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Bubbles 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Popping the Cork

The new year is on our doorstep. Time for cheap party favors, resolutions we’re pretty sure we won’t keep, and the sound of a million corks popping to pour those delightful little bubbles. But how do you know which bottle of bubbly is the right pick for you? All bottles of Champagne are not the same…in fact, some aren’t Champagne at all! But that doesn’t mean they aren’t perfect. With all of the choices available, it’s tough to know which bottle is pop-worthy for you. Hopefully this Bubbles 101 primer will help you sort through the selections to help you make the best choice for your personal taste.

First of all, true Champagne is only from the Champagne region of France. Now that doesn’t mean that other places don’t make the same type of bubbling wine…it’s just they can’t call it Champagne unless it’s from that French region. Whether from Champagne, California, Spain…wherever…if it’s made using the ‘Methode Champenoise’ process, you’ll find it to be the traditional sparkling wine we’ve all come to know and love to celebrate the new year. Look for that process and you’re one step closer to picking the perfect bottle.

Another process to look for is the Charmat method. All that means is that the fermentation to turn it into bubbly was done in a stainless steel tank instead of in the bottle you will pour it from. For most people, it won’t really make any sort of a difference. You’ll find this done with a lot of Italian sparklers.

Next lesson in bubbly is how to pick one that meets your sweetness preference. Much like still wines, it can run the gamut. Here are the words to look for to help you pick the right level of sweetness for your tastes.

Ultra Brut/Extra Brut/Brut Zero/Brut Nature/Brut Sauvage: No added sugar

Brut: Nearly dry, contains no more than 1.5% sugar.

Extra Dry/Extra Sec: Slightly sweeter, can contain up to 2% sugar.

Dry/Sec: Can contain up to 4% sugar

Demi-Sec: Just sweet enough, can contain up to 8% sugar.

Doux: Sweet, can contain up to 10% sugar

Okay, so now you know what to look for in sweetness. Now it’s time to figure out exactly what sort of grape is in that bottle you’re picking up.

If you’re getting a true French Champagne (only from the Champagne region), you’re going to find only three types of grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. If it’s made from Chardonnay, it will be called ‘Blanc de Blancs’. If it’s made from one of the other two, it’s ‘Blanc de Noir’. All it means is that one is a ‘white grape’ (the skin of the grape) and the others are ‘dark grapes’. It doesn’t effect the color of the wine.

Rose (or pink) Champagnes/Sparkling Wines are simply made by adding a small amount of still red wine which gives it a little bit of sweetness.

Look for other French sparklers under the name ‘Cremant’ or ‘Mousseux’. These bubblies can be made using other types of grapes such as Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Pinot Blanc, or Pinot Gris. Cremants are thought to be ‘creamier’ rather than ‘fizzy’ and are made in the traditional way. Mousseux uses the tank method. My favorites are the Cremant d’Alsace. Amazing wines!

U.S. Sparkling wines are made using the same grapes (typically) used in the Champagne region. In fact, they’re often made by the same Champagne houses you find in France. They just have set up shop in the U.S. Mainly California.

Want something a little more exotic? Why not try a Sparkling Shiraz from Australia? Most are somewhat sweet, but some of the producers will turn it into a dry, full-bodied, tannic wine.

Spanish Cava uses the Macabeo, Parellada, Xarello, and sometimes Chardonnay grapes. They are made from dry to sweet so everyone has something to love.

German Sekt is made from Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, or Pinot Noir.

Italy also gives us a few sparkling beauties. Asti is a sweet sparkling wine made from the Muscat grape. It’s typically low in alcohol at around 8%. Great sipper. You’ll find it called Spumante. A lighter fizzed, lower alcohol version is also produced (called Frizzante). Moscato d’Asti is even sweeter than the Spumante and sits at around 5% alcohol, so you can get your toast on without it knocking you for a loop after a glass.

Franciacorta is typically made in the Blanc de Blancs style if you want more of a traditional pour from Italy.

One of my personal favorites is Prosecco, named after the grape from which it’s made. It’s made in both the Spumante and Frizzante styles and are typically dry in nature. They’re the primary ingredient in the Bellini…a brunch cocktail favorite!

One other absolute favorite of mine from Italy is Brachetto d’Acqui…a sweeter frizzante in a BEAUTIFUL ruby color. Inexpensive, festive, pairs well with foods and desserts or works well on it’s own. I sip it regularly year round.

Okay, have I confused you enough? Have you got all of your notes and are feeling well prepared to grab a bottle, pop the cork, and toast a new year? However will you choose?

My best piece of advice on that one: trust your gut, explore and try something new, and share with friends. That’s the best choice every time.

Celebrate well, my friends, sip responsibly, and here’s to another wonderful year to come.




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Posted by on December 31, 2012 in Uncategorized


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New Year’s Resolution: Happiness, Health…and More Wine

With the New Year fast approaching, many of us make the usual resolutions to lose weight, eat healthier, relax more, and the list goes on and on. The real challenge is in finding the right solution to help you reach your goals.

The solution? Wine.

Yes, wine is the magical fix it all elixir. We know all know that red wine is heart healthy, but is there hope for the white wine lover, the romantic Rose sipper, and those that want to toast a better New Year with bubbly in their glass? YES! Here are a few examples of how wine can ‘magically’ transform you.

Can’t breathe after that vigorous jog around the block? Drink white wine to improve lung health.

Eyes crossed looking at your post-holiday bank statement? According to a study in Iceland, moderate wine consumers are 43% less likely to develop a cataract.

Who needs a gym membership? One study shows that drinking 4 to 5 ounces of wine at a major meal or bedtime caused twice as much weight loss compared to those who didn’t drink wine.

Since weight loss is at the top of the resolution chart, choose Rose as a low-cal option. Only 82 calories per 5 oz glass, heart healthy, it pairs well with nearly every type of food, and it just plain tastes good!

Love bubbly? Smart choice! Sparkling wines have been shown to protect the brain. It also will tighten the skin if you dab it gently on your face. Smart AND beautiful? Pour me a glass!

Will wine create the ‘perfect’ you? Perhaps, but it certainly can’t hurt. Especially when you consider how a glass of wine with family and friends has a way of melting away our worries and putting a smile on our face. Less stress; more relaxation…all by pouring a glass of wine. Now there’s a resolution worth keeping!



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Posted by on December 4, 2012 in Uncategorized


“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”: Global Zinfandel Day with 2009 OZV

Today is November 19th…unless it’s a birthday, an anniversary, or you’ve suddenly discovered you are the long lost love child of Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey and you’re inheriting EVERYTHING, you might not find the date terribly memorable nor exciting. For me, it was a day of typical gray hair causing activities focused around work, errands, pets, kids, and preparing for the entire family to convene on my household for the holiday. Stressful, exhausting…not normally a cause for celebration…

…until I realized it was Global Zinfandel Day.

YES! Zinfandel is perhaps my FAVORITE varietal of all time (shhh…don’t tell the other children…I hate to play favorites with the ‘kids’). I’m not talking about the pretty little pink version of WHITE Zinfandel (although if you like it, knock yourselves out…I’m not going to discriminate…after all, it’s still Zin), but I’m talking about the luscious, red, jammy, ‘lover in a glass’ Zinfandels.

How to describe Zinfandel? Hmmm…let’s compare varietals to a rock band. Cabernet Sauvignon is your big and bold lead singer. Merlot would be the sensual lead guitar player. Malbec would be the rock solid base player. Pinot Noir, the moody, sensitive keyboardist. And the drummer? The sexy, wild, showman that is personality plus, complicated in its rhythms, but able to hold everything together? THAT my friends is ZINFANDEL.

There are as many different styles of Zinfandel as there are drummers, but all have the wonderful red berry fruit that makes it perfect for barbecues during the summer, the perfect wine to sip by the fire pit in the fall, and a surprisingly good wine to serve with cranberries and smoked turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner.

The wine I’m drinking this evening is the perfect example of why you should celebrate Zinfandel. I’ve selected the 2009 OZV Zinfandel out of Lodi, California. Lodi has some of the oldest Zinfandel vines in all of California, and this wine boasts fruit from 50-100 year vines, making the flavors that much more concentrated and intense. Raspberry, red licorice, and milk chocolate on the nose (yeah…it’s like rich candy heaven). Raspberry, blackberry, milk chocolate, and a slight hint of pepper on the finish as you sip…and sip…and sip. The tannins are light, the mouth feel doesn’t feel like a wool sweater on your tongue…it is VERY approachable. If you are looking for a red wine to help you make the transition from whites, this would be a perfect wine to try.

This wine would be excellent with smoked meats of all type, tomato based pastas (heck yeah, cousin LeAnn…this would work with your ‘Christmas Spaghetti’), even grilled tuna!

Zinfandel is the perfect choice for every occasion, and OZV from Oak Ridge Wineries is the perfect choice, especially when you can find it on average around $13.

So grab yourself a bottle…or a case…and celebrate November 19th like a rock star!




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Baseball, Wild Boar, and The Perfect Wine: A Candid Interview with Michael Keenan of Robert Keenan Winery

This past week I had the good fortune of taking part in a wine dinner at Annie Gunn’s in St. Louis featuring the phenomenal wines of Robert Keenan Winery. I’m not even going to mince words here, I can describe the evening in two words: PURE BLISS!

Executive Chef Lou Rook and Wine Director Glen Bardgett should pat themselves on the back through the New Year with the bevy of gustatory delights displayed.

First up out of the chute was the Maine lobster local apple roll paired up with the 2010 Spring Mountain District, Napa Chardonnay~ lemon and stone fruits on the nose with flavors of green apple, kiwi, with great balance and acidity. This wine would be just as much at home with Grandma’s chicken dinner as it was with the lobster roll.

Duck confit risotto with Ozark Forest mushroom chutney was masterfully paired with 2009 Keenan Cabernet Franc (my personal favorite). This may very well be the most amazing Cab Franc I have ever tasted. Currant, raspberries, and what I like to refer to as ‘earthy/woodsy’ qualities delight both the nose and the tongue. For a less formal pairing, serve it up with a Portobello mushroom burger.

The braised hog cheek and dried autumn fruit along with the noodle dumplings with pan roasted ‘Cab’ tenderloin was matched up with both the 2008 and 2007 Cabernet Sauvignons. Nothing but finesse with these wines with great acidity, perfect tannins, and bursting with flavors of dark fruit, chocolate, espresso, and graphite. Don’t even consider pairing any other wine with steaks….this one is the king!

The pairing that I thought was the gustatory highlight of the evening was the Wild Boar Sausage with the Gruyere and Local Plum Chutney paired with the 2008 Keenan Merlot. Simply put, it was seduction for the tastebuds. I don’t know how else to explain it.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to. I let the President of Robert Keenan Winery, Michael Keenan, sum it up in his own words. In a very candid conversation, he shared why the Merlot is his favorite, why it may very well be the perfect wine, and his thoughts on wine with sports, some interesting pairings, and what proved to be an accurate premonition regarding the National League series between the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Enjoy the interview, but most importantly, make sure to enjoy Keenan Wines.


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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Making of A Spanish Superstar: 2011 Gaznata Joven-Blending Project Pt. 2

Most of us don’t think twice about what is TRULY in our glass when we uncork a bottle of wine, pour, and sip. We simply enjoy and assume that whatever grape varietal we happen to be drinking is supposed to taste the same. Not only do varietals have…well…a variety of flavors, you’ll see huge differences from the grapes even when they’re grown in the same area? Who knew?

Yesterday I gave you a little background about one of the most killer Spanish wines I have ever had the privilege of tasting…the 2011 Gaznata Joven. I was even more privileged to have been included in the making of this wonderful wine.

Today’s video shows the education I received from Magnum Wines International Import Manager, Ashley Olbrys, Wendy Vallaster of New Spain Wines, and Winemaking genius Daniel Ramos about the many differences in the Garnacha grape of El Baracco, and how those differences will piece together to create the ‘perfect’ wine.

Hopefully this will make you take a moment to give your glass of wine a little extra appreciation before ‘knocking it back’.


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Posted by on October 1, 2012 in Uncategorized


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The Making of A Spanish Superstar: 2011 Gaznata Joven-Blending Project Pt. 1

Just a few days ago, I accepted the challenge of pairing foods and wines to find the ‘perfect fall flavors.’ One of the wines I mentioned is near and dear to my heart for many different reasons. It is the 2011 Gaznata Joven Garnacha made by genius winemaker Daniel Ramos at Don Juan de Aguila in the municipality of El Barraco, Spain. It is made with 100% Garnacha (you might know it as Grenache) and it may very well be the perfect red wine for all tastes. If you think you don’t like red wine, I know you have not tasted this wine. It is light, it is fresh, it is flavorful…in fact it EXPLODES with flavors of berries and herbs. Laid back and easy with pizza or burgers, or if you want to go with the flavors of the land, pair it up with Paella and be ready to have your eyeballs roll back into your head in ecstasy.

Magnum Wines, International Import Manager, Ashley Olbrys, recently gave a little bit of the history of the wine and her review of the wine here:

I was incredibly fortunate to join Ashley last May on a trip to Spain to take part in the blending of this particular wine. It’s one thing to drink and enjoy the wine, but you REALLY begin to appreciate the wines more when you discover what it takes to make that perfect wine. Ashley and I joined Wendy Vallaster of New Spain Wines and Winemaker Daniel Ramos to see what goes into the making of the Gaznata Joven. Fortunately, as you’ll see in my video below, they explain it so even a simple wine drinking Cowgirl such as myself can understand and appreciate the process.

This is Step One of the process of bringing the 2011 Gaznata Joven from the fermentation tanks to your glass at fireside. Enjoy!


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Posted by on September 30, 2012 in Uncategorized


The Flavors of Fall: NFL Football, Friends Around a Fire, and the Wines of Preston-Layne/Magnum Wines Intl.

As I watched (in horror, might I add) the Green Bay Packers/Seattle Seahawks debacle, I turned my attention to the IMPORTANT things that define fall for me: fire pits, good friends, and great wines. Ironically at that time, my friend and ‘head honcho’ of Preston-Layne, & Partners, Van Potts, wrote a new blog offering some WONDERFUL fall recipes and challenging readers to decide which wine they would pair with those recipes. His offerings included a brined and hickory wood grilled whole chicken, along with a Hubbard squash soup. All ingredients were from local markets (I love supporting local). If you’re interested in the particulars, you can read the blog post here:

Being up for a good challenge, I tried to decide which wines from their portfolio I would pair up with the chicken/soup combination…and it was a tough choice, but I think I came up with a few that are sure to become favorites.

On the imported wine side, I went straight to Alsace. Cave de Turckheim puts out some of the most incredible wines I have ever had the privilege of tasting. For this particular meal, I would choose their 2008 Grand Cru Riesling hands down! Crisp acidity, citrus fruits, and a minerality that would cut through the richness of the soup, but make the flavors of the chicken come alive.

Domestically, I would choose the Foris 2010 Pinot Gris, Rogue Valley, with tastes of apples and baking spices that would be AMAZING with the ingredients of the soup.

But why stop with whites? It’s fall for goodness sake- give me a rich beef stew or a hearty chili, or even a good old fashioned pot roast! What to pair with those choices? Well, for a heavy pot roast with all of the fixin’s, domestically I wouldn’t even think twice: Robert Keenan Winery’s 2008 Cabernet Franc, Spring Mountain District. Cab Franc is one of the three main wines of Bordeaux, and usually hangs in the shadow of Cabernet Sauvignon, but this Napa beauty is pure magic! Dark, rich, luscious plum and blackberry, cedar, spice, and dense tannins hold up easily to a roast with potatoes and gravy. For a hearty stew or chili, I’d be reaching for one of my absolute favorite reds: Anderson’s Conn Valley 2009 “Right Bank Red” (sitting in my cellar as I write). Deep, ‘smoky’, amazing flavors of cassis, and ‘woodsy’ notes…bay leaf? Yes. It envelopes you like a favorite sweater on a cool night.

Of course, nothing beats my Spanish darling from winemaker Daniel Ramos. Don Juan del Aguila’s 2011 Gaznata Joven. All I can say is the man is a genius, the area is Garnacha heaven, and this red IS fall. Blackberries, dark cherries, and warm spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon. It is easy, laid-back, and perfect for pairing or just sipping by the fire. I am PARTICULARLY fond of this wine because I was fortunate enough to be present for the final blending. Import Manager Ashley Olbrys allowed me to join her during her trip to Madrid, and, although this wine is definitely her ‘child’, I feel like a proud, weird ‘aunt’. Forget the distant family members…love the wine!

And you WILL love these wines…all incredible values on wines of exceptional quality. Give them a try yourself, and then tell me what YOUR fall pair ups would be.

In the meantime, I need to pour another glass to drown out the memories of poor calls by the football referees.




Posted by on September 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


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