Although grocery stores are convenient, and places like Costco can save you a few dollars, I’ve always been a huge proponent of shopping at my local wine store (or winery!). Here are a few reasons why:
Just one of my many finds from a neighborhood wine tasting- Xion Albariño.
1. A good store’s owner will have tasted every.single.bottle.
…Along with another 10 or 20 that didn’t make the cut! They’ve taken much of the guesswork out of the equation for you! They’re also constantly refreshing inventory, and there are always exciting new finds to try.
2. Most offer free wine tastings on the weekends!
This means no taking chances on fancy bottle designs only to be disappointed by the contents. Try before you buy and you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. These tastings often come with more information about the wine from the distributor or even the winemaker- they can be a great way to learn more about the wines you’re drinking!
3. As you develop a relationship with the proprietor, they will come to know your palette and make suggestions.
This has paid off for me more times than I can count. Owners’ recommendations almost always pan out, and I’ve even amended a dinner menu to accommodate a new find!
4. It boosts the local economy!
No one works harder than folks that own their own businesses- often on weekends and holidays. Support them!
5. They generally have more interesting wine!
Sick of seeing the same labels everywhere you go? Try a smaller, local vendor. They tend to work with smaller, independent wine producers who don’t necessarily have the volume to contract with major chains, but are making outstanding wines. If you’re not drinking these wines, you’re missing out on some of the best the wine world has to offer!
Where do you tend to shop for wine and why? Do you have a favorite local store?
I was lucky enough to recently attend Drink What you Like‘s 5th annual Virginia Sparkling Wine Blind Tasting. A line up of 11 sparklers was presented to the tasting panel of 10 local winos at the very hospitable Tarara Winery in Leesburg, Virginia.
And if you were wondering, yes, there are worse ways to spend an afternoon!
The event was straightforward- all dry blanc de blanc (chardonnay!), all bubbly, with a Virginia focus and a straightforward ranking system.
The rankings might be surprising to bubbly drinkers and champagne lovers, alike.
If you had told me several years ago that my focus would be so heavily focused on Virginia wines I would’ve dismissed the notion. However, even this Francophile was astonished when the ranking lineup was revealed! Virginia offers some outstanding sparklers and surprising value.
Although the wines were primarily from Virginia, there were also examples of sparkling chardonnays from New York, California and France, as well.
Sparkling wine against the backdrop of Tarara Winery
I was partial to the Trump sparklers, as well as the Roederer Hermitage- and when I refer back to my notes what really pushed these wines to the top for me was their more feminine, elegant and well-balanced qualities.
Most of the tasting panel was surprised at Trump’s placing so highly over the esteemed Thibaut-Jannisson, a self-professed favorite for most. However, the esteemed French winemakers take cues from Champagne, marrying the gold standard of bubbly production with the unique Virginia terroir.
As is true in most cases, much of the voting likely had to do with the day- a perfect 70 degrees with a light breeze. Although I usually love the toasty, yeastiness of a true Champagne (the wine geek term for this quality is “Autolytic”), the first notes of spring had me craving something lighter.
The number one ranked wine is a superb value, ringing in at just $24, far less than the Piper-Hidsek, which typically runs between $40 and $50. All this goes to show that even trained palettes don’t always pick the priciest bottle when drinking blind, and the day’s circumstances really can influence even the most ingrained preferences.
Do you drink Virginia Sparkling Wine? What’s your favorite?
“Your seat’s open, be back in a few,” I’m greeted at the door. Indeed, my favorite spot at the long white expanse of marble seems to be the only one free on a recent crowded weeknight.
Currently off menu, my favorite boozy slushie can turn around even the toughest day. A variation of the Jameson based cocktail will be making an appearance at the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day Dinner.
I usually don’t get a menu, but hear the blender firing up my favorite frozen cocktail before I’ve even had a chance to consider my order. These days, I always ask for a menu. They’ve broken me of my comfortable habit, but in the most interesting of ways.
The bartenders at Hanks on the Hill have taken on a daunting task: create a new cocktail menu every week of 2014.
Not many bars have the talent or patience to take on this project. When I asked Bar Manager, Mike Saccone, where the idea originated he answered, “After hours drinking… where all great ideas come about!”
“That’s where the concept for Suburbia came from, too!”
There are equal parts work and whimsy inspiring the two mixologists behind the concept. Their opposite personalities seem to create an effortless working relationship; Jason Strich is the unflappably calm yin to Mike’s cheeky and spirited yang.
Many of the cocktail names have quite risqué names. It’s clear these guys not only take their craft seriously, they have fun with it. Each week’s theme draws on a mixture of current events, pop culture, wit and whimsy.
Cocktails can be as innoucously named as “Pretty in Pink”- a nod to the recent birth of DC mixologist and Hank’s partner, Gina Chersevani’s baby girl during “Gina’s Having a Baby” week- to “I Don’t See Nothing Wrong With a Little Bump and Grind” from “That’s my Slow Jam” week.
An enigmatic “Italian Gentleman” shows up periodically on the menus, always with a new development to the fictional character’s plot, associates and mythology. Last week’s iteration was not only delicious, but rewarded returning patrons with a new twist. By the end of the year’s cocktail experiment said gentleman is sure to have built up a Bond level aura of mystique and intrigue. Shaken, not stirred.
The “Italian Gentleman, a Jewish Con Man, an over-eager FBI agent and the Corruption of Camden, New Jersey”- A refreshing and slightly tart mix of Ketel One Vodka, Galliano, Roasted Lemon Parsley Soda and Aperol.
Menu themes coming soon: “It was all a dream”, “College Spring Break”, “March Madness”, and more!
A lot of the cocktails have salacious names that are quick to make one blush. This is a direct nod to the cheeky sense of humor the mixologists throw into the otherwise daunting professional challenge. “It is hard to get people to order the cocktails by name sometimes. They’ll say, “The whiskey one…”
“We reply, ‘I don’t know which one that is…’ we’ve started forcing people to order them by name.”
“We don’t take ourselves very seriously here. These are serious cocktails, but we’re having fun with it.” -Mike
For these two cocktail aficionados, I thought the concept of drinking only one cocktail for the rest of their lives would be a hard question to answer.
Mike’s answer was quick, “Sailor Jerry and Pineapple. That’s my dirty little secret.”
Jason wavered slightly, “Well, honestly I like straight tequila…or a Margarita. But Gin and Tonic- that would have to be it.”
Mike chimes in with a grin, “We’re simple folks.”
“What gin?” I ask Jason, knowing there would be an answer. “…depends on the tonic.”
Maybe not so simple, after all!
These picks and more will show up on the “What’s your Favorite Drink Menu” the week of March 27.
Although the concept is exciting, it can leave drinkers who fall in love with a new libation out of luck the next time they stop in. To date, the most popular cocktails have been “I Know what Boys Like”, “Drunk in Love” and the “Alabama Slammer”.
For those missing their favorite new creation, fear not- each quarter will feature the most popular picks, and the end of the year will feature a menu of the top nine cocktails. The most popular will be the new Hank’s Classic Cocktail.
Not just for show: The mixologists incorporate salts, spices, herbs and barks into their weekly cocktails. Juices, extractions and syrups are all made in house with incredible attention to detail.
After seeing what goes into prepping these cocktails, I can honestly say that $12 is a bargain. Although the names and themes might be cheeky, the cocktails are top notch, featuring freshly squeezed juices, house made sodas, simple syrups, and endlessly creative combinations that will break you out of any cocktail rut.
Mike prepping “caviar” for a Champagne and caviar inspired cocktail on the “And the Award Goes to…” Menu
“We take [this project] seriously but we make it work. Nothing’s off limits.”
DC is undergoing something of a cocktail revolution. When I asked whether this was due to more sophisticated drinkers or more sophisticated drinks, the answer was a thoughtful “both”, followed up by a crooked grin and the inevitable quip, “Jason and myself.”
In reality, they are quick to give credit to nationally acclaimed mixologists Todd Thrasher, Gina Chersevani, Derek Brown. “They started it.”
Check out this week’s menu. They debut each Thursday:
Have you tried any of their weekly cocktail concoctions? Which have been your favorites?
Although I’m content to pair bubbly with just about anything (mac & cheese, anyone?), there are a few things worth noting about sparkling wine as we approach New Years Eve.
Just because it has bubbles, does NOT mean it’s called Champagne! (See wine pet peeves for more on this one!)
There are a number of ways to produce sparkling wine- “méthode Champenoise” or “méthode traditionelle” indicate that the wine has undergone a second fermentation, which produces the bubbles naturally. They can also be added through forced air, as is the case with many Proseccos. For a more in depth guide, check out Wine Folly’s excellent breakdown of the different methods!
This study says that drinking Champagne can help improve memory. I’ll drink to that!
The first sparkling wine ever produced was actually a mistake! Thank goodness for happy mistakes!
Although many people claim that Champagne gives worse hangovers than other wine, the alcohol in most sparkling wine is actually lower than in most still wines- generally around 11-12%. If you’re anything like me, it does tend to go down the hatch quickly, making it easy to consume more than you realize. Make sure to hydrate and enjoy your bubbly with food to avoid the dreaded hangover!
Although some bottles of vintage champagne can set you back hundreds of dollars, quality sparkling wine can be enjoyed at almost any price point. See my top picks ranging from $12 to $200 below!
Champalou Vouvray Cuvee des Fondraux is a French sparkler from the Loire Valley made from Chenin Blanc. It is incredibly aromatic with notes of jasmine and honeysuckle with an off dry finish. This food friendly wine retails at just over $20.
Charles Orban Rosé is a great pick for dry rosé fans, offering red fruit aromatics and a dry, lengthy finish. It retails for around $43.
Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs This sparkler received 91 points from Wine Spectator. The 100% Pinot Noir is full bodied, balanced and elegant- all for less than $20.
Rossinyol Rosé This cava producer uses an aromatic and rare grape called Trepat to produce a lovely dry rosé with notes of strawberry on the nose. This small production Spanish wine retails for just under $20.
GruberRosé This Austrian sparkler is made from the Zweigelt grape. This hard to pronounce varietal goes down easy and isn’t hard on the wallet, either! Lively and crisp, with notes of strawberry and raspberry, this wine retails for under $15!
Moet Imperial offers traditional champagne yeasty notes and excellent acidity for around $45. This wine also received 91 points from Wine Spectator.
Krug Grand Cuvée is what I would choose if I were to splurge on a special bottle. Ringing in at $180, this 97 point wine offers incredible balance, acidity and finish for under $200.
Bohigas Cava is one of my go to cava producers. For those who like their sparklers on the sweeter side, their Semi-Sec fits the bill. Maintaining classic cava crispness, it has just the right amount of residual sugar to satisfy those with a sweet tooth at $18-21.
Voveti Prosecco is a favorite among critics and casual drinkers, alike. Made from the Glera grape, this easy drinking bubbly is aromatic and fruit forward with notes of peach, apricot and pear for around $12-14.
Jansz Premium Cuvée This sparkling wine from Tasmania, Australia is from a lesser known, but fantastic sparkling wine region. Aromatic with notes of honeysuckle, this wine is crisp and acidic on the palette. It retails for around $24.
What is your favorite Sparkling Wine? Do you prefer Champagne? Cava? Prosecco?
Check out my picks for white wines offering the most bang for your buck and where to buy them in the DC area!
1. Clean Slate Riesling $10
This Riesling from Mosel, Germany is an immensely food friendly wine. Off-dry with flavors of stone fruit and a floral nose, this wine is balanced by great acidity. Great for pairing with spicy Latin or Asian dishes .
Find it at: De Vinos and D’Vines. Their 2 for $20 bins, pictured above, are great for stocking up on bargain picks!
2. Ponga Sauvignon Blanc $11.99
From Marlborough, New Zealand, this wine offers incredible value. From the region most associated for producing Sauvignon Blanc with citrus and grassy notes, this crisp wine doesn’t disappoint.
For fans of oakey, buttery Chardonnay, this wine offers a phenomenal value not often found in wines from Sonoma!The oak is balanced with apple and pear notes for a full-bodied wine sure to please any California Chard lover.