Sunday, December 31, 2006

Last Minute Bubblies Under $20 and Opening That Bottle

I got up early Saturday to make a last-minute appearance on KNSD 7/39's morning show to talk about under-$20 sparkling wines that make great alternatives to champagne.

Here are the four wines I shared:
Blason de Bourgogne Cremant de Bourgogne Cuvee Brut- Sparkling wine from Burgundy France, it’s light and clean with a balance of crisp citrus notes and golden apples. I couldn't find any background on the Brut Cremant, but Blason de Bourgogne is a joint venture by four well regarded producers in Burgundy intent on crafting fine affordable wines. If you can, grab a bottle of the rose!
$8 at Trader Joe’s

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Heredad – Cava is a sparkling wine made in Spain using the same methods as in champagne. Smooth, elegant and buttery, it goes down very easily. Plus it comes in a stunning pewter embellished bottle. If you thought you didn’t like cava, this is the one to try.
$14 at Trader Joe’s

Piper Sonoma Brut – Made in Sonoma by a French champagne house Piper Heidsieck, this wine is bold with toasty, mushroom flavors and aromas tempered by creaminess and rich fruit.
About $12 at BevMo or Trader Joe’s

Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui- Lush, tart-sweet wine with raspberry, rose and cranberry flavors and aromas that make it quite unforgettable.
About $17 at BevMo

We also talked about the right way to open a bottle of champagne, a task that I've noticed makes some grown women cringe. Some guys on the other hand, seem to think it's fun to shake the bottle and see how far they can shoot the cork and the bubbly inside. But since a bottle contains the same amount of pressure as a truck tire, corks can and do cause injuries.

Here's how to ring in the new year without needing an eye patch.
1. Get the bottle cold; 20-30 minutes in ice water or 1 hour in the refrigerator.

2. Remove the foil and loosen the wire cage.

3. Place a cloth napkin or towel and the palm of your hand firmly over the cork.
4. Point the bottle at the ceiling, hold the cork and twist the bottle to open.
You should hear a slight sigh, not an explosion.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Phantom - The Drink, The Drive

Personally, I've always associated Rolls-Royces with Grey Poupon mustard-- at least I think that was a Rolls.

But in yet another burst of over-the-top creativity, New York Chef Daniel Boulud (who brought us the $69 burger laden with short ribs, foie gras and black truffles) found inspiration in a Rolls-Royce for a uniquely luxurious cocktail.

Boulud, who admits he's wild about beautiful cars, was so impressed with the Phantom Black he decided to create cocktail that's equally exquisite and elegant. The result is The Phantom, a curious libation of champagne crowned with a champagne cloud.

Bartender Xavier Herite combines gelatin and the restaurant's private label Cuvee Daniel champagne to make the champagne cloud. In tribute to the Rolls-Royce Phantom Black, the cocktail is served in a mysterious black crystal glass made by Riedel. The Black Sommelier's Blind Blind glass is designed to conceal the color of the liquid so tasters can judge a wine solely on its aroma and flavors.

Most of us will never drive a Phantom, but for a mere $29, we can experience the cocktail from now until late spring 2007 in the Lounge at Daniel.

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Recipes seem simple, but they're so much more than sets of instructions for a dish. In between the measurements, they hold a connection to memories of the first time we ate that food, where we were or the person who shared the dish with us.

Being a Bubbly Girl is as much about serving the right sparkling wine as it is about knowing what foods best accompany that wine. I can't think of anything better with bubbly than these Cheddar Cheese Coins, savory little crackers with a buttery cheddar taste and a hint of spice. They're going in my Bubbly Girl book, but since its the entertaining season, I've decided to share them with you now.

The original recipe they're based on came from a rather unpleasant person. But I suppose that shows that everyone has at least one redeeming quality.

Cheddar Cheese Coins
1 pound butter, softened
1 pound sharp cheddar cheese, grated and at room temperature
4 cups unbleached flour
2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon ancho chile powder

Put everything in a large mixing bowl and mix well with your hands or add ingredients to the bowl of an electric mixer and process until well-combined. Working on a lightly floured surface, take a hunk of dough and roll it into a long log about the diameter of a quarter. Wrap log in plastic wrap. Repeat with the remaining dough. Put the dough you don’t plan to bake into the freezer. Let the rest chill in the refrigerator for an hour or two.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Using a sharp knife, cut log into slices one-eighth-inch thick. Place coins close together on baking sheet that’s been greased lightly or is covered by a Silpat baking mat. Bake for 16 minutes or until the kitchen smells like cheddar cheese and butter. Remove from the oven, the bottoms should be slightly golden. Let coins cool completely before removing them from the pan, or they will fall apart.

© Maria Hunt - All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Oh Jaaames...

I've been so busy lately, I'm probably one of five people in North America who hasn't seen the new James Bond flick Casino Royale yet. It's the story of how James Bond went from regular spy to a licensed to kill 007. In Bond creator Ian Fleming's original 1953 Bond book by the same name, we learn of all of Bond's favorite things: the Walther PPK, martinis shaken-not-stirred and Bollinger Champagne.

Now I know why he's been drinking the stuff for the past 50 years or so; it's probably the most marvelous champagne I've ever tasted. My friend Jan invited me to a champagne and sparkling wine tasting at the University Club in downtown San Diego.

It was crowded, and by the time I made it over to Bruno, the Bollinger rep, he was down to his last bottles. First I tasted the Special Cuvee, which caught me off guard with its striking balance of toasty aged character mixed with golden fruits.

I was still pondering and savoring this wine when Bruno told me to drink up. He wanted me to have the last taste of La Grande Annee. The current vintage of this wine, which is Bollinger's prestige cuvee, is from 1997. I was mesmerized by the most beautiful symphony of flavors: it was like eating buttery golden brioche wrapped around caramelized apricots.

That was a week ago, and I'm still in its thrall.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Be Your Own Sommelier

Scanning the New York Times online this evening I found this interesting article on the shortage of sommeliers across the country.

Eric Asimov writes that with the rapid growth in wine culture in the U.S., restaurants all over are having a hard time finding qualified people to serve wine. Karen MacNeil, author of The Wine Bible , recounted being served a bottle of Madeira on ice at an Atlanta restaurant. Being qualified means more than knowing the business end of a corkscrew; it also means loving serving people, not being pretentious and having an appreciation for a broad range of wines.

I took a couple things away from it: I'm energized about my own goal to become a wine educator and pursue certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers.

Secondly, with the shortage of good wine servers in restaurants, it behooves every intelligent woman (and man) out there to do your own personal wine education. Get a group of girlfriends together and go to a wine tasting or try something new next time you go to a restaurant. Tasting lots of different styles of wine is the only way to learn what you like and what to ask for. That way, we can all be our own sommeliers!

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Enjoy the Day

Aah Thanksgiving. A day off from work, a day to sleep in, a day to watch silly TV before heading out to dinner. Remember to take some time to reflect on all the gifts we have to be thankful for, like good friends, having more than enough to eat, and of course, bubbly!

A couple hours from now, I hope to be drinking some rose champagne with my dee-licious gourmet turkey dinner at Nine-Ten in La Jolla.

Joy Sterling of Iron Horse Vineyards shared this beautiful painting of the Sonoma County vineyards in winter, so I thought I'd share it with you. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Phantom of the Opera Tasting --The Rest of the Story II

SO the heat in Napa was oppressive during my Bubbly Girl's Sparkling Wine Goodwill Tour, but I suppose I can't complain about the fact that I was able to spend a week driving around and tasting sparkling wine.

But at Schramsberg, the heat yielded a cool experience: the chance to taste wine in the caves. Schramsberg is a family owned winery where Jack and Jamie Davies were pioneers as the first Californians to make traditional French-style sparkling wines in the 1960s. For me, the symbol of the winery is the beautiful Victorian home that leaps into view as you reach the end of their winding, heavily wooded driveway in Northern Napa Valley.

The house was built in the 1870s by Jacob Schram, a German immigrant who was the first person to produce wine on the property. He had Chinese workers dig out the hillside to create an extensive network of caves where he stored barrels and produced wine.

A passageway from the Schramsberg tasting room leads to the caves, where PR Director Larry Levine and Winemaker Craig Roemer met me for a tasting. As we walked deeper into the caves, past dusty riddling racks, the natural chill and humidity was like a welcoming caress. We arrived at a table holding a variety of Schramsberg wines. Candles twinkled from candelabras on either side of the table, giving the tasting a slightly spooky, Phantom of the Opera feeling.

The highlight was the chance to taste the 1998 vintage J. Schram Rose, the new pink version of the winery's top wine (aka tete de cuvee). The cool peachy pink wine smelled of fresh strawberries and a toasty sweetness that for some reason reminded me of fresh corn. I still wish I hadn't said that out loud, but that's what I smelled. It tasted crisp and rich, a perfect wine to pair with the rich flavors of seafood or pork or to drink by itself. Larry said I was the second writer to taste the wine; I would have been flattered even if I'd been the tenth because it was so well-crafted and represented so much work. Later we stopped by the labeling room, where a woman carefully smoothed labels on each bottle by hand before wrapping it in tissue.

Getting your hands on a bottle of the J Schram Rose might be tough, since they only made 800 cases and the wine will retail for about $120 a bottle.

Larry offered to send me home with one of the open bottles of wine we'd tasted that afternoon.
Guess what I chose to drink by the pool that night?

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The rest of the story-Part I

I'm pretty new to this blogging thing. As a journalist, I want to make sure every sentence is perfectly crafted and each story recounted in detail. The problem is that this perfectionist urge kills the spirit of blogging, which to me is about recording true thoughts and feelings in the moment -- or close to it.

The moment has passed as far as recounting the Bubbly Girl's Sparkling Wine Good Will Tour. So here's a quick installment:

I arrived at Korbel just before opening and had time to enjoy the gardens near the cafe. They were some of the most beautiful I'd ever seen at any winery.

Korbel was established in 1882 by two brothers from Czechoslovakia. Today it's the largest producer of methode champenoise wines in the country. The best wine I tasted was their rose, which had crisp strawberry and citrus flavors, all for around $10 a bottle retail.

After beautiful drive through forests of Mendocino County, I made it to Roederer Estate in Andersonville. Set in a lush area with spectacular views of evergreens, the tasting room was small and very low key. What was impressive was tasting side by side from a regular 750 ml bottle of brut and a magnum, which is the equivalent of two bottles. The difference was incredible: the wine from the magnum tasted like an entirely different and amazingly more complex wine. I bought two. The other cool things were the displays of sculptures made from cork cages; these were two of the best.

Suffice it to say I nearly accomplished my goal of visiting every major sparkling wine producer. I say nearly because although I stopped at Domaine Chandon and marvelled at the mushroom rock sculptures, I didn't feel like dealing with the crowd and skipped the tasting room.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

The Queen of Sparkling Wine

Visiting Domaine Carneros is like driving up to a castle on the edge of Sonoma County.

So maybe that's why I think of Domaine Carneros CEO and winemaker Eileen Crane as the Queen of Sparkling Wine.

She's been making bubbly since 1975 when she left college and started her career at Domaine Chandon. She later left and established the Spanish bubbly house Gloria Ferrer in Napa and next Domaine Carneros for Taittinger. No one else in the country, maybe even the world, has that on their resume.

Fot all her skills, Crane is warm, erudite and friendly -- a true Bubbly Girl. She says she decided to make sparkling wine because she couldn't imagine anything more fun. We stopped in the tasting room to taste the Vintage Brut, the Brut Rose and Le Reve, an all-chardonnay cuvee, before heading off to lunch. I thought all the wines had this incredible juiciness and lightness that makes me think of California, balanced with the caramelized, brioche notes of fine French champagne. If we hadn't been running off to lunch, I would have stopped for a plate of artisan cheese.

Over lunch at the hip and homey El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma, Crane told me that sparkling wine and champagne makers have done themselves something of a disservice by making it seem like their wines were only for special occasions. Sipping cold glasses of 1999 Le Reve with white truffle fries, we both decided to work to change that. The Food & Wine section of the Domaine Carneros website offers great ideas for making these excellent sparkling wines a part of everyday life.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Bubbly and Caviar in Sonoma

My first stop was J Vineyards and Winery in Healdsburg. It just happened that they were having an open house to show off their new Garden Pavilion. Guests can reserve a table with a garden view and then enjoy J wines including their Sparkling Brut and a selection of wonderful pinot noirs.

The garden was lovely, but it was during a heat wave, so I took refuge inside the modern tasting room. I love the sculpture behind the bar, a wall of rusty metal studded with shards of glass. I sipped a glass of 2000 J Sparkling Brut, which was perfectly creamy yet alive with citrusy flavor.

The other attraction was caviar from Tsar Nicoulai in San Francisco, which included sevruga and a rainbow of their new naturally flavored whitefish caviars. The assortment included a green wasabi caviar, a golden ginger flavored one and my favorite, a luminous brown caviar infused with white truffle oil. Piled on a blini with creme fraiche, egg yolk and red onions it was heavenly, the perfect accompaniment to a glass of sparkling wine.

In fact, I loved Tsar Nicoulai's tiger's eye caviar so much, I ordered some as soon as I got home. Making blini seemed like alot of work, so I piled some on top eggs flavored with chives one morning.

Bringing home a bottle of wine from every winery wasn't feasible, so I settled for a bottle of tiny bubbles, the kind you blow.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Bubbly Girl's Sparkling Wine Goodwill Tour

So it's been a busy summer. Especially so since I'm working on gathering material and getting support from important people in the world of sparkling wine and Champagne for my book, The Bubbly Girl's Guide. I never even got to tell you about my fabulous trip to the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen!

In late July, I headed north to Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties with one goal: to visit every major sparkling wine producer in the area. Did I make it? You'll have to keep reading to find out...

My first stop was at my friends' home where we shared a simple welcome dinner of figs wrapped in prosciutto, a garden tomato salad with fresh herbs and goat cheese and grilled chicken breasts.

Our beverage? Bubbly of course. In this case, it was Iron Horse Vineyard's wonderfully creamy and refreshing Wedding Cuvee with a twist. The crystal flutes were filled with fresh blueberries first, which I'm told is one of Joy Sterling's favorite ways to enjoy bubbles. And don't you love Iron Horse's sexy new labels?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Josephine Baker: The Original Bubbly Girl

I wanted to take a minute to ponder the amazing life of Josephine Baker. She would have turned 100 last month and I've decided she was definitely one of the original Bubbly Girls.

At a time when racism was rampant in the US, she cast off her poor childhood in St. Louis, Missouri and escaped to France. There, she reinvented herself as this sexy-comical character, eventually going on to become the first Black international superstar.

Besides just enthralling France and the rest of the world, she was daring too: she became a lieutenant in the French resistance by smuggling secret messages in her sheet music. She also helped the families of several Jewish musicians escape the Nazis. And later in life she adopted many orphaned children.

But the thing I love the most is the way she wasn't afraid to be herself -- no matter what others thought. She ran around Paris with a pet leopard, and she wasn't afraid to dance around in a skirt made of nothing but bananas. I'm sure she didn't sit around worrying whether her cellulite was showing. And of course, she drank lots of champagne --supposedly her favorite brand was Montaudon, a family-owned brand that's still available today in Europe.

The next time I drink a glass, I'll be thinking: Vive La Josephine!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

From the Land Down Under

Even a Bubbly Girl can find herself feeling as if she's lost her fizz from time to time, kind of like a bottle of champagne that's been open too long. Between rushing around to different appointments, finding a new gardener, and doing spring cleaning I wasn't feeling myself.

But I soon found my joie de vivre and apreciation for this enchanting style of wine revived after a visit with the serious and quixotic winemaker, Peter Rumball. I'd wanted to meet Rumball because he's the premier maker of sparkling shiraz in Australia.

Since he flew to San Diego just to meet me for lunch, I played good hostess and made sure he got to see expansive and breath-taking stretches of San Diego coastline, yada, yada, yada. He surprised me though, when he pulled out his camera and began snapping photos of the squirrels burrowing into the ice plant near La Jolla Cove. It turns out they don't have squirrels in Australia.

For a big gruff looking guy, Rumball was rather particular. And he doesn't think much of women wearing track suits to lunch in La Jolla at a fine restaurant like Nine-Ten in the Grand Colonial Hotel. And he wasn't sue about eating soup with other than a regulation-style round soup spoon.

But he was most irritated by the way sparkling shiraz is written up as some exotic and strange wine from Down Under. Sparkling shiraz has been around in Australia since 1862, when a Frenchman gave native shiraz grapes the French methode champenoise treatment. It's the traditional wine for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner in Australia. Rumball said it's also lovely with game meats; in a recent vintner's cookbook, he paired it with a kangaroo curry.

Over a less-exotic lunch of flat iron steak salads with caramelized onions and truffled french fries, he extolled the virtues of this unique wine.

Pouring it into a glass, sparkling shiraz is a deep berry color with a thick foamy head-- not unlike a Guinness. He explained this is because of the tannins in the wine. It's flavor not surprisingly is thick with berries, leather, tobacco with a hint of sweetness and more than a little tannin.

It's definitely the boldest sparkler I've ever tried. But I'm not sure sparkling shiraz would ever become my everyday wine -- a good one, if you can find it -- costs about $40. But if I were grilling a leg of lamb, I might give this black champagne a go.

And, it will be interesting to see how Rumball's next venture -- sparkling merlot -- will be received as it makes its way into US markets.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Bubbles & Barbecue

The other day I was talking with Bill Niman, the man behind the Niman (nigh-man)Ranch line of meats raised without growth hormones or antibiotics. His meat has that old-fashioned taste and you feel good knowing you're not eating who-knows-what. The last time I was in Oakland, we drove up to Bo's Barbecue in Lafayette and pigged out on ribs made with Niman's naturally raised meats. Anyway, I asked Bill what kind of wines he liked to drink with barbecue. I got an answer I didn't expect: "Lambrusco. It's making a comeback," he said. "There are some expensive ones, but the cheap stuff is good too."

Really??? He's got good taste, but I figured I'd do some research. Apparently he wasn't kidding. Now that the bad publicity from watery and overly sweet wines, Lambrusco's image in the US is being revived. They're even serving it at tony New York restaurants like Mario Batali's Babbo. Though they're drier wines, not the typical grocery store stuff.

So passing through the wine aisle at discount grocery store, I grabbed a bottle of Riunite Lambrusco. The next day, I heated up the last of my dad's own delicious pork barbecue ribs and tasted it with two wines: the Riunite Lambrusco and Il Rosso, a gently sparkling red wine made by Mionetto. The whole Il line is really fun with sexy packaging and marketing.

Of course, there was not much comparison, other than the fact that both were red wines with bubbles. And then they are both from Italy and relatively low in alcohol. The Il Rosso tasted of juicy red berries, more so than a typical rose, but with a hint of sweetness. The Riunite (shown with the ribs) was grapey-berry tasting and sweet, with a flavor that didn't linger long. Going back and forth, I decided Il Rosso's more subtle flavor was better with ribs sans sauce, and the super fruity Lambrusco was more suited to saucy ribs.

But I could see how either one would be mighty nice with a plate of barbecued pork ribs.

Cole Porter Was Wrong

You've seen her: you're out at a bar one night and there's this girl with glazy eyes careening through the room. She's obviously had too much to drink and it's far from cute.

As a Bubbly Girl, I like that little tingle that comes from sipping just one glass of sparkling wine. It seems like sparkling wine goes to my head alot faster than other drinks and it turns out it's not just imagination. A study I recently found online shows that we do get a hefty kick from wine with bubbles.

In short, researchers at a university in England found that people who drank fizzyy champagne had higher blood alcohol levels and stayed that way longer than people who drank flat champagne. For more details, check out the study published in New Scientist.

It's a good reminder to know my limits and be very aware of how much I'm drinking... Because a Bubbly Girl is always appropriate.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Chicago, Chicago

I spent a week in Chicago visiting my family, which is why I've been slacking on the blog. But it wasn't a bubbly-free trip by any means. I usually travel with a half bottle of bubbly slipped inside a neoprene wine carrier, just in case. On this trip, my travelling companion was the Rosa Regale Brachetto d'Aqui by Banfi. Yes, it's a mouthful, but such a delicious one!

At Yu's Mandarin in Schaumburg with my father and sister, I sipped a little bottle of Korbel Brut with my favorite crab wontons (you know fried puffs of crab and cream cheese) and a crispy spring roll before seguing into the best-ever version of Honey Walnut Shrimp. The Korbel, which is made by the traditonal methode champenoise, went down surprisingly well, considering what a bargain it is!

Later that week, visiting the sexy, purple Vosges Haut Chocolat store at 520 N. Michigan Avenue, I spent about 30 minutes just taking it all in. The line, created by chocolatier Katrina Markoff, features exotic, all-natural, handmade chocolate truffles and bars. There was so many tempting combinations, I couldn't decide what to buy. I sipped a cup of hot white chocolate infused with lemon myrtle and lavender while perusing the choices: Michigan cherries and dark chocolate, white chocolate and Grand Marnier, dark chocolate and balsamic vinegar.

The decision made itself when I spied the "Gatsby & Daisy" collection, which offers champagne infused chocolate truffles topped with rose petals. Dark chocolate is mixed with brut champagne; and white chocolate is paired with rose and a drop of rose water. They come nestled in a cute little box decorated with a 40s style pin-up girl. To find out more about the Vosges champagne truffles, click here.

When I returned to my cousin Dori's Gold Coast penthouse, it was time to break out the Brachetto. We both thought the wine's rosy aroma and sweet raspberry flavor tempered by a tannic cranberry note made it just the thing to eat with fine chocolate.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

How Cool is That?

I was going to call this post "drinking on the job" but feared that it might create the wrong impression. Actually, I do that anyway, because I write about food and wine for a living.

But this was different: my colleagues in the newsroom at the San Diego Union Tribune and I celebrated by drinking bubbly in the middle of the morning after learning that the paper had won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of stories on a very naughty Congressman. Check out the story here

It was Domaine Chandon, served barely chilled, but who cares?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Dinner of Champions!

What is with this weather? It is raining again, for the third freaking Friday in a row! It’s not supposed to be this way in San Diego. After my dinner plans got washed away with the rain, I didn’t feel like cooking and couldn’t think of takeout that sounded tempting. So, I headed home, where I knew I had the makings of a decadent dinner: champagne and potato chips. I sipped a baby bottle of Nicolas Feuillatte Brut with natural Kettle chips and homemade ranch dip. It may sound funny, but it’s really not all that different from drinking a soda with chips. The bubbles and the acidity help balance the grease, making for a very pleasant sensation. Plus, it feels sooo luxurious in a slightly trashy way. After a while, I forgot all about the rain.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Accidental Three-Champagne Dinner

One of the juicy side benefits of dining out in New York or San Francisco is the spontaneous conversation that crops up with the people at the next table. Tables are often so close that it’s impossible to avoid overhearing your neighbors discussing their meal or spontaneously admiring the beautiful dish that just arrived.
Dining at a new La Jolla restaurant next to a pair of dedicated food and wine lovers, I had one of those serendipitous conversations that led to my first taste of Krug.

In case you hadn't heard, Krug is one of those super-special champagnes, considered by many to be the most special in the world. Maybe it’s the 157-year family tradition, the careful selection of the best grapes from the best vineyards or the complex flavors that come from aging the wine in small oak barrels. Really, it’s probably the fact that Krug cost $100 a bottle and up. Either way, people who know say the name with a raised eyebrow and a smile.

So after sharing opinions on dinner and favorite restaurant stories wit Antonette and Dave, the conversation rolled around to champagne. They had started dinner with a bottle of Laurent-Perrier, since the restaurant was out of their first choice: Krug non-vintage brut. When I commented that I had never tasted Krug, Dave mentioned that he had some in his cellar. Then Antonette said the magic words: “If you’re not doing anything next Saturday, would you like to come over for dinner and taste some Krug?” I thought: “Heck yeah man!”, as my Aunt Bettie likes to say, but came up with a cooler response.

My friends and I arrived at 7:30, appetizers, a fruit tart and a yummy Voluspa potted candle for a housewarming gift in hand. We were barely in the door when Dave pulled out a perfectly chilled bottle of Krug NV Brut Grande Cuvee with a crimson and gold label. This is a luxurious wine, pale yellow with lots of tiny bubbles and the aroma of a perfectly baked brioche. I took a sip and the wine’s rich sensations filled my mouth: bubbly and smooth, crisp and rich all a the same time. As the wine dwindled, it became more intense with a charry bread crust aroma.

Just for fun, Dave poured a Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, a crisp almost steely wine that couldn’t have been more different from the Krug. The last champagne was an elegant J Lassalle Brut Rose served with Antonette’s excellent tuna tartare. But all I could remember was the Krug. Now the only problem is figuring out how to say thank-you for this experience…

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Bubbly from Israel

The fondness that Jewish people have for Chinese food is storied; in fact a pair of sociologists even penned a scholarly paper on the topic called "Safe Treyf: New York Jews and Chinese Food."

So maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover an Israeli wine on the list at Red Pearl Kitchen, a new pan-Asian restaurant in downtown San Diego. Actually my friend Lori, who is Jewish, noticed it first. The restaurant offers three bubblies by the glass, including the Golan Sparkling Moscato. "Golan, as in Heights?" she wondered aloud.

I knew there was wine produced in Israel but this was something new. If I had been looking for a still moscato, this wine would have been wonderful. It was rich in fruit and floral aromas and pleasantly sweet, but with enough acid to balance it all out. And it worked well with the spicy and sweet flavors on the menu. But as a bubbly, it was a bust. The first glass had 0 bubbles, the next had about 5 lazy ones. But I didn’t have the heart to send the waitress back to the bar again.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

What to Drink with Jerk Chicken?

For weeks my friend Pia tantalized me with tales of her boyfriend Gary’s amazing Jamaican food: jerk chicken, rice and peas, fried plantains, meat patties. But she always ended with a warning: he’s a spice head. Still, I was excited when they invited me over on St. Patrick’s Day for an authentic Jamaican meal. That afternoon, I dashed to the nearby Beverages & More looking for a wine with a little sweetness and fruit to it. For spicy foods, a slightly sweet wine is the perfect choice because the sugar helps coat your tongue and lessen the effect of the peppers.

I couldn’t find my first choice in sparklers for spicy food: Bonny Doon’s Ca’ del Solo Moscato del Solo. So I was forced to explore the many bottles of other sparkling wines and champagnes. That’s how I discovered Riche, an extra-dry sparkling wine from Domaine Chandon. The label notes promised notes of honey and peaches and a fine pairing for spicy foods and curries, so I took a chance.

Introduced in 2002, Riche was Domaine Chandon’s first foray into the super-premium, extra-dry sparkling wine category. Dry is a little misleading, because unlike still wines, a dry or extra-dry sparkling wine or champagne is really on the sweet side. Extra-dry champagnes are usually rounder in the mouth, but still offer a balanced amount of acid, leaving the wine nowhere near syrupy. It’s silly, but nobody admits to liking slightly sweet sparkling wines because they think it sounds unsophisticated. But we love drinking them: the extra-dry White Star from Moet et Chandon is probably one of the most popular champagnes on the market.

Since it was a Jamaican style St. Paddy’s Day dinner, it only seemed right to start with an “aperitif” of Red Stripe beer, which Pia had tinted an attractive shade of green. But when the meal of grilled jerk chicken, fried plantains, rice and peas and green salad hit the table, Gary cracked open the Chandon Riche. All the girls were impressed with the pale peachy colored wine’s soft powdery aroma of flowers, maybe honeysuckle. The first sip was mellow, slightly sweet but still refreshing with flavors of dried peaches, golden raisins and toasted croissant. But better still, I loved the way the Riche seemed to bring out the warm spicy notes in the jerk chicken, while cooling my mouth!

Even Gary eventually abandoned his Red Stripe for a taste of our new bubbly, which he pronounced “very good, mon.” For more info, visit

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Portuguese bubbly

Saturday night I went to a fun, new eclectic French cafe in my friend'’s neighborhood. At first I was annoyed with the short and pricey list of champagnes and California sparklers offered by the glass. But my mood picked up when I spotted a 2005 vinho verde by Alianca. I'’d never tasted this softly sparkling and inexpensive Portuguese wine, so I decided to take a $5 gamble. It's called vinho verde because it's bottled while young and "green." The wine was pale and clear with a golden green tinge and citrusy floral aromas. The first sip was startlingly tart, but the wine mellowed as my tongue warmed up to it. The vinho verde added a needed shot of acidity to salad with grilled and fried calamari and was brilliant with my main course of mussels with herbed frites. I had thought all vinho verde was white, but learned there are red ones too after reading a website by an association that represents the winemakers in this designated wine region. For a thorough primer on the subject of vinho verde, visit

Friday, March 10, 2006

Why Bubbly?

Like alot of women I know, I love drinking Champagne and sparkling wine. It’s impossible to be in a bad mood while drinking a glass of bubbly. Just try, I dare you. Pop the cork, fill your glass with the fizzy liquid and as the bubbles rise, so does your mood. You’ll be smiling by the time that glass reaches your lips.

So why is it that in the US, the only times people seem to pull out a bottle of bubbly are New Year's Eve or when launching brides and battleships? Somehow, we Americans got this idea that fizzy wine is only for super special occasions.

Travelling in Europe, though, I realized that sparkling wines are a part of fully enjoying everyday life and meals. On a trip to the Basque Country in France, my friends took me to a favorite restaurant overlooking the ocean. We sipped a regional sparkling wine called txakoli with thin slices of ham from Bayonne and a langoustine stew. Visiting the northern Italian city of Udine, my friends took me to dinner at a little restaurant that showcases prosciutto ham made in San Daniele. Along with large plates of paper thin prosciutto, served with fresh milky cheese and crusty bread, we all savored prosecco, a crisp, light and refreshing sparkling wine that's made in the Veneto region of Italy.

These fun dinners -- and a few others -- convinced me that sparkling wines, just like still ones, are perfect for everyday. Like Jamie Davies, co-founder of the visionary Schramsberg Winery in the Napa Valley told me: “they're wine beneath the bubbles.”

I decided to start exploring the world of sparkling wines and champagnes and the many ways they can add a sense of celebration, luxury and fun to my everyday life. The Bubbly Girl was born.