Monday, December 31, 2012

A Bubbly New Year

When I think of "bubbles," of course I think about that wonderful liquid that tickles my tongue, but I cannot help to think about the Lawrence Welk Show.  

As a youngster, it was always such a treat to spend a Saturday night at Grandma and Grandpas.  They always ended every dinner with dessert and just after dinner, and before we sat in front of the television, Grandpa would pop a batch of popcorn in the old electric popper and slather the hot corn with lots of melted butter. He would also open a bottle of Pepsi-Cola for us to share.  

However,  with all of these treats came payback - - we had to sit with him and Grandma and watch Lawrence Welk. Also known in our household as, "Bubbles," this name was due to the start of the show, the "pop" of a Champagne bottle and many blown soap bubbles would fill the stage. The show even had a  woman soloist, Norma Zimmer, who was known as the "Champagne Lady."

Little facts and trivia about that bottle of bubbly you will be enjoying this evening:
*All Champagnes are sparkling wines, but not all sparkling wines are Champagnes. For a sparkler to be a true Champagne, it must come from the region in France, named Champagne.
*The three traditional grapes used to produce Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, and of course, all three varieties grow in the Champagne region.  
*Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk, is considered to have "invented" Champagne. He managed to capture the bubbles in the bottle, therefore inventing a method called "Methode Champenoise," a process of double fermentation.  It's important to understand that the bottle of bubbly you are enjoying is not a cheap domestic. These mass-produced wines that line the supermarket shelves, with flavors of almond and "peach passion," have not gone through the traditional double fermentation process and only had CO2 added exactly like a bottle of soda pop. 

*Vintage or Non-Vintage? In a good year, about 10 to 15% of the total Champagne produced is Vintage (all grapes harvested from a single year). According to regulations, Vintage Champagne must be aged for at least three  years. Non-Vintage (NV) Champagne accounts for the majority of the Champagnes produced in France. Of course, NV Champagnes are more affordable in comparison to Vintage, but they still taste just as delicious and tickle the tongue.  
*There are 49 million bubbles in a 750ml bottle of Champagne - give or take a few. 
*There are three traditional styles of Champagne glasses: the coupe, tulip, and the flute. Legend is the "coupe," a shallow broad-rimmed bowl, was modeled in the shape of Marie Antoinette's left breast. Sure, the story is - -  umm - - rather "titillating, but this bra cup-shaped goblet doesn't hold the bubbles as long as a flute-shaped glass does.  

*Your kissable lips, colored with lipstick, will actually break up the bubbles. But then again, so will anything that is greasy, like potato chips, buttery popcorn, French fries and KFC.  However, in spite of the grease, do live a little and pair Champagne with a bag of potato chips.   
*According to Marilyn Monroe's biographer, it took 350 bottles of Champagne to fill her bath tub.
Make one of your New Year's Resolutions that you will drink more bubbly. Why wait for a special occasion, when every morning we wake up is special? In the mean time, please be safe as we celebrate the arrival of our new year. 

If you are going out for the evening; name a designated driver, go in style and rent a limo, call a taxi or write the number down for your local sponsored Tipsy Taxi - - and call it. In Walla Walla call: 509-522-8299.

At this holiday season, my thoughts turn gratefully to my readers, fans, and friends.  May all your joys be pure joys, and all your pain be Champagne. 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesday

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Tastevin 

Whenever I think of a tastevin, the visual goes back to the old Frasier television episode, where the two Crane brothers compete with each other during a wine tasting contest for the prestigious title of Corkmaster in their wine club. Of course, the winner got to wear the tastevin and sash around their neck.  

A tastevin is a small, very shallow silver cup or saucer traditionally used by winemakers and sommeliers when judging or tasting wine. The shallow little cups were originally created by Burgundian winemakers many moons ago to assist them in judging clarity and color of wines that were originally stored in wine cellars that were dependent on the light from the flame of a candle (yes, before electricity). 

In France, the custom spread and usually used by the affluent. Made by silversmiths, the tastevins were often decorated and even engraved with the owner's name. Because of the small size and shape, men often carried their personal tastevins in their pockets at all times and viewed them as prized possessions like watches and rings. 

Today the tastevin has very little practical use, but still folks in the wine industry will often wear them on a ribbon or chain around their neck as simply a nod to Old World traditions.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Angel's Share

The name itself refers to the portion of wine that naturally evaporates through the porous oak barrels during the aging process. 

Centuries ago the monasteries were noticing this natural process happening in their cellars.  Since there was n
o real scientific explanation at the time, and especially since no monk wanted to accuse his brother of sneaking sips, it was determined that the loss of the wine in the barrels signified something heavenly and they were making a lot of angels happier - a divine intervention, no doubt. So the name, "Angel's Share" arrived.  

There is also a different term for the evaporation in a barrel mostly to do with whiskey. It is known
as the "Devil's Cut."  So depending on what team you root for, angel's share or devil's cut, just don't blame it on the brother monks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

Not this wine thief.
The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is: Wine Thief

No, no, no. A wine thief is not a person who breaks into the winery in the middle of the night to steal your wine. While there may be dumb thieves like that, typically the term is a name for an invaluable tool for the winemaker to "steal" a bit of wine from the barrels. 

A wine thief is a larger pipette of sorts, usually made of glass or even food-grade plastic. The size is often anywhere from 12-24 inches long and styles vary, from straight to a bend at the end for an easier hand grip 
This wine thief.

The purpose of the wine thief is to draw wine out of the barrels for not only tasting the wine, but to use the drawn wine for specific readings such as: acid and pH testing, and checking sulfite levels.  No winemaker should be without one.

How does it work? Like a siphon - -  think turkey baster.


Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies: Weekly Wine Word Wednesdays

The Weekly Walla Walla Wine Word for Dummies is:  Barrel Tasting

This term doesn't mean what you think or how it sounds. There are no wooden barrels to crunch on nor does one lick the barrel. I suppose you could, if you need to add some fiber to your diet or if you like splinters on your tongue. So what can one expect from "Barrel Tasting?" 

Don Redman and Jason Baggett Barrel Tasting
The term is often used to describe an open house tasting event at a winery or even a private opportunity to taste the wine directly from the barrel (See photo of Don Redman, owner and winemaker of Mannina Cellars in Walla Walla).  

So, like why would you want to do that? Like - duh, consider it a "sneak preview" on an early wine that has just gone into the barrels or an older wine that is ready to be bottled.  There can be many reasons, depending on what the winemaker's goal is.  As an example,  the winemaker can offer a tasting of two or more barrels with the same varietal inside, but from different vineyards to show off their distinctive terroirs.  

When offered - do it! I recommend to take some notes and come back to the winery once the wine has been bottled, released, and discover how the wine has evolved from your previous barrel tasting notes.  And speaking of Barrel Tasting ...

Join us in Walla Walla for the Holiday Barrel Tasting 2012, this weekend December 7-9! And taste for yourself what's in those barrels.

And how does one get the wine out of the barrel and into the glass? Stay tuned, as that is another Weekly Wine Word for Dummies.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Three out of Three Stars: Tre Nova!

Italian in heart and style, but grown in American soil. 

Gino Cuneo's wines may be some of the newest being produced in Walla Walla, but Gino is certainly not new to winemaking. Since 1989, Gino has been on a journey  with red Italian grape varieties and now these grapes are making themselves at home to the warm regions of Washington and Oregon. 

In 1993, Gino founded Cuneo Cellars and a year later his first Italian varietal of Nebbiolo was produced. Four years later he would produce another Italian-style varietal, Sangiovese. 2002 marked the year of  the first commercial certified Brunello clone of Sangiovese in North America planted at Ciel du Cheval Vineyard in the Red Mountain AVA, with vineyard owner, Jim Holmes.

In 2003, came another milestone for Gino when he produced his first Appassimento-style wine, fashioned after the Venetian Amarones. 

For those not familiar with these rich dry red wines of  Italy, harvested grapes are left in bunches and allowed to dry.  This process is referred to as appassimento or rasinate in Italian - "ala" -  raisins.  Of course, this ancient winemaking technique allows for overall flavors and sugars to elevate.  After drying for about 120-days, the grapes are then crushed, allowed skin contact for color and flavors, and fermented. The result are intense flavors and known as Veneto's most prestigious red wine.

Currently, Gino's Tre Nova Seccopassa is the only wine in America produced in this century's old Italian fashion. During this journey of wine making, Gino was noticed with many accolades. In 2005, Cuneo Cellars was named by Wine Press Northwest Magazine, "Oregon Winery of the Year," recognizing Gino's innovative and unique approach to wines.

In 2008, Cuneo Cellars launched Tre Nova ("Three Stars" in Italian) and in 2011, Gino made a move to live in Walla Walla and to give his wines and their production a home in Walla Walla, as well. The following are Tre Nova wines that are currently available:

Tre Nova Rosato - 2011:  Following Italian tradition, of course, "rosato" is a dry rosé-style of Sangiovese. Bright and crisp with fruity notes of strawberries and watermelon. While this light rose colored wine is very fruit forward, there are plenty of acids to balance it out making it a wine to be enjoyed with food. Yes, this could be the wine you will finally be able to pair artichokes with - - especially if they are grilled. 

Tre Nova Bonatello - 2010: 100% Sangiovese grape variety (Latin origin of Sangiovese meaning “blood of love”) brings to the palate lively red fruit of raspberries, cranberries and cherries. Earthy and generous! However, with approachable tannins and once again, the right balance of acidity that is going to make love to any tomato-based bowl of pasta topped with mounds of salty Italian cheeses. 

Tre Nova Nebarro - 2009: A clever play on Italian varieties, Nebbiolo and Barbera, this vintage is a red blend of 62% Barbera and 38% Nebbiolo.  Dark in color with rich dried fruits on the nose. Light in tannins with juicy fruits of blackberries and dark cherries on the palate. Serve with roasted meats and especially grilled ribs or shredded pork with a tangy tomato-based sauce on the side. Once again proving there is a reason why these grapes with origins of Italy pair themselves so well with tomatoes and spices.

Tre Nova Ripasso - 2009: This is the second release of Gino's version of this traditional wine found in the Veneto region of Italy.  Ripasso (repassing) was originally produced by "re-passing" younger and lighter red wines onto the remaining dried skins left over from the famed Amarone wines.  This blend of Sangiovese and Barbera reminded me of the dark fruit and spice from a Christmas fruitcake - - in a good way. A deep red wine with smooth flavors of dark plums and cherries with just a hint of cocoa.  A wine to be served with Italian-style prepared beef or a boozy and chocolatey tiramisu.  All by itself in a wine glass is just perfect for me.

One surprising detail I was especially impressed with is as much time, thought and passion that Gino puts into his wines, as well as the striking design on the labels, the listed prices are so affordable. From a glass of Tre Nova, you are not only getting value, but quality, care and rich wine history - not only from the Northwest, but also history from the vineyards of Italy.  Ciao!

Monday, December 03, 2012

Maison Bleue on the Move!

Seattle Magazine named it, "Best Emerging Winery 2011."

Yesterday, it was great to visit with Jon Meuret-Martinez, owner and winemaker of Maison Bleue Family Winery of Prosser, WA - - and soon to be "emerging" to Walla Walla! 

Jon gave me the time frame of his move and projected opening. In January he will be taking over the space at 20 North Second Ave, in downtown Walla Walla. North Second Avenue is what I like to refer to as: "The Gateway to Main." 

The now vacant space, located at the historical Panatorium building, will have a complete renovation. One of the renovations will include removing the low ceiling, which will enhance the space and make it much more airy. If any indication of the new design is by the wines itself, and even the simple, yet elegant labels; the new space will no doubt be stunning.

Projected opening date of the tasting room will be in April, just in time for Maison Bleue to be included in Walla Walla's Spring Barrel weekend the first of May. 

In about a year after completion of the tasting room, Jon and wife, Amy will be bringing their family to Walla Walla and it will be here in the valley they will make their home.  He is looking forward to living closer to the vineyards, and of course just being in Walla Walla and everything the area has to offer.

The focus of Maison Bleue Winery is mostly Rhône varieties such as Grenache, Syrah, Marsanne and Viognier, as well as Chardonnay. The wines of Maison Bleue have been on my list of favorite Washington wines since Jon and wine writer, Rand Sealey dropped by to visit and introduced me to these ultra-premium wines, well over a year ago. 

These luscious wines are very European in style. With Jon's background, a Bachelors of Science in Biology and Chemistry as well as Doctorate of Dental Surgery and continuing his education in viticulture and enology, the wines of Maison Bleue have the best of New World knowledge, but with the care of traditional Old World style.

Welcome Maison Bleue Family Winery to Walla Walla! We are looking forward to you joining our community.

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