What You Need to Know About Champagne


As long as I can remember, I’ve had an incredible passion for Champagne. Champagne was my very first experience with fine wine, and has become a regular part of my wine drinking. Champagne is not simply a bottle of bubbly wine, however …

What is Champagne?

Champagne is not a grape or a style, it is a geographical region in northern France. In order for a wine to be called Champagne, it must come from this region, and it must adhere to various rules and laws that include specific growing conditions to its wine making technique.

Champagne must be made in the Methode Champenoise, or Méthode Traditionelle (Traditional Method). This is a very intricate and time consuming wine making process that involves a second fermentation in the very bottle it will later be sold in. This can often, in part, account for the hefty prices many bottles of Champagne command.

How Do You Properly Store Champagne?

As with all wine, you want to store your bottles of Champagne away from bright or artificial light and maintain a consistent and cool temperature (ideally 44-50 degrees F). Long term storage should be with the bottles on their sides in a wine rack or in a wine cellar.

What’s the Best Way to “Pop” the Cork?

Although the loud POP sound of a bottle of Champagne is synonymous with celebration, it is not the proper and safe way to open your bubbly. The first step is to remove the foil, then to loosen the wine cage (this should take 6 twists of the wire tab). Next, drape a towel or cloth over the cork and cage, hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle and away from yourself and others, and while firmly holding the cork in place, slowly twist the bottle from its base. You want a very soft “pop” of the cork into your hands.

How to Serve Champagne

There are various shapes of glassware in which to serve your Champagne, such as a flute (tall and narrow) or a coupe (wide and shallow), or even various white wine glasses. The depth of a glass can really influence the aromatic release of a sparkling wine. There is much controversy about which shape is best, so my advice is to try different glasses and choose your favorite. My personal favorite is a traditional Champagne flute, simply for the aesthetics and the ability to see the bubbles dancing to the top of the glass. To me, this is a symbol of celebration.

How to Pair Champagne

When we think of Champagne, we think of celebration and decadence. Caviar, smoked salmon, exquisite French cheese—each of these are a match made in heaven with a beautiful glass of Champagne. As someone who enjoys Champagne on a regular, non-celebratory basis, these luxurious foods simply aren’t always on my menu. One incredibly delicious everyday pairing is, believe it or not, French fries! There isn’t a single other wine this New Englander would rather pair with freshly fried fish and chips than a glass of Champagne. Fresh fried seafood, goat cheese, fish tacos, fresh strawberries, even deviled eggs are simple everyday pairings that are sure to enhance the Champagne experience. Shellfish, such as shrimp, oysters, clams, crab, and lobster are other delicious dinner options. High acid, salt, and fat content in your food pairings will be sure to pair wonderfully with the high acid content of your Champagne. Cheers!

A Tale of Two Sauvignon Blancs

Traveling Vineyard has released two long awaited Sauvignon Blancs! I immediately ordered a bottle of each so I could “test them out” (haha, tough job) and see first hand what the differences are. Tasting them both together was a great way to see the differences, because I honestly don’t know if the differences are SO noticeable that one could tell them apart without the side-by-side.

jitterbugluloframeOur 2014 Lulo Sauvignon Blanc is from Dry Creek Valley, California and sourced from the Dry Creek Vineyard estate, which was the first new winery in the Dry Creek Valley appellation after prohibition. It also contains fruit from the Clarksburg appellation. Lulo is 99% Sauvignon Blanc and 1% Semillon, which gives it a little Bordeaux style roundness. It was aged in temperature controlled stainless steel with no oak.

Our 2014 Jitterbug Sauvignon Blanc is from mostly Clarksburg, California, with some fruit sourced from Dry Creek Valley and the Russian River Valley. It is 100% Sauvignon Blanc aged in temperature controlled stainless steel only.

Right off the bat, they are both crisp, clean, light and refreshing with plenty of fruit. The acidity is very well balanced and doesn’t give that piercing, mouthwatering feeling on the tongue, which I think will appeal to a wide audience really well. The main difference between these two very similar wines: Lulo is definitely a bit smoother and has a nice rounded out finish. Jitterbug is a bit more citrusy, as far as the “feel” of citrus on the tongue. It was a bit sharper, for lack of better terms, but just slightly.

lulofruit jitterbugfruit

Pairing: I paired them both with the same pairings. Macadamia nuts smoothed them both right out, as this nut will do with any acidic white.

Next up: meat rolls. We had rolls of ham, roast beef, turkey, and provolone all rolled up as one. This was fantastic with both wines, so a chef’s salad would be great with these wines, deli platters, ham and cheese sandwiches, Italian subs, muffalettas, etc. would be a delight. A great cold cut wine! I found Jitterbug brought out more of the meat flavors, and Lulo expressed more citrus fruit with this pairing. So interesting to note: Jitterbug brought out the food flavors where the meat rolls brought out the fruit flavors in Lulo. Opposite effect!

Next up: spinach dip with Stacey’s pita chips. This was phenomenal with both wines, but interestingly once again brought out two different aspects of each wine. Jitterbug made the spinach flavor itself stand out, while Lulo seemed to express a more herbal quality. Just like with the meat rolls, Jitterbug complimented the food and brought out the food flavors, while the food brought out the flavors in Lulo.

lulospinachdip jitterbugspinachdip

Finally dinner: tossed some marinated chicken on the grill and grilled up some fresh pineapple rings. WOW! The chicken, grilled pineapple, and wine in the mouth at the same time was a fruit explosion! I can’t say which one I liked better, because they were both amazing with this pairing.

jitterbuggrilledchickpineapple lulogrilledchickenpineapple

We also boiled jumbo shrimp in Mojo seasoning. The shrimp/grilled pineapple/wine combo was just as good, because the Mojo seasoning has just a little kick of spice and citrus to it. We made a green salad and topped it with freshly grated lemongrass and then dressed with with olive oil and lemon juice. Simply fantastic!

luloshrimpsalad jitterbugshrimpsalad

So my opinion? They are both incredible wines, especially for the summer weather and summer fare! If I had to choose one, which would I choose? Depends on the situation. Jitterbug has an amazing capacity for bringing out the flavors of its food pairings, so if I’m all about showcasing the food, I might go for Jitterbug. Lulo, on the other hand, is so smooth and has incredibly refreshing fruits coming forward when paired with food, so if I’m all about showcasing the wine, then I might go for Lulo. Either make a fantastic sipping wine. You’ll note I used a lot of lemon and citrus in these dishes… that was no mistake. These are two very acidic wines, and lemon will smooth out that acidity. I also wanted to bring the fruit notes forwards, which is why I used fresh lemongrass and grilled pineapple.

My customers already LOVE these wines, and the pairings are simple. Anything acidic and citrusy, anything acidic like goat cheese and various dairy based dips and spreads, cold cuts and sandwiches, salads, and certainly anything with some spice to it. This will be a fantastic sushi pairing wine

I brought Lulo to one of my in-home wine tastings last weekend, and we paired it with three-cheese artichoke dip and bbq chicken. It was a HUGE hit!

luloartichokedip lulobbqchicken

I have never been a huge Sauvignon Blanc fan, but Lulo and Jitterbug have completely changed that! These are now two of my absolute favorites! Interested in trying them for yourself! You can have them delivered right to your door! Order at www.winedowntastings.com


Napa Valley Masterclass with the Guild of Sommeliers

Hello wine lovers! I’ve been busy sharing my love of wine with others and learning as much as I can by going to classes and wine seminars-a-plenty!

On April 15, 2015 I attended a Masterclass with the Guild of Sommeliers at Catalyst in Cambridge, MA. Matt Stamp, MS was the instructor, who is the Education Director for Guild of Sommeliers. Living in Napa Valley himself, Matt Stamp has a wealth of knowledge to share and I was really glad I took this class! It started at 10am and was going to involve tasting 18 wines in 4 flights in 3 hours. Oh my!


First, a whole lot of education about Napa. Napa Valley is known for its incredible Cabernet Sauvignons, which typically aren’t very cheap. The price tag of Napa Cabs, however, start with the land. An acre of top quality Cabernet Sauvignon land can run between $300,000 – $500,000! Add in the vines, the labor, the winemaking, etc., and you can see how the price is reflected once it gets down to the bottle.

Napa Valley is small in size but big in quality and diversity. It only supplies 4% of California wine, and 4/10 of 1% of the world’s wine. 45,000 acres of Napa Valley are under vine. In comparison, 90,000 acres of Bordeaux are under vine. Napa is 1/8 the size of Bordeaux!

Although the area of Napa is small, the climate and elevation varies a great deal in just a short distance. Although it is a Mediterranean climate with dry summers and wet winters, it varies greatly from north to south and from valley to mountain top. The temperature variation is vast, and there is a great marine fog and inversion, as well. The valley floor experiences an incredible diurnal shift, which results in broader style wines that still have great acidity because of the cool nighttime temperatures. The soils can vary greatly, as well, because there are hillside stream soils, which are thin, stony, and not too weathered, there are alluvial fans, which are shallow, more drained, and of single geological origin, and then there are fluvial soils, which are found near the river and the base of Napa Valley. They are more clay heavy, deeper, and of mixed geological origin.

The strengths of Napa Valley include a Mediterranean climate, complex soils, grape growing and brand history, proximity to San Fransisco, food and tourism culture, international recognition, and great wines! Disadvantages of Napa Valley wines are the costs, including the land, labor, farming, fruit, and the finished wine. There is also a reputation in Napa of sommeliers vs. critic scores. And of course, there is the wine vs. the wine lifestyle.

After quite a bit of very interesting lecture about Napa Valley, it was time to taste 18 wines.

Flight number 1- The Whites


Flight 1
2012 Schramsberg “Blancs des Blancs” 100% Chardonnay SRP: $38
– this was a sparkling wine that showed a nice tart apple and was relatively high in acidity. Nice and crisp!

2013 Massican “Annia” (Napa Valley AVA) 44% Friulano, 36% Ribolla Gialla, 20% Chardonnay SRP: $28
– this wine was aged on the lees, saw no malolactic.

2013 Farella Sauvignon Blanc (Coombsvilla AVA) 100% Sauvignon Blanc SRP: $20
– guava juice, sulpher, I got heavy notes of onion on this. I was not a fan! This did see some oak.

2012 Lail “Georgia” Sauvignon Blanc (Totem Vineyard, Yountville/Napa Valley AVA) 100% Sauvignon Blanc SRP: $120
– herbaceous, high acid, this I liked MUCH better than the first SB. (Considering the price, now I see why! LOL)

Flight 2 – Chardonnay

Now this was a very cool flight to taste because they were all Chadonnays, so we could really see the differences in each vineyard.

2012 White Rock Chardonnay (Napa Valley AVA) 100% Chardonnay SRP: $34
– dry, tart green apples, high acid, old oak, lemon and pear. This is a great produced of classic style Chardonnay.

2004 Stony Hill Cardonnay (Spring Mountain District AVA) 100% Chardonnay, Wente Clones SRP: $42 (current vintage)
– dry, nutty on the palate, almond, sour apple/pear, high acid, old oak. They look toward Chablis as a model for their winemaking. They’ve been making wine since the 1950s. Almost entirely white wines (they also grow Riesling). Not much use of malolactic.

2007 Mayacamas Chardonnay (Mt. Veeder AVA) 100% Chardonnay, Shot Wente SRP: $80
– Founded as Fisher & Sons winery in 1890, became a ghost winery during prohibition. Mayacamas reds are known for being huge reds and aging for 30 years. This is a riper style vintage than the 2004 Stony Hill we just tasted. It was fermented in concrete, then moved to uprights for 6 months, then moved to barrels for malolactic fermentation.

2011 Kongsgaard Chardonnay (Carneros, Hudson and Hyde Vineyards/Napa Valley AVA) 100% Chardonnay, Wente Clones SRP: $110ish
– strong vanilla, butterscotch, high acid, lots of new oak. Carneros fruit from (Lee) Hudson and (Larry) Hyde Vineyards. John Kongsgaard known for the death and resurrection of the wine: press, ferment, all brown juice for like a year. Then he clarifies the wine and brings it back to life (sulfur). He is known for going to the grape growers and telling THEM how he wanted them to grow the grapes, not the other way around.

Flight 3 The Reds


2013 Frog’s Leap Zinfandel (Napa Valley AVA – St. Helena & Rutherford) 77% Zinfandel, 22% Petite Syrah, 1% Carignan SRP: $30
– very dry, high acid, high tannins, cherry, plum, spice, black pepper. 20% new American oak. Frog’s Leap produces really good wine at really big production. Fresh and exuberant, this comes from fluvial soil.

2012 Storybook Mountain “Eastern Exposures” Zinfandel (Napa Valley AVA) SRP: $55
– jammy, blackberry, raspberry, big, bold, everything a Zinfandel should be. High tannins, high acid, dry, nicely balanced. 20% new American oak. This is my kind of Zin!

2012 Lagier-Meredith Syrah (Mt. Veeder AVA) 100% Syrah SRP: $48
– black fruit, earth, minerality, bone dry. High in pH. Blue and black fruits, smokey, savory tones. Peppery, green olive.

2010 Matthiasson Red (Napa Valley AVA) 55% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 6% Cabernet Franc, 2% Malbec, 2% Petit Verdot SRP: $90
– Oak Knoll fruit (Dry Creeks alluvial fan), green peppers, herbaceous, coffee. Dry. Steve Matthiasson co-wrote the Lodi Green rules.

Flight 4 – The Cabs


2011 Corison “Kronos” Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena AVA) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon SRP: $150
– black pepper, red fruits, black fruits, cedar. This is a traditional Napa Cab. This vineyard was planted in 1971 as Petite Sirah, then was grafted into Cab Sauv. This vineyard is still very old school as far as beig a widely spaced vineyard.

2011 Spottswoode “Estate” Cabernet Sauvignon (St. Helena AVA) 89% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot SRP: $150
– red bell pepper, deep blue, black fruit, very dry, high acid and tannins. A pitch perfect classic Napa Valley Cab.

2011 Realm “Farella” Cabernet Sauvignon (Coombsville AVA) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon SRP: $150
– bone dry, high acid and tannins. This is the iconic cult style of Cabs.

2008 Diamond Creek “Volcanic Hill” Cabernet Sauvignon (Diamond Mountain AVA) Mixed planting, predominantly CS SRP: $175
– First winery in Napa to label Cab as a grape on the label. Has a minerality to it. Austere tannin on the finish. Great representation of a mountain Cab.

2001 Robert Mondavi “Reserve” Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville AVA) 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc, 1% Malbec, 1% Petit Verdot SRP: $125 (01 price)
– dry, still tannic even though it is a 2001, oak is still present. Still has decades of aging. Robert Mondavi’s first vintage was in 1966.

1997 Heitz “Martha’s Vineyard” Cabernet Sauvignon (Oakville AVA) 100% Cabernet Sauvignon SRP: N/A
– eucalyptol (has a string of eucalyptus trees next to vinyard) = airborne terroir. This vintage is at the end of its life. First vintage was 1966.

I’ve got to tell you, 18 wines in a couple of hours… wow. My senses were pretty much shot after that. That was a LOT of aroma smelling! I had a Traveling Vineyard tasting to conduct that night, and on my way to my hostess’s house, all I could smell was a strong vanilla aroma from new American oak! LOL It was embedded in my nose and brain! Fortunately I’ve become a master at tasting, swishing, and spitting the wine, so I’m no longer ingesting the wines and getting buzzed. Of course when I go back and look at the prices of some of these wines, it makes me sad that they haven’t been fully enjoyed and just spit out! At least I know they’ve gone to a good cause… the learning of and appreciation for the beauty of wine.


So my knowledge quest continues and my continuous studying for the next level of my CMS goes on. Meanwhile, my Traveling Vineyard business has been going wonderfully. My team continues to grow (I have 9 wonderful wine babies now) and I am on the brink of earning my incentive trip to Cabo! Our New England regional meeting is this Sunday, which is going to be super exciting, so I will be sure to write a blog about all that fun and excitement! Drop me a line sometime or come chat with me on my Facebook page at facebook.com/winedowntastings!


Intro to the Court of Master Sommeliers

Wine is my passion, there’s no question about that, but I didn’t turn it into a career until late in life. I was a fitness professional until only a year ago! It wasn’t until I joined the Traveling Vineyard on April 1, 2014 that wine became my driving force. I knew I wanted to go as far with it as I could. I find incredible beauty in wine. It isn’t just a beverage to me, it is so much more.

During last year’s Traveling Vineyard convention, which is called Harvest, we had a guest speaker, Eddie Osterland, America’s first Master Sommelier. Our CEO Rick Libby told us to watch the documentary SOMM in preparation, so we would have some understanding of what it was to be a Master Somm. When I saw this documentary, I was hooked. My passion was magnified tenfold. This was something I wanted and wanted badly! Then came Harvest and I got to see Eddie Osterland in person. I was mesmerized. Star struck, even! The way he spoke about wine, about food pairing, about entertaining… I wanted to be part of this world. I craved to know more! I was inspired. I might not be one of the 210 Master Somms in the world someday, but I wanted to be a somm nonetheless. It was on my bucket list. I WOULD become a certified sommelier with the Court of Master Sommeliers someday, end of story.

 IMG_6475Eddie Osterland, MS and me at Harvest, 2014

I went home, looked online, and wow. WOW! The curriculum is insane. The price is hefty, as well! Something to work toward, I thought. In due time. There’s so much information to absorb… the geography, the history, the appellations, the individual terroirs, and then the blind tastings! With the amount of time I was devoting to my job, it would certainly take a good amount of time to also devote to studying to prepare for these exams, so someday!

Fast forward almost 4 months to Christmas Eve. My love Dennis gives me my gift. The first thing I opened was two small boxes, one was a box of pencils and one was a package of pens. ???? I had no idea what he was doing. I opened the next gift, which was a leather portfolio. I opened the portfolio to find a print out that said I was registered for the introductory course for the Court of Master Sommeliers in Manhattan at the International Culinary Center on March 23-24th, 2015. Tears streamed! I couldn’t believe it! Once again, this man is making my dreams come true! In addition, March 24, 2015 is my 40th birthday. What a way to go into a new decade!

Then it hit me… I had exactly three months to prepare for this course and exam. Oh. My. God. HOW? I had ten tastings scheduled for January, ten for February, eight for March, plus a regional meeting to present at, several guest speakings for other teams, my own team meetings to lead. My head was spinning! But this is what I wanted and I was not going to blow this opportunity, so it was time to get down to business. I had to arm myself with the proper books, so we bought the following:

– The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil
– The Sommelier Prep Course by Michael Gibson
– The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson
– The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson

Within the first weekend I read the study guide they provide us cover to cover. After that I went back and started picking apart each region one at a time in each book. It was incredibly overwhelming, I’m not going to lie! Trying to remember all these appellations, regions, villages, etc. Yikes! Over the first month or so, I really devoted a good amount of time to studying and was able to balance work and study time, but after that, work just took over.

The closer the course/exam got, the more I freaked out. The weekend immediately prior was going to be insane. I had a local tasting Friday night in central Mass, then had a tasting in Maine on Saturday night, had to drive back home to central Mass after the tasting, got up at 6am Sunday morning to drive 3 hours to Queensbury, New York to present at the Traveling Vineyard Albany Regional meeting from 11am-4pm, then drove 3 hours down to Dennis’s house to stay and get ready to head down to Manhattan the next morning for the course, where I had to check in at 7:30am. To say I was exhausted is an understatement!

We checked in between 7:30-8am on Monday, March 23, 2015. There were just under 60 of us in the course. I had no idea what to expect, but I was incredibly excited. This is what I sat down to.


So exciting! Day one was instructed by Laura DePasquale, MS, Scott Carney, MS, Laura Maniec, MS, and Pascaline Lepeltier, MS. We went through the viticulture, viniculture, food and beverage pairing, the deductive tasting method (tasted three flights of four wines each), all of France, Italy, and Greece. IN ONE DAY! Dennis is such a doll… he took the day off from work to drive me down to Manhattan, and while I was in class he went to visit his old cop friends. During lunch he brought me a lobster roll and lobster bisque from the Chelsea Pier and spent the hour with me. Seriously? Best man EVER!

I was very confident in what I knew about the history of wine. When we got to the blind tastings, I was pretty surprised at how much I didn’t know. I’ve been blind tasting myself for a few months, and I need a LOT more practice. For some reason, practically every single white wine I smelled on day 1 I thought was a Riesling. LOL Of course then I tasted it and realized I was way off, but that really isn’t like me. I can usually detect these aromas pretty well. Wine #1 in flight 1 was a Chablis! How I could ever confuse the Chardonnay grape is beyond me. Then in flight #2, wine #1 actually WAS a German Riesling from Mosel, and I didn’t identify that it was from Mosel! LOL I live for Mosel Rieslings! At this point I was just baffled. Italian Pinot Grigio… thought it was a Riesling. LOL What the hell? These blind tastings really knocked me down a peg, because this is something I’m typically decent at. Guess not! Perhaps the lack of sleep had something to do with my sense being completely off.

On the drive home after this day, I don’t think it’s necessary to say I passed out in the car. We got home and I passed out almost immediately. Sleep, oh heavenly sleep!

Day 2, the alarm goes off at some ungodly hour. Noooo! But hey, it’s my birthday! Let’s get this show on the road! Dennis drives me down to the city again, and day 2 begins with our first tasting flight at exactly 8am! This day our Master Somms were Laura DePasquale, MS, Laura Williamson, MS, Matthew Citriglia, MS, and Michael Englemann, MS.


FINALLY I identified a Viognier. Thank God I’m not losing my mind! I truly think I was just over thinking things. But even the Viognier I thought was old world and it turned out was new world. I also identified a Vouvray AND the year, so I redeemed myself somewhat. Maybe that good night’s sleep had something to do with it. What really blew my mind was when we blind tasted Catena Malbec and I didn’t get this. I drink this particular Malbec often. How this slipped by me is mind boggling. It tasted much more tannic than I am used to. Even when they told us what it was, I was blown away. I kept going back and tasting it in shock. I LOVE Catena Malbec. Super disappointed I didn’t get that one. The last two wines I did get, a Sancerre and a Shiraz, so I guess I ended on a positive note. Much work to be done for the next level!

Before lunch we covered Germany, Austria, Spain, Portugal, Australia, New Zealand, South America, South Africa, and North America. Dennis met me for lunch again and helped me study as much as possible for that hour for the exam. He is such a doll. I truly don’t know what I would do without him!

After lunch we covered dessert and fortified wines, beer/sake/spirits, and wine service and salesmanship. Then it was time for the exam! Seventy multiple choice questions. This level doesn’t require a blind tasting, thank the lord, because I’m just not ready for that yet. The next level does, however. I went into this exam with less confidence than I have had in ages. That is so unlike me. I truly did not feel prepared. The amount of detail required for this is insane! But I’m not one to back down, so I gave it my all.

I finished the exam and passed it in at about 4:25pm. We were to meet back at 5:00 for the results. I left feeling 50/50. I knew a lot of the answers, but there were definitely some I had no idea. I was preparing myself for the worst case scenario… it was a great learning experience, and at least now I know what I need to do to prepare for the next time. Study the hell out of the regions and AOCs!

They didn’t call us back in until 5:15 or so, and at this point I was dying! Thank the lord for my best friend Angi texting me and my wine sister Susan for PMing me on Facebook during the waiting time trying to help me through! Of course Dennis was always texting me words of encouragement. He never had a single doubt. As we entered the room, they handed each person a glass of Champagne. We all walked in and gathered in a circle. Laura DePasquale started off by thanking everyone involved in the course, and then proceeded with the announcements. There was one gentleman who passed with a PERFECT SCORE! Mad props to him! Then Laura announced that the class had a 100% pass rate. I PASSED!!!! OMG!!!! I’m not going to lie… I had to wipe a tear away. Just the release of the pressure! I did it! In the wine business less than a year, and prepped for this course in less than 3 months, I did it! OMG!!! As soon as I wiped the tear away and chugged down that glass of Champagne, I grabbed my phone and texted Dennis that I passed. As soon as I had done so, my wine daughter Stephanie texted me asking what was going on. I replied that I had passed, and her reaction was priceless! They announced each person’s name and passed out our certificates and pins. Once we each received them, we left. I raced down to Dennis and couldn’t wait to celebrate with him!


There is so much information to absorb in this course, but the greatest thing I took away from it is this: wine tells a story, and as somms, we are story tellers. Wine tells the story of everything that happens in the vineyard, from the weather that year, what is growing nearby, what the winemaker did. It is up to us to relay that story. Beautiful!

Dennis took me out to celebrate my 40th birthday at this incredible Spanish restaurant in Greenwich Village we just love called Sevilla. They have the most incredible seafood paella ever! A perfect ending to a perfect day.

10428613_1631424133745862_8211558483696859205_nI now have three years to take the level 2 exam to become an officially certified sommelier with the CMS, and I am more inspired than ever to do so! Each wine truly tells its own story, and I can’t wait to be able to relay that story to others.


Dissecting a Red Blend: Tanglerose Backyard Red, Lot 12A-NC

Last night I held my monthly team meeting at my house for my Traveling Vineyard team of wine guides, The Winelist. Each month I give them a bit of wine education along with other business related things. Our wine education consisted of dissecting one of our Traveling Vineyard wines. It’s an incredibly delicious red blend that is one of my absolute best sellers called Tanglerose Backyard Red. This particular blend is Lot 12A-NC, which is the latest blend. It is a California blend and consists of the following:

37% Napa Valley Tempranillo, 28.8% Napa Valley Syrah, 13.3% Sonoma Carneros Merlot, 10.9% Lake County Cabernet Franc, and 10% Sonoma County Petite Sirah.


What I wanted to do for my team was dissect the blend and taste each of these grapes alone as single varietals, go through the four steps of wine tasting for each varietal to determine the color, body, aromas, and palate, pair each varietal with a proper food pairing, and then finally after we finish the five varietals separately, we would taste the Tanglerose Backyard Red blend and try to distinguish how each varietal lends its characteristics to the blend to make it what it is.

What we needed, of course, was wine! Since Tanglerose Backyard Red is a blend of California grapes, it would have been ideal to taste the individual varietals from California. Unfortunately, each team member wasn’t able to find their designated varietal from California, so we had to make do with some of the varietals from other regions. No problem, I made sure to note any flavor differences that a California wine would have had. These are the wines we tasted:

Tempranillo: We began with the varietal that is the most abundant in the Tanglerose Backyard Red blend, in particular, Campo Viejo Rioja 2012 Tempranillo which team member Jen Favata brought. We learned all about the Tempranillo grape, from the climate it thrives in and the soil it prefers to the fact that it ages incredibly well. Because we were tasting a Spanish Tempranillo and not a California one, we focused on the similarities in both flavor profiles, such as red cherries, strawberries, red berries and red plum, as well as the herbal quality of dill. Most of us were able to detect notes of dill, which was fun. Both Spanish and California versions often contain essence of tobacco, vanilla, leather, coffee, and tea. Our conclusion? There were only a couple of us who have had Tempranillo before, and we were not impressed with this particular brand. I prefer my Tempranillos heftier with more smoke qualities, and this just seemed bland to me. We paired it with smoked Gouda, and we all decided we liked it much better paired with the cheese. I think the cheese gave it all its character!

Syrah: The second most abundant grape in Tanglerose is Syrah, so this came next. Again, not from California, we sampled the 2013 Fabrizio Dionisio Castagnino Syrah Cortona, Tuscany, Italy, which Winelister Jen Turner brought. The Syrah grape is a thick skinned, beautifully dark grape, blueish, almost black in color, and it grows in large, tight bunches. These wines tend to be quite tannic and can be aged for quite a while. Much like the Riesling grape, Syrah has the ability to reflect where it was grown in its flavor. These wines are usually big with black raspberry, blackberry, and cherry, but with notable black and white pepper. It’s not usually a high acid wine, but instead a wine high in tannins. Therefore, a Syrah requires a big food pairing, something to smooth out those tannins and a big flavor to stand up to it. When we smelled this wine, spice just hit us in the face. It was wonderful! On the palate it was very tannic with very low acidity, as expected. It was everything a Syrah should be. We paired this with black licorice to bring out the notes of anise, and boy did it ever! It was incredible!

Merlot: Next in the blend is Merlot. Winelister Gina Brown brought a 2011 Murphy-Goode Merlot from California. Merlot is a thin skinned grape, and because of that thin skin, it would naturally be lower in tannins than say a Cabernet Sauvignon that has a thicker skin. Merlot ripens early, so it tends to avoid any damage caused by an early fall frost. Merlot displays great fruit flavors, such as blackberry, black cherry, plum, and black currant in addition to red fruits such as red cherries and raspberry. However, really good Merlots aren’t all about fruit, they are also balanced out with earth notes, such as oak, tobacco, chocolate, and cedar. The Murphy-Goode was no exception. Earthy notes were one of the first aromas to hit my nose, even before the fruit aromas. When we tasted it, I was even more pleased. Not usually a big fan of Merlot, this wine really impressed me. It had great spice to it, earthy notes to it, and was well rounded out with fruit. Winelister Donna Rutigliano made a flourless chocolate cake to pair with this wine, and was it ever heavenly! OMG!! It brought those chocolate notes of the Merlot right to the forefront. This is a Merlot I would absolutely drink again, and that is saying a lot!

Cabernet Franc: Winelister Stephanie MacGinnis brought our Cabernet Franc, a 2010 Domaine des Chesnaies ‘Lame Delisle Boucard’ Bourgueil Cuvee Prestige, Loire, France (gotta love French wine labels!) Interesting fun fact, Cabernet Franc is actually a “parent” grape to Cabernet Sauvignon, the other “parent” grape being Sauvignon Blanc. Cabernet Franc tends to bud early and therefore ripen early. They are large grapes that have fairly thick skins, but are not overly tannic due to their pulp to skin ratio. Cabernet Franc wines have great balance of acidity and tannins with great fruit and spice. They are spicier than Merlot, but more herbaceous than Cabernet Sauvignon with less tannins. You’ll tend to find notes of blackberries, plums, strawberries, raspberries, cherries, and cassis. Earthy and herb notes tends to be mint, green olives, anise, green peppers, nutmeg, leather, oak, cedar, and hints of violets. The California versions of Cabernet Franc tend to have more tannins and less acid than the French versions, so we kept that in mind while tasting this French bottle. On the nose, this was very spicy (black pepper). It was phenomenal on the palate. Only once we tasted it did we finally find notes of violets on the finish. No one could find any mint, but I have to wonder if we paired it with something chocolate mint if that flavor wouldn’t have come right out. What we did pair it with was olive tapenade on crackers, and oh my word, it was heaven! Smoothed it right out and brought those olive flavors to the forefront. Incredibly delicious!

Petite Sirah: Our last varietal in the blend is probably the most powerful of the five, which is why it is so often used as a blending grape to provide heft, tannins, structure, complexity, and length of finish. Winelister Lisa Woods provided a bottle of 2012 Bogle Vineyards Petite Sirah from California. Petite Sirah is a slow grower and has a problem with rot because of its tightly bunched grape clusters. One can deduce it doesn’t do too well in humid climates, because of this, so it thrives in the drier hillsides of the California Coast. Petite Sirah is bold… bold in flavor, in color, and in tannins. It has a deep, inky color and can be described as chewy in the mouth. It can be aged for quite some time. Common flavor and aroma profiles are black pepper, plum, black cherries, blackberries, coffee, smoke, caramel, anise, cloves, and leather. We absolutely smelled leather the moment we swirled and smelled this. I LOVE leather smell in my red wines. This had an incredible full body to it. We paired it with peppered salami, and wow, was it delish! Petite Sirah is not for the timid wine drinker!

Put it all together! Tanglerose Backyard Red Blend Lot 12A-NC: I provided Traveling Vineyard’s Tanglerose Backyard Red. Our winemaker Francis Sanders didn’t just put these grapes together all willy nilly. He had a plan! Straight from our tasting notes: “While blending this wine we aimed to leverage the best qualities of each varietal, highlighting the dried cranberry, cinnamon and toasted cedar notes from Tempranillo. The Napa Valley Syrah lends unctuous notes of cassis, violets and some spicy black pepper. A bit of Merlot from Sonoma’s Carneros region delivers suppleness and ripe fruity notes with floral and cherry aromas. The Lake County Cabernet Franc lends the wine a note of seriousness with notes of olives and nuts while the addition of Petite Sirah gives the wine necessary heft and tannin.” This blend is a beautiful slightly translucent garnet to brick in color and is a medium+ body. On the nose, you will find red, brown, and black fruits, pepper, spicy ginger, earthy, herbaceous notes,  and a toasty quality. On the palate, you will taste all the flavors you smell and then some. It is an accessible wine, fruit driven yet dry with an earthy quality at the end. This is your go-to BBQ wine! We paired this wine with pulled pork, and WOW! This is also incredible with smoked Gouda, chocolate anything, and all of the pairings we had with our single varietals.
byrbacongouda byrchoccake byrkielbasa

Want to try Tanglerose Backyard Red for yourself? It will be delivered right to your door! This gem is only $16.99 a bottle! At that price, it’s worth buying a case! You can find it at http://www.winedowntastings.com SKU: CAL962

Pics of our team meeting: