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Thursday, December 27, 2012

California sparkling wine under $30

It's almost New Years Eve as this gets posted and many of you are thinking about getting a sparkling wine for the celebration. What to get without spending a bunch of money? Oh yeah, and it should be a good bubbly.

If you're willing to spend about $20 to $30 you can get a very enjoyable wine. Here's some ones I turn to:

Chandon in Napa Valley has a line of what they call classic sparklers, but also have a reserve line of Brut, Blanc de Blancs and Rosé all retailing at $30.

Domaine Carneros Brut is a vintage-dated sparkler, 2008 is the current release, that retails for $28.
Best for the money
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Gloria Ferrer non-vintage Blanc de Noirs is a great deal at $22.

Korbel organic Brut is not the same as their regular Brut you see in every wine shop and grocery store in America. The organic Brut is a nice wine for $16 and is a very worthwhile step up from the $10 junk you'll find in the store.

Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut. This non-vintage wine retails for $23 and is definitely a best buy at this price. This is one I can always trust to give me bang-for-the-buck.

Schramsberg Mirabelle. A non-vintage Brut retailing for $25 from the folks in Napa Valley that make the best bubbly in California.

If you're willing to spend a bit more try Iron Horse Wedding Cuvee for $38, a Blanc de Noirs. If you want to go cheaper find the Spanish sparkler, Freixenet, that goes for under $10.

Your prices and availability will vary depending on where you reside.

So what are all these weird terms you find when shopping for a sparkling wine? I blame the French. :)

Brut Dry (less sweet). Typically a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. By the way, Extra Dry is actually sweeter than Brut. See what the French have done?

Blanc de Blancs means "White from white." It's made from white wine grapes, usually Chardonnay.

Blanc de Noir "White from dark." Made primarily from red wine grapes, usually Pinot Noir.

Champagne is sparkling wine from the Champagne region of France. American producers used to call their sparklers Champagne, but we now have an agreement with the French not to do that. Some American producers were grandfathered in and still label their bubblies as American Champagne.

Cuvee A blend of wines for Champagne, oops I mean sparkling wine.

Methode Champenoise Sparkling wine has a secondary fermentation. That is, after the grape sugars are fermented to alcohol there's a second one to create the bubbles. If this is done individually in each bottle it can be called Methode Champenoise. These are the only ones I'll drink. The "bulk method" processed sparklers give me a headache. You've been warned!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Leaving wine for Santa

It's traditional to leave cookies out for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve and maybe some carrots for the reindeer. You know, I bet ol' Saint Nick gets pretty tired of cookies after the first thousand or so.

Leave him a glass of wine instead.

So what kind of wine should you leave for him? When trying to decide what to open you should think about the people who will be drinking it and the situation. The situation being: Is it hot out? Cold? Is this for dinner? And what are we eating? Is for for an afternoon social?  Etc.

Santa is spending the night going up and down chimneys so he's out in the cold then into the warm homes.  Two wines come to mind on cold nights. One, a heavy red like a Cabernet. Two, a Port. After all, snow and fireplaces are made for Port! If you're going to leave out some Port I'd suggest matching it with a chocolate chip cookie.

Of course, he may get tired of wine during the night so as an alternative maybe a nice American Black IPA. These are kind of a new trend in wintertime brews.

Take care of Santa and he'll take care of you!

Santa was spotted last January at this tropical bar.
It's believed there was rum involved.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Cab -> Merlot -> Pinot Noir -> Grenache?

  There are always "in" wines such as Pinot Grigio seems to be now. This changes every few years. At one time in California it was Chardonnay or Cabernet and that was about it. Sure, there were other things planted like Chenin Blanc and French Colombard, and some Zinfandel mostly for the locals, but the big guys in the market were Chard and Cab.

  Along came The French Paradox on 60 Minutes and all of a sudden it was Merlot as everyone needed a red wine that was drinkable on the day they bought it (not like the Cabs of the time). Merlot rode that wave for about 15 years. Then it was Pinot Noir. Some say because of the movie Sideways that praised Pinot and derided Merlot.

  Pinot has been riding that popularity wave right into the $50 a bottle range. There's a lot of Pinot being produced now. Is its price sustainable? My guess is no. Not that I'm even close to being an expert on it, but I've been a CA wine drinker for a long time and seen the trends come and go. 

  I've noticed interest moving towards Rhone varietals and specifically Grenache. It can be a good food wine, Grenache is a wine you can just sip on or have with a meal, and most importantly it doesn't cost an arm and a leg. The Next Big Thing in red wines was going to be Syrah, but that was a bit of a bust. Why? Well, it's usually a good food wine, but not so good for sipping (it's tannic) and not necessarily cheap--except for the Australian Shiraz style. 

  Grenache seems to grow well in a lot of different locations in California from coastal to the interior Sierra foothills. Yeah, you can find a $40 one if you look hard, but most are around $20. The best ones are often blends of Grenache with Syrah and a lesser known grape Mourvedre--and maybe even Petite Sirah and Carignane. The blends are interesting and very drinkable and if the prices stay low they may even become popular!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Ingredient labeling on wine bottles

A topic that comes up now and again is, should wineries have full disclosure of what goes into the bottle? It's just grapes, right? Well, no.

I suppose it starts will the bins of grapes coming into the wine making facility with the bees, earwigs, and spiders plus additional Material Other than Grapes. But no, that's not what we're talking about here. The folks kicking around the idea of full disclosure on wine labels are in favor of things like added acid, water, sulfur, tannins, whether egg whites are used to fine the wine, other chemicals added, maybe even yeasts and oak chips, etc.
There's a bit more to winemaking than this
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This doesn't get much support. Why? For one, the winemakers (or any other business person) would just as soon keep the government out of their business as much as possible. For another, I believe certain wineries could be a bit embarrassed and maybe think they'll lose business if they actually list everything that went into their wine.

In fact per American law for a wine to be called by a certain varietal name, like Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, it must contain 75% of that particular grape. It doesn't matter what grapes make up the other 25%. Your Pinot Noir might be 80% Pinot, 15% Petite Sirah, and 5% Chenin Blanc. Not that anyone has ever done that, but it's not illegal.

Then you get into processes, rather than ingredients, like removing alcohol. Do you add that to the label? The wineries definitely don't want to see this. How about any chemicals used to spray the grapes? Nobody else does this so grape growers won't, but then there's things like organically grown, organic wine, and sustainably farmed. What exactly is the difference?

The biggest embarrassment is probably the addition of water to the wine. This is a fairly new process. It started with the ripe fruit style of wines that's become so popular in the last decade or so. The grapes are picked later (riper) to get that bold fruit. After fermentation there is more alcohol from the higher sugar levels so the popular method of reducing this is to just add water to dilute the wine. This process doesn't get talked about much by wineries because they believe it to be a negative with the consumer.

There can be a lot of chemistry especially when the fruit isn't particularly good. But do we need to know all this? We probably don't need to know it as there's no public danger, but more and more Americans want to know what goes into their body.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

What sells wine on a store shelf?

The marketing experts can, of course, give you mountains of data about this or that marketing strategy and branding efforts until you want to scream. This is just an amateur guess at what sells. But then marketing is as much of a guessing game as weather prediction.

Shelf Talkers
That's those little tags under the wine saying "93 points!" or "Great with steak!" When you're looking over a selection of 20 Cabernets in your price range you are going to take the one getting 94 points over the one that only got 89, right?
Look at all the awards! This stuff must be good!

Wineries anguish over going with the simple, and cheaper, two color label vs. bright colors with nice pictures. People will admit to buying by the label all the time. Some folks have a reputation and don't require a fancy label. There are lots of European labels that are dull, colorless, and crowded with script.
Someone that doesn't need to stand out on the shelf
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Zarb Champagne. Someone that, um, wants to stand out
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Winery Name
Give it a made up fancy hard to pronounce name that sounds Italian, German, or better yet, French and you can sell it for more dollars than you can something called Sassy Bitch or Happy Bitch (both real labels). With names like that they had better be cheap. No one is going to spend $30 for a bottle of Fat Bastard Shiraz.
Just not really an appealing name, you know?
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