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Champagne Chillers

This week has demonstrated that summer is definitely here and for me nothing cools me down better than a great glass of Champagne. At this point, I would like to explain that I am not being a snob, simply referring to actual Champagne. I understand that many people are now just exhorting under their breath, “It‘s just sparkling wine from France” but this isn’t true. When the word Champagne, not by the way “California Champagne” such as Korbel or Andre, is on the label you are getting some guarantees about the product you are drinking.

 

First off, yes, Champagne is a sparkling wine from France, but even in France not all sparkling wine can be designated Champagne. There are very specific rules by which champagne must be made that govern everything from the grape type to the amount of pressure used in the press all the way through how long it must be aged. It is these rules that guarantee the product in the bottle. While there is no argument that there are innumerable great sparkling wines made elsewhere, none of them come with the same promise as Champagne.

 

The grapes of Champagne are mainly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Munier. There are 4 other grapes allowed, but they are very seldom used. Most Champagne is a blend of at least two if not all three of these grapes. My favorite style of Champagne is the “Blanc de Blanc” variety which means the wine is made from 100% Chardonnay. Other styles include Blanc de Noir, which is a Champagne made from just the red grapes Pinot noir and Munier, and Rosé.

 

The one word people most associate with Champagne is Brut. This word confuses a lot of people as they don’t know what it means, but their wife told them to get a brut. Well, in Champagne Brut is a guarantee of a dry style wine. Elsewhere this isn’t necessarily true as many other sparkling wine producing areas haven’t the same regulations as Champagne. On a related note, if you thought you liked a wine dryer than Brut because that Extra Dry bubbly you had was so good, you were bamboozled. Extra Dry is actually a little sweeter than a Brut. Dryer than Brut would be Extra Brut, Brut Zero, Brut Sauvage, and Ultra Brut.

 

Another, very important guarantee, from Champagne is that the wine is going to have a minimum ageing period of at least 15 months before release. What this means is that even though it has blazing high acidity, the extended contact with the lees (the dead yeast cells left from fermentation) soften the wine and lend a creamier mouthfeel and a slight bready or biscuity note that is the hallmark of Champagne.

 

Whichever style you decide to try or you have picked as your favorite, please keep in mind when someone asks if you want Champagne or another type of bubbly, they aren’t being pretentious, they are just trying to get you what you want. Try one of these new great arrivals:

 

WineMarc Hebrart Premier Cru Champagne, A very elegant Champagne that has a fine mousse, with a lovely, fine and biscuity character on the nose and palate which lasts through to the finish. This delicious Champagne should be chilled, not iced and is perfect for celebrating great occasions. 43.99!!

 

WineGeoffroy Expression Premier Cru Champagne, 92 Points Wine Advocate, “...totally alive in the glass. Vibrant and delineated, the Expression bursts from glass with dried pears, flowers, almonds and Chamomile. ...the Expression is all about texture and volume from the red grapes, which give tons of richness without detracting from the wine’s essential energy, tension and pure drive. A crystalline, layered finish rounds things out beautifully. This is a great showing from a wine loaded with class.” 45.99!!

 

WinePierre Peters Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc Champagne, This is blow-your mind Champagne! Crystalline, jewel-like firmness and immense depth gives this 100% Chardonnay Champagne a Krug-like profile nearly unique among Blanc de Blancs. Naked, perfectly formed flavors of fresh cream, ginger and the pale, mineral intensity of chalk. With flavors that last for minutes, the terroir expression is stunning. Sale 59.99!!

 

 

 

~ Randy Freeland ~

 

Prices good through 7/8/15.

Back Beyond the Bottle

The full moon wanes as the crickets play their minuet announcing the coming night. The heat of the day fades as you are enveloped by the darkness broken only by the candlelight on the al fresco dinner table. You and your partner gaze deep into each other’s eyes imagining the future and thanking the Almighty for the blessing of this person sitting across from you as the waiter tears open the flap on another box of your favorite Portuguese red blend… The waiter does what!?! (On that last part I imagine I hear a record scratching like in the movies.)

 

True, nothing replaces the romance of a bottle, but haven’t we been told our whole lives that it is what is inside that counts? Almost every day we are confronted with customers that refuse to save money by buying wine in boxes because of their poor reputation. This occurs even when we show them the same wine in a bottle that ends up costing them twice as much. Economically this doesn’t make sense, but the reputation of box wine has been sullied to such an extent in the American brain. Not only this but wine is still viewed as a special occasion beverage by Americans as opposed to the Europeans for whom it is as common as soda pop.

 

Now before we go further I must make a distinction. It is true that the sub-par reputation of many box wines have been earned over the years by those 5 liter behemoths that are bladders filled with the leftovers of real wineries with some of them containing apple wine and natural flavors. This is the wine equivalent of a ‘mat shot’. (If you don’t know what this is, ask your bartender but don’t order it!) This is not the topic of this conversation.

 

What we are discussing is what is called the ‘premium’ box wine category. This category was started in 2002 with the release of Black Box and over the last couple of years has experienced explosive growth. These are wines that are often sold in bottles but have been put into plastic bladders in three liter boxes, not the five liter of yesteryear. This allows customers to enjoy a premium wine at a reduced price.

 

There are a couple of reasons that box wines are less expensive than their silica clad compatriots. First of all, glass is heavy. The packaging materials for a box of wine weigh only a fraction of one bottle and there are four bottles in most premium box wines. The packaging of box wine is usually about 4% of the weight of the overall unit as opposed to up to 75% in traditional wine bottles. This means less overall weight by volume of wine which relates to lessened shipping costs. In addition the raw materials for the packaging are just cheaper.

 

There are many benefits to the consumer besides a reduction in price though. The main benefit is the simple fact that current box wines have a spigot preventing the oxidation of the wine after opening. This is in stark contrast to the first patented box wine in 1965 that required the consumer to cut the corner of the bag and reseal it with a special peg. This allows an open box to last for up to six weeks. The packaging also allows for easier transportation for camping (Colorado is one of the biggest box wine consuming states in the US) and a lower amount of trash resulting in a greener package.

 

So when you get ready to head out camping this weekend or are having a big party, ditch the corkscrew and try one of these alternative packaging wines:

 

WineAlandra Branco, We have combined the best selection of unique local grapes to produce this wine. Blended and bottled by Esporao. The diversity of its origin determines the freshness, balance and versatility of this wine. The Alandra wines result from the diversity and uniqueness of Portugal’s grape varieties and our winemaker’s creative and contemporary approach. We made this wine for daily meals, to be shared along with creamy cheeses, tuna salad, grilled fish, or tempura. One of my personal summer favorites. 
Just 21.99!!

 

WineShania White, This is a winner of a wine made by the producers of such famous Spanish wines as Juan Gil and Clio. A delicious wine made from Grenache Blanc grapes. Wines made with this grape are characterized by high alcohol and low acidity, with citrus and herbaceous notes. The white is bright & flavorful with fruit notes of melon and apple. Easy drinking and full of summer. Only 22.99!!

 

WineLa Quercia Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, This Montepulciano is a great example of what can happen when you match low-yield winemaking expertise with a prolific growing zone, and constantly cut, cut, cut back the vines. Made by winemaker Antonio Lamona, the result is one of the best quality, most expressive and balanced Montepulcianos around. One of my favorites in the bottle, now available in the box. Bargain at 27.99!!

 

 

~ Randy Freeland ~

 

Prices good through 7/1/15.

Piedmont Palate

Everyone knows Tuscany and her Chianti. The Veneto has some of the most popular wines drunk in America, Pinot Grigio, Soave, Prosecco. Puglia is the largest bulk producer in Italy with many of her wines becoming more and more popular such as Primitivo. Even Abruzzo is gaining some traction with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. It seems, however, that Piedmont gets short shrift in this area.

 

Piedmont, whose name literally means foot of the mountains, is at the north-west corner of the country. Amongst serious wine enthusiasts, Piedmont has long been known for some of the greatest wines Italy has to offer, Barolo and Barbaresco. Both wines are known for their power and ageability, but are in the upper echelons when it comes to price.

 

Admittedly, there are very expensive Chiantis but there are also many very good ones under fifteen dollars. It is a challenge to find a drinkable Barolo for less than fifty dollars and many are sold in the many hundreds of dollars range. What about wine for the rest of us without the winning Billion Dollar Bracket? It is for us the following wines exist.

 

Enter Barbera. Not Barbara, no Jeannie here. Barbera was once known as ‘the people’s wine’ due to its versatility and abundant production as it is the third most planted dark skin varietal in Italy. It can produce a dazzling variety of wines from light, bright wines brimming with wonderful acidity and cherry notes to examples with more dark fruit characteristics and oak that require cellaring. The best part is that it is easy to differentiate between the styles. Under $16 no oak and lighter, over $16 bigger wine with oak. Simple!

 

The reason there is so much Barbera is that all of the best spots in Piedmont are covered with Nebbiolo, the grape used in the production of Barolo and Barbaresco. The lesser sights are planted to Barbera and Dolcetto whose name means little sweet one. While the lighter style Barbera and Dolcetto are my go tos for lighter tomato based dishes, the whites from Piedmont shine with seafood. The high acidity and delicacy help wash away the grease of frito misto without overpowering the delicate interiors.

 

Find these wines highlighted in our new “Tour of Wine” section. With them you will find recipes to pair perfectly with each.

 

WinePaitin Elisa Roero Arneis, The nose shows bakery-like aromas of sweet almond and springtime honeysuckle. This is a full-bodied version of Arneis, probably because of extended sur lie aging, yet it’s a fine-boned wine. The palate shows white – yellow fruits in an almost tropical fashion…all the beautiful qualities you look for in a perfect white wine. Only 16.99!!!

 

WinePaolo Manzone Dolcetto d’Alba, The color is an intense ruby red, with purple reflections. The nose has a rich floral scent that is reminiscent of berries, which carries through to the palate. Just 16.99!!!

 

WineCascina Ballarin, Cino, Langhe Rosso, Made from the three classic grapes of Piedmont: the noble, elegant, and penetrating Nebbiolo, the powerful Barbera, and the fruity Dolcetto. The wine comes from favored vineyards and old vines (up to 40 years old). The result is an amazing bargain: lush fruit made in a clean, snappy style that refreshes without sacrificing nuance and complexity. 
Only 13.99!!!

 

 

~ Randy Freeland ~

 

Prices good through 5/13/15.

Marlborough not Marlboro, Kiwis Instead of Cowboys

Admittedly, the small flightless bird known as the Kiwi is not going to be nearly as helpful at corralling your strays as the famous cigarette spokesman, the people of New Zealand could be. Granted, they raise lots of sheep, not cows, but at the end of the day their winemaking skills will be greatly welcomed.

 

Probably New Zealand’s most famous region is Marlborough. This region is located on the northern tip of the large southern island of New Zealand. Although wine has been made in New Zealand almost since it was settled, the first vines weren’t planted in Marlborough until 1973. Similarly to California, it wasn’t until the 60’s that the Kiwi people realized they could make high quality wine.

 

The Marlborough region has a climate that would be equivalent to that of the Loire Valley in France which is close to the northern-most limit of grape growing. Coincidentally, one of the top white grapes grown in the Loir Valley is Sauvignon Blanc. I can’t say whether or not this fact came into play when the choice was made to plant Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough, but it seems to have been a good choice as New Zealand has become a go to for Sauvignon Blanc lovers.

 

Because of its southerly latitude, New Zealand enjoys very long days during the summer. This results in lots of sunshine to ripen the grapes and cool nights to retain the crisp acidity that characterizes New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. With its ample rainfall, Marlborough grape growers actually had to develop ways to control too many grapes and harvest them all. This combined with the relatively low population of the island has led to large scale use of mechanical harvesters that are much more efficient than picking by hand. This speed has enabled producers to create a very fresh style of wine that has become a big hit worldwide.

 

The freshness of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc with its grapefruit and sometimes tropical fruit flavors combined with vibrant acidity and a pungent herbal nose that reminds one of jalapenos makes for a great summer sipper. Fantastic with fresh cheeses such as Chevre and one of the few wines that pairs well with known wine killing vegetables such as asparagus and artichokes, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a must have on the summer dinner table.

 

Try some of these great selections with the recipe selections available in our “World Wine Tour” section in the store.

 

WineMatua Sauvignon Blanc, A distinctive and aromatic Sauvignon Blanc, delivering bright and lively gooseberry and passion fruit characters with a hint of lime. The palate is well proportioned with refreshing tropical flavors that linger on the seductive finish. Sale 7.99!!!

 

WineMud House Sauvignon Blanc, “Our vintage 2014 classic Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is blended from vineyards across Marlborough to capture all the flavours that this region is famous for. Focused and concentrated palate with crisp grapefruit acidity and bold tropical flavours.” Winery Notes. Sale 12.99!!!

 

WineThe Crossings Sauvignon Blanc, “There’s a place in Marlborough, New Zealand, where early pioneers cross the fast-flowing Awatere River. This is where we grow The Crossings wine – keeping alive that spirit of discovery. With distinctive elegance, our award-winning wines express the intense fruit and mineral flavours that make Awatere Valley wine such a rewarding experience.” Winery Notes.Sale 10.99!!!

 

 

~ Randy Freeland ~

 

Prices good through 6/10/15.

The Hunt

The dawn light crests the horizon as the intrepid hunters wipe the sleep from their eyes, contemplating the revelry to come. The proud sportsmen don their finery in preparation of the morning’s chase and keep their thoughts on the prize awaiting them. Arrival at the storied meadows where this ritual has been performed for time immemorial is joined by a cacophony of participants and spectators. The sound of hounds baying in the background adds to the excitement. The moment is here and the revelers are aflame with anticipation of the moments soon approaching in which they shall bound through the wilderness before them in search of their quarry.

 

The game is afoot and the well-heeled huntsmen dart forth in search of their prey. Some will be greatly rewarded and some will fall, there will be jubilant shouts and cries of tired desperation as the remaining spoils are quickly rounded up by those who have long trained in this fine art. All for the gift of a brightly…colored…egg.

 

A little dramatic, but, how serious do your kids take it? The main thing is that now you have a bunch of cooked eggs just waiting for the application of dozens of recipes reserved for just this occasion. The one theme that can tie all of the disparate methods of preparation together is Bubbly. Call it sparkling wine, bubbly, Cava, Prosecco or true Champagne, they can all contribute to that one drink at which no one bats an eye, the Mimosa. Pour one dram of Scotch over a cube at breakfast and risk an intervention, but add a little orange juice to your sparkling wine and now it is brunch.

 

According to the International Bartender’s Association (IBA) the official recipe for the Mimosa calls for mixing equal parts Champagne and orange juice. A similar drink uses two parts OJ and one part Champagne and is known as a Buck’s Fizz. Both were invented in the early 1920’s and this has led to speculation as to which is the original. Either way, both are delicious ways to observe a hunt as well as perfect to wash down the spoils.

 

WineOn the way to your hunt be sure and stop by Bubbles and pick up Mom’s Morning Mimosa. A bottle of Col Solivo Prosecco, an equal sized Orange juice, 2 champagne glasses (in case she lets Dad have some), all packaged in a pretty little Easter basket just for her. Remember, candy is dandy but Wine is Fine!!! Sale 10.99!!!

 

 

 

~ Randy Freeland ~

 

Price good through 4/8/15.

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