Monday, February 26, 2018

#WineStudio Nino Franco

Everyone knows that Prosecco is on fire......did somebody say brunch?  Last week I shared about a quality-level Prosecco worth exploring with my piece: Prosecco....Not Just for Mimosas.

What is #WineStudio?

#WineStudio is an online Twitter-based educational program produced by Tina Morey, Certified Sommelier who's been in the food and wine industry for over twenty years. 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.

Last week I shared a post (check it out HERE) about Prosecco and discussed the quality to be found in Congeliano Valdiobbiadene DOCG. For just a small step up in price ($15-$20 vs $10-$15) you can get a decent step up in quality…..and who doesn’t want that?! Here we explore a producer who is one of the pioneers of quality Prosecco.

In September 2017 WineStudio students delved into wines from Nino Franco. The winery, located at the foot of the Prealps, was founded in 1919 by Antonio Franco in Valdobbiadene. Today the 4th generation of the Franco family is at the helm. It started with Antonio, then to his son Nino, then to his son Primo, and now Primo’s daughter, Silvia.

Below are my notes from the wines tasted as well as some notes directly from the winery.

Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG

Rustico Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG $19

“Rustico” is connected to the old local tradition of making wine using a short second fermentation in the bottle and leaving the sediments in the wine. Although no longer the technique, the name has remained. This wine is a beautiful pale lemon color with white flower (honeysuckle) and green fruit (pear, green apple) on the nose. Super duper creamy on the palate. This wine is crisp and fruity...everything I want in a Prosecco.

Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG $27

I’d like to think that I’d call this wine in a blind tasting. It has a Prosecco nose with both floral and stone fruit easily detectable. This wine has a more sophisticated palate than a “usual” Prosecco. Nice and dry, as I like it, with great stone fruit on the finish.

Primo Franco Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG $29

This wine was interesting from the get-go. First off, I did not recognize the closure on this wine. In fact, I had never seen it before. I had to consult with my WineStudio pals who clued me into the “agrafe closure” which is used traditionally with Champagne. Peter Liem of gives this description:

Agrafe—Literally means "staple" (as in Swingline); in Champagne, this is a large metal clip used to secure the cork before capsules were invented, typically during the second fermentation and aging in bottle. A bottle secured with this clip is said to be agrafé.

Photo courtesy of:

This wine has a nice depth of flavors, including tart green/stone fruit, delicate white flowers, and a surprising, yet pleasant, savory note.

Grave Di Stecca Brut Sparkling $49

Fun fact: the grapes for this wine are sourced exclusively from an ancient origin vineyard called (you guessed it!) “Grave di Stecca”. This wine is deep gold color and in one of our Twitter chats, the Nino Franco representative we were chatting with said this is ”more like a sparkling Grand Cru Chablis”. Great comparison!

That is just a snapshot of the Nino Franco Prosecco portfolio. The next time you are in the market for a sparkling wine, why not try out Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG, as you can get a quite good level of quality at a price that won’t break the bank, as many options fall under $20 a bottle.


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Prosecco: Not Just for Mimosas

When I was in college in my 20s, day drinking wasn’t what it is now. This was before Sunday Brunch became a “thing” and before Vegas started doing “day parties”. In my 20s, it was a simpler time. Binge drinking only occurred at night (much easier to manage!). Weekend days were spent recovering, eating Taco Bell, and watching bad TV. Nowadays millenials partake in all sorts of day drinking that I can’t keep up with! I’m convinced that had $15 bottomless Mimosas been a thing when I was young, that I would not have graduated college and would still be on my couch popping Advil like it’s going out of style! How do these kids do it? Consuming 4 or 5 drinks before noon? Lord.

With that being said, it cannot be denied that millenials are changing the landscape of alcohol consumption. Studies* have shown that they care more about the story behind the brand, than an ad from a brand. They like to engage with brands in different mediums, such as through social media or at a pop-up event. They yearn for authenticity and an “experience” and are not nearly as brand loyal as their parents were/are.

*These are paraphrased notes from trade articles I have read, industry event presentations, as well as WSET classes in which we discussed production and consumption patterns in wine and spirits. I am not an expert here, hence the absence of concrete statistics. My goal is solely to share information that will emphasize and help you understand my point.

Prosecco is the world’s most popular sparkling wine. Worldwide production and consumption of Prosecco is rising rapidly. In 2015, 355 million bottles of Prosecco DOC were produced. This is compared to 309 million bottles of Champagne produced in 2016.

*I did not have figures for both in the same year.

Many mimosas are made with Prosecco as the sparkling base. Sure, there are many other options: Cava, domestic sparklings, Cremant, and even Champagne. But who wants to taint a glorious leesy Champagne with orange juice? Now I love a mimosa as much as the next gal. One of my wine-isms is that “there is a time and place for every wine”. No wine snobbery or pretense here. I can enjoy a mimosa while eating breakfast on vacation, or when my husband surprises me with breakfast in bed. But sometimes I want more. I don’t want the simple, uncomplicated drink that goes down too easy. I want something that makes me think. Or something dry, with no sweetness or residual sugar.

Newsflash: Prosecco is not just for mimosas. Yes, it is a good partner to the OJ, but I submit that there are more sophisticated Proseccos that can stand alone. That want to stand alone. And I think there are young people who are willing to try something new. Something with a story.

Prosecco generally hovers around $10-$14 a bottle. A steal compared to Champagne which rarely goes under $40 a bottle. What I love about sparkling wine is that there is a whole world of options between basic Prosecco which tends to be a bit too sweet and fruity for my taste, and Champagne, which can be a bit pricy and too serious. How about a delightful sparkling option that showcases fresh fruit, floral notes, and acidity, that can also be dry and refreshing, not cloying. Insert Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG. In 2015 there were 84 million bottles of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco DOCG produced.

How does Conegliano Valdobbiadene differ from regular Prosecco DOC?

Location: The Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco area extends over 15 townships located in the hills north of Venice.

In the Vineyard: The region benefits from stony soils, cooling Adriatic breezes, and a moderate climate. The hills are very steep and grapes are hand-harvested, versus manually harvested.

In the Glass: The wines range from driest (Brut), to sweetest (Dry), to everything in between (Extra Dry).

Price: Basic quality Prosecco DOC mostly falls in the $10-$15 range, whereas Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG falls into the $15-$20 range. Still quite affordable!

In November I attended a lovely Prosecco Superiore DOCG masterclass led by Alan Tardi, wine expert and educator. He gave a great class on the region and we tasted a plethora of Congeliano Valdobbiadene wines. These were not Prosecco examples for mimosas! They were elegant and sophisticated wines that can stand on their own in the glass. Thank you to Gregory White PR for the invite!

Next time you are in the aisles looking for a sparkling wine to take home, spend a couple extra minutes reading the label. Prosecco Conegliano Valdobbiadene won’t break the bank and is a nice step up from other opening pricepoint Prosecco DOC.

Next week we will delve into the Prosecco producer Nina Franco as we continue my #WineStudio series!


Monday, February 12, 2018

Event Spotlight: Santa Barbara Winemaker's Lunch @ Kali Restaurant

The Santa Barbara area holds a special place in my heart as my husband and I were married at the Santa Ynez Inn in 2014. The area is beautiful with rugged scenery, delightful and down to earth people, and LOTS of nearby wine!

In May, I was invited by Allison Levine of Please the Palate to attend a lunch with 3 Santa Barbara area winemakers. It was a great, intimate lunch with only about 10 guests or so in attendance, including writers, bloggers, and social media influencers.

The food at Kali was GREAT. It is a neighborhood gem of a spot in the Larchmont area and I will definitely be coming back! Unfortunately, I do not have details on all of the dishes, as they were served family-style and I was very focused on interacting with the winemakers.

Santa Barbara has a lovely wine country and is a mere 2 hours from Los Angeles. That’s what I love about LA. Within 2 hours you can be to the beach, to the mountains, or in wine country!

At lunch we had the opportunity to delve into Lumen WinesCentral Coast Group Project, and Dierberg Star Lane.

Lumen Wines

Representing Lumen Wines we met Kali. She and her husband own Pico Restaurant in Los Alamos, which is where the Lumen tasting room is located. Lumen winemaker Lane Tanner is “making wines from the best cool-climate vineyards in Santa Barbara County, following a regimen consistent with California’s early days of hands-on, honest winemaking.” My kind of juice.

Lumen Pinot Gris Sierra Madre Vineyard 2016
The sandy soiled vineyards where this fruit is sourced is planted to both Pinot Noir And Pinot Gris. On the nose I get citrus (lime peel), green fruit (apple, pear), and stone fruit (peach, apricot). On the palate is a nice salinity/minerality as well as a slight tropical note.

Lumen Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2014
This guy has a super earthy nose (forest floor) with a graphite slant. A very perfumed wine with violets and roses.

Central Coast Group Project

From the Central Coast Group Project (CCGP) we met Scott Sampler, winemaker and proprietor. I could now tell you (in my words) what I learned from Scott that day, but the website does such a damn good job, I’m not going to even try! Here goes: CCGP is a boutique producer of fine wines located in Santa Barbara County. Committed to excellence, we source only the highest quality fruit from local, world-class vineyards that farm organically and/or sustainably to our particular specifications. In the cellar, we take a natural approach, using modern means to enhance ancient techniques that gently build flavor, structure, texture and balance from the grapes themselves. Specializing in small lot, vigilantly handcrafted syrah and grenache based red wines, we endeavor to express the cooler climes, unique soils and exceptional vineyard sites of our Central Coast with super-cali typicity, purity & inimitable style.

CCGP does not have a tasting room open to the public, but tastings can be scheduled by appointment at their location in Buellton.

Scott Sampler of CCGP and "Faces" 100% Grenache

CCGP “Faces” 100% Grenache, Ballard Canyon 2013
Verbatim from my handwritten tasting notes that day: this is some dope ass shit. Only 50 case production. Cue the nerdy wine details: 120 days spent on skins. All of the winemaking happens post-fermentation. All native yeasts are used, a long maceration, pomace stirring, and elevage is spent in neutral Burgundy barrels for 2 years. The wine is hit with sulfur immediately before bottling, and 1 year spent in bottle before release. I got lots of red berries and a good amount of funk/earthiness.

CCGP Barrington Hall Wine Dinner Special Cuvee 50% Grenache, 25% Mourvedre, 25% Syrah, Santa Barbara County 2013
A combination of red and black fruit plus some minerality, with a hint of graphite/pencil shavings.

CCGP “Fauve” 100% Syrah, Thompson Vineyard, Santa Barbara County 2013
Beautiful ripe, round red fruit with a slight animal/game note.

Dierberg Star Lane

According to the SB County Wines website, comprised of two brands Dierberg Vineyard and Star Lane Vineyard; their wines showcase the different micro-climates and terroir of Santa Barbara County. The Dierberg label focuses on the more delicate and elegant Burgundy varieties; whereas Star Lane focuses on the more robust and powerful Bordeaux varieties. Owners, Jim and Mary Dierberg, began this project in 1996 by purchasing the three properties throughout Santa Barbara County in order to accomplish their goal of producing ultra-premium wines.

At this luncheon we got to meet Tyler Thomas, Winemaker. He shared with us the Dierberg Star Lane story, including how Jim and Mary Dierberg started in wine, some 40 years ago in Missouri. Jim’s family has made wine in Missouri for over 40 years and a wanted to create a legacy property where he could grow the vitis vinifera grapes he so loved. The family bought the properties in the mid-90’s and the rest is history. Today, Dierberg Star Lane is one of the Central Coast wine producers who are known for a top-quality product. The winery is closed to the public, but they do take appointments for industry professionals.

Dierberg Chardonnay, Santa Maria Valley 2014
This wine paired incredibly well with our burrata salad. The wine has notes of pear, green apple, MLF (crème fraiche and clarified butter). Tyler described it as a new style California wine. California Chardonnay 2.0

Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon, Star Lane Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara (85% Cab Sauv + Cab Franc and Merlot) 2013
This wine is made with native yeasts and leans towards a Bordeaux style, versus a Napa style.  Tyler described it as a sincere, transparent Cabernet with not a lot of oak. I felt a nice fruit forwardness, yet some restraint. This wine can age and I am sure will get better with age.

Thanks to Allison Levine for the invite to this lovely, and informative luncheon!

Top: Ridgeback Prawns (green tomato, basil, lemon verbena, avocado, prawn chip)
Bottom: Berries and Tomatoes (burrata, almonds, basil oil, garden greens, savory oats, flower petals)
Black Barley "Risotto" (wheatgrass oil, fermented black garlic tea, fiscal ini cheese crisp)