Thursday, December 29, 2011

Are you ready for New Years Eve? Champagne and Sparkling Wine 101

I will be celebrating New Years Eve this year with a glass of "sparkling grape juice." HARDLY the same as a glass of "bubbly." If I WERE to be drinking a nice glass of champage or sparkling wine this year...I have a few thoughts on what I might be enjoying.  Below are a few to share. You may also be wondering the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine.....I will cover that too.

Here is the low down to help you sound uber knowledgeable and have everyone commending you on your fine bottle of bubbly at your New Years Eve celebrations. In trying to impress a larger crowd...know that champagnes and sparkling wines are classified by how dry they are. The most popular is "brut." Which also happens to be my favorite.

My favorites...I am sure these are not the best out there....just the best in my experience. I am including the label pictures to help.

Under $30- Mumm Napa Brut

Between $30-50- Champagne De Margerie Grand Cru

Over $50- Veuve Clicquot, by far my favorite champagne thus far!

If it wasn't cutting it so close to the would have had time to order a bottle from my favorite Napa Valley Sparkling wine vineyard....Domaine I am thinking of it…I may order myself a bottle to have in house for next year :-) If you visit Napa Valley, this is great place to stop on your way in to town.  We did the sparkling wine sampler, which was perfect.   My favorite is the 2007 Ultra Brut Sparkling Wine.

The difference between Champagne and Sparkling Wine
The difference is simple. Champagne is from the Champagne region of France. Any other bottle from the US, Italy, whatever…are all "sparkling wines." Enough said.

How to best serve
The best temperture to serve is 45 degrees. Easy enough. Place it in the fridge for about 3 hours before serving.

What causes the bubbles in your bubbly?
As part of the fermentation process the winemaker adds yeast and sugar….they combine to create carbon dioxide…which makes the bubbles and a lot of pressure when trapped in a small space!

Enjoy your New Years Eve celebrations! Happy 2012 to all!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Wine Tasting Party

This past summer we got together with friends for a night of wine tasting fun. We had all intentions of hosting one each month, but a) we started right before football season and weekends were very hard to plan this Fall when someones favorite team was not playing...and b) I got pregnant so I didn't pursue finding a date to get together. However, the concept was simple and so fun! I have all intentions of reinstating these such events as soon as I can drink and my life with a little one settles down in 2012.

How it works:
1) Find a home to host the event
2) Send out invites
3) Each attendee brings 1 bottle of wine(conceal its label when you arrive)
4) Place in paper bag and write a number on the front and the letter R for "red" or W for White
5) Place all reds in a row and all whites in a row
6) Give each attendee a scoring sheet
7) Each guest should sample each wine and rank them
8) At the end all votes are tallied and ranked! The guest who brought the winning red and winning white receive a prize! In our case, the host bought gift cards to local restaurants on the choice is yours!

We found it fun to also add in the element of was interesting to see if the wine was a cheap bottle or a pricey bottle of wine! Here are some photos of our fun....and might I Frogs Leap Sauvignon Blanc won the winning white :-)

Cork Creations

Ok silly, I know...but I get REALLY disappointed when I bring home a new bottle of wine, remove the foil wrapper and find that the not a cork, but synthetic plastic. Without a doubt, those will always find their way to my trash can. There are so many cool creations to decorate the wine lovers house with corks...the REAL corks.

My first wine creation gift was from Brian's uncle Bill....a trivet for hot pans that also sits as a piece of decor in my kitchen. It is very simple to make,wine corks, a wooden frame, some hot glue and champagne corks as the "feet."

Right now I am saving for something really cool....a big "B" initial to decorate the "wine room." Like this one from

A bath mat could also be this one from

Any other cool ideas for things I can make??!?!?!

The two key S's in wine....Storing and Serving

Whether you worked hard in Napa Valley to find the perfect wine for your collection, or you picked up a bottle at your local want to both serve it and store it properly.  You will learn very quickly, especially if you live in a warm climate, that your wine will go bad, very bad, fast.   Just open the bottle of a red wine that has been sitting in your 75 degree house for too long and you will smell the pungent aroma. BLECK.   I would highly recommend to invest in a wine fridge.

I was lucky enough to get mine for free. I saved up some bank rewards points, redeemed them for Amazon gift cards...and bam I was on my way to my first wine fridge.   Originally, I thought I would really like one of those dual, temperature controlled fridges, but a) I didn't have room for that in my minimal counter space and minimal cabinet and  b) you want to SERVE white wines at a lower temperature, but they can actually be stored at roughly the same temperature.   55 degrees is a perfect happy medium in the world of wine fridge temperatures.

My wine fridge....

 Now of course, someday, I would love to turn a closet into my own personal wine cellar. or maybe get a trap door in the floor like the below photo...but for now, my 18 bottle cooler will have to do.  A girl can dream..... has a TON of really cool ideas....

When you SERVE your wine....many think room temperature works for reds, but its actually way too warm. Below is a helpful chart for how to serve your wines. 

Vineyard Vacation

Our last vacation before pregnancy was to Northern California.    I was in heaven.  We spent time in Napa Valley and Sonoma sampling wines. If you have never been to wine country. Make a trip. Book it. Plan it. Now. It is by far one of my all time favorite vacations.   My husband, Brian, was looking forward to some time away from work and traveling to a new location...but the wine, was not at the top of his list, even with going to "wine country."   He is a beer guy and the thought of swirling, sniffing and "chewing" wine made him think he needed to have his pinkie raised and his nose in the air.  I must say, after our first vineyard, he was hooked.   When we returned home, he began telling our family and all of our friends that he now only will drink the finest wines from Napa and learned that he liked wine "aged in a medium toasted, American Oak barrel." Well alrighty then.  He also learned that the vineyards and tasting rooms are NOT stuffy and filled with stuffy people. To the contrary. We even found a vineyard with a large, wrap around porch, lawn games galore, and a dog running around named Abbey. I could talk or write for a week straight in detail about all of our favorites.  FOR are the highlights. I know, I know, it is pretty detailed for "highlights," but.....I was in love.

Where we stayed: Napa Valley Lodge-

Why we loved it?
It was a small, quaint hotel, located in Yountville....near great restaurants and close to all the fabulous vineyards. We also love a good game of bocce ball in the evening before dinner, and this hotel had a bocce ball pit.   Not to mention it was nice to have a cup of coffee by the fire in the morning before our day of wine tasting.

Vineyards we visited.....on our own
Traveling around Napa Valley is not easy. Our first day, we did drive ourselves. How did we do this? We split tastings almost everywhere we went....and broke up the tastings with trips to eat.  The second day, we had a tour with a driver....which is by far the best way to go, but economically speaking, you can only do this one day....stay tuned for day 2.

Day 1:
1) Robert Mondavi- A GREAT beginner place to start. I recommend the (signature tour and tasting.) It was 75 minutes and gave you a detailed overview of what the grapes go through. A perfect way to start your trip. They even give you little about that for a food and wine pairing!

2) Prager Winery and Port Wines- Not my favorite, but go here if you like Port wines.  We learned after one sip. We do not. Like. Port. Wines. Enough said.

3) Beringer- VERY commercialized, but a gorgeous house to see....we took pictures of the front. That was the extent of our trip to Beringer.

4) Peju Winery A smaller vineyard and winery...we did not do a tour...just a small on our own tour. They had some very tasty wines though! We bought two bottles here ...a 2008 Merlot and their 2008 Provence Wine. The Provence wine was served chilled and would be perfect for sitting by the pool on a warm summer day in Florida! I think I will pop this one open for my 30th birthday in June.

5) And I saved the best that day, for last....Del Dotto Caves. In our driving that day we passed Del Dotto and knew right where to go for our last tasting of the day. As soon as we walked in, it didn't seem like a place I wanted to go. It was the stuffy. Nose in the air. Pinkie raised kind of place that I didn't want to be at. We walked up to the table....nope, they didn't have our reservation. BUT. They quickly called the "other" vineyard of Del Dotto and bam there was our reservation. We had gone to the wrong location...The other, correct location was off the beaten path and we were very glad to make the trek out there. The best place to go, in my opinion, is the older,original caves in Napa on Atlas Peak Road. It is the historic, location built in 1885.  We tasted roughly 15 wines here.....if you didn't like just threw the rest of your glass on the wall of the cave. Come on now. Who wants to do that.

Day 2: Guided Tour Day
We heard from many people, tours are the way to go. It gives you a day where you don't have to split tastings and drive.   Did we still split tastings? Well, yes, because we quickly found how easily the fees add up...and if you split tastings, well then you have more money to buy a bottle and take it home. More about taking wine home later.   There are tons of tours out there, on buses, with 20-30 of your "closest" friends....but we found one for just about the same price....and a little bit more private.  We booked the group tour with Holme Grown Tours. It was supposed to be up to 6 people riding in a mercedes, but somehow we lucked out and all of the other couples cancelled....we had a nice private tour for the price of a group tour!

1) Cliff Family Wines- Yes, you have had Cliff bars or at least heard of them...the energy bars you eat for working out....well they also make wines...and they are pretty good!!! We sampled a few here to start our day. 

2) Ehler's Estate- a 100% Organic Vineyard. For two proclaimed lovers of red wine. Here we found that we do like SOME white wines.  The Sauvignon Blanc was very tasty....we brought home a bottle...another one to savor this summer, poolside....We also went exploring behind the tasting room before we left...and the front of the building which is brick..makes it a complete surprise to see this very eclectic back.....I loved it. Took a picture. Hung it in my living room. :-)

3) Silverado- Wines were just OK....but the view was pretty cool....We did not purchase any wine here....just did a quick tasting and took a picture of the view.

4) Frog's Leap- Our Favorite! This is that wrap around porch, lawn game, dog running around vineyard I originally eluded to. My favorite in all of Napa Valley. They do require a reservation for a tasting...but if you are riding around with Dorsey from Holme Grown...he calls and gets you in.  Loved it. We bought the 2008 Petite Sirah here. Like the others....its still waiting in my wine fridge to be savored...again. I am counting down the days till I can pop the cork.  I recommend if you are going to go here....plan to spend some time. Sit on the porch, do the tasting, then hang out with your favorite glass by the fireplace, on the porch, exploring the vineyard(complete with a chicken coop and fish pond...) HEAVEN.


5) Judd's Hill very small winery, but again, very tasty wine.  Apparently they do a lot of events here during peak times. Events that the food network attends....big BBQ and music festivals where people sit outside in the grass by the vineyard and sip wine! We did not make it out there in peak we had a private tasting on their back patio.  We found another Petite Sirah here....another varietal that we had not had much of pre-Napa Valley.

In case you didn't realize....I included the links to the sites for the wineries that I really, REALLY, liked.  <grins>

Getting a "food baby" ...the places to eat
Sometime after we got back from Napa...Brian also decided, not only that he was a wine-o....but now also a "foodie." We had some delicious dinners(and lunches) while in wine were a few of our favorites...I am not going to spend time "bashing" some of the other finer establishments of which he proclaims his food tasted like canned spam. For now, here were our top 3.

A word to the wise. Reservations. Reservations. Reservations.  For many restaurants you will need a reservation. We booked our dinners about 3 months in advance. Most are done through Open Table's website, or App. 

Brix- enjoyed dinner the first night in Napa was a quick 3 minute drive from our hotel in that!!!   You have the choice to dine here outside viewing the vineyard, in a couples love seat(wine barrel) or a large table, fireside...for the larger groups. We sat side by side in wine barrel booth, looking out over the vineyard.  Ahhhhhhh!

Gott's Roadside- This place was featured on the Food Networks, Diners, Drive In's and Dives, tv show.. and for good reason....the food is amazing. We enjoyed lunch here on our first day during or long day of wine tasting. I had a pulled pork sandwich and Brian had the fish tacos. Everything here is supposed to be really good, but no matter what.... you must get the garlic fries. Mmmm mmmm mmm. Fried and tossed in garlic butter and parsley. We sat out back at the picnic table on the lawn :-)

Mustard's Grill- This was probably the busiest restaurant we went to.  People were turned away at the door without a reservation, so please. MAKE ONE. Brian enjoyed the salmon...and me...well I had to opt for a salad....and it was a mighty good salad. This was our last night in Napa...and the food...well we had self proclaimed "food babies" in our belly....or in other words...we were SO DARN full we couldn't eat one more bite. They grow all of their own herbs, veggies, etc right cool is that? You can explore the garden on your own before dinner. Small, but pretty neat!

and FINALLY SHIPPING WINE.....getting those treasures home
We worked hard tasting all that wine and figuring out our favorites that we wanted to make sure we had lots of memories and bottles of wines to savor at home in FL.   You CAN go to wineries, enjoy wines, and have them ship home your favorite bottle. AND it will COST YOU. For example, if you buy a $40 bottle of wine at Del Dotto...the shipping is almost $20 a bottle. Well for could be well on your way to another bottle of wine!  We bought a large, Styrofoam enclosed box at Robert Mondavi(or first stop on day one)....the box was a mere $10 and held 12 bottles.  Check with your airline, but ours let us check it as luggage for $25 for the WHOLE BOX.  MUCH better than those hefty fees at the wineries!!!! Now. THEY ARE NOT responsible if it breaks, so wrap it well, label it well and make sure it gets to your home destination. We wrote our flight number, home address, "fragile," and breakable...on every side and every direction. AND added a little newspaper stuffing in between the Styrofoam encasing.

NOW..... Get out there. Book your flight, book your hotel, book your tours and dinner reservations....and let me know your favorites. At some point post baby....I will be back in Napa Valley!!!