A Champagne Primer for the Holidays

champagneWe’ll soon be kicking off the holiday season, and what better way to celebrate than with something bubbly. To help you prepare for festive gatherings with family and friends, I share with you this champagne primer from the Whole Foods Market® blog (wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/whole-story):

Champagne or Sparkling Wine? Just as some wines and cheeses are only produced in a specific geographic area, only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be officially labeled “Champagne.” Other European countries use other names for the sparkling wine they produce: Cava in Spain, Prosecco, Asti or Spumante in Italy and Sekt in Germany. Bubblies from California, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the several wine-producing countries of South America are generally referred to as sparkling wine or sparklers.

For What Price? Yes, champagne can be expensive. Is it worth the extra money over sparkling wines from other countries? Some say “yes” and others “no.” Yet, there’s really no right or wrong answer here—it’s truly a personal choice. Many of these sparkling wines rival true champagne in taste and complexity and may be a better value.

What Makes Champagne Bubbly? Unless there is specific terminology on the bottle, all champagne and most domestic sparklers are comprised of three grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and the less often used varietal Pinot Meunier. The bubbles are created through a process called “secondary fermentation,” which means they make regular wine first and then re-ferment it with yeast left in the bottle (which is filtered out later). This is why you’ll often get a fresh baked bread aroma from bubbly. Most bubblies are non-vintage or “NV,” meaning they are created from a blend of wine vintages.

How Do I Choose? Here are a few basic terms that are used on both champagnes and sparkling wines. These should help narrow your search to match your taste preferences.

  • Brut: The driest one, but not to be confused with “Extra Dry,” which, ironically, is not as dry as Brut. Brut is the most food-friendly of champagnes. The smoky, salty nature of caviar makes for a classic match. For everyday occasions, try potato latkes and sour cream or any number of salty tidbits.
  • Extra Dry: A touch of fruity sweetness but finishes on a dry note. These are quite versatile and can be served as an apéritif or after dinner. They’re more or less in the middle of the spectrum.
  • Sec: Next in line for dryness, but you don’t see it very often.
  • Demi-sec: The most residual sugar of the bunch (outside of Doux, which is rare). This is the ultimate dessert wine and, perhaps, the most romantic of the bunch. Never sweet in a cloying way, these have a caramelized quality that is absolutely delicious. Avoid pairing these with fare that is sweeter than the wine, as the bubbly will come off harsh and dry. Fresh fruit works best.
  • Blanc de Blanc: This bubbly is made from 100% Chardonnay. The Chardonnay grape lends sparkling wine its toasty, nutty and rich quality.
  • Blanc de Noir: This bubbly is made from mostly Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir grape gives it the refreshing, fruit driven, citrus quality.

Bubbly Add-Ins. Once you’ve chosen your bottle, here are a few suggested add-ins for customized cocktails. Consider offering the entire selection at your party so guests can choose their favorite flavors.

  • Candied ginger
  • Pomegranate juice and seeds
  • Berries, muddled with mint
  • Orange or grapefruit juice with a twist
  • Sugared cranberries with a sugar- and black-pepper rimmed glass

Whatever you’re toasting with, cheers to the holidays!

A Bit of the Bubbly

champagne1_0_0I found this post by Megan Myers on the Whole Foods Market blog and thought I’d share it with my readers since it is very informative and most relevant to the season.  Enjoy!

No matter the occasion, sparkling cocktails add an extra touch of excitement. When it comes to the New Year’s Eve countdown, something bubbly is a must! But for some, the champagne and sparkling wine section can be one of the most daunting areas of the wine department.

With that in mind, here’s a champagne primer to help get your bubbly supply sorted out in time to celebrate!

Champagne or Sparkling Wine?

Just as some wines and cheeses are only produced in a specific geographic area, only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France can be officially labeled “Champagne.” Other European countries use other names for the sparkling wine they produce: Cava in Spain; Prosecco, Asti or Spumante in Italy; and Sekt in Germany.

Bubblies from California, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the several wine-producing countries of South America are generally referred to as sparkling wine or sparklers. Many sparkling wines rival true champagne in taste and complexity and can be a better value.

How Do I Choose? Here are a few basic terms that are used on both champagnes and sparkling wines. These should help narrow your search to match your taste preferences.

  • Brut: The driest one, but not to be confused with “Extra Dry,” which, ironically, is not as dry as Brut. Brut is the most food-friendly of champagnes. The smoky, salty nature of caviar makes for a classic match. For everyday occasions, try potato latkes and sour cream or any number of salty tidbits.
  • Extra Dry: A touch of fruity sweetness but finishes on a dry note. These are quite versatile and can be served as an apertif or after dinner. They’re more or less in the middle of the spectrum.
  • Sec: Next in line for dryness, but you don’t see it very often.
  • Demi-sec: The most residual sugar of the bunch (outside of Doux, which is rare). This is the ultimate dessert wine and, perhaps, the most romantic of the bunch. Never sweet in a cloying way, these have a caramelized quality that is absolutely delicious. Avoid pairing these with fare that is sweeter than the wine, as the bubbly will come off harsh and dry. Fresh fruit works best.
  • Blanc de Blanc: This bubbly is made from 100% Chardonnay. The Chardonnay grape lends sparkling wine its toasty, nutty and rich quality.
  • Blanc de Noir: This bubbly is made from mostly Pinot Noir. The Pinot Noir grape gives it the refreshing, fruit driven, citrus quality.

Bubbly Add-Ins

Once you’ve chosen your bottle, try a few of these add-ins for customized cocktails. Consider offering the entire selection at your party so guests can choose their favorite flavors.

  •     Candied ginger
  •     Currants soaked in bitters
  •     Pomegranate juice and seeds
  •     Berries, muddled with mint
  •     Pear juice and a rosemary sprig, like in Whole Foods’ Rosemary Pear Bellini
  •     Orange or grapefruit juice with a twist
  •     Sugared cranberries with a sugar- and black-pepper rimmed glass
  •     Fresh pineapple and rosemary for Whole Foods’ Pineapple Rosemary Crush Cocktail

Whatever you’re toasting with, here’s to a happy new year!

Can drinking wine save you from dementia?

As reported by the Daily News & Analysis this week,  scientists have found that a daily cocktail or glass of wine could help delay dementia.

Their research has shown that alcohol is an anti-inflammatory (inflammation promotes Alzheimer’s) and raises good HDL cholesterol, which helps ward off dementia.

Researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina found that older people who had eight to 14 alcoholic drinks a week had a 37% lower risk of dementia than non-drinkers.  Editor’s note:  It is eight to 14 drinks a week — not a day.

However, adults who go on occasional binges face a higher risk, reports the Daily Mail.

According to a Finnish study, adults who binged in midlife at least once a month — drinking, for example, more than five bottles of beer or a bottle of wine at one sitting — were three times more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s, 25 years later.

The renaissance of mead

http://www.virtualme.biz

Bottles of mead are displayed at Starrlight Mead in Pittsboro. Mead may be the world's oldest alcoholic beverage. Many associate it with medieval Europe.

PITTSBORO, NC — Mead, that drink of Viking saga and medieval verse, is making a comeback. But this ain’t your ancestors’ honey wine.

“It’s not just for the Renaissance fair anymore,” says Becky Starr, co-owner of Starrlight Mead, which recently opened in an old woven label mill in Pittsboro.

In fact, this most ancient of alcoholic libations hasn’t been this hot since Beowulf slew Grendel’s dam and Geoffrey Chaucer fell in with the Canterbury pilgrims at the Tabard.

In the past decade, the number of “meaderies” in the United States has tripled to around 150, says Vicky Rowe, owner of Gotmead.com, which describes itself as “the Internet’s premier resource for everything to do with mead.”

“I literally get new notifications of meaderies at least every couple of weeks,” says Rowe, who runs the website from her home in the woods north of Raleigh. “So they’re just popping up all over. And a lot of those are wineries that have decided to add mead to their mainstream product lines, which is just incredible.”

Traditional mead is made with three ingredients – honey, water and yeast. The biggest hurdle has been overcoming that centuries-old misconception that something made from honey has to be sweet.

Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/01/23/935931/the-renaissance-of-mead.html#ixzz1CIPNadH0

 

How to give the perfect toast

http://www.virtualme.bizThis little piece appeared in last Sunday’s Parade Magazine. I found these to be practical and witty tips for raising your glass with style, and thought I’d share them here in case you missed the post. They’re provided courtesy of Jon Lovett, a White House speechwriter and winner of the “Funniest Celebrity in Washington” contest.

So you have to give a toast. Oh, don’t be nervous. You’ll probably do great. It’s hard to fail completely. And even if you do, it’s not like people put awkward and embarrassing videos on the Internet, right? So what’s there to be nervous about? Besides, you’ve got a secret weapon: instructions from a magazine.

As a speechwriter, I’m often asked to help with toasts. And I’ve given a few myself. (In fact, if you’re east of the Mississippi and listen closely, you can still hear faint applause coming from the ballroom of a moderately priced catering hall on Long Island… because they haven’t stopped clapping yet.) Based on my experience, if you follow these simple rules, you should be fine.

1. Keep it short. There are no bad 10-second toasts. There are no good 10-minute toasts. No one in the whole recorded history of people talking has ever said, “I wish that speech were longer.”

2. …And sweet. This isn’t the Friars Club, and you aren’t Gilbert Gottfried. No insults. No vulgar stories. We know they’re funny. But your aunt doesn’t. Unless your aunt is Gilbert Gottfried.

3. Test it out. On actual human beings. A mirror won’t tell you that you aren’t as hilarious as you think you are. That’s what friends are for.

4. But most important. Be sincere. And specific. Your sister is more than totally awesome. She’s a role model, an inspiration, a friend who’s really been there for you. A toast is a chance to say what we always mean to say to the people we love. That’s why you’re up there.

5. And one more thing: See that champagne glass in your hand? The one you’re pointing at the guest of honor as you deliver the perfect toast? It doesn’t have to be the first glass you’ve held that night. But it better not be your seventh.

Cheers!