Sunday, February 24, 2013

Champagne 101

As a follow-up to the sparkling wine decision map I posted recently, I thought I’d share some details on Champagne, the most famous sparkling wine in the world.  Understanding what makes Champagne unique can help you understand why you like it (or don’t), and help guide you to other sparkling wines you may like.  

What makes Champagne different from other sparkling wines?

A sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if it is made within the legally defined boundaries of that region in northern France.  This is based on the French concept of terroir, which means that a wine expresses the place where the grapes are grown.  

The process is also important.  The Champagne method is the highest quality method of making sparkling wine.  When it is used outside the Champagne region, it is called the traditional method.  Here’s an overview of the steps in the process:

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Drinking Desert Rose from Homestead Winery

I drank a very interesting (and tasty) Texas wine last night from Homestead Winery.  Homestead’s main production facility is in Ivanhoe, TX, but it has tasting rooms in Denison and Grapevine.  I visited the one in Grapevine last year and purchased a bottle of their “Desert Rose.”

Desert Rose is made from the Muscat Canelli grape, which grows well in east Texas.  (This grape is grown in southern France where it is known as Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains.  It is also the grape of the famous Italian Moscato d’Asti.)  Don’t be confused by “rose” in the name – this is a white wine.  It is mostly dry, with perhaps a hint of residual sugar.  The aromas include the “grapey” and floral qualities typical of Muscat, along with some grapefruit, apricot, and a slightly herbal undertone.  It has a medium body and medium-to-high acid, so it is food friendly!  I drank it with a Thai red curry, and it held up nicely.  I’ve tasted many Muscat Canellis from Texas, and this one may be my favorite.

A note on the alcohol content:  I noticed as I was tasting that the alcohol was a bit high.  Not enough to detract too much, but enough to keep it from being perfectly balanced.  However, the bottle doesn’t list the alcohol content.  Texas wine law allows producers to label their wine as “table wine” and omit the alcohol percentage on the label, as long as the wine has less than 14% alcohol, and Homestead has done this.  I bet it’s pretty close to that 14% maximum though! 

Desert Rose is $13 a bottle, but unfortunately I don’t know of any locations selling it in the Houston area.   Homestead does have a wine club though, and ships to Texas residents.  Better yet, use this as an excuse to visit Homestead and the other wineries on the Grapevine Wine Trail, just outside of Dallas.  It’s an easy weekend getaway if you live in the Houston area.  While you’re there, stay at the Gaylord and visit their incredible wine bar!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wine-Influenced Beers

I tasted 2 great beers last night, both with strong wine connections.

One was Dogfish Head Brewery's Noble Rot.  It includes juice from Viognier grapes which have been infected by "noble rot," or botrytis, which is a fungus that is essential to some of the world's most highly regarded dessert wines.  The resulting beer is similar to a Belgian pale ale, but with some honeyed, cider-like notes.  It also had some of the tangy flavor that I associate with sours.  If you're in the Clear Lake area, you can get this on draft at Nobi Public House, but I imagine it won't last long!

The other was also at Nobi - Ska Brewing Company's Hibernal Vinifera Stout.  Vinifera is the species of grapes that is best for winemaking.  This stout is fermented along with Malbec grapes, and it's extremely yummy.  Dark, rich, yet not too heavy, chocolately and toasty, but with additional complexity from the Malbec.

If you're a beer snob, get thee to Nobi and try these!  In fact, get thee to Nobi, period.  Any fan of craft beer in this area needs to be a regular there.

Are there other wine-beer crossovers I should know about?

The 2-Minute Guide to Bubbles

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, so you might be in the market for some sparkling wine!  Here’s a flow chart to help you decide what to buy:

And here are some details about each option:

Champagne – This is the classic choice for celebrations.  It must come from the Champagne region of France to be called Champagne, and you will pay extra for that pedigree!  Because of the process used to make it, Champagne has toasty, bready aromas/flavors that some people like and some don’t.  Most Champagne is “brut” which means it tastes dry.  If it says “demi-sec” it will taste somewhat sweet.  Demi-secs can be tough to find, but if you live in the Clear Lake area, the Spec’s on Bay Area Blvd. carries the Veuve Clicquot demi-sec for around $50.

Cava – Cavas are made in the same method as Champagne, but come from Spain.  They taste similar to brut Champagne (dry), but cost less.

Crémant – Crémant is the name for a sparkling wine made in the same method as Champagne, but which comes from another region of France.  Labels will say Crémant, followed by which region made it (Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant d’Alsace, etc.).  These also taste similar to brut Champagne (dry), but are usually cheaper.

California Sparkling Wine – These are often made using the same method as Champagne (called “traditional method” outside of the Champagne region), but are fruitier in flavor.  They come in a range of prices.

Prosecco – This is a sparkling wine from Italy which is light and fruity, but dry.

Moscato d’Asti – This is for people who want something light, fruity, and sweet.  Asti Spumante is very similar, but a bit sweeter and with more bubbles.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Wine Infographic: French Wine Cheat Sheet

Update:  I've created a new and improved French Wine Cheat Sheet.  Find it here.
For the Introduction to French Wine class that I taught last week, I developed a one-page cheat sheet for the major regions, grape varieties, and appellations.  I've found this information extremely useful when buying French wine, so hopefully it will help you branch out and try something new!  (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.”  

Monday, February 4, 2013

Catching up with Some Links, plus a Nifty New Infographic

I've been away from the blog for a couple of weeks, partly due to a nasty sinus infection, and partly due to prepping for the French wine class I'll be teaching tomorrow night.  I hope to be back to regular posting later this week, but in the meantime, here are some neat links:

*  Underneath Britain's Ministry of Defense is a perfectly preserved Tudor wine cellar, which used to belong to Henry VIII!

*  This article, Darth Vader is My Lover: Revelations About Brettanomyces in Wine, is all about the different strains of yeast that are found in wine.  Brett is usually considered a fault, but is it???  UC Davis has actually released a wine aroma wheel solely dedicated to Brett-induced flavors.  (You may already be familiar with their Wine Aroma Wheel, discussed here.)