Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Bubbling Over with Holiday Cheer - A guide to purchasing and serving Champagne and sparkling wine

You say "Champagne" but you might be buying "Sparkling Wine." So, what's the difference? Here's a quick overview of sparkling wine, how to open and serve it, and a recipe for a champagne cocktail.

You've heard the old saying, "location, location, location" when it comes to real estate or business matters but how about wine? Well, it's the same for a number of wines including champagne. The French state that you can't call your sparkling wine champagne unless it comes from the champagne region of France. Although we use the term interchangeably, true champagne must come from the Champagne region of France. Other countries produce champagne-style wines but in deference to France call them by different names: Spain makes Cava, Italy makes Spumante or Prosecco, Germany has Sekt and America makes sparkling wine/but I've also seen some labels that call themselves "California champagne."

The cheaper the champagne the larger the bubbles. There are a number of different methods to get the bubbles into sparking wine. With cheaper sparklers, carbonation is shot into the bottle with a pump. Quality sparking wines are made in the traditional French method called méthode champenoise or méthode traditionelle-- a time-consuming process that allows the bubbles to form through natural fermentation.

Like any other wine, champagne varies in body from light to full. It also varies in sweetness from dry to sweet. The driest champagnes are called extra brut, followed by brut, extra dry, sec, demi-sec and doux. Each of these terms refers to the residual sugar in the wine. Extra Brut wines have 0 to 0.6% sugar while a Doux style will have more than 5% sugar. Everything else falls in between.

Champagne should be served chilled between 40 and 50 degrees F. Cold subdues the flavors in the wine so cheap sparklers should be quite chilled while better vintages can be served at 50 degrees F. A good champagne should be refrigerated for about 2 hours prior to serving. That should ensure just the right temperature.

Although it's fun to "pop" a bottle of champagne the proper method of opening sparkling wine is to twist the bottle gently to release the cork. There is a demonstration in the video.

To open a bottle of sparkling wine:

  • Pull the zipper (the serrated foil around the neck of the bottle) and remove the foil.
  • Twist the tab and remove the metal cage from the cork.
  • Hold the cork and twist the bottle (not vice versa). You'll hear a quiet hissing sound as the cork release. Frenchman say that opening a bottle of champagne should sound like the contented sigh of a woman. Those Frenchman...gotta love 'em.
  • To pour, hold the bottom of the bottle. Your thumb should rest in the punt (the dent in the bottom of the bottle.
  • Pour each glass half way full. Once the bubbles have settled, fill the glass the rest of the way.

Some notes serving:
  • Using flutes (tall, slender wine glasses) keeps the bubbles from dissipating too quickly. Old-fashioned wide-mouthed champagne glasses let the bubbles get away twice as fast.
  • Be sure that your glasses are free from dust and soap scum. Both destroy the bubbles in the wine.
  • You might want to invest in a metal champagne stopper. It will keep the bubbles in place for another day.

I can't always afford an expensive sparkling wine, so I like to make a champagne cocktail.

All you need is a bottle of sparkling wine. I usually use brut or extra dry, myself - a few sugar cubes and a bottle of Angostura Bitters. Drop a sugar cube into a champagne flute, add two dashes of bitters and top with sparkling wine. Delicious!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Talking Turkey About Thanksgiving Wines

Need a little advice before you head to the wine shop this holiday? Here are a few notes to help you sort out the perfect wine for your Thanksgiving celebration.

There are several wines that are "gimme's" when it comes to Thanksgiving. That doesn't diminish their appeal or great taste. It just means that you might have already thought of them. So, let's talk about the easy pairings first.

Chardonnay is always a good bet especially if it comes from California or Australia. The oaky, buttery flavors really marry well with the traditional Thanksgiving meal. It's a wine that everyone is familiar with and will enjoy. I would suggest trying a lightly oaked version so that the wine doesn't compete with the food.

Pinot Noir and red Burgandy arguably top the list of all-time greatest wines. You might find it interesting to know, it's a compliment to suggest that a Pinot Noir or Burgandy has a "barnyard" aroma. That doesn't mean a foul smell, rather a lightly funky smell - like damp straw in a stable, a well-worn saddle - it's pleasant and reminiscent of a barn. A good Pinot Noir or Burgandy will have a velvety texture, soft tannins and perhaps a cherry fruit flavor. Their slight gamey aroma and light body make them a great match with roast turkey, particularly the dark meat, and root vegetables.

Zinfandel is a great choice if you are thinking about pairing with your side dishes vs. the turkey. If you make a delicious sausage stuffing or are famous for your cranberry sauce, Zinfandel could be the wine for you. Look for a fruity, medium bodied, moderate alcohol wine (under 13%) that won't overpower the meal.

If you are looking for something a little different, I have some less common wine pairing suggestions.

Viognier is a delicate, low acid wine that typically has light floral notes in the nose -- think peach blossoms or honeysuckle. It is a good wine for foods that are spiced with aromatic spices like clove and nutmeg. It pairs well with poultry, especially when combined with sweet and savory flavors so imagine it with roast turkey, herbed stuffing, sweet potatoes and a wedge of pumpkin pie.

Beaujolais often has a soft plummy flavor that is very drinkable. I'd recommend trying a Beaujolais-Village because they are typically light bodied and don't over powered food with too much fullness or a long finish. These straightforward wines pair well with rustic, flavorful foods like roasted pork and poultry with pan gravy.

Are you smoking your turkey this year? Or perhaps you're deep-frying your bird? Okay you crazy culinarians, I haven't forgotten about you! Here are some wine pairing suggestions just for you.

Sparkling wines and Champagne always add a festive note to the meal. But, if you are planning to deep-fry your turkey this year, this is definitely the choice for you! A crisp dry sparkling wine (brut or rosé) acts as a refreshing palate cleanser alongside the salt and crispy skin of the bird.

For those of you making a smoked turkey, a dry rosé is the ticket. I'm not talkin' white zin here, rather a European-style rosé. They typically offer a nice balance of acidity and fruitiness to compliment the smokey flavor of the turkey.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone! Cheers, Chef Erin

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Barrel to Bottle - Bottling Wine 2010

Matt, owner and winemaker, for Buscador Wine takes you from barrel to bottle. Great step by step video to see how the process works!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Get to Know Grenache

Grenache Harvest
Grenache on it's own is not a common wine for most Americans. It's typically used in French Rhône wines, the most famous of which - Chateauneuf-du-Pape - you may have heard of. It's also used in a variety of dry rosés. When I was asked to come up with a recipe pairing for a Grenache by Buscador Wine it took some experimentation and education on my part because it was so different from other red wines I had tried.

Buscador Wine 2007 Grenache

In general, Grenache has some juicy cherry flavor but I wouldn't describe it as Bing cherry. The flavor seems tighter than that, more like "pie" cherries, a little tart and sour. Grenache is also high in alcohol and low in acidity which makes it easy-drinking but not the kind of wine you'd store for a long time unless it was blended with a more tannic or acidic varieties. Sounds perfect for a crisp, chilled summery rosé though, doesn't it?

It's actually the leading grape of the southern Rhône wine region in France. Rhône-style wines use up to 13 grape varieties blended to create one wine. Grenache ranks right up there in importance. It's also a common grape in Spanish wines. And, it's been turning up more and more in US wines. That's because it grows well in hot dry climates like the California's San Juoquin Valley and Washington State's Columbia Valley. There's even a group of US winemakers calling themselves the Rhône Rangers who champion American Rhône-style wines.

Next time you are buying a rosé or a red Rhône-style blend, check the label to see if Grenache is listed. Then try it pairing it with Lavender & Anise Crusted Rack of Lamb.

  • What to look for: Dry Rosés, Spanish red wines, Rhône-style red blends.

  • Price: You can find rosés that include Grenache starting as low as $7 per bottle like Columbia Crest's Two Vines Vineyard 10 Rosé. Spanish Garnacha (Grenache) and Rioja blends start around $11 per bottle. Rhône wine, and Rhône-style blends are typically more expensive running about $20 per bottle and up.

  • What to eat it with: Think sunny, Mediterranean from Spain to Southern France - fresh herbs like rosemary and lavender, ripe tomatoes, tangy goat cheese or manchego, salami, sausages, cured ham, lamb, rustic dishes like paella, stew or cassoulet, and spicy food.
  • Thursday, August 19, 2010

    Sassy, Sexy Sauvignon Blanc

    Remember when I referenced Karen MacNeil's description of Sauvignon Blanc in "Don't Let Wine Tasting Intimidate You!" Karen sometimes refers to Sauvignon Blanc as being like "stiletto heals." Sauvignon blanc can be a bit challenging in comparison to the more commonly consumed California Chardonnay but like any challenge the reward is usually worth it. So, here's the secret: Sauvignon Blanc is one of the best food wines out there! What I mean by that is that instead of overpowering food, it plays well with it.

    First let's start with the name because it gives us a clue about the wine - Sauvignon comes from the French word sauvage which means wild, savage. The sauvignon blanc is a wild child, full of acidity, grassy flavors, green herbs, tart fruits, flinty minerals. It is intense -- in a good way. You could sum up Sauvignon Blanc with one word - "green."

    The best regions in the world for growing Sauvignon Blanc include France's Loire Valley, New Zealand, Australia, Austria, South Africa, Chile, and Northern California. Cooler climates help Sauvignon Blanc retain its green intensity. Grapes from warmer regions have more ripe tropical flavors though they will still feature greenness.

    European Sauvignon Blanc is characterized by a mineral flavor, imagine the smell of rocks after rain. While wines from Australia and New Zealand are definitely green and often have light tropical fruit flavors. Californian Sauvignon Blanc are sometimes softer or rounder than those produced in other parts of the world. This is due to climate and processing. Typically, Sauvignon Blanc spends little or no time in oak barrels but some winemakers age a small portion of their Sauvignon Blanc in oak to tone down some of the stronger herbal acidity and make the wine more approachable for the American palate.

    I like some of the more challenging Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand with food but for sipping, California Sauvignon Blanc can be light and refreshing without twisting your mouth into a pucker. Try some from different regions to see what you like best.

    With all this talk about savage, wild, green flavors you might wonder why Sauvignon Blanc would be an appealing food wine. Let's do a little visualization. Imagine a simple fruit salad of grapes, melon, strawberries, etc. It would taste good, right? Imagine the sweetness, texture, and ripeness of the fruit. Now, imagine a little squeeze of lemon juice added it. The tartness of the lemon adds another dimension to the fruit. It sparks up the melon, adds brightness to the strawberries. You've gone from good fruit salad to really good fruit salad. It's the acidity that livens your palate.

    Sauvignon Blanc works the same way. It's light, refreshing, palate-cleansing, acidic. The key when pairing Sauvignon Blanc with food is to try to pair it with lighter foods. It's great with goat cheese, chicken, grilled or sautéed fish, shellfish -- particularly oysters, herbs -- especially cilantro and basil, tomatoes and vegetables. It's a light bodied wine so avoid heavy dishes loaded with cream, butter or red meat.

    One of my favorite Sauvignon Blanc pairings is Pan Seared Scallops with Green Papaya Slaw. The dish features a hint of lime, fresh cilantro and scallops. Trust me, it's a perfect match.

    What to look for: Sauvignon Blanc from cool climates
    Price: Sauvignon Blanc runs the gamut but you should be able to find some that you like for around $10 per bottle from California and starting around $14 for imports.
    What to eat it with: Appetizers, salads, light dishes, foods that are herby or acidic

    Have you ever tried Sauvignon Blanc? Have you tried any from outside the United States? What style do you like wildly herbal or slightly ripe? Do you have a favorite winery for Sauvignon Blanc?

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010


    If you haven't already read my bio, then you should know my passion in life is food and as an extension of that food and wine. When you drink a wine that pairs perfectly with what you are eating the combination is heavenly -- like lying on a blanket with your love under a canopy of stars. Yes, romantic. I think the marriage of food and wine is very romantic.

    So the food I am eating dictates the wine that I am thinking about. Lately, I've been barbecuing so I been thinking about and drinking wines that pair well with grilling. If you read my Parsley blog on Epicurean Erin or SheSpeaks, you saw that I suggested pairing the vibrantly herbaceous Chimichurri Sauce with a glass of Argentine Malbec. Based on that, I thought you might enjoy learning more about the wine.

    A few years ago, I tried my first Argentine Malbec and fell in love. Argentina is the 5th largest wine producing nation in the world so chances are (especially if you are lucky enough to have a Trader Joe's nearby) that you have tried an Argentine wine. Argentina grows many grapes that you may be familiar with like Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot as well as a few you might not have heard of like Torrontes, Tempranilla and Malbec. The best Malbec, arguably, comes from the Mendoza region -- don't tell the French. Actually, about 70 percent of all Argentinian wine comes from Mendoza.

    By now you are probably wondering how Malbec tastes. Like any varietal, the flavor and body vary depending on where the grapes are grown and who is making the wine. In general, Malbec from the Mendoza region are described as dark, juicy, and ripe, like black cherries or plums. You might also notice subtle chocolate or spice notes, and a hint of vanilla from the oak barrels. The body (or the perceived weight the wine in your mouth) will be medium to full like the difference between whole milk and half and half according the Karen MacNeil, of The Wine Bible.

    What to look for: Malbec from Argentina, specifically the Mendoza region.
    Price: You should be able to find a pretty good wine starting around $8 to $12 per bottle.
    What to eat it with: Take a tip from Argentina, land of asado (barbecue) and try a Malbec the next time you are grilling steak or lamb (that you'll serve with Chimichurri Sauce). It's a good match for roast beef or beef stew. It's also a great wine for pizza night with a mushroom and/or sausage pizza.

    Have you ever tried Malbec? Was is from Argentina or France? If you've tasted both, which you prefer? Do you have a favorite winery for Malbec?

    Friday, August 6, 2010

    Wine Pairing Recipe - Pan Seared Scallops with Green Papaya Slaw with Buscador Wine Sauvignon Blanc

    Pan Seared Scallops with Green Papaya Slaw

    Photo & Recipe by Chef Erin Coopey, In Good Taste Pairings, Wine-Pairing Recipe Development
    Serves 4

    2 cups grated or fine julienne green papaya*
    ½ cup grated or fine julienne carrots
    ½ cup blanched, refreshed and fine julienne snow peas
    ¼ cup thinly sliced red onion
    ¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
    2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar or rice vinegar
    4 tablespoons lime-flavored olive oil
    12 sea scallops
    2 tablespoons peanut or canola oil
    salt and black pepper to taste
    fresh cilantro sprigs for garnish (optional)
    lime zest for garnish (optional)

    To make the slaw, combine green papaya, carrots, snow peas, red onion and cilantro in a mixing bowl. Add vinegar and olive oil, toss to combine. Season with salt. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

    In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm the peanut oil. Season scallops with salt and black pepper. Add scallops to pan and sear, turning once, until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

    Divide slaw between 4 chilled salad plates. Divide the scallops among the plates, placing them on the slaw. Garnish with cilantro sprigs or lime zest. Serve with a chilled glass of Buscador Sauvignon Blanc.

    *Green or unripe papaya is available in Asian markets. To prepare, peel the skin away with a paring knife, then halve the papaya lengthwise, scoop out the immature white seeds. If green papaya is not available, jicama may be substituted.

    About The Wine

    Buscador Wine 2008 Sauvignon Blanc
    Appellation: Santa Ynez Valley
    Bottling Date: March 2009
    Release Date: June 2009
    Alcohol: 13.1%
    Blend: 100% Sauvignon Blanc
    Cases Produced: 56

    Ah, Sauv Blanc. Love it. Favorite white wine. A harvest in Marlborough, NZ spring 2008 definitely cemented my passion for the grape. The grapes are sourced from right out the front door at Vina de Santa Ynez. Citrus overtones usually dominant and did all through harvest, fermentation and the stainless steel aging. However, round about March 2009 when I fined and filtered the wine I noticed an incredible and overpowering grassiness. My passion bucket overflowed! Without hesitation I bottled up 56 cases before it was blended up for a very different Kalyra wine. Yes, yes, yes the pH is a bit high at 3.49, however, with only 56 cases to sell and get it while you can! If not, I will drink the rest myself. In the end I bring to you an outstanding example of pure Santa Barbara County Sauvignon Blanc.

    Give it a try with some Pan Seared Scallops with Green Papaya Slaw! Cheers, Matt