If It’s Tuesday, It Must be Mardi Gras

Fat Tuesday means it’s nearing the time of Carnival celebration, or Mardi Gras, which begins on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday (known as Shrove Tuesday).

With Fat Tuesday approaching, it’s the perfect time to pop the cork on a green labeled bottle of Faire La Fête Brut — the only sparkling wine with historical roots in the world’s original Mardi Gras festival on February 25.

This crémant hails from a wine region in France – Limoux – that with a claim on the first production of Méthode Traditionnelle 150 years before the Champagne region patented the method. This sparkling wine celebrates its cultural origins as the official beverage of the annual January-March Carnaval de Limoux, which is the longest running Mardi Gras festival in the world, dating back to the 16th century (which actually makes it the oldest festival in the world!). The label’s green and purple theme is also a festive nod to that heritage.

The choice on how you want to toast to Mardi Gras is yours, but with pricing so low ($19 a bottle!), Faire La Fête, which translates to “have a party” in French, seems the way to go for a great value on a tasty sparkling wine. Made with a blend of 65% chardonnay, 25% chenin and 10% pinot, I can personally attest to the quality of this sparkling wine, admittedly opening the bottle before Fat Tuesday to confirm my endorsement of this vibrant golden, crisp, lemony crémant with the essence of baked apples on the palate.

If you enjoy dry sparkling wines, this is the one for you. A mere six grams per liter, Faire La Fête has 30 percent less residual sugar than the leading Champagne brands. Compare to Veuve Clicquot “Yellow Label” (9.5 g/L), Moët & Chandon “Impérial” Brut (8 g/L) …not to mention a certain “blue label” Prosecco (16 g/l).

Whether you’re in New Orleans, Italy, or in your own backyard, kick up your heels and toast to Fat Tuesday!

Sicilian Wines, With Exception

There are tastings that prompt you to remember where you’re tasting – an armchair travel of sorts, when you think of the terroir within a wine region. Although Sicily has a perfect wine-making climate and a history of wine dating back to 4,000 B.C., I found my latest tasting of six bottles of Tenuta di Fessina to be challenging, to say the least. The whites, a 2017 Etna Bianco ($25) made with 90% Carricante, 10% Catarratto and Minella, and a 2017 A’Puddara ($65) made with 100% Carricante proved interesting to sip. The Carricante grape is late harvested, which would explain the intense minerality and candied notes.

I’ve never been to Sicily, so I kept an open mind to these wines and the differences a terroir can make. This is a terroir of volcanic soil, so I was excited to try the wines, but once I tasted a few bottles, I became even more eager for a visit to explore this wine region as it relates to other wine regions of Italy. What I do know — Sicily is where the highest active volcano in Europe sits, and in the village of Roviteelo, on the northeastern side of Mount Etna, are where the vineyards of Tenuta di Fessina produce their grapes.

When I brought a few bottles over a friend’s house, three of us tried the 2017 Laeneo ($42) made with 100% Nerello Cappuccio grapes. We had the same reaction. “Sour cherries!” We were not fans. So, I opened a 2016 Erse Rosso ($25), made with only 8% of Nerello Cappuccio – 90% Nerello Mascalese and 2% Minnella & Carricante. This wine was a bit better, but those sour cherries still seemed to dominate our palates. Although these grapes are known for their sour cherry flavors, we were all disappointed and I had only wished I’d brought the bottle of 2012 Il Musmeci Rosso, made with 100% Nerello Mascalese, a burst of dried cherry fruit with a bit of tar, mint and nutmeg notes.

My conclusion is that when aged, these Sicilian wines are much more palatable. The 2012 Il Musmeci Rosso presented an expression of Sicily that should make Tenuta di Fessina and all Sicilians proud. I read that the Nerello Mascalese is reminiscent of pinot noir, and I would have to say yes, but only a little. I will say that this 2012 Il Musmeci Rosso was my favorite of the half dozen bottles. My next favorite bottle was a 2018 Erse Rosé ($25) made with that same Nerello Mascalese, but only 50%; the other half is Nerello Cappuccio, which clearly tastes better when blended as a rosé.

Charlene Peters is a wine writer living in Napa Valley. She can be reached by email: SipTripper@gmail.com

 

 

Breaking the Barrier of Wine Speak

In stark contrast among a world population of almost 8 billion, there are less than 400 Masters of Wine. Suffice to say, this is an elite crowd.

While one might infer the circle of wine experts is small, it’s promising to know that with Internet courses and multiple wine education programs introduced to wine enthusiasts eager to learn, the space is growing. Not everyone needs or wants to become an MW. Most people want to learn about wine for the social benefits alone.

To communicate in corporate circles or among friends, oenophiles don’t have to go to the extreme of becoming an MW to fit in; in fact, most do so to climb the corporate ladder. There are also a series of sommelier and wine education courses meant to propel careers within the wine industry, such as a WSET (Wine, Spirits Education Trust) certification. Four levels begin the groundwork in growth to learn about New and Old World wines, but some people simply want to learn the basics and a bit beyond – and take levels 1 and 2, skipping the diploma.

For those who find wine intimidating, Napa Valley Wine Academy offers online courses that are approachable and affordable. Best of all, you don’t have to live in Napa Valley to enroll. This ever-expanding school of wine knowledge offers a series of non-WSET wine courses meant to enhance your wine speak.

For $125, you can take an online Wine 101 Foundation course and receive an introduction to all aspects of wine knowledge. Most people are curious why wine tastes a certain way, and through this course, the answers are revealed in an easy to understand format. To know wine-speak among social circles is to know the major grape varieties, wine regions and a bit of the wine-making processes that help create character in a wine. Added to this focused education are lessons on how to pair foods with wines – who wouldn’t want to sign up?

For those who want to step up a level and become a certified American Wine Expert (AWE), there’s a course online for $595 that will educate you on wines in the U.S. market.

To find out more about the online courses offered at Napa Valley Wine Academy, visit https://napavalleywineacademy.com/

Hooked on Historic Chardonnay

Napa Valley’s most famous winery we all know as Chateau Montelena was a chateau founded by Alfred Tubbs, who made his fortune selling rope during the Gold Rush. Today it’s a winery best known for its silver-screen moment in the film, “Bottleshock” — which tells the story (loosely adapted) of the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976. The story was based on an international wine competition that included Montelena’s chardonnay, which surprisingly bested its French counterpart in a blind tasting. At that time, the winery was owned by Jim Barrett, who opened the winery in 1972. Today, following Jim’s death in 2013, Chateau Montelena is run by his son, Bo, and it’s world-famous chardonnay is crafted by winemaker on-site, Matthew Crafton.

The quality of this chardonnay hasn’t skipped a beat when it comes to its elegance, not even since that tasting of ’76. Open a bottle of 2016 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay and you’ll be able to relate. This is a bottle that presents notes of fresh florals and a palate of crisp acidity that adds to the wine’s freshness. It’s a perfect wine to open at the onset of Thanksgiving dinner. While some chardonnays are “oaked out” and compete with the buttery mashed potatoes on the table, this chardonnay will complement with its ideal oak and fruit balance. You might not want to switch to reds during dinner.

In fact, once you’ve tasted this 2016 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay, you may be tempted to order more. And why not? The exclusive privileges of wine club membership include access to enjoy picnics in the private Chinese pagodas on the elegant grounds surrounded by resident swans, fish, vineyards and some of the best wines in California.

Charlene Peters, a.k.a. SipTripper, is a WSET Level 2 Certified wine writer with extensive experience traveling the world to explore New and Old World wines and indigenous culinary creations to share with readers. She can be reached at siptripper@gmail.com

Judging a wine by its label

Unlike a book cover, judging a wine by its label is trendy and assumed. And when you see a chardonnay label with artwork of buttery yellow drips, it’s safe to assume the chardonnay will taste like a butter bomb.

Au Jus is a 2017 Monterey County Chardonnay ($25) showcasing a robust malolactic fermentation; its label doesn’t lie. This glass of liquid gold was crafted from grapes grown in the best conditions offered in a coastal climate. The aromas of this wine brought the label of dripping butter to life, and on my palate, this chardonnay reveled in the smooth, stone fruit flavors and buttery finish.

Los Angeles Street Artist, Saber, created the label on the Au Jus chardonnay, but all the labels on 1849 Wine products are a depiction of contemporary inspiration from the art movement of the 21st century. In fact, every handcrafted bottle of 1849 Wine reflects the artistic spirit and dedication to the art of wine making.

My next taste was a 2016 Pinot Noir of Sonoma Coast called iris ($30), with a kaleidoscope-colored graffiti label Saber titled “Tool of Dissent”. The philosophy of a prevailing idea is what dissent is all about, but I have to be honest here and admit that outside of the label, this is everything you’d expect a pinot noir grown on the Sonoma Coast to be: aromas of violets and a palate tinged with earthy elements but dominated with red licorice flavors of raspberry, which I personally love — but nothing beyond the typical.

It is worth noting that this pinot noir was barrel aged for 10 months in French and Hungarian Oak and has won several awards: a double gold medal at the 2018 Sonoma County Harvest Fair; a gold medal at the 2018 San Francisco International Wine Competition and at the 2018 Harvest Challenge and Sommelier Challenge, and a silver medal at the 2018 Millennial Awards and New Orleans International Wine Awards.

They say that women generally select wines by the label, and while I don’t personally use this method of selection, I totally understand the allure to visuals. My recommendation: Choose the Au Jus every time!

Charlene Peters, a.k.a. SipTripper, is a WSET Level 2 Certified wine writer with extensive experience traveling the world to explore New and Old World wines and indigenous culinary creations to share with readers. She can be reached at siptripper@gmail.com

 

A Bucket of Luck with Lot 681

Cameron Hughes is a négociant for Languedoc wines (formerly Coteaux de Languedoc), specifically in the town of Cesseras, a sleepy farm village of less than 200 in the Minervois appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC). What makes this place so beautiful is its geography, with endless acres of southern-facing delineated vineyards.

The Languedoc is an appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC), also known as the bucket region in the Southwest of France because of the high volume of mid-level quality wines produced. To add perspective, the Languedoc produces more wine than all New Zealand. One such wine is crafted from thick-skinned cabernet sauvignon grapes and is labelled “Lot 681”.

Upon first pour, the wine’s deep purple color was telltale of its youth (2017). A quick swirl later, my nose detected notes of black current, black cherry, and black plum with a slight note of thyme. A tasting revealed medium-high alcohol content (14%), and an earthy, short finish (time in the cellar would most likely improve the finish). The added petit verdot created more of a tannin structure and freshness to this cabernet sauvignon. At $13 a bottle, this is an “enjoy now” bottle — don’t expect a whole lot of complexity. This is a table wine, not a Bordeaux Supérieur.

Word in the wine world is the Languedoc region is making a comeback as the “New World of France”, yet this is an Old-World region if there ever was one. The history of this wine region began with the Greeks, who first planted grapevines there during 5th century BCE.

Interesting to note is that half of the wine produced is organic and is where Millesime Bio, the world’s largest organic wine fair is held. Also of interest, is that Cameron Hughes Wine, Lot 681 2017 Languedoc, is the négociant’s first French release in 5 years.

The Sip Tripper, a.k.a. Charlene Peters, is WSET Level 2 certified and has been reviewing and promoting wines for over a decade. She occasionally serves as a wine judge internationally and travels to wine destinations as often as possible. To reach Charlene, email: siptripper@gmail.com.

The best Prosecco to pair with brunch

Autumn mornings in Sonoma, California are when the air feels crisp and cool before the afternoon sun warms temperatures up to near 90 degrees. A recent birthday brunch with a few favorite ladies could not have happened on a more perfect day.

We met at the River Vine Café in Santa Rosa, part of the Vintner’s Inn. The café closes at 1:30pm and serves breakfast/brunch items with indoor/outdoor seating. The inside was nearly empty on this Saturday morning, mainly because the outdoor seating was full. The view of the gardens captivated our attention, especially when we noticed white folding chairs were being set up for a wedding. It was a perfect day for a wedding, but I was happy with celebrating my friend’s birthday during this marvelous brunch.

The bottle of bubbles I brought to toast my friend’s birthday was much like the air that morning – before temperatures soared into the 80s. This luxury collection Mionetto Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG was as crisp as the first bite of an apple – extra dry, and it was as clear as water with bubbles bigger than bottle-fermented sparkling wines. Prosecco is a sparkling wine made from the Glera grape that grows in the northeast of Italy. The sparkling version is typically made using the tank method, and this bottle was no exception. It was lovely, dry, and fitting for fall with its apple notes. I enjoyed the pairing of this Prosecco with my order of Rancho Huevos.

We finished the bottle with ease, laughed and enjoyed the setting and each other’s company, and departed to continue our Saturday, but with a renewed vigor and stride in our step that could only be formed by bonding with your girlfriends during Saturday brunch.

This isn’t the first Mionetto Prosecco I’ve enjoyed. I shared a cocktail recipe previously, of which I’ll share again for those hosting their own brunch sometime soon. I recommend you pour this cocktail in a martini glass.

Italian Honey Suckle (courtesy of Mionetto Master Mixologist, Justin Noel)

Ingredients

– 1 jalapeño slice

– .5 oz fresh lime juice

– .5 oz honey syrup

– 1 oz blanco tequila

– 1 oz Mionetto Prestige Organic Prosecco DOC Extra Dry

– jalapeño slice for Garnish

Preparation

  1. In a mixing glass, add jalapeño slice and lime juice.
  2. Muddle lightly.
  3. Add honey syrup and tequila and shake.
  4. Strain into a martini glass.
  5. Top with Mionetto Prosecco.
  6. Garnish with jalapeño slice.

 

Reflections of Mirror Sauvignon Blanc

I finally visited the Petaluma Gap, a premier vineyard spot and the newest American Viticultural Area (AVA) in Sonoma County linked by the Pacific Ocean and San Pablo Bay. A few weeks earlier, I tasted a 2017 Mirror Petaluma Gap Chardonnay ($48), so now I was able to connect the area where the grapes grow in a cool climate, thanks to the constant sea breeze. I enjoyed the top note of honey in this chardonnay, but my palate was still swooning over the 2018 Mirror Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($28).

I tasted these Mirror wines in Napa, inside the Kitchen Collective, where membership has its privileges of allocated spaces for tastings — great for a winery that doesn’t have a tasting room. Note: reservations required.

About that sauvignon blanc, though…Using 20 percent used French oak, this sauvignon blanc is a robust, full-bodied, but balanced gem of a wine made from grapes grown in a dry farming technique (no vines are irrigated after fruit set – when tiny grapes appear) for freshness and high acidity. It doesn’t hurt to use grapes grown in Rutherford dust and clay soil – and to pair these grapes with the winemaking style of Kirk Venge.

Mirror Wines began over a decade ago, when Notre Dame “Golden Boy” Rick Mirer, an Indiana native and well-known football player for the Seattle Sea Hawks, 49ers and Raiders, took his wife on a visit to Napa Valley. Once retired, he considered what his next project would be and came up with Mirror Wines. Today, Mirer resides with his family in San Diego, but he makes it a point to visit Napa Valley at least every month.

Mirror’s red wines reflect grapes sourced from Howell Mountain and Oak Knoll. I can attest that his approximate 240 case production of 2016 Mirror Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain “Pre-Release” ($110, to be released in October) scores a touchdown. This deep berry, black currant cabernet sauvignon with black licorice and tobacco notes offers a lovely tannin structure for aging.

Visit www.mirrorwine.com for more information.

White Wine 3 Ways

Sauvignon blanc is an easy wine to make, drink, and enjoy. It doesn’t need to age so it’s an instant gratification wine. I had a bottle of Samuel Charles Sauvignon Blanc from grapes grown in the High Valley AVA in Lake County, California.

Priced at $24.99/bottle, it’s a bit higher than usual because the winemaker took the extra step and partially aged the wine sur lies for added richness on the palate and a complexity in its aromas. Aside from the typical floral and herbaceous notes, what caught my attention from the start was the scent of honeysuckle – one of my most favorite aromas. It was easy for me to enjoy this palatable silky, crisp wine, and the fruit characteristics lingered to my liking.

More information on this wine can be found by clicking HERE.

***

Initially, I wasn’t a fan of Mionetto when I sipped it on its own, but when I made it in a cocktail, I became a fan. Since 1982, this Prosecco has been made in the Charmat method — with the secondary fermentation in autoclaves instead of individual bottles. That means bigger bubbles. I prefer small bubbles and the Champagne method. But when you pour half tequila and half Prosecco to make a cocktail named “Italian Honey Suckle” – of course, I would love it! I recommend you pour this cocktail in a martini glass.

Italian Honey Suckle (courtesy of Mionetto Master Mixologist, Justin Noel)

Ingredients

– 1 jalapeño slice

– .5 oz fresh lime juice

– .5 oz honey syrup

– 1 oz blanco tequila

– 1 oz Mionetto Prestige Organic Prosecco DOC Extra Dry

– jalapeño slice for Garnish

Preparation

  1. In a mixing glass, add jalapeño slice and lime juice.
  2. Muddle lightly.
  3. Add honey syrup and tequila and shake.
  4. Strain into a martini glass.
  5. Top with Mionetto Prosecco.
  6. Garnish with jalapeño slice.

***

Another summer sip that excels when blended is a Bosio Tropical Mango Moscato from the Piedmont region of Italy. This is an 85% fermented Moscato with 15% natural Brazilian mango pulp – without any flavor enhancers or additives. As was the Mionetto Prosecco, this is a not-so-popular sip on its own, but a wonderful mixer on a hot summer evening as an aperitif when mixed with sparkling water. I enjoyed a glass with some cheese before a ladies’ dinner on the patio.

Wine Légende’s of Bordeaux

Bordeaux, in Southwest France on the Garonne River, has a total vineyard area of over 120,000 hectares (almost 300,000 acres) – notably the largest wine region in France. Bordeaux leads the world of wine, setting the bar quite high for winemakers who strive to emulate the blending of at least two of these five red varietals: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, Malbec and petite verdot.

On a restaurant’s wine list, a Bordeaux is usually higher in price, but I’ve discovered a few bottles of Légende that won’t break your budget and are pleasant on the palate.

The first one is a 2015 Légende Pauillac crafted with grapes grown in the prestigious Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) vineyards of Bordeaux. This wine is a blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot, partially aged in oak barrels crafted at the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite) cooperage.

It was as if I poured a glass of ruby slippers. The color was intense, and the aromas of dried figs, black pepper and cocoa powder took me back to Bordeaux when I visited Chateau Lafite Rothschild in early 2015. This is a Bordeaux within reach — under $50 a bottle. It has enough character to remind you you’re drinking a Bordeaux (that licorice finish…), but it’s a drink alone wine without an overpowering tannin structure — so get ready to open a bottle this fall, when red wine becomes more appealing!

Next, I sipped a 2016 Légende Saint-Émilion, but before I took my first sip, I was seduced with notes of baking spices, butter, pomegranate and dark berries that dominated my senses. This somewhat bold and balanced, dry and slightly acidic merlot has a touch of cabernet franc for elevated interest. This is an affordable right-bank Bordeaux ($37) made with inspiration from the tradition of quality. Twenty percent of its final blend was aged in barrels, which explains its medium body, atypical for a Bordeaux, and fine with me.

More information on these elegant wines of France may be found HERE.