Prosecco Superiore: The Perfect Partner for Celebrating Your Partner

While sparkling wine is chiefly associated with New Year’s Eve, I think it is an equally lovely accompaniment to Valentine’s Day! A glass of effervescent bubbles always elevates the occasion and, while it might be a so-called “Hallmark holiday,” there’s no reason not to celebrate love in all of its many forms.

There certainly is no specific sparkler for the holiday, but Prosecco Superiore is a great place to start for several reasons (For more details on what makes Prosecco Superiore so superior, please check out this previous article.) In particular, these Italian bubbles are becoming more well known and thus, easy to find on restaurants’ wine lists and retailers’ shelves. In addition, these wines carry the higher quality designation – DOCG – which signals to your date that you care about them to invest in the good stuff.

But, even better, this isn’t a major investment. These wines are generally priced under $25.00, so your upgrade in quality doesn’t break the bank. Plus, their popularity is well deserved – they are beautifully balanced, with a lovely mousse and floral and fresh fruit flavors such as pear, peach, apple and citrus.

Their lively acidity makes them very food friendly. Hence, they marry well at the table, but are easily well suited as an aperitif to kickoff the dining experience. Or, perhaps to toast an engagement at the end of a meal!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Tasting Notes

BiancaVigna Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG Brut Prosecco Superiore 2015, Veneto, Italy, $23.00
This winery was established in 2004 by the brother and sister team of Elena and Enrico Moschetta. This wine is very floral on the nose with a slight note of spiced pear. It is dry and crisp on the palate, with white flowers, nectarine, pear and long length. It pairs especially well with food due to its vibrant acidity and clean finish.


Ruggeri Vecchie Viti Valdobbiadene DOCG Brut Prosecco Superiore NV, Veneto, Italy, $22.00
Produced from vines that average 80 to 100 years old, this wine has been given the designation “Vecchie Viti” (old vines). The nose is redolent of flowers and pears. The slightly off-dry palate displays medium to high acidity, with peach, pear and floral notes, along with long length. With its hint of sweetness, this wine would pair well with spicy foods or with rich, fatty meats.



Le Colture Fagher Valdobbiadene DOCG Brut Prosecco Superiore NV, Veneto, Italy, $16.00
The “Fagher” is the most modern in style of Le Colture’s Prosecco Superiore offerings, putting it at a
It offers up an intense nose of flowers, pear and slight citrus aromas. On the palate, it is dry with a creamy mousse, along with crisp acidity and citrus and green apple flavors, culminating in long length. Another food friendly option.


And the winner is… Piper-Heidsieck kicks off award season in style

Admittedly, I only saw one movie in an actual movie theater in all of 2017 and possibly only a handful of films via Netflix. Yet, there is still something magic about the movie business.

Thus, I roused myself out of bed at an ungodly hour (at least compared to my usual 8:00 AM alarm) to head downtown to the iPic Theaters in South Street Seaport to watch the presentation of the Oscar nominations for this year’s Academy Awards.

OK, it wasn’t just the glamour of Hollywood singing her siren song. A Champagne breakfast, courtesy of Piper-Heidsieck, was the more alluring bait. And, the breakfast didn’t disappoint; there are a lot of worse ways to start the day than with a fabulous glass of Champagne, smoked salmon and Eggs Benedict topped with caviar!

Piper-Heidsieck has long been associated with the movie industry, having first appeared on the scene (and screen) in Laurel and Hardy’s debut film, Sons of the Desert in 1933. In addition to serving as the official Champagne of the International Cannes Film Festival, the Champagne house continues to be the official Champagne of the Oscars, now in its fourth year of its partnership with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In keeping with its tradition, Piper-Heidsieck has designed a special, limited-edition Magnum to mark the occasion. With the first Academy Awards held in 1929, this year heralds the 90th award season and the “label” (in fact, a gold foil appliqué that required a special process to adhere the graphic to the bottle) takes its cue from this “Golden Age” of Hollywood with an Art Deco design, created by a young, French designer.

While only a handful of these limited-edition bottles have been made (such is the definition of limited), the bubbles inside are not so limited and are available in Piper-Heidsieck’s regularly bottled, signature Cuvée Brut. So, although you may not win an Oscar yourself, you can simply pretend you did or raise a glass in honor of your own achievements, even if that only includes bingeing on the Oscar nominations in the lead up to the televised award ceremony on March 4, 2018.

A Plethora of Prosecco for the Holiday Season

One of my biggest (wine) pet peeves, is when people use the word Champagne as a generic term for sparkling wine. But, while all Champagne is sparkling wine, only those bottles of bubbly that come from the Champagne region in France are entitled to that protected term.

Another well-known sparkler is Prosecco and, as my friend Dan lately noted, Prosecco has become a safe word. Admittedly, he wasn’t referring to the bedroom, but rather, to the bar, where Prosecco’s familiarity offers an easy way to order an effervescent option amidst the hustle and bustle of an overwhelming wine list.

Yet, despite its long history – mention of Prosecco dates as far back as Roman times – this Venetian sparkling wine hasn’t always been as popular as it is today. But, it is precisely this newfound fame that was almost its undoing.

In fact, given its broad name recognition, Prosecco had become a victim of its own success, with fraudulent products flooding the market and its name appropriated much like Champagne as a catch-all for a glass or bottle of bubbles. It was this proliferation of non-Prosecco Prosecco that prompted the consortium to radically revise its rules back in 2009.

Chief among these changes was the introduction of Glera as the name of the grape formerly referred to as Prosecco and the designation of a delimited area as the Prosecco territory: a swath of land that spans nine provinces within two Italian wine regions (Veneto and Friuli), formally codifying the historic and existing production zones and the production procedures themselves. Accordingly, Prosecco DOC is now a protected geographic indication (PGI) and wannabe wines are forbidden from affixing the term Prosecco to their labels. Additionally, a second designation, Prosecco Superiore DOCG was simultaneously created (See Promoting Prosecco, Parlare Prosecco Superiore and Slowing Down in Asolo). These new regulations have helped to protect Prosecco from copycats, but vigilance by the consortium is still required.

The continued growth in demand (and sales) for Prosecco has been met with a steady swell in supply from just under 1.5 million hectoliters in 2011 to just over 3.5 million hectoliters in 2016, with a current volume of over 400 million bottles annually. Three-quarters of these bottles find their way outside of Italy, namely the UK and the U.S.

As a fresh, fruit-driven sparkler, Prosecco gets its aromatic character from the Glera grape, which must make up 85% of the wine and the use of the Charmat, instead of the Traditional, Method of sparkling wine production. Charmat production relies exclusively on stainless steel and omits the lengthy ageing on the lees that Champagne and other similar wines undergo. In addition to preserving fresh and fragrant aromas, this process results in lower costs and speedier sparkles.

Not surprising, Prosecco’s pleasant fruity and floral aromas, low alcohol, lively acidity and persistent effervescence account for its wide appeal. Yet, despite its increased popularity, Prosecco should not be dismissed as merely a cheap and cheerful sparkler. Yes, these are relatively inexpensive ($15-20) compared with their costly ($40 and up) counterparts: Champagne, Franciacorta (page 17) and luxury Cava. But, they still offer complexity and balance on the nose and palate.

In fact, I was reminded of this diversity at a recent comparative tasting of ten Proseccos. While there was a common wine style of peach, pear and/or apple aromas among the selection, they differed in intensity, acidity and sweetness levels.

Admittedly, all of the wines showed well, but I did have a few favorites of the line-up which included: La Jara Prosecco di Treviso Frizzante, Perlage Sgajo Extra Dry Prosecco di Treviso, La Marca Prosecco, Bianca Vigna Brut Prosecco, Astoria Extra Dry Prosecco di Treviso, and Villa Sandi Il Fresco Prosecco di Treviso (tasting notes below).

With its crowd-pleasing characteristics, Prosecco is a perfect option for the holiday season, which can easily work as an aperitif, a food-friendly pairing at the table and as a toast to health, happiness and prosperity!

Just don’t call it Champagne. 😉

La Jara NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC Frizzante, Veneto, Italy
While most Prosecco wines are fully sparkling, a small fraction is produced in a lightly fizzy (aka frizzante) style as is this one. Fresh aromas of peach and honeysuckle greet the nose. The dry palate displays bright acidity and a lighter body, with flavors of lemon curd and white flowers. This is a very fresh and pleasant wine with plenty of acidity to pair well with food. Medium+ length.

Perlage Sgajo Extra Dry NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
This Vegan wine is a bit shy on the nose, but its dry palate offers up ripe citrus and floral notes, along with medium+ acidity, nice, creamy mousse and long length with a slight fruitiness lingering in the finish coupled with some minerality and salinity. Good complexity.

La Marca NV, Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
Pronounced pear aromas with some peach and floral notes on the nose give way to a dry, yet fruity palate with flavors of honey, honeysuckle and pear plus a hint of lime. There is a lovely richness on the palate, with a creamy mousse and medium+ length.

Bianca Vigna Brut NV Prosecco, Veneto, Italy
This wine is very floral on the nose with an interesting richness and complexity on the palate reminiscent of Riesling – displaying an oily/petrol character – joined by pear and apple flavors and culminating in long length.

Astoria Extra Dry NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
Aromas of pear and apple dominate the nose while the dry palate features apple, citrus and slight minerality, along with medium+ acidity, a very clean finish and medium+ length.

Villa Sandi Il Fresco NV, Prosecco di Treviso DOC, Veneto, Italy
This wine shows floral and peach aromas, with a slightly off-dry palate that is round and creamy, balanced by medium+ acidity. Its ripe peach and floral flavors are joined by honey in the finish, culminating in long length.

Pairing Beyond the Ordinary

Once, at a trade event, a woman advised me that the wine I was tasting went well with food. Well, duh! Wine has always been a beverage meant to be enjoyed with a meal and is among the only ones where both are enhanced by one another. In some cultures, drinking wine without food is anathema.

More recently the trend has been to look well beyond the axiom, “What grows together goes together,” in favor of showcasing the flexibility of a given wine by pairing it with less expected culinary options. Think Alsatian Gewürztraminer with Indian curries or Prosecco with sushi.

At Atla, Michelin-starred Cosme’s younger, more casual sibling, Mexican inspired food was served alongside a selection of New Zealand wines from Kim Crawford. This NZ producer has always been one of my go-tos for Sauvignon Blanc, but it was nice to see that the range seems to have been expanded stateside, as we also had the opportunity to taste the Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Rosé and Pinot Noir. Adding a further twist to the evening, dessert was a Mexican Hot Chocolate (recipe below), featuring the Pinot Noir. This was served after I left, so I didn’t get a chance to taste it, but with the cold rain pouring down that evening, I am sure it was a welcome treat.

Image courtesy of Susannah Gold

A few blocks away, I was introduced to the wines of Lugana, a small Italian wine region, which spans both Lombardy and the Veneto. These wines, primarily produced from the Trebbiano di Soave grape variety, may be dry, sparkling or, in the case of late harvest, sweet, dessert style wines. During the dinner at La Pizza Fresca, these beautiful white wines were more traditionally matched with a traditional Italian meal of arugula salad, beets, pizzas and a selection of fish, chicken and meat.

Among the less traditional decisions was choosing to pair these white wines with short ribs, but it worked well due to the richness, depth and full-bodied nature of many of the wines. My tasting notes are a bit spotty, but I was particularly impressed with the light, freshness of the Olivini Lugana DOC 2016, the complexity and richness of the Selva Capuzza Lugana Riserva DOC Menasso 2013 and the beautiful balance of the Margona Lugana DOC Vendemmia Tardiva dessert wine.

Both the Kim Crawford and Lugana events worked well primarily due to the basic pairing principle of ensuring that the wines had sufficient acidity to go well with the various dishes. Accordingly, their crisp, clean nature meant that one’s palate was cleansed between bites and ready for more, while simultaneously they highlighted the flavors in the accompanying food; an overall reminder that simple rules can serve us well even when we think we are breaking them.

The next night found us in Williamsburg at an unusual venue for the launch of Enjoy la Vie from Bordeaux negociant, Cordier. Entering through a loading dock, we were immediately struck by the quirky, high-ceilinged, warehouse-style space of ACME Studios. The space appears to be more regularly used for photo shoots, but it was a fun place to explore these new, entry-level wines.

The focus was on decidedly on France, with the classic pairing of cheeses and charcuterie. Similarly, attendees were invited to don a beret, grab a baguette and pose for a photo, instantly transformed (and immortalized) into cute, French clichés. But, despite the expected match, the event was far from boring and not all things were classically French. Namely, the brass band with its bold and boisterous jazz music meant that this was not a typical Bordeaux tasting.

With regard to the wines themselves, I was more impressed with the Bordeaux Blanc and Bordeaux Rouge wines than the varietally-labeled Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Regardless, I had a great time at the event. Most likely because I was paired with my wonderful husband. Which just underscores that context and company are is often just as important as the cuisine.




4 oz Kim Crawford Pinot Noir
2 oz dairy milk or non-dairy milk (almond is a good option)
3 Tbsp powdered baking cocoa
1 oz coffee liqueur
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
Pinch chili powder

Pre-warm an 8-10 oz coffee mug. In a saucepan, combine chocolate powder and brown sugar with milk to make into a rich syrup. Add coffee liqueur and Kim Crawford Pinot Noir. Stir until ingredients are hot. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract and ground cinnamon. Pour into pre-warmed mug and garnish with whole cinnamon stick and pinch of chili powder.

Food and Wine Fit For Royalty

Tuscan wine producer Ruffino, which celebrates its 140th anniversary this year, marked the occasion with a pizza party at Emily’s. The event featured a selection of seasonally-inspired cocktails, produced with Ruffino’s Prosecco, as well as a chance to pick one’s favorite pairing among the pizzas and wines.

Emily’s pizzas are categorized by color: reds (tomato sauce), pinks (vodka sauce), greens (tomatillo sauce) and whites (no sauce) and are self-described as Detroit-Grandma style pies. In this regard, they are square-shaped with thick, crispy crusts. And, more to the point, they are delicious.

Although I am generally gluten-free, I give myself a break on vacations and, having just returned from Cancun, chose to extend my GF reprieve to indulge; it was worth every bite!

Among my preferred pies were the Emily, a sauce-free pizza with pistachio, honey, and truffle Sottocenere cheese and the Madre, topped with tomatillo sauce, mozzarella and chorizo. These two pizzas were specifically paired with the Pinot Grigio and Sparling Rose, but we happily enjoyed them with the Chianti Classico.

Beppe D’ Andrea, global brand ambassador of Ruffino Wines, shared the history of the brand as well as that of another traditional Italian product — Margherita pizza. According to D’Andrea, this (now) classic Neopolitan pizza style was created almost 130 years ago in honor of Queen Margherita, who was dining in Naples at the time. Wanting to serve something special for the Queen, the restaurateur crafted an edible Italian flag — red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella cheese) and green (basil) —  on the spot and thankfully, the Queen enjoyed it very much. Emily’s kitchen sent out a sample of this style for us to try as well.

Similarly, Ruffino got its start by being favored by royalty. When the Duke of Aosta visited the winery in 1890 and tasted its wines, he was immediately impressed and placed an order right away. The barrel-aged wine was marked as having been reserved for the Duke (Riserva Ducale) and Ruffino became the official supplier to the Italian royal family. This Chianti Classico Riserva wine was first released commercially in 1927, permitting the masses and not just the monarchy, to buy it. Today, the wine still bears the Riserva Ducale designation and is in the unique situation of having Riserva on the label twice.

I have no tasting notes to share because frankly, I was too busy having a good time, eating pizza fit for a Queen and drinking red wines made for a Duke. But, I have had the Ruffino wines previously and they never disappoint. There is a reason that the winery has been in business for 140 years!


Celebrating spirits: An evening of mixology, music and merriment with Brockmans Gin

While it was a week dedicated to communing with the dearly departed (Dia de los Muertos), a party promoting spirits of a different kind celebrated Brockmans Gin with mixology, music and general merriment.

Gin has a long and storied history. Initially created as an inexpensive medicinal oil, by Franciscus de la Boe (aka Doctor Sylvius), a physician at Holland’s University of Leyden, the elixir was developed to relieve bladder and kidney ailments. Dr. Sylvius referred to his medicine as “Genièvre”, the French name for the juniper berry, which was the primary ingredient for his concoction.

English soldiers developed a taste for the local spirit, gin, while fighting alongside the Dutch and brought back the production method to England with them. As taxes on imported beverages were raised, and taxes on English spirits were lowered, gin received a further push and soon became extremely popular, particularly by the poorest classes. So much so that crudely made (and often unsafe) spirits were being sold in thousands of gin shops throughout London and led to many social problems in the city, including increased drunkenness and death.

Eventually, the ills associated with gin were dramatically reduced and the emphasis shifted from a cheap, alcoholic beverage to a high-quality gin. These latter gins were no longer overly sweet and focused on the inherent flavors of the spirit, namely juniper. This new kind of gin became known as the “London Dry Style”.

While less flagrantly conspicuous in society, gin’s appeal continued when it was discovered that it paired well with quinine (used to control malaria) on voyages to the tropics, inventing the now well-known gin and tonic. In fact, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was gin and not vodka that was the go to for mixing into various cocktails.

Today, vodka dominates the spirits market as the most internationally traded spirit, with worldwide vodka sales reaching nearly 500 million nine-liter cases. By comparison, gin sales account for roughly only 50 million nine-liter cases. Yet, gin continues to be an important spirits staple and is gaining momentum in the marketplace, particularly at the high end.

This resurgence in the category has not gone unnoticed as new brands are entering the fray, capitalizing on craft beverages and craft cocktails. This renaissance provided inspiration for four friends to produce a super-premium gin with a trendy, night-life vibe aimed at the Millennial market. Thus, in 2008, Brockmans Gin was launched by Kevan Crosthwaite, David Crosthwaite, Bob Fowkes and Neil Everitt.

Thursday’s festivities offered up the opportunity to taste Brockmans Gin in all of its glory.
Produced at the oldest existing gin distillery in Birmingham, England (in a copper still that is over 100 year old), the gin includes the requisite juniper, but this flavor is much less dominant on the palate. As Fowkes explained, market research indicated that many people were not big fans of juniper and complained of drinking beverages reminiscent of a Christmas tree. Consequently, the botanicals in Brockmans Gin lean more heavily on the citrus and fruit components, namely lemon peel, orange peel, blueberries and blackberries. As a high-end product, is it exceptionally smooth and very enjoyable to drink neat.

There were also five different cocktails available. Of the three I tasted, my favorite was the Brockmans English Heat, which was developed especially for the event by Nomad’s mixologists. The beautifully balanced addition of heat was thanks to the inclusion of Jalapeno-infused agave, which was combined with Brockmans Gin, Chambery Dry Vermouth, Tuaca and lemon. This beat out the more citrus-centic Brockmans Nod to Nothing (Brockmans Gin, Cocchi Americano, Jasmine Pearl Green Tea, Apricot, Sale Yuzu and Lemon) by just a little bit, but both showed off the gin to its advantage.

A Devil of a Merlot for International Merlot Day

As Madeline Puckette of Wine Folly notes, national and international wine holidays are actually quite unofficial, but they are certainly a great excuse to drink wine and focus on a specific grape variety or wine category.

Consequently, International Merlot Day, which Puckette traces back to 2011, has a designated date of November 7 and is as good a reason as any to drink more Merlot, particularly if this grape isn’t in your usual repertoire!

No longer widely maligned, Merlot has found renewed favor, which it richly deserves and is among the most popular red varieties in the U.S. This great grape originally hails from France and is wonderful on its own or as part of a blend (especially the wines from Bordeaux’s Right Bank). Generally, these wines offer up red fruits, coffee and herbal notes, along with good acidity and soft tannins, but the wines will vary depending upon where the grapes are grown.

Merlot adapts well to many climates and has been transported from its ancestral home to almost every wine region across the globe. Within the U.S., the variety does well on Long Island and in Washington State and in California. Worldwide, there are an estimated 660,000 acres of Merlot planted, so there is definitely no shortage of Merlots to try.

To help you get started, here’s one option worth checking out:
Charles Smith The Velvet Devil Merlot 2015, Washington State, U.S., $12.99 (SRP)
With an intense nose showing plum, coffee and meatiness, this wine is dry with very ripe fruit character, medium+ body, medium acidity and present tannins. Flavors of plum, fresh herbs and dried herbs dominate the palate, along with a hint of earth and spice. These latter notes add to the wine’s complexity and give it a fall-weather feel, which may be why it paired so well with roasted butternut squash.

If you still have friends in the anti-Merlot camp, it might be time to find some new friends or you could simply tell them, the devil made me do it.


Ancient Lakes AVA: A Meeting of Mountains, Music and Merlot

Arriving in Seattle on an unusually clear day, we could see the majestic Mount Rainier through the airplane window, which we took as a good omen of the trip to come – our first foray into Central Washington and our maiden voyage in an RV.

Although the impetus for this visit to the Pacific Northwest was a two-day music festival at The Gorge Amphitheater, as wine lovers we could not resist the siren call of the local vinous culture and were excited about exploring this region along with immersing ourselves into the music.

We loaded up the vehicle with our possessions and hit the road, essentially heading due east. Our route took us through the Cascade Mountain range, which offers up beautiful views and is also responsible for keeping most moisture to the west. Consequently, Washington State’s eastern areas are sunny and dry (and well-suited to irrigated agriculture), while Seattle is steeped in foggy, wet weather.

Our final destination was in George, WA (someone had a sense of humor), but we found a welcoming oasis along Interstate 90 in Ellensburg. This small town (Population: 19,786) is home to Central Washington University and several wineries. We selected Brix Wine Bar as our early dinner option. Owned by Elevage Wine Co/Raised by Wolves, the restaurant lists several wines by the glass (or bottle), but doesn’t provide a tasting option. Surprisingly, they do have gluten-free pizza on the menu, which was quite delicious. We ordered one glass of Malbec and one of Cabernet Sauvignon, with a unanimous preference for the latter.

Thus, we added a bottle of the Cab Sav to our tab to enjoy later, before heading around the corner to Gard Vintners. Its Ellensburg tasting room is open late on Friday nights (4:00-9:00 PM) with the winery’s full range available for tastings as well as by the glass and by the bottle. Live music was a welcome treat as we sampled several different wines, under the tutelage of Riley, our tasting guide that evening. Founded in 2006, this family winery has garnered high scores from the wine media and it was easy to see why. We were wowed by the Roussanne, Vaucluse (a Rhone-style red blend of Syrah and Viognier) and their Provencal-style rosé and added these to our growing collection.

Before we headed out, Riley recommended visits to: Cave B Winery, Beaumont Cellars and Jones of Washington, all of which are in Quincy, WA and situated within the Ancient Lakes AVA.

Created in 2012, the Ancient Lakes AVA’s geology is the result of being carved out by ancient ice age floods, leaving behind 35 namesake lakes. It encompasses 1,600 planted acres with Riesling and Chardonnay as the most planted varieties due to the relatively northern latitude and cooler weather compared to other areas within Columbia Valley.

As a state, Washington ranks as the second largest premium producer of wine in the U.S. Grapes were planted as early as 1825, but today’s vineyards were more recently established during the 1970s. Currently, there are 900 wineries, spread out over 14 AVAs, with the majority (75%) of production centered on Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot and Syrah. However, diversity does still exist with more than 40 different grapes grown within the state.

Beyond the Ancient Lakes AVA, the wider wine touring region is known as the Cascade Valley and North Central, which is situated between Seattle and Spokane. Within this area, there are 34 wineries or tasting rooms on the Cascade Valley & North Central map in Washington State Wine’s magazine, with another 21 listed in nearby Leavenworth and 7 in Wenatchee, providing tourists with plenty of places to taste.

After departing Gard Vintners, we arrived at The Gorge, queuing up behind a long line of fellow RVs. As we made our way, we were both welcomed and warned to adhere to the campground rules. First and foremost, we were admonished to have a fkin’ good time! In truth, the rules do forbid weapons, but, thankfully, alcohol is permissible (at least for the show we attended). Once in place in our assigned campsite, we unpacked our bags before setting off to explore the venue, then it was time for bed.

The next morning, well-fortified with a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast, we walked the two miles to Cave B Winery (Riley’s other suggestions were too far for a walk and getting the RV out of camp was just too difficult a proposition). Originally founded as Champs de Brionne by Dr. (a neurosurgeon) and Mrs. Bryan in 1980, Cave B Winery’s vast estate boasts 140 acres of vines comprised of 17 different varieties; orchards; a spa; a restaurant with stunning views of the Columbia River; and a myriad of lodging options, including yurts and cave rooms.

All of Cave B’s wines are produced with estate-grown fruit and a $10 tasting fee will get you a sample of 3 whites and 3 reds. While I liked all six wines, I was especially enamored with the Tempranillo. Among the whites, their off-dry Riesling stood out. Overall, this region and its wines were quite unfamiliar to me before our arrival, but I was impressed with what we tasted.

During Champs de Brionne’s early days, a natural bowl on the property was discovered to have near-perfect acoustics and the idea of a music venue was born as a way to draw people to the winery “in the middle of nowhere.” Before long, the popularity of these summer music began to grow, transforming the original concept from a small theater into the grander The Gorge Amphitheater, accompanied by the build out of a much larger stage and capacity for 20,000+ participants.

By 1993, the Bryans divested themselves of The Gorge Amphitheater and its campgrounds, but retained the vineyards and additional acreage. During this period, they continued to grow grapes, which they sold to other wine producers. But, in 2000, the couple was ready to re-enter winemaking with the creation of Cave B Winery, a smaller, premium winery. They added the inn and restaurant in 2005.

Given this history, it was fitting to have tasted at Cave B before heading back to our campsite for the main event: ABGT250.

DJs and musicians, Above & Beyond, comprise three London-based guys (Jono Grant, Tony McGuinness, and Paavo Siljamäki) who started making music together in 1999. They have cultivated a rabid following that spans the globe and inculcated a special ethos among them. They have also launched record labels Anjunabeats and Anjunadeep, giving a start to other EDM artists. Fans assert that their concerts are life-changing experiences after attending just a single one, so it is no surprise that their events are well attended.

Named for their podcast series, Above & Beyond Group Therapy (ABGT), their ABGT live events draw fans from around the globe. The group began doing live shows on the occasion of the 50th podcast (ABGT50), a tradition that has carried forward each year (coincident with the next 50th show). The first was held in London, followed by New York, Sydney, Amsterdam and now Washington State. Rumors have it that ABGT300 will be in Asia.

The festival itself kicked off with a free screening of Above & Beyond’s live filming of a recent performance on Friday night as a thank you to those who arrived early, but the main event took place on Saturday evening with a special set by Above & Beyond. The line-up included Luttrell, Yotto, Oliver Smith, Genix & Sunny Lax, a reprise from the headliners at 11:00 PM, accompanied by fireworks and glowing digital bracelets (from sponsor TMobile), before concluding with Seven Lions & Jason Ross.

Sunday’s daytime set was more mellow, with Above & Beyond’s music as the backdrop for a morning yoga practice and the use of the venue’s smaller stage. Highlights included Moon Boots, Eli & Fur, Jody Wisternoff & James Grant, 16 Bit Lolitas, and a joint return to the stage by Yotto and Luttrell at the end. A brief rain shower on Sunday evening did not seem to put a damper on anyone’s spirits, with music continuing long into the night, thanks to “pop-up” concerts embedded in the food court area and the campgrounds.

We were up early Monday morning ready to return to civilization, but would certainly consider the trip a success. Admittedly, it was an interesting combination of hobbies, but this meeting of mountains, music and Merlot was a perfect balance for us, as we navigated new adventures and divergent musical tastes. And, I didn’t hate the RV; it was definitely much more comfortable and luxurious that a tent would have been.


Fierce, fabulous and Femme!

Last week, my friend and Femme! Creator, Bernadette Pleasant, shot and produced a video to promote her amazing movement classes, Femme! This “fusion of sensual movement, dance, meditation, creative visualization and celebration of the feminine form” offers women a safe and sacred place in which to celebrate their bodies and themselves.

During the same week, in another feminine celebration, Carol Duval-Leroy was in New York to launch the re-release of Femme de Champagne 1996. Known as the “Lady of Champagne,” Carol has been at the helm of Duval-Leroy since 1991 and is now joined in the family business by her three sons. Duval-Leroy’s tête de cuvée (top wine) was named in Carol’s honor and was initially produced in 1990 to take advantage of the vintage’s unique weather conditions and the (then) newly built winery’s smaller tanks.

Femme de Champagne was next made in 1995, followed by the spectacular vintage of 1996. The 1996 vintage of Femme de Champagne was first released to rave reviews, garnering high scores from the wine media and prompting the Champagne house to hold back a substantial quantity for additional aging. These bottles were then carefully stored upside down in the caves to avoid any oxygenation. After spending 21 years on the lees (yeast), these wines were recently disgorged (had the lees removed) and are now ready to hit the U.S. market.

The 1996 vintage has repeatedly been hailed as one of the best Champagne vintages and one I have admittedly been partial to because it is also my anniversary year. But, the Femme de Champagne 1996 is worthy of the hype. It was a beautiful, breathtaking wine!

While I did not take formal tasting notes during the celebration, perhaps the most amazing characteristic of these wines (we also tasted the 1990 and 1995) was their youthful freshness. I know that their RD (recently disgorged) status lends itself to this fresh quality, but it was remarkable not to find any hint of age in the glass. There were no oxidative notes, no mushroom aromas; nothing to imply that these wines were as old as they were.

But, they did have spectacular elegance with laser sharp acidity, bright citrus fruit, complex yeast aromas, well-integrated bubbles and long length.

Established in 1859, Duval-Leroy is among the smaller Champagne houses in the Champagne region. With only 494 acres under its ownership, Duval-Leroy limits its production to estate grown grapes, which is quite unusual for a region in which the majority of large producers buy grapes from its many small growers.

Yet, despite its size, the House prides itself on its innovation and its number of “firsts” including Carol Duval-Leroy’s distinction of being the first and only woman to date to be appointed president of the Association Viticole Champenoise and having the first vat room in the world to use photovoltaic solar panels, a rainwater harvesting system and a green wall for heat and sound insulation. A further hallmark of Duval-Leroy is that its wines are released when ready, even if that means that they are out of sequence.

The woman-only event was held at Air’s Champagne Bar, which opened earlier this year. The unique venue is owned by Ariel Arce, named one of Wine Enthusiast’s 40 under 40 for 2017. In addition to having a deep menu of Champagne and other sparkling wines, Arce is also known for her Parlour Hour (5:00-7:00 PM daily) during which patrons can purchase three glasses of bubbly plus snacks for $30. Wednesday’s focus is on female winemakers, while Sundays offer a twist: serving up “one wine that we should never pour by the glass” along with snacks for the same $30. Not surprisingly, the menu includes an assortment of bubble-friendly food such as the oysters, caviar and charcuterie that were perfectly paired with the Femme de Champagne.

With a limited production, there won’t be much Femme de Champagne 1996 to go around, but it is currently availa ble at Morrell Wine for $295 if you wish to buy a bottle for yourself. After all, while Americans tend to save Champagne for a special occasion, Duval-Leroy’s export manager touted that the Champenois open a bottle of Champagne in order to create an occasion of the every day.

Certainly, enjoying a glass of Femme de Champagne will elevate any day of the year and we should always celebrate the feminine in all its forms!