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.