Monday, December 16, 2013

Let’s Hear It For My Girls!

Truer words were never spoken than when Plautus stated “Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words.” Looking for any reason to celebrate with good wine and great food, my gal pals and I convened for our annual Wine Wednesday Women Christmas soiree this weekend.  We love to spoil each other any chance we can, and this weekend it was my turn to celebrate sincere friendship with a wonderful group.
 The table was set full of wine glasses with care.
Santa's elf napkins and basil marked the seats for us there.

The Menu—Italian Inspired  
Course One:  Asiago, Parmesan, and Romano cheeses with Prosciutto and grapes
Wine Pairing:  Prosecco and Champagne
Taste:  Delizioso!

Course Two:  Green salad with Olive Garden Italian dressing
Wine Pairing:  Pinot Grigio (I assigned wines and guests brought their choice of the varietal)
Taste:  Fantastico!

Course Three:  Alfredo sauce with linguini and baked garlic chicken breasts
Wine Pairing:  Pinot Noir or Chardonnay
Taste:  Bello!

Course Four:  Mocha pots de crème
Wine Pairing:  Reeder Mesa Vineyards Grand Valley Port
Taste:  Perfetto!
Bubbles from Italy and France started off...
A cheese course with Prosciutto that left nothing to scoff.

Port and pots de crème was a pairing so dear...
If you have never made homemade Alfredo, try it soon.  It is not difficult, just time consuming to stir the sauce until the Parmesan cheese is melted smoothly.  It is the food of the Gods, mostly because it is cream, butter, and cheese.  Fabulously artery clogging! 

The dessert is my favorite part though.  Chocolate pots de crème tastes as if one has slaved over the delight for hours, when really it takes all of twenty minutes to complete.   

The Recipe
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 Tbsp. sugar
Dash of salt
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
½ tsp. instant coffee
 1 tsp. rum liquor (I think you can use cognac or brandy too.)
¾ cup hot milk
Whipped cream

Add all ingredients except for the hot milk in the blender; slowly add the
hot milk. Cover the blender to prevent splattering and mix well. Pour into demitasse cups or small ramekins. Refrigerate until set.  Garnish with real whipped cream and fresh raspberries.
I made a mocha version, using one half cup milk chocolate chips and one half cup dark chocolate chips and two teaspoons Kahlua instead of the rum and vanilla.  The dark chocolate and coffee flavors were an easy twist on an already super-simple final course. 

So whether your occasion to celebrate is Christmas or friendship (or because it is Tuesday), I hope you make wine and sweet words part of the fun.   Treat yourself and your loved ones to great food, good beverages, and wonderful laughter.  Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good wine!
It left us all smiling, filled with great Christmas cheer. 

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Wine on a Whole New Level--Level Design Lounge

In a beautiful, historic stone building nestled on the corner of picturesque Main Street Spearfish, appreciation of wine and design is being taking to a whole new level in the northern Black Hills of South Dakota…pun intended.  Level Design Lounge acts as the anchor to a bustling downtown block, offering much for wine lovers and wine newbies to enjoy. 
Beautiful, historic stone buildings.
Inviting from the outside in.
Level’s wonderful ambiance starts before ever entering the door to the lounge.  The entire building (and those surrounding it) is constructed of large sandstone blocks, speaking of a simpler time.  The instant one enters, the décor is modern yet inviting at the same time.  A seating area of mosaic mirror-topped tables is near the bar, and other smaller seating areas are dotted throughout the lower level.  Home décor, jewelry, art, and wine supplies for purchase are found throughout.  The upper level is a true lounge area, sporting such comfy looking couches one can barely wait to grab a glass of wine downstairs before relaxing with a friend, chatting on the couches above. 
 Reusing wine bottles as interior art.

 Lounge area, ready for wine and relaxing. 

 What a beautiful interior!

Once settled in the comfort of the coolest space ever, now is the time for wine.  Level has a nice list of by-the-glass options, from white blends to Chardonnays to Pinot Noirs to Zinfandels, with many in between.  The by-the-bottle list is even more impressive for an establishment of its size.  Whether one is in the market for a reasonably priced Moscato or is going all out for a budget-breaking Opus One, the bottle choices have every aspect covered.  I particularly appreciated some very unique varietals not found just anywhere:  a Picpoul Blanc, a Gruner Veltliner, and a Cabernet Franc.  We all know that these wine choices deserve at least some finger foods for pairing.  Cheeses, meats, breads, olives, hummus, and chocolates make up combination plates to please any palate. 
 My wine and cheese.
Loved the glass top tables!
If a great atmosphere with excellent wine and light food options is not enough, Level is still the stop to make.  Its events are first class and are worth the drive from any spot in the Black Hills.  Level has fun holiday events, such as a masquerade for Halloween, but the establishment also hosts monthly wine tastings with musical entertainment; the event is open to the public, but free for members of Level’s wine club.  Level also holds some very, very special wine events.  Three winemakers have hosted tastings at level in the past six months—Gary Wooten of Croze-Wooten Wines, Sean Minor of Four Bears Wines, and Erik Miller of Kokomo Wines.  These one-of-a-kind events are so important in our somewhat remote area, offering attendees the ability to learn more about wine in order to appreciate wine on a whole new level…again, pun intended.  The upcoming Riedel and Reds event in December is yet another opportunity for Level to increase wine knowledge and enjoyment in our little area of the American west. 
 Your Sweet Sommelier with winemaker Gary Wooten.
Enjoying one of the wonderful seating areas at a winemaker tasting event.
Yes, Spearfish is one of the most beautiful and charming communities in the Black Hills.  Its quaint downtown made of gorgeous historic sandstone buildings is a site to see.  Though Spearfish boasts many businesses worth a stop, Level Design Lounge is also a must.  The inviting atmosphere from the moment one sees the building is only increased by the wine, small plates, and events.  This business is a Black Hills beauty and wins the award for helping wineauxs appreciate wine on a whole new level!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

I am Thankful For…Local Wines

Thanksgiving is a meal filled with foods that have very diverse flavor profiles.  From the salty of ham to the savory of stuffing to the sweet of sweet potato casserole, this large meal can often be difficult to find the exact right wine for serving.  However, never fear!  There are many wines that pair well with all these flavors.  And since I am more of a Small Business Saturday than a Black Friday type of shopper, I have created a list of wines from our local winemakers to serve with all these foods!  Enjoy this wonderful holiday and promote local wines all at the same time!

Naked Winery tasting rooms—Custer and Hill City, SD
Naked’s Riesling and Gewürztraminer are aromatic, off-dry white wines that will pair well with both the turkey and the ham on the Thanksgiving table.  The savory stuffing and flavored mashed potatoes would also present a nice contrast pairing with these white wines.  Though white wines tend to be more prominent during this feast, it is always nice to have a red wine option for red wine lovers, so Naked Pinot Noir or Dominatrix Pinot Noir would be an option.  The lighter-bodied red wines would go with the turkey, stuffing, and green bean casserole due to the more robust flavors of these types of foods.

Naked wines are beautiful in the bottle and the glass.

Stone Faces Winery—Hill City, SD
Pasque, made from Frontenac and Niagara grapes, is a semi-sweet wine with a pink color that will look beautiful on a table filled with abundant fall colors.  Beyond a color match, the slight sweetness will be a nice contrast pairing with the ham, stuffing, potatoes, and gravy. Red wine lovers have an option from Stone Faces as well, the 2013 Sturgis Merlot.  This is a lighter-bodied Merlot, produced more in the style of Pinot Noir.  Because of the lighter style, it would match with the flavorful dishes served. 

Though the bottle is the 2011, the glass on the right is the 2013 Merlot, a lighter-bodied red for Thanksgiving.

Prairie Berry Winery—Hill City, SD
Prairie Berry fruit wines are great options for Thanksgiving dinner.  The Pumpkin Bog is a match made in heaven for the fall festival of food.  Slightly sweet, this wine goes with the salty ham, savory dressing, and creamy potatoes with gravy.  Cranberry and Lawrence Elk (black currant) wines will pair well with this meal for the same reasons. Also of note is the ability to mull wines to enjoy during the Thanksgiving holiday.  All three of the above mentioned wines are great mulled with cinnamon, all spice, and orange slices. 

Cranberry, perfect color and flavor for Thanksgiving food. 

Belle Joli Winery—Belle Fourche and Deadwood, SD
Belle Joli’s LaLure wine (La Crescent blend) is a wonderful off-dry wine that would contrast pair with the salty and savory choices of ham, turkey, stuffing, potatoes, and green bean casserole.  It would also go well with the cranberry sauces and chutneys served.  With all of this talk of the main meal, dessert wines to pair with Thanksgiving sweets are also very important.  Belle Joli’s Pear and Peach dessert wines are made to have the same sugar content of traditional ice wines; they will pair well with pumpkin, apple, and berry pies.  A wonderful treat before the tryptophan induced nap.

La Lure, a great pairing for many foods!

I must not forget my Wyoming wine friends!

Table Mountain Vineyards—Huntley, WY
Table Mountain’s Cowgirl Blush, with its super cute cowgirl label, would accompany the traditional savory flavors and smells of Thanksgiving.  Its slightly pink color will also look wonderful in a pretty glass as part of the formal table setting.  If looking for a unique twist to the serving of traditional wine, Table Mountain has its Wyoming Nectar, mead (honey wine) spiced with cinnamon.  What a great option for the traditional meal.

Table Mountain Vineyard's Wyoming wines.
Buffalo Jump Winery—Cody, WY
Buffalo Jump’s slightly crisp Chardonnay would be a wonderful pairing for all the creaminess of the Thanksgiving meal found in the butters and gravies scattered around the table.  Buffalo Jump also has a new Riesling that would pair well.  Rieslings follow the contrast pairing and are a traditional standby for Thanksgiving dinners. I wish I could get my hands on a bottle of Buffalo Jump Riesling to pair with my meal; however, I have to wait yet one more week to try it!

Chardonnay as part of a great line of Buffalo Jump wines.

Though pairing wines with the traditional Thanksgiving fare can be slightly tricky, one doesn’t have to look any further than the local wineries of the Black Hills and Wyoming to find great options for the meal.  Whether you enjoy Black Friday or not, do a little early Small Business Saturday shopping at one of these great wineries.  All have wonderful options for every aspect of the bountiful feast you will be serving or attending on Thursday.  Cheers to a wonderful holiday with family and friends. And please be thankful for local wines!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Most Important Part--Belle Joli Winery

Art.  Craft.  Career.  Way of life.  Winemaking is many things to many people.  To the people who love and drink wine, sometimes winemaking seems like this supernatural voodoo where grapes are turned into a magical potion that tingles our taste buds and lifts our spirits.  However, the people that make wine know what is really behind the magic of wine.  Over the summer, I have learned some of what it takes to make wine:  passion, curiosity, patience.  But all of these are not enough.  The most important element is still missing.  That element is good, old-fashioned, hard work!

At the beginning of October, I had the honor of helping with my very first harvest for Belle Joli Winery of Belle Fourche, South Dakota.  Husband-wife team Matthew and Choi Jackson, Belle Joli vintner and CFO, are a wonderful wine story.  Matthew was raised in and graduated from high school in Belle Fourche.  His wine-loving dad and brother are both dentists.  When Matthew graduated with an undergrad degree in chemistry, his family fully expected him to go on to dental school and join the family business.  But Matthew had been listening to his parents throughout his childhood.  He heard his dad, John, and his mom, Patty, always reminisce about their early married years when they joked they considered making wine in California in the 1970s, before California was the wine Mecca it is now.  He listened to their love and appreciation of wine. And he took it to heart.  Instead of dental school, Matthew announced he was going to enology school at California State Fresno.  There he met Choi and eventually convinced her to come back to South Dakota with him to make wine.  The rest is wine history.    

The first vines were planted in 2000, right in the middle of Belle Fourche, just a few blocks away from Matthew's parents’ home.  This small plot made the first vintages of Belle Joli wines.  As the wine business expanded, more vines were planted outside of town in 2004 and 2007.  Just last year, additional vines were planted outside of Sturgis, South Dakota, at the future location of a new, modern tasting room that will be built. 
Belle Joli's Marquette vines in the early morning, with bird nets and natural pest control (geese). 

The grapes I was helping to pick were from the vines outside of Belle Fourche planted in 2004.  When I showed up at 8:00 a.m. to begin picking, Matthew and a crew of two had already been at work for some time removing the bird netting from the LaCrescent and Frontenac Gris vines.  They were first using a tractor to help with the hundreds and hundreds of feet of netting, but when there was a glitch, they removed the rest by hand.  Belle Joli is truly a family business; the crew helping pick was made up of Matthew’s mom, dad, sister-in-law, family friends (some have been helping pick for ten years), neighbors, and even a local university dance team! Matthew and Choi’s nieces and nephews were also running through the vineyard, exchanging our filled tubs of grapes with empty tubs.  After homemade caramel rolls for breakfast, served by Choi and Patty, we picked for eight hours, with a break for sandwiches and homemade brownies for lunch. 
Early morning vines with netting.
Hardworking winemaker Matthew removing the nets so harvest can begin. 

John Jackson towing the grape harvest.

The weather was beautifully warm for a fall day, and I thoroughly enjoyed my day picking.  However, when I was done picking, I was done for the day.  Winemaker Matthew’s work for the day was just beginning. He delivered the grapes to the winery and began the process of destemming and crushing the harvest.  Choi said he would work well into the night and have a crazy week or so processing and fermenting the grapes.  The second harvest was planned for two weeks later, and I was in line to harvest the still-growing Marquette grapes.  But in typical destructive Mother Nature fashion, a huge October snow storm unleashed itself on the Black Hills.  The day before harvest, over 40 inches of snow fell in Belle Fourche, moving harvest back…one whole day.  Those in the industry realize that even though I was snowed in at my home, safe and warm away from the incredible blizzard, hard-working winemakers like Matthew have no such luxury.  As soon as the roads opened, those Marquette grapes had to come off the vines. I am sure this harvest wasn’t nearly as beautiful or fun as when I picked two weeks before, but it was a must for Matthew and family.  Luckily, the grapes were not damaged from the storm and harvest was completed without any more disasters.  Matthew and Choi continued the hard work that is their passion, curiosity, career, craft, and love.     
Your Sweet Sommelier harvesting the LaCrescent grapes. 

Bountiful LaCrescent vines.

Though wine seems like such a romantic beverage (and believe me, it truly is), there is nothing but hard work behind that beverage.  Wine drinkers need to let go of the idea that winemakers sip wine in beautiful vineyards at sunset and in front of glistening fireplaces in the dark.  The true vision of a winemaker is of someone who gets up well before dawn and works well after midnight.  Winemakers are apt to have purple-stained fingers, calloused hands, and tired backs.  They also have a hard-working family or crew behind them, both figuratively and literally, making the dream a reality.  I have seen the passion, curiosity, and patience winemakers possess, but ultimately, all of these aspects of the business are nothing unless hard work comes into play!  Thank you, winemakers, for all your work.  I toast to every one of you!
My after-harvest meal--thank you Matthew, Choi, John, Patty, and crew!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Wine and the Outdoors

I’m one of those people who hates camping.  I mean I loathe it!  Yes, I’ve tried it…no, a nice camper doesn’t make it better.  In fact, it makes it worse.  (Being lined up next to a hundred of my closest strangers in a campground makes me cringe.)  The idea of no flushing toilets and no hot shower frightens me a bit.  (And no, I’m no city slicker; I’m a ranch kid from Wyoming.)  I just don’t like experiencing the outdoors in this fashion.  However, I do LOVE the outdoors.  Yes, I know this seems a little counterintuitive, but I could spend all day outside on a lake, on a trail, or on a mountain, but I want to come inside to shower and go to bed!   When I do spend this time with Mother Nature, I prefer to have wine be a part of it. 
Mother Nature and wine...the perfect pairing! 

Wine and the outdoors tip one:  invest in a wine carrier.  There are multiple ways to carry wine outside.  The industry has expanded beyond the regular glass bottle as a wine receptacle.  Some wineries are using lighter wine containers for environmental and weight purposes.  Plastic wine bottles, wine bags, single-serving portions, and wine boxes all weigh less and take up less space for hiking, biking, swimming, camping, or boating getaways.  However, if outdoors people go with one of these options, like Copa Divino or Bota Box wines, they are at the mercy of the varietal, type, and style of wines those producers make.  However, I like more flexibility in my wine choices than just having to drink the wines a few producers make and put in lighter weight containers.  The answer to this problem is the Platypus brand PlatyPreserve.  This is my favorite weapon in my wine and hiking arsenal.  I pull the wine of my choice, pour it into my PlatyPreseve, put it in my backpack, and head to the hills!  It holds exactly one 750 ml (milliliter) bottle of wine, is light weight, and is easy to carry.   
The Platypus brand PlatyPreserve.

Wine and the outdoors tip two:  invest in portable wine glasses.  Just like there are differing ways to carry wine outside, there are several options for drinking wine outside.  Again, some producers like Copa and Bota Box create individual serving sizes of wine making it so no actual glass is needed.  However, the same negative issue happens again—the wines to choose from are then quite limited to what a few producers make.  Thankfully, light weight and unbreakable “glasses” have come a long way.  GSI Outdoors produces nesting glasses where the stem unscrews from the bowl of the glass and then snaps inside the bowl for easy traveling.  GSI also makes stemless glasses out of strong plastic and both stemmed and stemless glasses out of stainless steel.  The GoVino stemless glasses come in white, red, and sparkling styles and are made with appropriate bowl sizes and shapes for each style of wine.  The plastic is thin yet durable, mimicking the thinness of crystal stemware.  The newest outdoor drinkware option is the wine tumbler (made by numerous companies).  This drinkware has a wine glass shape inside the outside tumbler with the sippy, travel coffee mug style lid.  I have all of these kinds of glasses.  My favorite is the GoVino because out of these glasses, wines taste and smell closer to how they would in actual glass stemware.  Outdoor glassware is essential to enjoying wine in nature!

The GoVino red (top) and the GSI Outdoors nesting glass (bottom).
Wine and the outdoors tip three:  keep food simple.  Let nature and the wine do most of the work to create an elaborate experience for your hike or picnic.  The food needs to be simple and easy to carry.  Fresh cut fruit, aged cheeses, and flavored crackers are enough to nibble on while sitting in a picturesque setting.  If a more elaborate meal is the goal, make sandwiches on focaccia bread with garlic-basil aioli, lunch meat, tomato, and fresh mozzarella.  Dessert can be as simple as homemade cookies, ‘smores bars, or chocolate chunks.  These simple yet flavorful items are not only easy to prepare, but, more importantly, are also easy and lightweight to pack, making them the perfect outdoor cuisine. 
Simple and flavorful foods.
Wine and the outdoors final tips:  Don’t forget to think about the temperature of the wine at the time it will be consumed.  If I’m hiking on a warm day, I usually chill red wines until they are quite cold, pour in my Platypus, and put in my pack.  That way, the wine warms while hiking and is proper temperature when ready to sip.  For white wines, I chill until extremely cold, sometimes putting the wine in the freezer for a period of time before pouring in the Platypus, and then I even put a freezer pack around the outside of the PlatyPreserve during the hike so the wine stays cold the entire time.  Yes, this is some extra weight to carry, but it is very worth it for a chilled white wine.  These steps would not necessarily be needed if the weather was chilly.  Finally, I like to keep all of my hiking and outdoor wine supplies together so I don’t forget anything during an outdoor excursion.  It really is a bummer to pack wine four miles only to find there are no glasses for drinking!  (Yes, this has happened to me before; yes, I found a way to overcome that obstacle…haha!)
Don't forget your outdoor glasses!  (It causes desperate measures.)
The number of summer days is waning, and winter is just around the corner.   Though you won’t find me scurrying to get in my last days of camping as I feel fall’s nip in the air, you will find me trying to get into nature as many times as possible before Old Man Winter steals Mother Nature’s welcoming weather.  Whether you prefer to hike a beautiful trail, bike through the hills, or camp on a lake, now is the time to enjoy the outdoors!  Make wine a part of your nature experience—it makes all aspects of the outdoors that much more pleasant. 

Cheers to Mother Nature!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bring on the Bubbly!

The beautiful bride has walked down the aisle.  The handsome groom has said his vows.  The newly married couple has shared their first kiss.  Now the celebration begins!  And it wouldn’t be a true wedding celebration without breaking out the bubbles to toast the Mr. and Mrs.  Sparkling wines are a must at wedding celebrations.  Though bubbles come in many different kinds and styles, a great celebratory wine must be refreshing and graceful, just like the happy couple.
Colby and Ashley on their special day. 
(Photo courtesy of Colby Ankeney.)
            When most people think of sparkling wine, they think of Champagne.  However, true Champagne is the sparkling wine made in the French wine-making region called Champagne.  Champagne is made from a blend of red and white grapes that actually go through a second fermentation process while in the bottle.  This fermentation creates carbon dioxide that is reabsorbed into the wine, thus creating the bubbles.  This is called “Methode Champenoise” or “Methode Traditionnelle,” so even though only wines from this particular region of France are true Champagnes, many other wines around the world go through this same process.  Drinking real Champagne at a wedding is a wonderful gesture, but when most Champagnes cost $35 a bottle or more, it may not always fit into a wedding budget for all the guests to toast the newlyweds with Champagne.  If Champagne is on the menu, there are some amazing producers that make breath-taking wines.  Of course, everyone has heard of Dom Perignon and Cristal, both retailing for just under or well over $200 per bottle.  Other Champagnes with fewer zeros in the price are produced by Moet and Chandon and Veuve Clicquot.  Of course, if producer is not an issue, just look for the word “Champagne” on a bottle, and you will be enjoying one of the world’s most renowned sparkling wines.
            If Champagne is not in the budget or on the wish list of the wedding planners, there are other sparklers from around the world that are equally amazing for a wedding toast…and most are a bit more budget-friendly.  Cava is the sparkling wine made in the northeast region of Spain near Catalonia.  Cavas are produced using the same classic method of Champagne, so these wines make a great alternative for toasting at less than half the price per bottle.  Producers to look for if choosing Cava are Codorniu and Freixenet (in the black bottle). 
Justin and Krishna celebrate their nuptials.
(Photo courtesy of Tim Thompson.)
        Yet another option for a sparkling wine toast is to purchase Prosecco from Italy.  These wines are known for having slightly larger bubbles and being less crisp than Champagnes or Cavas, yet make for a great wine for wedding receptions.  Again, the price is going to be less than half the cost of Champagnes while still drinking a quality product.  Look for Prosecco on the bottle or these reputable producers:  Bisol and Masottina.

            Though Europe has been producing sparkling wines for centuries, you can also find wonderful bubbly in the United States.  If you are looking for a higher-quality sparkling from the U.S., make sure to look for the terms “Methode Champenoise” or “Methode Traditionnelle” on the bottle.  Due to American wine laws, these are the only terms to tell how the wine was made.  Of course, California makes some amazing sparklers.  Look for the producers Gloria Ferrer, Domaine Carneros, Schramsberg, and Roederer.  New York State is also moving toward making quality sparkling wines; Dr. Konstantin Frank is leading the way.  Gruet, from New Mexico, is also a great bet. 
Chancie and Aaron say "Cheers"!
(Photo courtesy of Deb Smith.)

            These are not the only sparkling wines made around the world.  All countries make some sort of bubbly.  Other terms to look for on wine bottles that may help find a sparkler include cremant, sekt, frizzante, spumante, Blanquette de Limoux, and Franciacorta.  These words either mean the wines are a sparkling style or are produced in a region that, by law, are required to make sparkling wines.  Bubbles also come in many dryness/sweetness levels, anywhere from very dry to very sweet.  However, these levels can be confusing; when the term “dry” is used, it does not actually refer to the driest wines.  The driest sparklers are called Brut Zero (though these are not as common in the U.S.).  Brut means dry.  Extra Dry actually means not as dry as a Brut but off-dry.  Sec is semi-sweet, Demi-Sec is sweet, and Doux is very sweet.  Though these are the French terms, they are used fairly universally for other European and American sparklers.  Of course some bubbly wines, like Moscato d’ Asti, will always be sweet, even if they don’t have any of the above terms on the label. 

            With so many options, it can be hard to decide.  However, like most wedding decisions, budget might play a part in the celebratory toast.  If budget is no issue, treat your guests to true Champagne or a quality sparkling from one of the great producers mentioned earlier. When trying to stay within a budget, wedding planners can have a special (more expensive) bottle of sparkling for the bride, groom, and bridal party to toast with, and then have a quality—yet less expensive—option for all of the guests.  Of course, like with any product, cheap options can be found.  These might be wines that are made from a method other than the classic method to make them sparkling…and that’s okay.  The most important part of this special day is not the brand of sparkling wine, but the bride and groom that are being toasted with that wine! 
Jeff and Jaimee enjoy their first sip as husband and wife.
(Photo courtesy of Jaimee Johnson.)

The final, and absolutely most important, note on sparkling wines, however, is the serving temperature of these wines.  Sparkling wines MUST be served COLD, as cold as the wine can get!  Even the most expensive bubbly will not taste its best if it is served at room temperature or warm.  In fact, for many years, I believed I didn’t like sparkling wines because of too many wedding receptions where I had hot bubbly.  Make sure to keep the sparklers in a restaurant-grade, very cold refrigerator just until it is time to pop the top.  Ask for volunteers or have the event-location staff help to open and pour the bottles just before time to toast.  If there are still bottles with wine in them, make sure to put these bottles on ice so they can be consumed cold during the remainder of the wedding reception. 

After the bride has lifted her veil and the groom has professed his love, it is time to celebrate this beautiful new union!  These celebrations include special speeches, loving dances, and festive toasts.  Sparkling wine is an important part of this tradition.  No wedding day is complete without the pop of a cork followed by a joyful “Cheers” to the newlyweds!  Congratulations!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Curiosity Makes the Wine--Hermosa Vineyards

I don’t make wine; I just drink it.  And I drink more than most.  I know I spit out way more than the average person!  Yes, sipping, spitting, and swallowing wine teaches a lot about the drink.  However, by talking to multiple winemakers this summer, I learned more about wine than hours of sipping and spitting. I have learned many of the qualities it takes to make good wine, and I have written about the passion and patience that it takes to turn grapes into the nectar of the gods.  However, there is another important element winemakers exhibit:  curiosity!  It didn’t kill the cat; however, it does make great wine…especially when the curious soul is Kenneth Dunn Jr. at Hermosa Vineyards in the Grand Valley of Colorado.

 Vines and equipment at Hermosa Vineyards.

 Dunn's vines growing in Colorado's beautiful Grand Valley.

Driving to Hermosa Vineyards, I was the one who started to feel curious.  The Colorado wine guidebook said to look for the signs, so we twisted and turned to follow the gold arrows leading to this winery. When we pulled into the driveway, we became even more curious as we saw a man opening a garage door to the tasting room as he waved and smiled to greet us.  This was our introduction to Kenneth—winemaker, tasting room associate, bottling assembly line clerk, janitor, and general jack-of-all trades—of Hermosa Vineyards.  We were instantly invited up to the tasting bar and taken into the world of curiosity that leads Kenneth to make unique and intriguing Colorado wines.  We spent almost two hours at Hermosa Vineyards, not only because the wines were so interesting, but because Dunn was so friendly and engaging.  We truly felt at home at the tasting counter, and by the time we left, we had definitely made a new friend!
Hermosa Vineyards tasting room space, don't let the garage door fool you!

Kenneth, an engineer by trade, bought his vineyard in 1993 when it was an apple orchard and by 1994 was growing grapes and cherries.  He grew fruit and made wine for years before opening his official tasting room in 2011.  His sense of fun and inquiring nature were shown as he told us of his future winery plans, which include an underground tasting room and facility.  (He said this with a mischievous smile, so I know that this tasting room will not be an average, run-of-the-mill tasting area.  He has some surprises in store for this space.)  Dunn’s inquisitive nature showed up again and again in his wines; they all see some oak aging, even the whites.  This probably explained why my husband liked these slightly robust and complicated whites more than he usually likes refreshing and acidic ones.  Hermosa Vineyards produces the expected Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc wines, but again, because they both see some oak, the wines were actually very unexpected.  What else was unexpected was the unique Viognier and Viognier-Chenin Blanc blend.  All of these whites were from 2006 and 2007, yet one more surprising trait at Hermosa Vineyards.
Barrels for aging all wines, whites included.

The red wines also did not disappoint.  The Merlot, Malbec, and Syrah all showed earth, smoke, and leather from their time in oak.  The Cabernet Franc, a grape the Grand Valley can grow incredibly well, was filled with pine and berries.  Dunn grows five clones of Cab Franc on young vines and blends all five clones for his Cabernet Franc wine.  Another unique standout was the Cabernet Sauvignon.  This 2008 was in oak an additional year, leaving more smoke on the nose with softer tannins on the palate.  We tasted this in both the bottle and the barrel, and from both sources, this was a special Cabernet.   

The red wines were not the only wines that showed the inquiring nature of Hermosa Vineyard’s winemaker.  The late-harvest Gewurztraminer had wet-stone on the nose, candy on the palate, and melon on the finish.  The final special treat was the ice wine, a one-of-a-kind blend of seventeen grape varieties.  Kenneth decided to put all the “leftover” fruit on his vines to work after the harvest was complete.  He picked the remaining frozen grapes at four in the morning on a frigid December day to make this beautiful, baby-pink dessert wine with a light honey taste.  Dunn’s sense of curiosity created yet another unique wine found no where else. 
Kenneth Dunn Jr.'s bottling line, a product of his own making...and curiosity.

            Though I don’t make wine, I know that wine making requires many special skills, like passion and patience.  But to produce truly unique and exceptional wines, good winemakers also need to have a keen sense of curiosity.  Kenneth Dunn Jr. has an overwhelming amount, and this sense of inquisitiveness is seen in every wine he makes.  Whether it is the surprise of a Viognier grown in Colorado, of white wines that see oak, or of an ice wine from multiple varieties, this winemaker’s curiosity leads to a wine drinker’s pleasure from the beginning of a tasting to the end of the day.  If you want surprising wines from one of the friendliest producers in the area (Dunn not only gave us his card but his personal number in case we needed anything during our stay in Grand Junction), take the time to follow the signs to Hermosa Vineyards in Colorado’s Grand Valley.  Kenneth will become your newest friend, and Colorado wines will become your newest curiosity! 
Kenneth Dunn Jr., friendliest winemaker in the Grand Valley!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Patience is a Virtue--Canyon Wind Cellars

What does it take to make wine?  In June, I learned that passion is a must for leaping into the wine business.  However, often passion alone is not enough for the labor of love that is making wine.  Last month, I learned that patience is the next virtue required to make, what I believe to be, the juice of the gods.  The value of patience has been seen first and foremost in the success of Colorado Grand Valley winery Canyon Wind Cellars. 
Your Sweet Sommelier with Canyon Wind's vines.

            Nestled under the Grand Mesa (the largest flat-topped mountain in the world), Canyon Wind’s location is an example of patience in, and of, itself.  Norman Christianson, original enologist and vintner at Canyon Wind, was a geologist by trade.  He searched the Grand Valley area for what he believed to be the perfect spot for a vineyard:  a place with good soil and good weather for grape growing.  After finding his perfect spot, Norman planted his first vines in 1991…and then waited!  He waited five years, in fact, for the grapes to be of the quality he wanted to make his first vintage of wine.  He could have bought other fruit from other areas, but he wanted his product to be a true expression of his terroir and work.  Now that is patience! 
The vineyards at Canyon Wind Cellars.

 Neslted under the Grand Mesa, Canyon Wind's grapes grow well.
Grapes growing on the vines planted in 1991.

            Another example of how serious Norman was about his final product was he had the patience and practicality to hire a Napa Valley wine consultant, Robert Pepi, to ensure quality wine.  The two produced Canyon Wind’s first vintage in 1996, and CWC has been considered one of the Grand Valley AVA’s most important wineries ever since.  Today, Norman’s son Jay and his wife Jennifer run the the winery.  Wines are made from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, and Syrah.  Whites, roses, reds, and dessert wines are produced.  Reds are aged in the underground cellar (the only true underground cellar in the Grand Valley); the cellar and the rest of the facility are open for staff members to take visitors on regular tours.  In addition to the Canyon Wind Cellars line of wines, the winery also produces the 47-Ten series of wines, named for the altitude of the vineyards where the grapes are grown.   The top-shelf line of wines is the Anemoi series, all named for Greek gods.  Canyon Wind also boasts Colorado’s very first wine to be high quality enough to sell for one hundred dollars! The wine IV (Four, as in four of the traditional Bordeaux blend grapes) has consistently been considered Colorado’s best wine.  And yes, I came home with a bottle of IV to cellar. 
 The underground barrel room.

The 2012 vintage of IV, patiently awaiting bottling.
            I patiently tasted through the impressive lineup of wines and purchased my favorites…yes, there were multiple!  The 47-Ten Rose is what a good rose is supposed to be; made from 100 percent Merlot grapes, it is crisp with a grapefruit finish.  The Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are both excellent examples of the grapes.  The aforementioned IV is already in my cellar to store for a few years, as well as the Anemoi Notus.  Both of these wines are going to be amazing in the future, when I finally decide to quit testing my patience and drink them. 

            Napoleon Hill stated, “Patience, persistence, and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success.  That is exactly what Norman Christianson started with and his son and daughter-in-law, Jay and Jennifer, continue as they make fine wines in the Grand Valley of Colorado.  The patience and painstaking work put into each bottle of wine is evident in every sip of Canyon Wind Cellars vino.  Canyon Wind continues to patiently set the bar high for Colorado wine country wines.