Brunch with Friends: Sparkling Wines and Healthy Food Choices for All Budgets

2018-09-29 11.30.29For many, brunch is the earliest meal of the day when alcoholic beverages are deemed socially acceptable. It often conjures up images of Mimosas and Bloody Marys and calorie-laden breakfast and lunch foods, because after all, brunch is two meals rolled into one. People who brunch usually have limitless finances to spend on this leisurely and lavish, decadent meal. However, what if brunch were both more, and less, than that? What would happen if we envisioned brunch as a warm, casual meal for everyone, an educational experience, even a healthy approach to eating and drinking? The latter is the approach that friend, chef, and photographer, Gary Monday, decided to pursue when we planned our intimate brunch with friends.

Both Gary and I have been through major lifestyle changes in our lives, which have resulted in great weight losses and improved health and fitness. We both have learned which foods are good for our bodies. We also both discovered a passion for sparkling wines as standalone or food wines. They are lighter in style, lower in alcohol, available for all budgets, and fit with our newfound lifestyles.

With this vision, I invited sparkling wine producers to contribute to our brunch. We received seven wines at all price points from Italy, California, Michigan, and Virginia. Suggested retail prices ranged from $17 per bottle to $55 per bottle and case production ran the gamut from 109 cases to 240,000 cases. The samples included wines made both in the traditional and charmat methods, the difference being secondary fermentation in the bottle or tank. The wines were made from a variety of grapes: chardonnay, chardonel, glera, muscat, and pinots – noir, gris, and meunier.

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Gary created a menu that he called Southern/Pacific Northwest infused food, a nod to both his North Carolina roots and current home in Seattle. His expenses were around $110 to feed six people, a brunch bargain. Food included bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers; grilled pork loin and salmon; a kale, citrus, and pomegranate salad; a fresh fruit bowl; and biscuits and gravy. Since Gary is dairy free, he made dairy-free sausage gravy and purchased vegan biscuits from Redwing Café in the Rainier Beach neighborhood of Seattle, along with making traditional milk-based sausage gravy and buttermilk biscuits. While all the food was amazing, the attendees delightfully discovered that the standouts were perhaps the healthiest foods: the grilled salmon; the kale, citrus, and pomegranate salad; the Redwing Café vegan biscuits; and the dairy-free gravy.

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Gary learned the kale recipe in a dairy-free cooking class taught by Danielle Premo. Perfect for brunches and holidays, ingredients included kale from Full Circle – a community supported agriculture (CSA) delivery company – clementine oranges, pomegranate seeds, candied pecans, and Danielle’s dressing made from orange juice, vinegar, mustard, honey, salt, pepper, and olive oil. The kale is massaged with the dressing, left to sit for 15 minutes, then the clementine orange slices and pomegranate seeds added. The finished salad is garnished with the candied pecans. The beauty of this salad is that it can be prepared ahead of time without the kale becoming soggy. In fact, the flavors integrate the longer they are together.

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For the dairy-free sausage biscuit gravy, Gary used the drippings from cooking bacon, sausage, and pork loins. He added all-purpose flour and cooked on medium heat until he had a thick paste in the pan. He introduced unsweetened cashew milk slowly until the desired consistency was achieved. He reduced the stove to low heat for simmering and thickening, stirring continuously, while adding salt and pepper to taste.

Gary bought vegan biscuits from Redwing Café, which specializes in healthy food options. I contacted the owners to ask what makes these biscuits vegan and they explained that they use olive oil and hemp milk in place of butter and buttermilk. After tasting these, I may never have another traditional biscuit again.

2018-09-29 11.03.47One of our brunch guests was Rhonda Hamlin, biscotti maker and owner of The Art of Crunch. As the dessert finale, in honor of National Biscotti Day, she contributed samples of her handcrafted biscotti, including a special test flavor for all of us to try and contribute our input as to the final recipe. It is not often I veer off my strict eating path, but these biscotti were a delicious way to conclude our brunch. To learn more about The Art of Crunch, visit this link to read my interview with Rhonda.

The beverage stars of our brunch were the seven sparkling wine samples we received. As an educational tasting experiment, we gave our guests an index card for each wine and asked that they take notes on the wines they enjoyed the most and with which foods, then we discussed the results. Below are our collective thoughts.

Photo by Adami Vigneto Giardino

2017 Adami Vigneto Giardino Asciutto Valdobbiadene DOCG Prosecco Superiore Rive di Colbertaldo, SRP $22, 3700 cases produced
Across the board, our brunch attendees chose this wine as one of their top wines of the day, two writing “#1” and “Favorite! <3” on their index cards. In fact, someone said, “I didn’t know Prosecco could taste like this!” This floral, fruity, and spicy sparkling wine made from 100% glera, charmat method, was mesmerizing. It was also one of the most versatile food wines, pairing well with nearly everything, especially the fruit salad, biscuits with raspberry jam, even Rhonda’s biscotti.

Enrico Serafino Rose' 3
Photo by Enrico Serafino

2015 Enrico Serafino Brut Rosé Alta Langa DOCG, SRP $26, 5000 cases produced
This Brut Rosé, made from 100% pinot nero (noir) in the traditional method, was light in color, but big on flavor, exhibiting clean, bright raspberry and redcurrant flavors cradled in yeastiness. A hint of sweetness was beautifully offset by mouthwatering acidity. This wine was a perfect match for our kale salad.

Photo by Frank Family Vineyards

2013 Frank Family Vineyards Blanc de Blancs, Carneros, SRP $55, 500 cases produced
This is wine that our attendees said tasted “the most like Champagne.” Made in the traditional method and hand riddled, the Blanc de Blancs was the elegant, grande dame of our brunch. Fine mousse, brioche, and freshly cut, tart apples dominated the palate of this lovely 100% chardonnay sparkler, which was the preferred pairing with grilled salmon and pork loin.

Photo by Frank Family Vineyards

2014 Frank Family Vineyards Brut Rosé, Carneros, 2014 SRP $55, 1000 cases produced
I admit, I jumped the gun when I tasted this wine, exclaiming that it was my favorite. I am Brut Rosé gal through and through, and this blend of Carneros-grown 88% pinot noir and 12% chardonnay did not disappoint, bursting with red berries and a pleasantly creamy mouthfeel. One of our guests wrote, “Love it! This is great all by itself!” Our favorite food pairings were strawberries, the kale salad, and biscuits with raspberry jam. Click here to read how this wine gives back during the month of October.

Photo by L. Mawby/M. Lawrence

NV L. Mawby/M. Lawrence Sex, Michigan, SRP $17, 246 cases produced
With a name like Sex and a price point of $17, how could you not like this wine? This sparkler, a blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and muscat, was dry and crisp, with an interesting juxtaposition of cotton candy and white grapefruit on the palate, making it a fantastic accompaniment to fresh fruit. Exclaiming, “Yes, yes, yes!”, we drank every drop of this wine. Of course, it left us wanting more.

Photo by Mumm Napa Valley

NV Mumm Brut Prestige, Napa Valley, SRP $24, 240,000 cases produced
If you want a sparkling wine that consistently delivers palate-pleasing flavors and is and affordable enough to drink anytime you feel like bubbles, Mumm is the wine for you. A blend of 45% chardonnay, 45% pinot noir, and 10% pinot gris and meunier, Mumm’s signature wine is made in the traditional method. On the palate, think pears with a honeyed quality, coupled with soft effervescence. The Brut Prestige complemented rich foods like bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers, biscuits and gravy, and grilled salmon. With a quarter of a million cases produced, Mumm is most likely available right around the corner from you.

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Photo by Gary Monday

2016 Rosemont of Virginia Brut, Virginia, SRP $25, 109 cases produced
This wine was the most unique of all the wines we tasted. The only brut nature (no dosage) of the lineup and made from 100% chardonel (a cross between chardonnay and Seyval) using the charmat method, this wine showed zingy, citrus fruit flavors like white grapefruit, lemon, and lime. The bone dryness and racy acidity cut through the fattiest foods, like bacon-wrapped jalapeño peppers, sausage gravy, and grilled salmon. This vintage is sold out, but next year’s vintage will be released in early 2019.

Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaïque NV

Champagne Jacquart Mosaïque NV
Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaïque NV

I have chronicled my short journey with sparkling wine previously on this blog, winning the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #27 back in September 2016 with my post entitled Loving Bubbles, Loving Life. What was once was an elusive beverage to me is now a regular staple in my everyday enjoyment of wine. I am always searching for good values in Champagne and sparkling wine and Champagne Jacquart Brut Mosaïque NV is my current recommendation over at Snooth for celebrations or just because.


Loving Bubbles, Loving Life

#MWWC18 Winner!
#MWWC27 Winner!

*This is my WINNING post for Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #27, #MWWC27, whose theme was BUBBLES.*

The first fizzy ‘wine’ that I remember tasting was Boone’s Farm Tickle Pink. I was (maybe) of legal drinking age and it was under $2.00 per bottle. I would pick it up for a party and end up drinking the entire bottle, awakening the next day with the most horrific headache. I was immature enough to do it more than once during my early, formative drinking years. These experiences were enough to trick me into thinking that sparkling alcoholic beverages were not my thing.

Ca'Furlan Cuvée Beatrice NV New Year's Eve 2010
Ca’Furlan Cuvée Beatrice NV New Year’s Eve 2010

It wasn’t until six years ago that I recall enjoying bubbles again. I had started working as the travel manager for a wine importer, Regal Wine Imports, and as a thank you, my client delivered a case of Ca’Furlan Cuvée Beatrice Prosecco NV to my boyfriend in New York. By this time, I knew not to drink an entire bottle, but I was a little hesitant to delve into the world of sparkling wine again. However, this $10 sipper turned out to be the perfect transitional bubbles, with its low alcohol (11%), fine frothiness, and tart, lemony flavors. My boyfriend would always open the bottles on his balcony of his apartment and the corks would fly high into the air. He would never allow me to open them because he was convinced that he knew exactly what he was doing and that I would somehow hurt myself. I felt like a child being told no and I didn’t like it.

Mumm Brut Prestige NV New Year's Eve 2011
Mumm Brut Prestige NV New Year’s Eve 2011

For New Year’s Eve 2011, we decided to step up our game. I begged him for Champagne, but he came home instead with a bottle of Mumm Brut Prestige NV, Napa Valley. At least Mumm was owned by a French Champagne producer. It turned out to be quite delicious for under $20. However, I still wasn’t allowed to open the bottle, nor was I convinced that I liked bubbles enough to readily seek them out more than for special occasions.

Domaine Carneros Sparkling Flight September 2012
Domaine Carneros Sparkling Flight September 2012

As I’ve shared before in previous posts, my boyfriend and I broke up in June 2012 after many years together. In September of that same year, two important things occurred. The first was that I visited Domaine Carneros, my first sparkling winery. Sitting on the patio overlooking the beauty of Carneros, I had a princess moment. It felt so regal to be sipping bubbles at a French-style chateau. My favorite of the tasting was the vintage Brut Rosé, with its delicate mousse and bright, red berry flavors. It finally clicked that maybe there was something to the hype about the deliciousness of sparkling wine and maybe, just maybe, being single wasn’t so bad after all.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne NV October 2012
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne NV October 2012

The second important thing to happen that month was that I took Wine & Spirit Education Trust’s foundation day course and we learned how to properly open a bottle of sparkling wine. If there was ever a game changer on many levels, it was that simple lesson. For social media’s #ChampagneDay that year, Friday, October 26, I bought my first Champagne, a half-bottle of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Brut NV (Yellow Label). That night, I followed the directions from my WSET course and successfully opened my first bottle of sparkling wine, my first Champagne, the correct way. In that moment, all of the times that my ex-boyfriend denied me the opportunity to open those bottles of Ca’Furlan Prosecco and Mumm came rushing back. The opening of that single bottle of Champagne symbolized for me an assertion of my independence from the apparent control he held over me for so many years. A taste of the Champagne I opened was really a taste of freedom.

Domaine Carneros May 2014
Domaine Carneros May 2014

When I moved to the Napa Valley fewer than two years later, I joined my first local wine club. I was driving to Sonoma Coast to spend Memorial Day weekend, and on my way, I made a deliberate stop at Domaine Carneros. At almost the same spot on the patio where I had sat during my first visit, I requested a tasting flight and a wine club enrollment form. The giddiness of my host was apparent. I was his easiest wine club signup commission ever. It was as if heaven’s gates had opened and he poured for me endless tastes of everything Domaine Carneros made. The delectably frothy, fruity, and yeasty elixirs stirred something inside of me. I had been living for so long in someone else’s shadow, but finally, here I was in the Napa Valley, living life on MY terms. For years, I had lost my heart and my soul in exchange for a relationship that nearly ruined me. On the patio that day, I found myself again. I was officially in love with bubbles and most importantly, life.

A Rose By Any Other Name

The Trump Winery Lineup
The Trump Winery Lineup

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy.
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

~ Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet

2008 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc
2008 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc

A little over years ago, I was invited to participate in #VAWineChat with Drink What YOU Like’s Frank Morgan and Trump Winery’s winemaker Jonathan Wheeler. The two sparkling wines, the 2008 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc and 2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé were both fantastic and the name on the bottle went mostly unnoticed.

2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé
2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé

Fast forward to 2015. I was asked again to participate in #VAWineChat, tasting four wines from Trump Winery. I immediately said yes, because I remembered how good the wines were two years ago. However, this time around, just the mention of the name Trump in social media outlets has caused extreme reactions on both ends of the spectrum. I was on the receiving end of some divisive, presumptuous tweets and I found myself in Facebook discussions having to defend my choice to taste the wines. I wanted to say, “It’s wine, for goodness sake!” Some assumed that because I tasted these wines and enjoyed them, I must be sending a message about politics. I was not. From what I have observed and read, some are buying the wines because they love the name or boycotting the wines because they hate the name, without having tried the wines. Has the name Trump trumped what’s inside the bottle? I hope not, because the wines, the livelihood of the winery employees, and the impact on local and Virginia wine tourism and economics are what matter most.

2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé and Blanc de Blanc
2008 SP (Sparkling) Rosé and Blanc de Blanc

Award-winning Trump Winery (formerly Kluge Vineyard and Estate until 2011), was planted in 1999 and is Virginia’s largest estate winery at 1300 acres with 195 acres planted.  In 2013, Wine Enthusiast awarded the 2007 SP (Sparkling) Reserve a score of 91 points, which is the highest rating ever received by a Virginia wine. The president of the winery is Eric Trump, who was named a Wine Enthusiast Rising Star in 2013, and is also a key fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital through The Eric Trump Foundation. The general manager is Kerry Woolard, herself a star in the Virginia wine industry by her own right. Winemaker Jonathan Wheeler has worked for the winery since 2006 and brought with him winemaking experience from Sonoma and Monterey, California; Marlborough, New Zealand; and the Finger Lakes, New York. An estate winery would be nothing without a vineyard supervisor like Rafael Sánchez, who has been with the winery since 2004, and brought with him experience from Salinas Valley, San Joaquin Valley, and Paso Robles, California.

Our Tasting Packet
Our Tasting Packet

On Thursday, December 10, 2015, a few of us gathered online via Ustream and Twitter, while some met at Trump Winery for this most recent #VAWineChat. We were hosted by winemaker Jonathan Wheeler and Drink What YOU Like’s Frank Morgan. The winery sent those of us who tasted remotely a box of four sample wines along with a beautiful folder of technical sheets and even a tasting mat. This was by far one of the most organized tastings in which I’ve ever participated. I loved that Jonathan led the discussion while Eric Trump jumped into the conversation on Twitter. Frank, of course, was the consummate facilitator. As expected, the wines were very good. Below are my tasting notes.

2009 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc
2009 SP (Sparkling) Blanc de Blanc

2009 Sparkling Blanc de Blanc, Monticello, $24.00
This sparkling wine from Central Virginia near Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello is a rich, creamy expression of 100% first-press chardonnay from Trump Winery’s best grapes. It’s weighty and textured in the mouth, with flavors of yeast rolls, tree fruits, citrus, and loads of juicy acidity. You would be hard pressed to find a vintage sparkling wine at this price that is so well made and delicious.

2009 SP Sparkling Rosé
2009 SP Sparkling Rosé

2009 Sparkling Rosé, Monticello, $28.00
Brut Rosé is always a favorite for me and this is no exception. Although only 8% pinot noir (92% chardonnay), the pinot noir characteristics shine. The wine is a pale salmon color and even the frothy mousse reflects some of the color. Bright, red berry fruits dominate the nose and palate. The mouthfeel is creamy and the acid is as lively as the bubbles. This is an amazing value for vintage brut rosé.

2014 Chardonnay
2014 Chardonnay

2014 Chardonnay, Monticello, $16.00
I’m not quite an ABC (All But Chardonnay) gal, but I have become particular about still chardonnay. Thankfully, this chardonnay is my style: stainless steel fermentation, no malolactic fermentation, a bit of sur lie treatment, and 90% stainless steel, 10% oak aging. This wine is almost clear in the glass with yellow edges. It’s fruit forward, yet round, with bright citrus and tree fruit aromas and flavors, a hint of spice, and lively acidity. What a steal at $16.00.

2014 Meritage
2014 Meritage

2014 Meritage, Monticello, $20.00
This pre-release sample is very young, but should come together with more time in the bottle or some decanting, should you decide to open it sooner rather than later. It’s a Bordeaux-style blend (40% merlot, 35% cabernet franc, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 3% malbec, 2% petit verdot) that exhibits a softer side of red with its 13% ABV. It’s medium ruby in color with medium body and fine tannins. The nose and palate are delighted by flavors and aromas of blackcurrant, black cherry, bitter chocolate, and coffee, with a warm, spicy, tart cherry finish. This is a whole lot of wine for $20.00.

No matter which side of politics you find yourself, these wines are worth trying and tasting. The Trump Winery story is one of crafting high-quality wines from locally grown grapes and supporting the local economy. Make your decision whether to buy or not buy based on how the wine tastes, not the name. That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

Cheers to the wines and the people that make them!

#WIYG: The December 2012 #TGTaste Edition

In a forthcoming, end-of-the-year post, I will be detailing some of what has happened to me in 2012, which has caused me to be somewhat remiss in my reviews. For now, here are some of the wines I’ve tasted in the last two ThirstyGirl #TGTaste events, one in partnership with Whole Foods, and the other in partnership with Domaine Ste. Michelle.

2011 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc
2011 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc

2011 Ferrari-Carano Fumé (Sauvignon) Blanc, Sonoma County, $15.00
I love a warmer-climate Sauvignon Blanc like this one, which boasts a combination of citrus, melon, and tropical fruits, like guava, kiwi, and mango. With a cooperage of 65% stainless steel, 35% older French oak barrels, it is crisp, yet has a substantial mouthfeel and a nice finish.

2010 H&G Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley
2010 H&G Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley

2010 H&G Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley, $14.00
According to the website, the grapes for this wine are hand-picked from small lots. This wine is surprisingly smooth for an inexpensive Cabernet Sauvignon, with lots of cherry and plum flavors and mild tannins, which makes it very easy to drink, with or without food.

Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Rosé and Brut
Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Rosé and Brut

Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut and Brut Rosé, $8-$12
The Brut (88% Chardonnay and 12% Pinot Noir) and Brut Rosé (100% Pinot Noir), both made in the traditional (champenoise) method, are both fantastic price-to-quality sparklers. A friend and I paired them with a variety of foods, such as fresh raspberries, Gouda and crackers, and crusty bread dipped in a choice of three olive oil blends: balsamic vinegar, Italian spices, and Kosher salt. The Brut has zesty citrus and tart crabapple flavors and paired well with the Gouda and crackers and the bread dipped in olive oil-Kosher salt. The Brut Rosé has raspberry and strawberry flavors, and paired perfectly with our fresh raspberries. In fact, we even dropped a few in our glasses.

Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Rosé and fresh raspberries
Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Rosé and fresh raspberries

As noted above, all of these wines are well under $20. They would be great additions to your holiday dinner tables and celebrations without breaking the bank, and should be readily available at local wine stores, shops, or grocery stores. All of these wines were graciously provided to me as media samples from Whole Foods and Domaine Ste. Michelle. Cheers and Merry Christmas!