*This is my WINNING post for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #27, #MWWC27, whose theme was BUBBLES.*
The first fizzy ‘wine’ that I remember tasting was Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink. I was (maybe) of legal drinking age and it was under $2.00 per bottle. I would pick it up for a party and end up drinking the entire bottle, awakening the next day with the most horrific headache. I was immature enough to do it more than once during my early, formative drinking years. These experiences were enough to trick me into thinking that sparkling alcoholic beverages were not my thing.
It wasn’t until six years ago that I recall enjoying bubbles again. I had started working as the travel manager for a wine importer, Regal Wine Imports, and as a thank you, my client delivered a case of Ca’Furlan Cuvée Beatrice Prosecco NV to my boyfriend in New York. By this time, I knew not to drink an entire bottle, but I was a little hesitant to delve into the world of sparkling wine again. However, this $10 sipper turned out to be the perfect transitional bubbles, with its low alcohol (11%), fine frothiness, and tart, lemony flavors. My boyfriend would always open the bottles on his balcony of his apartment and the corks would fly high into the air. He would never allow me to open them because he was convinced that he knew exactly what he was doing and that I would somehow hurt myself. I felt like a child being told no and I didn’t like it.
For New Year’s Eve 2011, we decided to step up our game. I begged him for Champagne, but he came home instead with a bottle of Mumm Brut Prestige NV, Napa Valley. At least Mumm was owned by a French Champagne producer. It turned out to be quite delicious for under $20. However, I still wasn’t allowed to open the bottle, nor was I convinced that I liked bubbles enough to readily seek them out more than for special occasions.
As I’ve shared before in previous posts, my boyfriend and I broke up in June 2012 after many years together. In September of that same year, two important things occurred. The first was that I visited Domaine Carneros, my first sparkling winery. Sitting on the patio overlooking the beauty of Carneros, I had a princess moment. It felt so regal to be sipping bubbles at a French-style chateau. My favorite of the tasting was the vintage Brut Rosé, with its delicate mousse and bright, red berry flavors. It finally clicked that maybe there was something to the hype about the deliciousness of sparkling wine and maybe, just maybe, being single wasn’t so bad after all.
The second important thing to happen that month was that I took Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s foundation day course and we learned how to properly open a bottle of sparkling wine. If there was ever a game changer on many levels, it was that simple lesson. For social media’s #ChampagneDay that year, Friday, October 26, I bought my first Champagne, a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut NV (Yellow Label). That night, I followed the directions from my WSET course and successfully opened my first bottle of sparkling wine, my first Champagne, the correct way. In that moment, all of the times that my ex-boyfriend denied me the opportunity to open those bottles of Ca’Furlan Prosecco and Mumm came rushing back. The opening of that single bottle of Champagne symbolized for me an assertion of my independence from the apparent control he held over me for so many years. A taste of the Champagne I opened was really a taste of freedom.
When I moved to the Napa Valley fewer than two years later, I joined my first local wine club. I was driving to Sonoma Coast to spend Memorial Day weekend, and on my way, I made a deliberate stop at Domaine Carneros. At almost the same spot on the patio where I had sat during my first visit, I requested a tasting flight and a wine club enrollment form. The giddiness of my host was apparent. I was his easiest wine club signup commission ever. It was as if heaven’s gates had opened and he poured for me endless tastes of everything Domaine Carneros made. The delectably frothy, fruity, and yeasty elixirs stirred something inside of me. I had been living for so long in someone else’s shadow, but finally, here I was in the Napa Valley, living life on MY terms. For years, I had lost my heart and my soul in exchange for a relationship that nearly ruined me. On the patio that day, I found myself again. I was officially in love with bubbles and most importantly, life.
Champagne was once elusive to me. I had tasted sparkling wines à la méthode traditionelle, but never had tasted Champagne until a few years ago. My first Champagne was a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot Brut NV Yellow Label in October of 2012. I had purchased it to participate in my first #ChampagneDay virtual tasting and so I could practice opening the bottle, as I had just completed WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) Level 1 Foundation and was taking WSET Level 2 Intermediate. I had never opened a sparkling wine bottle before. My ex-boyfriend told me I was awkward and I could never learn to do it correctly. As karma would have it, I nailed it, and I have never failed since. Since then, I have grown to love and appreciate Champagne.
I have had a few passions in my life: music, French, travel, and wine. For me, A Year in Champagne showcases all of these passions as renowned importer Martine Saunier pays visits to six Champagne houses: Champagne Saint-Chamant, Stéphane Coquillette (S. Coquillette), Gonet-Médeville, Bollinger, Diebolt-Vallois, and Gosset. Written and directed by David Kennard, the movie is the second in a series, the first being A Year in Burgundy, which I also reviewed.
The musical score is abundant with classical music masterpieces, such as Gabriel Faure’s Sicilienne, Op.78, a piece I immediately recognized as one of my best and favorite flute performances from my high school years.
Then there’s French, the first great love of my life. I taught French for 24 years, so any time I’m given the opportunity to immerse myself in the language and culture, I dive in headfirst. The movie captures many of the nuances of French culture, both at work and at home. It touches on winery and family life, meals, winery family dogs, traditions, religion, and even basic greetings and politeness. If I were still teaching French, A Year in Champagne would be a part of my lesson plan.
As to travel, I envisioned myself through the eyes of the cinematographer and cast, riding in the hot air balloon, walking through vineyards and cellars, toasting at mealtimes, and flying on the crop dusting helicopter. Perhaps someday, I will visit Champagne.
Most importantly, there’s wine. The creation of the wine we know as Champagne is presented à travers the very challenging, mostly sunless, cool, and wet 2012 vintage season: spring, summer, harvest, and winter. The viewers receive a veritable lesson in history, terroir, vineyard management, and winemaking. The movie captures both the magic and the technology of Champagne production, including vineyard pruning choices, harvesting, fermentation, remuage (often by hand), dégourgement, dosage, and second fermentation in the bottle. If only my WSET instructors could have demonstrated Champagne production the way A Year in Champagne does.
Champagne is not just any wine, but rather is the thread that weaves the tapestry of life in this northernmost winemaking appellation in continental Europe. From death and destruction, the war-ridden region of Champagne has survived, making some of the world’s most celebrated wines for hundreds of years.
As movie bonuses, the Gonet-Médeville family dog, Bouchon (Cork), steals his scenes, and the best quote comes at the end of the movie: It [Champagne] makes women lovelier and men wittier. I couldn’t agree more.
Santé, bonheur, et prospérité!
My blog is a mélange of wine and travel experiences, but sometimes we just need some wine recommendations for upcoming holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, or for everyday consumption. Below are some of the most current wines I have tasted this year, along with some of my favorites from throughout 2013, reviewed for my blog and Plum Deluxe. I hope you find something you enjoy!
Charles Gardet Brut Tradition Champagne, France, $53.00 (tasted at a wine dinner, originally published here)
For December’s holiday celebrations, such as Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, Charles Gardet Brut Tradition Champagne ($53) is the perfect choice. The wine is comprised of 45% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay, and 45% Pinot Meunier grapes. The predominantly red grape blend yields a creamy, rich mouthfeel, with good acidity and flavors of stone fruits, hazelnut, and toasted bread.
2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, California, $34.75 (sample provided by Jarvis Communications)
If you enjoy a balance of fruit and oak from grapes fermented nine months in a mix of new, once, and twice-filled French oak, this Chardonnay is for you. It has a rich, buttery mouthfeel, with good acidity and aromas and flavors of butterscotch, stone fruits, tropical fruits, tree fruits and toast.
2011 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel, Napa Valley, California, $36.95 (sample provided by Jarvis Communications)
Zinfandel lovers, this one is for you! This Zinfandel spends 18 months in 35% new oak, 65% once and twice-filled French oak. The aromas are complicated and enticing: berries, pepper, and spices, while the flavors of baked black cherries and oak are intertwined on the palate.
2010 Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir, Rodgers Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, California, $29.99 (sample provided by the winery)
The grapes for this Pinot Noir come from a cool-climate, low-yield single vineyard on a ridge between Petaluma and Sonoma, where winemaker Alison Crowe and her team control production from vineyard to bottle. This Pinot Noir has a velvety mouthfeel and ample acidity, with concentrated aromas and flavors of rich black cherry, spices, and violets. Garnet Vineyards has made this wine easily available through the amazon.com wine portal.
2011 Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery Russian River Selection Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, California, $35.00 (sample provided by Folsom + Associates)
Another creamy, decadent Chardonnay thanks to seven months in 40% new French oak and extended time on lees during malolactic fermentation, this wine possesses aromas and flavors of citrus, honey, and stone fruits.
2010 Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery Russian River Selection Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California, $42.00 (sample provided by Folsom + Associates)
This wine, whose grapes hail from the famous Rochioli and Hallberg vineyards in the Russian River Valley, sees eight months in 40% new French oak. Aromas and flavors include cola, dark berries, spices, tea, and violets, accompanied by nice acidity.
2012 Kings Ridge Riesling, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $12.00 (sample provided by Union Wine Company, originally published here)
The Riesling grapes for this wine are sourced from some of Oregon’s oldest vineyards, dating back to 1968. Like the Pinot Gris, the vineyard is located in a cooler area of the Willamette Valley with similar temperature swings. It is aged on lees in 100% stainless steel tanks to give it more texture and weight. When I tasted this wine, it was so reminiscent of the Rieslings I’ve tasted from the Finger Lakes. It had amazing acidity, which I love, along with succulent aromas and flavors of peach and tart green apple.
2012 Passaggio Wines New Generation Pinot Grigio, California, $19.00 (sample provided by the winery, originally published here)
This wine is sunshine in a glass, a gorgeous pale straw color, with very inviting floral and fruit aromas. On the palate, there’s a veritable burst of sweet, ripe melon, peaches, pears, and tropical fruits. I paired this wine with a combination veggie and meat pizza as sort of experiment, instead of going with an Italian red or Pinot Noir, and it worked perfectly. There was enough acidity to complement that of the tomato-based sauce and veggies, while the sweet fruit flavors were enhanced by the salty meats, such as pepperoni and sausage.
Schramsberg Vineyards Mirabelle Brut Rosé NV, North Coast, California, $25.00 (purchased for myself, originally published here)
This sparkling rosé is made of a blend of 51% Pinot Noir and 49% Chardonnay grapes from vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Marin counties. It is made in the méthode champenoise like wines from the Champagne AOC of France. It has floral, spicy, and yeasty aromas. On the palate, it has great acidity and a creamy mouthfeel, with flavors of apple, cherry, and citrus.
2009 Lion’s Drift Pinotage, Silkbush Mountain Vineyards, South Africa, $16.99 (sample provided by the winery)
I haven’t tasted many examples of Pinotage, which is a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Hermitage, but it seems that one either loves it or doesn’t. However, in this case, there’s a lot to love. This wine has aromas and flavors of dark and red berries, vanilla, spices, and a meaty, smoky quality. The wine is drinking well now, but has the potential to age for 10-20 years.
2012 Silkbush Mountain Vineyards Viognier, Breedekloof, Western Cape, South Africa, $16.99 (sample provided by the winery)
The cool mountain climate of the vineyards has allowed for the production of this lovely Viognier. It’s fermented in stainless steel, but spends some time on lees. It has a creamy mouthfeel, with aromas and flavors of honey, melon, stone fruits, and tropical fruits. Ready to drink now, it has the potential to age for up to five years.
2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $30.00 (tasted at Willamette Valley Vineyards)
As a follow-up to the 2013 Wine Tourism Conference in Portland, Oregon, I had the opportunity to participate in a four-course wine dinner at Willamette Valley Vineyards in their new tasting and event space. The winery was founded 30 years ago by Jim Bernau, who was in attendance along with the winemaker, Don Crank III, and Chef Eric Nelson. One of the courses, grilled Anderson Ranch lamb loin, was paired with the estate Pinot Noir. The wine was earthy and meaty, with aromas and flavors of herbs, truffles, red berries, spices, and tea, and paired perfectly with the lamb. It was one of my favorite pairings of the evening.
As part of my personal commitment to soul searching and finding my path, I plan to take a break from writing to enjoy the holidays and savor life’s deliciousness without note taking and photos. I want to thank everyone who has read my blog this year. It’s been another year of tremendous change and growth. I am eternally grateful for those of you who have continued to follow my both literal and figurative journeys. I wish you a wonderful holiday season filled with wine, food, family, friends, and of course, travel.
Wishing you love and happiness in 2014!