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Holiday Wines

It’s That Time for Sparkling Wine

The other day I finished my “Secrets to Food & Wine Pairing” workshop, and knew it was time for Champagne.  Even after the intense flavors of Barolo and wild boar ragout, the bubbles danced on my tongue, and the vibrant acidity cleansed my palate.  Case in point, my friend said, “no, I’ve been drinking red wine all day”, when asked if she wanted some.  I bet she finished half the bottle after that first gulp had her hooked!

My family has celebrated Christmas morning for years with Champagne. There are not many days in a year where I’m drinking by 10AM, but exceptions can be made!  It’s a great memory I have of my dad, along with my immediate family, opening presents and clinking glasses together.  Sparkling wine has a way of turning an already festive occasion into something special, and my family knows how to do it in style.

It’s true that Champagne can be expensive, but you don’t have to drink Champagne to let the good times roll.  There are so many great sparkling wines (to call it “Champagne”, the wine has to be from that particular region in France, unless you’re lowly Korbel, then you can make up your own rules!) out there that are delicious, and are reasonably priced.

But, before I let you in on some of this year’s favorites, let me explain a little bit about two common styles of making sparkling wine.

Traditional method

This classic style of sparkling wine has been made famous by Champagne for over 250 years.  To make traditional method sparkling wine, it is first fermented in tanks or barrels, then transferred to the bottle. Then, a tirage is added (sugar and yeast) to each bottle, and a bottle cap is placed on top to trap the carbon dioxide inside the bottle. Riddling (slowly turning the bottle over time to move sediment to the top of the bottle), then discorging (freezing the dead yeast and sediment at the top of the bottle, then releasing the pressurized particulates), and a dosage (reserve wine and cane sugar) is used to top off any wine lost during discorgement.  You can imagine why Champagne is so expensive.  It is a process that requires dedication and years to produce.  Spanish Cava is also made in the traditional method, so you tend to get a lot of value out of these Champagne counterparts.  Cava doesn’t have the minerality and sophistication that Champagne has, but they can have the acidity and toastiness that help make sparkling wine delicious.  

Charmat method

This method is commonly used to make Prosecco, patented in the late 19th century.  After the initial fermentation process, the wine is placed in pressurized stainless steel tanks, then mixed with sugar and yeast.  The sugars turn to alcohol and carbon dioxide, forming naturally, and gets preserved inside the tank.  The resulting sparkling wine is then filtered and bottled.  The Charmat method is less expensive to produce than traditional method wine, and therefore less expensive for the consumer.  

My favorite sparkling wines of 2016:

  • Francois Chidaine NV Brut, Montlouis Sur-Loire, France – from 100% Chenin Blanc, perhaps my favorite white wine the world has to offer. Combine Chenin with bubbles, and it will make you so, so happy.
  • Domaine Rieflé Pinot Noir NV Brut, Cremant D’Alsace, France – biodynamically farmed (taking organic farming to the next level), and produced by the same family for fourteen generations.  Ah, France.
  • Nicolas Noble NV Brut, Champagne, France – a “grower Champagne”, coming from a single estate where the producer grows the grapes and makes the wine.  Very rare, indeed, for Champagne
  • Tenuta Stella Ribolla Gialla Metodo Classico NV Brut, Collio, Italy – besides Alsace, Northeast Italy (Collio, Alto Adige, Friuli) makes some of the most beautiful white wines in the world.  Ribolla Gialla is native to the area, making floral whites.  
  • G.D. Vajra Extra Brut, Vino Spumante, N.S. Della Neve, Italy – made from equal parts Pinot Nero and Nebbiolo, this wine is DRY, yet goes so well with cheese and charcuterie.  
  • Raventos i Blanc Brut L’hereu 2013, Penedes, Spain – also a biodynamic producer, 18 months on the lees (dead yeast) makes this a traditional method sparkling wine.   Toasty finish, and nose of minerals that lasts for days.
  • Sh’Bubbles Carignane NV Brut, CA  – no room for pretension on this wine!  Morgan Twain Peterson picks this Carignane early, making it dry but with a lovely nose of almonds and cherry pits.  Charmat method.
  • Roederer Estate L’Ermitage 2009, Anderson Valley, CA – perhaps making the best sparkling wine in all of California, this vintage sparkling wine is made in the traditional method, and would be considered a top shelf Champagne in a blind tasting.


We can never know everything about wine.  Let’s keep learning.  


P.S. – the next “Secrets to Food & Wine Pairing” workshop with be February 12, 2017, featuring winemaker Michael Keenan of the Robert Keenan winery, up on Spring Mountain in Napa Valley.  You’re going to love his wines.  


These Wines Will Make Your Thanksgiving Feast Even Better

turkey-with-wineThe Thanksgiving feast is a cornucopia of flavors that can be super challenging to pair with wine.  From turkey to cranberries, stuffing to green bean casserole, and candied yams to brussel sprouts, finding a wine that goes well with all of it is tough.  

A couple things you’ll want to keep in mind when picking out your wine this week.   Acidity in wine is key.  There’s gonna be plenty of butter, cream, and duck fat in your food this week.  Pair it with a wine having vibrant acidity, and you’ve got a match made in heaven.  Secondly, you’ll want your wine to have a little texture to it.  Sauvignon Blanc, albeit vibrant in acid, will be too light on texture, with all that complexity and sugar in the food.  Riesling, Gruner Veltliner, Semillon, and Pinot Gris will work well for whites, while Gamay, Grenache, French Loire Cabernet Franc, and Pinot Noir are great choices for reds.  When buying red this week, stay away from medium full to full tannins.  Save those wines for steak.  Although tannins love fat, having a wine with a tannic focus will completely dominate Thanksgiving’s flavors.  


The Gardener Riesling 2013, Carneros, Sonoma County

Nikolaihof Gruner Veltliner 2014, Hefeabzug, Wachau, Austria

Oro en Paz Semillon 2015, Luchsinger Vineyard, Lake County, California

Antiquum Farm Pinot Gris 2015, “Aurosa”, Willamette Valley, Oregon


Anthony Thevenet Gamay 2013, Morgon, Beaujolais, France

Verdad Garnacha 2014, Sawyer Lindquist Vineyard, Edna Valley

Chateau de Brezé Cabernet Franc, 2015, Clos Mazurique, Saumur, France

Zotovich SR/246 Pinot Noir 2013, STA. Rita Hills, California

Happy Thanksgiving!



3 Wines Your Mom Will Love This Mother’s Day

FlowersThis week’s post if for all of the Moms out there. They brought us into this world and gave us comfort and nourishment when we needed it.  They gave us a place to cry when we needed someone to simply understand, and protected us when we were scared.  Mom’s lift us up and give us confidence in who we are.  

Let’s all give a little back this Mother’s day.  Take your mom out to brunch or on a picnic.  I’m making my mom a special Dungeness crab brunch, and to go with our meal there are so many possibilities for wine.  

Here are some suggestions for great wines you’re mom is going to love.

Premier Cru (or 1er Cru) Chablis is my favorite expression of Chardonnay these days.  I love the combination minerality, ripe stone fruit, silky texture, and subtle toast finish.  1er Cru Chablis is grown at a higher elevation than regular Chablis, so the fruit tends to be a little more generous.  It’s no “fruit bomb” but the apricot nectar and vibrant acid are a match made in heaven.  Try the 2013 Domaine de La Meuliere from the Fourneaux vineyard in Chablis, 1er Cru with crab, pork chops or La Tur cheese, and your mom’s gonna feel super special.  

I love Rhone-style (from or modeled after the French Rhone River Valley) whites when they’re made well. The blend of viognier, roussanne and marsanne combines great texture with notes of summer peach and a vibrant structure to please so many different palates.  Perhaps the greatest California producer of Rhone-style wines resides in Paso Robles.  Tablas Creek is like royalty to me, coming over from the Beaucastel estate in Chateauneuf du Pape, France in 1985.  The Perrin family saw that the climate and soil type (terrior) was perfect for growing Rhone varietals.  Try their 2014 Côtes de Tablas Blanc from their estate in the Adelaida district of Paso Robles.  The honeysuckle notes will draw you into the glass, while the nose of tropical and stone fruit will remind you of how great life is.  The creamy, silky palate and gorgeous fruit will pair well with crab, mussels cooked in a pernod cream sauce, pan seared halibut, pork loin, or roasted chicken.  

If you’re thinking your mom will prefer red this Mother’s day, I’d head straight for the Pinot noir aisle.  The supple red fruits and vibrant acidity will make mom ask for a second glass.  Look for the 2013 Brooks Note Pinot noir from Marin County.  The wine is still singing after I first tried it back in March of 2015.  The supple raspberry, tart cherry and cranberry fruits, mixed with earthy sage and bay leaf are totally seductive.  I love the root beer spice note and vibrant acid on the palate.  At $36 retail, this wine will make you wonder how to get a case come Monday.  Pair it with duck confit, grilled salmon, or duck liver paté.

I recommend one of these for Mother’s Day:

  • 2013 Domaine de La Meuliere, Les Fourneaux, Chablis, 1er Cru
  • 2014 Tablas Creek Côtes de Tablas Blanc, Adelaida district, Paso Robles
  • 2013 Brooks Note Pinot Noir, Marin County


I’d love to know what wine pairing you came up with this Mother’s day.  Try one of these suggestions and drop me a line.  Let me know what you did to celebrate mom this Mother’s day.

It’s impossible to know everything about wine.  Let’s keep learning.