last year this wine was selected as “Best in Class” by Tom Stevenson in the UK in the sweet sparkling wines category. Another interesting fact is that in 2015, Maeli winery started Maeli Chef Cup competition, which will be now an annual event, where world-renown chefs compete to create the best dish pairing for Maeli Fior d’Arancia – if you are interested, here is the link detailing the 2015 competition.
Our next wine was NV Bisol Cartizze Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze D.O.C.G. Spumante Dry (11.5% ABV, SRP $42, Residual sugar 23 g/l, 100% Glera) – some sweetness on the nose, but body very restrained, creamy mouthfeel, delicious aftertaste, beautiful supple palate. The wine can age – Gianluca had an opportunity to taste 20 years old Bisol Cartizze wine – it retained bubbles, but obviously acquired aromas of more mature fruit. As you can see, this wine is designated as Superiore di Cartizze D.O.C.G – Cartizze is a single vineyard, 106 hectares (about 255 acres) in size , one of the best vineyards in Italy (most expensive for sure). 139 families own parcels of the Cartizze vineyard – Bisol family owns their parcel for 21 generations. The cost of land on Cartizze is $2.5M per hectare, or $1M per acre – not sure if anyone is selling though.
Time to eat something, right? The first two wines were paired with the selection of appetizers:
Suppli Cacio e Pepe (Risotto Croquettes, Pecorino, Black Pepper) – nice crust, tasty, works the best with the wine.
Bietole Ai Ferri (Plancha-seared Forono Beets, Ricotta, Hazelnuts) – good, nice flavor, good acidity, hazelnuts work well to complement the wines.
Nebrodini Arrostiti (Wood-fired Mushroom Salad, Kale, Mustard Greens, Thyme, Lemon) – nice, good flavor.
We continued our tasting with NV Bisol Crede Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore D.O.C.G. Spumante Brut (11.5% ABV, SRP $25, Residual sugar 7.5 g/l, blend of Glera, Pinot Bianco and Verdiso). “Crede” is a “type of clay-laden soil with particular characteristics that greatly benefit the grapes”, according to the wine’s tech sheet. The wine had delicious nose, touch of fruit, fine mousse, perfect acidity, crisp, clean finish.
Now we go back to Maeli with our next wine, which was also the only still wine we had in the tasting. 2014 Maeli Colli Euganei Bianco Infinito ∞ Veneto IGT (12.4% ABV, SRP $24, Yellow Muscat 60%, Chardonnay 40%, aged 5 month in steel tanks, 3 month in the bottle) had nice aromatics, touch of lemon on the nose, vanilla, nice complexity on the palate. The name of this wine (infinito) comes from the accident – one of the workers called Elisa to inform her that one of the barrels needs attention, and when she asked which one, he said “infinito”. As she couldn’t understand what the worker was talking about, it appeared that the number “8” was written on the barrel at an angle, and so from there on the wine took the name “infinito”.
Now, the dishes which were paired with these two wines deserve their own commendation. You see, I rarely eat pizza. When I do, my absolute preference is that the pizza would have crisp, crunchy, literally paper-thin crust. This is exactly what I got at Marta – three pizzas, one better than the other (Funghi was my absolute favorite):
Stracciatella (House-made Stracciatella, Basil, Olio Verde) – perfect pairing. Delicious pizza – very thin crust.
Funghi (Fontina, Mozzarella, Hen of the Woods, Hedgehogs, Red Onion, Thyme) incredible, amazing flavor mushrooms and thyme. Great pairing with Bianco Infinito
Porri e Pancetta (Leeks, Bacon, Fontina, Scallion) – great flavor, very good pairing.
Last three wines were truly special and unique – but none of them are available in the US at the moment, unfortunately. 2015 Private Cartizze Zero Dosage Brut Valdobbiadene Superiore di Cartizze D.O.C.G. (second fermentation in the bottle, 12 month on the lees) – first Classic Method sparkling wine from Cartizze, 2015 vintage was bottled 45 days ago, 2011 was the first year of production, 3000 bottles produced in 2015 – classic champagne, yeast, outstanding.
Then we had 2011 Maeli Colli Euganei Rosévento IGT Spumante (12% ABV, Residual sugar 6.9 g/l, 100% Pinot Nero, 36 months on the lees) – another Classic method sparkling wine, yeasty, classic Rosè champagne nose with strawberries, delicious!
The last wine was truly unique – NV Jeio noSO2 Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Spumante Extra Brut (100% Glera) – this innovative wine was produced without any added sulphur dioxide (hence the name), made specially for the sensitive consumers. The wine is packaged in the clear bottle wrapped into the foil, to protect it from the sunlight (the wine we were tasting was brought by Gianluca directly from the winery, so it didn’t have any foil or labeling, except the small pieces of paper around the bottle’s neck. The wine had an amazing nose, floral with a touch of white fruit, very dry and again, floral on the palate – very unique compared to any sparkling wine I had before. Delicious – you need to try it for yourself (well, you might have to visit the winery for that).
Our last two dishes were Pollo Ubriaco (Chicken Breast, Charred Cabbage, Brussels Sprouts, Fresno Chili, Mint), perfectly executed, and Salmerino (Arctic Char, Crispy Potato Cake, Horseradish Crema) – delicious, potato cakes were outstanding ( I would eat the whole plate alone), and the fish was cooked perfectly.
That’s all I have for you, my friends – a wonderful encounter with passion, great people, unique wines and delicious food. Next time you are in a mood for some bubbles in your glass, Bisol and Maeli offer a great range, suitable for any palate and taste. And even if you are not craving pizza right now, go visit Marta in New York – I’m sure you will be happy. And by the way, feel free to ask your friends if they know when Prosecco was first sold in London – you might become a party star, at least for one night. Cheers!
at Martha Washington hotel
29 E 29th St
New York, NY 10016
I’m sure Ferrari wines don’t need long introduction to any oenophile. Giulio Ferrari started eponymous winery in 1902 in the mountainous region in Northern Italy called Trento. He was the first person in Italy to plant substantial quantities Chardonnay, which he personally brought from France, and then started production of the “Classic Method” sparkling wines, inspired by the French Champagne. In 1952, Giulio Ferrari had chosen Bruno Lunelli to become his successor at the winery, and this was the beginning of the second chapter of Ferrari’s history. The rest is, yes, history, and you can read it for yourself here.
Over the years, Ferrari received numerous accolades, including most recent ones, “Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year 2015” from Tom Stevenson in the UK and “European Winery of the Year” from Wine Enthusiast magazine in the US. I had an opportunity to [virtually] sit down with Marcello Lunelli, Ferrari’s winemaker, and ask him a few questions – you can read our conversation below:
Q1: Ferrari is considered a symbol of the Italian Art of Living. What this “Italian Art of living” concept includes, how would you define it?
A: My family is incredibly proud that Ferrari as a brand is considered a symbol of the Italian Art of Living internationally. Whether it is being served at the Quirinale, home of the President of the Italian Republic, or used to toast celebrated events in the world of fashion, sport, cinema, culture, or design, Ferrari represents that hugely evocative emotional blend of tradition, sense of place, inherent quality, and the poetic virtues of our most cherished way of life.
The Italian Art of Living embodies the passion for beauty, taste and elegance; the ability to embrace innovation while respecting traditions; and a zest for life that is the very soul of the Italian spirit.
I firmly believe that the success of Italian wine is due to a unique love affair that exists in many countries for our way of life, our food, our rich and unique history, and the traditions of our culture. Beauty and pleasure are mutual to one another and Ferrari wines has joined together with fashion and design brands as ambassadors of the Italian lifestyle.
Q2: How is riddling done at Ferrari – still by hand or with use of the machines?
A: In the Ferrari winery we still do 1/3 of the riddling by hand, in particular, all the vintage wines and reserves. The rest is done with use of the machines.
Q3: Typical “house cuvée” at the Champagne house is a blend which might include about a 100 so called Vin Clairs, still wines coming from different vineyards and vintages. Does Ferrari have similar approach in the production of the non-vintage sparkling wines?
A: We do have a similar approach in the production of non-vintage sparkling wines. The biggest work in the vineyards and in the cellar is to keep separate each single homogeneous zone production in order to create the best cuvée.
Non-vintage sparkling wine cuvée includes grapes coming from vineyards within the Trentodoc denomination, which means only in Trentino region and it is created with 70/80 different base wines. Moreover vintage sparkling wine is made with grapes coming only from our own vineyards and it is a result of 40/60 diverse base wines of the same year.
Q4: Ferrari is promoting sustainable viticulture. Do you have any plans to become all organic, or at least to produce an organic wine?
A: One of the core philosophies of the Lunelli Group and Ferrari Winery is the advancement of sustainable practices throughout all our vineyards. We believe that by practicing sustainable farming techniques we not only improve the quality of our wines but protect and preserve our majestic environment and improve significantly the health and safety of our farmers. Indeed we strive to make sustainability a cultural heritage for all of our grape growers.
All of the vineyards owned by my family including those of the Ferrari winery and Tenute Lunelli are cultivated according to organic agricultural principles and in the near future they will all be organic. At the moment we are already producing an organic certified red still wine, Aliotto from our estate in Tuscany.
Q5: Considering that you share common name with the world famous car manufacturer, did you ever try to create a business relationship with Ferrari the car maker?
A: We are glad to share common name with an iconic brand such as Ferrari Maranello and to have a very good relationship with them. We are also proud to have in our photo gallery of famous moments, striking pictures of Grand prix ceremonies celebrated with Ferrari wines.
We both work throughout the world in promoting the very best of Made In Italy.
Q6: What was your most difficult vintage at Ferrari and why?
A: One of the most difficult vintages was 2014 due to a very long and intense rainfall during the growth cycle of the vine which presented a great challenge in vineyard management to ensure healthy grapes for the harvest. It is in a very complex year like 2014 that man, his work and his vision make the difference.
Q7: What is the oldest Ferrari wine you have in the cellar? What was the oldest Ferrari wine you tasted?
A: The oldest Ferrari wines already disgorged are from the sixties, when Giulio Ferrari and Bruno Lunelli were still working in the winery. The oldest Ferrari, still on the lees, is 1972 vintage, which is also the first vintage of Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore.
I was lucky enough to taste the first vintage of Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore. It was amazing, well balanced mature notes with an unexpected youth, fruit of our Trentino territory, Trentodoc mountain agriculture which allows for both longevity and youthfulness.
Q8: Do you have a favorite vintage of Ferrari wines?
A: My favorite vintage is Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore 1995 for two reasons: first of all because it is considered the vintage of the century where power, elegance, longevity and freshness are combined in one single wine and all these factors are in a perfect and unshakeable balance. Secondly this vintage has a personal affection because I had the good fortune to start to work at Ferrari in 1995.
Q9: Do you only use two varieties in the winemaking – Chardonnay and Pinot Noir – or do you use any others, such as Pinot Meunier, for instance?
A: We use Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes separately for white wine making in order to create all our 100% Chardonnay Ferrari wines and the Ferrari Perlé Nero, our 100% Pinot Noir, blanc de noirs. For our Rosé we use both the grape varieties: Pinot Noir, using the Rose making-process, which gives body and structure to wines and Chardonnay which provides elegance and freshness.
Q10: Do you produce or do you have any plans to produce still wines?
A: Ferrari Winery creates a remarkable collection of Trentodoc sparkling wines, yet the Lunelli Group also includes a series of elegant and long-lived still wines, under the brand, Tenute Lunelli. This brand embraces wines from three regions, each superbly suited to the production of winemaking grapes: Trentino with its mountain viticulture; Tuscany with the rolling Pisan hills and Umbria which reveals herself in the small, fascinating DOCG of Montefalco. All our still wines are representative of our standards of high quality with the ability to demonstrate the variety of our diverse lands; this is the incredible richness of the Italian wine industry. Respect for the land and sustainability are today common core values in all our brands. Besides the Estates and Ferrari, the Lunelli Group is made up of a distillery, Segnana, a mineral water, Surgiva.
Q11: Do you have any favorite Champagne wines, or any sparkling wines for that matter?
A: Champagne Bollinger and Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill Pol Roger which embody the characteristics I love in sparkling wines; elegance, refinement and longevity.
Q12: When you are not drinking Ferrari wines, what are your favorite wines, from Italy or anywhere in the world?
A: When I do not drink Ferrari I drink my favorite red still wines from Sangiovese grapes and Nebbiolo grapes: Brunello di Montalcino and Barolo. When I choose Barolo I always have discussion with my father because he prefers Barbaresco, with less power but more elegance.
And we are done here, my friends. I think this was quite fascinating and interesting conversation, adding an interesting detail to what you might already know about Ferrari wines – for sure this was very informative for me. I have to admit that I would looooove to try that 1972 Giulio Ferrari Riserva del Fondatore – well, the man can dream, right?
I didn’t have any new wines to taste to leave you with some tasting notes, but if this conversation made you thirsty, here are the links to my older posts about Ferrari Brut Classico and Ferrari Perlé. Cheers!
I know many of my readers are well familiar with Jeff, a.k.a The Drunken Cyclist, writer of the eponymous wine blog. Jeff loves Champagne, and Jeff also loves to saber those Champagne bottles – I learned from him that it is fun, and the bottle of Champagne can be sabered not only with a proper champagne sword, but with variety of household items, particularly with a wine glass.
A short while ago Jeff posted a video of his attempt to saber the bottle with a stapler. His attempt was not successful, and he ended up sabering the bottle in the “traditional” way – with the wine glass. After watching the video, I left him a smart ass comment that he used the wrong stapler, and I thought that if he would’ve used nice heavy device such as Swingline, he would have no issues prying that bottle open.
Emboldened by my earlier successes with sabering with the glass, I decided to demonstrate how pros do it, so the others would learn.
Here is a clear proof of my failure – the only difference with Jeff’s video is that mine is shorter and not well edited (it is just no edited at all). Plus my dog was trying to voice her encouragement (nope, that didn’t work):
My embarrassment didn’t stop there. Feeling challenged by some annoying bottle, I decided to show it who is in control and brought in the nice Chef’s knife:
The end result of this exercise was damaged stapler (the bottom bent slightly, as it appears that what I considered a solid steel was just a thin steel shell on top of something soft) and damaged ego. I definitely think that my choice of sparkling wine was part of the problem, as this French sparkler from Saumur didn’t have much bubbles after all – and I think having exuberant Champagne ready to “pop” is important for the success of the sabering (however I was previously successful with non-Champagne sparklers).
Well, I might need to practice again with the glass, at least until my confidence will be restored. But what about that stapler? I know! Staple Gun is next…
Last week I gave you some recommendations for the wines to serve on Valentine’s Day. Now, let’s see if I followed my own recommendations.
Of course the plan was to start the evening with the Champagne – and then there was a … but. I recently got my hands (told you many times before – I love my friends) on the very interesting sparkling wine from UK. What was the most interesting for me even before I tried the wine is that it contains one of the extremely difficult to find, rare grapes called Schönburger. As I mentioned last time regarding my quest to complete all the grapes in the original Wine Century Club application, Schönburger was one of those “last standing”, extremely difficult to find grapes – and the Carr Taylor Brut was the only wine containing Schönburger, which Wine-Searcher was able to find pretty much anywhere. In case you are curious, Schönburger is a rose grape created in 1979 in Germany as a cross of Pinot Noir, Chasselas and Muscat Hamburg, As an added bonus, the Carr Taylor Brut contained another grape I never heard of, another cross from Germany called Reichensteiner.
Okay, now that I provided a full disclosure, let’s talk about the wines. NV Carr Taylor Brut Sparkling Wine, England (12% ABV, $35) was an excellent start for the evening. Fine bubbles, very intense, very reminiscent of Champagne. Hint of toasted bread on the nose and may be a touch of almonds. The palate had all the toasted and yeasty notes, packaged together in compact but bright way – the wine had no sweetness, but nevertheless was perceived as a fuller body than a typical Champagne. I would gladly drink this wine again any time – if it would be available in US. Drinkability: 8-
Now it was the time for Champagne – Pierre Peters “Cuvée de Réserve” Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne (12% ABV, $55) – very classic, a hint of brioche on the nose, and nice toasted notes on the palate. Quite honestly, after the first sparkling wine, I wanted a bit more life in the glass – this was clean and fine, but more of the usual. Drinkability: 7+
Our next wine was a white Burgundy. Considering my limited experience with Burgundy, I was concerned if 10 years old wine would hold well (all of you, Burgundy buffs, please stop laughing out there – I’m still learning), so the Valentine’s Day seemed to be quite a good occasion to find out. This(13.5% ABV, $65) was outright delicious – beautiful nose of fresh apples, and then apples and honey on the palate – full bodied, supple, with perfect lingering weight in the mouth – this was really a treat. Too bad it didn’t last – but this was definitely an excellent wine. Drinkability: 8
Time for the reds, don’t you think? Remembering the pleasure of the Antica Terra Ceras Pinot Noir (here is the post in case you missed it), I wanted to try another Pinot Noir from Antica Terra – this time it was 2011 Antica Terra Botanica Pinot Noir Willamete Valley (13.2% ABV, $75). The nose was very similar to the Ceras – cranberries, touch of forest floor, lavender, bright and intense. On the palate, this wine had much bigger shoulders than Ceras. Ceras Pinot Noir need no breathing time – it was ready to drink from the moment the bottle was opened. Botanica needed a bit of time. After about 20 minutes in the glass, it showed its structure, dark concentrated fruit, touch of coffee, earthiness, all with a perfect balance, and again, finesse. Drinkability: 8
And then there was Opus One. 2001 Opus One Napa Valley (14.2% ABV, $250). Quite honestly, when I learned that we will be opening Opus One, I was a bit concerned. Yes, this is one of the legendary California Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and yet when I tasted it before, I was not blown away. And when you are not visually excited about $250 bottle of wine, you feel that something is wrong with you, don’t you think? Bottle is opened, and wine is poured in the glass. Based on the color, the wine looks like it was bottled only yesterday – dark, very dark garnet. On the nose, the wine was somewhat muted but pleasant – touch of black fruit and eucalyptus. On the palate, the wine was simply closed – and aggressively tannic, with a touch of green brunches on the finish. Well, to the decanter, of course. After about an hour in decanter, the wine definitely changed for the better, showing touch of cassis and coffee notes on the palate – the tannins still stayed, but reduced, and the finish became spicy, peppery if you will – still not leading to the “wow” which you want to find in the bottle like that. Oh well. Drinkability: 7+
As we were waiting for Opus One to come around, another bottle was pulled out – 1996 Robert Sinskey Vineyards RSV Stag’s Leap District Claret Napa Valley (13.9% ABV, $55). This wine amply compensated for the Opus One shortcomings – in a word, it was delicious. Perfectly young appearance in the glass was supported by the fresh fruit on the nose. And the palate had cassis, touch of mint, mocha, sweet oak, silky smooth tannins, perfectly layered and perfectly balanced. This was Napa Valley Cabernet at its peak, and it was not afraid to show it. Drinkability: 8
Logically (Valentine’s Day!) we had to finish on a sweet note. This was my first experience with Austrian dessert wine, and it was also a first experience with Kracher – I only heard the name before, but never tasted the wines. 2011 Kracher Auslese Cuvée Burgenland, Austria (12% ABV, $22) had everything you want in the dessert wine and nothing you don’t – delicious light honey notes, lychees, vibrant acidity, lemon peel – it was an outstanding way to finish the evening. Drinkability: 8
That is the story of our Valentine’s Day wine experiences. Well, I can’t leave with the wines alone – the food was delicious too, so let me at least share some pictures – I spent time working on them, you know. Here we go:
And we are done here. So, what were your Valentine’s day wine highlights? Cheers!