Champagne Keeps Getting Greener

Vineyards of Vizernay, Montagne de Reims, ChampagneNew Programs Continue Multiyear Carbon Reduction Campaign:

As Earth Day approaches, the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) is furthering the Champagne region's leadership in environmental preservation with new initiatives to reuse woody biomass and wastewater from wine production.  
The region has launched an appellation-wide program to transform the 150,000 metric tons of wood waste generated from vineyard pruning into energy, reducing pollution and helping replace fossil fuels used in wine production with a renewable source of energy. 
Through this BIOVIVE (Biomasse Viticole) initiative, the Champagne region is working with local utilities to cut the current carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 10,000 metric tons per year, the equivalent of taking 5,000 vehicles off the road. 
Similarly, wine production results in 600,000 cubic meters (m3) of wastewater and byproducts each year. Since 1990, when only five percent of wastewater was treated and reused, the Champagne industry has steadily increased its environmental stewardship; now 95 percent of wastewater is treated and 91 percent is recycled. 
"Champagne only comes from Champagne. The distinctive land and climate of Champagne cannot be replicated elsewhere and the people of Champagne understand that they must be protected to preserve the region's centuries-old wine-making tradition," said Sam Heitner, director of the Champagne Bureau, the U.S. representative of the CIVC. "These efforts are just a few of the environmental initiatives that the Champagne region has undertaken as part of its campaign to reduce the region's carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020."
Champagne is not merely a type of wine; it is a unique region with a long history of winemaking expertise. Located 90 miles northeast of Paris, the region covers less than 80,000 acres. Only grapes handpicked in the carefully delineated plots inside the appellation can be used to produce Champagne. The CIVC, comprised of all the grape growers and houses in Champagne, has led these environmental initiatives to ensure that Champagne continues to focus on quality and preserve its unique wine-growing location. 
The region's leadership in emission reduction began in 2002 with the first-ever wine region environmental impact assessment. Based on the audit results, the Champagne region set itself the goal of cutting carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 75 percent by 2050.
To achieve this, there are currently more than 40 initiatives to reduce the region's environmental footprint. For example, after the CIVC determined that the production, packing and shipping of wine bottles accounted for 33 percent of the region's carbon emissions, it announced a new standard bottle in 2010 which, at more than two ounces lighter, will reduce the region's annual CO2 output by 8,000 metric tons, equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of 4,000 cars. The new design consists mainly of changes to the neck of the bottle and was tested extensively to ensure that it maintains the performance, safety and character of the bottle historically used in the region.
"In 2002, the Champagne appellation showed true leadership by engaging in the most comprehensive environmental audit of a wine region that had ever been conducted," continued Heitner. "Introducing a lighter bottle, reusing wood waste and capturing wastewater are small steps that, when implemented throughout the region, help make a significant difference in the carbon emitted from the Champagne appellation."

- Information obtained from the Champagne Bureau

Holiday Wine Picks

So the end of the year is near, meaning we have alot of celebrating to do.  Whether you're buying gifts (wine makes the perfect holiday gift), having friends and family over for Christmas dinner or you need some bubbly for New Year's, these wine picks should impress. 

Gift Wines

I tend to lean toward full bodied reds for gifts.  They tend to age longer, pair well with meat main dishes, and simply put, most Americans like red wine.  So here's a few to choose from, in various price ranges:

  • 2007 Cosentino Cigarzin ($16.99).  The name is very macho and so is the wine.  It's full of interesting flavors like rhubarb, pomegranate, cherry cream and the signature cigar box aroma.  This is one to warm up to and enjoy with a holiday meal or some chocolate.  Also, a great value I found at CostCo.
  • 2008 Langmeil "Valley Floor" Shiraz ($22.99).  This wine is deep and rich, loaded with plum, dark cherry and berry flavor along with vanilla and cocoa.  Plus the fact that it comes from Barossa and has a screwcap makes this wine hard to resist opening!
  • 2007 Tinto Pesquera ($32.99).  Great Tempranillo from the Ribera del Duero giving dark rich fruit, pencil lead, leather, minerality and nice acidic bite.  Will age gracefully.
  • 2007 Hall Cabernet Sauvignon ($39.99).  The all-American wine gift is a Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and this bottle gives all that it should: full body, dark cherry, plum, coffee, licorice and a long finish.  This bottle should age gracefully and be a great part of the recipient's cellar.
  • 2007 Andrew Will Ciel du Cheval ($52.99).  A great blend of 45% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon from Yakima Valley in Washington.  Blackberry, cassis, flowers, spice and herbs are a part of the aroma and flavor profile.  The recipient will love you for this!
  • 2005 Giorgio Rivetti La Spinetta "Vigneto Gallina" Barbaresco ($79.99).  An awesome and present from northwest Italy.  This wine would be a great addition to any cellar and has lasting ability along with raspberry and plum, tar and truffle essence.

Food Wines

Here are two wines which match very well with most foods and are safe bets to pair with whatever dish you may run into.

The Bubbly

There is sure to be alot of celebrating and this calls for some sparkling wine.  Not only is it crisp and refreshing, but the foam, bubbles and fruity flavor will help you ring in the New Year in style.  I decided to leave out Champagne and only put in the value selections, but if you feel like it, grab a bottle of Duval-Leroy, Dom Perignon or any other Champagne.

  •  Gran Sarao Brut Cava ($9.99).  A great value with grannie smith apple, yeasty dough and lemon zest flavors.  They even added Chardonnay to the traditional blend of Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo, giving it more body.
  • Huber "Hugo" Sparkling Rosé ($9.99).  An Austrian blend of Pinot Noir and Zweigelt, this wine will wow you with its strawberries, raspberries, rose petals and minerality.  And the pricetag is just right.
  • Mionetto Organic Prosecco D.O.C. ($12.99).  If you're trying to save money and stay green, this is the wine for you.  They even used recyclables to make the bottle and label!  Golden apples and elderflower along with crispness and fresh bubbles. 
  • Gustave Lorentz Cremant d'Alsace ($19.99).  A lively sparkling wine made up of mostly Pinot Blanc and loaded with brioche, apples, meyer lemon and a hint of nuttiness.
  • 2006 Argyle Brut ($19.99).  Blend of 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir.  Full of honeysuckle, melon, vanilla spiced pear, apple, biscuit, lemon meringue, well, you get the picture- a must buy!
  • L. Mawby Brut Cremant Classic ($21.99).  Straight from Michigan's Leelanau Peninsula, made of 100% Vignoles (hybrid varietal).  Excellent fruit flavor, crispness, yeast and toasted pine nuts.

Holiday Beer

Yes, beer drinkers should not be excluded from the celebration, and here's a few to keep you happy:

Happy Holidays, stay safe and let me know how you enjoyed the recommendations!

New Year's Eve Sparkling Bargains

So the New Year is just around the corner and you still haven't gotten around to picking that special beverage for your midnight toast.  Not a problem!  There are many very good, affordable choices out there to be had and sure not to disappoint.  Now you can always drop the plastic and pick up a bottle of Champagne, most of which cost over $30 per bottle.  But there's so many bottles of sparkling wine to grab that taste great and cost around $20 or less.  Let's get down to some of these choices:

There is always value to be found in Italy and for this occasion, grab the Prosecco.  It's a light, fresh sparkling wine made from a grape with the same name.  It typically has fairly intense primary flavors like pear, peach and apple.  I recommend Mionetto ($9.99) or Bisol ($12.99).

Cava has been a hot item, made in Spain from typically three different local varietals: Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada.  It's made in the traditional method, where fermentation takes place in bottle, giving it extra complexity as the wine ages on the lees.  My favorite producer is Gran Sarao ($8.99) as they add a touch of Chardonnay to the blend giving it more body.

Next stop we have Methode Cap Classique, or sparkling wines from South Africa fermented in the bottle.  Many of these are made with Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc, but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir use is growing.  Go for the Graham Beck Brut ($14.99), a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with nice weight and lemon custard pie flavor.

In central Europe, the Germans and Austrians also are involved in excellent sparkling wine production, known as sekt.  The Germans normally (90%) use imported juice to make their sparkling wines, while the Austrians use local varietals and the traditional method to make theirs.  I'm a big fan of Szigeti Austrian sparkling Gruner Veltliner ($18.99) for it's clean apple flavor and light pepper spice.

We are, of course, no slouches to making sparkling wines in the United States.  California has great producers like Domaine Chandon, Iron Horse, Schramsberg and Domaine CarnerosSoter and Argyle are some of the best from Oregon, while Domaine Ste. Michelle holds the reigns in Washington state.  Chandon's Riche ($14.99), Schramsberg Mirabelle ($21.99) and Ste. Michelle's Blanc de Blanc ($7.99) provide a good range of weight, fruit, and style at inexpensive pricing.  I also really like Gruet Rose ($13.99) from New Mexico, as it provides a sparkling wine with excellent red fruit taste.

Now before we bypass France altogether, it's important to remember that there are alot more sparkling wines than just those that come from the Champagne region, mostly known as Cremant.  Examples can be seen all over the country, but I highly recommend one from Alsace by Gustave Lorentz ($14.99) made mostly of Pinot Blanc.  It has excellent citrus and apple with bright floral aromatics.

Whatever you choose, I'm sure that you will enjoy your New Year.  But just remember: be responsible and ask the Windy City Wine Guy for any further recommendations you may need.

(image courtesy of flickr)

Sparkling Wine 101 Event

Spring is upon us, so no better time to have a Sparkling Wine 101 tasting and seminar from the Windy City Wine img_11051Guy.  The event took place at the Binny's South Loop Tasting Room.  It was an intimate setting with a gorgeous view of the Chicago skyline, including the Sear's Tower.  My guests were set to taste three sparkling wines paired with cheese, and a whole lot of info.

The tables were pre-set with three Riedel sparkling wine glasses and the pouring began.  The sparkling wines we were about to taste are simple and affordable examples geared to give occasional bubbly fun, without the need to splurge on a Champagne.  The three samples included:

  1. Mionetto "Il" Prosecco.  This is a great, every occasion, sparkling wine.  It is light and bubbly, with simple peach and pear flavor.  The perfect apéritif!

  2. Gran Sarao Brut Cava.  Cava is always made in the méthode champenoise, and this is a great value example.  Green apple and light, doughy flavor.

  3. Dm. Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blanc.  A Washington state sparkling Chardonnay produced in the traditional method.  Dry, tart, and rich, with pear, pineapple, and toasty coconut.

We also had three perfectly paired cheeses to go along with the wines:

  1. Brie le Chatelain.  This creamy, buttery, soft cow milk cheese from northeast France is delicious inside and out.  A perfect rich texture to accompany the crisp acidity of a sparkling wine.

  2. Mimolette.  This semi soft cow milk cheese from northwest France has a Parmesan-like sweetness and nuttiness.  Perfect with sparkline wines.

  3. Gorgonzola Dolce.  Dolce in Italian means sweet, but it also means young when referring to this cow milk blue cheese.  It hails from northwest Italy (Lombardia).  The creamy texture and mild, salty flavor make it ideal for sparkling wine.

The lecture ranged on subjects from differing sparkling wine viniculture methods to Dom Perignon and the history of Champagne.  There was a very informative Q&A segment, followed by a pour-off of the remaining wine.  A great time img_1101had by all!  I want to thank the Binny's staff, especially GM Juan Torres, and all the attendees.  Ciao!img_1095img_1099img_1103img_1092img_11041

New Year's Celebration: Champagne Splurge

531192447_e03d6afda81This is the time of year for celebration with all of the holidays and New Year's Eve upon us.  There are festivities and parties, and nothing says splurge like Champagne.  It is a beverage that was originally sought over 150 years ago by royalty in every nation, and today means celebration for all classes.  While people love Champagne and it is the undisputed king of sparkling wine, the costs have risen sharply over the last decade.  New wealth in countries like Russia and China have raised demand, with only a marginal increase in production.  Other areas and countries have gotten into sparkling wine production, with good value and success, but Champagne remains on top.

If you are looking for some value with your Champagne splurge for the New Year, the Windy City Wine Guy has some picks for you.

Here are five great valued Champagne choices:

  • Piper Heidsieck Brut NV ($25).  I like the minerality, lemon citrus, and light ginger spice on this sparkler.  It finishes long but a bit tart.  Also widely available with over 60,000 cases imported to the US.

  • Comte Audoin de Dampierre Grand Cuvée NV ($39).  A medium weight dry champagne with rich citrus, brioche, creamy character.

  • Philipponat Royal Reserve Brut NV ($40).  Extremely complex with bread, yeast, and ripe red fruit on the nose, and lime and black currant on the palate.  Loaded with flavor and crisp acidity.

  • Henri Mandois Origine Brut NV ($40).  Ripe pear, baked lemon, and toasty vanilla highlight this crisp champagne selection.

Now for those who feel like throwing down, I have three great choices:

  • 1999 Dom Perignon ($120).  My wife and I chose this as our anniversary celebration wine.  The aromas and flavors exuded are a life experience.  So complex with smells of flowers, pineapple, cinnamon, and hints of cocoa.  The taste of meyer lemon, anise, and smokey oak combine well with crisp earth tones and an alarming long flavor.

  • 1996 Salon Blanc de Blancs ($270).  This wine is only produced in extremely good years.  Flinty minerality and loads of lemon/lime citrus accompany yeast and bready goodness.  The rich creaminess and acidity keep this wine fresh and lively for years to come.

  • Krug Grande Cuvée Brut NV ($160).  Krug is the king of Champagne houses, turning out the most quality (and pricey!) wines available.  Their Non-Vintage explodes with coconut, coffee bean, toast, and sugared citrus.  Deep and complex.

Just a couple of hints when you are picking your Champagne.  Vintage Champagne is created in only special years, those where the grapes are allowing to grow and ripen to full potential.  These wines will exude the best that year has to offer.  Non-Vintage (NV) Champagnes are made to be consistent in accordance to the Champagne house's specified recipe.  Each release should taste the same as the next, as they blend different varietals and vintages, offering a delicious and reliable product. 

If you would like to try a variable sweetness level, remember that Brut Natural is the driest.  It then goes up to Extra Brut, and Brut.  You will start to taste more sweetness with Extra Dry, then Sec, Demi-Sec, and Doux being the sweetest.  Also remember that Rosé wines are pink and fruity, but can be just as dry the clear sparkling wines, depending upon their rating.

Enjoy the Champagne and enjoy New Year!

(Image courtesy of flickr)

Champagne is Sparkling Wine, But...

  1. I know many of us have asked for Champagne before and expected to get the house bubbly.  The fact of the matter is American marketing has tried to turn the word champagne into a generic for sparkling wine.  But Champagne is something much more prized and special. 

For any wine to be called Champagne, it must come from the Champagne region in France.  This is no different than Chianti or Cognac.

There are many factors which help this region produce the world's greatest sparkling wines.  The grapes are grown in a northern climate and maintain a high amount of acidity which is essential to the ageing potential and production of sparkling wine.  The grapes are able to mature because the forests and chalk topsoil keep moisture and warmth in.  The chalk soil underneath along with the fossil content provides much of their nutrients, flavor and character.

The wine making process in champagne, méthode Champenoise, starting with hand picked grapes gives the wine more character.  The grapes are then fermented into still wine and later blended and fermented a second time in the bottle, making the bubbles.  The bready yeasty tastes come from aging on lees, the yeast cells killed off during fermentation.  The processes of riddling, disgorging, dosage, and ageing finish the refined product.  Now you know why Champagne is so tasty and coveted.

Champagne prices are continually rising due to high demand and the rise of the Euro.  There are great inexpensive replacement sparkling wines on the market so try all of them- you may find one you like more than Champagne.

  1. Prosecco.  This northern Italian grape produces some light crisp styles and great buys such as Riondo Prosecco, which can be had for less than $14/bottle.  For other Italian alternatives try Asti made from Moscato and Spumante.

  2. Cava.  This is normally made in the traditional method near Barcelona, Spain, using mostly local varietals.  It is still light but has great yeasty flavors.  Less than $10 will nab you a bottle of Cristalino.

  3. Cremant.  This is a generic term for French sparkling wine created outside the Champagne region.  Baumard Carte Turquoise from Loire can be had for about $15.

  4. Sekt.  This is one of my favorites.  German sparkling wine made in a full style.  NV Alice from Pfalz made from Reisling can be a steal under $10.

  5. American Sparkling.  There are so many good ones like Argyle-I met the owner, Rollin Soles, and he is a cool guy.  Visit him if you are in Oregon!- ($20), Iron Horse($24) and Schramsberg($25) from California, and Gruet from New Mexico- I love their Blanc de Noirs, a great sparkling rose under $15.

Enjoy these sparklers any time and save Champagne for celebrations.  My wife and I celebrate anniversaries with 1999 vintage Dom Perignon.  Select your wines, make your moments, and enjoy life!

 (Image courtesy of Flickr)