Category Archives: champagne

Toast the holidays with 7 lovely wines from Pasternak

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Toast the holidays with lovely wines!
Toast the holidays with lovely wines!

How do you pick wines you think you’ll like? Perhaps you read respected publications like Wine Spectator or the New York Times wine reviews. You might follow a few well-known wine bloggers or tweeters who do the searching for you.

Another way is to identify an importer that you trust. And it’s good, too, if that importer can also direct you to locations where you can buy the wines they import. And that’s exactly what Pasternak Importers do. First, they select a winery in a specific location. Then they do the taste-testing to make sure the vintage or the blend meets their quality standards. Imagine trying to pick out your own wines from thousands produced in a region, the dozens or even hundreds of wines produced by a particular winemaker! Even master sommeliers, who get paid to do this stuff, have to study diligently and practice for long periods of time before they can do their work of informed recommending.
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Pasternak deals in wines in the affordable category and all the way up to premium and even luxury wines – French, Italian, and more. You can search their portfolio by region, varietal or brand, and they have an extremely handy “Find Our Wines” widget that lets you locate multiple places you can find the wines you decide to try. Just put in your zip or city and state – country? – and click to see who carries what you’re looking for.
Nice red, rose brut and white Pasternak imports
Nice red, rose brut and white Pasternak imports

Recently Pasternak shared a few of their wines in several price categories for review purposes. A few notes about them below:

  • Valdo Oro Puro Prosecco superior DOCG. A light and elegant wine with a nice bubble (Charmat method) and just enough sweetness. SRP $21
  • Valdo Rose Brut, A lovely medium pink bubbly that’s perfect for company or just for fun. Called a “Best Buy” in Wine and Spirits 8/16 issue. SRP $16
  • Thomas George Estates Estate Chardonnay. Aromas of star fruit, lemon, banana and hazelnut characterize Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Subtle flavors of citrus zest and custard  express themselves among stronger notes of stone fruit. The finish lingers long with a nice fullness. SRP $30

    Pinot Noir, prosecco and Chardonnay from Pasternak
    Pinot Noir, prosecco and Chardonnay from Pasternak
  • Thomas George Estates Estate Pinot Noir. Wine Enthusiast says: “Raw earth and black tea combine for a classic take on the variety, high-toned in wild strawberry and red cherry. Tightly wound, it opens in the glass, staying light but with texture and body, a floral wine with just enough weight.” SRP $43
  • Marchesi Fumanelli Terso Veneto IGT. The blend of 50% Garganega, 50% Trebbiano Toscano makes a beautiful white wine. Intense, nutty, and toasty aromas on the nose. The palate is concentrated and powerful with lemony freshness and bready notes. A striking wine with flavors of acacia, lime blossoms and fresh apricots. Amazing acidity. SRP $40

  • Marchesi Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC. Brilliant ruby red color, with a pleasant aroma of dark cherry and mature forest fruit. Dry and velvety on the palate, with a hint of bitter almond. Enjoy the touch of sweet vanilla and the soft tannins. A well-structured wine with a soft, intense, long and persistent finish. A beautiful, rich and robust red to love with your Christmas tenderloin roast beef or your finest Hanukkah braised brisket and latkes. SRP $30

  • Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose. Strawberry and wild cherry fruit flavors, with a touch of richness on the mid palate. Dry, crisp acidity and a creamy texture and long finish. 90 points from Wine Enthusiast in 2015. SRP $22
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7 wines under $20 for the 2016 holidays

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Recent tastings from wide-flung areas of the world have yielded a fresh list of possibilities for your holiday edification and enjoyment. Consider one of these under-$20 selections for your holiday celebrations.
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California’s Little Black Dress label
We love it when wineries come up with fun names for their brands. Take, for example, the label  “Little Black Dress” (LBD). Stirs up visions of sexy intrigue or at least something elegant, doesn’t it? Recently sampled a couple of their reds and enjoyed them.
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1. Diva Red. Winemaker notes: Decadent notes of dark plum, cocoa and caramel leading to a finish accented by hints of cinnamon and chocolate-dipped strawberries. We found it a pleasant medium-bodied red blend that sits comfortably on the palate, works pleasantly on the nose and goes nicely with food of many kinds. Well worth a try at SRP ~$8.
2. Little Black Dress Cabernet Sauvignon. Consider this value-priced rich red for your everyday wine. Winemaker notes:   Rich aromas of dark berries and toasted oak, a hint of vanilla spice and a lasting finish. Again, well worth trying at an SRP of ~$10.
 
 
Nero d’Avola elegance from Sicilia DOC
Speaking of “little black,” consider the Nero d’Avola grape –  indigenous to Sicily. For centuries Sicily has been a benchmark for the global wine market and this grape variety is an icon of Sicilian enology. Today a new generation of winemakers have lifted the “little black grape” to new heights of elegance and drinkability.
Saia - Nero d'Avola
Saia – Nero d’Avola

3. Nero d’Avola Feudo Maccari Saia 2011 Sicilia DOC. This Saia has lush, deep aromas and flavors of dark and sour red cherries, spearmint, spice and oak. Palate flavors are velvety, plush, and concentrated, balanced by fine acidity and ripe, sweet tannins, before a long finish. A superb match for full-flavored meats and game, especially stews and roasts. Saia, like all these wines, balances freshness with the ability to evolve over time. SRP ~$20

 
Naked Moon wine shines
Naked Moon wine shines

Lovely Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy
4. Luna Nuda (Naked Moon) Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT 2015. Born in the perfect-for-Pinot-Grigio clay soils atop the saw-tooth ridges, snow-capped peaks, and alpine meadows studded with glittering waterfalls in Alto Adige, this wine of straw-yellow with green lusters brings rich aromas of fruits like pears and apples. Well-balanced and structured, the taste is dry and smooth with a pleasing minerality. Perfect for pairing with lighter foods and fresh-water fish. At 12.5% alc., this is a sturdy white wine that makes a nice aperitif, too. SRP ~$15

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JaM Cellars “breakfast” trio of wines
Butter, Toast and Jam sounds like a breakfast menu, but it’s actually the names of three different wines – one red and two whites – that come from JaM Cellars. These are a cut above your everyday house wines and guaranteed to make you and your guests feel special. Perfect to go with your Thanksgiving or other holiday meals. JaM Cellars wines are available nationwide and through the website at http://www.jamcellars.com.
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5. 2015 Butter Chardonnay offers ripe, stone fruit and baked-lemon aromas and is cold fermented to rich creaminess, aged in a blend of oak giving this wine a lovely, long, vanilla finish. 14.89% Alc. by vol. SRP ~$15
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6. 2014 JaM Cabernet Sauvignon has soft, dark berries and plums on the nose and palate, and is aged in new oak to smooth and round the wine, adding a touch of vanilla. 15.1% Alc. by vol. SRP ~$20
JaM Cellars - toasting with Toast
JaM Cellars – toasting with Toast

BONUS: Non-vintage (NV) Toast Sparkling, made with traditional méthode Champenoise techniques, offers juicy aromas of honeydew, white peach and orange blossom followed by tastes of tropical pineapple and honeydew combined with a light toastiness. It’s light at 12.5% Alc. and, okay, at $24.99 a little over the headline-promise of $20/bottle. But we didn’t count it in the original 7, so think of it as a bonus recommendation.

South African sparkling wine
Did you know that South Africa is among the many nations that are becoming producers of respectable wines these days? Had a chance recently to review a couple of sparklings from that region. One in particular seemed a worthy addition to a list of decent possibles for holiday meals – or any time you’re in the mood for some bubbles.
7. Boschendal Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut NV. This sparkling wine, made with Methode Cap Classique (South Africa’s version of the traditional Champagne method) is a clear golden color with a fine effervescence. Aromas of fresh lemon fruits along with a creamy flavor make it a pleasant, value-priced bubbly that’s more complex than many similarly priced Proseccos and will make an equally nice accompaniment to lighter foods and even desserts. SRP ~$11

Have fun with these!

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Last-minute spirits gift guide – and a cure for too much

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Okay. You didn’t finish shopping. Many stores are open today, but what if you can’t think of anything good to get? Serving special drinks is a great way to celebrate end-of-year holidays – and giving the spirits themselves is a fabulous solution for quick and easy gifts that tend to be much appreciated. Below are a few ideas for your giftees – or for yourself:

Rum-te-rum-rum

Caliche brand rum comes honestly by its cachet as a super premium white rum. Rande Gerber, one of the original pioneers of South Beach nightlife, partnered with Destileria Serralles in Ponce, Puerto Rico – a long-time producer of fine rums – to produce Caliche in response to the nuances and preferences of cocktail consumers. My take: it’s a fairly smooth, clean-tasting rum that’s suave enough to serve alone if you’re a rum lover, but it also goes well with just a dash of something creamy. Ice cream and eggnog are wonderful pairings, but even half-and-half works. This clear, white Caliche Rum is also great in mixed cocktails. A bottle goes for around $25, depending on where you shop.

Captain Morgan, another well-respected maker of rums, put out a commemorative version of spiced rum this year that’s just delicious – neat or in creamy or other cocktails. Called Captain Morgan 1671, its unique blend of spices makes it festive (all year!) with notes of dried fruit, vanilla, caramel and oak. Finished with Spanish oak to deliver a smooth and refined drinking experience. Around 20 bucks a bottle – they made only limited quantities, so get one soon.

Sparkling wine – can’t-label-it-champagne-but-it’s-bubbly

Pasternak Wine Importers carry a number of delightful sparkling wines that will surprise and delight you and your gift recipients. Here are a few for your consideration:

  • Domaine Lucien Albrecht, Blanc de Blancs, Brut – Distinguished by a fine and elegant bead, a beautiful straw color; a light, delicate palate. It is delicious at any time of the day and with many foods.
  • Domaine Lucien Albrecht, Rose, Brut – Strawberry and wild cherry fruit, with a touch of richness on the mid palate. Well-balanced with dry, crisp acidity and complimented with a creamy texture and long finish.
  • Valdo, Oro Puro Prosecco Superiore DOCG, Brut – Floral with fruity aromas of strong pear and golden apple. The palate is refined and harmonious, with lingering aroma and savoriness.
  • Valdo, Prosecco DOC, Brut – Well-balanced structure, matched with its flavorful and aromatic fruity fragrance make it the perfect pairing with starters and particularly with delicately flavored dishes and especially seafood. Excellent as aperitif due to its distinctive characteristic of being “easy to drink.”
  • Valdo, Rose, Brut – The bouquet has fine and elegant blossoms, with a consistent presence of raspberry. The palate has a tickling fine perlage of minute bubbles; pleasant round warm flavor with a charming fruity aroma.
  • Lady of Spain, Brut – Fine, delicate and very clean, with lightly toasted pastry notes and syrupy fruits. Fresh and fruity, well structured, crispy, balanced carbonic and good persistence. Light recall to pastry and fresh fruits

Another nice, light bubbly is Ruffino Prosecco – Intense sensations of apples and peaches drive a pleasant aftertaste with fruity and floral aromas. Ideal as an aperitif and a versatile food companion. Around $11, 11% alc.

Vodka for every occasion

English: Picture of an old Smirnoff Vodka 375m...
English: Picture of an old Smirnoff Vodka 375ml bottle standing up found in my grandparents garage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have always been a Smirnoff vodka fan, even as fancier brands have taken the cocktail scene by storm. I found out not long ago that Smirnoff regular won big in a blind taste test. That made me happy. Then recently I found out that Smirnoff has a huge line of flavored vodkas – I mean an amazing array. I haven’t tried them all yet but did like some a bit more than others. Some of the flavors tasted a little artificial when drunk neat. The aromas are strong, but I think that’s intentional because these flavored guys turn out to be wonderful for mixing with other ingredients.

The first broad category of flavors is the trademarked Smirnoff Sorbet® collection – a series of reduced-calorie, fruit-flavored vodkas (all triple distilled as is the original Smirnoff) like Light Mango-Passion Fruit, Light Pineapple-Coconut, Light White Peach, Light Summer Strawberry, Light Lemon and more. I thought the White Peach had a strong aroma and was a little artificial tasting when I tried it neat, but this was cured easily by mixing with  club soda. Then later I tried some of the flavors with ginger ale and with half-and-half, and they were lovely.

Then there’s the Smirnoff® Confections series. Kissed Caramel® – nice aroma, sweet taste, delicious mixed with half-and-half or poured over vanilla or chocolate ice cream. Cinnamon Churros – great aroma, excellent taste – like many other of these flavors, great with something bubbly or creamy. Whipped cream – I wanted to love this one, but it was a little too chemical-tasting for me. But again, this improves dramatically when you mix it with something creamy. This series includes Fluffed Marshmallow, Root Beer Float, Vanilla and more. Don’t you want to go out and get some of these flavors right now? I’m taking a bottle of Smirnoff® Kissed Caramel to my family Christmas eve gathering tonight. You ­­­can’t go wrong.

Hangover remedies

And in case you or your companions overdo things in this department, there’s a quick help for the day after called “Hangover Naturals.” These lozenges are drug-free and fortified with Vitamin B and C. They come in a box of six in a variety of good-tasting flavors: ginger, raspberry, or lime. They were created by a registered nurse named Noni who focuses on helping people with healthy lifestyles.

For your edification, here’s the list of ingredients: dried cane syrup, corn syrup, citric acid, natural flavors (made with essential oils) and natural colors. They taste – you guessed it – sweet, and low blood sugar is one of the effects of drinking alcohol. When I checked their store finder, I didn’t see any retail locations in the Chicago area, but you can get these bad boys in the online store, so you should be able to get some in stock for possible upcoming New Year’s needs.

In case you want to try curing a hangover with stuff you’re likely to have around the house, check out these 7 natural hangover cures.

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Domaine Carnernos sparkling American wines top the charts

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Eileen CraneEileen Crane’s ordinary conversation is sprinkled liberally with interesting stories and lots of facts about fine wines and the foods that go with them, including fresh oysters, double- and triple-cream cheeses, and many more culinary delights. And that’s probably because she’s a graduate of Culinary Institute of America and the President and Chief Winemaker at the Domaine Carneros estate. Domaine Carneros is the winery for which she was hand-picked by Claude Taittinger to build and lead the American home of his French Champagne Taittinger dynasty.

Eileen and her group met for lunch at a downtown Chicago restaurant known for its fabulous seafood, GT Fish & Oyster. The place’s smart, sophisticated design made a great backdrop for enjoying the latest vintages from the winery.

Sipping the Brut Vintage Cuvee 2008, Eileen tells the story of a time a few years ago when she first learned about the International Wines for Oysters Competition. Held each year at the Old Ebbitt Grill in Washington, DC. the contest seemed a perfectly natural place for her to enter that year’s Domaine Carneros Brut. Eileen wasn’t surprised when it ended up winning, hands down, over several hundred competitors from more than a dozen countries around the world.

Domaine Carneros Brut Vintage Cuvee, made using Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes, is the estate’s signature wine. It’s aged three years and is perfect to serve when it’s released but is also designed to increase in complexity as it ages. The latest 2008 vintage surprises and delights your taste buds—extraordinarily elegant and well-balanced with a long, luscious finish. It makes a fabulous sipping wine and also goes beautifully with lots of foods: fresh oysters, shellfish, fish, rich cheeses, poultry and a variety of cuisine styles. Loved drinking it with GT’s deliciously fresh oysters and their Crudos, a small collection of fish and seafood items prepared with unique flavors and sauces and served on a giant block of natural wood.

All Domaine Carneros wines are not just superbly crafted; they’re also certified organic and DC is the only California winery to achieve that distinction for all its wines. When asked about the effects of the recent drought, Eileen said California escaped drought altogether and none of their vines suffered. In fact, she said, “We need agricultural workers, so maybe the places that have no work for workers because of drought could send those folks to California.”

Sparkling wines are growing in popularity in the U.S. But in the 1700s it was a brand new thing in France. “Madame Pompadour introduced sparkling wines to the court. She turned Louis XV on to them. She is believed to have said, ‘Champagne is the only wine a woman can drink and still remain beautiful.’ You must have an advocate like that in order to get a new product introduced and accepted in the market.”

Profoundly grateful to the long-ago intervention of Madame Pompadour, guests let Eileen pour from the latest version of DC’s greatest star wine, Le Reve. French for “The Dream”, the Le Reve 2006 vintage is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes using the traditional method Champagne and then aged in the bottle, on the lees, for five and a half years. This one, the 15th vintage in their long line of fine Blanc de Blancs, is also made to age beautifully. Some of the aromas you’ll notice include buttery, yeasty brioche, white flowers, fruit and more. The palate caresses with crème brulee and toasted almond and notes of white fruit. And you’ll love the long silky finish.

Eileen explained that this vintage needed only a small amount of dosage (a traditional sugar and wine mix added to balance sparkling wines) to reach perfection. Her guests explored the taste of East vs. West coast oysters—and came out firmly divided—but voted unanimously and joyfully that Le Reve made a perfectly beautiful accompaniment.

Taittinger told her when he recruited her in 1987 that he wanted to create America’s best Blanc de Blancs. She remembers fondly when she tasted the first Le Reve vintage in a social situation. She vividly recalls feeling stunned at how beautiful it was. “Ah, so this is how it tastes!” she said to herself. After spending all those years and months babysitting the grapes, the juice, and the wine in the lab, the experience of tasting it in a social situation opened her eyes to the splendor of her creation.

In fact, that Le Reve vintage was so spectacular that owner Claude Taittinger opted to serve it at his millennium party at his hotels in Paris-an American sparkling wine!

Eileen made a point of saying that Le Reve is a special-occasion wine for her, too, not just for the buying public. She says you don’t have to drink the whole bottle at once—and recommends using a closure suitable for fine sparkling wines. You don’t need to pay a lot—try this champagne wine stopper from Crate & Barrel. She said she and her husband have sometimes toasted with a single glass of Le Reve and then, after stoppering and refrigerating the remainder, gone off to enjoy a week’s vacation. They then happily returned and enjoyed a welcome-home toast from that same bottle of Le Reve, still elegant, perfectly balanced and beautifully bubbly.

Eileen tells another cool story about how in France all the winemakers have dressing rooms designed into their wineries. She said Taittinger suggested she include these in her design for Domaine Carneros. But when she asked and was told what they were for, she insisted they be taken out of the design. Apparently, in France it is important for workers to arrive in suits to show that they are doing a professional job. She told him it doesn’t work that way in America. So they took the dressing rooms out and put in an employee break room instead.

Domaine Carneros is known for its award-winning sparkling wines, but they also use some of their grapes to create a small quantity of 100% Pinot Noir vintage. Their latest, the 2010, has aromas of cherry and pomegranate with hints of herbs like clove and sandalwood and goes fabulously with foods like beef and poultry, pork and salmon.

To go with the main courses, Eileen poured glasses of the 2010 Pinot Noir—a velvety smooth wine, perfectly balanced after being aged 10 months in oak barrels and then 8 months in the bottle. Despite less than ideal growing conditions in 2010, this vintage was carefully nurtured to deliver “expressive aromas, fresh and well-defined flavors, and a bright, balancing acidity.” I loved its beautifully blended, silky taste, and everyone agreed it worked wonderfully with some of GT Fish & Oyster’s lunch items—their delightful fish and chips, tomato-sauced mussels, fish tacos, and excellent crab cakes (see pictures).

Next Eileen next poured her guests flutes of DC’s Brut Rosé Cuvee de la Pompadour. She says she loves the wild strawberry and peachy nose of the rose and confesses to happily drinking this wine all summer. This beautifully dry, silky textured, delicate salmon-colored sparkling wine bears absolutely no resemblance to what some older folks may remember of early American rosé wines. Surprise and delight yourself with a bottle of this gem—lovely as an aperitif or paired with duck, salmon and fresh berries-and with desserts.

It went very nicely indeed with GT’s fabulous Salted Caramel Tart, served topped with an egg-shaped mound of Chantilly whipped cream-a dessert worth traveling for. A beautiful wine, eminently suitable to welcome guests or to accompany fine fare.

La Reve is less than 1% of their production. Rosé is 5%. Pinot Noir 22%. Their total production is 55,000-considered a very small winery. But Eileen says they are a very friendly winery with a big visitor center. If you’re going to the area, come in and enjoy the cheese plate with some of their wines. The place is gorgeous-literally a castle-styled mansion that’s patterned after the Taittinger chateau.

Eileen says there’s an old saying: “When you get married, the first wine that should be in your mouth should be a sparkling champagne.” I like that—and hey, you don’t have to be getting married to live by it.

Ask your favorite wine supplier to order you some, or if you’re out and about in Chicago, look for Domaine Carneros wines at the following fine restaurants:

RL Restaurant (Ralph Lauren, 115 E Chicago Ave, 3124751100

Sixteen at Trump International Hotel, 401 N Wabash Ave, 3120588800
Pops for Champagne, 601-605 N State, 3122667677
Ki Kis Bistro, 900 N Franklin St, 3123355454
III Forks, 333 E Benton Place St, 3129384303
Mon Ami Gabi, 2300 N Lincoln Park W, 7733488886
Gemini Bistro, 2075 N Lincoln, 7735252522
Mastros Restaurant, 520 N Dearborn St, 3125215100
Hugo’s, 1024 N Rush St, 3129889021
GT Fish & Oyster, 531 N Wells St, 3129293501
Gibson’s Steak House, 1028 N Rush St, 3122668999
RPM Italian, 52 W Illinois St, 3122221988

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