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?
So many bubbles…
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.
The winning wines, ranked from left to right:
Virginia took the top 4 spots!
1. Trump Blanc de Blanc (VA)
2. Green Hill Blanc de Blancs (VA)
3. Stone Tower 2009 Wild Boar (VA)
4. Boneyard Blanc de Blanc (VA)
5. Flat Rock Cellars, * (Niagara, NY)
5. Roederer Hermitate 2004 * (California)
7. Trump Reserve (VA)
8. Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Blanc (VA)
9. FIZZ (VA)
10. Piper-Hidseck (Champagne, France)
11. Louis de Sasy Champagne (Champagne, France)
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?
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Fabio Trabocchi Does it Again!
We recently tried out one of DC’s hottest new restaurants with some of our favorite foodie friends. With one of DC’s most esteemed Italian chefs behind Casa Luca (named after Trabocchi’s son), we were confident that the meal would not disappoint.
I eschewed my usual glass of bubbly to start the meal, and instead tried the Solstizio cocktail- a mix of Cynar, blood orange, lemon and honey. It was proof that stepping outside my bubbly bubble can pay off!
We started our gluttonous journey with antipasti for the table- a generous portion of meats, cheeses, and other accoutrements. The table then shared an order of the Fusilli e Caccio e Pepe and Smoked Potato Gnocchi with Duck Ragu. Both were outstanding, but if I had to order just one, it would be the Fusilli- perfect in its simplicity and creamy from the fresh burrata.
The Monkfish Milanese is quickly becoming known as the restaurant’s signature- with good reason. Crispy, yet delicate, this is one dish you should not leave without trying!
Although we could’ve left pleasantly full after these generous courses, the gentlemen insisted on ordering the (very large!) Grigliata Mista de Carne. Although it was delicious, we were perhaps too stuffed to properly enjoy the grilled meats.
We started our wine journey with one of my very favorite producers- Castello di Nieve. At $75, the Nebbiolo Barbaresco wasn’t cheap, but this small production, family-owned winery consistently over delivers for the price, and the wine paired beautifully with the first two courses.
The beverage director, Nick Calio, has created a thoughtful wine list, dominated by Italian selections. I was delighted to see a section of wines available by the bottle for only $28! This 12 bottle “menu within a menu” consists of 6 red and 6 white wines that offer outstanding quality at an extremely accessible price point. The selection rotates depending on seasonal availability, and is intended to encourage guests to try something new at an approachable price point.
In honor of the recent passing of Antonio Mastroberadino, we selected the Aglianico from this menu and toasted the legendary Italian winemaker over superb food with great friends- as I can only imagine he would have liked.
We ended the meal with house made Limoncello- completely stuffed but happy, and sure to return!
What new restaurants have you tried and loved lately?
A Festive New Year’s Eve Celebration at Home
Although I love getting dressed up and going out, New Year’s Eve is my absolute least favorite night of the year to do so. The weather is always miserable, transportation a hassle, and places I usually enjoy tend to be jam packed and over-priced.
Last year, we decided to invite a few close friends over to celebrate at home and it was the most fun we’ve ever had! This year, we went for a repeat, and once again had a ball.
A roaring fire, music and a festive table set the tone for a celebratory evening in. I created a simple centerpiece with submerged greenery, berries and a floating candle, pulled out the monogrammed table linens, silver champagne bucket and called it good!
I’m into low-key entertaining that focuses on the food and wine, but couldn’t resist a few simple touches to make an evening in seem a bit more special.
Although I always love starting dinner parties with a sparkling rosé and a charcuterie board, for New Year’s Eve I upped the ante with a Grand Cru Champagne.
Cooking at our house is always a group effort, and we’re fortunate to be friends with some excellent gourmands who always contribute their talents; this year was no exception!
We looked to our collective southern roots- and our new Green Egg- when menu planning. Although last year’s New Year’s meal was a little more high-brow, this year we hickory smoked a pork butt. The traditional sides of collards, black eyed peas and corn bread were also there representing health, wealth, wisdom and luck in 2014.
Although the meal is traditionally eaten on the New Year’s Day, I also enjoyed leftovers. I figure I have 2 helpings of the traditional virtues coming my way in 2014!
We enjoyed red, white, rosé, and the requisite bubbles over the course of the evening.
After enjoying copious amounts of cheese and cured meats, we delved into two Spanish wines from Priorat for the main course.
Although I knew the Menut would stand up nicely to the hickory smoked meat, I wanted to compare it to another vintage, and so I picked up Zaumau from the same region. Guests were split on which was the favorite- some enjoyed the spicier and more fruit forward notes in the younger Menut, and others the slightly more subdued qualities of the latter. It will be interesting to see how the Menut continues to develop as it ages over the next 2-3 years.
For professional comparative reasons, I had a glass of each with my meal;) These hearty reds from Spain stood up nicely to the BBQ and it’s definitely a pairing I would re-create.
For midnight, I decided to go with a large format bottle of Premier Cru Champagne. Although many shy away from large format bottles, there’s something festive about this indulgence (and if you’re going to be consuming multiple bottles, it actually saves a few bucks!). This blanc de blanc was 100% Chardonnay. While I sometimes find these to be a bit one dimensional, the extra time allowed on the lees (or yeast) really rounded the Larmandier-Bernier out with gorgeous notes of champagne toastiness, almond and a fine mousse of bubbles.
Finally, we enjoyed a Late Harvest Petite Manseng from Linden Vineyards; a bottle purchased on our last visit to the esteemed Virginia winery. The sweetness of the dessert wine was balanced by firm acidity and notes of honeyed apricot- absolutely divine in front of the fire and a perfect way to end the evening!
We skipped watching the Times Square ball drop or making resolutions, but the combination of fantastic friends, food and wine made this New Year’s Eve an absolute success!
Did you enjoy any particularly great bottles of bubbly during your celebration? How did you celebrate this year?