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.

Frank Family Vineyards: Drink Pink for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation

Photo courtesy of Frank Family Vineyards

The last Saturday in September, a friend and I hosted a brunch for six people with seven sparkling wine producers. One of the producers who so generously provided samples was Frank Family Vineyards, a beautiful vineyard and winery in the Calistoga AVA of the Napa Valley owned and operated by three generations of Frank family members. This sample was facilitated by Jarvis Communications.

Without letting the cat out of the bag completely for future articles related to this brunch, the 2014 Frank Family Vineyards Brut Rosé, Carneros, was one of the standouts of our gathering. I may have accidentally set the tone of anticipation and excitement by thinking aloud, “I know this is going to be one of my favorites!”

Photo courtesy of Frank Family Vineyards

However, in addition to the fact that this is a lovely brut rosé replete with juicy, red berry flavors enveloped with yeasty creaminess, I discovered during my writing research that during the month of October, Frank Family Vineyards is offering a Drink Pink for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) Package for $75, which includes a bottle of this brut rosé (SRP $55) and a T-shirt, and will donate 10% of each purchase to the BCRF, a foundation whose mission is to prevent and cure breast cancer by advancing the world’s most promising research. BCRF recently announced a $63 million commitment to fund breast cancer research for 2018-2019.

As the sister of a breast cancer survivor, this is a cause near and dear to my heart, so I wanted to share this with my readers immediately, with a thank you to Frank Family Vineyards. To order your package, please call Jennifer Higgins at 707-942-2314.

Cheers to drinking pink!

Twelve Wines of Christmas and Beyond

The Patio at Pulenta Estate, Mendoza, Argentina
The Patio at Pulenta Estate, Mendoza, Argentina

My blog is a mélange of wine and travel experiences, but sometimes we just need some wine recommendations for upcoming holidays like Christmas, Hanukkah, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, or for everyday consumption. Below are some of the most current wines I have tasted this year, along with some of my favorites from throughout 2013, reviewed for my blog and Plum Deluxe. I hope you find something you enjoy!

Charles Gardet Brut Tradition Champagne, France, $53.00 (tasted at a wine dinner, originally published here)
For December’s holiday celebrations, such as Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, Charles Gardet Brut Tradition Champagne ($53) is the perfect choice. The wine is comprised of 45% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay, and 45% Pinot Meunier grapes. The predominantly red grape blend yields a creamy, rich mouthfeel, with good acidity and flavors of stone fruits, hazelnut, and toasted bread.

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros
2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros

2012 Frank Family Vineyards Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, California, $34.75 (sample provided by Jarvis Communications)
If you enjoy a balance of fruit and oak from grapes fermented nine months in a mix of new, once, and twice-filled French oak, this Chardonnay is for you. It has a rich, buttery mouthfeel, with good acidity and aromas and flavors of butterscotch, stone fruits, tropical fruits, tree fruits and toast.

2011 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel, Napa Valley
2011 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel, Napa Valley

2011 Frank Family Vineyards Zinfandel, Napa Valley, California, $36.95 (sample provided by Jarvis Communications)
Zinfandel lovers, this one is for you! This Zinfandel spends 18 months in 35% new oak, 65% once and twice-filled French oak. The aromas are complicated and enticing: berries, pepper, and spices, while the flavors of baked black cherries and oak are intertwined on the palate.

2010 Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir, Rodgers Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast
2010 Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir, Rodgers Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast

2010 Garnet Vineyards Pinot Noir, Rodgers Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, California, $29.99 (sample provided by the winery)
The grapes for this Pinot Noir come from a cool-climate, low-yield single vineyard on a ridge between Petaluma and Sonoma, where winemaker Alison Crowe and her team control production from vineyard to bottle. This Pinot Noir has a velvety mouthfeel and ample acidity, with concentrated aromas and flavors of rich black cherry, spices, and violets. Garnet Vineyards has made this wine easily available through the wine portal.

2011 Gary Farrell Chardonnay and 2010 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley
2011 Gary Farrell Chardonnay and 2010 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

2011 Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery Russian River Selection Chardonnay, Russian River Valley, California, $35.00 (sample provided by Folsom + Associates)
Another creamy, decadent Chardonnay thanks to seven months in 40% new French oak and extended time on lees during malolactic fermentation, this wine possesses aromas and flavors of citrus, honey, and stone fruits.

2010 Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery Russian River Selection Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California, $42.00 (sample provided by Folsom + Associates)
This wine, whose grapes hail from the famous Rochioli and Hallberg vineyards in the Russian River Valley, sees eight months in 40% new French oak. Aromas and flavors include cola, dark berries, spices, tea, and violets, accompanied by nice acidity.

My Union Wine Co. tasting,
My Union Wine Co. tasting

2012 Kings Ridge Riesling, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $12.00 (sample provided by Union Wine Company, originally published here)
The Riesling grapes for this wine are sourced from some of Oregon’s oldest vineyards, dating back to 1968. Like the Pinot Gris, the vineyard is located in a cooler area of the Willamette Valley with similar temperature swings. It is aged on lees in 100% stainless steel tanks to give it more texture and weight. When I tasted this wine, it was so reminiscent of the Rieslings I’ve tasted from the Finger Lakes. It had amazing acidity, which I love, along with succulent aromas and flavors of peach and tart green apple.

2012 Passaggio New Generation Pinot Grigio
2012 Passaggio New Generation Pinot Grigio

2012 Passaggio Wines New Generation Pinot Grigio, California, $19.00 (sample provided by the winery, originally published here)
This wine is sunshine in a glass, a gorgeous pale straw color, with very inviting floral and fruit aromas. On the palate, there’s a veritable burst of sweet, ripe melon, peaches, pears, and tropical fruits. I paired this wine with a combination veggie and meat pizza as sort of experiment, instead of going with an Italian red or Pinot Noir, and it worked perfectly. There was enough acidity to complement that of the tomato-based sauce and veggies, while the sweet fruit flavors were enhanced by the salty meats, such as pepperoni and sausage.

Schramsburg Mirabelle Brut Rosé NV, North Coast, California
Schramsburg Mirabelle Brut Rosé NV, North Coast, California

Schramsberg Vineyards Mirabelle Brut Rosé NV, North Coast, California, $25.00 (purchased for myself, originally published here)
This sparkling rosé is made of a blend of 51% Pinot Noir and 49% Chardonnay grapes from vineyards in Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, and Marin counties. It is made in the méthode champenoise like wines from the Champagne AOC of France. It has floral, spicy, and yeasty aromas. On the palate, it has great acidity and a creamy mouthfeel, with flavors of apple, cherry, and citrus.

2012 Silkbush Mountain Vineyards Viognier and 2009 Lion's Drift Pinotage
2012 Silkbush Mountain Vineyards Viognier and 2009 Lion’s Drift Pinotage

2009 Lion’s Drift Pinotage, Silkbush Mountain Vineyards, South Africa, $16.99 (sample provided by the winery)
I haven’t tasted many examples of Pinotage, which is a hybrid of Pinot Noir and Hermitage, but it seems that one either loves it or doesn’t. However, in this case, there’s a lot to love. This wine has aromas and flavors of dark and red berries, vanilla, spices, and a meaty, smoky quality. The wine is drinking well now, but has the potential to age for 10-20 years.

2012 Silkbush Mountain Vineyards Viognier, Breedekloof, Western Cape, South Africa, $16.99 (sample provided by the winery)
The cool mountain climate of the vineyards has allowed for the production of this lovely Viognier. It’s fermented in stainless steel, but spends some time on lees. It has a creamy mouthfeel, with aromas and flavors of honey, melon, stone fruits, and tropical fruits. Ready to drink now, it has the potential to age for up to five years.

2011 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir
2011 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir

2010 Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $30.00 (tasted at Willamette Valley Vineyards)
As a follow-up to the 2013 Wine Tourism Conference in Portland, Oregon, I had the opportunity to participate in a four-course wine dinner at Willamette Valley Vineyards in their new tasting and event space. The winery was founded 30 years ago by Jim Bernau, who was in attendance along with the winemaker, Don Crank III, and Chef Eric Nelson. One of the courses, grilled Anderson Ranch lamb loin, was paired with the estate Pinot Noir. The wine was earthy and meaty, with aromas and flavors of herbs, truffles, red berries, spices, and tea, and paired perfectly with the lamb. It was one of my favorite pairings of the evening.

Cori, me, and one of our amazing guides
Horseback riding in the Andes, Mendoza, Argentina

As part of my personal commitment to soul searching and finding my path, I plan to take a break from writing to enjoy the holidays and savor life’s deliciousness without note taking and photos. I want to thank everyone who has read my blog this year. It’s been another year of tremendous change and growth. I am eternally grateful for those of you who have continued to follow my both literal and figurative journeys. I wish you a wonderful holiday season filled with wine, food, family, friends, and of course, travel.

Wishing you love and happiness in 2014!