Tag Archives: bubbly

Revisiting Sonoma

Back in March (!), we had the wonderful opportunity to go back down to Sonoma again, for a very brief, but delicious trip. We took off from Walla Walla on Monday, had an amazing dinner that night, attended a very excellent luncheon at a very special winery, tasted at 3 other wineries and 1 brewery, and flew home the next morning.

John Ash & Co

We stayed at the beautiful Vintner’s Inn in Santa Rosa, and had dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, John Ash & Co, on our first night. My grandma was so incredibly excited to eat here, as she’d taken a cooking class from John Ash in Seattle, way back in the day, and she’d loved it. As a souvenir, we all got a signed copy of John Ash’s cookbook! And it was an incredible meal; I had the miso-glazed black cod with soba noodles and vegetables, and it was the most tender, perfectly cooked fish. I’ve experimented with a poor-man’s version of this meal since, and it’s always good, but never quite as good. We started off with sparkling wine and then moved on to the Flowers Pinot Noir, which was excellent. It was a very Pinot trip, which I found so exciting! Walla Walla is not exactly known for its Pinot, although the winery where I work does make one. Really, this meal started the trip off with a bang, and it just got better.

Kosta Browne Winery

The next day, we started off at 11am to the big event of the trip; our luncheon at the small and fairly exclusive Kosta Browne Winery. We were greeted with sparkling wine (not their own, but definitely festive!), given the tour of the new facility, and did some barrel tasting of Pinots from some radically different vineyards. The luncheon itself was very memorable; the main course was a southwestern-French cassoulet paired with two different Pinot Noirs: the 2012 Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which was lighter with great fruit and the 2012 Santa Lucia Pinot Noir, which had some tannin to it and some earthiness. Both were fantastic; it’s probably a good thing that they wouldn’t let us buy wine then (although many of our group did sign up for the waiting list!), because I would have maxed out my wine budget here.

Iron Horse Winery

After lunch and debating our options, we took ourselves to Iron Horse Winery in search of some sparkling wine, because we can never, ever resist a nice bottle of bubbly. Iron Horse has an outdoor tasting bar on top of a hill, with some truly stunning views. They also have a winery cat, so naturally I spent most of my time during the tasting making friends with her (the cat’s name is LG, which stands for Late Disgorgement, a sparkling wine term for when the lees, or sediment from dead yeast cells, is taken out of the bottle of wine). Iron Horse makes a huge variety of wines, but we elected to taste just the sparkling.  We especially liked the Fairy Tale Cuvee and the Wedding Cuvee. All in all, we had a great time on that hilltop with the cat and the sparkling wine.

Papapietro Perry

Our tasting at Papapietro Perry was short; we only made it there at the very end of the day. What the tasting lacked in personality, it more than made up for in great wine. The Pinots had plenty of oomph to them, like those at Kosta Browne, but for a much lower price. We tried the Zinfandel, but we were just stuck on the Pinots this time. This was really my first experience with the Sonoma Pinots, and I found them to be full of flavor and body, with well balanced acidity. I’m sure you can find insipid, watery Pinots in California, but we definitely did not find them at Papapietro Perry.

We were only in Sonoma for one full day, but it felt like we’d been there for a week! I really enjoyed my time there, but it felt great to come home. Everyone we met in Sonoma was friendly and informative, but there’s something about the down-to-earth, agricultural feel of Walla Walla that makes me feel connected to the wines. Maybe it’s the difference of working in wine country here and visiting wine country there. Either way, I’ll definitely be back to Sonoma. When I do, where should I go and what should I see?

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Bubbly 101

This post would probably have been better before Christmas and New Year’s, since sparkling wines have their peak sales then, but I’m on board the all-year-bubbly train, so I’m writing it now. There isn’t a whole lot of sparkling wine in Walla Walla, because most wineries don’t own the equipment needed to make sparkling wines. Castillo de Feliciana and Isenhower Cellars are the two local wineries that make a limited release sparkling wine, and Treveri Cellars in Yakima, WA is a well-known sparkling wine house in the state. Maybe I can blame it on the lack of local bubbly, but for the longest time, I was a part of the champagne-at-NYE-only crowd; champagne labels confused me (“sec”, “demi-sec”, “brut”- mystifying!), and most of the people I knew were drinking bottom-shelf Andre’s, which was clearly not quality sparkling material, even to my untrained palate. But slowly, I’ve been coming out of my still-wine shell and discovering lots of great and inexpensive bubbly wines!

The very first thing I want to clear up is all the terminology that comes along with sparkling wine. When I learned myself a little bit about the terms, I found it a lot easier to pick out a sparkling wine from the many choices. Here’s a little glossary of words I’m glad I know:

methode champenoise/methode traditionelle: If one of these phrases appears on the label, this wine was made in the style traditionally used in the Champagne region of France; the wine goes through a secondary fermentation in the bottle, creating bubbles. This is the most expensive method of making sparkling wine. Champagne (sparkling wine made in the Champagne region) and Cava (sparkling wine made in Spain) are fermented with this method.

charmat: This is a different method of creating sparkling wine; the wine goes through secondary fermentation in a tank, creating bubbles, and is then transferred into bottles. This method is less expensive, but can produce some really great value sparkling wines. Many proseccos are done in this method, as well as a lot of the value priced sparkling wines all over the world.

Champagne: Sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France, typically out of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier.

Cava: Sparkling wine made in Spain, typically out of Xarello, Macabeo, and Parellada.

Prosecco: Sparkling wine made from the prosecco grape in Italy.

Cremant: A sparkling wine from a specific region and specific grapes in France; for instance, “Cremant de Limoux”, which is made with Mauzac grapes in the Limoux region, or “Cremant de la Loire” , which is mainly Cab Franc or Chenin Blanc from the Loire region. These wines are highly regulated: only 7 Cremants are recognized in France.

The next most confusing thing about sparkling wine is, for me, the sweetness level. From driest to sweetest, it goes:

Extra Brut/Brut Nature

Brut

Sec/Dry

Demi-Sec/Off Dry

Doux

I personally prefer Brut sparkling wines; I like a little bit of sweetness to round it out, but not enough to be  a sweet wine. Many people will say they like only the driest, but I’m willing to bet that Extra Brut/Brut Nature, with no sugar at all, is a little too tart for many palates.

What to eat with sparkling wines? Depends on the sugar levels! The driest sparkling wines will be light and lean, with great acidity: perfect with spicy foods or creamy sauces. Seafood fettucine alfredo, coconut milk curry, or brie would be great with these sparklers. Brut or Sec would be great with some cheeses as an aperitif, or some light finger foods like crostini with an olive tapenade. The sweet sparkling wines go really well with dessert; sweet foods will make dry wines taste sour, so pour some demi-sec bubbly to go with cake or strawberries and cream!

Now we can all go peruse our local sparkling wine shelf at the grocery store and come back with a better idea of what we’re getting ourselves into!

Kicking off the Bubbly Season: Blanquette de Limoux

antech blanquette de limoux

Remember when I jumped on the bandwagon and paired sparkling wine with everything? I’m doing it again! I’ve been buying (and drinking) quite a bit of sparkling wine recently; during the holidays, every wine store and grocery store beefs up their sparkling wine section. Apparently, the holiday season is when the majority of sparkling wine sales happen; Champagne did such a good job convincing everyone that they were the go-to celebration wine that they forgot to market themselves year round! That’s changing now, with a little push from sparkling wine producers,  but clearly the stores expect everyone to buy their bubbly now.

One of my favorite inexpensive sparkling wines is Blanquette de Limoux, which is a sparkling wine made from the Mauzac grape in the Limoux region in southwest France. A fraction of the price of true Champagne, Blanquette de Limoux is tasty and festive, with a range of different producers to try out!

We went to a bubbly tasting recently, and picked up this nice little bottle of Antech Blanquette de Limoux “Nature” Brut, which was their driest style. It set us back about $13, and while it wasn’t quite as good as the $45 bottles of Champagne we tasted, we thought that it was a great bang for your buck. It went really well with our spaghetti squash dinner, for an easy, but festive meal. The lightness of this super dry bubbly really offset the garlicky, olive-oily spaghetti squash (delicious), and made this super-easy dinner feel kind of special!

 

Easy Spaghetti Squash Dinner

Cut your spaghetti Squash in half. Scoop out the layer of seeds.

Drizzle with olive oil and springle with chopped garlic

Roast the squash at 375 degrees for an hour or so, until soft and slightly browning

Use a fork to fluff out the spaghetti-like strands, scoop them into a bowl, drizzle with more olive oil, and add salt and pepper to taste

Pop the Blanquette!