Champagne Bubblies and New Year Treats

Ringing in the New Year in the traditional champagne-toast way does not mean that you have to wring out your wallet in order to buy a decent bubbly. There are many nice champagnes and sparkling wines that can grace the Auld Lyne Syne part of your holidays and leave you exhilarated but not broke. Then, on the other hand, if you want to do a once-a-year splurge (or maybe more often?), there are marvelous “true” champagnes (see note at the bottom of the column) that will give you a tasting pleasure that is exceptional.

A basic vocabulary guide before you go shopping: Extra Dry means a little sweet. Brut means dry. Extra Brut means very dry. Blanc de Blanc is wine made entirely from Chardonnay grapes.

For good taste and good value, try the Deutz Champagne recommended (and sold) by Ron Florian at Truckee’s Florian Fine Wines & Specialty Foods. “It is a very subtle champagne, with a little bit of yeastiness,” noted Ron. At $49/bottle, it is an excellent value. Deutz has 275 acres of vineyards in the finest crus of Champagne. The wines are slowly and carefully aged in Deutz’ chalk-walled cellars far beneath the historic village of Aÿ, right in the middle of the champagne region of France. In fact, located in the village of Ay is the Musée Champenois.

Moving to a Brut Rose champagne from France will double the cost, but the Billecart-Salmon is exquisite. $117.99/bottle at Florian’s. For this bubbly, we’re letting one of the world’s famed experts speak: Stephen Tanzer. “Pale, orange-tinged pink. Vibrant, spicy aromas of orange peel, ruby-red grapefruit and floral honey. Focused and pure, with juicy orange and tangy rhubarb flavors and a lush, velvety texture. This is weightier than previous bottlings of this cuvee, but has the usual precision and lift expected by long-time fans of this rose. Finishes with juicy citrus flavors and a lite mineral jolt.”

Caroline Vogt, wine buyer for Tahoe House of Tahoe City, has a selection of champagne and bubblies that are affordable and food friendly. Gosset’s Brut Excellence Champage, a nicely layered and rich blend. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes from from Grand and Premier Cru vineyards constitute 87% of this wine, with13% Pinot Meunier, give a bright finish with a hint of pear aroma. $42/bottle. An American favorite is Schramsberg’s Blance du Blanc, $38/bottle. Caroline was very enthusiastic about J Vineyards Cuvee 20, a nice dry bubbly which will go well with appetizers and desserts. $23/bottle. A very affordable “and really very nice bubbly”, said Caroline, is the Sequria Viudas Bruce Reserve Cava, a spanish sparkling wine, $10.99/bottle.

Will Clark, the very amiable owner of 49 Vines wine shop in Downieville, CA, has an enthusiastic recommendation: ”Wiebel Family vineyards in Hopland (Mendocino County, CA) makes a non-vintage almond Champagne (demi-sec sparkling wine) with an essence of almond! The very delicate almond flavor is layered over impressions of pear, green apple, and toasted vanilla. The tiny bubbles waft these flavors over the palate to create a very pleasing and unique taste sensation. Perfect for any celebration and a steal at $12.00.” Alcohol 11%. Will suggests that a perfect appetizer pairing is Thai chicken, chicken and shrimp… or pour this wine as a dessert over apricot, peaches and raspberry sorbet, and you'll have the perfect end to an everlasting meal memory .

A recent note from the Champagne Bureau and its Director Sam Heitner makes these points: True Champagne comes only from the Champagne appellation, located approximately 90 miles northeast of Paris. The Champagne region’s distinctive chalky soil, cool climate and strict regulations come together to create a unique sparkling wine impossible to duplicate anywhere else in the world. For a wine to bear the Champagne name, all the grapes used in its production must come from approved parcels and the wine must be elaborated, manipulated, stored and labeled within the appellation.

However, a loophole in U.S. law allows some domestic winemakers to continue to use the name Champagne and 15 other internationally recognized wine regions on wines that are not produced in those regions. “We are very proud to see more and more U.S. wine producers embracing the importance of location, yet until all practices change, we urge U.S. consumers to carefully review labels to insure they are not mislead,” continued Heitner. “When the time is right to pick a bottle of Champagne, it is important to remember that Champagne only comes from Champagne.”
The Champagne Bureau is the official U.S. representative of the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), a trade association which represents the grape growers and houses of Champagne, France.

Oh those French! Just enjoy your New Year and all your many blessings.

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© 2009 Barbara Keck

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appears in my column "It's Grape" in December 2009

Holiday Gift Ideas: What Every Wine Lover Should Have

There are a few essentials, and some frillies, that I’d put in gift wrap for anyone who enjoys wine.

The first is a bottle of Wine Away, which removes red wine stains from furniture, clothing, rugs – any fabric, pretty much. Made by Evergreen Labs, it costs about $10 for a 12 ounce spray bottle. I saw it on the shelf at Corkscrews Wine Bar in Tahoe City, but it is widely available.

Why is this important? Well, recently I was enjoying a tasting of Opolo’s wonderful wines with Kristi Snyder, Sommelier at Lone Eagle Grill at Hyatt Incline, and the sales manager for Opolo, Cary Thrasher, who was pouring their 2007 Mountain Zinfandel. Poor Cary poured the Zin right on his lap when his attention flagged for a moment. He was wearing taupe colored wool slacks. Kristi jumped up and got the Wine Away, handed it to Cary with a wet napkin. About half a bottle later (it was a BIG spill, and too bad, because the Zin was wonderful), Cary’s slacks were back to normal color.

If your wine loving friends don’t already have it, buy them a copy of The Wine Bible, authored by Karen MacNeil . A weighty paperback at 910 pages, the word “Bible” just begins to describe the importance of this book. About $20 new, and on used book sites, as low as $4. Drew Conly, wine server at the Fat Cat Café in Tahoe City, was pouring a taste of the Montepulciano they have by the glass. Out comes Drew’s well-worn copy of the Wine Bible, and we looked up a few references to Tuscan wines. Drew was so intrigued by The Wine Bible that he took it on his trip to Italy last year.

A few good wine glasses, one for reds, one for whites, are always welcome gifts. I’d recommend the Crate & Barrel “Elite” Chardonnay glass that stands 8 ¾” high and holds 22 oz. Plenty of stem to keep your warm hands away from cooling down the wine. $5.95 per glass. For the reds, a great everyday wine glass is the Spiegelau “Vino Grande” Burgundy glass, six for $52.95 at If your giftees already have red and white glasses, think about the Riedel “Wine Collection” Pinot-Nebbiolo glass, a set of four at $49.95 at

Taking care of your wine glasses is as important as having a few good glasses. I am a great fan of the Brushtech handled cleaner, and the small brush is fine even for big glasses. $6.95 at, perhaps a dollar or two more at a wine shop. The manager of the La Bodega Winery shop, located in Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, TX, suggested adding a touch of bleach every few months to keep it bacteria free.

An absolute must for any wine adventurer who drinks inexpensive red wine of an untested quality: a Vinturi Wine Aerator. The standard one at $39.95 is a fine choice. Check it out at Corkscrews in Tahoe City. The explanation is this: it mixes just the right amount of air with your wine as you pour it through the device and into your glass, allowing your red wine to breathe instantly. Results are a better bouquet and flavor. The company also makes a white Vinturi wine aerator now too.

Some stocking stuffer ideas are the Epic Screwpull foil cutter made by Le Crueset. You can find it for $12.99 at, or at many wine shops or kitchenware stores. Or consider the fun of “drinkware”, foam coasters for the bottom of wine glasses. Take a look at; for designs ranging from flip-flops to holiday designs to golf caddies; $15-20 for a set of 4, depending on the design.

Wine and the holidays. A perfect pairing!

For more information on dining and the wide range of activities around Lake Tahoe, see the online version of The Tahoe Weekly. This article appeared in my column "It's Grape" in December 2009.