Try This Wine: Colorado Sparkling Wine

“Colorado lacked good sparkling wine, that’s why we built this place,” Sauvage Spectrum Wines winemaker and partner, Patric Matysiewski, told me from behind the bar at their tasting room and winery in Palisade, Colorado. Having just tasted six sparkling wines, I can confirm the results from this very young effort are highly encouraging and we should all be excited for Colorado sparkling wine.

With Patric on the winemaking side, his partner Kaibab Sauvage handles the grape growing. Kaibab has been growing grapes in and around Palisade for over two decades, which means he knows how to keep up his end of the effort to produce the vision they share. Kaibab’s extensive experience really stacks the deck in Sauvage’s favor.

Patric helped me understand that “the latest Colorado wine iteration [which Sauvage is attempting to evolve] was led by people from the oil and gas world, and they wanted to push the varieties and style they were used to drinking,” namely Bordeaux varieties they were used to from the California wines they wanted to emulate in Colorado.

Rather than focus on what the generic consumer knows best because they know it the most, “[Sauvage] grow[s] 27 or 28 varieties on 70 acres of estate vineyards,” a mixture of vitis vinifera and hybrid varieties that is helping Patric and Kaibab develop new and terroir-specific knowledge. About 70-80% of the line-up is steadily produced every vintage, with the remainder filled by one-offs and experiments. The result is a wide range of wine types, varieties, and styles, all of quality and promise but to varying extents of refinement.

Sauvage’s particularly smart tasting set-up: cupcake tins

In addition to going outside the mainstream varieties, as previously mentioned Sauvage is doubling down on sparkling wine because to the extent sparkling wine has been produced in Colorado, “they did Méthode Champenois, which means they had to charge $60 for a bottle [and that’s ridiculous for this market].”

Sauvage’s focus is on simpler and less expensive ways to deliver high quality sparklers to the customer. They produce a range of péttilant naturel, or “pet-nat” for short, wines, which are bottled prior to full fermentation and therefore produce natural carbonation while in the bottle. The result is often less, and certainly less defined, carbonation that traditional Champagne or wines made in that method, but because they require significantly less human involvement and wine facilities to produce, they can to be sold at a fraction of the price and do not require the aging that benefits Champagne and Champagne-style wines.

Pet-nats are a fan favorite of the geeky wine world, but are reaching broader audiences as they feature in more local wine stores and on wine lists at prestigious and popular restaurants. My favorite of the lineup at Sauvage was the Pet-Nat White, a blend of 85% albarińo and 15% aromella. A hazy and yeasty unique wine, the nose wafted Meyer lemon, vanilla, honeysuckle, and cantaloupe. It has a mousse that is both thick and light that combines with bright and brisk acidity and a little residual sugar to build a substantive structure. The flavor profile includes sweet butter cream, pineapple, Opal apple, and orange rind. In making this wine, Patric keeps it on the skins for 10 days and actually foot treads the grapes. I gave it 90 points and, at $25, a value rating of A-.

My favorite wine from the lineup was the Sparklet Rose, a wine that Patric admitted he force carbonates. It’s the same theory as the pet-nats: produce a really tasty wine that’s accessible to a lot of people, especially those with discerning palates and an open mind. The nose offers strawberry, lime, nectarine, cherry, and green pepper corns. Medium in weight, the carbonation is robust, mingling with significant acid and modest skin tannin to produce a refreshing structure sure to stand up to summer meals. On the flavor side, it has watermelon, cherry skins, and raspberry. I give this one 91 points with a value rating of A.

My favorite still wine was the 2020 Roussane, which is barrel fermented and aged. The nose features guava, cactus fruit, curd, and apricot. Medium in stature, the acid and oak influence produce a thick and smooth texture with a nice grippy sensation. The lightly buttered flavor profile includes quince, persimmon, guava, and peach cobbler. It deserves (in my estimation) 91 points and an A value rating.

The red wines showed for me the greatest room for improvement. Malbec seems to be the most promising red variety, a notion that Patric confirmed in our post-tasting conversation. Like the rest of the Sauvage line up, I hope to be able to follow them over the coming years.

Despite the growing tally of terrible things happening in the world every day, there’s a lot of good wine being made, perhaps more than at any point in history. This is a thing to celebrate. Wine is not only an expression of what the Earth can do, but what we as humans can do as well, especially when we pay attention to the Earth and work well with others. Wine brings people together, is capable of engendering pure joy, and elevates everything around it, from the food it accompanies to the conversations we have while enjoying it and connections we make when talking with others who love it as we do. Try Colorado sparkling wine, and Sauvage Spectrum in particular, because we could all use another positive surprise in our glass that only good wine from off the beaten path can deliver.

Try this Wine: Value Holiday Sparkler

Vines with a view at Domaine Bousquet

This is the time of year we talk about wines for entertaining large groups of family, friends, and co-workers. Crowd-friendly, fun, and bright wines usually dominate that category, and sparkling is usually near or at the top of many of the recommended lists for such purposes. In 2020, the group celebrations are likely to be smaller, with a higher percentage of virtual settings. Nevertheless, we still gather and enjoy wine, and we still look for crowd-friendly, fun, and bright wines for these occasions. In that spirit, we present the Non-Vintage Domaine Bousquet Brut Rosé from Argentina.

Domaine Bousquet was on the forefront of the modern Argentinian wine movement. It was founded by Frenchman Jean Bousquet who, while on vacation in Argentina in 1990, determined that the high altitude Gualtallary Valley in Mendoza would be an exceptional location for growing organic wine grapes. Now run by Bousquet’s daughter, Anne, and her husband (Labid Al Ameri), it is the largest exporter of Argentinian wine at 5.6 million cases annually. With that kind of volume, the NV Brut Rosé is able to achieve a stunning price point, somewhere between $10 and $15 depending on where you look, for the quality.

It is a Charmat-method sparker, which means that the carbonation is formed when still wine is put into stainless steel tank with additional sugar and yeast to start secondary fermentation. The production of carbon dioxide caused by secondary fermentation is then trapped in the form of carbonation in the wine while in tank. The wine is then sent straight to bottle. Because it is bottled without aging, it comes out quite fresh tasting, making it refreshing and something zingy and bright that is capable of catching peoples’ attention even as they socialize, though not enough to distract them from what’s happening in the room.

The result is a wine whose price may suggest it’s not meant to be taken seriously, but whose quality argues otherwise, representing a rare addition to a small group of similarly serious bargain sparkling rosés that include Gruet and La Marca. It’s no wonder that the Bousquet landed on Wine Enthusiast’s Top 100 Best Buys of 2020.

The wine is a blend of 75% pinot noir and 25% chardonnay, both organically grown, from estate vineyards that sit at 4,000 feet of elevation in the Uco Valley near the border with Chile. It drinks nicely on its own, and will go well with light charcuterie, vegetables and dip, fried finger food, and the like. Try this wine if you’re looking for an exceptional value at a low price point that can appease a wide range of people and vie for just the right amount of their attention among a boisterous social gathering, in-person or otherwise.

Tasting Note

A spritzy nose offers aromas of strawberry, Key Lime pie, and cranberry. The medium body features a medium mousse with fine bubbles and brisk but integrated acid that builds texture on the finish. The flavor profile is quite similar to the nose, featuring strawberry, lime, and cranberry with the addition of white pepper and sharp peach. This is quite enjoyable, albeit straightforward. Very drinkable. 89 points. Value: A+.

Where to Buy

Bousquet’s website offers a search feature for its products. Check it out here.

Try this Wine: Contrasting Food & Wine Pairings

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Pairing wine and food can be daunting, even for the well-trained. The most famous guidance, to match red wine with meat and white wine with seafood, actually turns out to be relatively true in theory but also misguided in reality. It’s too unscientific to be universal, and misses the critical factor that how something is seasoned and cooked is as, if not more, important than what it is before it’s cooked.

One of my favorite pairings is steak au poivre with a really well-aged dry or semi-dry riesling, which is a perfect example of why that famous guidance is misleading. In general, wine should be more acidic than the food. This is especially true when the food is fatty, like this steak example, because the acid helps our taste buds and digestion process the fat, allowing more flavors to be detectable while making the meal go down a bit easier. Also, white wine tends to provide more contrast to the food, any food, than does red wine, so if you want the wine to stand up to, and stand out from, the heavy steak, a white is better suited to do that.

This last point on contrasting versus complementary wine and food pairings is really the main point of this post. When people think about pairing food and wine, they often default to finding the complementary pairing. Not only is it easier, but it’s more natural – we tend to look for compatibility in nearly every aspect of life – and can be very satisfying if achieved.

However, what I want to suggest in this post is that successful contrasting wine and food pairings can be both more fun and more satisfying. Here is another example: there’s nothing better than a fried fish sandwich with a good bottle of trousseau to wash it down.

I'm glad we're the kind of people who aren't above pairing wine with nachos.

Source: someecards.com

Pre-planned pairings aside, sometimes you get lucky and stumble on a good pairing. One of my wife’s favorite games to play is getting through dinner and a glass of wine, and then asking if she can have (insert random snack) with another glass. It can drive me crazy, especially when it’s a special bottle of wine and she asks about a poorly fitting snack.

Earlier this week, I opened a bottle of 2015 Wind Gap Gap’s Crown chardonnay, a nice bottle from a now non-operational winery using grapes from a phenomenal vineyard. I had made a big salad topped with sautéed radishes, roasted acorn squash, tomatoes, apples and shrimp. The wine was a bit too acidic and lean for the salad, so the plan became to enjoy the wine after the meal was over.

When we finished the salad, Kayce began her game. She asked if the wine would go with Goldfish crackers. My instincts kicked in and I nearly defaulted to “no,” but I hesitated as I thought about it. “You know what, that might actually work.” She grabbed the Goldfish, and oh man, it was awesome. We had stumbled on to brilliance.

Let me show you what I mean by comparing the tasting notes of the wine pre and post Goldfish. Here’s a note on the aromas, which don’t change with the food, just to get it out of the way: a high-toned and slightly austere bouquet combining sharp lemon and lime zests, slate and crushed gravel, spring flower petals and honeysuckle.

Pre-Goldfish palate: barely medium-bodied with very crisp, slightly juicy acid that is quite long and precisely linear. Flavors include Meyer lemon, tangerine juice, slate minerality, Kaffir lime leaf and starfruit.

Now, here is the post-Goldfish palate: medium-plus in body with rounder, softer and buoyant acid that cuts through the cheese flavor nicely. The palate broadens, adding just a bit of sweetness and more acidic grip to the texture. It’s a more pleasant version of itself with the Goldfish pairing, and more enjoyable to drink.

I had so much fun with the pairing that I posted the above picture of the bottle with the Goldfish on Instagram and had a back-and-forth with friend and fellow wine blogger Isaac Baker of Terroirist.com. Isaac has done this kind of pairing before, and added that Goldfish go particularly well with Champagne. I’m curious to try that combination, and experiment with other cheesy crackers and bright white wines.

These unexpected wine-food combos that work because they contrast each other, rather than complement each other, are really satisfying because they are surprising and don’t hew to normal comfort zones. Try some contrasting wine-food pairings because no one should live their culinary lives according to what they already know. To provide some motivation, here are a few good places to start:

  • A sharp chardonnay with a cheesy cracker – look for wines that are lightly oaked or made in stainless or concrete. Quality producers in go-to regions make this easy. You can find these wines really anywhere in the world, but for short cuts check out Chablis, Oregon and the following spots in California: Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Sonoma.
  • Fried fish sandwich with trousseau – there isn’t a lot of trousseau out there, but from my experience those who make it do it in the traditional fashion (i.e. light to medium bodied with good acid and fine tannin), which is what you want for this. We had a 2017 Arnot-Roberts trousseau from the North Coast of California with our fried fish sandwiches last weekend, and the duo brought the house down with my in-laws. Traditionally most trousseau comes from the Jura region in France, but there are good producers of it elsewhere. For the record, we make our fried fish sandwiches with lightly breaded and pan-fried white fish (catfish, porgy and cod all work well), processed cheese, Portuguese rolls and a sauce made in equal parts of ketchup, whole grain mustard and mayonnaise. Don’t dare use real cheese, I promise you it isn’t nearly as good.
  • Fried chicken and Champagne (or other acidic sparkling wine) – this is one of those under-the-radar classic food pairings. The acid and bubbles cut through the fattiness and crispiness of the chicken beautifully and can help you put down that last drumstick you wouldn’t otherwise consider a smart move. The beauty of this pairing is you can be flexible with the chicken and the wine. For the chicken, even the KFCs and Bojangles deliver in very real ways. For the wine, you need good acid and bubbles. You can’t go wrong with Champagne, but Cremants from Burgundy, Loire and Jura work beautifully as well, as do some of the better sparkling wines made elsewhere.
  • Steak au Poivre and an aged dry or semi-dry riesling – this isn’t easy to pull off, but if done right the fattiness and pepper of the steak goes just perfectly with the acid and nuttiness of an aged riesling. For this, quality matters because cheap beef tastes bad and cheap riesling can’t reach the point of maturation needed. The cut of beef matters less than the quality and preparation, but for my money I go with hanger steak. On the wine side, go for trusted producers with at least ten years of age (15 or more is preferable) that have been properly stored the entire time. Don’t go sweeter than German’s Kabinett classification (maximum 188 grams of sugar per liter).
  • Potato chips and Champagne (optional: and caviar) – late night snack craving meets fine wine meets decadence. In an ideal world, I’d start every dinner party with a plate of potato chips topped with caviar and glasses of Champagne.
  • Dry sparkling wine with mac and cheese – this works best if the cheese is a soft and creamy variety.
  • Full bodied chardonnay and bacon – I’ve not tried this yet, but a friend of mine swears by it. I’m told it’s critical that the chardonnay be rich enough to stand up to the saltiness and smokiness of the bacon, which makes good sense. Just make sure not to lose chardonnay’s acid as it is key to handling the bacon’s fat.

On Cork Report: Top Wineries in Monticello AVA, Virginia

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Stinson Vineyards estate vineyard

Note: This article was originally published on The Cork Report.

There is a debate among Virginia winemakers and wine lovers about where the best wine in Virginia comes from, but those are some rough seas for a wine writer to navigate (many have told me that there is no debate, yet they don’t all say the same thing).

Certainly among the most cited is the Monticello American Viticultural Area (AVA), Virginia’s first established AVA. Referencing Thomas Jefferson’s historic home, its name pays homage to that most famous and early proponent of Virginia grown and made wine. The AVA covers some really beautiful country. Dotted with several small to medium-sized urban areas, themselves quite lovely, most of the land is taken with large, upscale horse ranches, farms, and estates. This atmosphere certainly boosts the AVA’s pedigree.

Although I’ve lived in Arlington, Virginia for most of the last twelve years, I haven’t spent much time at Monticello’s wineries. Earlier this summer, I set out to begin rectifying that and chose five to visit. During the long weekend trip, I also held a winemaker roundtable to discuss how Virginia tannin is built, which will I’ll report on in a future The Cork Report post.

For now, I’d like to talk about each of these wineries, some of the wines of each that stood out, and why each is worth getting to know as they all speak, in their own way, to what it means to make and drink Virginia wine.

Continue reading here.