Friday, September 19, 2014

Top 6 Things to Know About Wine Vintages

The concept of vintages is fundamental to understanding wine, yet confuses many people.  Here are the most important things to know.

What is a vintage?
Vintage means year.  The vintage on a wine label refers to the year in which the grapes were grown.  For the vintage to be listed on the label, most wine regions require that at least 85% to 95% of the grapes be from that year, so a small portion from other years may be included.

Why do vintages matter?
In a word:  weather.  Weather conditions have a huge impact on the grapes in any given year.  A warmer year might yield grapes with higher sugar content, which would translate to a more alcoholic wine.  A cooler year might yield slightly underripe grapes with more vegetal characteristics.  Rain near harvest time is a notorious vintage spoiler, because it causes the grapes to absorb extra water which dilutes the juices.

Do vintages matter everywhere?
Some climates are more prone to vintage variation than others.  Maritime climates, such as Bordeaux and Oregon, tend to experience more weather fluctuations from year to year, so vintages matter more in those regions.  Also, a year that produced a great vintage in one wine region, might have produced a terrible one in another region.

Can I use this information to find wine bargains?
Yes!  If you know which vintages were outstanding in a certain region, you can expect all the wines from that region, even the less expensive ones, to be better that year.  Therefore, you can spend less money to get a great bottle of wine.  For example, if you normally spend $25 for a good Bordeaux, and you know that 2009 was a great year, you might spend less on a bottle from that vintage, knowing that the cheaper wine got a quality boost from the weather that year.  (Conversely, you also might decide to spend more on a bottle from that vintage, because you have confidence in its quality and want to buy a really amazing bottle.)

Do vintages affect aging?
Yes.  Even within a region that makes great wine, which is capable of aging for many years (like Bordeaux), a wine from a great vintage might have a significantly longer lifespan than a wine from a lesser vintage.  (More on wine lifespans here.)  In the vintage charts below, you'll see recommendations for when to drink a wine based on its vintage, such as "early maturing and accessible," "still tannic, youthful, or slow to mature," and "ready to drink."

Is there a handy reference for good and bad vintages?
Yes.  Various organizations produce vintage charts.

I recommend Robert Parker and The Wine Advocate's vintage chart (preview below).  This is a one-page quick-reference vintage guide which goes back to 1970 and includes "drink vs. hold" suggestions.  You can view it on a web page at this link, or download a pdf version here.  (I downloaded the pdf to my phone for easy reference.)

In the rare event that you need vintage data older than 1970, you can look to Decanter's vintage guide, which goes back to 1960 for some wine regions.  Decanter's guide offers good vintage information, similar to the Wine Advocate/Robert Parker chart, but is only updated through the 2008 vintage, whereas Robert Parker's goes up to 2013.

Happy hunting!

You might also be interested in:
Is your wine over the hill?
Burgundy, Bottle Aging, and Tertiary Aromas
Building a Better Wine Tasting

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Film Review: SOMM

Four sommeliers attempt to pass the prestigious Master Sommelier exam, a test with one of the lowest pass rates in the world.

I had been hearing good reviews of SOMM for a couple of years and finally got around to watching it this past weekend.  The film tells the story of 4 men who are studying to pass the extremely difficult exam to earn the title of Master Sommelier.  (Click here for an overview of wine certifications.)  The exam has 3 sections:  theory, service, and blind tasting.

The film follows the Master Sommelier candidates as they study together, taste (and spit) late into the evenings, and make thousands of flash cards.  What could have become monotonous scenes of guys talking and tasting are made compelling because, whether or not you’re interested in wine, it’s fun to watch passionate people who are experts in a field doing what they do best. The talking/tasting scenes are also intercut with footage of the wine-making process and animated maps of wine regions.  The transitional shots of wine glasses exploding in slow-motion were pretty cool too.  I will never take this wine exam, but as a wine student who’s taken 6 other exams so far, I sympathize with these guys and their obsessive studying.  (In fact, this is exactly why I started making wine cheat sheets.) 

The guys are also sympathetic because the odds are against them:  this exam has a pass rate of 10%.  We see the sacrifices they’ve made to study and prepare, we see what this dream has required of them, and the impact it’s had on their relationships and families, and we want them to get through it and succeed.  Some might say they’re crazy and should quit, but I think most of us have a soft spot for someone fully committed to a big dream who’s willing to work extremely hard (possibly to a crazy degree) to make it happen.

I like that the film shows the analytical and deductive tasting process, and emphasizes that it’s about training, not talent.  I also like that they made fun of some of the sillier tasting terms that don’t mean anything – like “my grandmother’s closet.”  (In my International Sommelier Guild class we were taught to use aroma/flavor descriptors that will mean something to another person.  If the point is to communicate how the wine smells/tastes, then you have to be comprehensible to someone other than yourself.)

Mixed in with all the stress and studying, SOMM conveys one of my favorite things about wine:  the way it can only be fully understood when you learn the history, geology, geography, and culture of where the grapes are grown and the wine is made.  At the same time, you have to consider the modern technology involved and the global business aspects of the industry.  It’s incredibly complex, and there’s a lot to know, and that’s why the test is so hard.

I think it’s worth mentioning my husband’s viewpoint.  He’s not a wine aficionado, other than what he’s picked up from living with me, but he IS a certified film snob who has made his own independent films and written a lot of film criticism.  Film Snob Husband gave SOMM ***1/2 stars out of ****, and appreciates that it doesn’t skimp on the “shop talk.”  So many reality shows and documentaries gloss over the actual work being done, in favor of trying to create drama by focusing on the personalities, relationships, or competition involved.  Film Snob Husband and I both prefer the style of SOMM, where we’re a fly on the wall in a world we’d otherwise never get to see.

Here's the trailer:

(SOMM:  Not Rated, 2012, 93 minutes, Directed by Jason Wise, Starring Brian McLintic, Dustin Wilson, Ian Cauble)

Friday, September 5, 2014

An eclectic list of good white wines under $15

I usually drink more red wines than white, but in the summer I like the cooler, lighter whites to combat the Houston heat.  Summer may be over (at least according to the school calender - the autumnal equinox won't arrive and officially bring fall with it until September 22), but we all know Houston will be sweltering for another month at least.  So I figured it wasn't too late to share a list of good white wines under $15.  This is a very eclectic list, based solely on what I happen to have tasted lately, so it's by no means exhaustive or even well-rounded.  But hopefully it will point you to something new to try!  

If I've written about the wine before, I linked to that post.  I also added a few words about the flavor profile.

  • Buchegger Riesling, from Austria
    • very fruity
  • Pewsey Vale Dry Reisling, from Australia
    • lemon, apricot, and minerality
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling, from Washington State
    • green apple and lemon with some minerality
    • (link to buy online)
  • Sartori Pinot Grigio, from Italy
    • citrus, mineral, and floral notes
  • Fontana Candida Terre dei Grifi Frascati, from Italy
    • citrus, pineapple, with a hint of toast
  • Abadia de San Campio Terras Gauda Albarino, from Spain
    • citrus and pear, little-to-no oak
  • Vignerons du Pallet Muscadet, from the Loire Valley in France
    • simple citrus flavors, with bready qualities from sur lie aging
  • Gerard Bertrand Picpoul de Pinet, from Coteau de Languedoc in France
    • simple and fruity, little-to-no oak
  • McPherson Viognier, from Texas
    • tropical fruits, floral notes, balanced by earthiness

  • Anna de Codorniu, Brut Cava, from Spain
    • fruity and toasty, a bit like Champagne
    • (link to buy online)

DRY, HALF-SPARKLING (petillant/frizzante)

  • Sauvion Vouvray (Chenin Blanc), from the Loire Valley in France
    • apple, lemon, peach, and earthiness

OFF DRY, HALF-SPARKLING (petillant/frizzante)
All of these are Vinho Verdes, and though they vary a bit in sweetness and flavor profile, they share the same crisp, refreshing, citrusy qualities.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

My continuing quest for cheap, dry Rieslings

As regular readers know, dry Riesling is quite possibly my favorite white wine.  Many good, dry Rieslings are priced around $20 (or more), which puts them out of my "everyday wine" price range, so I'm always looking for inexpensive options.

First, it bears repeating that, contrary to popular belief, not all Rieslings are sweet.  There are various ways to tell whether a bottle of Riesling will be sweet, dry, or somewhere in between.  I wrote about a strategy for predicting the sweetness level of German wines here.  Even better is the International Riesling Foundation's sweetness scale, which some producers put on their labels.

My current favorite cheap, dry Riesling is Pewsey Vale from the Eden Valley in Australia (which I've mentioned before here).  It runs $12 - $15, which is a great value.  But there are several other dry Rieslings which are widely available and even cheaper!  So of course I had to try them.  

The title holder and the challengers:


The 2 "challenger" dry Rieslings both come from the Columbia Valley in Washington State.  The Pacific Rim Dry Riesling costs about $9, while the Chateau Ste. Michelle is around $8.  Incidentally, they both use the International Riesling Foundation's sweetness scale on their back labels (as does Pewsey Vale).

One difference between these wines jumps out right away - the different bottle shapes.  Chateau Ste. Michelle uses the traditional German flute, while Pacific Rim uses the common "Bordeaux" bottle.  This can indicate a difference in the style of the wine.  German-style Rieslings tend to be lighter and more minerally (less fruit-forward), while Rieslings from the "new world" of wine (outside Europe) tend to be richer and fruitier.  Sure enough, when I tasted them side by side, Pacific Rim was fruitier, while Chateau Ste. Michelle in the German-style bottle was lighter and leaner.

Here are the full tasting notes:

2012 Pacific Rim Dry Riesling
  • Color:  pale yellow
  • Aroma:  pungent citrus and rich apricot with mineral undertones
  • Palate:  high acid, flavors generally match aromas, slightly bitter and hot on the finish, medium body, 12.5% abv
2012 Chateau Ste. Michelle Dry Riesling
  • Color:  pale yellow
  • Aroma:  bright lemon and peach with lots of earthy, mineral character, and a hint of the "petrol" quality that some Rieslings have
  • Palate:  high acid, flavors generally match aromas, medium body (but a bit lighter than Pacific Rim), 13% abv  (Though this alcohol level is higher than the Pacific Rim, this wine seems better balanced and integrated.)
Neither of these were bad wines, but they didn't blow me away.  I liked the Chateau Ste. Michelle a little better.  They're both a good value for the price, but I think in most cases I'd pay a few dollars more and buy a bottle of Pewsey Vale.  So Pewsey Vale remains my favorite cheap, dry Riesling, but I'll keep my eyes open for other potential contenders.  Please let me know if you have one to recommend!

A note on food pairings:  Rieslings are often paired with Asian and/or highly spiced foods, so I drank these with Baharat roasted cauliflower and Indian-spiced eggplant over pasta.  Please forgive my poor food photography...

The wines paired well with these dishes.  But don't forget that the Riesling grape originates in Germany, so Rieslings are a good choice with any type of German food as well, like sausage and sauerkraut, pork chops, chicken and dumplings, etc.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Wine Infographic: Riesling Cheat Sheet

Next up in the wine cheat sheet series:  Riesling!

See the full collection of wine cheat sheets here.

To see the Cheat Sheet in full size…
…in Internet Explorer, right click on it and select “open link.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open image in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”

You might also be interested in:
Wine Infographic:  German Wine Cheat Sheet
How to Tell if German Wine is Sweet or Dry
How Sweet is Your Riesling (part 2)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Drinking Barolo and Eating Rose Petals

I've written before about how long to store and age wine (the question of "when to drink") and admitted that I often wait too long to drink wines, because I'm saving them for the perfect occasion.  Well, recently I opened a wine that I'd been saving, and I think I got the timing just about right (if not early), so I thought I'd share my experience.

I purchased a 2003 Prunotto Barolo about 6 years ago and had been storing it in a wine fridge.  A Barolo is a type of wine (DOCG level) from Piedmont in northern Italy which is made from the Nebbiolo grape.  Many Barolos can age and improve for decades.  They can be very expensive, but Prunotto is mid-range.  To decide when to drink my bottle, I did a little research online.  Some sites recommended aging this wine for a few more years to reach its peak, while quite a few of the personal reviews from those who had tasted the wine suggested it was time to drink now.  Since I had the right occasion coming up - the birthday of a friend who loves big, red wines - I decided to go ahead and open it.

The typical aromas of Barolo (and Nebbiolo) are roses and tar, and they usually have a lot of acid and tannin.  This Barolo had aromas of fresh and dried cherries, along with floral and earthy qualities.  The flavors basically matched the aromas, with an earthy, savory finish.  It tasted great.

As wines age, their characteristics change:
  • fresh fruit aromas/flavors turn to dried fruit
  • fruity aromas/flavors diminish, while non-fruit aromas become more prominent
  • acid levels diminish
  • tannin levels diminish (the tannin molecules join together and precipitate out of the wine, creating sediment)
So, did I drink this wine at the right time?  Yes and no.  I could have waited longer, because the wine still had lots of fruit aromas, lots of acid, lots of tannin, and surprisingly little sediment.  This tells me it could have aged longer and developed more complex aromas.  On the other hand, 11 years is a decent amount of bottle aging, the wine was delicious, and it was a good choice for the occasion.  I don't regret drinking it, but the next time I have a bottle of Barolo, I'll probably give it a few more years.

Here's what we drank it with:

Fresh bread and sharp cheese are always a good idea.  The espresso rind on this cheese made it especially good with the earthy flavors in the Barolo.

Sundried tomato tapenade and sausage are great options with Italian wines.

 Of course, cherries went well with the cherry aromas in the wine.

Because of the typical rose aroma, I thought it would be fun to smell/taste with actual, edible rose petals.  I bought these candied rose petals online, and they paired really well!  (The ingredients are just rose petals and sugar.)

Dark chocolate is usually good with big red wines.

We also had a few other cheeses, some wine crackers, and fresh tomatoes with balsamic vinegar.

The full spread:

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

Returning to Messina Hof for my 1st harvest and grape stomp!

Most people who are interested in Texas wine have heard of Messina Hof winery.  It was established in 1977 by Paul and Merrill Bonarrigo, whose son Paul and his wife Karen are now carrying on the family tradition.  The wines have won many awards over the years, and the Bonarrigos and Messina Hof have been instrumental in the growth and promotion of the Texas wine industry.  In 1977 there were 3 wineries in Texas - now there are 300!

Messina Hof is the first winery I ever visited.  This was about six years ago, before I knew anything about wine, except that I liked to drink it.  My husband and I had just become interested in wine and were still trying to figure out what we liked.  When we toured Messina Hof and tasted the wines, the Cabernet Franc made a huge impression.  Not only was it a grape we had never heard of, but we absolutely loved the wine - we were fascinated by the earthy/herbal qualities we had never experienced.  That visit sparked my interest in the many flavors of wine and fueled my desire to learn more about it.

Last night I visited Messina Hof again for their Moonlit Harvest and Dinner.  It was a beautiful evening - surprisingly cool and breezy for August in Texas.  We arrived about 6pm for tasting, picking, grape stomping, dinner, and then a special announcement!

Wine on Tap

It was fun to see the innovations since my last visit.  Messina Hof has been experimenting with "wine on tap."  This works a bit like beer from a keg.  The wine is taken straight from the barrel and placed into something similar to a beer keg, and attached to a tap.  This is the system they use in their tasting room, and it lets you taste the wine as it would taste straight from the barrel.  It's a neat experience for the consumer, since the flavor is different from what you taste out of the bottle.  

It's also efficient for restaurants and wine bars.  Restaurants often have to throw away leftover wine, when a bottle has been open for several days and begins to oxidize.  The tap system prevents this waste, since it keeps the wine away from air as it's being used (the same idea as bag-in-box wines).  Once the keg is tapped, the wine stays fresh for 2 months or so.  This prevents waste and saves money for the restaurant.  We tasted the Cabernet Franc on tap, and it was just as good as I remembered!

Harvest Time and Grape Stomp

After a few instructions about how to use the knives (the mixing of wine and sharp objects requires careful attention!), we were set loose in the vineyard to fill our bins with bunches of Lenoir (aka Black Spanish) grapes.  These grapes are destined to become Sofia Marie Rosé.  

Messina Hof makes 4 different wines from the Lenoir grape.  The grapes increase in sugar content as they hang on the vine (more on that here).  More sugar in the grapes translates to either more sugar or more alcohol (or both) in the finished wine, so different wines require grapes with different sugar levels.  So the Lenoir grapes are harvested at 4 different times to make these 4 wines.

After the picking, Monsignor Malinowski offered a few words of blessing and led a prayer for a continued fruitful harvest.  In today's world, especially if you live in a big city, it's easy to forget that wine is an agricultural product, and growers are still dependent on nature.   

Once the grapes are picked and blessed, it's time to stomp!  While most wine today is not made by people stomping grapes (we have machines for that now), Messina Hof still celebrates the tradition on harvest day.  I'm glad they do, because it's a great reminder of wine's connection with the past (after all, it's been around for thousands of years), and it's fun!  They'll even let you put your grapey footprints on a T-shirt.  (That's my husband peeking out from behind my T-shirt.)

If you've never harvested grapes, I highly recommend it.  There's no better way to expand your knowledge of wine than to go to a winery, see how the wine is made, look at the vines, and if you're lucky - pick some grapes yourself.  Messina Hof does a great job of making this a fun and educational event.  

Messina Hof is Expanding

At dinner, we heard some exciting news first hand:  Messina Hof is expanding into Grapevine, Texas.  In late 2014 they will open a new urban winery in historic downtown Grapevine, joining the Grapevine Wine Trail.  Messina Hof's newest location will be in the Wallis Hotel, and will include a 2-story space with a wine production facility, a retail shop, and a tasting room with 18 wine taps.

Grapevine Mayor William Tate spoke at dinner to welcome Messina Hof to Grapevine, and praised the Bonarrigos for their pioneering work and their involvement in promoting Texas wine, through Grapevine's annual Grapefest and in their participation in the Grapevine-based Texas Wine and Grape Grower's Association.  Mayor Tate has led the city of Grapevine for an amazing stretch of 39 years and has successfully positioned his city as a wine hub in the state, which is fitting for a city named after its wild grapevines.

What We Tasted

I can't finish this post without adding a few notes on the wines we tasted.  Messina Hof grows Lenoir in its main vineyard in Bryan and sources the rest of its grapes from other vineyards around Texas.

Blanc du Bois Private Reserve:
Blanc du Bois is a familiar grape in Texas.  This one is light, refreshing, and easy to drink.  Though it is dry, it's very fruity, so I think it would please a wide variety of palates.

Sofia Marie Rosé:
The Lenoir grapes we picked last night will become this year's Sofia Marie.  This wine is named after Paul and Karen's daughter.  It's deep in color for a rosé, but still light and crisp.  It's ever-so-slightly sweet with 1% residual sugar (the threshold where most people can just begin to detect sweetness).  The tart and jammy, yet earthy flavors are nicely balanced.

GSM (Grenache, Shiraz, Mourvedre):
I'm a big fan of GSM wines in general, especially ones from the traditional home of that blend in the Southern Rhone Valley of France, and this example could hold its own against any of those.  I love the aromas of earth and baking spice in this dry red.  Messina Hof's GSM will only be available in restaurants, and is just now making its way into the Houston area, so I'll post an update when I know where you can try some.  (Better yet, just visit the winery!)

Paolo Cabernet-Merlot Blend:
This Bordeaux-style blend is an all-around good red wine.  Smooth and approachable, yet full-bodied and steak-worthy.

"Glory" Moscato Mistella (Late Harvest):
Since the grapes develop more sugar as they hang on the vine, a "late harvest" wine has lots of sugar in the grapes and tastes sweet.  This wine is very sweet, but has a good amount of acidity to balance the sugar.  It has the typical Moscato flavors and tastes sweet without being cloying or candy-like.

Papa Paolo Port:
Messina Hof makes a great port-style wine, which was one of my clearest memories from my first visit.  Most ports are fortified with grape brandy up to the standard level of 18 - 20% alcohol, so they sometimes taste strong and harsh.  Messina Hof uses a process that allows the yeast to do the work of fermentation to get the alcohol to the correct level, without needing additional brandy, so their port is super smooth.  The aromas and flavors of dark fruits (black cherry, blackberry) and chocolate, combined with lots of sweetness, and acid to balance, just can't be beat.

If you're interested in Texas wine, a visit to Messina Hof is essential.  The main location in Bryan is an easy day trip from DFW, Houston, or Austin.  With their second location in Fredericksburg and the expansion into Grapevine coming soon, it's becoming easier than ever to get to know Messina Hof.  I appreciate their interest in community and wine education, and of course, they make a good glass of wine!  

The harvest celebration continues throughout August, so check out the special events happening all month.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Wine Infographic: New Zealand Wine Cheat Sheet

Next up in the series:  New Zealand!  You're probably familiar with New Zealand's famous Sauvignon Blancs, but they make other wines too, many of which are light, fresh, and great for warm weather.

See the full collection of wine cheat sheets here.

To see the Cheat Sheet in full size…
…in Internet Explorer, right click on it and select “open link.”
…in Chrome, right click on it and select “open image in new tab.”
…in Firefox, right click on it and select “view image.”

You might also be interested in:
Improve Your Tasting Skills: Sauvignon Blanc and Gooseberries

Friday, July 25, 2014

Acustic Blanc from Spain

I talk a lot about shopping at Spec's, because there's a big one near my house, it has a great selection, and the prices are reasonable.  However, I am also a fan of Houston Wine Merchant.  I trust their selections, so every time I go, I look in the sale bins and try to pick up several bottles I know nothing about.  Acustic Blanc was one of those.  It comes from Spain, so you may want to keep the Spanish Wine Cheat Sheet handy for this review.

Knowing nothing about this wine, I did a little research.  It comes from Monsant, a very small region in the province of Tarragona, next to the more famous region of Priorat.  Monsant DO was formed in 2001 and is known more for red wines than whites.  Many of Monsant's grapes come from old vines.  Acustic Celler uses organic farming methods, though it is not yet certified organic, and is a well-respected producer in Monsant.

Acustic Blanc is blended from 60% white Garnacha, 25% Macabeu, 10% pink Garnacha, and 5% Pansal. Gerrard Seel Wine Merchant offers some technical details:  "The hand harvested grapes were given a two day skin maceration at cold temperature to extract as much flavour as possible from the skins. 30% of the wine was fermented and aged in new French oak barrels of low toast before blending with the tank fermented wine."

But how does it taste?

Color:  Medium yellow.
Nose:  Strong floral aromas (maybe orange blossom?), mineral, peach, and red apple.
Palate:  Medium body, high acid, with more citrus flavors than were apparent on the nose, crisp peach, and a bit of that savory quality on the finish which gives away the oak aging.  14% abv.

This is a well-crafted wine, but don't let it get too warm!  I let my glass sit out too long and noticed that as the wine warms up, the alcohol can become too apparent.  Alcohol always becomes more noticeable at warmer temperatures, but since this wine starts out at 14%, it needs to stay cold to keep that high alcohol content from taking center stage.

I could see Acustic Blanc pairing well with many types of food.  I happened to drink it with roasted lemon-pepper broccoli and baked fish with Chinese 5-spice and sesame oil, and it was very nice with both.  I'd recommend it with a wide variety of fish, chicken, or vegetarian dishes.  Because Monsant is near the Mediterranean coast of Spain, Acustic Blanc should compliment Spanish dishes from the region (paella!) and other Mediterranean-style dishes -- think herbs and olive oil.

Acustic Blanc's $18 price tag is perfectly reasonable, but I'm still happy I got it on sale!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rosa Regale: Fresh, Crisp, Juicy, and Sweet

If you like sweet wines, either for everyday drinking or just on occasion, and you have felt disappointed that most of your options are white (and many of them are of questionable quality), then I have good news for you!  I recently got to taste Rosa Regale and found it charming.  It's a high quality, light, red, semi-sweet, sparkling wine.

Rosa Regale comes from the Piedmont region of northern Italy and is classified as a Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG.  This places it at the top of the Italian wine quality system, so it has a reliable pedigree.  Rosa Regale is 100% Brachetto, a red grape.  Skin contact during fermentation is brief, so the wine gains some red fruit flavors, but remains light and low in tannin.

Here are the details:

Color:  Pale ruby.
Nose:  Fresh red fruits, especially cherry and strawberry, with a hint of melon, and some floral characteristics.
Palate:  Semi-sweet, high acid, low tannin, with fresh, juicy red-fruit flavors, and a hint of earthiness.  7% abv.

I drink very little sweet wine, but I have to admit this one is nice.  The sweetness and the acidity balance well, as do the fruit characteristics and the hint of earthiness.  It's sweet, but not syrupy or desserty - just light and crisp and easy to drink.  At about $18 per bottle, it's not an everyday wine, but it does occupy a niche with few players (that I know of).  There aren't that many good quality, sweet, red sparklers.

I'm fairly new to the world of Brachetto d'Aqui, but Rosa Regale reminds me of a red version of Moscato d'Asti, a semi-sweet, sparkling white wine.  After all, they both come from Piedmont and both have their own DOCGs.  In fact, some friends of mine, who recently got married and are big Moscato d'Asti fans, asked me to recommend a celebratory wine for them.  This meant something they would like that they hadn't tried, something a bit out of the ordinary, and a few dollars more expensive than what they would normally spend.  If you like sweet and semi-sweet wines, I'll tell you what I told them:  you need to try this!