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The “Cristal” of Cavas?

Cava wants to be taken seriously. And Spain may finally have an answer with a new classification called Cava de Paraje Calificado (CdP for short). Only the best single-vineyard cavas (Spanish sparkling wines made by the traditional Champagne method) can be called CdP— and there’s a rigorous path to getting there. These top-tier cavas must originate from terrior deemed special, and they must be made with lower yields of grapes. CdP cavas are also aged longer— a minimum of 36 months on the lees. The end result are cavas with extraordinary characteristics that compete with other crème de la crème sparklings around the world.  (And yes, they are expensive).

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I, Harry, Do Solemnly Warrant…

As anyone who has tasted it knows, English sparkling wine is superb. (I personally think the top English sparkling wines are fantastic). Now, England’s Camel Valley Vineyard has become the first English wine producer to be granted a Royal Warrant. Royal Warrants are given by the Royal Family to top “suppliers” of the Royal Household—Veuve Clicquot has a Royal Warrant; so does Twining’s Tea and Martini Vermouth. Could Camel Valley’s ascendency to Warrantdom be a precursor to its Brut being served at Prince Harry and Megan’s (royal) wedding? One hopes so.

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Chenin Blanc in 3 Easy Facts

One: The most famous, vibrant chenin blancs of the world come from the Loire Valley of France. The Loire Valley is also the ancestral home of this grape, which arose as a natural cross of savagnin and an unknown parent.
Two: The best chenin blancs are stunningly complex wines with shimmering acidity and flavors of apples and honey. Chenin blancs are made in a variety of degrees of sweetness, from bone-dry to fully sweet.
Three: Chenin blanc was the most widely planted white grape in California before chardonnay took its place in the 1970s.

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Cross Over

We have nothing against milk chocolate bun(nies), but in terms of Easter treats that actually go with wine, hot cross buns are infinitely better. The buns—doughy, raisin-studded, and crossed with icing (or a zing of lemon curd)—are a tradition during the week leading up to Easter. In fact, Napa Valley’s own Model Bakery has some of the best. Hot cross buns are thought to have been created on the Friday before Easter (Good Friday) by a monk, Brother Thomas Rocliffe, in St. Albans, England in the 14th century. There are also several fables concerning the buns. Allegedly, for example, hanging a few buns in the kitchen expelled evil spirits. Among bunophiles, Queen Elizabeth I clearly understood bun power. She decreed they could only be sold on Good Friday, Christmas and burials. As for the best wine with hot cross buns, I vote for Tokaji Aszú from Hungary, a wine that’s not syrupy sweet, just mesmerizingly complex.

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Queen (for More Than a Day)

The first wine queen in California (a state which has also anointed garlic queens, artichoke queens and so on) was crowned in 1913 in Escondido, San Diego County, a time when the state’s wine industry was centered in the south. Wine queen popularity grew in the 1920’s—curiously, during Prohibition. With their “hometown girl” beauty, wine queens were often the highlights of harvest celebrations and county fairs. In the 1930s, when wine production exceeded demand in Germany and later in Spain and Austria, those countries also began crowning wine queens to help promote wine consumption and sales. In the U.S., Lodi crowned its first wine queen in 1934 during the annual Lodi Grape Festival. (One of the Lodi queens is pictured above). Local queens often competed for an even grander title; being crowned the California State Fair wine queen was the height of queendom in the 1950s and 1960s. (By the way, what well known woman was named an honorary Artichoke Queen?) Before Wiki-checking, send your answer to [email protected].

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It’s a Spring Thing

Sauvignon blanc—crisp, limey, herbal—is tailor made for Spring. We decided to ask prominent cheese expert (and our friend) Janet Fletcher (Planet Cheese) to name some of the most delicious cheeses for sauvignon blanc. Here’s her list:
“I’m inclined to pair sauvignon blanc with cheeses that I would have early in the meal—like feta, ricotta, ricotta salata, mozzarella, and burrata. Nicasio Valley Cheese Company’s Foggy Morning is a fresh cow’s milk cheese that I love with sauvignon blanc. Also, Garden Variety’s Sweet Alyssum which is a fresh, rindless sheep’s milk cheese—much lighter on the tongue than most chevres. I also love Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese’s mozzarella, which is made with cultured milk (as opposed to acidified milk) so it has more flavor. And Bellwether Farms Jersey Milk ricotta  is marvelous with spring vegetables like asparagus, fava beans and beets.  My favorite fetas? Greek feta from Mt. Vikos and French feta from Valbreso. With olives and pita and cucumbers or beets or fava beans, bring on the sauvignon!”

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A Winery’s Best PR Star

In most places, a dog is a dog but in a California vineyard, you might as well spell dog backward. A good vineyard dog oversees all public relations. She (or he) greets and announces visitors. She attends wine tastings, pre-sampling the baguettes for freshness. A vineyard dog is faithfully dusty from stalking mice, owls, wild turkeys, rabbits, and deer in the vineyard. Ever the connoisseur, she joins the vineyard crew for lunch, helping in the consumption of burritos con pollo and tacos al pastor. Above all, a good vineyard dog knows (this is true) when the grapes are ripe and will nibble a cluster right off the vine when the time is right.

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Yellow Mellow

It’s mustard season in Napa and Sonoma, California, and everywhere you look, visitors are photographing the neon yellow carpet of mustard growing up around the dark dormant trunks of vines.  Mustard has grown wild here for centuries (possibly brought by Franciscan missionaries). While it isn’t used to make anything you could slather on a hot dog, wild vineyard mustard acts as a good cover crop, adding nutrients and biomatter to the soil. It also helps protect vines from damaging nematodes (microscopic worms) who don’t care for mustard’s biofumigant properties.

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Ok. Did you know these 5 fascinating facts about Alsace gewürztraminer?

  • Alsace, France, is the key region globally for great gewürztraminer
  • Very aromatic, Alsace gewürztraminer smells like roses, litchis, marmalade, fruit cocktail, and spices, not to mention Pond’s Cold Cream (which all Boomers will know).
  • Alsace gewürz is low in acidity–and almost never oaked.
  • Because Alsace gewürz is usually full bodied and fruity, it works beautifully with any dish that has soy sauce which can massacre wine; not gewürz; it’s up for the challenge.
  • Virtually all Alsace gewürz are dry. But they can seem sweet because they are so fruity.

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Let’s See—Crème Brûlée or Chocolate?

There are ten styles of Port, but luckily they all fall into one of two major categories which I’ve come to think of as those that are like crème brûlée and those that are more like chocolate cake. The “crème brûlée” Ports are the ones that have been aged in wood a long time. These Ports have brown sugar, almost creme brûlée-like flavors. Tawny Port is the best example. (And in fact, it tastes delicious with crème brûlée). The “chocolate” Ports have been aged a long time in bottle, with very little exposure to air. They are darker red in color, and have a dense almost cocoa-like or chocolatey flavor. Vintage Port is a perfect example of a bottle aged Port. (Not surprisingly, it tastes phenomenal with chocolate).