Canned Sparkling Wine: Good for Cocktails, Not For Wine Snobs

Very recently, I was introduced to something that should make my wine sensibilities cringe: canned sparkling wine. From producer Francis Ford Coppola Winery, and named after Coppola’s daughter Sofia, comes the Sofia Mini sparkling wine, available in four 187 ml cans (adding up to one 750ml bottle total). As if the little pink cans weren’t enough, each one also comes with a little pink straw attached to the outside of the can with cellophane, creating an experience that seems more fit for a hyper-trendy bar or a kindergarten snack-time than any situation where sparkling wine would be called for. Of course, the wine is also available in traditional 750ml glass bottles, but if you’re going Sofia, you might as well go all in, right?

The real reason I am calling attention to this wine is because of the convenience that these cans serve in the manner of creating cocktails. If you have a recipe that calls for just one ounce of sparkling wine, and you’ve only got 2 people to serve, opening a full 750ml bottle is righteous overkill. Heck, even opening a half-bottle might be a little much for such a small amount required.  There are approximately 6 ounces of wine in each of these miniature cans, breaking down into very handy amounts for most sparkling wine cocktails.

But how does the wine itself taste? After all, having wine available in such handy portions doesn’t mean much if the wine is undrinkable.

To be honest, it’s not bad. It’s a little sweet and exceptionally fruity, but it’s got an okay bite to it. It’s a blanc de blancs, comprised of 82% Pinot Blanc, 10% Riesling, and 8% Muscat. It’s mostly fruit, but very lightly floral, with orchard fruits and flowers creating a fairly pleasant flavor and giving the it the nose of a countryside in spring.

Sofia is definitely geared towards simpler palates, with little complexity other than a layer of citrus that comes forward on the finish. For a cocktail such as a Bellini or mimosa, you can’t go wrong. It’s definitely not going to replace the Cava or Champagne in your life, so don’t expect miracles from it. For a $12 to $15 bottle of California sparkling, however, it’ll serve its purpose.

The lesson here? If you’re serving the wine to someone not of the most open mind, go ahead and pour the glass before you serve it to him/her. Unless their palate demands only the driest sparkling wines, chances are, though they won’t be blown away by it, they’ll be satisfied.

But having this knowledge is useless unless you’ve got a cocktail to try it in. Might I suggest the Champagne Julep? It’s a unique experience, and one heck of a delicious drink for sipping outside.

2 sprigs fresh mint

1 sugar cube

sparkling wine of your choice

splash of bourbon

Place the mint sprigs and sugar cube at the bottom of a high-ball glass. Add ice cubes. Pour the champagne slowly, stirring the entire time, leaving room for the bourbon. Add a splash of bourbon and stir one last time.

Music Monday: Broken Glass In Your Wine

The Music

Yes, it’s Valentine’s Day. I could post a brilliantly romantic song like millions of other people are doing right this second, but I’m kind of feeling something a little more risqué. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Last Shadow Puppets. It’s like James Bond going through a scenester phase. I happen to like it an awful lot.

2007 Winehaven Riesling

2007 Winehaven RieslingI picked up this gem on a business trip to the frozen north. While in Minneapolis, I stopped at a wine shop called Sorella Wines & Spirits. This place had a fantastic selection of local wines from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Minnesota. In addition to this one, I also picked up a couple Rieslings from Michigan and the Voyageur from Alexis Bailly Vineyards, a red wine blend of Leon Millot, Marechal Foch, and Frontenac varieties.

I understand that the northern Midwest is ideally a white wine region, thus the focus on Rieslings, but I’ve also heard good things about the Alsatian specialized red grapes growing in the area, and I wanted to give them a try as well.

The wine is a very deep golden yellow with a fairly low viscosity. The nose is very grape-y, like white grape juice. Aside from that. there are notes of white floral, ripe pear, and apricots.

The texture is rich, very, very smooth, though not quite as full as most Rieslings. It’s  off-dry, with a significant amount of residual sugar to the flavor. It’s not quite a dessert wine, though the sweetness is palpable. There’s a brief attack of pear, then the flavor abruptly dissipates. The finish consists of honey and floral. As it gets warmer, the more complex flavors start to come out, and the mid-palate starts to gain some citrusy qualities, specifically mandarin orange. It’s a little too sweet, and the alcohol and acidity could stand to be a bit higher, as the wine was a bit cloying. It wasn’t terribly imbalanced, though.

Match this guy up with some spicy seafood or chicken, though nothing overwhelming. The body is a little light, but the sweetness can take on some heat. The flavors themselves are built to suit a beginner’s palate, though they’ve still got the taste of a classic Riesling. I’d highly suggest this one to wean those you love off of White Zinfandel.

This is a wine that really needs to be consumed a bit warmer than 50 degrees to get the full range of its flavors. Too cold, and it’s flat and dull. This was even evident the second day, when any flavors that would need time to open up would have come about already.

Surprisingly good, though very simple, from the land of Minnesota. 5/10

One final note about this wine, and it’s a good lesson to learn about many other wines:

I opened the bottle, and what did I find but this stuff all over the cork and the inside of the bottle neck. Looks like broken glass or rock salt, right? It’s actually tartaric crystals, a solidification of potassium salts left over from the winemaking process. Someone might open a bottle of wine and find this stuff on the cork and believe the wine to be tainted. Rest assured, your wine is perfectly fine.

Many winemakers, mostly in Europe, elect to not put their wines through cold stabilization before bottling, which would cause these salts to form into their crystals for easy removal. When they don’t, the crystals will form on their own in the bottle as the temperature drops. Go ahead and taste them if you want. They’re odorless, essentially tasteless, not sugary or salty or anything else that will affect the flavor of your wine. Just filter them out or ring them out with a decanter and enjoy your wine as you normally would.

The Wine: Winehaven Riesling

Producer: Winehaven Winery

Vintage: 2007

Region: Minnesota, US

Varieties: 100% Riesling

Alcohol: 10.7%

Price: $12

Music Thursday: Art Rock and Washington Riesling

The triumphant return of the blog comes with one of the best new bands in my library paired with one of the best white wines I’ve had the pleasure of sipping.

The Music

I have been obsessed with this band the past few weeks. They’re a British art rock band with heavy progressive rock and electronic influences. Their vocals heavily depend on male-female harmonies and chant-like repetition, all laid over a saturation of rapid bass and rhythm guitar strokes. The band seems more keen on creating an atmosphere than a poppy sing-along, embracing programmed drums and waves of synthesizers to fill the void left by conventional instruments. The only real breaks in the music seem to be focused on giving full weight to a vocal harmony.

Anyway, the track is “ii) Apogee iii) Requiem for the Lovers” by Pure Reason Revolution. The video is a combination of footage from their tour and a show in London back when they were performing this music before it was released in studio, so you’ll also get to see glimpses of their recording session. Really, all it did was make me desperately want to see them live. Hopefully they’ll come stateside soon.

2009 Kung Fu Girl

Now for the wine: I celebrated a successful first day of my participation in the Midwest Grape & Wine Conference with a bottle of Riesling. I’d originally set out for a bottle of Champagne, but, alas, it was near impossible to find a wine shop open after the conference’s day session, and the hotel bar stopped serving at 7, so I decided to open the Riesling recommended to me by Collin at The Wine And Cheese Place in Ballwin, MO, the previous afternoon. Kung Fu Girl, from the Columbia Valley in Washington, it was.

The wine is surprisingly active, forming a lot of bubbles on the glass after the pour. It has a light straw color, and the swirl suggests quite a bit of heft behind the wine.

The nose is very light and crisp with lilac, citrus, peach, and pear. It just smells like spring. There’s no hint of alcohol heat, no unsavory scents to be had at all.

The flavor is a  mouth-coating blend of white peach, lemon, and pear, with a fantastic perceived sweetness and a touch of minerality. Pear lasts on the medium-long finish. The wine takes all these beautiful delicate spring notes and creates an intense, rich experience. It’s truly an exemplary Riesling. Fantastic balance, with a zesty acidity that you can feel without tasting. The alcohol backs up the body well without overpowering the light flavors.

I’m drinking this wine in the dead of winter after a major snowstorm in a cold city, but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. For optimal results, break this one out in a bright, sunshiney kind of picnic setting, with a light white-meat or seafood offering. [insert aforementioned meat here]-salad sandwiches, deviled eggs, cheese-and-crackers. The sugar can handle a touch of spice, and the body of the wine is built to handle the assault of a primarily poultry meal.

In short, this is one of the best sub-$20 Rieslings I’ve ever had. 8/10.

As a bonus, I sipped from Oenophilia’s Polycarbonate Wine Glasses. Shatterproof wine glasses that look just like their glass counterparts, they were one of the most popular products that I demo’d at the conference. I would wait until a couple people walked past, not really paying attention, and then chuck the glass at a metal display or a table across the way. They’d panic until they realized the glass didn’t break. It cracked me up every time.

The Wine: Kung Fu Girl

Producer: Charles Smith Wines

Vintage: 2009

Region: Columbia Valley, Washington, US

Varieties: 100% Riesling

Alcohol: 12.5%

Price: $18

An Office Celebration: We Drank Wine. Surprised?

This week was a bit of a treat. Instead of the usual one-or-two wines, our tasting included three varied wines: a Prosecco, a Port-style Zinfandel, and an Alsatian Riesling. What was the occasion? Does one need an occasion to celebrate life?

Port Sippers Wine Glass

Luna Argenta ProseccoWe started with the non-vintage Luna Argenta Prosecco, a prime example of its style. The color was a very pale straw, and the carbonation appeared to be fine if a bit aggressive. The nose was very aromatic, detectable from a yard away directly after its pour. Apple, citrus, and a light floral scent all cobbled together in a fairly standard bubbly scent. The flavors were a bit different, with pineapple, a bitter berry, and pear all making appearances. It was dry, and the flavor was weak when compared to the aroma. Still, not a disappointing sparkling, especially for one that usually sells for just over $10. This was the clear favorite in the tasting, as the bottle was drained soon after the tasting was over. Compare that to the last wine, which, among the nine of us usually eager wine-consumers, had a half of a bottle leftover that we used to clean our drains.

Evenus Port-Style ZinfandelA bit of a surprise was the 2006 Evenus Port-style Zinfandel. Hailing from Paso Robles in California for just under $10 at Trader Joe’s, this wine was a big change from the Prosecco. We decided to give our Porto Sippers a workout for this one, as we hadn’t had the opportunity in our tastings thus far. The Port sippers will direct and splash Port wine directly onto your tongue, resulting in a unique tasting experience that, admittedly, we hadn’t tried in quite a while. This certainly disappoint, highlighting the flavors of cranberry, raspberry, and baking spices in this wine. We also tried it with dark chocolate, and it paired sublimely.

2004 Kuentz Bas RieslingWe finished with the 2004 Kuentz Bas Alsatian Riesling.  The Riesling was by far (and surprisingly) the worst of the group. The aroma was that of spiced fruit and dark floral, but it seemed slightly spoiled. The flavor wasn’t much better, with orchard fruit and citrus tempered by a floral flavor, though the whole experience was marred by some rotten-sweet characteristic. The texture was lifeless, lame, and the finish was disappointingly short. I wrote and underlined FLACCID on the sheet. The balance was just awful, with no acid activity whatsoever. As the most anticipated wine in our line up, it was a complete let-down.

It was so bad that Ashley decided to see if she could improve its characteristics by drinking it from a coffee mug. Not surprisingly, her plot was foiled.

Wine from a Coffee Mug

Summer’s Almost Over… So Drink Up!

Though it may not feel like it here in the US, it’s almost time for the temperature to start dropping. Whether you’re enjoying a mild heat in New England, suffering through air quality warnings in the humid mid-Atlantic, or staying indoors to avoid the sweltering 110 degrees of the western deserts, all these hot times call for a crisp glass of white wine.

There are, of course, several styles to choose from, from the most aggressive, acidic thirst-quencher to the most pleasant, sugary summer sipper and many in between. If you’re planning to send summer out in style with a glass or two, I have a few recommendations that just might make the season seem less severe. Let’s go to the board:

Sauvignon Blanc: In case you haven’t been reading much of my blog, I can let you know that I swear by this grape. Especially those from New Zealand, the Sauvignon Blanc grape delivers a consistent experience whether it’s grown in France, California, or New Zealand: acidity with citrus flavors, as refreshing as a glass of ice cold lemonade. Very rarely a sweet wine, the Sauvignon Blanc is nevertheless a standard goto for inexperienced wine drinkers. Recommendations under $20: Barker’s Marque, Matua, Kim Crawford

Picpoul: Possessing an acidity and body similar to a Sauvignon Blanc, but with a lighter citrus (think lemon-lime) and more tropical flavor profile, the Picpoul is an underrepresented varietal wine here in the US. Typically from the Picpoul de Pinet region in Languedoc, France, this wine provides the same consistency as the Sauvignon Blanc. Also an aggressively dry wine, it’s still a very pleasant sipping wine. Recommendations under $20: Hugues de Beauvignac, Chateau Petit Roubie, Hugues Beaulieau La Petite Frog (3 liter box)

yellow and blue torrontes cartonTorrontes: Torrontes is a varietal wine that grows extraordinarily well on the western coast of South America. The combination of high altitude, long days, consistently mild seasons, and volcanic soil all create the conditions for a unique, fuller-bodied dry white wine to shine. Torrontes will have a floral and citrus profile, offering perfumey aromas that combine with a decent sweetness and acidity for a very soft, creamy experience. Novice drinkers will especially appreciate the straightforward flavors this wine offers. Torrontes is also a natural complement to most seafood dishes. Recommendations under $20: Gouguenheim, Yellow + Blue (1 Liter Tetrapak), Susana Balbo

Riesling: Riesling is a varietal wine that varies very greatly depending on its region and its winemaker. You can get syrupy sweet dessert wines, bone-dry, acidic tongue-tinglers, and everything in between with flavors across the fruit and floral spectrum. Depending on the terroir, you can also get a good dose of mineral or metal.  Recommendations under $20: Cono Sur, Dr. Loosen, Jacob’s Creek

What do you guys think? Any other recommendations for beating the summer heat? Need to know where to find some wines in your area? Leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to help!

Organic, Delicious, and from Washington State

Yesterday, Josh Wade at Drink Nectar lamented, to an extent, the growing pains of the wine industry in Washington. Among his highlights, he noted that Washington’s QPR is generally extremely agreeable, albeit more select, and that Washington State’s boutique wineries would have a hard time matching the production and pricing of California, as selling under $30 would necessarily cut into their profits necessary to survive. He also laments the lack of Washington wine available across the country. Lower volumes attract less interest in larger distributors, leaving the massive of the massive in California to take over the world. Shops have to actually put in some effort to invest in Washington wines.

Per Josh, Washington's production pales in comparison to California's, 150,000 tons annually to 4 million tons

Lucky for you and me both, some of Washington’s wines still make it across the country, although it’s typically the lower-end fare. Regardless, finding Washington State is always a fun challenge, and if you can find a palatable wine, such as Badger Mountain‘s Organic Riesling, for the typical California-level bargain prices, well, it just gives me hope for the future of the region.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a fairly deep straw color and a fairly full viscosity.

The nose of the wine is an orchard-like blend of flowers, pear, and citrus, accompanied by a very light minerality and baking spices scent.

The mouth feel of the wine is very smooth and tangy, with a delightfully active acidity that dances on the tongue.

The flavor of the wine is not quite as full as the nose would suggest, with underripe clementines, tart pear, and green apple on the finish. There’s a hint of minerality, and it comes with a delightful baking spice that really matches the light fruit flavors extremely well. Very dry, and everything about this wine is crisp and pure. When paired with havarti cheese, the fruit flavors intensify and the sweetness comes forward even more.

For the Casual Drinker:

This is a good entry-level wine if you’re trying to explore the Pacific Northwest. Different from the Finger Lakes and California, this Riesling has a more Alsatian style, offering very little sweetness, and instead being bolder and more nuanced. Don’t expect a dessert wine, I guess is what I’m saying. Pair with light seafood or chicken dishes… spice will overwhelm this, and heavier meats will utterly clash with the flavors.

Conclusion:

At a price of $11, this wine is definitely worth a try. It’s not representative of the best that Washington has to offer… not even close… but you’d be hard-pressed to find many wines of this quality at this price. Oh, and it’s organic, which is certainly a plus! 6/10

In Case You Missed It:

Wine: N-S-A Organic Columbia Valley Riesling

Producer: Badger Mountain Vineyards / Powers Winery

Region: Columbia Valley, Washington, United States

Varietal(s): 100% Riesling

Vintage: 2008

Residual Sugar: 1.7 g/l

Alcohol: 13%

pH: 3.08

Price: $11

Purchased at: Weaver Street Market, Hillsborough, North Carolina

Westbend Riesling, More Fine Wine from Yadkin Valley

Because I neglected to ask for permission to use Westbend's winery photos, here's a picture of a Panda playing a tabla.

Westbend, like Childress, is a winery that I’ve heard quite a lot about since I moved to the area but never got around to tasting. Also like Childress, it is situated in the Yadkin Valley, the fertile wine-growing region southwest of Greensboro. Its name is derived from its situation near a particular part of the Yadkin River that briefly bends back towards the west before meeting the South Yadkin River and continuing on towards South Carolina.

There’s a pretty good reason why I’ve heard quite a bit about Westbend, and it’s spelled out rather clearly on their website: “Wine Spectator has scored Westbend wines the highest of any other North Carolina wines.” Pretty high praise you’re heaping on yourselves, there, Westbend. I kid, I kid. There are only 50 wineries that can claim that outright in their particular state. I’m no statistician, but my money’s on that being fairly good company.

For more on Westbend Vineyards, here’s Robert Parker: “One of the South’s best kept wine secrets is Westbend Vineyards in Lewisville, North Carolina. Westbend produces two excellent Chardonnay cuvées; a tasty, rich Seyval, a good Sauvignon, and a surprisingly spicy, herbal, cassis and chocolate scented and flavored Cabernet Sauvignon. As fine as these wines are, I am surprised they are not better known outside of North Carolina.”

You forgot one, Mr. Parker: the Riesling. Facepalm yourself, good sir. As for me, here’s what I thought of their 2008 Riesling.

The Results:

The appearance of the wine is a deep yellow with a green tint. It has a moderately high viscosity.

The nose of the wine is very floral and perfume-y, with an orchard fruit smell of apple and pear. There is a very slight alcohol scent.

The mouth feel of the wine is rather full-bodied with a creamy, tangy texture. It feels very active on the tongue.

The flavor of the wine is, like the nose, extremely reminiscent of an orchard. There’s a rich, ripe pear attack with hints of citrus, apricot and minerals, and a long floral finish, sweet and full. The balance is phenomenal. A decent sweetness matches a rich acidity, and the alcohol, at 12.5%, accents the flavors very well.

The wine was paired with a cajun dish of chicken and potatoes, and the pungent flavors and sweetness counteracted the spice supremely well.

For the Casual Consumer:

This wine is aggressive and beautifully flavored, but not a dessert wine, an eye-opening combination for someone expecting a sweet, fruity wine or a drier, lighter one. This wine is great on its own, maybe a little too full to be a summer sipper, but it’s really built for spicier meals. Like the aforementioned chicken dish, a white meat pairing does this wine justice.

The Conclusion:

I’ve had few white wines that would justify a $20 price tag, considering how many fantastic whites you can get at a value price. This wine fully justifies its suggested retail of $17, and even if you see it for over $20, I’d recommend picking it up. This is what North Carolina is capable of. 8/10

This review was cross-posted at NC Vine.

For a review of the 2009 Westbend Riesling, check out Cork’d.

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