Not that you needed an excuse to pop a cork, but global Champagne Day is October 25. In restaurants, bars, living rooms and maybe even (evolved) offices, wine drinkers around the planet will be sipping frothy bubbles from the Champagne region of France. Which, by the way, is the only place true Champagne comes from. It’s not that other bubbly is bad; it just never tastes quite like the Real Deal.
Here are some fun facts to know about Champagne while you’re sipping:
1. The Champagne region is the easiest wine region to visit in France. Just an hour and a half train ride from Paris, and you’re there.
2. Champagne is the most northern wine region in France and the wines have unbelievable freshness and crispness as a result.
4. The bubbles in all Champagne are the result of a long, expensive process of a second fermentation inside each individual bottle. (Champagne, unlike cola or sparkling water—or even other sparkling wines—is not carbonated).
5. Champagne can only be made in Champagne, France. Sparkling wines made in other parts of France are called crémant.
6. The biggest flavor differences between Champagne and other sparklers comes down to 2 things: minerality (which is the result of Champagne’s amazing limestone soils) and creamy complexity (which is the result of the long years Champagne spends in contact with yeasts).
This month, Chateau Montelena Winery proudly released the 2011 Napa Valley Chardonnay, making this the 40th vintage of Chardonnay produced at Chateau Montelena.
Here is what our winemaker, Cameron Parry, has to say about the wine and the 2011 vintage:
“This Chardonnay shows a beautiful rich golden straw color in the glass with clean pure aromas of pear and crisp green apple, all overlaid with light tropical fruit notes and a hint of honeysuckle. On the palate, this wine has wonderful fullness and creaminess without being heavy. A clean soft entry is quickly followed by crisp acidity and a rich display of fruit including juicy nectarine and white peach along with a hint of lychee and fresh citrus. The flavors on the finish are reminiscent of pear tart while the oak contribution is well integrated throughout the profile, with just a touch of nuttiness showing through.”
If you haven’t tried unoaked chardonnay before – shame on you. It’s a whole new experience in Chardonnay. Chardonnay haters love it because it is not rich and buttery like its traditional relative. Dedicated Chardonnay lovers still like it for its white peach and lemon flavors. Red wine drinkers even enjoy it because its crisp and refreshing, like a tall glass of water.
If I haven’t sold you yet, let’s talk about how easy Unoaked Chardonnay is to pair with food. It is a true white wine in that it does pair best with poultry. But, good news! You don’t have to shy away from a little bit of fat like you would with a traditional Chardonnay. Go ahead – leave the skin on and throw some butter into the mix – it can only help!
And my last piece of advice; if you’re looking for a satisfying, affordable Unoaked Chardonnay to try – go with CC Chardonnay: I Will Not Drink Bad Wine. It’s a great starter to bring you into the wonderful world of Unoaked Chardonnay.
2 chicken breasts, skin on
3 teaspoons light butter, softened
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1 lemon, segmented
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
2 teaspoons corn starch
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 medium head orange cauliflower (about 3 cups)
4 cloves garlic, grated
2 shallots, diced
¾ cup nonfat milk
1 teaspoon chives, minced
Salt/pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 500 degrees.
Mix 2 teaspoons light butter and rosemary together in small bowl. Lift the skin of the chicken and gently rub the butter mixture between the skin and the breast. Lay the skin back down and generously salt and pepper the entire outside of the chicken breasts.
Cook the chicken for 5-7 minutes in 500 degree oven to brown and crisp the skin. Turn oven down to 350 degrees and continue to cook, about another 5-7 minutes, depending on size.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add cauliflower. Cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain.
In a separate medium pot, add remaining teaspoon of butter, shallots and garlic. Season with salt/pepper. Cook until soft and translucent. Add
cauliflower and milk.
In separate batches, puree mixture until smooth. If needed add more salt/pepper and milk until you get the consistency you like.
In a blender, add lemon segments, EVOO, honey, corn starch and paprika. Blend until smooth and frothy.
Top cauliflower puree with chicken, then with lemon sauce and chives. Eat up!
CC Chardonnay: I Will Not Drink Bad Wine http://www.decantedwines.com/sku01357.html
We just arrived in Napa, finishing our short (but awesome) tour of the Central Coast of California. The trip dispelled a lot stereotypes I had of the region. After visiting Napa (located north of the Central Coast), I thought that area was way too hot to grow Pinot Noir. But after exploring the area morning, noon and night and donning too many sweaters to count; I found the area has the perfect growing conditions for Pinot – warm summer days and cool (very cool) summer nights. Take a look at our first episode of Wine Not? We’ll add more throughout the trip and over the next few months. We promise, our camera skills will improve 🙂
P.S….out-takes video to come!
The two staples in the wine world: Cabernet and Chardonnay. Feature both options at a party and your friends will be satisfied with either. All Chardonnays taste the same – that’s what we all think isn’t it? Well the 2009 Fleur du Cap Bergkelder Selection Chardonnay is an exception to that rule. The heavy oak flavor and thick buttery finish you picture when you think Chardonnay doesn’t exist here. With a well-balanced weight and fullness, zesty citrus flavors and just a touch of vanilla oak aftertaste, this Chardonnay stands out among the rest. If you are a “traditional” Chardonnay lover; give this one a chance and if you think you don’t like Chardonnay – this one may change your mind! (Especially if paired with the right meal to really enhance the aromas and flavors).
Sticking with the theme of “exceptions to the rule” a mornay sauce (a bechamel sauce with cheese added) is one of those: no cheese with seafood. It can be done! A mild parmesan cheese melted into a thick, herbed cream sauce draping over a crisp puffed pastry layered atop soft, buttery salmon. YUM!
4 fillets fresh Atlantic Salmon, skin removed
2 sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg,beaten
Herbed Mornay Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup milk
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
Pinch cayenne pepper
½ cup parmesan cheese, grated
¼ cup total fresh dill, basil, tarragon
1 pint heirloom cherry tomatoes, cut in half
½ shallot, sliced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt/pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Cut each sheet of puff pastry in half vertically. Place one fillet of salmon in the middle of each ½ sheet
- Lightly season salmon with salt and pepper. Fold edges of pastry up and around salmon, using egg wash to seal. Completely cover salmon so no parts of the fish are exposed.
- Place all pieces on baking sheet and brush entire outside with egg wash. Bake until golden brown, 10-12 minutes.
- For the salad, mix all ingredients together in a large bowl and let sit until salmon is finished cooking.
- Heat butter in small saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk for 1 minute. Add wine to deglaze and let cook for 1 minute. Add milk, cayenne, nutmeg and salt, continuing to whisk. Let cook until thick, 3-5 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Add parmesan cheese and mix until melted. Add herbs and check seasoning.
Grapes from premium vineyards across the North Coast, a winemaker with over 20 years experience, and artisan winemaking techniques usually translates into a $40-$50 bottle of wine…especially when that wine is Cabernet or Chardonnay from California. But Silver Palm has managed to accomplish all of those items and keep its wine reasonable – very reasonable.
It’s been our go-to table white and red for months, but after having it with dinner over the weekend (and being reminded just how good it is) I decided to take a deeper look at the winery. Silver Palm is owned by Kendall Jackson, but unlike its parent, the goal of this winery is to produce small-lot wines that will best be served at a high quality restaurant or connoisseur’s table rather than used as stackers in a grocery store. Melissa Bates, winemaker, sources fruit from only the best vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Mendocino counties to create complex and well-balanced wines. Currently the winery only produces two wines: Cabernet and Chardonnay which are crafted to pair perfectly with traditional cuisines for these grapes.
A blend of 79% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Cab Franc, 4.2% Merlot, 2.6% Petite Sirah, 2.2% Petite Verdot, the fruit is sourced from 50% Mendocino, Dry Creek Valley, Alexander Valley, and the Sonoma Coast. Surprisingly, it is also a blend of vintages (2007 – 2009), but with 95% of the fruit from the 2008 vintage it is bottled as such.
The wine shows a brilliant, purple color and shows aromas and flavors of dark cherry, blackberry, spice and toast. The medium tannins provide a backbone without the drying and bittering feeling of some bolder wines.
A blend of 98% Chardonnay with 2% Viognier from Sonoma County and Mendocino County, this vintage is the premiere of the Chardonnay for Silver Palm. The wine is fermented entirely in stainless steel, preserving the fruit characteristics to showcase the strong aromas of tropical fruit (pineapple, melon) paired with hints of apple and pear that is the Chardonnay grape’s signature. Of the wine, Bates says “For the premier release of our Chardonnay, I chose to present the varietal in a chic and elegant manner.” Elegant and chic it is.
As I’m entering the world of wine education (I’m in the middle of my intermediate level course for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust certification), I’ve been pondering different styles of wine and exploring more so than I typically do. I’ve never been a fan of heavily oaked Chardonnay but as I learn more and more about the grape, its growing regions and high acidity levels I’ve come to discover I’m also not a fan of non-oaked versions. So what’s the answer, oak or no oak?
The argument for oak
I begin with the fact that chardonnay grapes from Napa Valley are worlds different from chardonnay grapes in Chablis and Burgundy. The warmer climate grapes like California, Burgundy and Australia can benefit from some oak fermentation and/or aging. Warm weather prompts higher yield levels and riper fruit. As chardonnay ripens, the sugar increases and forms strong flavors and aromas of tropical fruits like pineapple and banana. Oak fermentation balances the fruity characteristics and complements those flavors creating a well-balanced, complex wine. In this case, oak is a positive and delicious treatment for the wine…in moderation. Yes, I’m seen and tasted some very heavily oaked versions – many of which used either 100% new oak barrels (the flavors are stronger, the newer the barrels) or an inexpensive replacement to oak barrels, oak chips. The wines I have tasted that achieve the best demonstration of the grape in this style use a combination of new and used oak barrels or even a combination of oak and stainless steel batches.
The argument for no oak
There’s something special about a Chablis. The crispness, minerality, delicate peach flavors that just make you want to drink unoaked Chardonnay for the rest of your life. But I’m not sure if the style would work in a warmer climate. The cool growing region of Chablis and other new world regions – Washington, for example – restrict the yield and development of the grapes and the resulting fruit has higher acidity levels, a mineral characteristic and what reviewers refer to as ‘stone’ fruit (peaches for the layman). In this case, the use of oak in fermentation/aging could disrupt those delicate, yet strong fruit flavors and completely over power the wine. The result is something completely different and unique from its sister style in California & southern France.
I’m not sure there is one righteous path for winemakers in search of the perfect Chardonnay. What I’ve learned through my ‘research’ is Chardonnay is a much more complex variety than the big box brands demonstrate. It is highly reflective of the climate and terrior which it is grown which can also dictate a certain style of production. I found the key is balance in the wine, and achieving that – whether it requires oak or no oak – is the only important thing.
Graham Beck wines come from the diverse vineyards of the Western Cape. There are four vineyards in total, including Firgrove and Robertson Vineyards where their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes thrive in the limestone rich soil. Graham Beck offers a portfolio of wines including Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viognier, Shiraz, Merlot, Pinotage, and a Malbec/Sangiovese Rose. I am going to highlight an aspect that many overlook when they think of the traditional styles; sparkling.
Graham Beck creates a sparkling wine in Champagne style, but at a value that rivals a $40 bottle of the French bubbly. They offer five styles from dry and crisp to sweet and fruity. They are a third generation family winery who concentrate on superior quality fruit throughout three diverse and unique terroirs. They celebrate their New World attitude that flows from the winery and stylistic characters to the modern lines in their tasting room and cellar architecture. John Wessels, architect for both of their cellars says it best “There is no need to mimic France or Tuscany when one is rooted in Africa.”
Don’t forget to raise your glasses for their sustainability practices. They are the second wine farm on the Cape to be awarded the Biodiversity Champion Status!
Here are a few of the Graham Beck sparkling wines, and you can’t beat the value!
Graham Beck Brut NV $16- One of my favorites! A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Fresh, light, dry, rich and complex. Serve with freshly shucked oysters.
Graham Beck Bliss Demi-Sec $16 – Much softer than the dry Brut. Hints of butterscotch, honey and praline. Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend from the coastal Firgrove Vineyard.
Graham Beck Brut Rose $16 – A blend of 80% Pinot Noir 20% Chardonnay from the Robertson vineyard with natural limestone content. Ripe strawberries with a creamy note of Chardonnay
Decanted is hosting a Sparkling Wine Tasting Wednesday June 30th from 5:30-8:00pm. Also look for the World Cup Wrap-Up Tasting to sample other South African wines Thursday July 8th from 5:30-8:00pm. 1410 Pine Ridge Rd, Naples, FL. Full events schedule is posted on http://www.decantedwines.com
Argentina has multiple wine growing regions, but Mendoza is the shining star, producing more than 60% of Argentina’s wine. Argentina itself is the 5th largest wine producing country in the world and they have been making wine since the 1500’s. Up until the 1990’s Argentinians have been more focused on quantity rather than quality, with 90% of wine produced being consumed inside the country. A shift in thinking and desire to capture a lucrative export market has driven many wine makers to begin producing quality wines at higher price points. With the devalue of the Argentine Peso in the early 2000’s, tourism has increased due to the country’s affordability for Americans and Europeans. This has allowed wine tours to become increasingly popular and has created a growing awareness of Argentina’s wine region.
Mendoza lies 500 miles Northwest of Argentina’s capital city, Buenos Aires. The region is tucked up against the dramatic Andes Mountain Range. Due to high altitude and low humidity of the region, the vineyards in this region rarely face issues with fungi, mold, insects and grape diseases that other countries deal with. This allows for little to no pesticides for the majority of the vineyards and offers ease of producing organic wines…good news for the sustainable wine enthusiast!
Another aspect that the vineyards at the base of the mountains have in their favor is the use of spring run-off. Dating back to the 1500’s the Argentinians began building complex irrigation canals to channel snow melt from the Andes to sustain the vineyards and agriculture. Once the irrigation systems are in place, the grapes have a metered water supply.
The most common grape you are likely to find when shopping for wines from Mendoza is the Malbec. Malbec was introduced from France and has been found to thrive in this particular region. Other popular varietals is the Italian Bonarda grape, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Chardonnay.
What may come to a surprise is actually how large of a region Mendoza is, meaning they have micro climates, just like Napa and Sonoma. You can get a good idea of what characteristics your Malbec is going to have by where it came from. Agrelo and Lujan de Cuyo are located in the warmer Northern region of Mendoza, producing Malbecs with rich, muscular profiles and black fruits. In the South, areas of the Uco Valley such as Tupungato and La Consulta are cooler and tend to produce Malbecs with vibrant fruit and minerality. Remember, when you move North within the country, you are heading to warmer climates, South is cooler. The Argentine snowbirds head North for the winter!
If you visit Mendoza, keep in mind that the growing season is opposite than the Northern Hemisphere. Grapes are starting to bud in October with harvest usually beginning in February. That means the best time to see the grapes, green leaves, warm weather and jump into the tasting rooms is during summer, Oct-Feb.
Now that you are probably thirsty, here are some delicious thirst quenchers straight from Mendoza.
Nieto Senetiner Bonarda Reserva 2007 – $35
Lujan de Cuyo – Bright, saturated ruby. Brooding aromas of crushed blackberry, leather, tobacco and smoky oak. Sweet and primary, with nicely concentrated flavors of crushed dark berries. Finishes with ripe, fine tannins and a note of dark chocolate.
Antigal Uno Malbec 2007 – $20
Tupungato Valley – Intense fruits with significant hints of oak. Silky but concentrated with a balanced and elegant finish.
Domaine Jean Bousquet Malbec 2007 – $15
Tupungato Valley – Made with organically grown grapes. Opaque violet, almost black in color. Ripe plum and chocolate flavors with a soft, supple mouthfeel. Voted a Wine Spectator Best Buy.
Buy these wines at http://www.decantedwines.com and receive a 10% discount on a case! Or shop in-store at Decanted Wines, 1410 Pine Ridge Rd, Suite 21, Naples FL 34108.