Monday, May 30, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Moët et Chandon White Star

This past week, Ben discovered his hand and has been a slobbering fool. While he hasn't exactly figured out how to intentionally bring it to his mouth, he takes full advantage of it when he does. Also, this past weekend he slept through the night. It wasn't a sleep marathon by everyone's standards, but six hours is a full night's sleep with an eight week-old. We went to bed at eleven and were surprised when we both woke up for the first time at five the next morning. Unfortunately, Ben did not want to go back to sleep and we were up for the day. We thought we'd take a nap later in the day, but of course that did not happen. While we have been lucky that he is a good sleeper, we really need to start taking a few naps when he does.

Also this week, I learned that I passed the Wine Location Specialist Certificate Program offered by the Center for Wine Origins. The Center for Wine Origins was founded in 2005 by the the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the grape growers' and winemakers' trade association of Champagne, France; and the Instituto dos Vinhos do Douro e Porto (IVDP), the trade association for the grape growers and houses in Douro Valley and Porto, Portugal. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., this organization aims to educate Americans about "the importance of location when it comes to wine, and to gain greater protection of wine place names in the U.S." According the the federal government, Champagne and Port are classified as semi-generic names and prohibited to appear on wine labels unless they also contain the true place of orgin - i.e., "Colorado Champagne" (see more about this next week) or "California Port" or are grandfathered in on labels already in use at the time of the international agreement with the European Union.

The Wine Location Specialist Certificate Program consists of a comprehensive study guide and a 50-question multiple choice exam exam and an essay question. This program is open to wine professionals and free to register for once you are approved by the Center for Wine Origins. I was inspired to take the exam by Joe Roberts of 1WineDude.com and was lucky enough to complete the exam with more than 45 multiple choice questions correct and better than 4 out of 5 points on the essay to pass With Distinction. I am now certified by the IVDP and CIVC to lead wine education seminars, tastings and dinners specific to the Port and Champagne regions. To celebrate this week's Ben's Bubbly, I decided to pop the cork on a true Champagne!

Moët & Chandon White Star, Champagne

Probably best know by their Dom Perignon label, Moët & Chandon is a large Champagne negociant that produces a range of sparkling wines. While I don't buy Moët wines often, this was a bottle with an extinct label purchased by my wife at a school fundraiser auction. Moët has rebranded White Star as Brut Imperial, along with a slightly drier dosage. This wine was light in color with fruity and doughy aromas. I mostly smelled apples and pears, but frosted cupcakes also came to mind. The sugar was definitely noticeable amongst the creaminess on the palate. This wine reminded me of cross between a cream soda and Celestial Seasonings' Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride tea. This was a nice wine, but a bit sweeter than I like my bubbly. I am glad that Moët decided to drop their dosage levels in the Brut Imperial. 12% abv. Purchased $50. Good (tasted 5/27/11)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wine Blog Awards 2011

Wine blogs have become part of the mainstream wine media, and in fact there are more blogs than glossy magazines. Like this site, most bloggers write for the love and pure enjoyment of it. Sure, the occasional sample bottle or two is fun to receive but most of us are not officially compensated for our writing. Recognition is not measured in dollars and cents but by Twitter followers, Facebook likes and reader comments. There are a few organizations that seek to acknowledge the cream of the blogger crop and yesterday, the 2011 Wine Blog Awards nomination period began and will close May 31. The fifth annual Wine Blog Awards are now perhaps the most recognized resource for showcasing excellence in wine blogging. The winners are announced live each year at the North American Wine Bloggers Conference which will be held this year in Charlottesville, VA in July. Many wine enthusiasts eagerly nominate their favorite blogs with the hopes of helping them earn blogger street cred. Without nominating myself, as a few other bloggers have conspicuously done, here are my nominations for each category. I suggest that you nominate your favorite wine blogs, too!

Best Overall Wine Blog: 1winedude.com

Best New Wine Blog: terroirist.com

Best Writing on a Wine Blog: blog.wblakegray.com

Best Winery Blog: mesaparkvineyards.wordpress.com

Best Single Subject Wine Blog: coloradowino.com

Best Wine Reviews on a Wine Blog: dirtysouthwine.com

Best Industry/Business Wine Blog: fermentation.typepad.com

Best Wine Blog Graphics, Photography, and Presentation: swirlsmellslurp.com

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Knipser Pinot Brut

Ben had several adventures this week. He had his first babysitting adventure while mom and dad went to the Colorado Corks and Cuisine event at the Four Mile Historic Park. Local caterers partnered with area wineries, breweries, distilleries and artists to provide a lovely event despite the rain. Grandma was very excited to look after the little guy while we enjoyed our first 'date' night out in more than two months. We sampled some tasty food (the lobster mac and cheese and the wild mushroom wontons stood out in my mind) and sipped on a selection of wines from Augustina's Winery, Bonacquisti Wine Company, Canyon Wind Cellars, Snowy Peaks Winery, Water 2 Wine and Wild Women Winery.

A few nights later we went up to Boulder to have dinner with friends. Ben was a perfectly behaved gentleman while we had dinner, which we started with a Sekt for this week's Ben's Bubbly, a 1999 Knipser Pinot Brut. We also enjoyed a far too young 2000 Cos d'Estournel alongside a 2001 Cottonwood Cellars Reserve Merlot and finished with a beautiful 1993 Weingut Gunderloch Nachenheimer Rothenberg Riesling Auslese Gold Cap that will hold for many years to come. Ben slept soundly as we drove home well past our bedtime.

Our final outing with Ben this week was to downtown Denver for EatDenver's Big Eat. We arrived thirty minutes before the event was supposed to end, but the vendors were all out of food and we were out of luck. Since Ben was asleep in our new Okkatots carrier, we decided to make the trip worthwhile and grab a bite to eat at Rioja. However, against my wife's better judgment, I left the diaper bag in the car six blocks away. Needless to say that was a bad idea with explosive consequences. Not three bites into my salad did I have to rush to the car to fix the problem. I have to thank our server, skinny Mike, for his awesome service and making an otherwise uncomfortable meal enjoyable even if we did have to finish it at home. We will definitely have to return more prepared to fully appreciate the restaurant.

1999 Knipser Pinot Brut, Pfalz

Hailing from Germany's largest wine, this wine was sort of an enigma. The back label said this was a rosé, but it definitely was a lovely golden color of a blanc de noirs. I assume that this error was due to the importer believing a sparkling pinot noir would be pink. Aged ten years on the lees, this wine was young at heart and would easily hold its own against much more expensive vintage Champagne. Slightly doughy and very fruit forward on the nose, this exquisite sekt tasted like brioche french toast with a strawberry compote. If you see this rarity from this world-class producer pick up a few bottles! 12.5% abv Purchased $34. Very Good/Excellent (tasted 5/21/11)

Monday, May 23, 2011

To Blend or Not to Blend: Pinot Grigio

A few weeks ago, Steve Heimoff discussed his tasting of the Harlan Estate and BOND Estates 2008 and 2007 lineup. He mentioned that he often prefers the *cheaper* blended Matriarch. Much of his post and subsequent reader commentary explored the "concept of whether a blended wine could not be more complete than a single vineyard wine." Steve's argument was based on the idea that blended wines might be better wines because a winemaker could accentuate the desirable characteristics of individual sites or different varietal characteristics. In fact, many wines use this concept to create "house" styles rather than wines of terroir. Bordeaux and the proprietary red wines of Napa Valley are blends that often vary from year to year. High-end reds aren't the only  wines made utilizing this concept. Champagne is another popular blended wine. While not as prevalent with white wines, several very popular blends, Conundrum, Evolution and Ménage à Trois, are made from different combinations of white grapes. Blending represents the highest form of a winemaker's artistic expression.

Although I have yet to receive my invitation to visit and taste Bill Harlan's grand cru portfolio, I still wanted to explore the differences of single-vineyard and blended wines. If any from Harlan is reading, I will accept said invitation! The simplest way to do so was to taste not a complex blend like those three widely marketed wines I listed above, but to taste a wine blended with only two grapes. I wanted to determine if a single-vineyard or blended wine is better. Obviously, differences would be highly specific to individual wines. For this endeavor, I selected two wines from Canyon Wind Cellars; a single-vineyard pinot grigio from the Cliffside Vineyard and a blend of 60% pinot grigio from the same vineyard and 40% chardonnay from the nearby Riverside Vineyard. I had my wife pour the two wines and I tasted them blind to determine the differences between these two similar yet different wines. I didn't want to be influenced by my preconceived ideas about what the wines *should* taste like, but the varietal characteristics were quite apparent and I was able to easily identify which glass contained chardonnay and which contained only pinot grigio. In this case, I preferred the lovely aromatics and crisp acidity of the pinot grigio to the blend, but my wife tried them both later and preferred the blend. Get them both and see which you prefer!

2010 Canyon Wind Cellars, Pinot Grigio, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

Exceptionally light in color and almost clear on the rim, this wine is beautifully aromatic with scents of melon, apricot, citrus and hints of salt and minerals. The refreshingly crisp palate is redolent of kaffir lime and honeydew melon. As I tasted, I knew it had to be the pinot grigio and wanted to pair it with prosciutto-wrapped melon. I'm not usually a fan of pinot grigio, but this one I do like.12.9% abv Sample $15. Good (tasted 5/18/11)

2010 Canyon Wind Cellars, 47-Ten, Grand Valley AVA, Colorado

This wine is light yellow in color, but just slightly darker than the pinot grigio. The nose is slightly muted, but cedes notes of apples and apricots. The chardonnay adds body and alcohol to the bright and crisp pinot grigio. In no way out of balance, the alcohol is more noticeable in this wine than the other. This light blend offers flavors similar to white peach grape juice and apples. This is a nice wine that would complement a tasty summer barbeque or relaxing by the pool. 13.6% abv Sample $13. Average/Good (tasted 5/18/11)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: d'Arenberg The Peppermint Paddock Sparkling Chambourcin

This week Ben met some of his future friends. Three of my wife's co-workers had babies within five months of Ben's arrival and this weekend was the first time all of the little ones "met" each other. We had planned on going to a park and lining the future class of 2029 up on a blanket, but the rain and cold weather forced us to meet at a McDonald's PlayPlace so that a big sister could be entertained. The infant crew includes a 6-month old, a 4-month old, a 2-month old and our 6-week old. It was amazing to see the differences that only a few months can make! And as much as Ben has grown these past few weeks, the changes are only going to more noticeable. Before we know it, he is going to be running laps around us and then take the car for a spin. :( Until then, we are still going to be enjoying our weekly bubbly.

d'Arenberg, The Peppermint Paddock, Sparkling Chambourcin, McLaren Vale

This is a not-so-typical sparkling wine from a not-so-typical grape. Chambourcin is a French-American hybrid known for lacking the unpleasant hybrid flavors. I never thought that a French-American hybrid would be found in Australia, but I can see why now. This deep dark purple bubbly coats the glass as you swirl. It might surprise people by being dry, fruity and losing its fizz after a short time in the glass. It smells like a bowl full of freshly picked red and blue fruit that hasn't been washed. This little bit of woodsiness adds some complexity, but this wine is mostly about fruit. After sipping on it for a while, it felt like I was munching on mocha dusted Bing cherries. This is a fun and good wine, but a bit pricey for the novelty. 13.5% abv Purchased $32. Good (tasted 5/12/11)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Fallacy of Wine Journalism

Last week, Mike Steinberger led a debate about whether wine critics are journalists on his blog, WINE DIARIST.com. This debate was partially triggered by the words and actions of Wine Advocate reviewer Antonio Galloni and former Wine Spectator founder James Suckling. Each has started for-profit ventures that involve tastings with high-profile winemakers. Suckling in particular has caught flack for charging both customers and producers to attend his event and for advertising the event under the guise of a Decanter report on the state of Brunello di Montalcino.

Many of the commenters on Steinberger's post suggested that critics and wine writers are journalists and should be held to the same ethical standards as magazine and newspaper reporters. One of the common points was that wine critics should remain objective in their jobs and adhere to a set ethical standards that ensure consumer confidence and trust. Journalists disseminate information. Wine critics disseminate opinion. Wine is subjective and consumers want "expert" opinion on which they can align their palates and pocketbooks. While some wine writers may be journalists, the vast majority are nothing more than pundits. Just as with the well-known political pundits, the bigger the name (and Suckling and Galloni are pretty big names) the more rocks that are thrown at them. I am not trying denigrate these wine pundits. In fact, while I do not claim to be in the same class of pundits that I read most (Joe Roberts, Steve Heimoff, W. Blake Gray, Jeff Siegel, et al.), this blog does offer punditry like the others. I will make no claim for the opinions and agendas that other "writers" advance, but I do not hide the fact that I advocate for Colorado wines and not being afraid of what's on wine a label. While I focus on Colorado, I do not limit myself to only Colorado because I believe that it is important to reasonably place Colorado wines in the larger context of the wine industry.

Furthermore, the one agenda common to each critic, professional or amateur, is self-promotion. Whether he wants to make money by selling subscriptions to his website or she just wants to share her thoughts on wine with family and friends, we all want to be read and/or heard. Some writers focus on regions or wines dear to them (or their audience) while others mock those who attempt to be heard. Regardless, we all are promoting wine and all voices are welcome in the world of wine punditry. The greater the diversity of opinion, the stronger the debate about wine. If we debate enough, we might just break down the barriers intimidate the potential wine drinker.

Just as with modern "journalism" (see most major 24-hr "news" organizations), the reporting of simple fact is a minor component in the world of wine writing. Nevertheless, we can and should have ethical standards to which we are held. These standards will vary from pundit to pundit, but as Joe Roberts and others have so wisely advised is the need for transparency. Let the readers decide if they value your opinion. The explosion of wine punditry has allowed wine to be more popular and of a higher quality than any time in history. Keep up the good work, pundits!

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Dragon Seal Blanc de Blancs and Drappier Carte d'Or

Little Ben is getting starting to pack on the pounds! When he isn't eating, he is doing a good job holding his head up and looking around taking in all the new sights and sounds. Pumping his legs and waving his arms as I attempt to sing to him elicits smiles, coos and joyful vocalizations (at least for a couple of minutes)! We are occasionally getting more rest when he gives us three or four hour blocks of uninterrupted sleep. He still enjoys sleeping in our arms or on our chests best and when we need him to wake up, we just put him in his crib!

This Sunday was also special as it was my wife's first Mother's Day as a mom. So for this week, we doubled up on the bubbles. We went with a unique sparkler from China (I know, wine from China is weird enough, let alone a Blanc de Blancs) for our regular celebratory wine and brought a half-bottle of Champagne to the park for our Mother's Day picnic. I made a radish and spinach quiche, mango scones and a mint fruit salad to pair with the wine. While my wine consumption and blog postings have decreased in the past month, we are enjoying trying so many different bubblies and are looking forward to the next 47 weeks!

Dragon Seal Brut Blanc de Blancs, Hebei, China

While most people probably have not ever tasted a wine from China, I've been able to try two in the past year. Although I am not willing to wholeheartedly endorse these wines, I've definitely had worse from other more renowned wine regions. The label says it was made in the Champagne method, but this 100% Chardonnay was aged in the bottle for only nine months before disgorging. It is very light yellow in color with consistent medium-size bubbles. While there is a slight toastiness and some citrus blossom aromas are noticeable, there is a chemically, almost vinyl, odor that makes it not all that pleasant. The toast is present on the palate along with some nice tart granny smith apple flavors. However, smoke and a bitter nuttiness linger as an aftertaste. This is not a great wine, but is average and an interesting novelty for you adventurous winos. 12.5% abv Purchased $12. Average (tasted 5/5/11)

Drappier Brut, Carte d'Or, Champagne

This wine was in a 375 mL bottle and a perfect accompaniment to our Mother's Day picnic in the park! As a side note, half-bottles fit perfectly in the cup holder on our stroller... The yellow label might confuse you into thinking that this is a Veuve-Clicquot offering. The color is the first thing I noticed about this wine that suggested that this light brass colored Champagne is much better! The 80% pinot noir in this blend yielded lovely notes of red apples, Asian pears and hints of red fruits like strawberries and pomegranate along with the typical freshly baked bread aromas. Fresh and crisp in the mouth with plenty of fruit flavors, I wish that we had more than a half bottle to drink and that I had bought more when I picked this lone bottle up! 12% abv Purchased $17. Good/Very Good (tasted 5/8/11)

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Ben's Bubbly: Cristalino Brut Rosé

Today, Ben is four weeks old! He is starting to outgrow some of the smaller newborn clothes as he adds a second chin and his arms and legs are slowly turning into sausages. Mom had her first night out, so Ben and dad watched the movie 21 via our new Roku. The pause and rewind functions were a godsend as it took nearly 4 hours to get through the almost two-hour movie. He definitely missed his mom and didn't especially like the bottles; though he did empty his three servings! I now have a better appreciation for what mom goes through with being pinned under Ben and one of the cats for hours at a time.

With the media frenzy surrounding the royal wedding I briefly thought of getting a bottle of Pol Roger for this week's edition, but instead opted for a bottle of the sparkling we served at our wedding three and one half years ago. Now, we did not have the financial resources of the House of Windsor so we served something a little lower key. While I wish that I could say that we had local wines at the wedding (we did serve ten different Colorado microbrews), we went with a red, white and rosé sparkler all from Spain. My wife is a Spanish teacher, spent a semester studying abroad in Spain and we were going to spend a month there for our honeymoon, so Spanish vino seemed appropriate.

While a sub ten-dollar cava wouldn't seem to be a news-worthy wine, since the wedding Cristalino made headlines. Not many people are going to confuse the bargain bubbly with the hip-hop hyped tête de cuvée Cristal, but the Champagne house Louis Roederer sued Cristalino maker Jaume Serra for copyright infringement. After a lengthy court battle, Jaume Serra had to change the label and add a disclaimer that states, "Jaume Serra Cristalino is not affiliated with, sponsored by, approved by, endorsed by, or any other way connected with Louis Roederer's Cristal champagne or Louis Roederer." While the label might have changed (and I still have a couple of bottles with the old label) the wine is still a good value, though it will never be mistaken for champagne.

NV Cristalino Brut Rosé, Spain

I've had this wine many times, but this bottle looks darker than I remember. It is very dark for a rosé and is a brilliant, yet light coral red in color. The nose is full of fruits, especially strawberries and cranberries, flowers and even a bit of honeyed aromas. It tastes of the same descriptors, but is deceptively dry while maintaining good fruit. Not especially crisp, but full bodied for a sparkling wine with ripe strawberries and red plums dominating. This is an excellent value in the world of sparkling wine, and any wines in the Cristalino lineup will be good for those individuals who don't like the yeastiness and tartness of traditional, and more expensive, chamgpagne. 11.5% abv Purchased $6. Good (tasted 4/29/11)