Barbera: Food-Friendly Wine from the Sierra Foothills

Dick Cooper, "The Godfather of Barbera", who hosted
the Festival at his vineyard in Amador, shares a glass
of wine with Barbara Keck
 I’m fond of Barbera, and it’s not simply because it’s one wine varietal that I can pronounce easily. Weekly editor Katherine Hill and I went to the first-ever Barbera Festival in June in Plymouth, CA, on the grounds of Cooper Vineyards. Along with the fun music and food tents, the event was truly festive: more than 80 California wineries and a few Italian ones poured for an enthusiastic crowd of 1500.

Barbera originated in the Piemonte region of northern Italy. It was first imported into California in 1884 and the Italian Swiss Colony Winery used Barbera for several of its table wines. After prohibition, a wine labeled as Barbera was produced by Louis Martini in 1954. Today about 7000 acres are planted in California and Barbera is produced by nearly 200 California wineries.

The wineries of the Sierra Foothills are producing great Barbera, and it is a food-friendly wine that you will enjoy. It is characterized by structured acidity, smooth tannins, dark pigments, bright fruit flavor (spice and chocolate too), and it ages nicely – if only you don’t drink all of this scrumptious wine right away!

To my palate, here are some of the best and most interesting Barberas and Barbera-blends sampled at the festival:

Andis Wines
Andis Wines (Plymouth, Amador County, CA) poured its 2009 Andis Barbera. I found it rich and deep, aroma of plum predominating and taste of raspberry, black cherry, and cranberry with a lingering finishing of black cherry and a bit of spiciness. Grapes were sourced from the upper reaches of a hillside vineyard in Amador County’s Shenandoah Valley region. 15.5 percent alcohol. $24 the bottle.

Pilot Peak at Barbera Festival
The 2008 Barbera from Pilot Peak Winery (Penn Valley, Nevada County, CA) is a medium-bodied wine with a smoothness in the mouth. It has the classic Barbera crisp fruit flavor of cherry and raspberry. Nice and balanced, it has a lingering finish. Fruit for this wine came from Placer County’s Duarte Vineyards. 13.7 percent alcohol. $25 the bottle.

Avio Vineyards (Sutter Creek, Amador County, CA) offered its yummy 2008 Barbera for tasting. Aroma of black fruit such as blueberry and blackberry, maybe a hint of mint. On the palate, a delightful juiciness. Stefano and Lisa Watson, owners, say that this wine is “our favorite anytime, any meal, going to the neighbors after a long workday wine It’s rich without being aggressive, our Barbera is simply delicious with your favorite comfort (or take out) foods. “ 14.7 percent alcohol. $28 the bottle.

The 2008 Estate Barbera from Lava Cap (Placerville, El Dorado County) is a classic, and, I confess, the Barbera that I tasted last summer that made me a Barbera convert. Winemaker Tom Jones offers these notes: “Lava Cap Barbera Reserve has a complex aroma of dark red cherry fruit, spicy with foresty herbs and a dash of licorice. The velvety taste of strawberry and plum are complimented by the white pepper finish.”. Grapes are sourced from their steep, west facing vineyard and to augment the depth and complexity of flavors, Tom added 8% Petite Sirah, 10% Sangiovese and 6% Zinfandel Reserve. 14.7 percent alcohol. $20 the bottle. They also offered samples of the 2009 Barbera, a very-berry yummy wine that is being bottled soon.

Other tasty Barberas we tried:

Boitano Family Wines (Mokelumne Hill, Calaveras County) - a wonderful 2006 Barbera that won a “Best of Show” at the 2008 Amador County Fair.

Borjon Winery (Plymouth, Amador County) - a 2007 Barbera with 5% Zin blended in

Easton Wines (Plymouth, Amador County) – a delightful Barbera with grapes sourced from the Cooper Ranch

Latcham Vineyards & Granite Spring Winery (Somerset, El Dorado County) the 2008 Special Reserve Barbera

I look forward to the next festival!  Many thanks to Cooper Vineyards for hosting!
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© 2011 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 appeared in my column "Wine Adventures" in July 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

Toast and Taste of Summer: Atlantis Casino (Reno) Hosts Charity Event with Fine Wines

There are more than 7600 bonded wineries in the USA, and more than 3300 in California alone. So it is no surprise that I run into many wines from wineries that are new to me. I have to give credit to the organizers of the recent Toast and Taste of Summer event held at the Atlantis Casino Report Spa in Reno for finding 58 very compelling wineries to include in this interesting tasting event.

The function was a fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and featured gourmet food pairings from 17 restaurants including Lake Tahoe’s Sunnyside Resort, Wild River Grille, and Wolfdale’s, and also the new Campo soon to open in downtown Reno under the guidance of Mark Estee, executive chef at Moody’s in Truckee.

Among the wines I tasted was the 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from Mi Sueño Winery, Napa, CA. “The 2007 vintage for Napa Valley Cabernet can be summed up in one word, "STRUCTURE". When compared to 2006, slightly cooler temperatues not only produced noticeably smaller berries but also allowed for extended hangtime and enhanced flavor development. For fans of Big, Muscalur, Age-worthy, Powerful Cabernets, this is the vintage for you,” explained Tom Bracamontes, Director of Sales and Marketing as he proudly poured this great wine. Aroma of dark fruit, licorice, fig, and espresso greet you as you taste this full bodied and concentrated wine. Flavors of black fruit, chocolate, vanilla spice and oak work together with great acidity and a nice tannin structure. Only 850 cases produced . 14.5% alcohol. $65/bottle.

Mt. Vernon Vineyard, Auburn (Placer County, Sierra Foothills), presented its Cuvee Blanc, a 50/50 blend of Viognier and Roussane. This wine, just released, was cold fermented with its own indigenous wild yeast for 32 days. This is a field blend created by winemaker Ryan Taylor. Aroma of honeysuckle, a crispness and a creamy finish characterized this wine. Only 240 cases made. 13.9% alcohol, $25/bottle.

Frogs Tooth Vineyards, Murphys (Calaveras County, Sierra Foothills), poured their flagship wine, the 2009 Pinot Grigio. It’s a perfect summer wine: it is delicate and fragrant, a bit floral, a flavor of lemon, and is a nice rich, round full-bodied white wine. 14.5% alcohol. $16/bottle.

The 2009 Wirsching Silvaner Dry was offered for tasting by Rudi Wiest Selections, a leading importer of fine German wines into the US market. The limestone in the soil of this vineyard shows through with a light citrusy flavor and a bit of frizzante too. Perfect with raw fish such as sushi, and other fish dishes. 12.5% alcohol, $12/bottle.

The 2009 Chardonnay from Michael Sullberg Wines, Healdsburg CA (Sonoma County), is a Barrel Select blend of grapes from several micro climates, 95% of which grapes were sourced from the Monetery Peninsula’s Central Coast AVA, mostly from the San Bernarby Vineyard. It is crisp and tropical in taste, with aroma of apple and pear, and a buttery finish on the palate. 13% alcohol, $10/bottle.

Paso Robles winery Kukkula’s Vaalea white Rhone blend is a crisp wine that shows a nice orchard fruitiness and juicy acidity all the way through. It is 50/50 Viognier and Rousanne, with aroma of peach, melon and pear and a gentle spicy finish. 14.2% alcohol, $20/bottle.

The Atlantis Casino Resort Spa is located at 3800 S. Virginia St. Reno, NV 89502. It features the Atlantis Steakhouse, an upscale dining restaurant with a wonderful wine list. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 5PM to 10PM. Reservations call 775.824.4430

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International is dedicated to finding a cure for type 1 diabetes and its complications. For more information, go to

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© 2011 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 appeared in my column "Wine Adventures" in July 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

Celebrating California's Cabernet Sauvignon

I have a wine savvy friend who doesn’t like Cabernet. I can understand that – not everyone wants that tannin experience in the mouth, what is often described as “little wooly sweaters pulled onto your teeth.”

But Cabernet Sauvignon is one of the great wines of the California experience, and there is much to celebrate. That’s why, next year you might want to maker sure you are in town (San Francisco) for the yearly California Cabernet Society tasting. Get on their mailing list at

The 2011 tasting, held at the beautiful Bently Reserve building, featured 62 wineries from many AVAs in California, all producers of Bordeaux grapes and wines. The Bently Reserve was a fitting location for this prestigious tasting; this building at 400 Sansome Street in San Francisco was formerly the Old Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, built in 1924 with an Ionic colonnade that is pure Beaux-Arts.

Lots of wonderful Cabernet s were featured, but right away I must rave about the 2008 Napa Valley “Four Soil Melange” Cabernet Sauvignon from Sequum. The fruit of this wine is lively and integrated, with a bright flavor. The grapes for this wine are harvested from four distinct Napa Valley vineyards located in four separate appellations: Spring Mountain, Stag’s Leap,Rutherford and St. Helena. Winemaker Paul Skinner encourages the wines to express their terroir, and the result is wonderful. 325 cases of this wine were produced. 14.2% alcohol, $40 the bottle.

Star Lane Vineyard, located at the far eastern end of the Santa Ynez Valley, featured two wines. The 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec. The winemaker’s notes: “Licorice accented black cherry and cassis fruit gives way to sweet herb and mocha shadings. On the palate the wine is full yet fresh, and there is a vibrancy to the fruit character that is unique to the ’06 vintage. A very tightly wound, high-strung wine upon bottling, the 2006 Star Lane Cabernet has opened itself up into a fresh and striking mouthful that begs both immediate enjoyment and long term cellaring.” 15.1% alcohol. $42 the bottle. 
The 2006 Star Lane Astral Cabernet Sauvignon tasted a bit rough at this time, but will cellar for later use very well. The blend is 52% Cabernet Franc, 28% Petit Verdot and 20% Cabernet Franc. The mountain fruit really shines through here (the vineyards are at 1600 feet elevation) and this wine is herbaceous like many Santa Ynez Cabs, full-bodied and rich, with nice tannins, and flavor of cherries, chocolate and cedar. 15% alcohol, $80 the bottle.

Kenefick Ranch Winery, Calistoga, poured its 2007 Cabernet Franc, Caitlin’s Select. Only 747 cases of this wine were made, and its composition is 100% estate grown fruit, with 91% Cabernet Franc, 6% merlot and 3% Cabernet Sauvignon. The aroma is dark chocolate, Maraschino cherry and fresh raspberries. Black cherry comes through on the palate, with a bit of vanilla. Robert Parker gave this wine 91 points. 15.2% alcohol, $52 the bottle.

Justin Winery poured their 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon, a new release. Their website tasting notes echo my experience with the wine: “offers a merge of red and black fruits, delicate spiciness from carefully selected American oak barrels, and deep brooding opaque color. A meaty entry gives way to a generous back palate of supple but not shy tannins, a graceful flow across the palate, and a fine, debonair finish.”  14.5% alcohol, $26 the bottle.

The California Cabernet Society seeks to expand worldwide regard and appreciation for California Cabernet varietals. For more information, call 707 252 6229 or visit their website at

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© 2011 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 appeared in my column "Wine Adventures" in July 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

Pour House Wine Shop in Truckee features "Bullseye Tasting" to Assist Customers in Refining Their Wine Choices

One of the wonderful things about The Pour House wine shop and winebar in Truckee is that they help customers figure out what wine really suits his or her individual palate. No more wandering around, deciding what to buy on the basis of label design or promotional pricing – Dean Schaecher and Christa Finn, proprietors, will assure you walk out with a bottle of wine that you’ll really love.

I know this sounds like a tall order, but the standard procedure at The Pour House is to introduce a new customer to this education via a “bullseye tasting.” Four wines are poured, and by tasting those four, you’ll hone in on what you really like in terms of fruit, tannin, balance and weight. “We talk to customers while they are going through this process, and this helps remove the pretention of labels. Then, combined with price, and what you want to do with the wine (sit on deck, roast a chicken), the perfect bottle emerges,” says Dean.

The day I stopped by The Pour House, four interesting wines were on the tasting program. All are available to taste, as well as by the glass and for purchase by the bottle.

The 2009 Cotes du Rhone from Alain Jaume is a French Haut de Brun. This garnet-red wine is a blend of Grenache noir (60%), Syrah (30%) and Cinsault (10%). The aroma brings to mind such fresh berries as wild raspberry, blackcurrant and blackberry, and there is a spiciness too. On the palate, the wine is big and full of flavor, and the tannins are silky and smooth. There’s a bit of licorice and pepper at the end. Ideal with poultry and other white meats including pork, and mild cheeses. 13.5% alcohol. $15 the bottle.

Next in the tasting was the 2009 Dexter Lake, a California red wine that’s a blend of Mendocino and Sonoma fruit. The varietals used in the blend are 40% Petite Sirah, 40% Petit Verdot and 20% Tempranillo. This wine is huge on the nose, and to me, the taste brought cotton candy to mind. This may be just how I was experiencing fruity spicy wine that particular day. But this is a nice wine with both red and black fruit flavors, and it has a lovely ripeness. Not too tannic, with good acidity. 14.5% alcohol. $15 the bottle.

Miro Cellars’ 2008 Petite Sirah from Dry Creek, Sonoma County is spicy and peppery and quite characteristic of this variety. The fruit for this wine is from the northwestern corner of Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma, which is an area known as Rockpile since the 1850s. The winemaker notes “The allure of this appellation is virgin soils, relatively dry soil condition and plenty of sunny, fog-free days and nights. The soils are typical for the region: red, mixed with decomposed granite and other rocks, relatively of poor nutritional values, therefore producing low yields of highly concentrated fruit.” It’s an inky dark wine, with flavours of blackgerry, blueberry and perhaps some caramel on the palate. I liked it long finish, which had a hint of chocolate. 14.5% alcohol. $22.95 the bottle. For more information on petite syrah/sirah, check out the website

The 2009 Aquinas Pinot Noir from Napa is a richly textured wine, with smoky cherry flavors. The winemaker describes the wine as unfolding “with the scent of rose petals, plums, maraschino cherries and warm cinnamon rolls. The palate bares flavors of raspberries, cardamom, cloves, orange peel, and huckleberries with a subtle finish of cedar and cassis.” 13.8% alcohol, $17 the bottle.

Located at 10075 Jibboom Street in Truckee, The Pour House is open Monday-Saturday 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday noon-5 p.m.., (530) 550-9664

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© 2011 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 appeared in my column "Wine Adventures" in June 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

Reno's Beaujolais Bistro: Great Wine List pairs with French Food by Chef Bill Gilbert

Some good French food and some good wines to go with it… if this combination sounds good to you, check out the wine list at Beaujolais Bistro in Reno. Chef Bill Gilbert is responsible for the wine choices, and he did a wonderful job pairing his signature dishes at a recent wine dinner with a range of wines from Calera Wine Company, grown in vineyards where California’s Central Coast meets its Central Valley.

Calera Wine Company's history goes back more than 30 years, to when owner/winemaker Josh Jensen fell in love with the wines of Burgundy and decided to turn that love into his life's work. How perfect to pair wines from his enterprise with French food!

Chef Gilbert built his chef’s resume in the Lake Tahoe area for twenty years before he opened Beaujolais Bistro in Reno in 2002. It’s a regional favorite for wine dinners featuring (of course) Beaujolais, and Rhone, Languedoc, Pinot Noir, Alsatian, Bordeaux and Loire wines from France as well as America.

At this dinner, we began with Calera’s Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, 2009. Chef Gilbert paired a Jonah crab claw fritter with a tomato-horseradish sauce. This bright pink rose is slightly frizzante with tones of European-style dry red wines. On the nose, citrus, with raspberry and strawberry flavors, a bit of a floral accent, but the red-berry flavors giving it a zip that is perfect with rich foods. 14.5% alcohol. $17/bottle

The almond-crusted lemon sole with wilted spinach and a brown butter-lemon sauce paired perfectly with Calera’s 2009 Chardonnay. The grapes for this wine are a blend from several Central Coast vineyards, and it is a nice buttery chardonnay but not overwhelmingly so, with a honeysuckle and peach bouquet and tones of apple and pear. On the palate, this wine offers spicy oak, ripe apricot and a lemon note that persists through a nice long finish. 13.9% alcohol, $17/bottle.

The Central Coast Pinot Noir 2008 was paired with a pork trotter spring roll by Chef Gilbert. This Calera wine offers spiciness and a pungent cherry-oak tannic quality; it is considered medium-to-full bodied. The Wine Enthusiast calls this a “delicious introduction to the Calera style.” Grapes from a four separate Central Coast counties went into this blend, so it’s like a tour of Monterey, San Luis Obispo, San Benito, and Santa Clara. It is bottled unfiltered after aging in French oak for 11 months. Aroma of black cherry, taste of blackberry and cassis results in a wine with a lot of personality. 14.4% alcohol, $25/bottle.

The “Ryan” Pinot Noir 2007, Mt. Harlan, was paired with a black trumpets mushroom mélange with asparagus and cow’s milk cheese. The black fruit richness of this wine will please those who enjoy a tannic experience with earthy foods, and the 93 points awarded this wine by Robert Parker came with this commentary: "From one of the property’s coolest sites, the 2007 Pinot Noir Ryan Vineyard reveals nearly overwhelming notes of sassafras, root vegetables, plums, red currants, and raspberries. It is a spicy, earthy effort with an autumnal-like herbaceousness. Aged 17 months in French oak (30% new), it is a Pinot Noir for those who prefer that varietal’s spicy, stemmy, earthy side. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of fruit in this complex, singular cuvee." 14.8% alcohol. $37/bottle.

Most of the Calera wines are available at Ty Martin’s terrific wine shop, Craft Wine & Beer at 22 Martin Street in Reno, tel 775 622 4333.

For a wonderful French bistro meal, and a great wine list to choose from, make a point to go to Beaujolais Bistro at 130 West Street, Reno. Call 775 323 2227 for reservations.

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© 2011 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 appeared in my column "Wine Adventures" in June 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".

AVEC WINE AND FOOD: New Truckee Wine Bar Offers Interesting and Important but Affordable Wines

Avec Wine and Food, the charming and well-stocked wine bar and wineshop in Truckee, is a refreshing change of pace. I want to give hats-off to the new kids in town – Chris Cooke and Rose Levinson, owners – for establishing an eclectic wine bar that carries wines you are not likely to find in other shops. “We want to expose our customers to relatively inexpensive but interesting and important wines,” notes Chris. Chris and Rose have wine-traveled in Europe, and Chris is a self-professed “wine geek.” But apart from his worldwide searches for interesting wines, he is happy to be back home in the North Lake.

The wine by the glass menu is extensive; all wines are priced reasonably and all are nice explorations in taste and region. Order a tasting flight for $10 of four 1.5 ounce pours, and then move on to a full glass of your favorite.

Summer is around the corner, and white wines just seem right for summer entertaining. Try the 2009 Primosic Pinot Griogio, Friuli. This Italian wine has a pale straw color, and a lovely aroma of lemon, apricot, honey. It has a crisp finish, true to the terroir, which is the terrain near the Italian and Slovenian border where wine grapes have been cultivated for centuries. 13% alcohol, $6/glass or $13.50/bottle.

The 2009 Emina Verdejo from Spain has a golden color, nutty texture, tropical fruit on the back, and is very dry with tones of pineapple. “It’s got a nice color that the eyes like to drink,” commented Chris. notes that the Rueda region of Spain, from which this wine comes, produces blended white wines that tend to be crisp and light, relying on the Verdejo grape to contribute a soft richness to the texture and lightly honied citrus and apple flavors to the finished wine. Serve cold. 13% alcohol, $6/glass, $11.50/bottle.

The Palmina 2009 Tocai Friulano is made from grapes sourced in the Honea Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley near Lomboc, CA. I don’t want to add to the confusion about names, so here is a clarification from the winery’s website: “Known in Italy for centuries as Tocai Friulano, the name was changed to Friulano in 2008 by decree of the EU courts. Here in the United States, it must be called Tocai Friulano (since “Friulano” is not an approved grape name by our governing authorities). Politics and government regulations aside, “Tocai” is the same enchanting wine no matter what the name!” This wine is the product of a husband and wife team who grow Italian varietals in the Santa Barbara area. It’s a perfect summer wine: floral, fruity, aromatic, tones of apple, pear and quince, silky texture and yet medium bodied. 12.5% alcohol, $21.50/bottle.

Chris next presented a red wine from “the hot new Italian winemaker Arianna Occhipinti”: the Tami Frappato 2009, from Sicily. It is fresh, fruity, and easy to drink… a perfect everyday red wine. Chris refers to this wine as Sicilian Pinot Noir, and he suggests pairing it with salmon. 13% alcohol, $7/glass, $21/bottle.

Another red to try: the 2009 Mas de Gourgonnier, a French Rose. This a very unique blend of traditional Rhone wines (Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault) and then “it gets crazy with the addition of Cabernet,” says Chris. He swears you can taste the lavender in this wine from Provence. 12.5% alcohol, $22/bottle.

The food at Avec is all wine-friendly, with appetizers, Panini, small plates, and Chef’s Favorite Chicken Pot Pie with Truffle Salt.

Avec is located at 11209 Brockway Road, Suite 101C, Truckee, CA. They are closed Tuesdays, open Monday & Wednesday 11-6 and open til 9 for dinner Thursday through Sunday. Phone 530 582 1903.

p.s.  Avec offers some interesting Sierra Foothill wines too, like this Grenache Blanc from Skinner Vineyards, Fair Play, El Dorado County, California.  I've been writing for and about Skinner and their wines are great!

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© 2011 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 appeared in my column "Wine Adventures" in June 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".


With the wedding season in full swing, here’s a guide to finding the a perfect Champagne for every wedding celebration. Sharing Champagne with your family and friends is a wonderful way to enjoy all your wedding festivities. Nothing symbolizes celebration more than a quality Champagne. Whether choosing a romantic wine on your honeymoon or celebrating with friends before the big day, the happy pair deserves the perfect pairing.

First, some quick definitions, provided by The Champagne Bureau:

Brut NV (Non-vintage) is usually a blend of wines from several years and a number of 'crus.'

Vintage Champagne is produced exclusively from the wines of a single harvest. As a result, producers will only declare a vintage in exceptional years.

Rosé Champagne is produced by macerating the black grapes or by adding locally produced red wine to the blend.

Special Cuvée is made from the most subtle and distinctive wines, whether vintage-dated or not.

Demi-Sec Champagne does differ from Brut in its slightly sweeter taste.

Blanc de Blanc is made from a blend of white grapes only, Blanc de Noir is a blend of black grapes only.

OCCASION: The Bridal Shower – Everyone there will enjoy the pink color and light, fruity flavor of a delicious rosé Champagne. Rosé pairs perfectly with subtle cheeses, smoked salmon, and fruit salad, as well as many other hors d'oeuvres. Plus, a half bottle makes a lovely party favor.

OCCASION: The Bachelor or Bachelorette Party – For your last night in singledom, liven up your celebration with a rich, full bodied Blanc de Noirs style Champagne. This Champagne is made using only black grapes and pairs well with full-flavored foods—perfect to get the party started!

OCCASION: The Rehearsal Dinner – It can be hard to please a room full of family, but a non-vintage Brut Champagne pairs well with almost anything and can help the evening go smoothly.

OCCASION: The Reception – On the wedding day, Blanc de Blancs Champagne is a perfect wine for your toasts. The name literally means “white of white,” a perfect complement to your gown. This delicate Champagne is made from only Chardonnay grapes and has a light, dry flavor, just right for when you want to dance all evening. Make sure to save a bottle to drink on your first anniversary!

OCCASION: The Honeymoon – When the happy pair is finally alone, make sure there is a a rare Vintage Champagne to share. It’s only made in years that produce the highest quality grapes, and just as love grows over time, these wines have been aged for a minimum of three years before they are released.

Champagne is produced exclusively from the grapes of Champagne, France, under strict rules designed to ensure quality. There are many other wonderful sparkling wines made around the world, but true Champagne only comes from Champagne.

The distinctive natural components of the terroir of Champagne — a unique combination of soil, sub-soil, climate and grape varieties unlike anywhere else in the world — are the underlying factors which account for the uniqueness of the wines of the Champagne region. The harshness of the northern climate is fortunately tempered by two particularities: a deep chalk sub-soil that allows easy drainage, and the way in which the grape vines are planted on slopes where they can receive the most sunlight. Under these conditions, the vineyards can yield their best grapes.

Thanks to the Champagne Bureau for their information! It’s 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. “Whichever Champagne you choose, make sure it is genuine,” says the Bureau. For more information, go to

© 2011 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 appeared in my column "Wine Adventures" in June 2011.

Book in Process: "Mountain High Wine: The Sierra and Its Foothills".