Top wine gifts for the holidays and beyond

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Well, it’s that time of year again. The holidays are upon us, and as usual, I am behind on my Christmas shopping. Today, the cashier at the grocery store asked me if I was getting excited for Christmas, and I was surprised that my response was a scowly face. Let me explain: I do like Christmas. I love spending time with family, eating delicious food and splurging a little on fancy wines. I love the uplifting smell of a pine tree in our living room. I love walking through our neighbourhood at night and seeing all the pretty lights shimmer against a fresh dusting of snow. I love hearing Christmas songs everywhere I go, especially now that it’s December (any stores that played Christmas music in November got blacklisted). What I do NOT love is the consumerism associated with Christmas. Continue reading

Serendipitous Saturday Pairings: tilapia and chardonnay

As you know, I am in total denial that winter is here, so lately I have insisted on drinking summer-y wines, generally from the Southern Hemisphere. The sun sets at 4:30 these days, so you have to find ways to trick your body into not falling into a depression. Obviously, wine is the answer. Delicious food helps too. Put the two together and you can occasionally succeed in your anti-depressive measures.

This happened in a completely serendipitous way on Saturday night. Continue reading

Ode to bubbly (or How to pick the perfect sparkling wine)

New Year’s Eve is in less than a week and as usual, I’m still not quite sure what our plans are. However, you can bet there will be bubbly involved. I have been drinking champagne on December 31 ever since I spent New Year’s Eve in Paris in 2000. I guess I have my father to thank for that. Besides watching the Tour Eiffel light up at midnight, the champagne was the highlight of my night. I loved the feel of all those little bubbles – so much more delicate than the ones in pop. It felt like a party on my tongue!

While champagne and I have some history, I am very aware that unless you are actually in France, its price range is not always conducive to everyday drinking. But I feel that you really don’t need a special occasion to drink bubbly. So this post explores champagne alternatives, whether to drink on New Years or just to celebrate those minor victories, like making it through a work day without killing someone, or finally getting around to changing that lightbulb that was out for 4 months.

CHAMPAGNE

You can’t talk about sparkling wine without mentioning the world’s first: champagne. Don’t forget: only sparkling wine from the region of Champagne is allowed to actually carry that name on the label. Otherwise, it’s just sparkling wine.

champagne-department-map

Source: Wine Folly

So let’s set up the baseline for comparison here:

Grapes: Pinot noir, pinot meunier, chardonnay

Winemaking: First fermentation in vats, second fermentation in bottle – this is called the méthode champenoise, developed by monks in Champagne. It tends to make very light, delicate bubbles which stick around in the glass for longer.

Winemaking is a complicated process, and it’s not particularly one I want to bore you with right now. For those of you who are particularly interested in this part, let me direct you to: http://winefolly.com/review/champagne-bubbles-how-is-champagne-made/

Characteristic flavour components: Toast, citrus, almond. Champagne tends to have prominent yeast or toast flavours from sitting on its lees (dead yeast cells – I know it sounds gross, but trust me it makes for some delicious bubbly)  during the secondary fermentation in the bottle.

Source: WineFolly

Price range: $40 –$2000 (!!)

Examples: Dom Pérignon, Bollinger, Veuve-Cliquot

CAVA

This sparkler is Spain’s response to champagne. It uses the same champenoise method, but uses local grapes instead. So if you like the bubbles in champagne, cava is an excellent and less expensive option.  It comes from the Cava DOs (Denominación de Origen) in Spain, which are concentrated in the country’s northeast.

Grapes: Variety of local grapes such as viura, xarel.lo, and parellada

Winemaking: Champenoise, though outside of Champagne it is called the “traditional method”

Characteristic flavour components: Same as champagne

Price range: $12-$50

Examples: Segura Viudas*, Freixenet, Cordoniu

*Mel’s go-to

Hint: This is what I buy when I want to serve champagne, but can’t justify spending $50.

PROSECCO

The affordable Italian bubbly! This sparkler from the Veneto region in northeastern Italy is often slightly fruitier than champagne or cava, but also more affordable.

Grapes: Prosecco

Winemaking: Charmat method (aka cuve close): primary fermentation in a large vat, secondary fermentation in a pressurized tank. This method produces more wine, faster, therefore the wines it yields tend to be less expensive.

Characteristic flavour components: Green apple, pear, white flower

prosecco-taste-notes

Source: Wine Folly

Price range: $8-$50

 

Examples: Bottega*, Zonin, Fiol

Hint:  Easy drinking for any occasion. Pairs really nicely with prosciutto-wrapped melon.

OTHER ALTERNATIVES

  • Franciacorta – the Italian sparkling wine made in the northern province of Lombardy using the champenoise method. Not easy to find in Ontario (only two types are currently available at the LCBO). Prices range from $30-$80.
  • Crémant – this term describes a sparkling wine made using the champenoise method in France but outside the Champagne region. You can get Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Loire, Crémant de Bourgogne, etc. Each region has its own rules regarding what percentage of various grape varieties is allowed. These are found in the $18-$25 range, usually in the Vintages section.
  • Sparkling wine – it seems like many established winemakers all over the world are now turning their wines into sparkling. I’ll mention Château des Charmes (Niagara), Woodbridge (California) and Yellow Tail (Australia). These usually use the charmat method and are therefore on the fruitier side. I keep trying these ones but haven’t really found any worth raving about.
  • If you like sweeter wines, go for a Moscato d’Asti or Spumante Bambino (but I will judge you).

Speaking of sweetness, in the world of champagnes, “sec” doesn’t actually mean dry like it does for regular wines. If you’re looking for a dry style, look for the world “brut” on your bottle of sparkling.  “Sec” or “demi-sec” will be sweeter, and “doux” will be very sweet.

What will you be drinking on New Year’s Eve? Have you tried any interesting bubblies lately?

Signing off here with a glass of Blanquette de Limoux (a bubbly from southwestern France, with such green apple character it is reminiscent of cider), this time to celebrate finally writing that bubbly blog post!

Happy wining, and happy holidays!

 

Thanksgiving Wining

Happy belated Thanksgiving friends!

Yes, I know that was a week ago, and the drastic change in weather has been quite a jolt to the system and makes it feel like it was a lifetime ago. A week ago, it was sunny and warm, with no jackets required. Today it was so cold I needed to pull out a toque (for those outside of Canada, that is a winter hat, as seen here) and boots. Not. A. Fan.

Let’s go back to last week then, shall we?

Not only was the weather beautiful, but it was the national holiday where taking the day off work is mandatory to stuff yourself full of turkey, stuffing, yams and, of course, wine.

This year, we hosted my in-laws for Thanksgiving for the first time. I have to admit, I didn’t relish the idea. I don’t have much experience cooking for large groups of people. Growing up, it was just me and my mom (and I don’t think I did much cooking at the time) and now it’s just me and the husband. Usually I’m just cooking for two, and sometimes I will double a recipe just to have enough leftovers for lunch (there’s only so many times you can eat a sandwich in a week before it gets tiresome). But for Thanksgiving, I would be cooking for EIGHT. I was intimidated, to be sure.

If there was one thing I was confident about, it was the wine. I stocked up the day before with a bunch of wines I thought would go well with the meal.

  1. Konzelmann Pinot Blanc

Konzelmann

This is one of my go-to white wines. Plus it’s made right here in Ontario. At $12 a bottle, you really can’t go wrong. Plus it’s one of those varietals that is a bit more obscure (especially in Ontario), and therefore more intriguing. This pinot blanc is medium bodied and nicely acidic, with lots of fruit on the nose and the palate like pear, peach and lemon. It’s easy to drink on its own, and went quite nicely with Thanksgiving dinner. Side note for you Air Miles collectors: you can get 5 bonus Air Miles until November 7 when you buy this wine at the LCBO.

2. Bottega Prosecco

Bottega

This is one of my favourite bubblies, maybe because I am cheap and hello – it’s only $13.95! Also, it’s super easy to drink. I love drinking this before a meal, maybe with some canapés. One of our favourite food pairings with this is melon and prosciutto – a typically Italian appetizer. We opened this bottle right before we sat down to dinner, to get the digestive juices going.  I ended up just drinking it right through the meal (bubbly doesn’t keep, might as well finish the bottle!) and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it went well with almost everything. I had a quasi-orgasmic food pairing moment when drinking this after a bite of red onion from my greek salad (I know, an unorthodox Thanksgiving item, but I was sticking with dishes I knew I couldn’t mess up). Keep this in mind people: red onion + prosecco = love. Who knew!?

3. Goatfather

Goatfather

I hadn’t tried this red blend from South Africa before, but I found it in the Vintages section and had heard good things, so I added it to my cart. We opened it with dinner the night before and quite enjoyed it, and finished it with Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone loved it! And I love the description from the LCBO website: “A longstanding Vintages customer favourite, this dramatically unconventional wine blends Sangiovese from Darling, Barbera and Nebbiolo from Paarl, and Cabernet Sauvignon from Stellenbosch. As a casual quaffer with summer foods, it can’t be bleat – ahem, beat.”

In the end, the Thanksgiving meal went off without a hitch, and no one got sick, so in my mind, it was a success. I even had extra bottles of wine leftover, which sadly didn’t make it to the Thanksgiving table:

  • Megalomaniac Homegrown Riesling (riesling is the typical Thanksgiving white varietal recommendation)
  • Kim Crawford Pinot Noir (pinot is just one of those reds that goes with anything)
  • Palacios Remondo La Vendimia (a Spanish rioja made of garnacha and tempranillo grapes – it is one of my aunt’s favourites and used to only be available at the SAQ, so I just had to grab a bottle when I saw it in the Vintages section at the LCBO).

I should take a moment to give a special shout-out to my mother-in-law, who made my life much easier by making a delicious brined turkey at her place and bringing it for dinner, so all I had to do was re-heat it. Thanksgiving is a breeze when you don’t have to worry about making a turkey!! Though I was sort of looking forward to trying out this recipe:

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What wines did you serve with your Thanksgiving meal? Did you have the traditional turkey or did you do something different?

Hope it was a great meal with great wine! Happy wining!