Celebrate Champagne Day This Friday with These Ideas!

This Friday (Oct 23) marks the 11th annual global Champagne Day. Besides sharing a bottle with family and friends, learning about the art of Champagne (see resources below), you can also try some delicious Champagne food pairings while playing a special Champagne playlist. Although it comes in a great variety, Champagne in general is surprisingly versatile to pair with different types of cuisines and tastes.

Credit: Comite Champagne

Know Your Dryness/Sweetness

First, pay attention to the sweetness/dry scale of your Champagne. If you are serving more than one bottle, start with the driest, working up to the sweetest.
The designations for Champagne from driest to sweetest are:

  • brut nature (driest)
  • extra brut
  • brut
  • extra dry/extra sec
  • dry/sec
  • demi-sec
  • doux/sweet (sweetest)
These champagnes all have different sweetness levels. Credit: Comite Champagne.

Dry Champagne pairings

A dry champagne with rounded acidity could pair well with shellfish seafood, such as oysters, shrimps and lobsters, but also rich soft cheeses like brie or camembert, or even devilled eggs. For mains, try buttery dishes like a cream-based pasta, such as alfredo, or earthy dishes like a mushroom risotto, or even a vegetable galette. To finish, a classic shortbread butter cookie pairs splendidly with a dry Champagne. If you like something tart, lemon meringue, crepes or cheesecake could work too.

Creamy, earthy dishes like this mushroom pasta pairs well with dry Champagne.

Rosé Champagne

With a bit more body, Rosé Champagnes could take more meatier and savory dishes, such as smoked salmon, cold cuts like prosciutto, fattier fish like tuna steak, and dishes with a hint of spice, or even duck. For sweet endings, try chocolate with raspberries, or, of course, chocolate-dipped berries of your choice.

Try Rosé with smoked salmon and rich cream cheese.

Sweet Champagne

Champagne pairs well with many fruits that complement their undertones, especially berries, lemon and peach. For desserts, try some subtly sweet flavors with slightly buttery or creamy textures, such as lemon snap cookies, vanilla ice cream with blueberries, or simply a handful of toasted hazelnuts or almonds.

A simple tart-based fruit like lemon curd complements the acidity of Champagne.

Surprise!

Guess what, you don’t need to break the bank for fancy oysters and Canapés to enjoy Champagne. Here are some everyday foods that Champagne complements just as well with:

  • Anything fried, such as chips and potato fries, as the crisp acidity of Champagne cuts through the fattiness. The heavier the food, the more acidic the Champagne should be.
  • Mac n’ Cheese: Use milder cheese so to not overwhelm the Champagne.
  • Chili con carne: a Champagne can balance its spiciness and sweetness.
  • Buttered popcorn with sweet Champagne
  • Egg rolls with chili sauce
  • A classic burger with pickles
Many simple foods pair just as well with Champagne.

Learn about Champagne!

If you want to learn more about Champagne, check out these resources: Champagne: From Cellar to Table Aroma Development of Champagne WinesTasting Sheet.

And of course, don’t forget to share with family and friends and post photos on social media for #ChampagneDay!   

Breathless Winery Wins “Rising Wine Star Winery of the Year” Award

In less than 10 years since it opened, Breathless Wines has already won multiple awards, including the San Francisco Wine Competition, American Fine Wine Competition, Wine Enthusiast, among others. This time, it is awarded by LuxeSF, a luxury marketing organization, as their “Rising Wine Star Winery of The Year”, after a tough competition with 74 other nominations across 5 award categories, selected by a 14-person panel of respected industry veterans.

Have you tried Breathless Wines yet? They are currently offering a special duo Blanc De Noir and Brut Rose pack at $60 including shipping this week until September 18. Better yet, you could visit their winery in downtown Healdsburg and try a flight of 4 wines for just $16 in their outdoor patio, or join their Friday Bubbly Happy Hour, or try a Breakfast at Breathless Breton Crepe paired with their sparkling on September 27. For more options, check this page out!

Breathless Brut in their flutes.
Lady on a Flying Cork, a poster from 1920s, used as Breathless Wines Logo.

A Legacy Sparkling with Personality

Hailing from a pioneer winemaking family in Napa, Paula Kornell is a Napa native who has seen the region’s rise from idyllic countryside to a world-renowned premium wine destination. Paula has acquired decades of experience throughout the wine industry, having held management positions at Mondavi, Phelps and other wineries. She has been a member of the Board of Napa Valley Vintners and served a term as its President, and has also chaired the famous Napa Wine Auction several times.

Paula Kornell serving her wines at home.

Meeting Paula Kornell and Tasting Her Very First Vintage

Now, Paula is carrying on her family legacy, having launched her own line of methode champenoise (traditional Champagne method) wines last October with Vintage Wine Estates. I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Paula and experience her great hospitality over a cordial wine lunch at her eclectic St. Helena abode and learn about the many colorful stories behind her brand.

Paula opening her bottle of Blanc de Noir

Kornell Family Legacy

The Kornell family history is interwoven with the Wine Country, starting with Paula’s father, Napa wine pioneer Hanns Kornell. Originally from Germany, Kornell studied winemaking at Geisenheim Enological Institute in the 1930s and applied that training working for French and Italian wineries. After a narrow escape from Dachau Concentration Camp, he arrived in America with $2 in his pocket. Hanns worked in wineries until he was able to purchase the historic Larkmead Estate, one of California’s oldest wineries, which was established by Lillian Hitchcock Coit in 1884.

The historic Larkmead Winery. Credit: Napa Wine Project

Paula’s Wine Beginnings

After college, Paula’s adventurous spirit led her to a brief period working in vineyards around Europe and studying winemaking at Geisenheim, as did her father. Later, she did a stint selling Burgundy wines for the famous New York wine merchant Sherry-Lehmann. Although she enjoyed filling orders for celebrities on Madison Ave, her father eventually persuaded her to fly back to California on a one-way, first class ticket to work for Kornell Cellars.

The iconic Sherry Lehmann on Madison Ave.

The Difference Between Sparkling Wine and Champagne

While sharing her Brut, an elegant blend of Central Californian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Paula noted how American consumers were unaccustomed to the “sparkling wine” definition initially. “Champagne” was perceived as better, but consumers increasingly understand why the change in nomenclature was made. International laws restrict the Champagne label to wines made only in this French appellation, even though many premium sparkling wines are made elsewhere using the same method. Her family has long used this traditional Champagne winemaking method in making their California wines.

Kornell Brut in a bucket.

Paula’s Blanc De Noir

Paula also opened a bottle of her inaugural 2017 Blanc De Noir, made with 98% Pinot Noir from the classic Mitsuko’s Vineyard in the Los Carneros area, ideally situated to catch breezes from San Pablo Bay. Remarkable was how it tasted like a more aged Champagne: complex, with toasty notes and a crisp hint of zesty citrus. It was an absolutely delightful pairing with her homemade galette made with fresh vegetables from her yard.

Our wine pairing lunch.

How the Wine Started

Paula’s own wine brand came into being when she was approached by long-time family friend and CEO of Vintage Wine Estates, Pat Roney, who wanted to boost their premium boutique wine portfolio with great sparkling wines. The winemaker behind Paula’s wine is Robin Ankhurst, who has worked harvests from Burgundy and Languedoc to Marlborough and Barossa and now directs winemaking for several esteemed Napa wineries. I noticed the beautifully etched Riedel glasses with her logo, which she explained was the Men of Canaan – the same logo used in years past by Hanns Kornell Champagne, denoting Israelites carrying grapes to the “Promised Land,” which for her family was California.

Paula, her Blanc de Noir and me.

Staying Positive and Resilient

It’s not only Paula’s great wines and the history that stand out, but also her resilient and jovial spirit. To be sure, lockdowns caused by the current pandemic will pose challenges for wineries needing to sell excess inventory, but she sees pockets of opportunity for those who build relationships and continue to get involved. Despite the current pandemic, Paula has managed to progress with building partnerships through Zoom calls.

A Breathless Experience: My First Time Breaking A Wine Bottle With a Saber

Have you seen a champagne or sparkling wine bottle being broken open with a saber? I have not, until I was very lucky to have a chance to try it at Breathless Wines, known for their traditional method (the original method for making Champagne) sparkling wine in Healdsburg when Dr. Thach and our group visited!

What is Sabering?

A saber is a type of sword with a curved blade associated with light cavalry in the early modern and Napoleonic periods. The technique of breaking open a champagne bottle using a saber, called “sabrage”, was popularized after the French Revolution, when Napoleon’s cavalries celebrated their victory by using sabers to open champagne bottles.

A saber breaking open a champagne bottle. Credit: Last Bottle Wines

Safety First!

For someone who has never held a saber, let alone cut a bottle open with one, it can be quite intimidating. Luckily, Breathless has very careful protocols guided by their friendly experts. I was led by Sharon, one of the Founding Sisters of Breathless Wines. The “Saberer” first puts on protective heavy duty gloves and safety goggles. Because of Covid-19, an extra pair of disposable gloves are worn before the heavy duty gloves, and of course I was masked up like everyone else. Also, using a cold bottle makes it easier to break.

The saber, cold Breathless Blanc de Noir bottle, and protective gear

Power Pose

Having the correct posture helps to wield power. To start, Sharon demonstrated how to stand sideways, almost like an archer, and hold the body (where the label sits) using my non-dominant hand. Of course, the bottle must be pointed far away from anyone – everyone needed to stand back!

Sharon demonstrating the power pose and how to hold the bottle.

Learning The Technique

Next, Sharon demonstrated the actual technique of holding the saber, and how to strike the bottle. With the saber in hand, the blade sits at an angle to the bottle, and I took a few turns running the blade along the bottle towards the lip, which is the breakage point.

How to hold a saber and where to guide it

Blast off!

Finally, the wire cage was taken off as an extra step to make it easier. Shortly after the demo, I was ready. My hand went faster than I was mentally prepared and POP! Went the top. I did not apply much force, and it felt a lot smoother than expected. Indeed, I read later that it is simply the force applied at a fragile point of the bottle – with already much internal pressure – that breaks it. Some wine was lost, but I held it up in victory, still shocked at what happened just seconds ago. I was relieved no one was hurt!

This happened within seconds!

Serving the Wine

What good is opening a wine if you can’t enjoy it? After sabering, make sure to check for shards before serving. We all got to enjoy a fresh glass afterwards!

Dr. Thach gets the first glass!

Certified Saberer!

Certificate and cork wrapped in Breathless Seal

Breathless Wines awards every Saberer with a “Certificate of Completion”, and the cork sealed with their signature Breathless label. I am really grateful for such an unforgettable experience, and hope to lose less wine next time!

Try it Yourself!

For more information and to schedule this exciting Sabrage Experience, please click here:
https://www.breathlesswines.com/Visit-Us/Sabrage-Experience

Not Just Your Average Canned Wine – Tips on Finding the Right One for You!

They are everywhere: from Trader Joe’s to online stores, pop-up bars to your friend’s party. Since Sofia Coppola’s pretty pink cans of blanc de blanc sparkling debuted in 2004, canned wines have exploded especially in the past few years. According to Nielsen, canned wine sales grew 69% year-on-year in 2018, and 79% in 2019. The variety is now diversified to seltzers, wine coolers offering “zero sugar” and “lower alcohol” options, even sake and more.

Sofia Mini Brut Rosé Coppola 4 Pack
Sofia Coppola’s Brut Rose.

The Case for Canned

Although canned wines often have no vintage, specific AVA or vineyard, and are not meant to age like fine wines, they are a great choice for many: it’s portable, chills faster, one can try something new without buying a whole bottle. Cans protect wines from oxygen and light, and a thin layer of plastic inside prevents imparting metallic flavors, which keeps white, rose and sparkling wines surprisingly well. Finally, they’re environmentally-friendly: aluminium cans are often recycled, and lighter weight means less carbon footprint during transport.

And contrary to what some critics say, it’s not just cheap wines that get put into cans – reputable vintners have been canning their wines too. That includes Sommelier and Wine Director of NoMad New York, Thomas Pastuszak, who started Vinny using exclusive Finger Lakes grapes, and ex-Sommelier Gina Schober of Sans Wine, who makes premium organic canned wines.

Credit: Vinny Wines.

My Positive Experiences with Drinking Canned Wines

My first canned wine was the much-hyped BABE rose, which I had seen across social media, and was excited to buy a pack at Vinexpo in Hong Kong 2017. Since then, I have tried canned Prosecco, Rose and Pinot Noir. I was very curious to find a canned Pet Nat from Nova Scotia, which is normally made by bottling before end of fermentation to preserve wild yeast and create light sparkling. Fermenting in a can is quite a feat! I’m also keen to try urban warehouse winery Infinite Monkey Theorem, who sources grapes from western Colorado and High Plains of Texas, and they’re available at my local BevMo.

2018 Benjamin Bridge pet-nat in 250mL can, $8.99 ea., available in Atlantic province liquor stores.
Benjamin Bridge Pet Nat 2019. Credit: Toronto Star.

Sizes of Cans and Drinking Tips

Canned wines come in a range of sizes, usually: 250ml, equal to 1/3 of a standard wine bottle, or 1.6 standard glasses; 375ml, roughly 2.5 glasses; 500ml, about 3.33 glasses. Just remember to share and drink responsibly, and finally, canned winemakers have noted a difference when you pour it in a glass, even if it’s plastic. Try for yourself!

Hey, I Want to Taste the Moscato in the Blue Can!

Just in time for summer, New Jersey-based Royal Wine Corp. is releasing one of America’s most popular Italian-imported Moscatos, Bartenura, in a new format of 8.5 ounce cans – about 1.7 glasses per can – in packs of 4. Bartenura was one of the first premium Moscatos in the U.S, with continuing growth every year since it was introduced in 1980s.

Credit: Bartenura

Refreshing Summer Drink

With a refreshing with a hint of sweetness, slightly effervescent and relatively lower alcohol content of 5% ACV, Bartenura is a perfect summer drink. Royal Corp has been trying to find alternative packaging formats for Bartenura while ensuring the signature aroma, quality, flavour and bubble is maintained. Consumers can now bring Bartenura cans to the pool, picnics, barbecues! Bartenura cans will be rolling out nationwide, and consumers can expect to see them in stores with a standard retail price of $15/4pack.

A can of Bartenura Moscato.

About Royal Wine

The history of Royal Wine Corp. began in the early 19th century in the town of Vrbové in Slovakia. There, the Herzog family crafted wines of royal acclaim for over 150 years, with each of six generations passing their legacy down to the next.  In 1948, Eugene Herzog, the head of the Herzog family at the time, moved his family and settled on New York City, and in 1958, after working his way up the company purchased with his four sons Royal Wine Corp.

Today, Royal Wine’s portfolio of domestic and international wines range from traditional wine producing regions of France, Italy, and Spain, as well as Israel, New Zealand, and Argentina.  Additionally, Royal Wine Corp.’s spirit and liqueur portfolio offer some of the most sought-after scotches, bourbons, tequilas and vodkas as well as hard to find specialty items such as flavored brandies and liqueurs.  The company owns and operates the Kedem Winery in upstate New York, as well as Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard, California, a state-of-the-art-facility that also features the award-winning restaurant Tierra Sur, serving the finest, Mediterranean-inspired, contemporary Californian Cuisine. @RoyalWineCorp; royalwine.com.

Pink Prosecco is Coming in 2021!

Great news!  If you enjoy Prosecco, a new “pink version” called Prosecco DOC Rosé will make a sparkling debut in 2021. This past week the Prosecco DOC’s trade Consortium announced the hallmark decision by the Italian National Wine Committee to finally approve introduction of Prosecco DOC Rosé after years of discussion.

A Glass of Sparkling Pink Prosecco

Rules for Producing Prosecco DOC Rosé

While sparkling rosé wines are nothing new, Prosecco DOC wines, like Champagne, is a protected designation in which wines must follow strict regulations (such as percentage of grape varieties used and fermentation methods) to be labelled as such. The process of recognizing Prosecco DOC Rosé requires a decree which is now waiting to be published in the Official Gazette of the Italian Republic. 

Production Requirements

Producers must follow rules to legally label their wine “Prosecco DOC Rosé”. Like Prosecco DOC, the primary grape used is Glera, with 10-15% Pinot Nero to achieve the color, which must be “pink, more or less intense, shining, and with a persistent foam”. Following the Martinotti / Charmant method, second fermentation must have a minimum of 60 days. Residual sugar levels are very low, from driest level “Brut Nature” (0-3 g/L) to second driest “Extra Dry” (0-6 g/L). Labels must state “Millesimato”, meaning “vintage”, using at least 85% grapes from that year. Finally, sales are allowed from the 1st of January after the harvest.

The Consortium estimates about 30 million bottles of Prosecco DOC Rosé will be produced annually. Therefore, you have something to look forward to purchasing in your favorite grocery store or wine shop early next year.

Great For Sharing on a Hot Summer Day

Prosecco Production Keeps Up With Growth Projections Amid Covid-19 Concerns

According to the Prosecco DOC Consortium, data from end of March showed that Prosecco DOC production quantities continue to meet expected demand to meet growth projections at least until the next harvest, despite current supply chain impacts of Covid-19. Available quantities ending April 1 amounted to at least 2,217,000 hectoliters, with an extra 550,000 hl in reserves from the 2019 vintage if demand increases.

Vineyard in Prosecco Region

Ongoing Challenges

However, multiple challenges remain which the Consortium is closely monitoring. According to Stefano Zanette, President of Prosecco DOC Consortium, the 2020 harvest is expected to have lower than average fertility. Additionally, producers with a short supply chain and those who do not operate with mass retailers are said to need greater financial and operational support. Overall wine consumption may decline as a direct result of Covid-19.

Supportive Measures

The Consortium Prosecco DOC emphasized their priority in maintaining market stability and preventing speculative actions, help producers increase liquidity for investment, and focus on producing higher value wines on a regional basis. The Consortium is prepared to implement legal and financial measures to support if the need arises.

About The Prosecco DOC Consortium

Prosecco

Prosecco was granted the Controlled Designation of Origin status on July 17th, 2009, and the Prosecco DOC Consortium (Consorzio di Tutela della Denominazione di Origine Controllata Prosecco) was created on November 19th of the same year to coordinate and manage the Prosecco DOC. The organization unites the different groups of manufacturers—wineries, individual and associated vine-growers, still wine and sparkling wine producers—to ensure the designation continues to grow and that the production regulations are complied with.

About Prosecco DOC

Prosecco DOC wines come in Spumante (sparkling), Frizzante (semi-sparkling) and Tranquillo (still) varieties. The wines are made from mainly the Glera grape, native to North East Italy for thousands of years, and can be combined with a maximum of 15% of the following grapes: Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Nero. Prosecco Frizzante and Spumante varieties get their famous bubbles using the Secondary Fermentation production method, bottled under high pressure after fermentation in bulk tanks called autoclaves, as opposed to the traditional method, which bypasses the autoclaves and is used for other sparkling wine varieties. The end result is a brilliant straw yellow wine with fine, persistent perlage and aromas of white flowers, apple and pear. It is fresh and elegant on the palate with moderate alcoholic strength. For more information regarding Prosecco DOC, visit www.casaprosecco.com.–

Learn About Champagne from the Experts – Free!

What do you think of when you hear “Champagne”? While the name is sometimes used generically for sparkling wine especially in the United States, Champagne only comes from Champagne, France. The name is actually protected by French statutes since 1887, with over 120 national jurisdictions today restricting the use of the name to sparkling wines exclusively produced from grapes in the French region and using the traditional method (méthode champenoise, also is a protected designation).

MOOC_Tray

Sparkling Glasses of Champagne. Photo Credit: Comité Champagne

The Official Comité Champagne

Behind its exclusivity and luxurious connotations, Champagne – both the wine and region – is a living heritage with unique culture that is fascinating and one worth studying. Who better than the Champagne experts themselves to reveal the secrets of this exceptional wine? The Comité Champagne, the official trade organization representing the region’s 16,100 growers and 360 houses, is now offering a free Massive Open Online Course (“MOOC”). Guided by Master of Wine Jeremey Cukierman, this MOOC delivers a comprehensive coverage of the Champagne appellation and wines in a series of short but informative videos, which will turn you in less than five hours into a Champagne expert. The course is available anytime and from anywhere.

 Tricks of the Trade

From sommeliers, wine merchants, to everyday enthusiasts, anyone interested in Champagne will benefit from this course. In four modules, learners explore topics including the diversity and tasting of the Champagne wines, the winemaking process, and about the region’s unique terroir, history and economy. In addition, you have an option of upgrading to obtain a Statement of Completion from the Comité Champagne with the passing of a quiz, and extra access to further content for €49 (~$53 USD).

Check it out yourself here: https://www.champagne-mooc.com/

What Dessert Pairs Best with Sparkling Wine? Korbel & Bianchi’s Provide Some Answers

Erica Mandl of Korbel Champagne Cellars

Erica Mandl of Korbel Champagne Cellars

For the last tasting of the semester at the SSU WineSense Club, we focused on a holiday theme of sparkling wine and dessert.  The beautiful Erica Mandl, head winemaker at Korbel Champagne Cellars, led the tasting by introducing five different Korbel bubblies.  These were matched to delectable desserts from the new bakery in Rohnert Park, Bianchi’s.

How Sweet is Your Sparkling Wine?

Erica cautioned that it was important to understand the level of residual sugar in a sparkling wine, in order to determine the type of dessert with which to pair it.  The official listing of allowed sugar levels from the Comte Champagne website (http://www.champagne.fr/en/diversite_champagne.aspx) is as follows:

  • Brut Natural = less than 3 grams sugar per litre
  • Extra Brut (0-6 grams/litre)
  • Brut (less than 12 grams/litre)
  • Extra Dry (12 -17 grams/litre)
  • Sec (17-32 grams/litre)
  • Demi-Sec (32-50 grams/litre)
  • Sweet (more than 50 grams/litre)

The level of sweetness in a sparkling wine is determined by the dosage, which is added after the wine finishes second fermentation in the bottle.  All Korbel sparkling wines are fermented in the bottle, using the traditional method developed in the Champagne region of France.  Korbel is still allowed to use the term “California Champagne” on its bottles, because it is one of the oldest sparkling wine houses in America, dating from 1882, and has grandfathered regulations to use this term in the US.

Matching Sparkling Wine to Dessert

The less sugar in your sparkling wine, such Korbel’s Natural (.75%, $13.99), indicates it will pair better with a dessert that is slightly less sweet.  If the dessert is too sweet, it will make the wine seem more acidic.  Therefore, Bianchi’s almond cookie was a good match for this Korbel bubbly with its apple and lemon notes.  Fresh fruit and cheese also make a good pairing with a more dry Champagne.

For the Korbel Brut Rose (1.5% sugar, $10;99), which is sweeter than the Natural but still tastes dry with bright cherry and strawberry notes, Erica recommends dark chocolate.  Bianchi’s dark chocolate brownie was a perfect foil for this wine.

The other three Korbel bubblies we tasted that evening were progressively sweeter in style.  They are listed below with descriptions, sugar level, and suggested dessert pairings.

Sparkling Wine

Sugar & Price

Description

Dessert Pairing

Korbel Riesling California Champagne 3.8%(38gpl)$21.99 Semi-sweet with flavors of orange blossom, apricot, and pear. A hint of clover honey at the end. Bianchi’s lemon bars, or other creamy and tart desserts such as custard or flan.  Also consider warm gingerbread
Korbel Moscato Frizzante 4.8%(48gpl)$21.99 Moderately sweet wine with suggestions of tart green apples, kiwi fruit, and lemon citrus flavors. Light chocolate cake with rose petal sauce or caramel and ice-cream, champagne poached pears.
Korbel Sweet Rose 6.0%(60 gpl)

$14.99

Korbel’s sweetess champagne with very bright fruit flavors and aromas, but a cleansing acidity on the finish. Can be used as dessert on its own, or served with white or milk chocolate desserts.

For more information on these special sparkling wines, see Korbel Champagne Cellers at http://store.korbel.com/premium-champagnes-c4.aspx.  For more information on Bianchi’s Bakeshop, please see https://www.facebook.com/bianchisbakeshop