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Summer Wines: What to Drink All Summer Long

Cool off with crisp, refreshing summer wines!

Memorial Day has always been one of my favorite holiday weekends, the unofficial start of the summer season. The official turning of the season may be a few weeks away still, but these long, hot sunny days and warm, pleasant nights sure have me fooled, and I couldn’t be more thankful.  It’s time to break out the whites in our wardrobe and to fill our glasses with light, bright, refreshing summer wines.

Here at Wine Cellarage, we’ve compiled a selection of great summer wines that we’re thrilled to share with you.  These wines have been chosen for their excellent quality and great value. They are sure to keep you cool and quenched all season long without draining your summer vacation fund!  There are certain wines that go hand-in-hand with the summer season, classic choices that will never go out of style, including Rosé, Prosecco, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.  In addition to these classics, we’ve added some slightly more unusual wines to our summer wine collection.  Among them, delicious Chenin Blancs from the Loire Valley, a Gewurztraminer from Northern California and a fantastic Methode Traditionelle sparkler from New Zealand.

Our homage to the summer season doesn’t stop with our exciting portfolio of summery wines.  This year, we’ve partnered with Eating Vine, a new recipe sharing and wine pairing community, to create three different Summer Wine Packs. Each pack is an intriguing wine tasting adventure, filled with six carefully selected wines from Wine Cellarage and paired with amazing recipes from Eating Vine!

Our Summer Wine Packs are a great way to stock-up on crisp, cooling summer wines, such as Rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Prosecco and even Champagne.  Perfect for picnics, parties and gifts, the delicious recipe pairings will make entertaining easy, breezy and elegant all summer long.

Here’s a closer look at our summer wine collection…

Rosé

There’s no better way to welcome the warm weather and to kick off the summer ahead than by opening the season’s first bottle of crisp, refreshing berry-scented rosé. Rosé is the ideal wine for summer barbecue’s and parties.  Incredibly food friendly, Julia Child put it best when she said, “Rosés can be served with anything!” As you gear up for summer entertaining, don’t forget the rosé!  Perfect pairings include barbecue flavors, sausage, hamburgers, and just about anything on the grill – veggies, fish, shrimp, pork and so on.  And of course, fresh salads and side dishes get along incredibly well with this cool, crisp rosy wine!

One of the best rosé values out there comes to us from an award-winning South African producer, Mulderbosch Vineyards. Renowned as one of the country’s very best white wine producers, Mulderbosch makes two highly regarded reds and an excellent 100% Cabernet Sauvignon rosé.  The 2010 Mulderbosch Vineyards Rosé Stellenbosch ($12) is a delicious, refreshing rosé, showcasing complex aromas and flavors of rose petals, lime zest and wild strawberry.

The 2010 Domaine Saint Ser Cotes de Provence Saint Victoire Rosé Prestige ($21) is an elegant rosé, offering lovely aromas of wild red berries, hints of watermelon and lemon zest; a perfect pairing for traditional Provencal meals like Bouillabaisse.  This wine definitely has the structure to stand up to substantial dishes.  (I paired this with grilled sausage and peppers last weekend and it was wonderful!)  The Domaine Saint-Ser is located in the Saint Victoire sub-appellation of the Côtes de Provence and is home to a small number of elite producers.

The 2010 Bieler Père et Fils Sabine Rosé Coteaux d’Aix-en-Provence ($14) is the perfect summertime quaff, showing aromas and flavors of raspberry, cherry and wild strawberry, along with racy minerality and bright acidity.  You’ll want to drink this rosé every chance you get this summer.  Charles Bieler has been crafting his delicious Provençal rosé for the last 5 years. Named for his daughter, Sabine, who was born the same year as the wine’s first vintage, this rosé honors Charles’ father, Philippe, who introduced he and his sister to the wine business.

Sauvignon Blanc

Sauvignon Blancs are the perfect coolers for hot summer weather. Their vibrant, zesty character, citrus aromas, herbal notes and crisp acidity make them a classic choice for summertime imbibing.  Sauvignon Blanc is best consumed within a few years of its release, while youthful, fruity and refreshing.  This native French varietal is the main constituent of white Bordeaux and is widely planted in the Loire Valley, most notably in the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé.

This year we can’t get enough of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.  Craggy Range wine estate makes one of our favorite Sauvignon Blancs.  Owned and operated by the Peabody family, Craggy Range specializes in exceptional single-vineyard wines that are true to their terroir.  The 2009 Te Muna Road Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc ($19) is from their Te Muna Road Vineyard in Martinborough and is produced from vines that grow on stony, limestone-rich soils.  Minimal cellar intervention results in an elegant Sauvignon Blanc with a delicate, soft texture and mineral undertones.

Another favorite from New Zealand is the 2010 Cloudy Bay Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc ($27).  Located in the Wairau Valley of Marlborough, Cloudy Bay’s vineyards benefit from the cool, maritime climate bestowed by the South Pacific. This sustainable, environmentally conscious wine estate single-handedly pushed Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc into the spotlight.  Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc delivers classic characteristics of ripe lime and grapefruit, along with a remarkable tropical medley of papaya, mango, orange blossom and gooseberry. Vibrant and refreshing, this is just what the doctor ordered on a hot summer afternoon and makes an ideal accompaniment for the fresh flavors, herbs and spices of Asian cuisine.

While we love New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, we’ll always have a taste for those from the Loire Valley. Pascal Jolivet is one of the Loire’s youngest estates producing exceptional Sauvignon Blancs.  Established in 1987, Domaine Pascal Jolivet is devoted to natural winemaking and sustainable techniques.  Based in Sancerre, the estate owns over 70 acres of the best vineyards in the appellations of Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé.  The 2009 Pascal Jolivet Sauvignon Blanc Attitude ($17) offers floral and citrus aromas, bright acidity and minerality on the palate.  This delightful wine drinks like a Sancerre at half the price.

If it is true Sancerre that you’re after, the 2010 Domaine des Vieux Pruniers Sancerre Blanc ($20) is a wonderful, affordable option.  Domaine des Vieux-Pruniers is located in the village of Bué, a few short miles from Sancerre.  Here the grapes grow on incredibly steep, hillside vineyards renowned for their limestone-rich soils.  This is a quintessential Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc – clean and pure, showing aromas of citrus fruit and blossoms, zesty lime and orange flavors and brisk minerality that lingers on the palate.

Chardonnay

Chardonnay is the chameleon of the grape varietals, thriving in a range of climates and crafted in a variety of styles. Relatively neutral in character, Chardonnay is easily influenced by its environment and the winemaker’s techniques.  For these reasons, it is one of the most popular and widely planted white wine grapes in the world.  Native to France’s Burgundy, Chardonnay is the only grape variety permissible in Chablis and one of three grapes varieties used in Champagne.  Outside of France, Chardonnay has flourished in the New World wine regions, growing happily in California, Chile, South Africa, Australia and beyond.

Chablis is always a refreshing choice for summertime and perfect for pairing with lighter dishes, especially seafoods.  The 2009 Domaine Gilbert Picq et Ses Fils Chablis Vieilles Vignes ($25), made from fifty year old vines, is a classic Chablis with plenty of zippy minerality and pure fruit character.

The 2009 Bouchard Pere et Fils Bourgogne Blanc ($18) is a great summer Chardonnay from Burgundy – lively and fresh, offering pear and peach aromas and a smooth texture with just a touch of oak.  The Bouchard Bourgogne Blanc is an ideal accompaniment for grilled seafood, shellfish and poultry dishes.

Another Chardonnay that we’ve fallen for this year is from a fantastic South African producer with a rich history, Glenelly Wine Estate. Located in Stellenbosch, the estate’s heritage goes back to the 17th century.  May-Eliane de Lencquesaing purchased the property in 2003, after running the famed Chateau Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande for 30 years prior.  May de Lencquesaing is renowned for the wines of her Pauillac Grand Cru Classé Chateau and has upheld the same level of excellence at Glenelly. The 2010 Glenelly Chardonnay The Glass Collection Stellenbosch ($14) showcases the exceptional quality and value coming from this estate.

Unique Summer Wines

If you love Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley as much as we do, François Chidaine’s Vouvrays are not to be missed.  Crafted in a range of styles from bone dry to sweet, Chidaine’s Vouvrays share an ethereal, elegant quality and great complexity.  This summer we’re sipping Chidaine’s dry styles – the 2009 Francois Chidaine Vouvray Clos Baudoin ($25) and the 2009 Francois Chidaine Vouvray Les Argiles ($23), which are enchanting now and will age gracefully for years to come.

Breggo Cellars’ extraordinary white wines from unique varietals (Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Riesling) places this Northern Californian producer on our summertime favorites list.  The 2009 Breggo Cellars Gewurztraminer Anderson Valley ($27) is exotic and enticing with opulent aromas of orange zest, lychee, honeysuckle and rose.  Elegant and refreshing on the palate, bright tropical flavors mingle with zippy acidity and a long, lovely finish.  Only 398 cases made!

On of the best value sparkling wines we’ve come across is the NV Quartz Reef Sparkling Methode Traditonelle ($28) from Central Otago, New Zealand.  Blended from 76% Pinot Noir and 24% Chardonnay, this is a beautiful, brisk and refreshing sparkling wine that you’ll want to enjoy poolside, dockside and just about everywhere else you go this summer.

When we think of summertime sparkling wine, we think Prosecco.  Both the NV Lamberti Prosecco Extra Dry ($14) and the 2009 Bisol Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Crede ($20) are amazing!  When looking for the ideal wine to pop open on a hot Saturday afternoon, you can’t go wrong with either of these delightful, summery Proseccos.

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Champagne: A Short Guide to the Sparkling Delight

Celebratory Flutes of Champagne

Champagne is the drink of celebration.  Its bubbles and ethereal flavors instantly commemorate festivity.  Not only does it set the party in motion, but it pairs wonderfully with a variety of foods.  From potato chips to sushi, you can’t go wrong with a glass of Champagne.  When shopping for this sparkling beverage, we are faced with a number of choices and must decipher a set of labeling terms that tell us about the style of the bubbly in the bottle.  Will it be dry, full-bodied, fruity?  To begin to understand the language of Champagne and the various styles that it is made in, let’s take a look at the region and a bit of history…

In the most northern reaches of French wine country, and the farthest north of all the European vineyards, lies the legendary Champagne region.  Northeast of Paris, hugging the Marne River valley, the region is divided into three main subregions, the Vallée de la Marne, the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs.  Here, the short growing season and severe growing conditions produce light wines that have high acidity and low alcohol, the perfect foundation for sparkling wine.  Millions of years ago, a sea covered the Champagne region, the fossils and sediments of which formed the area’s chalky soils.  If it weren’t for these mineral-rich chalk soils, vines would not grow nearly as well here.  The chalk retains water and slowly releases it as the soil dries, ensuring that the vines are always hydrated. The mineral content in the soil nurtures the vines and gives the grapes their character, making wines of quality and distinction.

The bubbles in Champagne come from an intriguing and complex process entailing not one, but two fermentation cycles.  Once the wine goes through its initial fermentation, it is bottled as a still wine.  Right before bottling, a mixture of sugar, wine and yeast nutrients is added to the wine.  In French, this mixture is called “liqueur de tirage”.  The bottle is topped with a temporary seal and laid down in the cellar where the second fermentation begins.  During this stage, the yeast digests the added sugar, which in turn produces more alcohol and carbon dioxide.  The CO2 builds up in the bottle, slowly dissolving in the wine…and viola! Bubbles!

Although Champagne production was initially accidental and it is unclear who actually discovered the process, it is certain that the monk Dom Pérignon was a leader of the Champagne wine movement in France during the mid-1600s.  During the early 1800s, Champagne was first commercialized by the infamous Madame (Veuve) Clicquot.  The popularity of the bubbly drink continued to grow and around this time, the celebrated Champagne names that we know and love entered the scene, the local merchant Monsieur Moët, as well as Krug, Bollinger and Roederer, all young, business savvy German entrepreneurs.  Since those early times, the region struggled with difficulties, from vine-destroying pestilence to fraudulent wine production, occurrences that shaped and strengthened the modern Champagne industry.

There are three grape varietals used in Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Each of these grapes dominates one of the three Champagne subregions and creates wine with specific characteristics.  Chardonnay grapes, most common in the Côtes des Blancs subregion, produce a lighter style wine with high acidity, citrus characteristics and fine bubbles.  Pinot Noir is widely planted in the Montagne de Reims subregion, and imparts body to sparkling wine blends.  Pinot Meunier, the dominant grape in the Marne Valley, provides fruity character to the blend.  These three grapes varietals, used in combination or on their own, produce an array of Champagne styles, which brings us to a set of vocabulary that you’ll encounter when buying your bubbly.

A familiar term in Champagne speak is Non-Vintage (NV), which is bubbly made from a blend of wines from different years.  NV is considered by some to be superior to Champagne from a single year’s harvest because it allows quality control and insurance that no matter how bad one year’s vintage is, it can be evened-out by the blend.  Vintage Champagne shows the year of harvest on the label and has distinct characteristics based on the particular year’s growing conditions.  The term Prestige Cuvée is given to Champagne that is made from the highest quality wine and blended with the utmost care.  These wines are usually aged for longer periods prior to their release.  Examples of Prestige Cuvées from top producers are Moët & Chandon’s Dom Perignon bottling and Roederer’s Cristal.

Champagne labeled Blanc de Blancs, meaning white from whites in French, is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes, and is usually a lighter style wine with bright acidity and core flavors of citrus and apple.  The labeling term Blanc de Noirs refers to white Champagne made from black grapes, specifically Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, or a blend of the two.  Blanc de Noirs are usually fuller-bodied, fruit-forward Champagnes with a lengthy finish.

Rosé Champagne, with its fun pinkish hue, is made from all three grape varietals, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Interestingly, Rosé Champagne is most frequently made by blending some red wine from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier with white wine from Chardonnay.  A few Champagne houses use the saignée method, allowing the dark grape skins to have limited contact with the musts and impart some of their color to the wine, but this method is far less common.  Rosé Champagnes tend to have a full body and extra fruitiness on the nose and palate.

The level of sweetness in Champagne is determined by the portion of sugar that is added after second fermentation and ageing.  The terms listed below refer to the amount of sweetness in Champagne and will help you decide which best suits your taste:

Term Dryness Level & Grams Sugar per Liter
Brut Nature The Most Dry; Below 3 g/l
Extra Brut Very Dry; 0-6 g/l
Brut Very Dry – Dry; 0-15 g/l
Extra-Sec Off-Dry; 12-20 g/l
Sec Medium-Dry; 17-35 g/l
Demi-Sec Sweet; 33-50 g/l
Doux Very Sweet; 50+ g/l

Brut is the most common of these styles, however, since the levels of sweetness overlap, it is left to the producer’s discretion to use the labeling term of their choosing.

On a final note, there are many incredible and delicious sparkling wines made throughout the world, but in order to be labeled Champagne, it must come from that specific region in France.  When searching for the Champagne that will put a sparkle in your eye, try different brands and styles, and don’t forget to pair it with food for a truly amazing dining experience!

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