Requisite New Year’s Resolution Post

These are my Wine Resolutions for 2018, ones I actually expect to keep. 

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So, every year I make a list and the list has two categories- resolutions I want to keep and resolutions I actually expect to keep. In the first category you have things like “go to the gym 4x/week”; “drink less wine”; “de-clutter the closet”; “learn to salsa”… On the other hand, you have resolutions you’re actually interested in putting in the work for: “read 100 books; post at least one blog entry/week”; “spend more time with my dogs”; “don’t wear PJ pants outside of the house” … see the difference?

I’m not going to bore everyone with my personal life here (although it’s seriously fascinating and you’d probably love it… well, maybe not, it’s hard to tell; however it’s not at all the point of Somm Bitch).  But, in terms of things I think people would like to hear about, here we go. These are my Wine Resolutions for 2018, ones I actually expect to keep.

In 2018 I will:

  1. Explore more. Look, part of my SommBitch personality may mean that I’m a little bit of a bitch about wine. Historically, I suppose, I know what I like and I’m drinking within those parameters. However, that’s somewhat limiting- I want to drink just about anything- I mean wines from Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria… occasionally sweet wines; top New Zealand Sauv Blancs and Pinot Noirs; dessert wines… If it’s out there and it’s interesting, I’m going to endeavor to not only drink it, but to evaluate as objectively as possible- (yes, I know this means it could be the year of Riesling for me, please don’t mock or hate, this is a serious endeavor that I’m not genuinely expecting to love- just to come to a better understanding).
  2. Keep up with this blog at least once a week. I know a lot of people probably wonder why that’s at all difficult to do- I mean, you drink the wine, you write about the wine, what’s sou tough? Well, to make this blog actually interesting and provide the right amount of education, snark and useful information- that isn’t the easiest thing in the world. Obviously I sample wines regularly and rate on social media (oh, hey, follow on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for mini reviews but all the snark,  pretty, pretty please!) But the work for one blog post is actually a lot of planning and hours in the making- and since this is my very NON-cash generating business, I have to fit it in with my day job, my family, my performing and my political activism… not to mention all the studying it takes to become a true Somm!
  3. Stop using a bottle of wine to try and cope with the way the world is outside. Look, 2017 was not a great one for some of us in America, and it was a lot of nights after spending the day reading the news and watching documentaries, reading books… there were too many nights I came home, angry or heartbroken about what is going on around me. I would open a bottle and take to angry tweeting on Twitter at politicians, trolls, commentators… and you know what? It didn’t usually change anyone’s mind, it frequently only made me more angry, and it was expensive as hell! (Note, never agree to a Trump speech drinking game- if you drink every time he says “I did…” or “Crooked Hilary” or “yuge”, you will end up with alcohol poisoning. Do not do it.) So, this year, I’m going to try to turn the noise off more, to drink for pleasure or education, not out of a growing sense of despair over this ridiculous hellscape.
  4. Stop worrying quite so much about cost. Seriously, I make almost 2x what I did when I first started to drink, about 8 years ago, but I need to stop making my default $12 and under, maybe start to splurge to the occasional $15-20 bottle? Don’t get me wrong, especially in places like Spain, Portugal, South America, South Africa, these price points aren’t even remotely difficult to find incredible bottles within. I’ve spent my entire life looking for the bargain bottles (and honestly will always be too thrifty to entirely move on from this mentality), but I will begin to treat myself a bit more often with the occasional truly special bottle of wine. In fact, and I know how 1st World Problem this is, I even resolve to–
  5. 6 times this year I will buy a bottle worth more than $40. Seriously, as a wine pro, the shade I get over my obsessive hunt for everyday, super-affordable wines, bargain wines. I use WTSO and Last Bottle for most of my best bottles at affordable prices, so I’m drinking damn good wine, but every once in a while, if I’m to truly get down deep into Barolo, Bordeaux, Champagne, California Cabs, etc, well, I’m going to need to open the pocket book a little wider.
  6. Complete my Level 3 WSET, my Cicerone Beer Server certification and hopefully be at least signed up for the first DipWSET course (you have to start with a specific one that’s only offered two times/year, so I’m mot sure that’s going to be possible to finish in 2018).

So that’s it- I’ll drink more from interesting places, crazy styles and occasionally splurge on myself. I’ll continue my education through WSET, Cicerone and personal study. And, I’ll keep you all updated on these as I go!

Happy New Year to everyone of you- let’s do this 2018!

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Blind Tasting Sparkling Wines- While Being Only Sort Of Pretentious

Two Cork Dorks, 4 domestic Sparkling wines and a blind tasting- can we figure out which is which?

Champagne Dreams and Birthday Wishes

4 sparkling wines, 2 Cork Dorks

Sometimes I wonder what normal people do with their best friends for their birthdays. Last weekend was my annual birthday trip to Philadelphia to spend two days with my best friend- the real bitch (oh, and real Somm) behind this Somm Bitch. We’ve been friends since we were five and the fact that we have both somewhat randomly found this amazingly complex world of true cork-dorkiness is another testament to the concept of platonic soulmates. His birthday also happens to be the day after mine, so we always get together for a weekend to do something fairly epic. This year we were going to taste the best sparkling wines made in America, 6 different bottles.

And that is how I ended up, on Friday afternoon driving to South Philly. I was in my always messy Mini and had Season Three of my current podcast obsession (My Dad Wrote A Porno- seriously, go, listen. It’s good) plugged in and tons of seltzer water to get me up 95. When I was an hour from Philly I texted Bestie: “1 hour out, it’s birthday weekend so I expect to be greeted with a glass!”

As usual, he did not disappoint- I found him cleaning up a flute he dropped on the floor at my arrival. (Don’t worry, it was empty, no champagne was wasted or harmed). Now we could open the bottle- a 2005 vintage champagne from Michel Jacquot. Bestie explained to me it was a grower Champagne from the Aube subregion.

Spoiler: it was delicious. He explained to me Jancis Robinson’s take on the 2005 vintage. Apparently she thought it was “lackluster due to variable conditions that year, but amazing weather leading right up to harvest ensured ripeness but kept acidity on the lower side.”

My take? I sipped it, I sniffed it, and I tried to parse it. My first reaction was just how heavy on yeast it was, but luckily I love that in a good champagne. The scent of rising sourdough was almost a too much to get anything else at first… and then, wow, once I did move past it it really blossomed. I got flavors of lemon curd, caramel apples (green Granny Smiths at that), and a tiny bit of hazelnut. Bestie got the caramel apple, but he also kept talking about pastry dough- leaving us NO choice but to keep sampling until we had both seen each other’s points. Thank God we were heading to a MORE than substantial dinner.

The Four Wines

Saturday at 10:30 in the morning, we are ready to get serious. After multiple viewings of Somm, we wanted to test our blind tasting skills. To that end, he set up our strange, but decadent, challenge. We had four bottles of domestic sparkling, all Methode Champenoise, all in the $20-30 range. Ok, four champagnes- we can do this, right? We wrap them up in those cool velvet bags where you can’t see anything about them. Now, just as I think we’re ready to get started, he decided we needed to “benchmark” against the ultimate sparkling: Tattinger. Tattinger is perfect, it would remind us of the ideal we were looking for.

I love Tattinger, Nectar of the Gods. Even the non-vintage is some of the best champagne I’ve ever put in my mouth. It’s a bit heavy on the yeast- that’s all you can smell in the minute after you open the bottle. But, after a while, those aromas began to mellow and I started to get notes of lemon zest, cream, honeysuckle, toasted hazelnut and maybe some unbaked apple pie. Essentially, it was pure heaven in a glass.

Now it was time to move on.

A Blind Tasting Experiment Begins

Let’s be very clear, this is a strange kind of blind tasting we’re doing- we’re trying to see if based on look, flavor, nose, etc. we can figure out WHICH bottle is which- from which region/producer does this come? The four sparkling wines:

  • Argyle Brut Willamette Valley, NV ($25.99)
  • Roederer Estate Brut NV ($26.99)
  • Schramsburg Mirabelle Brut MV ($27.99)
  • Tattinger Domaine Carneros 2013 ($28.99)

Before we got started tasting, I suggested we wait to read the reviews of these wines. I thought it would be better to taste and to form our own opinions, before being influenced by what the pros thought.

The Reviews Are In

And that was how we began, starting with bottle 1, Roederer Estate Brut NV, and it was delightful. Frankly, I though the color was too pale for me to think it was the Vintage wine, but there were notes of dried fruit. (There was SO much back and forth as to WHAT that fruit was, I think we settled on mango). Next, I tasted bread, but a batter bread, not a dough. Consequently, I didn’t really get any minerality. I had no sensation of licking chalk or limestone, but it was definitely elegant and complex. And then, when it ended, it was well-balanced, not too acidic, and had a long, lovely finish. We originally thought “This is the multi-vintage (where they mix in small amounts of the best vintages with the lesser vintages for a real layering effect)… until we tried #4, then it became pretty obvious.

Next up for us was bottle #2, theTattinger Domaine Carneros, and I have to say, it stopped me in my tracks- it was just so light, I had to make sure he hadn’t tricked me and slipped a Prosecco in there. It was exceptionally light, ALMOST more frothy than bubbly, it had a strong nose of blossom, lemon curd, Bosc pear… but also a relatively light taste. This was ethereal- living in the upper registers of our sinuses, just floating- like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when they’re just ingesting bubbles and floating on them. I could almost taste the flavor evaporating on my tongue as it soared to the top of my mouth. Obviously, given the flavor, nose and pale straw color, it’s NON vintage.

Next was bottle #3, Argyle from Willamette, OR was a different beast entirely. This one reminded me of true, legit, straight-up  Champagne. It wasn’t dead on necessarily, but the nose had briney qualities. It wasn’t like a day at the beach, it was more evocative of memories of being near the water when it’s storming, eating pots of mussels or oysters. There was some sourdough bread rising both on the palate and the nose, some toasty, nuttiness (I’m going with Hazelnut) while still having plenty of baked red apple and baking spice.

I sipped more, I didn’t want to put it down. I started to wonder if there was some anise, but that felt like a fairly pretentious bridge too far. Then, at the very end, it reminded me of the smell of the wet limestone on my parent’s patio after a severe summer storm… it all came together in a visceral and compelling way. Given the flavor, the legs, the color, etc.- I was pretty positive this was from Oregon (Argyle).

And finally, we had bottle #4, Schramsburg Mirabelle Brut MV was pretty Champagne-esque… but didn’t check the right boxes for me. It lacked any kind of yeast/nut flavor. There was stone fruit, some pronounced minerality, delicate Meyer Lemon.. it was gorgeous- Champagne-adjacent.  While I very much enjoyed sipping (and eventually, to be honest, guzzling), it still didn’t evoke feelings of Versailles, of velvet, of oysters nor caviar. It didn’t make me want to revolt or put on a beret. Basically, it was good, just good, it was not perfection.

Actually Frequently Asked Questions for Holiday Shopping

The good news is that for every gift giving crisis, there is a solution (and yeah, chemically speaking, alcohol is a solution- and no, I won’t apologize for the pun). Every holiday season I make sure to spend at least a week in a store selling wine, beer and spirits to the huddled masses- it helps me to keep a finger on the pulse of the consumer and the typical problems they are facing- and this has helped me to create my list of questions I have been frequently asked and honest suggestions to solve them. 

Oh, the Holidays… for so many it’s a season of peace on Earth and good will towards man… and a never-ending hellscape of gift giving, receiving, shopping and endless attempts of trying to remember whether your boss likes red or white (false, turns out he only drinks gin). This isn’t even taking into your realization that it’s not longer “enough” for your child to take cookies to her preschool teacher, that’s apparently soooo 1998. Oh, and your neighbor who got your mail for you that long weekend you were away at a wedding? Apparently she’s expecting a little Christmas Cheer as well.

The good news is that for every gift giving crisis, there is a solution (and yeah, chemically speaking, alcohol is a solution- and no, I won’t apologize for the pun). Every holiday season I make sure to spend at least a week in a store selling wine, beer and spirits to the huddled masses- it helps me to keep a finger on the pulse of the consumer and the typical problems they are facing- and this has helped me to create my list of questions I have been frequently asked and honest suggestions to solve them.

Q: I need a gift for my (insert acquaintance-level here)- I don’t know if they drink red or white. What should I buy them?

A: How much are you willing to spend? For a neighbor, a colleague, a Secret Santa, etc- I’d keep it $12-18 dollars- just enough to know you thought about them, but clearly you’re not about to drop a ton on someone who you don’t even know well enough to really know what they like to drink. I’d stick to major varietals- the harsh reality is that even if they don’t like Chardonnay, they probably interact regularly with people who do that it won’t go to waste. If you swing really far, buying a NZ Sauvignon Blanc, there’s a good chance the person not only doesn’t really care for Sauv Blanc, but a super grassy New Zealand style is possibly a bridge way too far. I say stick to Cabernet (I like Sextant, Cruz Alta from Chile), Chardonnay (Angeline, Muirwood, or if you can find a great White Burgundy in your price range you’re all set); or anything Sparkling (I’m going to suggest a nice Cremant from France- all the elegance of Champagne but at a fraction of the price).

Remember, this is genuinely a time when it’s the thought that counts- having been thoughtful enough to think of getting them a gift at all is what really matters here.

Q: I want to buy wine for my (friend/daughter-in-law/friend/boss) and I don’t really know what they like to drink… but I know they like history/shoes/frogs/Spain…

A: Oh wow. This is probably one of the questions I legit get at least 12 times/day. I have a few thoughts: 1) Ok, Susan loves Frogs… so why are you buying her wine? Why not a great book about frogs, or maybe a gift certificate to a local aquarium? Trust me, I’m never one to talk you out of giving the wonder, beautiful, transcendent gifts of wine- but it’s not always the answer.  So if you really don’t have anything better to go off, than a love of frogs or history, maybe rethink it? 2) HOWEVER, if you’re determined- maybe you know that they absolutely adore wine and amphibious species, well, then maybe we’re cooking with gas.

So first step- think about the wine they love first- a love of frogs doesn’t mean buy Frog’s Leap Chardonnay if they only drink red. If they happen to love frogs and red wine, focus first on the red wine, let the love of frogs be secondary- trust me on this one. However, maybe find a wine that’s a price you can afford with a cute bottle stopper with a frog on top, or maybe you can find a gift bag with frogs on it- you’re so thoughtful and amazing for remembering not just one love but two!

Q: What should I buy for my boss for Christmas?

A: If you don’t know what he drinks, but know that he does drink-show you can find a superior product, but don’t be afraid for him to know you can find a bargain. Skip the Bordeaux, the Napa Cab, the $50 Champagne (you definitely don’t want him to think that he pays you too comfortably/well). But, don’t compromise on quality- this is where to show that you’re a forward thinker, creative, maybe out-of-the-box. Spain is an amazing place to look- I especially recommend something elegant and Bordeaux-like, maybe a Priorat? A Russian River Valley Pinot Noir or Chardonnay are also incredible best buys that just might indicate to him you have an eye on highest results, without losing sight of the bottom line. If that doesn’t scream promotion, I don’t know what will.

Q: I’m going to a party and want something crowd-pleasing, but I want the hostess to know it wasn’t a cheap gas station pick- what should I take?

A: When in doubt, go sparkling. For $8-16 you can buy out of this world Cava and Proseccos, even maybe some domestic or New World sparklings (Gruet from New Mexico comes to mind). Sparkling goes with everything- so if you don’t know what the food situation is going to be, if you don’t know what the crowd wants to drink- who doesn’t love to sip on a good bubbly while chatting it up with total strangers? If it’s a nicer party, instead of that $30 Napa Cab or maybe a Chablis you were thinking of, you can get an outstanding Cremant from anywhere in France that isn’t Champagne (again, my buddy Louis Bouillot is the best go to I can think of) or maybe you can find a good bargain on Argyle or Schramsberg domestic… even possibly true champagnes like Chateau Montaudon. These are bottles that will be completely drained within 30 minutes of your arrival, almost guaranteed (if the hostess doesn’t squirrel them away somewhere for personal consumption when she no longer has to share- I’d be lying if I said I had never done that before).

So there we are- some of my most frequently answered questions from this holiday season. Unfortunately, after ten hour days spent on my feet, climbing up and down ladders, hauling cases of wine on my shoulders and interacting with the lovely people of Florida- I’m exhausted. (And yes, I know it’s only 8:22 pm, but seriously, you try it, see how late you stay up). So I’m going to go and finish one more glass of my delightful Grao Vasco red wine from Portugal and curl up with a good book… of wine study materials because I still have three days of this madness to go and today I completely blanked on how to talk about Barbera and Dolcetto… so it’s back to the books, I suppose true greatness never stops, eh?

Lessons In Blind Tasting

When I first started to learn how to cook, someone gave me the advice to go through my spice cupboard and just taste everything in it: the herbs, the spices, the various oils, vinegars, pastes, etc… Let me tell you, the first time you taste things like Turmeric or Cream of Tartar or oyster sauce on their own… well, it’s interesting. But it really helped me figure out how this flavor and that flavor may work together in a dish. It was one of the smartest (and grossest) things I’ve ever done.

It’s possible to do some of that with wine- I can taste chocolate, berries, stone fruit; I can smell/taste roses, violets, honeysuckle, orange blossoms; I can smell my leather coat, cigars, pencil shavings; I can even go outside and lick limestone paving stones on my patio, chalk, gravel in the driveway… But there are something like 400 “essential” flavors/scents we are likely to identify in a wine. I’m not totally sure my brain can store and instantly recall that many profiles- any chance Apple is working on some kind of smart wearable for that, an iTongue maybe?

So, while I do a pretty good job with a wine tasting- I can usually narrow a wine down to 2-3 options and while I frequently still pick the wrong one, it’s usually the one I didn’t pick that was right… I don’t know if that makes it any better, but I’ll stand by it with only my Level 1 WSET at this point. Oh, and I can pick out a Sauv Blanc in my sleep, while I have a sinus infection- no question. But that’s probably not that special, I should stop bragging about that, huh?

Anyways, so you might know that over the birthday weekend, Bestie and I decided to do a kind of weird blind tasting. When given four bottles of American sparkling, in the $20-30 range, can we pick out which is which? Oh, and we had to make it even harder on ourselves, we had to stick to Methode Champenoise styles, all blends of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. So what? We’re going to be able to pick out from a few online tasting notes which is Carneros vs which is Oregon vs which is Anderson Valley? Did we REALLY think we could ID the one that grew in the foggy CA Mendocino County vs Carneros?

Well, yeah. We did think we could.

So at my suggestion, we tasted first, talking them ourselves- not wanting to be influenced by the winery’s/critics’ opinions. Turns out, I’m a genius for that suggestion. Well, genius-ish. But we’ll get to any fault in my mental processes later.  Don’t worry- I’ll make sure I point out the part that indicates my deficits; well, “ish”. 😉

Alright, velvet-covered bottle at the ready. Bestie made sure that we couldn’t even tell if the bottle was green (one of them was, I couldn’t tell in the velvet sleeve), and I was in charge of pouring- Bestie was really worried about compromising the integrity of our test- he had to trim the foil around the bottles’ necks to make sure he couldn’t pick out a silver vs gold. Seriously, for the two people who used to spend hours talking on the phone while watching Mary Poppins on Disney Channel instead of doing homework, our anal-retentiveness occasionally comes through in some truly surprising ways.

Ok, so as a reminder, the four sparklings we tasted:

  • Argyle Brut Willamette Valley, NV ($25.99)
  • Roederer Estate Brut NV ($26.99)
  • Schramsburg Mirabelle Brut MV ($27.99)
  • Tattinger Domaine Carneros 2013 ($28.99)

So, I poured the first sparkling. It was a lovely, but relatively pale gold- elegant beading. There was a smell of something baked- a battered bread like raisin-nut or spiced? But not a ton of yeast, especially not after the yeastbomb that was the Tattinger we had just enjoyed to help us remember a “benchmark” of fine sparkling. But for me, it was caramel-coated Granny Smith apple that was hitting me hard- toasted, caramel and rich but with some tart, crisp green apple as an almost unexpected backbone. Oh, and let’s not forget the toasted almond involved- it could have bitter or overly acidic, but it was complex and sophisticated, had a long finish and never felt like too much of any one thing.

So, what was it? It felt like the multivintage (MV) from Schramsburg- where they blend in a little bit from the BEST vintages to the lesser vintages to create a steady-to-superior quality. It was balanced and complex, but lacked some of the hedonism and absurd perfection of a true vintage champagne. Put a pin in it, a probable first guess?

Wine two has me asking Bestie,

Me: “Wait, I didn’t think any of these are Prosecco…”

Bestie: “Umm, you think I’d serve you  fucking Prosecco for this tasting? Please.”

(Don’t worry, Fans, dramatic reenactments of this scene will be available on YouTube ASAP).

So, if you haven’t figured it out yet, bottle #2 was exceptionally light, ALMOST more frothy than bubbly, it had a strong nose of blossom, lemon curd, Bosc pear but a relatively light taste. This one was nothing if not ethereal- it seemed to live in the upper registers of our sinuses, it felt like it was floating- like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory when they’re just ingesting bubbles and floating on them. You could almost taste the flavor evaporating on your tongue as it soared to the top of your mouth. Obviously, given the flavor, nose and pale straw color, it’s NON vintage.

Bottle #3 was a different beast entirely. This one reminded me of true Champagne. It wasn’t dead on, but the nose had briney qualities- not exactly a day at the beach, but serious maritime/sucking down oysters memories were evoked. There was some sourdough bread rising both on the palate and the nose, some toasty, nuttiness (I’m going with Hazelnut) while still having plenty of baked red apple and baking spice. I started to wonder if there was some anise, but that started to feel like a bridge too far. Oh, but at the very end? Definitely reminded me of the smell of wet limestone on my parent’s patio when I was growing up- smell, taste… it all came together in an awfully visceral way. Given the flavor, the legs, the color, etc- I was pretty positive this was from Oregon (Argyle).

Bottle #4 was pretty Champagne-esque… but didn’t hit the tasting notes for me. It lacked any kind of yeast/nut flavor- but it was gorgeous. There was stone fruit, a more pronounced minerality, it was Champagne-adjacent, it was classic and stunning and gorgeous… but didn’t evoke feelings of Versailles, or velvet, of oysters and caviar.

Ok, so we finally picked.

But in the back of my head I was like… yikes- I feel like based on the various descriptions, #3 is the Argyle… but no- it’s an Oregon sparkling that tastes like Champagne? IMPOSSIBLE! That was the most classic, the truest version, that HAS to be the Tattinger. So, we decided:

  1. Mirabelle
  2. Domaine Carneros
  3. Roederer
  4. Argyle

Guess what? We were SO wrong!!!! We correctly identified number one of them. And the thing that kills me is that in my head I KNEW, I absolutely had identified them correctly in my head- I just didn’t listen to myself.

So, as Shakespeare would say, “Know thyself” and “To thine own self be true.” Because you know how to taste, you know what you’re experiencing, don’t give into that inner bully who is trying to overthink it Let’s face it, if I know how to do anything, it’s drink, taste and understand what is currently in my mouth (I know, I know, dirty)… and I didn’t. Lesson, hopefully learned, from now on, it’s what my tongue says it is… Wait, is there any way to say that and not sound weird?

Be Italian – Your Guide to Italian Wines

Italy has 20 wine regions and 96 provinces which can make understanding Italian Wine incredibly difficult—but if you focus on four of the most famous grapes, it all becomes a bit easier to swallow.

Chianti Vineyards in Tuscany
Gorgeous vineyards in a Tuscan sunset

“You may have the universe, if I may have Italy.” –Giuseppe Verdi

Italian Wines

Italy vies with France every year for largest producer of wine in the world.  They make about 20% of the world’s wine and the average Italian drinks 45 bottles of wine each year. In fact, although it’s only about ¾ the size of California, Italy has more native grapes than any other country in the world- somewhere in between 400 and 500 varietals. This variety, the climate and the passion of the winemakers makes Italian wines some of the most distinctive in the world.

Italy has 20 wine regions and 96 provinces which can make learning about Italian Wine incredibly difficult. I can’t eliminate those complications, but if you focus on four of the most famous grapes in Italy, it becomes a bit easier to comprehend.

Sangiovese

You know those bottles of Chianti wrapped in straw with handles? As it happens, I love walking into an Italian restaurant and seeing those- it is evocative of Roman Holiday and other classic movies from Hollywood’s Golden Age. These nostalgia-worthy straw baskets are called fiaschi and are made of blanched straw. In fact, they were originally used to keep rounded Chianti bottles from blowing over and to protect the bottles when shipped. I know they never really took off in the US, apparently we think that looks cheap, but I can’t get enough of that look.

Sangiovese is the main ingredient in Tuscan Chianti. Italian wine laws mandate Chianti is at least 80% Sangiovese, but may include Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah and other grapes to round out the flavor profile. As it happens, wine laws in Italy are incredibly strict. Italian wines have a mandated release date, a minimum aging requirement, and only certain grapes can be used in certain wines. In the 70’s and 80’s Italian makers wanted to make Bordeaux-inspired blends, but the DOC wouldn’t allow it, calling it table wine. Soon after they began to make incredibly elegant wines that don’t fall under the laws and called them Super Tuscans.

Sangiovese grapes are the chameleon of wine because they blend so well. This grape takes on characteristics from the terroir and the blending grapes, but maintains structure and acidity. It’s also the driving force behind tannic Brunellos and Montefalco Rosso (which is very light bodied and strawberry flavored). Sangiovese is a strange wine- it’s fruit-forward with flavors of tart cherry, strawberry and tomato. Sangiovese may have heavier, rustic qualities that make it savory- flavors of oregano, baked clay, espresso and balsamic vinegar. Not surprisingly, Italian wines pair insanely well with food. The acidity, medium body and tannins work with a variety of food, but I recommend tomato-based dishes and chocolate.

Nebbiolo

Nebbiolo from the Piedmont region is the major grape in Barolo and Barbaresco, each named from the specific regions they come form in Italy. Their flavor profiles are each full of cherry, leather, anise and roses and are high in tannins and alcohol. If Barolo is the older, larger, swarthier beast of a wine (intensely tannic and very rich) then Barbarescos are a younger, more demure, but still elegant alternative. Barbarescos have a lighter body and color, but are still aromatic, complex and sophisticated. Lately wine collectors are searching for age-worthy wines to collect. Needing a break from the prices of California Cabs and French Bordeaux, these wines have become new fan favorites.

Pinot Grigio

Pinot Grigio is originally from France but grows well in Northeastern Italy: Lombardy. Veneto and Alto Adige. It is the most popular white grape in Italy (Italian wine production is more focused on red wines which make up 60% of all wine produced in the country). Pinot Grigio is a dry, acidic wine with tons of fruit flavors packed in (think lemon, yellow apple, melons, peaches, nectarines) and is the perfect drink for a hot summer day by the pool- it also works extremely well as the base of white sangria as the fruit flavors will intensify without becoming too sweet. I personally like to use it with strawberries, oranges, white cranberry juice and chopped basil or mint.

Prosecco

We all know how much I love all sparkling wines- bubbles are just my favorite thing to drink. In recent years, I’m guessing due to the affordability of the drink and the rise of brunch, Prosecco has become crazy popular.

It’s not the only sparkling wine from Italy, but it is definitely the most famous one. In fact, the original recipe for a Bellini at Henry’s Bar in Venice used Prosecco and not its French cousin, Champagne. Side note- I’ve never understood anyone taking a $30 champagne and adding OJ to it.

Prosecco is made in the Veneto region of Italy from the Glera grape. Unlike champagne, it is made using the “charmat” or tank method. This production style means that instead of having a second fermentation in the bottle (like classic champagne), it happens in large steel tanks. This allows for Prosecco to be produced faster and cheaper. This method makes Prosecco an incredible value to the consumer, and allows for the highly aromatic grapes to really shine through in your glass.

And yeah, it’s delicious mixed with peach puree (Bellini) or in your Mimosas, don’t feel like you have to hide it with mixers. Prosecco is a light, fruity wine full of green apple, honeydew melon, pears and honeysuckle. It’s crisp and creamy, it’s light-hearted and perfect to sip on its own during your next Girl’s Night. It also makes a festive, elegant and budget-friendly pick for wedding toasts.

Chardonnay 201: Time to Taste

So I got chardonnay from Chile, New Zealand, Russian River Valley and then two from Burgundy- a Bourgogne (lowest end) and one from Macon, so close to both ends of the spectrum.

Most people I know who are serious about wine have told me that the best way to learn a grape is to try as many styles of that grape as possible- different regions, different price points, blended… whatever I could get my hands on- drink it, study it, befriend it. And obviously, education is very important to me. So important, in fact, that I went out and bought five chardonnays from different places around the world to taste and try to really hash out my feelings over this grape.

I mean, I’m a red wine girl- not that I don’t love my bubble or the occasional rose, but generally speaking, 90% of the time, I’m drinking a bold red. But chardonnay… well, depending on where it’s from, can be the white wine for red wine drinkers. Not to mention, in my swampy, DC summer where some days hit 115 degrees in the heat index- sometimes a crisp, cool, refreshing hit of green apples, pear, tropical fruit… sometimes it’s exactly what you need to survive the weekend.

And because of my outstanding dedication to my pursuit of knowledge, this weekend was spent with the grape- I wanted to personally nail down the fingerprint of the varietal, to taste for myself the difference between regions- especially old world vs new world as we wine snobs like to talk about all the time.

So I got chardonnay from Chile, New Zealand, Russian River Valley and then two from Burgundy- a Bourgogne (lowest end) and one from Macon, so close to both ends of the spectrum.

I started with the two French and the California wines- the Bourgogne was about $11, the Macon was $22, the Russian River Valley Chalk Hill was $35. To represent the warmer climate regions, I picked a favorite New Zealand bottle and decided to try a new to me Chilean- each bottle costing about $10. So, let’s get into it.

Tasting notes:

2014 Vincent Sauvestre Bourgogne: Honestly, this should have been a sparkling- a blanc de blanc cremant (sparkling wine made using the traditional champagne method but NOT in Champagne), it just, in my opinion, didn’t have the structure or body I want in a white wine- maybe some bubbles would have helped there? It was a pale straw color, which already had me nervous- it looked more like a pinot grigio than a chardonnay and that made me nervous. I got a slightly tropical fruit nose, but mostly I just got crisp pear, some green apple and a tiny bit of cream. For $11 it wasn’t terrible, but it was easily my least favorite of the line up. Mostly I just thought it was meh.

2014 Macon-Burgy: Ok, so, aside from Chablis, this is the kind of chardonnay that white Burgundy fans get so excited about. And I’m not going to lie, I was a fan- it wasn’t my favorite chardonnay ever, but for a Burgundian style chard, I thought it stood up to its reputation- I appreciated and understood what that term Burgundian meant. Remember, chardonnay grows best in clay and limestone soils- weirdly the BEST wines tend to come from grapes that grow on vines that have to struggle and fight to be able to grow. This wine spent 8-10 months in stainless steel- they never touched oak, they didn’t even walk past an oak tree. BUT, they did go through MLF so while this wine was complex (many layers, wow- more layers than a Victorian woman), there is still a healthy hit of cream that, to me, read like lemon curd and ripe baked apple. It was good- I can’t say it was great or the perfect Burgundy, but I genuinely enjoyed putting this in my mouth. (Yes, I know, that’s what she said).

2014 Chalk Hill- Russian River Valley: I’m not going to say this is the perfect example of a CA chardonnay, I think some others I’ve had in my life seem more ideal- Scribe winery’s chard (they even offer a limited release skin-on that I go crazy for) is probably one of the more perfect bottles I’ve had to represent a large state. However, this Russian River Valley bottle really hit my buttons. It was richer than a Rockefeller in its stunning deep gold color and the nose was nothing but baked apple and baking spices of cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. Seriously, I smelled this glass and was transported to fall ciders and family holidays wherein we would make more apple pies than even an 11 person family can comfortably eat in 2-3 days. The taste fulfilled the promise of spiced, baked apples more than I could have hoped for but had an acidity that really cut through the richness and allowed me to be able to taste my popcorn. I will say that the alcohol content of this wine, being a new world version and higher ABV, DID make my boardgame day infinitely more enjoyable- Kill Dr Lucky is always funnier when slightly tipsy.

2015 Il Nobilo from Marlborough, New Zealand: This is the chardonnay I’ve frequently turned to in my past- and not only when the board game my fiance wants to play is far too intricate and weird for it to be truly enjoyable. This is a bottle that really turned me around on Chardonnay- it’s proximity to the Equator means it’s going to have tons of tropical fruits on the nose and the taste. I personally thought it was like a pineapple/papaya creamsicle and I absolutely loved it for that. It had just enough acid that I barely noticed the fatty, creamy, unctuous quality of the wine. I can’t say it would have been the ideal food pairing- honestly, it was the tiniest bit flabby when I tried it with white pizza (a challenge every other chardonnay held up to remarkably well). I can say that with buttered popcorn I was a truly happy camper and was thrilled to drink it with no food at all- which sometimes is a bigger challenge- it being harder sometimes to find a wine worthy totally on it’s own rather than with food.

2015 Alta Delta from the Central Valley in Chile: This was another nice surprise for me. This region is a little over 100 miles south of Santiago, in the foothills of the Andes Mountains- so they go through the benefits of diurnal temperatures (wide swings between daytime and nighttime temperatures). This one was a bit of an enigma to me- I definitely got some flavors of melon, a tiny bit of apricot (stone fruit), a little lemon/lime zest… but I think I detected a bit of papaya too? I couldn’t find much information online about this wine so I’m guessing it spent a little time in oak, given it’s hints of baking spice, cream and a tiny little hint of vanilla. I also didn’t notice much minerality, a  little surprising from this kind of mountainous region, but not insane or unbelievable.

So there we are- 5 wines, 2 vintages, and the real constants in flavor were that each wine had at least a little pear or apple. After that common trait the big difference was between Old World perfectly fruit and mineral driven lushness, and the more oaked and tropical versions from CA, NZ and Chile- wines that were reminiscent of pineapple upside down cake in a mostly great way. I’m not sure this is the best expression of chardonnay I’ve ever had, but I genuinely enjoyed drinking it- and that’s still a good reason to drink it- even if it’s not “technically” correct based on the other bottles I tried- it was a definite outlier… but still one I’m likely to drink again because it was fucking delicious.