September 11, 2008

Wine 101 - Cc is for Cava

reserva-heredad-bottle.jpgDEFINITION Sparkling wine from Spain; made in the champagne method, which means that secondary fermentation occurs in each bottle versus in one large tank.

During the 1860s, the head of Cordoniu (which up to this point made only still wines) made a sales trip through Europe. While in France he traveled to Champagne and fell in love with both the region and its signature wine. He returned home to Spain with Champagne equipment and the knowledge to make Spanish sparklers with indigenous grapes.

By law, Cava can be made in any of the six main wine regions of Spain. However at least 95% of it is produced in the Penedes which is in the Catalonia region of north east Spain.

Regulations also dictate which grapes may be used for production. Cava must be made from one or more of the following five varietals: parellada, xarel-lo, macabeo, malvasia and chardonnay. It is most commonly made with the first three, but there are increasingly more producers experimenting with chardonnay as it adds a fuller, richer component that one finds in new world bubblies as well as in French sparking wines.

This is the really exciting part. Cavas are quite inexpensive! So you don't have to wait for a special occasion to enjoy a little bubbly. You can find really good Cavas in the $8 - $20 range and great ones for under $30. Though if you're going to drink it every day, I say stick to the $8 - $15 bottles.

Recently my favorite subject... You certainly can substitute Cava for Champagne, but they are stylistically quite different. Because it is made with a combination of red and white grapes, Champagnes tend to be richer and more complex. HOWEVER, and I do mean a BIG however, who says you need to drink complex bubbly every day? The Spanish really get this right. They make a crisp, fruity, easy to drink sparkler that is really meant to enjoyed every day with every-day food. This is not a champagne and caviar mentality. Rather, it is a Cava with fried chicken (really, you must try it), or Cava with bruschetta, or Cava with sushi, or Cava with just about anything way of life.

Cristalino Cava Brut NV $9
The color of pale golden sunshine; soft and fruity with lots of bright pear and apple notes.
Montsarra Cava Brut NV $15
Light and zippy with subtle fruit and bright citrus crispness.
Marques de Gelida Brut 2003 $20
Soft yet crisp, Chardonnay adds a layer of depth to this estate-bottled stunner.
Segura Viudas Cava Reserva Brut $23
Rivals any top French bubbly; rich and toasty with lots of creamy vanilla and soft pear.

Read More in: Champagne and Sparkling | Wine Advice

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September 8, 2008

Wine 101 - Bb is for Beaujolais

chaizebojo.jpgDON'T stop reading because I mentioned the dreaded B word. PLEASE. Just give me a few minutes and you might be pleasantly surprised. I know, I know what you're thinking... Of all the great wine 'Bs' out there, why would I choose Beaujolais? And I shall tell you. There are, in fact, a plethora of fascinating grapes and regions that begin with the letter B -- all the Bs from the Boot: Barolo, Barbera, Brunello, Barbaresco would surely make an interesting and tasty post. So true, my friends, but alas only a handful (mostly Barbera) are suited to the "cheap" part of our cheap and fun profile. The rest are left for special occasions and Swanky Wine Fridays.

So here we are.

And here are the Top 5 Things You Might Not Know About Beaujolais:

1. Beaujolais is from Burgundy! However, this southern area of Burgundy and its light and fruity wines bear little resemblance to its more refined brethren of the north.

2. Beaujolais is made from Gamay grapes which have black skins and white juice. They tend to be much less tannic and fairly fruit forward.

35561-1.jpg3. There are 3 categories of Beaujolais (not including Nouveau): Beaujolais, Beaujolais-Villages and Beaujolais Cru. Chances are, if you hate Beaujolais, you've probably only tasted Beaujolais or maybe a Beaujolais Villages. Most of those are, as you experienced, overly fruity and devoid of character or finish. That is because they are--for the most part--made by negociants. The grapes are sourced from the lesser vineyards and blended then bottled. The resulting wine is a mish-mosh of mediocrity. The Beaujolais Crus, on the other hand are from 10 specific villages. These wines are produced more traditionally as estate bottled wines and found much less frequently than its cheaper brothers, but possess much more character and interest.

4. Beaujolais should be served slightly chilled (but not cold!). About 15 minutes in the fridge does the trick. Think of it as a darker rose. Its quaffabilty and lack of tannins makes it just about the most food friendly wine on earth. But drink it within two years. Gamay, with its lack of tannic structure does not make wines that age well.

5. Beaujolais Nouveau is NOT the same thing. The Nouveau is a special Beaujolais that is released every year on the Thursday before Thanksgiving (the second Thursday of the month, I think). It is intended as a celebration of the harvest and as such it is very young--usually only 7-9 weeks old. I often celebrate its release--who doesn't enjoy a good excuse to throw a wine party? But I almost never drink it. I'll buy a bottle for my guests to try a tiny taste and raise a toast, but the rest of the night we celebrate with mostly the Crus.

If you want to continue this lesson, here are a few crus to peruse. Every one is a winner and completely expressive of what Beaujolais should be. Look for them locally but if all else fails, you can find them on

Domaine Dupeuble Beaujolais 2007 $10.98

Chat De La Chaize Brouilly $10.98

Domaine Chanrion Cote De Brouilly 2006 $16.98

Clos De La Roilette Fleurie 2006 $15.98

And your homework is to read Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer's Tour of France by Kermit Lynch, wine merchant extraordinaire and my beaujolais hero.
There will be a test on Monday.

Read More in: Red Wine | Wine Advice

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September 3, 2008

Wine 101 - Aa is for Albariño

Albariño is the primary grape used to make dry white wine in the Rias Baixes area of the Galicia region of Northwestern Spain. Considered by many to be Spain's premier quality white wine, Albariño is also known in Portugal as Alvarinho and often used as a component of Vinho Verde.

condesdealbarei.jpgWeather conditions in the Rias Baixes are generally cool, windy and rainy. Vines must be trained high and open to allow winds to dry them out and avoid the ongoing threat of rot, mildew and other fungal diseases. Notably, Albariño grapes develop thick skins here, contributing to their intense aromas.

Typically, wines made from Albariño are very aromatic, often described as having scents of almonds or almond paste, apples, peaches, citrus, and flowers or grass. Albariño wines are particularly suited to seafood due to their bracing acidity This grape's inherent tartness should be embraced in youth, for wines made from Albariño do not age well, and the vibrant aromas begin to noticeably fade within months of bottling. (from Professional Friends of Wine)

As with all varietals you can find Albariños that range from thin and watery to ripe and lush. I would advise selecting one that has been recommended to you to avoid encountering the former. Also, be sure that the vintage is within a year or so, as these wines are meant to be enjoyed young. One of my favorites is from Adega Condes de Albarei. From the first whiff of citrus blossom, pineapple and melon I am completely enamored. Though it does maintain the vibrant and crisp characteristics true to the varietal, I find this Albariño to shape-shift on my palate with bursting flavors of ripe white peach, juicy grapefruit, tropical fruit-- all tempered with a clean subtly mineral finish. It is pretty tough for me to locate so I often look for substitutes. But I have yet to find another that is as interesting in the $12-$15 price range.

Read More in: White Wine | Wine Advice

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September 2, 2008

Back to Wine School - Wine 101

Well, summer is officially over and for many, that means time to head back to school. We here at CFU believe that learning is a lifelong pursuit - particularly when it pertains to wine. After all, the more you drink, the more you know.

So we will be spending the month of September exploring some wine basics - everything from varietals, to regions, to wine making techniques and just about everything in between. And for those of you who are already quite wine-savvy, we'll still be providing lots of new wine reviews and recommendations. So get out your pencils and paper and feel free to ask questions or suggest topics.

oxfordwinecompanion.jpgI know most folks prefer to use online reference materials these days, but if you are like me and still like to peruse a good paper and ink volume now and then, I have to recommend Jancis Robinson's The Oxford Companion to Wine, 3rd Edition It is incredibly, thorough and thoroughly enjoyable to read. A great addition to any wine reference library or coffee table.

Read More in: Wine Advice

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September 1, 2008

August Monthly Roundup

General News

Red Wine

Swanky Wine Fridays

White Wine

Wine Accessories

Wine Tasting Notes

Read More in: Monthly Roundup

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August 29, 2008

Super Swanky Bottle Design - Logan Wines

There is something you should know about me... Something deep... Something dark...
I sometimes make purchasing decisions based on packaging... shhh.

I can't help it. Before I made my food and wine obsessions my job, I lived another life, albeit brief, in advertising. Now, I try not to let my fascination with marketing affect my wine-buying decisions. The juice is far more important than vessel which contains it (until that vessel is my glass). But I found the following piece on theDieLine and I just had to share because it involves a producer that I've always wanted to try. The perfect marriage of artfully crafted package design and the lovingly crafted product contained therein:
From War Design: Logan Wines is a boutique winery based in Mudgee NSW (Australia). Since their launch 11 years ago, Logan wines have built a reputation for wines that occupy a top-end niche position in Australia and key overseas markets including Japan and the UK. The brand's core drinkers could be best described as investigative connoisseurs - those not afraid to try something else in the pursuit of excellence.

The Logan identity reflects the attention to detail, personal and highly crafted approach the Logan's take to everything they do. Taking the lead from Logan's bold and highly individual approach to winemaking, a concept based upon embroidery was chosen as an ideal metaphor to the care and effort placed into the wine. The concept required the embroidering of beautifully intricate compositions of fruits, berries, leaves and flowers to represent the textures and flavours of each varietal. These stunning representations were then rolled out across all touch points. Thanks must go to Delma - the lovely embroiderer that brought the concept to life, stitch by painstaking stitch. One very talented lady indeed!

log0408_labelchardonnay_lr_4.jpgYou can see the level of craft and care that has gone into producing these labels, and it's the attention to detail that elevates these designs from being simply being beautiful into something meaningful. Just like the wine itself apparently. Via TheDieLine

Read More in: Swanky Wine Fridays

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August 28, 2008

FAZI BATTAGLIA TITULUS - Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi DOC Classico 2007


In 1953, Fazi Battaglia announced a national competition to create a new bottle in order to personalize its extraordinary production of Verdicchio. Architect Antonio Maiocchi, inspired by the ancient Etruscan amphora, created the acclaimed Fazi Battaglia emerald green "amphora", in 1954 recognized throughout the world as the ultimate icon for Verdicchio.

Ahhh, the beautiful Adriatic Coast. I remember fondly early summer days driving east from Bologna, bobbing from seaside town to seaside town... Rimini... Riccione... Eating piadini and almost-frozen lemon yogurt at the beach by day and enjoying a bounty of fresh local seafood at night. The wine of choice was decidedly light and crisp and of course, fish friendly.

A little further down the coast lies the Marches region. Fazi-Battaglia is a renowned producer in this area and this verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi is a prime example of their pursuit of excellence. The Titulus is 100% verdicchio, hand harvested and then fermented in stainless steel tanks prior to additional time in the bottle. The resulting wine is quite a pale yellow-green. Gossamer light with hints of almond shell and golden apple on the nose, then softly fruity with a fresh, clean mineral finish. You'll want to slurp it with a straw, but control yourself. Practice a little decorum. A lovely aperitif, or as mentioned, ideal with light seafood (particularly shellfish). Mi piace molto.

VARIETAL: Verdicchio
REGION: Marches, Italy
PRICE: $11

Read More in: White Wine | Wine Tasting Notes

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August 27, 2008

Drip Ruff - Renaissance Fashion Meets Function for Your Bottle

dripruff2.jpgI first saw this drip catcher on NOTCOT, but the following is excerpted from Red Dot Design Awards:

Drip Ruff's design is based on a honeycomb structure that is shaped into a 360-degree ring. It is made entirely from Indian paper - an absorbent material normally used in traditional Chinese painting. The folding method used in its construction provides the elasticity required to "grip" the neck of a bottle. Drip Ruff is disposable after use, and the paper used is recyclable, which makes it environmentally friendly, hygienic and convenient to use.

Obviously depending on price and availability, these could be really nifty to have on hand when you are hosting a dinner party or wine tasting and lots paws will be handling your bottles. Of course, if you're looking for a re-usable alternative check out this Drip Stop Ring

Read More in: General News | Wine Accessories

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August 25, 2008

Terruzzi e Puthod Vernaccia di San Gimignano 2005

t&pvernaccia.jpgVARIETAL: Vernaccia
REGION: San Gimignano (Tuscany), Italy
PRICE: $10

Blech. Ick. Yuk. Phooey. Lemonheads meet Pixie Stix with an undercurrent of Smarties.

But here is why: In my haste to pick up milk, yogurt and wine (my staples) in under three minutes, I mistakenly purchased this foul bottle of vernaccia. What should have been lovely and light with a floral nose and succulent pear-apple notes, turned into an unpleasant, sickly sweet and sour mess.

Here is a little piece of advice: don't buy wine when you're really rushed. Or if you do, remember to check the vintage! I feel like I've picked up quite a few bum bottles lately and every single mis-pick could have been avoided if I had just taken a breath and looked at the vintage. If you're buying a light Italian white--or any light bodied white--the vintage should be within 2 years, ideally within one year of the current date. Anything older is likely to bring disappointment. And, don't assume your favorite wine shop is on the ball. I bought this bottle at Whole Foods and though I feel they are a trusted purveyor, I also believe they do not want to get stuck with a bunch of old, fairly obscure Italian wines. Shame on them for over-buying and shame on me for not paying attention.

I do love vernaccia, so check back for the real review of this wine... Coming soon, I hope!

Read More in: White Wine | Wine Tasting Notes

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August 24, 2008

Castle Rock Sonoma County Syrah 2006

2005SonomaCountySyrah6.jpgVARIETAL: Syrah
REGION: Sonoma County, California
PRICE: $10

I have this weird relationship with Castle Rock wines. If I'm out shopping and don't have time to hit my favorite wine spots, I grab a Castle Rock wine at the grocery store and I know I won't be embarrassed to serve it. Medium-bodied and smooth the Castle Rock syrah provides pleasing dried berry aromas and at first sip, lots of up-front jammy fruit--ripe dark berry, dried cherry and plum--rounded out with a little subtle spice and sweet tobacco. Certainly not the most refined or complex syrah, but for the price it is very drinkable and ultimately likeable. Overall, a good go-to wine when choices are limited. I served it with barbequed chicken, but I think it would do well with most red meat, hard cheese, and blue veined cheese as well.

Read More in: Red Wine | Wine Tasting Notes

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