Archive | October, 2011

A Judgment of Paris: How the Sparkling Wines of Schramsberg Stacked Up Against Champagne

26 Oct

Considering sparkling wine is like considering heaven and hell.  On the one hand, you have sparklers that barely qualify as wine–Andre and Cook’s come to mind–while on the other hand you have Champagnes that will take you to the sky (related to price).  I haven’t had too much sparkling wine in my life, which is a shame because they are fun, well-made, and, as many are coming to realize, are absolutely terrific with food.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be invited to a trade tasting of the sparkling wines of Schramsberg Vineyards, a venerable California sparkling wine institution located in Napa Valley, at Marcel’s in DC.  I had had their wines once or twice before, but was never in a condition to remember too much about them.  With this tasting I was in luck, however, because not only would I try a number of Schramsberg’s wines but would also participate in a blind tasting of Schramsberg wines and the finest French têtes de cuvée (prestige cuvée) wines.

Yikes!  A blind tasting at a trade event?  I felt outclassed, but I decided I would drink more than I spoke. I rolled up (on foot) to the tasting in my black suit (featured in my previous post) and heavy black backpack (at least it matched my suit!) and was greeted with a glass of Schramsberg’s Brut Rosé, which had pretty strawberry and peach aromas that were mirrored on the palate.

We were then led to long tables, where I sat next to David (the proprietor of the excellent Pearson’s Wine & Spirits in Glover Park) and the wine director of the Ritz-Carlton.  The phalanx of glasses reproduced above awaited us, as well as scoring sheets:

Hugh Davies, son of the founders of Schramsberg Vineyards, gave excellent commentary and production notes throughout the whole tasting.

For the first flight, which was the blind tasting of the Schramsberg sparkling wines and the Champagnes, the idea was that we were supposed to rank the wines from first to seventh and determine if we could which were blanc de blancs and which contained Pinot Noir, and which were the Californian wines. These are my transcribed notes from A to G:

  • A | aromas reminiscent of white Burgundy–hazelnut and lanolin.  A long finish but a noticeable burn.  | MY RANK: 6
  • B | thin bodied and high acid, with notes of green apple.  | MY RANK: 7
  • C | wow!   Clover honey and bread, tart but rich.  Really freaking good.  I thought this could be the oldest wine in the lineup, and could contain Pinot.  | MY RANK: 2
  • D | some aroma I couldn’t place… more of the Burgundy, maybe… really evocative and old-smelling.  Well-balanced, with tangerine notes.  | MY RANK: 1
  • E | gentle floral aroma, with lemon curd.  | MY RANK: 5
  • F | a rich color which made me wonder if this was an older vintage.  Burgundian aromas, with a round, full taste evocative of papaya and tropical fruits.  I thought this might contain Pinot.  | MY RANK: 3
  • G | pineapple on the nose, less fruit-driven and more hazelnut on the palate.  | MY RANK: 4
So how did I do on the blind tasting?


Virginia is for Wine Lovers: DC Wine Week’s “Virginia Wine Versus the World”

20 Oct

I often felt dislocated when I lived in LA after college.  I had grown up there and my family is there, but I felt that I was lacking a community.  I had left Berkeley after just having started to meet people who were interested in writing poetry.  My efforts to revive some semblance of the poetry community often resulted in less-than-satisfactory results.  In a similar manner, when I decided to start writing Vinicultured, I found that the LA wine blog community was fragmented.  This is not to say that it doesn’t exist: it probably does.  However, finding and relating to other writers/wine aficionados was a difficult proposition for a young fledgling wine blogger.

It was only when I got to DC that I started to find some semblance of a wine community.  Some of my law school friends and I started the DC Wine Appreciation Society, which was basically an excuse for us to get together and drink good wine to the point of excess.  I made contacts at local wine stores (like Patrick Deaner at the now-defunct Wine Specialist, Jeremy Silva at Potenza, and Phil Bernstein over at the excellent MacArthur Beverages).  Working at Ansonia Wines was and continues to be an excellent and insightful experience.  And starting the DC Wine Buyers Collective was a great way for me to start to get a feel for what members of the 25-35-year-old demographic wanted to drink.

With my decision to stay in DC after graduating from law school, I have had more incentive to get out there and network.  Fortunately, many networking opportunities have come up, especially this past week.  I was invited to a comparative tasting of Schramsberg Vineyards‘s excellent sparkling wines, which I attended yesterday afternoon, and will be first volunteering at and then covering the DC Wine Riot tomorrow and Saturday.  I was also invited to DC Wine Week‘s “Washington Wine Academy Tasting Class” (a.k.a. “Virginia Wine Versus the World”), which featured Virginia wineries.

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Embracing the Funk: 2006 Francisco Alfonso Pedralonga DoUmia

19 Oct

While I’m not as dogmatic as Miles from Sideways, I do tend to stick to what I know when it comes to wine.  When I go to a restaurant and have to order among white wines I don’t know, I stick to Sauvignon Blanc or dry Riesling.  When I go to parties with tables covered by anonymous bottles, I choose Côtes du Rhône.  At home, I really like to drink my Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, and White Burgundy (when I have the money!).  With wines costing what they do, it can be difficult to commit to a bottle of wine I know nothing about (which is why doing reconnaisance is so important whenever it is possible).

I should be willing to take chances more often.

I had a bottle of the 2006 Francisco Alfonso Pedralonga DoUmia ($24) squirreled away from the January 25th deal of the DC Wine Buyers Collective.  It had survived a lot longer than the other wines I acquired from that deal.  I don’t know why… maybe it’s because I simply didn’t know what to expect from this wine.  What if I opened it and it was undrinkable with the pot roast with which I was trying to pair it?

This wine is from the Rias Baixas region of Spain.  This is a coastal region that is famous for its seafood and for a wine that pairs exceptionally well with seafood: Albariño.  Such is the supremacy of Albariño that most people, myself included, don’t know that this region also produces red wine (apparently red wine only makes up 1% of the total wine production in Rias Baixas).  This particular wine is composed of 70% Mencía, 20% Caiño, and 10% Espadeiro.  I’ve never even heard of the Caiño or Espadeiro varietals!

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A Study of Opposites: 2007 Antoine Arena “Carco” Patrimonio and the 2006 Gourt de Mautens Rasteau

11 Oct

I have been drinking wine for a very long time now.  For the last seven of those years, I have approached wine not merely as something to drink, but something to think about, something that could elicit sheer joy or wonderment, calm or even fear.*  I come across as pedantic or stuffy sometimes, I guess, but for me it’s far more satisfying to really delve into what each and every wine has to offer.**

A few weeks ago I was invited to a dinner with Jillian and David at Chez Kate et Rahul.  As I mentioned in my previous post, it’s been hard for me to quench my thirst for interesting wines lately.  So, in addition to being pleased to be able to see my good friends Kate ‘n’ Rahul and Jillian ‘n’ David, I was pleased to have an excuse to bring a bottle of Chenin Blanc recommended to me by Phil over at MacArthur Beverages (at left):


The Saumur appellation is located in the Loire Valley of France.  The Loire Valley–especially the region of Vouvray and to a lesser extent Montlouis-sur-Loire–is known for its Chenin Blanc.  I think Chenin Blanc is one of the underrated great grapes of the world.***  The best examples of Chenin Blanc have great acidity and taste of honey, almonds, and flowers.  Like Riesling and Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc can be aged to great effect.  I’ve had Chenin Blanc from 1983 and 1989, and when aged these wines take on low, nutty, waxy notes that are just incredible.  Best of all, just like old Rioja blanco, aged Chenin Blanc can be relatively affordable.

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Rainy Day Recipes: French Fry Tortilla

4 Oct

It has been a very long time since I’ve last posted.  My apologies!  Much has happened since I posted my last entry at the end of March.  I just celebrated eight months with a special person, I graduated from law school, and I took the California bar exam.  I am also back in DC, despite my previous plans of going back home to Los Angeles.

It’s a tough market for would-be lawyers.  I am working part-time at the Office of Student Affairs at the law school, and supplementing that income with wages from moving boxes and delivering wine for Ansonia Wines on Saturdays.  Needless to say, with law school loans coming due and the expenses of living on my own mounting, I have very little money leftover for purchasing wine.  (I have been drinking pretty well, regardless… a lot more beer and liquors.)  Mary Kate and I have been enjoying a box of Maipe Malbec recently.  In fact, we’re on our second box.  We saw the boxes at Total Wine, and as I’m a fan of Maipe we decided to pick some up for everyday consumption.  Though not the most refined wine, it is delicious, easy to drink, and a wonderful value at around $25-$30 for three liters (FOUR BOTTLES!) of wine that stays fresh for weeks.

I am also fortunate to be eating well despite my budgetary constraints.  Mary Kate and I cook at home often, and we also eat take-out from delicious, high quality-to-price ratio restaurants like El Pollo Rico, El Charrito Caminante, Fast Gourmet, Iota, and Shake Shack.  We usually find ourselves with leftovers, which are generally eaten as-is.

However, some leftovers need a bit more… finessing.  For instance, it’s one thing to gnaw on a cold rack of pork ribs (Rhodeside Grill) or slurp down reheated Szechuan lo mein (Great Wall Szechuan House).  What do you do with cold french fries?

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