Champagne and Sparkling

December 31, 2008

Pommery POP vs. Piper Heidsieck Brut

piperheidsieck.jpgThe true Champagne battle was a little like comparing apples to oranges. I didn't realize that the POP I grabbed was Extra Dry (which oddly, in Champagne-speak means a little sweet). I should have selected another brut, but the tasting must go on. So the POP was ok, but I didn't feel like it was substantial enough to be a real contender. Beyond the sweet I thought it was a little bland and really undeserving of more attention.

But the Piper, ahhh the Piper... lush and creamy with a warm, toasty back bone and lovely mousse. Lingering flavors of honey and citrus peel give this sparkler added dimension. A classic and thoroughly enjoyable Champage and the overall winner. Now we can really ring in the new year.

Piper Heidsieck Brut Cuvee $34

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

December 31, 2008

Mumm Cuvee Prestige vs. Chandon Brut Classic

mumm_napa_brut.jpgSuspecting that it might be a wee bit lighter, we started with the Chandon. Mr. CheapFunWine commented on the extremely light hue in the glass and the serious lack of scent emanating from said glass. I must say, for the most part, I concurred. The Chandon was fairly flavorless--save for the initial punch of sharp fruit on the tongue. And by fruit I mean distinct essence of Smarties and Fun-Dip. Powdery and too sweet-tart.

Thankfully, the Mumm's provided a little more enjoyment. The dark golden hue is a clear indicator of the toasty, creamy bubbly inside. Vibrant and crisp with a thread of richness that creates an endearing sense of balance. A great Champagne alternative for under $20!

Mumm Napa Brut Prestige $17

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

December 31, 2008

Freixenet Brut vs. Segura Viudas

segura.jpgIn the battle of the Cavas, the Freixenet is definitely better known, but I think the Segura Viudas (which is also made by Freixenet) is the clear winner. The former is bright and crisp but a little watery and fairly flavorless. You feel the bubbles on your tongue but there really isn't much else going on. Conversely, the latter is smooth and slightly creamy with refreshing grapefruit and soft fruit notes. Light, but pleasant and a great value pick. I love this cava for a big bash or for an anytime bubbly.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva $8

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

December 31, 2008

Top Five Treats Enjoy With Champagne (or any bubbly)

champs.jpgOkay, these are completely subjective, of course, but are my all time favorite things to eat while enjoying a little bubbly:

1. FRIED CHICKEN - I know it sounds crazy because fried chicken is sooo heavy, but the bubbles act as a palate cleanser and if you choose something a little yeasty, it is a thoroughly indulgent treat. Try Westport Rivers 2003 Brut Cuvée RJR

2. SUSHI - Again, rich, oily fish meets bright scrubbling bubbles. If you don't like wasabi and soy, go for something light, bright and crisp. But if you, like me, enjoy a little sweet and salty sauce in which to dip your fish, then go for something with a little more fruit. Try Llopart Brut Rosé Cava Reserva 2005

3. CRAB CAKES - Authentic, Maryland crab cakes. There really is no substitute. Essentially the same principles apply... take a fairly rich substrate (in this case jumbo lump crab meat from Chesapeake Bay blue crabs) add generous seasonings and a fresh bread crumb coating and then broil or pan fry for a golden, delicious lump of love. Once again, the sparkler cleans the palate with bursts of bright citrusy bubbles. Try Gruet Brut NV

4. COCONUT SHRIMP - A little rich, a little sweet, a little fried... all the makings for an ideal bubbly pairing. If the shrimp and coating are well seasoned, I prefer mine sans sauce. Try Schramsberg Mirabelle Brut Rose

5. QUICHE - Specifically, the gruyere and applewood-smoked bacon variety. Tangy cheese, smokey pork all nestled in a bed of rich eggs and cream and contained in a flaky, buttery crust. Of course the wine must deliver on all of the different flavor components so I would go with something full bodied and layered. Try Roederer Estate Brut NV

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

December 31, 2008

Bubbly, Bubbly, Bubbly... and More Bubbly

This year I couldn't decide on one celebratory sparkler so I rounded up six popular standards and decided that I would pair them up and pit them against each other in a bubbly New Year's throwdown: two Spanish cavas, two California sparklers and two real-deal French Champagnes. As I am house-bound with a sick three-year-old this evening, this tasting comprises the the exciting entertainment for me and the dashing Mr. CheapFunWInes. Here is the line-up:

freixenetbrut.jpgFreixenet Sparkling Cordon Negro Brut $11
35% Macabeo, 25% Xarel·lo, 40% Parellada. A Cava with an exceptional, fresh, fruity style and a lingering aroma. It is the perfect partner for the finest food and excellent at any time. (via


segura-viudas-brut-reserva.jpgSegura Viudas Brut Reserva $11
50% Macabeo, 35% Parellada, 15% Xarel lo. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva, created from a blend of reserve and non-vintage wines, is clean and delicate, yet rich in flavor. The wine is vinified according to méthode champenoise technique and is aged in the bottle for up to 2 years. This fine cuvée is fairly crisp with an interesting floral note and mouth-pleasing sensation of creaminess. (via

mumm_napa_brut.jpgMumm Napa Brut Prestige $17
This hugely popular, award winning wine offers touches of vanilla and melon, with firm acid and crisp structure. Medium bodied, with excellent mousse and a rich lingering finish, it is equally at home with a plate of iced oysters, fried calamari, chicken or a favorite pasta with a mild sauce. (via


chandonbrut.gifChandon Brut Classic $20
51% Pinot Noir 43% Chardonnay 4% Pinot Meunier 2% Pinot Blanc Classic balance typifies this refreshingly soft, yet dry wine. The wine delivers complex apple and pear characteristics accented by citrus spice over notes of almond and caramel in the bouquet. When you taste Brut Classic, look for nutty flavors with hints of brioche that build to a refreshingly dry finish. (via

pommeryPOP.jpgPommery POP $10 (187ml)
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier Impertinent and deliberately out of step, POP is a champagne with a determined commitment to the future - designed for lovers of beauty and non-conformity who are looking for new sensations. POP, is the sound of the cork leaving the bottle, conjuring up the spontaneous high spirits of party-time. (via


piperheidsieck.jpgPiper Heidsieck Brut NV $10 (187ml)
55% Pinot Noir, 30% Meunier and 15% Chardonnay Piper-Heidsieck cuvée Brut combines 50 rigorously selected growths. Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes create a more rounded blend and ensure the originality of the Piper-Heidsieck style. The wine's harmony develops over the course of slow ageing in Piper-Heidsieck's chalk cellars. (via

Obviously the French champagnes are a touch outside the $20 provenance of CheapFunWines, but I made it work by splurging on a split of each. I found all of these at Cost Plus World Market, but as you may have noticed above, they are also available on

Throughout the evening, we will be checking in and reporting our tasting notes and thoughts and declaring a winner in each category.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

September 30, 2008

Cleaning out the Wine Cooler

On day ten of our collective mourning we decided it might be prudent to clean out the wine cooler to make room for the home made malbec that will need to rest on its side for the next four months (at least) at a constant 70 degrees. Any straggling bottles--mostly forgotten dessert wines--were relocated and just as I was reaching in to check the temperature gauge, something way in the back caught my eye. I recognized the bottle instantly and held my breath. Fully expecting to find a more current vintage, I slid the bottle out and rotated it until my eyes beheld a wondrous surprise. I was holding a bottle of Dom Perignon Brut Vintage 1988. A great year in Champagne.
Another gasp. Could it possibly be good? Was it stored properly? Did he receive it as a gift? These were questions that could never be answered and so at my urging, we decided that this bottle, divine or vinegar, would be our celebration of life.

We popped the top rather unceremoniously and proceeded, in silence to take in the color, the aroma and the expectation we each had for this wine. In all honesty, I assumed it was probably cooked. In my mind, this find was too good to be true.

But what I experienced was intensely golden-hued, and at first, remarkably tropical. Lots of creamy pineapple and coconut, which mellowed after a few minutes into less fruity, more yeasty. The thread of minerality was still quite present as well as a very subtle hint of citrus. An altogether sublime experience, I had refilled my glass three times before I remembered I had to share.

My one great take-away from that evening was: if you've been holding on to a special bottle/vintage, or you come across one that you think might be past its prime but you're afraid to try, OPEN IT! Pour it. Share it with friends. Life is too short to keep it stashed away for the "right" time. The right time is now. Enjoy it.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

September 11, 2008

Wine 101 - Cc is for Cava

reserva-heredad-bottle.jpgDEFINITION Sparkling wine from Spain; made in the champagne method, which means that secondary fermentation occurs in each bottle versus in one large tank.

During the 1860s, the head of Cordoniu (which up to this point made only still wines) made a sales trip through Europe. While in France he traveled to Champagne and fell in love with both the region and its signature wine. He returned home to Spain with Champagne equipment and the knowledge to make Spanish sparklers with indigenous grapes.

By law, Cava can be made in any of the six main wine regions of Spain. However at least 95% of it is produced in the Penedes which is in the Catalonia region of north east Spain.

Regulations also dictate which grapes may be used for production. Cava must be made from one or more of the following five varietals: parellada, xarel-lo, macabeo, malvasia and chardonnay. It is most commonly made with the first three, but there are increasingly more producers experimenting with chardonnay as it adds a fuller, richer component that one finds in new world bubblies as well as in French sparking wines.

This is the really exciting part. Cavas are quite inexpensive! So you don't have to wait for a special occasion to enjoy a little bubbly. You can find really good Cavas in the $8 - $20 range and great ones for under $30. Though if you're going to drink it every day, I say stick to the $8 - $15 bottles.

Recently my favorite subject... You certainly can substitute Cava for Champagne, but they are stylistically quite different. Because it is made with a combination of red and white grapes, Champagnes tend to be richer and more complex. HOWEVER, and I do mean a BIG however, who says you need to drink complex bubbly every day? The Spanish really get this right. They make a crisp, fruity, easy to drink sparkler that is really meant to enjoyed every day with every-day food. This is not a champagne and caviar mentality. Rather, it is a Cava with fried chicken (really, you must try it), or Cava with bruschetta, or Cava with sushi, or Cava with just about anything way of life.

Cristalino Cava Brut NV $9
The color of pale golden sunshine; soft and fruity with lots of bright pear and apple notes.
Montsarra Cava Brut NV $15
Light and zippy with subtle fruit and bright citrus crispness.
Marques de Gelida Brut 2003 $20
Soft yet crisp, Chardonnay adds a layer of depth to this estate-bottled stunner.
Segura Viudas Cava Reserva Brut $23
Rivals any top French bubbly; rich and toasty with lots of creamy vanilla and soft pear.

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

May 22, 2008

Fire up the grill - Wines for Chicken

You can't have a picnic, or cookout or backyard BBQ without the beloved bird. You have infinite options when it comes to cooking chicken, but for laid-back gatherings go simple and crowd pleasing--fry it, or rub it with the spices of your choice and throw it on the grill.

cristalinocava.jpgOld fashioned picnic types will doubtless be serving mountains of potato salad and fried chicken. Crispy on the outside and succulent on the inside--if I didn't think it would kill me or make me fat, I would eat it every day. And my beverage of choice, in this ideal, fried-chicken-eating world, would be bubbly. That's right. Sparkling wine, champagne, in this case Cava, is the ideal match for anything fried. The bubbles clean your palate and are the perfect counterpoint to the crispy crust. The Cristalino Cava is one of my stand by wines for large gatherings. It is inexpensive but tastes like a quality champagne. Bright and crisp with hints of pear and golden apple, it is a toasty sparkler that is sure win you over.

Cristalino Cava Brut $9
Macabeo 50%, Parellada 35% and Xarello 15%
Straw color, smooth and fresh aromas; fine and fruity palate with a dry aftertaste. Clean, dry and crisp with citrus and apple flavors.

hopechard.jpgI know many of you will shun the fried chicken - it is an artery clogger - as well as the sparkling wine. So for you I have chosen a luscious chardonnay to complement a marinated or spice-rubbed grilled chicken. The folks at Hope Estate in Hunter Valley, Australia (yep, the same Hope that makes the shiraz I mentioned yesterday) make a wonderfully round, rich chard that is so reminiscent of a Mersault you'll have to look twice at the label. What differentiates it from its Burgundian big sister is the abundance of ripe, tropical fruit flavors, countered with crisp acidity, and the lack of minerality that is so present in white Burgundies.

Hope Estate Chardonnay 2006 $11
The key for our chardonnay is balance and complexity. Without using too much oak our barrel fermented style has an amazing length of peach, pineapple and melon characters but is balanced beautifully with stone citrus freshness. (from Hope Estate Winery)

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

April 18, 2008

Pretty in Pink - Globalight Champagne Holder

globalight.jpgWell, it doesn't get much more swanky than this. Created for Rose Chamapgne, which tends to be swanky on its own, this little number is so extravagant that I am at a loss for words. Check out this bit from
Cool Hunting:

Launching [this week] as part of Milan's furniture festivities, the latest collaboration with leading designers and the second with blob lord Karim Rashid and Veuve Clicquot is this reinvention of a chandelier in the form of a glowing pink champagne holder that doubles as a cooling tote. The design, an asymmetrical sensual ellipse, was the result of Rashid's initial scribble after asked to meld the immaterial and the material like he'd done with his first project for Veuve, the loveseat. Realizing his doodle was "the idea in itself," the Globalight literally circles the champagne and adds ambient illumination that plays off the pink hue of Rose champagne, for which it was designed. Bringing lighting experts Zumtobel into the project, the lamp-cum-basket uses technology to light up without heating and in fact keeps bottles at the ideal temperature for up to two hours. Limited to a run of 500 (only 50 of those will be available for the U.S. market), the Globalight will be available on Eclicquot in May for $4,000.

Obviously only a select few can, and will, splurge on this accessory. Just don't think of it as a wine cooler. Think of it as art.
Image and excerpt from Cool Hunting

Noël Wallace at Permalink social bookmarking

August 30, 2007

Champagne-ing and Entertaining

Ah, Champagne (pronounced Shom-PAHN-ya, if you ask The Continental) - such a misunderstood drink. We started thinking about it after we got our bottle of Yellow Tail Sparkling, and realized that many people think it's only for special occasions, when it can be a great wine anytime. Our Liquor Snob brethren swear you'll see God by mixing champagne and absinthe, but we're not entirely convinced. We are convinced, however, that people shouldn't be afraid of getting a little sparkle into their wine.

Why? Because, when we drink Champagne (let’s call it that for efficiency), we become one with royalty, romance, tradition, seduction, myth, celebrity and hedonism. Madame de Pompadour, maitresse-en-titre to Louis XV, believed that Champagne was the only thing a beautiful woman should drink. That’s all she sipped. And when she sipped it, the French court followed. Champagne became, and still is, the beverage of royalty.
via Napa Valley Register

Head Wino at Permalink social bookmarking

August 28, 2007

Yellow Tail Releases Sparkling White Wine

yellow-roo.gifAre you one of the people who likes cute on your wine labels? Y'know the type - someone who can't drink a wine unless it's got something cuddly and fuzzy staring back at them - a penguin, or perhaps a wallaby? So called "critter wines," big market wines aimed at just such folks, are all the rage in a lot of circles, and it looks like the critter wine stable just got one bottle bigger.

We just found out that Yellow Tail, the folks who have the aforementioned wallaby on their label, will be releasing a sparkling white wine on September 1. We'd certainly be interested in trying it as we've never had a bad experience with the other Yellow Tail varieties we've tried. Plus, it's being released nationally so it should be easy to get hands on a bottle - and it should retail for around 11 bucks. Can't go wrong there.

See below for the press release we received.

ArrowContinue reading: "Yellow Tail Releases Sparkling White Wine"

Head Wino at Permalink social bookmarking

January 8, 2007

Absinthe+Champagne=Death in the Afternoon

Death in the Afternoon cocktailThe boys over at Liquor Snob might have something here - check out Death in the Afternoon.

We've heard about a drink called the Hemingway cocktail, and we knew it involved a combination of absinthe and champagne. It seemed like a high end way to kill an afternoon, but there were two things we didn't think about (or know). One thing we didn't think about was how champagne's bubbles might distribute the absinthe buzz. Two was the fact that another name for the drink was the Death in the Afternoon (named after a book by Papa himself).
Liquor Snob - Death in the Afternoon

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December 29, 2006

A Fresh Perspective on Champagne

Champagne PoppingNew Year's is just about the only time most people think about Champagne and sparkling wine, because people apparently want to have bubbles tickle their noses as they ring in the new year. We've found an interesting take on Champagne recommendations over at DCist, which has not included your typical label tasting notes but has instead opted to give profiles of different types of the effervescent drink, from Blanc de Blancs to Demi Sec.

We found it interesting, though our Liquor Snob brethren seem to have taken some issue with the author's comparison of Jack Daniel's and Johnnie Walker (see the comments).

All bubbly is not created equal.
This is true both literally – there are numerous methods of getting the bubbles in the bottle – and tastefully. Just as Sunny D does not taste like Tropicana and Jack Daniels does not taste like Johnnie Walker, all sparkling wine does not taste the same simply because it’s all fizzy.

Know thyself.
Before you trek to the wine store to buy bubbles, form an opinion about what you generally like to drink. Do you prefer dry or sweet? White or red? Beer or liquor? Do you always stick to certain brands when you drink? Believe us, this will come in handy when you ask the salesperson for a suggestion. The more specific you can be about what you like (or hate), the better the bottle you’ll walk out with.

Read on at DCist.

Head Wino at Permalink social bookmarking

December 19, 2006

Barefoot Bubbly Has Champagne Dreams

Barefoot BubblyWhile we like the occasional sip of the bubbly, we don't lose a lot of sleep at night wondering about the difference between Champagne and sparkling wine. In fact, we thought we pretty much had it dialed - Champagne is from France and sparkling wine is from anywhere else.

But Kevin from The Scotch Blog has posted a story on his side gig Drink Shoot about Barefoot Bubbly, a "California Champagne," that has opened our eyes. In the words of Jennifer Wall, the winemaker at Barefoot Cellars:

We are legally allowed to use the term “Champagne” in the United States – as long as it is used in conjunction with the region that the grapes originated from. For example – if the wine grapes were grown in California, we can legally say “California Champagne” – that’s the agreement that The United States came up with France so that there was no confusion with the consumer.
So it turns out you can make Champagne in the states, and apparently the Barefoot Bubbly is some fine-tasting California bubbly. Read the whole Barefoot Bubbly story at Drink Shoot.

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