Friday, December 23, 2016

Happy Holidays

Image from:

Greetings from Los Angeles!  Allow me to take this time to wish everyone a warm and satisfying holiday season.  Enjoy time with friends, family, and those you love!

I will be taking the next few weeks off to do just that.  There will also be a nice chunk of time spent studying as well.  No rest for the weary!

See you all back here in January and enjoy the rest of your December! Brianne

Monday, December 19, 2016

Punching Down with Craig Camp of Troon Vineyard

Last month we delved into Two Hands Wines from Australia with THIS post. These wines found their way to me via the #WineStudio program, the brainchild of Tina Morey. Coincidentally, one of those wines just made it into the Top 100 Wines of 2016 by Wine Spectator. Read more HERE.

What is #WineStudio?

#WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, yet only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation. Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer, such as the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic.

This past month WineStudio students delved into wines from Troon Vineyards in the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon.

I met Craig Camp at the 2015 Wine Bloggers Conference in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Craig was then with Cornerstone Cellars of Napa. Cornerstone makes potent and powerful Napa reds, and a handful of whites. Beautifully assertive wines that held nothing back. Craig was instantly welcoming to this WBC newbie who was trying to navigate the conference. He was active on social media and made sure that all the bloggers knew where to find him (his hospitality suite was very popular!) and had opportunities to experience his wines. This year at the Wine Bloggers Conference, I came to find out that Craig had picked up his toys and moved to southern Oregon to be the GM of Troon Vineyard. According to Craig, he relocated to “ a pioneer in an emerging AVA.” That emerging AVA is the Applegate Valley in southern Oregon. It is a bit warmer here than in the Willamette. Troon has mountain vineyards with granite soils as seen in Sardinia and Beaujolais. Grapes grown include Rhone varietals, Vermentino, Tannat, and Tempranillo among others.

Craig left Napa because he wanted to take risks. Fruit in Napa, as you can imagine, is VERY pricey. The average cost for a ton of Napa Cab is $4,000. When Craig was with Cornerstone, the fruit he wanted to work with in his last vintage was upwards of $7,000 per ton. With expensive fruit, you are not able to take as many winemaking risks. You might make a decision to play it safe and use tried and true processes that are commonly seen in the area you are in. Craig believes it is always safer to make boring, industrial wines, and I agree. With less expensive fruit, you might try your hand at more new and exciting things. Of course, the idea is not to take risks just to take risks. It has to make sense for your vineyard, for your fruit, and for the style of wine you desire to make. In the end, though scary as it is, more risks = more fun. According to Craig, you have to take a little risk if you want to do something really special.

Craig recently posted a blog piece entitled “Rationally Natural”. In this piece he preached about doing as less as you can with what you’ve got. Essentially, a more “hands off” approach to viticulture and vinification. Here is an excerpt:

Natural wine and biodynamics seems to promote irrational flame wars on the Internet. I have faith in science and personally have trouble buying some of the more voodoo practices myself. On the other hand I can’t argue with the results. Many of the wines I find the most compelling are made using natural winemaking concepts and from vineyards farmed biodynamically. My goal is to become rationally natural.

The intensity of these debates is hard to comprehend after you’ve fermented two hundred tons of fruit without a bag of yeast in sight. My vision of becoming rationally natural is simple: only do what you have to, and when you have to do something don’t use bad stuff. Simply minimize or eliminate inputs everywhere. Indigenous yeasts, little or no sulfur, no new oak, no acid or sugar added during fermentation.

Biodynamics came into use in the 1920’s and was based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner. In a nutshell, biodynamic farming is a holistic way of looking at the land. Some of the tenets include: fertilizing the vines with compost from the land (at certain times of year), using the waste of the animals on the farm, encouraging beneficial pests, and burying a cow horn in each vineyard (filled with cow dung). Yes, weird stuff. In the end, the goal is harmony with the land and with the living organisms on it.

An excerpt from my interview with Craig is below:

Biodynamics is already very respected and has become a big time marketing term. I think it’s simple, if you work really hard in your vineyard and are deeply connected to what’s happening there and don’t put bad things on it you’re going to make better wine. As I said, I feel somewhat more comfortable with the teachings of Fukuoka. There is something to be learned from biodynamics, organics, the ideas of Masanobu Fukuoka in the "One Straw Revolution" and many others. Studying all of these concepts and finding the practices that match your vineyard and region is the best solution for me. The only goal should be what will help me make the best wine possible. Just choosing one discipline does not well represent the complexities of nature.

In the end, Craig’s goal is to make interesting wines that are accessible for people to drink. In my opinion, he is doing just that at Troon Vineyard in the Applegate Valley of southern Oregon.

PS-Craig addressed his feelings post-election on his blog, and I deeply respect that.  I'm still trying to wrap my head around what this country will look like post-inauguration. Ok, back to the juice.

Here are the Troon wines tasted:

2014 Troon Black Label Vermentino, Applegate Valley SRP $29
I did not get this sample

2014 Troon Blue Label Sangiovese, Applegate Valley SRP $35
Includes 7% Syrah which is co-fermented. This wine is medium ruby. On the nose, this wine has a medium intensity with aroma characteristics of red berry (cherry and raspberry) and spice (black pepper and clove). There is also a floral/potpourri note with a hint of vanilla. On the palate, this wine is dry with medium + acid, medium alcohol, medium soft tannins, med - flavor intensity, and medium body. Flavor characteristics are similar to the nose: red berry ;(cherry and strawberry), black pepper, and vanilla. The finish is a medium length. This is a daily drinker for a sophisticated wine drinker. In other words, this wine has an ease to it, but there's nothing easy about it.  Good stuff.

2014 Troon Black Label M*T, Applegate Valley SRP $50
This is a blend of 61% Tannat and 39% Malbec. This wine is medium ruby with purple hues. The nose has a medium intensity. Aroma characteristics include a combination of red and black cooked/stewed fruit (raspberry and plum), spice (vanilla and black pepper). There is a hint of meatiness/gaminess. On the palate this wine is dry, medium aside, firm med + tannins, medium alcohol, medium body, and medium flavor intensity.  Flavor characteristics include the same combination of red and black fruit, vanilla, and dark chocolate. This wine has a medium finish. This is a deep and meaty wine that calls for food. I really would have enjoyed a skirt steak with this bad boy.

Other wine bloggers have profiled Troon Vineyard and/or Craig Camp.  If you are so inclined, please support the wine blogging community by reading their Troon posts below!

Bin Notes

Luscious Lushes

Grape Experiences

Rockin Red Blog

Hudson Valley Wine Goddess

BK Wine Magazine


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Drink Like a President

Disclosure: I received this sample for review

I had intentions of drinking this wine on election night and going live with this blog post the following day.  However, the unexpected outcome of the election had me in a state of shock that no amount of fortified wine could get me out of.

What do presidents drink?  Historically, the answer is Madeira.

What is Madeira?  And how did it become a presidential drink?  Madeira is a fortified wine made on the Portuguese island of the same name.  The island is located 625 miles off of the coast of Portugal, so naturally, it became an important stop on the trade route from Europe to the New World in the 16th century.   In fact, the North American colonies consumed about a quarter of the island’s production by the late 18th century.  Initially the wine was unfortified, but by the time the ships reached the New World, the wine had spoiled due to sun exposure on the hulls of ships.  To combat this spoilage, the wine would be fortified with a neutral grape spirit.  This would increase the alcoholic strength of the beverage and protect it from spoilage.  However, the wine was still subjected to maderization, which is the natural aging/oxidation of the wine from the exposure to the sun and the movement/rolling on the ship as it traveled.   This gave the wine “baked” flavors of: caramel, nuts, coffee, etc.  In the New World, particularly in the North American colonies, Madeira was held to high esteem and became a drink for the upper class, including our first presidents. Thomas Jefferson was a Madeira drinker and George Washington was said to down four glasses of Madeira every afternoon. In fact, Madeira was used to toast the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

Today, Madeira no longer has to ride on a ship for a few weeks or months to develop those signature maderized flavors. Maderization is achieved in two ways. The slower, more natural canteiro process is where the wine is left in casks on racks (called canteiros) in lofts and are heated by the sun. This can take anywhere from 20 to 100 years! The artificial process called estufagem, is where wine is pumped into containers (called estufas) made of stainless steel and heated to mimic the maturation that used to happen on the ships. This process can take anywhere from 90 days to 6 months.

Aging Canteiros

Ok, back to 2016.  Yes, we have a new President, and while this isn’t a political blog, I’m not afraid to say that I am a combination of mad as hell and scared shitless for what the implications are for our country.  Only time will tell.  Speaking of time, the Madeira Club of Savannah, an “old boys club” in Georgia where the members get together regularly and drink old Madeira, has been meeting regularly for over 250 years. They even survived Prohibition.  That’s pretty damn cool in my book.

Blandy’s Alvada Madeira SRP $18 (500mL) 19% ABV

This wine is a combination of both Bual and Malmsey grapes, two of the “noble” varieties.  It is aged for 5 years in seasoned American oak casks using the traditional Canteiro aging system.  This is a beautifully complex wine.  The nose has intense notes of raisin, prune, roasted nuts, toffee, coffee, and even lime peel.  The wine is medium sweet and has less primary fruit flavors (raisin) and more tertiary notes of coffee, chocolate, toffee, and butterscotch.  Overall I’d call this wine elegant and refined.  Very complex.  A couple fingers worth of Blandy’s Alvada, and your insides are warmed for the night.

Blandy's Alvada 5 Year Old

Fun fact: The Blandy family is unique for being the only family of all the original founders of the Madeira wine trade to still own and manage their original wine company.

Friday, November 25, 2016

My Gift Manifesto

Happy Consumerist Friday, known as Black Friday to most! Black Friday is a day that I proudly do not like to participate in. Most people start their holiday shopping on Black Friday, whereas I do not to participate in holiday shopping at all. As a general rule, I don’t do gifts. I don’t give them and I don’t request them.

About 10 years ago I woke up one day and decided that gifts don’t make me happy. I don’t remember exactly what was going on in my life, or if it was around the holidays, but I do remember how strongly I felt. I was never a good gift-giver. I was always that person who struggled with what to get people. I didn’t get the warm fuzzies when I found the perfect gift, I felt bad for the environment when I wrapped my presents with wasteful papers/bows/ribbons, and then I found myself reluctantly giving and receiving these gifts. Gifts didn’t mean anything to me. It felt like this ritual you were “supposed” to do and I hated it. I had hit a breaking point. NO MORE GIFTS! I felt that I could no longer give gifts in good conscience. It felt against everything that I believe in.

I sent a mass email to everyone I knew and I let them know how I felt. I let them know that I would no longer be accepting or giving gifts. I felt that this would be easier than dealing with it on a case by case or holiday by holiday basis. Tell everyone in one clean swoop, and hope for the best! The great thing is that I got no backlash. I got many messages back of love and support for my declaration. A lot of people agreed with me and felt the same way, but they said they didn’t feel they could make the same declaration. Maybe friends/family wouldn’t understand and would judge them. Or maybe there were kids in the family who they didn’t want to disappoint.

Sometimes I do give gifts. It makes me think of one of my favorite quotes: Don’t do nothing because you can’t do everything. A gift might happen here or there if I find something great….and I am ok with that. I still buy presents for weddings, baby showers, and wedding showers. Those are usually useful things that are needed in a home. Aside from those occasions, if I feel the need to give a gift, I have a few things that work within my moral and ethical beliefs. I’ll give an experience OR something that can be consumed. This can mean a vacation, a trip to the theatre, or a nice dinner. Also, wine and spirits are a GREAT gift for someone who likes to drink. It is something they can enjoy and can think of you when they open the bottle. With these types of “gifts”, it’s all about the memories. A sort of mental “consumption” with the memories living in your head and in stories you tell versus wasteful consumerist consumption with the wrapping paper/ribbons/bows living in the landfill and the actual gift getting thrown away one day as well.

There you have it. Let’s face it, A LOT of Americans spend a lot of time complaining about the holiday season. They complain how busy they are, they complain they have too many parties to go to, and they complain that they have SO much holiday shopping to do. I can’t remember the last time I complained about the holiday season. It’s one of my most favorite times of the year. It gets cold(ish) for us Californians, there’s tons of opportunities to eat great food and drink good booze, and there are endless opportunities to spend time with the people we love. How great is that!

Next time you find yourself dreading a trip to the overcrowded mall to pick up a gift, take a breath and think about taking a bottle of bubbly to that person instead. Bubbly relieves stress….not causes it. Have a look at this festive bottle of Chloe Prosecco. An elegant bottle and fun, lively juice inside!

Chloe Prosecco DOC SRP $16.99

Winery Notes: This wine is bursting with fresh fruit and fine bubbles, with notes of peach, green apple, citrus, and white flowers on the nose and palate. It is light straw in color with greenish hues. Opulent yet balances with elegant acidity, this wine offers a crisp finish with a hint of minerality, revealing the proximity to the mountains and calcareous soils where the grapes are grown.

Click HERE to see where you can purchase Chloe Prosecco (courtesy of

Disclaimer: I received this sample for review

Monday, November 21, 2016

A Sense of Place: Villa Bellangelo Winery

*Wine samples and the A Sense of Place book were received for review from Bellangelo Winery.

I’ve been struggling with a bit of post Wine Bloggers Conference blues as of late. Lodi is still on my mind, but how could I forget the Finger Lakes conference in 2015? My first foray into the WBC world. It was a whirlwind of a trip (see HERE), but it was a magical time when I had just started my blog and was starting to figure out what the heck I was doing in the world of wine. I was exploring with different writing styles, figuring out how to throw social media in the mix, and navigating the wonderful world of requesting samples. The samples received from Bellangelo Winery were the first press samples I ever received! I came back from WBC15 and reached out to a few producers who caught my eye in the Finger Lakes. Bellangelo was one of them. They sent me their book A Sense of Place by Christopher Missick and 2 bottles of wine, which I will discuss below.

History of the Finger Lakes

Back in the day, in the Devonian Age to be exact (approx 400 million years ago), New York was covered in warm seawater. There was lots of marine life in those waters, and the marine life lived and died with their remains deposited on the seafloor. These remains contributed to the limestone deposits that are still there today. The sedimentary rock found in the Finger Lakes was formed by erosion from the Appalachian Mountains. Eleven long, narrow lakes make up the Finger Lakes. These lakes originated as ancient rivers and river valleys. Two million years ago we were in the Ice Age. Glaciation began, which is the advancement of massive continental glaciers. The Laurentide ice sheet both advanced southward and retreated northward carving rivers/river valleys and depositing glacial debris. Those rivers were the precursors to the Finger Lakes.


History of Grapes in the Finger Lakes

Fast forward to the early 1800s and Reverend William Warner Bostwick planted native North American vines (NOT vitis vinifera) to make sacramental wine. He distributed vine cuttings to his parishioners to do the same. There were native grape vines planted before Reverend Bostick came along, but he was determined to proliferate the vines. Dr. Konstantin Frank was the predominant champion of vitis vinifera vines in the Finger Lakes. In fact, in one decade alone he grafted more than 250,000 European vinifera vines onto American rootstock. This ensured that vinifera grapes (i.e. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Riesling) could be grown in the Finger Lakes. Using the native rootstocks allowed for successful grape growing despite winter frost, pests (i.e. phylloxera), and disease (i.e. mildews and black rot).

About Bellangelo

Villa Bellangelo winery, overlooking Seneca Lake, was founded in 2002 by Michael Litterio and in 2011 was acquired by the Missick family. Bellangelo only works with growers who do not produce their own commercial wines and growers who allow their cellar team to work with them during growing season. All grapes must be sourced from the Seneca Lake Finger Lakes AVA. 

The Wines

2014 Chardonnay $15 SRP

This wine is a clear, pale lemon color with a clean medium intensity on the nose. Aroma notes of: lemon and green apple with no MLF (as confirmed on the back of the bottle). On the palate I got flavor characteristics of lemon, green apple, stone fruit (peach). Overall this wine is balanced and has a nice length. Bright flavors (because of no MLF plus the use of stainless steel and neutral oak). A nice deviation from the whites I normally choose.

2013 Merlot $20 SRP

This wine is a clear, pale ruby color with a clean and medium (-) intensity on the nose. Flavor characteristics include: blackberries, a little tart cranberry, red cherry, black pepper, slight spice (clove?), and toast. This is not what I expected. The wine has nice fruit and an almost tobacco/leather character. A nice easy red to start the night if you don’t want to start with a white. Very balanced with nice juicy fruit.

Bellangelo wines can be purchased from their website HERE to ship to CA and NY only.

If you are located in any of these states (AK, FL, ID, LA, MN, MO, NE, NV, NH, NM, ND, OH, OR, VA, DC, WV, WY), Bellangelo wines can be shipped through VinoShipper.

The Bellangelo book A Sense of Place by Christopher Missick can be picked up on on their website HERE for $6.99.  It can also be found on Amazon.

Have you ever tried Bellangelo Wines?  If so, leave me a comment below and let me know what you think!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Donelan Wines: Quality Not Quantity

The motto at Donelan Wines is: Wine Is A Journey Not a Destination. And that couldn’t be more true! How I made my way to Donelan Wines up in Santa Rosa was certainly a journey.

Cliche alert!! My I Love Lucy moment! Cliche alert!

About two and a half months ago I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a harvest at an artisan winery in Sonoma County. I was gifted this experience from a family member for my birthday back in July. They gave me a birthday card and a bottle of Donelan 2013 Chardonnay and said “give Cush Donelan a call”! Anyone named Cush is bound to be a good time, right?!?! I made the call, and two weeks later I was on a plane with him up to Santa Rosa to spend a couple days in the vineyard and at the winery.

Donelan Wines is a small-ish boutique, premium winery. They own a vineyard (the Obsidian Vineyard in Knight’s Valley) and also purchase grapes from about a dozen other Sonoma growers, plus one in Mendocino. The winery is in an unassuming industrial park in Santa Rosa with a total case production of 6,000-8,000 cases annually.

In chatting with Cush before the trip, he warned me that they run a tight ship up there. There are only four people who work in the winery, and they handle EVERYTHING. The team includes: a winemaker, assistant winemaker, cellar manager, and an intern. They are a well-oiled machine and work together seamlessly. First of all, the winery is clean. And I mean spotless! One reason for the extreme cleanliness is that Donelan does not use any commercial inoculations in their fermentation. They use only native fermentations. What this means is that they rely on the ambient yeast in the environment and in the winery to jump start the fermentation. There is a native flora that exists in the winery that needs to be maintained. A lot of the “cleaning” done in the winery is with water plus an organic, nontoxic, biodegradable detergent. Countless hours of scrubbing down every piece of equipment and surface, plus a water rinse, ensure the winery stay spotless. 

When you visit Donelan Wines at the industrial park in Santa Rosa, you may not know what you are in for. There are no romantic vineyard views and no Tuscan-style estate on the property. You drive into the park and see a series of white stucco buildings, one of which has a “Donelan Wines” placard. The tasting room is minimalist, yet comfortable.

Tasting Room

During my time at Donelan, I had the privilege of sitting in a tasting appointment. And yes, you need to make an appointment, as the tasting room does not keep regular hours. A “Meet the Family” tasting is $20 and a more extensive “Family Reunion” tasting runs $50. The tasting I witnessed, with a couple from Los Angeles, ran 2 hours.  There are no hurried pours here and no pourer who barely knows the wines he/she is serving. Cush poured every wine with care and shared the stories behind the wines (and the vines) with the couple, who were more than happy to hear about them. If the couple gave him no more than 30 minutes, I have no doubt that Cush would have treated the appointment with an equal amount of care and attention. He created a comfortable and safe space for this couple to taste. They drink and enjoy quite a bit of wine at home and have more knowledge than the average consumer, but they admittedly are not wine experts. Cush allowed them to guide the tasting (i.e. asking them what types of wines they like, and what they were interested in tasting) and let them share their impressions of each wine. There were no right or wrong answers, which is exactly how a wine tasting should be!

During my time at Donelan, I was in the way. A lot. As I mentioned, they are a well-oiled machine up there and really didn’t need me. However, I was happily superfluous to the process!

Day 1 entailed a lot of walking around, checking out barrels, fermenting tanks, cases of wine, destemming machines, presses, etc. Day 2 was going to start strong with an early morning harvest. I had participated in a few harvests in early August, so I felt like an old pro (at least in my mind). However, as Day 1 was winding down, we got word that the early AM harvest got moved to midnight that night. Holy crap….a midnight harvest...exciting! Cush and I grabbed a bite in town at The County Bench (try the chicken thighs!) and then retreated for a couple hours to get some shut eye before our midnight call time. Fast forward and I’m “napping” from 9pm-11pm and I get a text that the harvest got moved to 2am. Ok, back to sleep. Alarm went off at 1:15am and at 1:30am Cush and I (and our headlamps!) were en route to the vineyard! Harvest is quite a sight to see anytime of day….and a middle of the night harvest is no exception! Flood lights are set up to pour a bath of light onto the vineyard. The grapes were being manually harvested, and a large truck drove with the harvest team down the rows of vines. The truck had lights on it to shine directly on the vines, and had the large bins that the grapes were emptied into. For 2am, there’s a lot going on. A couple dozen people scurrying between the vines, a LARGE and LOUD truck making its way through the vines, a heavy (and wet!) mist coming over the vines, and not to mention the vines themselves! By 5am I was back in my room, moist from mist, and covered in dirt and bramble from the vines. But I was exhausted and tumbled into bed.

Day 2 was exciting, because our bounty (close to 4 tons of grapes) was going to arrive at the winery for processing. The whole cluster grapes arrive on flat bed trucks and are immediately weighed. Some samples are pulled for the winemaker to do some testing on (pH, TA, and Brix levels). The grapes are first put through a mechanical shaker, which helps to release the MOG (matter other than grape), such as: leaves, stems, bugs, rotten grapes, etc. Immediately after the grapes are shaken, they go on the conveyer belt sorter and we all manually sort through the grapes and pull out more MOG. It’s a fast process and you really need to concentrate and focus, because it’s easy to zone out and almost forget what you’re doing. After the grapes are sorted, they go into a destemming machine that magically (really, it feels like magic) de-stems the grapes. The grapes are cold soaked for a couple days, then a nutrient add, then the beginnings of fermentation. Some of the grapes needed to be stomped. Like, I Love Lucy stomped. They only needed one person to do it, and that lucky person was me!  So much fun!

What I love about Donelan Wines are the personal touches. Within 48 hours of anyone adding themselves to the email list, they get a personal call from Joe Donelan, the founder of Donelan Wines, welcoming them to the Donelan family. Cush also stays in touch with many of the Donelan clients. “We value customer service over everything and want that to be synonymous with Donelan. It strengthens our commitment to quality and reassures people that a family is behind it on all levels.” according to Cush. About ¾ of their annual production is sold direct to consumer (either online or in their tasting room).

The wines. Chardonnay, Syrah, and Pinot Noir are their bread and butter. About half of their wines are even named after Donelan family members. Their focus is on cool climate varietals on great sites, according to Joe. Retails range from $48-$150. The quality of Donelan Wines is second to none. Robert Parker agrees, as he has personally visited the winery and given some impressive scores to various Donelan wines.

Joe Donelan got into the wine business as a second career right around the year 2000 with a business partner. In 2008 he started his own label, Donelan Wines. Joe’s son Tripp, in addition to being the Director of Sales, handles shipping and operations, whereas Cushing has more of a marketing focus on building brand awareness, business development and wholesale relationships. How did Joe get into wine? In his 30’s he spent some time in Europe and was exposed to great wines and the European sensibility with wine that every day is a celebration, and that every day calls for wine. A day with loved ones is a day to celebrate. He believes in living life to its fullest daily, and not just waiting for Fri/Sat/Sun. Joe says he has no plans for immediate retirement, because he’s having too much fun. He loves people and a sense of adventure the wine business provides him.  As mentioned earlier, about 75-80% of their wines are sold DTC (direct to consumer).  Joe doesn’t want to change that. He likes to meet these people and help them in their growth and journey to learn about wine.

What’s next for Donelan? According to Cush: We have experienced tremendous growth in the last 3 years: great vintages, an estate property, expanded the portfolio, a new winemaker and new territories. We are continuing to strive for the highest quality while maintaining a great customer experience. In the future we would like to acquire more property and ultimately a stand alone winery to call our own.

Enjoy some photos from my trip:

Barrels waiting for the juice
pH?  Brix?  TA? 
2am harvest decisions
Clusters just before harvest
Each large bin is about half a ton
Ready to go
Stems, stems, and more stems!
One more gratuitous "I Love Lucy" shot

Thank you to Cush for allowing me to tag on his harvest trip. And thanks to both Joe and Cush for allowing me to conduct these interviews. It was an absolute pleasure.

Have you experienced Donelan Wines before? If so, leave me a comment below and tell me about it!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

#WineStudio and Two Hands Wines

Disclosure: I received these Two Hands Wines samples for review as part of the #WineStudio program.

What is #WineStudio?

#WineStudio, the brainchild of Tina Morey, is an online Twitter-based educational program. Each month a different producer is selected, along with a lineup of wines from their portfolio. Anyone can participate in the weekly Twitter chats, yet only a select few are chosen to receive samples to accompany the conversation. Every Tuesday at 6pm (Pacific time), Tina hosts the group on Twitter at the WineStudio hashtag. Usually accompanying her is someone affiliated with the producer. Might be the winemaker, owner, salesperson, etc. Tina describes it as part instruction and part wine tasting. Discussion topics include: the producer history, the grapes, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food, etc. For each new topic Tina has seen dozens of original content pieces created, thousands of interactions via social media and millions of impressions created on our specific topic.

October was the month of Two Hands Wines, hailing from Australia.

History of Two Hands Wines

Two Hands Wines was the brainchild of Michael Twelftree and a business partner in 1999. Their goal was to share Australian Shiraz with the world, and that they did. At the time, most exported Australian Shiraz was cheap, jammy industrial stuff. Not necessarily terroir-based wines. Two Hands crafted Aussie wines that showcased regionality and varietal differences. It started out as a negociant business, while they spent the time building their winery and acquiring vineyards along the way. Michael since has a new business partner, but is still very much involved. They export over 30% of their wines, and Michael has spent A LOT of time on the road maintaining relationships and creating a personalized experience for those who bring Two Hands into their portfolio, storefront, restaurant, etc. Ben Perkins, the winemaker for Two Hands Wines and has joined us on the weekly #WineStudio chats.

Photo: Milton Wordley

Picture Series

Two Hands describes these as serious wines with irreverent labeling. The Picture Series is the gateway to the Two Hands portfolio. Bottles are approachable and fun with the goal of the juice being: purity of fruit. This is where Two Hands can let go and use different varietals and regions.

Two Hands Angel’s Share Shiraz 2014 McLauren Vale $36 SRP
Purple fruit, coffee, and mocha. This wine calls for food. It had a more subtle and fruitier nose than the others.

Two Hands Sexy Beast Cabernet Sauvignon 2015 McLauren Vale $36 SRP
You immediately know there’s a Cab in your glass here. A combination of red and black fruit, green pepper, eucalyptus, herbaceousness, and vanilla. A definite tannic grip. Worked famously with a steak salad.

Two Hands Gnarly Dudes Shiraz 2014 Barossa Valley $36 SRP
Round tannins, black fruit, smoke, chocolate, cedar, pepper/spice. Overall, this one was a bit meatier than the others.

Garden Series

The Garden Series is the super premium range of Shiraz from six of the finest Shiraz growing regions in Australia, showcasing the regionality of Australian Shiraz. All the wines here have identical vinification and maturation processes, allowing the regionality (a regions winemaking reputation) to shine through. This is a FINE way to do a side by side tasting, as with consistent winemaking you can really see, smell, and taste the differences in a single varietal from different regions.

Two Hands Lily’s Garden Shiraz 2014 McLauren Vale $69 SRP
A combination of red and black fruit, lots of spice (cloves and pepper), cedar/toasted oak, and vanilla. Overall, this was my favorite of the Two Hands Wine we tried. It was feminine, round, supple, and sexy.

Two Hands Bella’s Garden Shiraz 2014 Barossa Valley $69 SRP
A combination of red and black fruit with a slight baked quality, pepper, earth, vanilla, and leather. This one was a bit understated. I’d describe it as androgynous...not quite feminine, but not quite masculine. Somewhere in the middle. A lovely wine. Holds it’s own and does not need food.

Flagship Series

The Flagship Series is where Two Hands Wines uses the very finest varietal selections from each vintage. And it’s quite a precise system to determine which are the “finest varietal selections”.  Ben Perkins and owner Michael Twelftree meticulously taste each and every barrel. The barrels are blind tasted and each barrel is granted a “grade” from an A+ down to a C. Only A+ barrels are used in the Flagship Series. The Ares wine is the pinnacle of their Shiraz production.  I did not receive this wine for sampling.

What's next for Two Hands Wines?

According to Michael Twelftree, they are working on some new vineyards, increasing clonal selections, and they have a new winery planned for 2018.

Have you tried any of Two Hands Wines before?  If so, leave me a comment below and tell me what you thought of them.

See HERE on for where you can pick up Two Hands Wines near you.

Monday, October 31, 2016

No Tricks, Only Treats

Disclosure: I received these bottles of Port as samples for review.

Happy Halloween to everyone out there! Last night I had a few friends over to carve pumpkins, share a meal, and try out some Port cocktails. When I received these samples, I knew that I wanted to do something different instead of standard tasting notes. It is the Fall season (though I’m in LA and it’s about 80 degrees out) and Port cocktails felt appropriate for All Hallows Eve!

Halloween is one of my favorite Holidays, so why not turn my blog R&D into a little event...I am an event producer and all.

Recipe for a party:

1. Invite a few close friends over. There were six of us in total.

Gratuitous Black Cat Shot

2. Craft three Port cocktails.
I am not a mixologist, so I decided to use tried and true recipes I found online HERE.  I made small adjustments, as I did not have 100% of the ingredients on hand.

Recipe 1: Port Julep. At the bottom of a glass you dissolve 1.5 tbsp of superfine sugar with 0.5 oz of water. Then add 6-7 mint leaves and muddle. Add 1 oz tawny Port, 1 oz VSOP Armagnac (I used Cognac, as I had it on hand), and 1 oz rum. Pour back and forth between two glasses a few times. Add more ice to top off glass and garnish with a mint leaf.

Port Julep

Recipe 2: Bar Drake Manhattan. Combine 2.25 oz bourbon, 1 oz ruby Port, and a bar spoon of maple syrup. Pour back and forth between two glasses a few times, add a dash of bitters, stir, and pour into glass. Garnish with a burnt orange peel.

Bar Drake Manhattan

Recipe 3: Saint Valentine. Into a cocktail shaker add ice, 1.5 oz white rum, 0.5 oz ruby Port, 0.5 oz Grand Marnier, and 0.5 oz lime juice. Strain into a chilled glass and garnish with a lime wedge.  Surprisingly, this one reminded some of us of a Cosmopolitan.

3. Whip up a Fall-friendly dinner to accompany the cocktails. I landed on a hearty vegetarian goulash. The gravy was made with 4 kinds of mushrooms, onion, celery, and garlic, with the base coming from vegetable stock, red wine, and port wine. Over egg noodles, this was a perfect fall dinner.

4. The results! I crafted all 3 cocktails and asked everyone to put in a vote for their favorite cocktail. Believe it or not, it was an even split. Two voted for the julep, two for the Manhattan, and two for the Saint Valentine.  Overall, everyone (including myself) was pleasantly surprised at how well the Ports worked with the different cocktails.  

What the heck is Port?

Port is a fortified wine made in Portugal. There are many different grape varietals allowed in Port production. With Port, the fermentation process is interrupted before all of the sugar converts into alcohol. So what you end up with is a slightly lower alcohol wine with residual sugar (aka a sweet wine). As with any fortified wine, a distilled spirit (at a very high ABV) is added. This spirit addition raises the alcohol level of the wine. In the end you have a fortified wine that is sweeter than normal wine and with a higher alcohol level. There are many different styles of Port including: ruby, tawny, white, rose, reserve, LBV, crusted, vintage, single quinta vintage, etc. Today we are sampling three different Ports of varying styles.

Graham’s 10 Year Tawny Port 20% ABV $36 SRP

Tawny Port is a Port that has been aged in wood and takes on the tawny hue. The grapes used are also less ripe grapes from cooler climate vineyards, which contribute to the wines lighter color as well. Aged tawnies are generally made from higher quality wines. This wine was bottled in 2014 and in general, aged tawnies can deteriorate if spent too long in the bottle. This wine will have a shelf life of 2-4 months after opening. Good chilled. This tawny port carries notes of nuts, honey, and figs. It is quite complex and was my favorite of the three.

Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port 19.5% ABV $18 SRP

This is a premium ruby-style Port. Ruby Port is aged in bulk and bottled young to retain the ruby color and youthful primary fruit aromas. A “special reserve” which is a premium ruby, is a wine with more color and depth. With this particular bottle, the wine spent extra time in oak casks (4-5 years total) and retains a luscious red cherry flavor. This bottle will keep about 6 weeks after opening. The nose on this wine is youthful with strong fruit concentration that you would expect with a ruby. Lots of red fruit on the nose and palate (cherry, strawberry, and plum).

Dow’s 2011 Late Bottled Vintage Port 20% ABV $24 SRP

Vintage Port is made only in the finest years and from the best vineyards. It is a wine from a single year and bottled between the fourth and sixth years after harvest. Unfortunately the LBV I received was corked, so I will not review this bottle.

After the tasting, I made everyone their own cocktail based off of their votes. We then enjoyed some of the Port neat with a hunk of pungent blue cheese…..DELICIOUS! 

How will you be spending your Halloween tonight?

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What's the Plan for Unit 3?

To recap, in July of 2015 I started the WSET Level 4 Diploma, the stepping stone to the Master of Wine program. There are six units in order to receive your Diploma certificate. I passed five of the units in the last year and only have one left! But it’s a big one.

Unit 3 of the WSET Diploma is entitled "Light Wines of the World" and the exam is on June 14, 2017.  This unit covers pretty much all wine except for sparkling and fortified wines and is not for the faint of heart.  We can be tested on still wines from any of the following countries: France, Germany, England, Wales, Switzerland, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria, South Africa, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, India, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, the US, Mexico, Canada, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Brazil. I know….it’s like a sick joke.

Elements of the exam can include: key factors affecting production (microclimates,, soils, varietals, viticulture, vinification, maturation, finishing, and vintage variations), trade and legal structures, producers, and markets.

How does WSET prepare you for this exam? They provide 10 classroom days with a focus on the aforementioned regions. These include: lectures, discussions, guest speakers, and tastings. Our preliminary schedule is laid out below:

October 23 Bordeaux and SW France

November 6 Burgundy and Beaujolais

November 13 Southern Rhone, Languedoc, Roussillon, Provence

November 20 Alsace and Germany

January 15 Northern Rhone, Loire, Jura

February 15 TBD

February 26 TBD

March 12 TBD

March 26 TBD

April Date TBD

The exam is broken up into two sections: tasting and theory. The good thing is that each section is graded separately. You only have to retake the section you fail.


We will be given 12 wines to blind taste. They are divided into four flights of three. We’ll do two of the flights (in an hour), take a short break, and then move to the last two flights (for another hour). For two of the flights we will be asked to identify a common link. That could be: grape variety, region, or production method. There is almost always a flight in which we have wines of a similar style with different quality levels. We need to identify the wines and evaluate quality levels. There is also a mixed bag flight, in which all the wines are unrelated.


For this portion, we will have five questions to be answered in 3 hours. Questions will be a mix of short-form, open-response, and essay questions.

A short-form question typically offers you a choice of six topics to write about. You will be expected to write answers on five of these. For example:

With reference to the wines of the Loire, write about FIVE of the following:

Rose d’Anjou
Cabernet Franc
Soils in Touraine
Fungal diseases

Open-response questions require a fuller response in answer to a specific question, rather than simply stating facts about a given topic. For example:

Explain how grape growing and winemaking determine the style of the following wines:

Beaujolais Nouveau
Old Vine Barossa Valley Shiraz

The essay question requires an even fuller answer and requires you to offer personal commentary on a particular topic. According to WSET: this is an opportunity to not just demonstrate your knowledge of the subject, but also weigh up both sides of an argument and present an informed conclusion. For example:

Discuss the progress that has been made in Sicily in moving from bulk wine production to making quality wines with distinct varietal and geographical character.

The Unit 3 exams are offered in January and June worldwide. The January exams historically have a lower pass rate, as your intense study time coincides with the holidays, which I presume can be challenging. For the June exams over the last 6 years, the worldwide pass rate for the tasting has been 75.7% and the pass rate for the theory has been 45.8%.

How much study time does this all entail? The WSET suggests a total of 300 hours of study time for this unit. Yes, I said 300 hours. Let’s break that down. The first class was Sunday October 23. Starting the following week, that leaves 33 weeks before the exam on Wednesday June 14. Overall, we’re looking at about 10 hours per week of study time. Many Diploma grads I have spoken to suggest studying full-time at least 2 weeks before the exam, with some suggesting a month of full-time studying. As you can imagine, not many people have the luxury of taking that much time off.

Tasting Study Strategy

As you read above, pass rates for the tasting are higher than for the theory. Yet when you talk to any non-WSET(er), they always get tripped up on how hard it would be to blind taste 12 wines. We do a significant amount of tastings in class, corresponding to the region we’re studying that day. Yesterday, for example in our discussion of Bordeaux and SW France, we tried 9 wines. In addition to the class tastings, about 10 of us are forming a tasting group outside of class. The goal is to meet monthly and taste by varietal. Luckily our instructor works at the wine shop where we take our class. She prepares the wines for us, arranges them in flights of three, and brown bags/numbers all of them. We then split the cost of the wines and do the tastings in timed exam-style conditions.

Theory Study Strategy

Theory is a tough one to tackle because we don’t have a textbook per se. We have a study guide that lists all the different things we need to know, but it is up to us to go out and find that information in books or online. I decided to spearhead a theory study group, as the amount of information to learn for this section is unbelievable. We formed a small group of 6, and the group will have two functions. First, we are going to meet monthly (will be more frequently as we get closer) and split up the subject matter to teach each other in our small group setting. We will each provide a handout for our presentation and bring a wine sample that is representative of the region we discuss. We’ll each take about 15 minutes to present our section and spend about 10 minutes in discussion with the group. The second function is to practice timed writing in exam-style conditions. After speaking to many Diploma grads, they all stressed the importance of doing this. Getting used to spending 30 minutes tackling an exam question, skeleton outlining your answer, and then spending the rest of the time writing is important, and we have be be able to do this for 6 questions over a 3-hour period.  There is no time for brain fog, hand cramps, writers block, etc. The goal is that when we walk into the theory exam, we are prepared and used to writing that much in that short of time.  We will integrate timed writing into our group time starting in early 2017. Also, in approximately May, we want to hold a full mock theory exam.  We will have the questions typed up and spend 3-hours with each other like we will do with our exam on June 14.

That’s all for now. Have you attempted (or passed!) any wine certification programs? If so, tell me about them here!

Wish me luck everyone…..I need it!

Friday, October 21, 2016

16 Ways to be a Wine Festival Pro!

Wine festivals have become ubiquitous around the United States. I live in Los Angeles and there seems to be a different festival every other weekend. Most are in the $50-$75 price range and tout anywhere from 20 to over 100 wineries participating. If each winery pours 2 wines, you’re looking at anywhere from 40 to 200 wines. Mama mia! How do you handle this?  Here are 16 tips and tricks to be a Wine Festival Pro and stand out from the crowd!

Before the Festival

1.  Go online and see who is pouring. Any standouts? Or anything that sounds interesting to you? Be sure to list them in the “Notes” section of your phone, so you can pull them up when you arrive.

2.  Workout or do something active today. This won’t help in your wine tasting skills or help you sprint faster to the wine tasting finish line. But in my opinion, if you get a workout in, the chances of you over imbibing go down. Take care of your body before and after wine tasting and your body will thank you.

3.  Eat a substantial lunch that will line your tummy with a good base for wine tasting.

4.  Have a few handy items with you: a small bottle of water (festivals usually have this, but it’s nice to have one right in your bag), breath mints (your breath will get funky after hours of tasting, it’s science), antacids (wine can cause indigestion), and a pen (to take notes in the program).

5.  Arrive at the festival at or just before it opens to the public! As a trade/press professional, I have been to countless wine festivals. Festivals both open to the public or just open to the trade. Guess what, they all get more and more crowded as the day goes by. And in my opinion, an overly crowded wine festival is a waste of time. No one wants to wait in a line 5 deep to get a 1 oz pour. No one.

During the Festival

6.  Get a program. Most, though not all, wine festivals have a program that lists all the wineries participating, and might even leave some room for tasting notes, which is AWESOME!  Take a look at the notes on your phone, and circle those you want to visit.

7.  Do a lap first, then commit! If you got there early or just when the gates open, this should be breeze. I like to take a lap first and see if there’s anything I’m missing. Anything shiny and sparkly that looks too good to miss?

8.  Drink progressively. For God’s sake, don’t just walk through the tables and aimlessly do tastes of whites and reds in any order! Start with bubbly, then to whites, then reds, and then dessert wines. TRUST ME. You will get palate fatigue...It’s bound to happen….even to the professionals. Drinking progressively will mitigate that a bit.

9.  WATER. I repeat. WATER. There is no such thing as too much water.

10.  Spit!! And I really mean this. If you go to a wine festival and drink all of the pours, you’re sure to be “the drunk one” and will most certainly feel terrible that evening with an “overhang” (an overhang is a word I created in college. It’s when you already have a hangover before you even go to bed). And you’ll surely be hungover the next day. I used to (in my early 20s) have a motto “no wine left behind” and I can safely say that I retract that statement. Leave a lot behind….please! Maybe taste through some whites first (be sure to spit), then revisit a small handful of your favs (you can drink these). I usually limit myself to 10 whites and 10 reds. After that, my tongue has no idea what’s going on.

11.  Ask questions. Even if you don’t know a lot about wine. Some fun ideas: ask 5 different winemakers/winery reps what they love about the wine they’re pouring. Or ask them to tell you one interesting thing about the wine they are pouring. You might find out some cool stuff!

12.  Eat something (if they offer it). This will break up the afternoon and be a nice palate cleanser. It also ensures your tummy doesn’t get empty and get sour from all the wine.

13.  Step aside immediately after you get served. This is a big one. When you walk up to the table, you’ll get a pour, then immediately step to the side. Even if you’re having a conversation with the pourer. A small step or two to the side does wonders. It allows the pourer to continue chatting with you, yet still be able to pour to the next guest. When you’re the “next guest” at one of the tables, you’ll greatly appreciate it!

Amid all of these “how to’s” be sure to take pictures, take notes, or whatever strikes your fancy. Bottom line is to have fun!

After the Festival

14.  Depending on what time you are done, have another meal. This one doesn’t have to be as carb heavy as the “before” meal. A good mix of protein and carbs should be fine.

15.  WATER. Yup, you’ll still be dehydrated. Drink up!

16.  Feeling any tinge of a headache? Take some headache medicine just in case to nip it in the bud.

If you follow these tips and tricks, you will enjoy your wine festival day MUCH more than the next guy! You’ll have had a great time and woken up without a hangover. Mission accomplished!

Don’t forget to upload all of your fun pics and relish in the fun wine tasting day you had with good friends! I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: the meaning of life is to live it! A wine festival is DEFINITELY living the life!

I recently went to the Bubblyfest sparkling wine festival in Pismo Beach. I brought this little gadget with me and got props on it ALL weekend. It is a necklace you wear to hold your wine glass.

It makes sense for me when I am attending wine events as trade/press, because I am usually busy taking notes, taking pictures, and posting on social media. This allows the wine glass to be hands free to allow me to do everything I need to do. Click HERE to see the Amazon link where I purchased this for $8. Great buy!

What wine festivals will you be attending before the end of the year?  

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Bubblyfest by the Sea 2016

A special thanks to Create Promotions for granting me a Weekend VIP pass in exchange for coverage of Bubblyfest By the Sea 2016. I had a wonderful time up in Pismo/Avila Beach soaking up the sun and bubbles!

Being an Angeleno, I drive up the coast frequently for short trips to Santa Barbara, San Francisco, Sonoma, etc. For ease I usually head up the I-5N, as the route is more direct and generally faster than taking the coastal trip up the 101N. However, Pismo Beach is (obviously) right on the coast, so the 101 coastal journey is your best bet. And what a lovely drive it was. I hit no traffic (shocker, I know), and arrived in a little less than 3 hours. If you haven’t driven up the California coast, I highly recommend it. The endless ocean views with the sun gleaming on the water is awe-inspiring.

I rented a studio from AirBnB that was one block from the beach in a little area called Shell Beach. I had my own “apartment”, an outside sitting area, and even a friendly dog named Jackson! Below is a recap of the Bubblyfest events I attended.


Winemaker Seminar Series presented by San Francisco Wine School 

This session was led by David Glancy MS, founder of the San Francisco Wine School. The class was held in the stunning “Beach House” at the Avila Beach Golf Resort. All the windows were thrown open and we enjoyed the sounds of the waves crashing and a nice ocean breeze. It was an intimate class of about 12-15 of us, and David was enjoyable and full of knowledge; my favorite combination in wine education! We learned the history of sparkling wine in Europe, the difference between a grower Champagne and one in which grapes are purchased, and the evolution of the sparkling wine market throughout the world. He recounted a story of eating empanadas and drinking a sparkling Bonarda in Argentina as one of his favorite drinking stories. Damn, I’d love to get my hands on a sparkling Bonarda! David was then joined by a panel of 3 California wineries who produce sparkling wine. Jim Shumate of Pomar Junction in Paso Robles was the first speaker. Their sparkling is made by Rack & Riddle. We were then joined by Neil Roberts, viticulturist at Clavo Cellars in Paso Robles/Templeton. Neil manages 30+ vineyards in San Luis Obispo and Monterey. Lastly, we had Clarissa Nagy of Riverbench in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Maria Valley. She became winemaker in 2012 and in 2014 produced their first 100% estate bottling! Clarissa shared the fun fact that there are over 40 sparkling wine producers in Santa Barbara County alone! During this seminar, we enjoyed wines from: Le Grand Courtage, Pierre Sparr, Bouvet, JCB, Gosset, Taittinger, Gremillet, Riverbench, Pomar Junction, and Clavo Cellars.

Tasting Mats

Jim Shumate of Pomar Junction

Corks & Cocktails

The thing about being a wine student and blogger is that I taste a lot of wine. But, surprisingly, I do not drink a lot of wine. Most of my encounters with wine are in class, in a tasting group, or at a wine event in which I am attending as press/trade. In those cases I have to protect my palate to be able to taste a lot of wine in a short amount of time.  But the Corks & Cocktails event was a different animal. This was Bubblyfest’s Gatsby-inspired cocktail party with live music, free-flowing bubbles, nibbles, and other fun surprises. Guests were encouraged to dress up, have fun, and enjoy the incredible ocean views that this town has no shortage of. I made the decision to Uber and really enjoy this party...and I’m glad I did! Instead of just talking about it, here is a pictorial recap of the evening!

That view though

Musical delights by the Tipsy Gypsies

Nibbles + Sunset = BLISS

One of my fav pours that night: Hillersden Sparkling Sauvignon Blanc

Gratuitous coupe selfie!

Their take on an old-fashioned (which included bubbly!)

Raspberry flavored cotton candy (by Haute Sugar Co) + Alma Rosa Brut Rose

Music, dancing, and bubbles

On Saturday I woke up early, got some work done, and walked to the local coffee shop a block away. Here I grabbed a homemade cinnamon roll (!) and a cappuccino and headed to the beach. The morning sun and waters were absolutely gorgeous. Oh, and oodles of puppy porn to satisfy your morning appetite!

Grand Tasting

The Grand Tasting is the largest event at Bubblyfest. Over 60 wineries poured selections from their sparkling collections. What I liked about the event is that it was outside with PLENTY of space. A lot of these big tasting events can be indoors in way too crowded rooms. Also, all the vendors were tented, which made the event more comfortable for everyone to enjoy. Highlights are below!

J Winery Brut 2009 Vintage

Myers Deovlet Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut

Derby Blanc de Noirs

Riedel Masterclass Glass Seminar

This was a unique and fascinating wine glass tasting, conducted by Riedel Ambassador Susan Dubrow. Susan masterfully demonstrated the relationship between the shape of a glass and our perception and enjoyment of wines. We had 4 different glasses in front of us: a New World Pinot glass, a Chardonnay glass, a Champagne glass, and a Champagne flute. We also had some wine pours in front of us in plastic cups: an oaked Chardonnay, an Oregon Pinot, and a Champagne. Lastly, we had different flavors of Lindt chocolates in front of each glass. The seminar involved tasting the various wines out of various glasses. It was CRAZY how different a wine can taste out of each glass. I’m not a big proponent of advocating for people to go out and buy millions of different glassware, but this seminar made it clear that having at least a couple different glass shapes is worthwhile. The chocolate pairings were just for fun, but oh were they delicious.

Overall, this was a VERY well executed weekend festival. Lots of pre-communication emails, educational (yet fun) seminars, a great cocktail party, and a manageable tasting event. Bravo to the entire team who helped put it all together! I will definitely be back for Bubblyfest 2017!

Friday, October 7, 2016

Bubbles, Bubbles, and More Bubbles

Photo credit: Jeremy Ball

Today I am making the drive up the coast to Avila Beach for Bubblyfest. Bubblyfest is the definitive festival for all things sparkling! In fact it is the only dedicated sparkling wine festival in the United States (that I know of!). Thank you to Create Promotions for granting me a press pass to cover the event. Stay tuned for my bubbly-related posts both before and after I attend Bubblyfest events such as: seminars, grand tastings, and even a 1920s themed cocktail reception! Also, follow me on Twitter @SOMMspirations for an up-close look at all the Bubblyfest events! Ok, back to the juice.

One of the most oft misused wine terms is “Champagne”. Similar to how the word “Kleenex” is synonymous with tissue, in our cultural lexicon, “Champagne” is synonymous with any sparkling wine. If you are drinking a wine in which the grapes were grown in the Champagne region of France, you are in fact drinking Champagne. If the grapes were grown anywhere outside of the Champagne region, then it may not be referred to as Champagne. Well then, what is it to be called? Below is a list of different types of sparkling wines. Yes, there are more than these, but I chose to highlight the most popular styles.

*Note that I referred to Jancis Robinson’s Oxford Companion to Wine for some of the technical information and definitions. I affectionately refer to this book as “The Bible”. In my religion, Jancis is the patron saint of wine. Yes, I’m Jewish, but that’s besides the point.

Types of sparkling wine:

Champagne. Oh Champagne. Where do I start? As mentioned above, sparkling wine can only be called Champagne if the grapes are grown in the Champagne region of France, which includes Montagne de Reims, Cote des Blancs, Vallee de la Marne, Cote de Sezanne, and Cote des Bar. Aside from region, there are other rules that need to be adhered to in order to call it Champagne. The grapes can only be: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Also, the bubbles in the wine need to be created by the methode champenoise. This means that the second fermentation happens in the bottle in which the wine is sold. A base wine is made and bottled with an addition of sugar and yeast (liqueur de tirage). The bottle is closed with a crown cap and the second fermentation will happen in the bottle, creating bubbles...voila! There are a few other steps, but those are the basics to get you started. See my previous post entitled “How Do Bubbles Get in Bubbly?”. Champagne is a wonderful thing. It used to be served only on celebratory occasions, but now the tides are turning. See HERE for an article that NPR came out with last week. I personally prefer to imbibe Champagne when I am in the mood to pay attention. I LOVE to savor all the notes that come with Champagne including: toastiness, yeastiness, and a leesy quality.

Photo Credit:

Cremant. It’s easier to start with what Cremant isn’t. Cremant isn’t Champagne. Cremant is the term used to describe any sparkling wine in France (outside of Champagne) that is still made in the traditional method (known as methode champenoise in Champagne). Familiar cremants include Cremant de: Bourgogne, Loire, Alsace, Jura, Limoux or Bordeaux. Grape varieties vary by region. Cremants are useful when you don’t want to spend as much on your bubbly. Many Cremants can be had for $12-$20, whereas the bulk of Champagne is over the $35-$40 mark.

Cava. Cava is a Spanish sparkling wine also made in the traditional method. Cava is predominantly made in Catalunya (though production in a few other regions is allowed). The three main grapes used are Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo, though the trend is moving towards including traditional Champagne grapes, mainly Chardonnay, much to the dismay of Cava traditionalists. Cava generally has a zesty citrus/lemon note, acidity, and a nice nuttiness. I’d describe it as a bit easier to drink than Champagne. I choose Cava when I want a less serious bubbly and when I want to save a bit of money. You can generally find Cava in the $10-$20 range.

Prosecco. Prosecco is an Italian sparkling wine made in the Veneto region. By volume, it is the most produced and consumed sparkling wine in the world. The varietal is Glera, also known as the Prosecco grape. Prosecco is made in the tank method, which means that the second fermentation (how the bubbles are created) takes place in a tank versus in a bottle. This production method is much cheaper than doing the second fermentation in the bottle. A Prosecco is going to be much fruitier than the other types of sparkling wines discussed. Prosecco is frothy, usually has some residual sugar, and has fruity and floral notes. Basically, I use Prosecco as my brunch bubbly. It’s not too serious, good with food, and goes down easy when you’re drinking at 10am! A decent Prosecco can be had for $12-$15.

Lambrusco. You might not know that you’ve had Lambrusco, but if you’ve had a chilled sparkling red wine, it probably was Lambrusco. Lambrusco is an ancient varietal grown mostly in central Italy in the Emilia-Romagna region. It is also the name of the sparkling wine made with that grape. Lambrusco was HUGE in the 70s in the US. A little brand named Riunite cornered the market and many Americans in that time period had experience with a (probably sweet) Lambrusco. Lambrusco has now grown up and it is no longer your grandma’s wine. Many producers are vinifying the wine dry or off-dry. Lambrusco has a nice food-friendly acidity, a tannic grip, and notes of berry. It pairs well with cured meats and hard cheeses. Typically, a good bottle of Lambrusco can be had for $14-$18. As a general rule, you’ll never pay more than $20 for a bottle.

Franciacorta. This one you might not have tasted, as a huge percentage of the production stays in Italy. But, if you ever get a chance to try one, I highly recommend it. Franciacorta is Italy’s answer to a high-quality sparkling wine made in the traditional method. Franciacorta is made in the Lombardia region with grapes such as: Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Gris. It usually has extensive aging on the lees (what the hell does that mean? Read HERE) and thus has a nice yeasty, toasty note as does Champagne. Prices for Franciacorta are similar to Champagne.

Sparkling Wine. Are we done yet? Almost. I’ve highlighted many types of sparkling wine from around the world. You may be thinking: what about all the bubbly made in California, or that New Zealand sparkling you tried last week? Essentially, (most) all other sparkling wine around the world is called just that: sparkling wine. No fancy name, no delimited areas, no required grapes or production methods. This includes, but is not limited to any sparkling wine made in the US, New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, etc.

If you learn one thing today, it’s to learn how to order a glass of bubbly. If you’re specifically looking for say Champagne, Prosecco, or something of the like...say it! If you know that you want to drink something with effervescence, then ask if the establishment has any sparkling wine. My biggest pet peeve is if I ask if they have any sparkling wine, and they say “yeah, we have Champagne.” And pull out a Cava, or Prosecco. Or if I specifically ask for Champagne and they pull out something else. Look at it as your winely (I made that word up) duty to spread the good gospel of proper bubbly lingo!

From what I hear, there will be 70 sparkling wines available for tasting at Bubblyfest. That’s a lot of bubbles! I will definitely report back on some of my favorites. Remember to follow me on Twitter @SOMMSpirations to follow my Bubblyfest adventures! Below is an agenda of my trip:

Friday October 7

2:30pm-4:30pm Winemaker Seminar Series presented by San Francisco Wine School
Learn the origins of sparkling wine from the south of France to the south of England and eventually Champagne. Taste through Cremant and other sparkling wines from regions all around France to find out how they are different and why. Follow the evolution of global bubblies as they reached California and led to the wines of today. David Glancy will be joined by Pomar Junction, J Vineyards, and Riverbench to taste and talk about their sparklers to wrap up the session.

6pm-8pm Corks & Cocktails
Enjoy an evening under the stars, as our popular Gatsby inspired Cocktail Party returns for another jazz filled evening by the sea! Sip from 4 unique Sparkling Wine cocktails from recipes concocted by our partner Wineries, and Sparkling Wines by the glass.  Dance the night away to the gypsy jazz stylings of The Tipsy Gypsies.

Saturday October 8

11am-noon VIP Tasting
This one-hour tasting on the ocean view terrace at Avila Beach Golf Resort's Beach House will feature 4 highlighted wineries pouring 1 special bottle from their collection, not available at the Grand Tasting.

Noon-1pm Riedel Masterclass Glass Seminar
In a unique and fascinating wine glass tasting, Riedel Ambassador Susan Dubrow will demonstrate the relationship between the shape of a glass and our perception and enjoyment of wines.

Stay tuned for more from Bubblyfest!