Have you tried this affordable bubbly red wine? The lowdown on Lambrusco.

Hello my wine-loving friends!

I know it must be a shock to see Wining with Mel re-appearing out of the blue like this after such a long absence. Five months, to be exact. Rest assured that despite the lack of posts, you have not left my thoughts. I have been battling a heavy dose of guilt for not writing. Did you think of me a little while I was gone?

It goes without saying that coming back to the “real world” after a year off – first traipsing around Europe, then sailing around the Caribbean – has been a bit of an adjustment. I have gone from a completely unstructured life on a boat to being back in an office 5 days a week. I have gone from wearing flips flops or going barefoot to donning high heels. Continue reading

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Resurfacing…with big news

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Friends!

I know, I know. It has been a while. My excuses are valid, I assure you, but I don’t want to bore you with them. Let’s just say that I have been struck with a case of shifting priorities, and unfortunately this blog was one of the things that got shuffled to the bottom of the list, along with many other things that are dear to me. But it was all for a good cause! Read on, and you will see: this is a post of big news…

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Wining etc. in Nova Scotia

A few weeks ago, we went on a loooooooooong road trip to the Maritimes (like 1600 km long…one way). We were going to a friend’s wedding in Nova Scotia, and I decided to take the whole week off since I had never really spent much time on the East Coast, save a choir trip in Grade 7 (yes, yes, I am a choir nerd) and a couple of trips to Halifax to visit friends in my university days. I was due for some quality mari-time on the East Coast (see what I did there?).  When organizing the trip, besides planning to eat a lot of lobster (success!), I obviously planned for a day of wine tasting.

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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!

 

Wining in DC – Part 2

This is part 2 of a 3-part series on Wining in DC. If you missed Part 1, you can read it here.

Happy Hour is a bit of a ritual in DC. It doesn’t really matter what day of the week it is, but if it is between 5 and 7 p.m., you can be sure that you will be able to find a bar or a restaurant with Happy Hour specials within a one-block radius. Happy Hour is a great way for a business to attract customers, and an excellent way for customers to try out an establishment’s menu and ambiance, and potentially stay for dinner.

We started out at a wine bar called Vinoteca. It made me realize that there are very few wine bars in Ottawa, and this made me sad, but it also made me want to really take advantage of the fact that it was Friday afternoon, it was warm out, and I had a list of decent wines in front of me, all of which were only $5 a glass!

Happy hour wine list at Vinoteca - all wines $5 a glass!

Happy hour wine list at Vinoteca – all wines $5 a glass!

Wine #1

I wanted something refreshing ,so I started out with the bubbly: the Paul Louis Blanc de Blancs.

Here’s a bit of background: Champagne is a blend of three different types of grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The first is a white grape, while the latter two are red. To ensure that no red colour infiltrates champagne, the grapes are pressed and the skins (which provide the colour in a wine) are immediately removed. In a Blanc de blancs, only the white grape of the blend is used. So traditionally, a Blanc des blancs is a sparkling chardonnay made in the champagne style.

The Blanc des blancs I drank in DC was a bit different in two ways.

  1. It is not made out of chardonnay at all, but out of Chenin Blanc grapes.
  2. Though made using the traditional Méthode Champenoise, it is not from Champagne, but from the Loire Valley. Fun fact: the Loire Valley, not Champagne, is the region in France with the highest production of sparkling wine.

Theory aside, it was delicious! Perfectly refreshing and light, it was exactly what I was craving after a long day of walking.

After our first glass, we ordered a cheese plate so I asked the bartender for a recommendation. Cheese and wine pairings can be tricky. It is sometimes difficult to find a good match for both the texture and consistency of the cheese, in addition to the flavour, especially when you’re going to be partaking in several different cheeses. Plus you never want the wine to overpower the cheese, or vice versa, which is easy to do. There are some pretty strong cheeses out there. Someone once told me that beer is actually a better pairing than wine for cheeses, and the bartender at Vinoteca originally recommended a cider to go with the cheese. But let’s be honest, I didn’t come to a wine bar to drink cider.

Wine #2

I decided to go with the lightest red they had: the Kaltern K Rosso, a red blend from the Alto Adige region of northern Italy. Italian wines, particularly those from the North, tend to be food friendly. Which makes sense, when you think that the Italians have been making wine for so many centuries (if not millenia). Of course they are masters in wine and food pairing! This particular wine was no exception. It went well with the cheeses, and was nice on its own as well once the cheese was gone (which happened very quickly, by the way).

K Rosso, with what was originally a delicious cheese taster plate at Vinoteca.

Wine #3

Happy Hour was over and I had a hankering for Italian food (perhaps the influence of Wine #2). We went to a restaurant nearby called Dino’s. Mere and I sat at the bar, both ordered a glass of Montepulciano and shared the charcuterie plate, as we chatted with other patrons and the bartenders.

Wine #4

This is where things start to get a bit hazy. The bartenders were friendly. We switched wines at this point, to an Italian wine I’d never even heard of before: the Piano del Cerro Aglianico del Vulture. It comes from the Italian Basilicata region, which can be thought of geographically as the “instep” of the Italian boot. The wines of southern Italy tend to be richer and fuller-bodied. The Aglianico grape has a thick skin and therefore has a lot of tannin. Throw in some fruity and woody aromas and you’ve got yourself a pretty tasty wine. I can attest that it was veeeeeeeeeery drinkable. I had the foresight to take a picture, but not enough to take any tasting notes.

Piano del Cerro - Aglianico del Vulture. It must have been bottomless wine Fridays. All I know is that my glass always seemed full. Great service!

Piano del Cerro – Aglianico del Vulture
It must have been bottomless wine Fridays. All I know is that my glass always seemed full. Great service!

Luckily, the wine is available at the SAQ, so I may grab a bottle next time I’m across the bridge and take notes this time!

Stay tuned for Part 3 of Wining in DC, where we have a delicious dinner at a geriatric hour and bottomless mimosas for breakfast.