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Posted September 02, 2016

Champagne 101

Sparkling wine is wine that has significant levels of carbon dioxide to make it fizzy.  The most well known example of sparkling wine is Champagne, a sparkling wine that is made in the Champagne region of France (wine made in France, as well as many other countries in Europe is more about the region than the particular grape used to make the wine). Sparkling wine not made in France is referred to as… well, Sparkling Wine.

 

Some sparkling wines from other regions have made a name for themselves and have become know by other names: Asti (Spumante- Near the town of Asti in Italy), Cava (Spain), Prosecco (Italy), Sekt (Czechoslovakia, Germany, Austria), and Cap Classique (South Africa).

 

Champagne is made primarily from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and the lesser know Pinot Meunier. Sparkling wines from other countries can be made with a variety of different grapes, typically a grape indigenous to that country. 

 

One thing that differentiates all Champagnes and Sparkling wines is how the secondary fermentation takes place. This usually contributes to both the taste, and the cost of the wine. These two methods are:

  • Methode Champenoise or Metodo Classico: the secondary fermentation takes place in the bottle.
  • Charmat method: the secondary fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks.

 

What you Need to Know:

Types of Champagne:

  • Prestige Cuvee (cuvee de prestige): Usually designates the top of the line for a producer: Louis Roederer’s Cristal, Moet & Chandon’s Dom Perignon.
  • Blanc de Noirs: A white wine made from the pinot noir and/or pinot Meunier grapes (the skins are removed from the process early on, hence the white juice)
  • Blanc de blanc: A white wine made from Chardonnay grapes.  
  • Rose': aka "Pink Champagne", typically, a small amount of Pinot Noir red wine is added during blending.

 

Sweetness:

Sweetness is determined by the amount of sugar added after the second fermentation (called dosage). From driest to sweetest, Sparkling wines use the following to designate how sweet their bubbly is:


  • Brut Zero (no sugar added)
  • Extra Brut
  • Brut
  • Extra Dry
  • Sec
  • Demi-sec
  • Doux (sweetest).

 

In my next post I’ll delve into some of the more popular types of sparkling wines mentioned above. 


Posted in Blog By Uncorked Hermosa
Posted August 23, 2016

Mark's Paso Trip

We headed out from the South Bay on a beautiful morning in search the perfect zinfandel. Instead of going someplace close like UncorkedI was headed up to Paso Robles to meet some friends for a weekend of wine tasting, in the town where I first learned to drink wine. Well, I already knew how to drink wine (btw, it’s pretty easy), but it’s the place I first started going after getting into wine, at my brothers behest.

Before going to our accommodations, we drove over to the west side (a mile down the 46 off the 101) to meet some friends who were members at Turley. Turleys long been known for their zins (although they make other wines) - one of the things I loved about Paso when I first started getting “serious” (can you ever really get serious about a hobby that involves drinking?) about wine.

 Larry (Turley) likes old vines. Real old vines (“Old Vine” is used as a marketing “phrase littéraire” which can mean…well nuthin). In fact two of his zins are from the Dusi and Pesenti vineyards, two of the oldest in Paso. I remember going to my aunts place (she had married some rich dude who owned a ranch on Peachy Canyon road that would be worth half a billion today) when I was a kid and there was pretty much one winery: Pesenti.

 The big deal was you bought a bottle of wine and it came with a little red sticker around the neck with your name on it. The quality of the wine was never really a consideration. Now that I’m all grown up (well…sort of) I’ve got my name plastered on many a bottle of crap Pinot Noir gracing the shelves of your local supermarket (check out the $7.99 Mark West Vineyards Pinot Noir next time youre at Pavilions). We tasted several Zins and a Petite sirah. Turleys are amongst the best (if not the best) zins in Paso in my humble opinion.

Next we headed north up Vineyard drive just a few miles to Oso Libre (Vines-Wines-Angus). In addition to wine, they are a traditional San Luis Obispo cattle ranch, and they raise organic, sustainable, solar powered cows, well… the last claim may not apply to the cows. But their philosophy about farming embraces organic, solar, all that good stuff you hear about. You can check out their website here.

 

It was heading towards evenening so we headed to our accomodations- a lovingly restored 4 (or 5?) bedroom house circa the 30’s I think. Looking at the outside I didn’t think much of it but once we got inside, as I said, it was lovingly restored, they had a huge kitchen where we made dinner, and there was a hot tub out back. It was a 10 minute bike ride from downtown. But you don’t need a bike when you hire….

 

…Crownlimos805.com. The next morning (well, 11ish, which is morning if you were drinking wine the afternoon and evening prior) our bus from Crown limos showed up. Our driver was awesome, full of fun stories, and amused when we all took advantage of the pole in the middle of the bus, demonstrating our pole dancing skills, or lack thereof. Note to self: guys do not in any way shape or form perform well on a pole.

 

 Anyway, we proceeded to our first stop: Halter Ranch. Fortunately one of our group was a member so we got the royal treatment. After the tour of the facility, we retired to the wine club tasting room for a “relaxed seated tasting” with windows overlooking bothe the vineyards, and the inner workings of the winery. We were served some nice appatizers to boot. We got to taste a vertical Cabernet tasting, among others. Halter Ranch is a beautiful state of the art facility on the west side of Paso-in case you don’t know, in general Paso is divided by the 101 and the different wineries are referred to as on the west side or east side (of the freeway).

 

After we left the wine club tasting room, we sipped a few whites at a little tasting bar they had set up outside and enjoyed the crisp weather, my pretentious wine banter (well, maybe not “enjoyed”) and waited for the party bus and a chance to redeem ourselves on the pole, now that we were a little more lubricated.

 

We headed over to Opolo for lunch. We sat outside in the crisp air (but still warm enough to, well, sit outside) and chose from the 3 courses they offered up. I picked the barbeque plate to help soak up the wine. It hit the spot. After lunch we went inside to their comfortable, casual tasting room and tried out their wines- they’re mostly known for their big Zins, Cabs, and Merlots. They didn’t disappoint, and we stumbled out to find our ride.  

 

The party bus moved on, the pole dancing was in high gear. Everyone gave it a shot, somehow no one broke a hip. After tending to our wounds and listening to an eclectic mix of hip hop and Neil Diamond on the sound system of the party bus, we arrived at Rotta in the afternoon. Christian Tietje is the winemaker here. He started Four Vines in his garage, sold it, and created Cypher where he’s also the winemaker.

 

Rotta has a small, intimate tasting room, stacked high with barrels. It’s got that wine soaked oak smell that lets you know you’re in for some fun. We were treated to a flight of mostly reds- Cab, a blend, a Zin, maybe a Malbec- the memory is a little fuzzy. After buying a few bottles we walked out into the bright sunlight and into the party bus, and headed to Penman Springs.

 

I have a soft spot in my heart for Penman Springs- they were one of the first wineries I visited in Paso. It was also a favorite of one of our group. Their small, non-ostentatious, craftsman style tasting room surrounded by vineyards is a beautiful spot to do a tasting, then slip outside, sip some wine, and take in the beautiful glow of the afternoon, and good friends.

            

Finally we headed over to La Vigne. I was looking forward to this place; research indicated there was a haunted train car parked aside the winery. Added bonus- the fabulous, sexy, pole dancing chick who coordinated our trip (thanks Katrina!) picked this place because they did cheese pairing- they have an attendant cheese monger.  We feasted on Irish sharp cheddar and a three milk blend from cow, sheep, and goat’s milk, amongst others. The wine was not an afterthought either. Nice and rich, kinda’ like how I like my women. Well, they don’t have to be nice.

I ran over to the train car but it was locked. I found out later it was kept locked to keep the homeless dudes out. Or was it to keep the ghosts in..??? By the time we had finished our tasting it was dark. Still no ghosts. So we headed back to our last stop, Pappy McGregor's Irish Pub for a beer. The place was crowded, we hunkered down and got some beers and a few Jack and Cokes, and took in the local color.

 

After not too long we caught our limo back to our place, said our goodbyes to our driver, and settled in for a little more wine, ordered in Chinese food, and enjoyed the hot tub out back, getting to know each other a little better. Life could be worse than sharing a fun weekend drinking wine in a beautiful place with people you love. 


Posted in Blog By Uncorked Hermosa
Posted February 17, 2016

Pinot Post

Maya: You know, can I ask you a personal question, Miles?

Miles Raymond: Sure.

Maya: Why are you so in to Pinot?

Miles Raymond: [laughs softly]

Maya: I mean, it's like a thing with you.

Miles Raymond: [continues laughing softly]

Miles Raymond: Uh, I don't know, I don't know. Um, it's a hard grape to grow, as you know. Right? It's uh, it's thin-skinned, temperamental, ripens early. It's, you know, it's not a survivor like Cabernet, which can just grow anywhere and uh, thrive even when it's neglected. No, Pinot needs constant care and attention. You know? And in fact it can only grow in these really specific, little tucked away corners of the world. And, and only the most patient and nurturing of growers can do it, really. Only somebody who really takes the time to understand Pinot's potential can then coax it into its fullest expression. Then, I mean, oh its flavors, they're just the most haunting and brilliant and thrilling and subtle and... ancient on the planet. – “Sideways”

 

OK. So Miles (Paul Giamatti) does an adequate job describing some of the attributes of the Pinot Noir grape, while also telling the viewer why he’s a whiney, sniveling, self absorbed writer about to screw things up with a hot broad who is obviously way too good for him but for some reason is into him. If you watch the film (besides being funny and insightful, it’ll teach you about wine) you’ll see that Miles’ description of the pinot grape is a metaphor for him.  In this post, your sniveling, self-absorbed scribe will concentrate on Pinot Noir, focusing on California, while touching on Oregon and France for the sake of context.

 

France-Burgundy

Even though Groundskeeper Willie (The Simpsons) called the French “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”, they do know how to make a good pinot. A little background: In the US, we identify wine by its varietal (Cabernet, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir…). In France most wines are identified by region (Boudreaux, Burgundy, etc), and many regions grow several different grapes that are generally used in blends. Burgundy is an exception. For the most part, if you get a red from Burgundy, it’s made from the Pinot Noir grape (if white, a Chardonnay). Yes, these are some of the wines that all the French dudes make such a big fuss about. The reason? Well, Pinot is like a woman- fickle, unpredictable, particular, and isn’t about to let you sit on your ass every Saturday and Sunday with a 12 pack and a Costco sized bag of Doritos watching football all day. No, she demands attention. Otherwise, well, you’re asking for trouble. Anyway, French Pinots are known for their red fruit aromas, but develop what is known as a “barnyard” smell as they age. The French think this is cool. I’m not so sure about that, but Pinot grapes like cooler weather, which is why they thrive in Burgundy.

 

California-Napa

Most Pinot from Napa Valley comes from the Carneros region, in southern Napa Valley. Why? Well, if you been paying attention you might surmise that the Carneros region is cooler than the rest of Napa (two points to the one reader who actually got the answer). Anyway, Carneros is in the southern end of Napa, where it gets cool, moist air from the San Pablo Bay to the south. Carneros is also home to some of California’s best sparkling wine producers since most sparkling wine is made from…you guessed it…Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Hopefully, your head isn’t about to explode from all this learnin’. Examples of Carneros Pinots you might see on our shelves: Poseidon, Schug, Sean Minor.  

 

California-Sonoma

The Russian River Valley (in Sonoma) has a reputation for some of the finest Pinot’s California produces. Don’t go askin’ me why it’s called the Russian River. That’s’ what Google’s for. Known for aromas of wild strawberries and raspberries to cherries, these Pinots are kept cool by the fog and cool air that rolls up the Russian River, which dumps into the Pacific. It’s also home to one of California’s finest craft breweries: Russian River Brewing Company (home of “Pliney the Elder”. Don’t ask. If you want an explanation of Pliney the Elder, ask one of your beer-guzzling buddies). Some Russian River Pinots’ that have been known to grace the shelves of Uncorked: Iron Horse, Hartford Court.

 

California- Santa Ynez

Santa Ynez (Santa Barbaras’ wine region) lays claim to the Santa Rita Hills, which produces some awesome Pinots. Over on the west side of the larger Santa Ynez valley (near Lompoc and Vandenberg air force base) the Santa Rita hills have the distinction of being one of the few valleys (created by the hills) that runs east west, allowing Pacific breezes to cool the valley and the pinot and chardonnay grapes that grow there. This is where most of the Pinot’s Miles babbles on endlessly about hail from. Here you’ll find outstanding Pinots from Melville, Seasmoke, and Hilliard Bruce to name a few.

 

California- Santa Lucia Highlands

These “highlands” are located in Monterey County on the terraces of the eastern slope of the Santa Lucia mountain range overlooking the Salinas River Valley, on the back side of Big Sur. They get fog and cool air funneling down from Monterey Bay, which lies to the Northwest. Pinot’s from SLH tend to be bigger and richer (sort of like that fat friend of your dads that drives the Porsche) than Pinot’s from other areas so if you’re more of a big cab guy or gal, give a Pinot from here a shot. Wines from this area that may be gracing the shelves at Uncorked: CRU “Vineyard Montage”-Santa Lucia Highlands, Caraccioli Cellars.

 

California- Monterey

Although the Santa Lucia Highlands is the premier pinot growing area in Monterey, the rest of the county deserves a mention, as it produces some fine Pinots as well. Taste-wise, Pinots from this area tend to be darkly colored and lean towards tasting of dark fruit. Our own Pier Avenue Pinot hails from Monterey County. Hey- it’s our blog, we get a chance to hype our own juice…

 

Oregon- Willamette Valley

The Willamette Valley is home to over 400 wineries and is a broad valley composed of six specific Viticultural Areas southwest of Portland. The general attributes that make this valley ideal for Pinot is that…well…it’s in Oregon. Yeah, it’s generally cooler there than say California…In addition, the latitude of the midpoint of the valley is the same as Burgundy’s (remember Burgundy = Pinot) Cote d’Or. At times Oregon Pinot’s can mirror their counterparts over in Burgundy. If you visit the valley, you can check out the joint in Portland that sells bacon maple bar doughnuts. Whatever. We’ve been know to carry Willamette Valley Pinots from Brooks, Walter Scott, Dominius


Posted in Blog By Uncorked Hermosa