Wine Reviews: Sparkling Wines for the Holidays

So, the holiday season is in full swing, and, like every year, the bubbles abound.

I drink Champagne (and, to a lesser extent, Champagne-method bubbles from other regions) year-round, but the average occurrence of bubbly-popping definitely spikes between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

In this report, Champagne gets its due, with some wines from the houses of Bruno Paillard and Laurent Perrier. Gloria Ferrer, the Sonoma bubbly powerhouse, offers up three budget-friendly offerings, and a Santa Barbara sparkler from Lucas & Lewellen impresses. Lastly, a few sparklers from Alsace deliver — Crémant d’Alsace is one of my favorite sources of inexpensive but delicious sparkling wines, and this duo is a great example.

All of the wines in this report were received as samples and tasted sighted. Happy holidays to you all, and I hope the last few days of your 2018 include some lovely Champagne-method wines.

N.V. Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut - California, Sonoma County
SRP: $22
Light copper color. Nose shows lemons, grapefruit, sea salt, white flowers, some musk notes. Crisp and bright on the palate with fresh acidity, fine bubbles, and very light biscuit notes. Green apples, apricots, wild strawberries, backed up with chalk dust and floral perfume notes. Fresh, bright, these are fun, accessible bubbles for the price. Mostly Pinot Noir with about 14% Chardonnay. (87 points)

N.V. Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs - California, Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $22
Pale copper color. Smells fresh and bright with red apples, raspberries, rose hips and some salted biscuits. Fresh and crisp with a salty, zippy, light appeal. Raspberries, red apple and lemon mix with white flowers, white pepper and sea salt notes. Some sugar adds to the texture and flavor, but it stays fresh and fun for the price. Includes a bit of Chardonnay, this spends 18 months on the lees. (87 points)

N.V. Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs - California, Sonoma, Carneros
SRP: $22
Light yellow color. Aromas are tart and tangy with limes and green apples, light biscuits, sea salt, with some nettle and honeysuckle. Light and zesty on the palate with fine bubbles, this is fun and fresh with lines and green apples. Saline, chalk, lots of white flowers. Fresh and fun but significant complexity, this is a solid bubbly for holiday parties for sure. Aged two years on the lees, 100% Chardonnay. (88 points)

2016 Lucas & Lewellen Brut - California, Central Coast, Santa Barbara County
SRP: $36
Deep yellow color. Nose shows a bunch of honey and graham cracker on top of yellow apples, apricots, and floral perfume. Ooh, this is nice on the palate, some rich texture with honeyed, baked apple elements nice hint of sweetness to the fruit but a brisk appeal. Flowers, graham crackers, honey, chalk, sea salt and toasted bread. A lot of flavor, depth and appeal here. 55% Pinot Noir, 45% Chardonnay. (90 points)

N.V. Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace Brut Réserve - France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
SRP: $19
Deep yellow color. On the nose, lots of chalk, sea salt, crushed shells, with lemons, green apples, ginger and baguette notes. Super bright and zesty but some plumpness as well. Crunchy green apples, lemons, limes, doused in chalk, limestone and mountain stream. Ginger, musk, mineral, toasted baguette notes, all of this combines in a bracing but richly textured Crémant that is surprisingly good for the money. 80% Pinot Blanc and 20% Pinot Auxerrois. (89 points)

N.V. Keuntz-Bas Crémant d’Alsace Brut Tradition - France, Alsace, Crémant d’Alsace
SRP: $18
Deep yellow color. The aromas show lots of honey, salted almond, biscuits, spiced white tea, with apricot and yellow apples. Crisp acidity frames the wine nicely but there’s a nice honeyed, biscuity richness as well. Bruised apple and apricot topped in honeyed tea, ginger, sea salt, minerals. Rich but zesty, lovely balance and complexity here, especially when you consider the price point. A blend of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc aged 18 months on the lees. (89 points)

N.V. Laurent-Perrier Champagne Brut Nature “Ultra Brut” France, Champagne
SRP: $80
Medium yellow color. Lots of yellow apples, apricots, lemon curd, with rich honey, toasted biscuits and salted butter, but also bright chalk and sea salt notes. Precise and brisk on the palate with focused acidity but plenty of texture and depth. Apricots, yellow apples, lemons, laced with sea salt, crushed shells, with rich, deep notes of honey, ginger snap, toasted biscuits. The focus, precision and minerality is really impressive, this wine is lip-smackingly tasty with significant complexity. 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, no dosage, aged six years on the lees. (91 points)

N.V. Laurent-Perrier Champagne Harmony Demi-Sec - France, Champagne
SRP: $50
Medium yellow color. Nose shows rich honey, apricot marmalade, candied ginger and apple peel, some sea salt biscuit notes. Plump and sweet on the palate but shows vibrancy throughout, sugar cane and candied apple notes mix with chalk, dried flowers and limestone. This is rich and sweet but shows liveliness as well, and would pair nicely with pastries or after-dinner cheeses. 45% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier, 45 g/l dosage. (89 points)

N.V. Bruno Paillard Champagne Brut Premiere Cuvée - France, Champagne
SRP: $50
Rich yellow color. Nice mix of chalk, limestone, flowers, with lemons, apricots, and notes of biscuits and toasted almond. Brisk and vibrant on the palate with clean, crisp acidity and lots of minerals and chalk and crushed shells. Flavors of lemons, orange, apricot mix with biscuits, flowers, ginger, and minerals. Lovely, as usual, from Bruno Paillard. From 32 different villages, vinified separately, this wine consists of 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, with at least 25% reserve wine. Disgorged Sept. 2017. (90 points)

N.V. Bruno Paillard Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Extra Brut - France, Champagne
SRP: $70
Deep yellow color. Brisk nose of sea salt, crushed chalk, white flowers and fresh biscuits on top of lemon curd, green apple, apricot. Pretty, clean and crisp on the palate with salty minerals and high acidity, but some nice depth and texture throughout. Lemon, crunchy apricot and green apples mixed with honey, chalk, mountain streams and minerals. Dry, crunchy, vibrant. Aged four years on the lees, with a 5 g/l dosage. Disgorged October 2016. (91 points)

The Future Of Wine Writing: GrimDark

The future of wine writing: kill, or be killed?

The future of wine writing is kind of like… GrimDark.

No, I don’t mean that wine writing is headed for GrimDark as a cultural style of expression. Though that conceivably could happen as a symptom of where things are headed.

What I mean is that the future of the wine writing profession is f*cking bleak. As in, step-over-the-dead-bodies-of-your-former-comrades bleak.

Sorry to bust up your Holiday Cheer, but this topic has been weighing on my mind since my friend and wine-marketing-maven Tom Wark published the latest incarnation of Wark Communications’ Wine Writers Survey. He also took the time to add a bit of additional commentary on the more influential wine writers (as cited by other wine writers) on his Fermentation blog. Full disclosure: I happen to be among those writers cited, for reasons that I still don’t fully comprehend.

I love me some Tom Wark, but I am in a state of some disagreement with the Wark Communications conclusions from the survey; specifically, this tidbit:

The Future Of Wine Writing: GrimDark

If wine continues to grow in popularity, if the now fully adult Millennial generation is as committed to the beverage as they seem, and barring any economic catastrophes, I’m confident that the wine writing project will continue full speed ahead. More new voices are coming. More new publishing exercises meant to meet the needs of new generations will arrive. Even new ways of understanding and communicating about wine are likely to appear.


While it’s of course true that more new voices are coming, the Millennials are devoted to the beverage, and that new ways of understanding and communicating about wine will appear, I have severe doubts as to the viability of the “wine writing project” in the future. Why? Well, that same survey serves up some very compelling reasons in some of the take-away commentary on the aggregated survey responses…

-No more than just over a quarter of wine writers earn 50% of their income from wine writing.

-Most writing about wine earn very little income doing so.

-No more than just over a quarter of wine writers earn 50% of their income from wine writing.

-Most writing about wine earn very little income doing so.

-Maintaining a living writing in the wine genre is the greatest concern.

-Two-thirds of those who primarily write for their own blog or publication earn 10% or less of their annual income from wine writing.

-Despite the rise in digital publishing, there has been almost no change in the breakdown of publishing frequencies from the 2004 survey.

In the end, the viability of wine writing as a profession will, like other literary and journalism genres, depend on the financial health of the publishing industry going forward.


Ok… sooooooo… Wark’s rosey future is based on what, exactly? The facts that a) most wine writers cannot make a living now, b) wine writers are worried about ever being able to make a decent living, and c) wine writing is tied to the viability of writing as a profession, which has seen a decline as precipitous as a Mosel vineyard slope?

Well, F*CK ME, then.

There are more people wanting to write and communicate about wine, with fewer outlets outside of personal blogs and social media, and even fewer that are willing (or able) to pay anything even close to resembling a living wage for it.

You’ll forgive me for not getting the warm and fuzzy feeling all over about this theoretical future that Wark is seeing on the horizon, in the hopes that, hey, something is bound to come along and make all of this ok, despite the ever-mounting volume of evidence to the contrary! That’s not really hope, that’s… well, I want to write “delusion” but that seems a bit harsh. But then, if we’re headed for wine-writing-dystopia, then sure, let’s go with “delusion.” To quote Interstellar‘s Cooper, “that doesn’t even qualify as futile.”

Of course, I am hoping that Tom is right, and that I’m wrong; it would have helped if Wark had offered up more insights as to why those conclusions were drawn despite what seems like a much grimmer perspective from the survey respondents. Personally, I’m not quitting my gig any time soon, but I’m not about to recommend the wine writing path to budding enthusiasts of the written word – and the grape – as a means for building any kind of wealth, either.

Cheers (I guess)!

Grab The Tasting Guide and start getting more out of every glass of wine today!

Shop Wine Products at

Copyright © 2016. Originally at The Future Of Wine Writing: GrimDark from - for personal, non-commercial use only. Cheers!

Daily Wine News: Future of Cigare

(Source: Bonny Doon Vineyard)

“I am saying goodbye to Le Cigare Volant, at least to the wine that I’ve made in a certain, distinctive style for so many years,” writes Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm. “I think that perhaps what my Cigare experience has tried to teach me is a certain sort of humility. There are things that I can properly effect and things that I cannot; it is ultimately most useful to focus on that which one can potentially control, as well as, (very importantly) acknowledge the enormous power of that which is beyond one’s control.”

“As one who prizes the qualities of restraint, balance and refreshing acidity, which were in short supply in Ribera del Duero, I have not often gravitated toward the region’s wines. Yet I could not help but wonder whether this region, which had achieved such success with this particular style, had also evolved away from power toward more graceful, tense wines.” In the New York Times, Eric Asimov finds harmony in the reds of Ribera del Duero.

In Wine and Spirits Magazine, Karen Moneymaker reports on ten collectible cabernets that sommeliers have come to love.

James Lawrence wonders why the British have lost their taste for Rhône as well as Burgundy passports in Wine-Searcher.

In Wine Enthusiast, Anna Lee C. Iijima offers a guide to Southern Rhône’s wines.

South Africa’s wine growers are seeing a new demand from China, reports CNN.

The Economist explores India’s growing wine industry.

Carole Kohler (Loire)

Carole Kohler with her young Chenin Thouars, southern Loire This story takes place just outside of Thouars, a small town located some 35 kilometers south of Saumur, and I visited Carole early november after having heard about her through family...

Trump and “gay slurs”: The Buttboy controversy

Mika Brzezinski, the co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” news show, got into hot water the other day, after calling Trump’s Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, what the media are calling “a gay slur” because they’re too squeamish to quote her real word: “buttboy.”

I’ll explain what that means (if you don’t already know, and I suspect you do) in a minute. First, here’s what Mika meant: that Pompeo was and is Mohammed bin Salman’s lapdog, apologist and ass kisser, after Pompeo lied to the world and said there’s “no direct evidence” MBS ordered the torture and murder of Jamal Kashoggi. Of course there is. Everybody knows it. But Pompeo, on the instructions of his boss, Trump, is covering up that fact, for reasons best understood by him.

Now, as to the slang meaning of “buttboy,”the Urban Dictionary defines it as “a sexual boy toy who belongs to an older man. The younger guy is ‘a bottom’ or anal receiver while the older guy is the pitcher, or ‘top.’”

Well, that about sums it up! As for Mika, a lot of people piled up on her. Fox “News” reported that Trump’s ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, who apparently is gay, tweeted

Then there was Trump himself, a famous defender of LGBTQ people (I’m kidding, folks), who in the middle of his latest tweetstorm about Michael Cohen and Robert Mueller, pretended to give a rat’s ass about gay slurs, professing faux outrage on Twitter: “If it was a Conservative that said what ‘crazed’ Mike [sic] Brzezinski stated on her show yesterday, using a certain horrible term, that person would be banned permanently from television… Congratulations to Richard Grenell, our great Ambassador to Germany, for having the courage to take this horrible issue on.”

A couple things. First, there’s no doubt that when Trump decided to go after Mika, a fierce Trump critic, he had someone look around his administration to find (possibly the only) gay person in a high-level position, and then he ordered the unlucky victim, Grenell, to tweet what he did. That makes Grenell Trump’s buttboy.

Secondly, as a gay man, I can promise you that no gay person in America took any offense whatsoever at Mika’s remark. (Believe me, I know this is true: We all conference-call every night over Chardonnay.) There was nothing, absolutely nothing, homophobic about Mika’s remark! As the Urban Dictionary definition makes clear, “buttboy” is exactly the role that Pompeo served under MBS, and it also happens to be the role Pompeo serves under Trump. Pompeo knows exactly what happened to Kashoggi, and he knows who made it happen. So does Trump. So Pompeo is a double buttboy (MBS and Trump) and that makes Grenell also a double buttboy (Pompeo and Trump). You see how complicated things can get when we stray into the exotic realm of anal sex!

I tweeted Grenell to tell him how sordid and disreputable his tweet was, and that he ought to be ashamed of himself. I’ve also sent a copy of today’s post directly to Mika because I want her to know that most of us realize this brouhaha over her “buttboy” remark is a made-up controversy on the Right, invented and brought to the boil by Trump. It’s just another distraction. Show me a single instance in Trump’s entire life where he showed any empathy at all for the problems gay people face. For that matter, homophobia is a sickness that occurs, not in the Democratic Party, not among the liberals Trump hates, not in Mika Brzezinski’s mind, but in Trump’s own Republican Party. It is rightwing evangelicals and so-called Christians who discriminate against gay people—the same gaybashers whom Trump ass-kissed at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University during his speech there last year,  which I guess makes Trump Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s buttboy.

So to Mika, I say: You go, girl! To MSNBC I warn: hands off! Leave Mika alone. She did nothing wrong or improper. If you try to punish her, you’ll be Trump’s buttboy, and you’ll make a lot of us who watch MSNBC very angry.

Daily Wine News: A Unique Partnership

Source: Gruet.

In SevenFifty Daily, Katherine Cole explores why New Mexico’s Gruet partnered with a Native American tribe to grow grapes. “While a few Native American–owned winemaking ventures—such as the Canadian Nk’Mip Cellars, Kitá Wines in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, and Séka Hills in the Capay Valley, northeast of Napa Valley—have started up in recent years, a grape-growing contract between a Native American tribe and a winery is a novel concept.”

In Wine & Spirits Magazine, Elaine Chukan Brown tells the story about Rebuild Wine Country, created by Chris Strieter, Max Thieriot and Myles Lawrence-Briggs of Senses Wines in Occidental, who partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build and repair structures after the fires. This October, their efforts began to turn into homes.

“A cache of centuries-old Madeira discovered in New Jersey during renovation work has been auctioned by Christie’s, with one bottling from the late 1700s selling for nearly $16,000,” reports Chris Mercer in Decanter.

Bordeaux’s wine growers are lowering their use of herbicides and pesticides, reports Sophie Kevany in Meininger’s.

In the Drinks Business, Julie Albin takes a trip Mokelumne Glen Vineyards in Lodi and reveals why German-Austrian grape varieties have ended up in the Californian region, and why it’s no longer typecast as only offering high alcohol Zinfandel.

“Doug Ernst, who had a 33-year career in Napa Valley journalism, died Tuesday morning after a short battle with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS),” reports Kevin Courtney in the Napa Valley Register.

Shana Clarke pens a guide to sustainable wine certifications in Wine Enthusiast.

The people will revolt?

That’s what the traitor, Trump, said: if he’s Impeached, “the people will revolt.”

 Really? Bring it on.

I mean, what the hell are these rightwing nutbags going to do when we Impeach Trump? Look, if they want to “revolt,” they’re going to do it where they live, right? Revolutionaries don’t take the bus or fly away on jets to where they make their revolutions, they do it close to home. The Boston Tea Party patriots did it in Boston, not Hoboken. That was a long time ago, but things aren’t that different now: If you have a committed core of angry neo-fascist white guys determined to shoot things up, they’re not going to form a caravan and travel for hundreds of miles, they’re going to do it close to where they live.

Here’s a list of the most Republican counties in America. I’ll use Blount County, in Alabama, as an example. (It was named after Gov. Willie Blount, a slaveowner.) The county seat is Oneonta, population 6,638, whose residents are overwhelmingly white and working class. The nearest big city is Birmingham, about 37 miles away. When Trump is impeached, as I hope and assume he will, you will have great anger in Oneonta. The under-educated, Limbaugh-addicted white men and women will be mad as hell and not going to take it anymore. So what do they do? They grab their weapons and take their grievances to the streets.

Where do they gather? Probably in front of the Blount County Courthouse. That’s a nice placeto start a revolution! The Swamp Tails Restaurant is just across the street on 1st Avenue East, where the revolutionaries can buy good old Southern food, like crawfish eggs and grits—and Lord knows, making a revolution makes you hungry! Miss Kelley’s School of Dance is down the block, so the Dads and Moms can drop the kiddies off for “preschool combo” until the revolution is over and it’s time to head back home. Weathers Ace Hardware is easy walking distance, so if the revolutionaries need, say, masking tape they can easily find it. Also nearby is the Silhouette Beauty Salon. Hey, a revolutionary gal wants to look her best while she’s shooting at pictures of Hillary!

I’m exaggerating, of course, but here’s the point. If “the people revolt” against Impeachment, they’re going to do so in these hokey little redneck towns where Trump’s base lives. They’re not going to do it in New York, Chicago, Seattle, Oakland, Austin, Boston, Phoenix, Cincinnati, Detroit, Los Angeles and so on. The open-carry NRA wackos wouldn’t dare show up in those places because they’d get their behinds whipped. So who the hell are these “people” who would “revolt”?

 They’rejokes, that’s who. Let them shoot up their Red towns all they want. If they hit the road and try to bring their violence someplace else, they’ll be stopped—by local police and Sheriff’s officers, who I have to believe still believe in the Constitution and the rule of law. I’ve seen no evidence at all that Trumpism is making inroads into our law enforcement agencies. There may be individual officers who are Trumpists, but a few bad apples don’t spoil the entire crop.

So I’m not worried. The Breitbart neo-fascists can make all the revolutions they want to, in the places where they live. They can burn down the Oneonta County Courthouse, they can have torchlight parades screaming “Lock Her Up!”, they can fulminate and rant until the cows come home—literally, in these cow towns—but they’ll be doing it for nothing and nobody. Sure, a few T.V. crews will show up with their cameras for the nightly news, and the “revolutionaries” will be laughingstocks—fodder for Saturday Night Live. Eventually, the “revolutionaries” will get bored and go back to watching the Crimson Tide on the Swamp Tail’s big-screen T.V. while they get soused on Pabst Blue Ribbon. It will be the shortest revolution in world history, an asterisk to the sad, sordid tale of the Trump regime.

So,Mister President, don’t count on your base to get you out of this. You are toast, Sir. I guarantee it, and you brought it upon yourself. Have a nice day.

Illumination Sauvignon Blanc is Awesome

I sat down for breakfast with Augustin Fransisco Huneeus, proprietor of his family’s eponymous Huneeus Vineyards a while ago. He was an energetic fountain of early-morning conversation the likes for which I was mentally unprepared. If the name Huneeus isn’t familiar, I’d point you to the family’s historic organic and biodynamic estate in the Rutherford area of Napa Valley. From that property comes one of Napa’s highest-regarded wines: Quintessa. But I was equally curious about a grape that certainly doesn’t get a lot of due that shows up in a most unique bottling: Illumination Sauvignon Blanc.

So I had Huneeus send me a sample bottle.

Illumination Sauvignon Blanc / Photo by Emma K. Morris

Illumination Sauvignon Blanc 2017 ($50)

Wow, this was a dang amazing bottle. Illumination was like no other Sauvignon Blanc I’ve had. Rich and golden, with the zestiness of the grape playing more of a supporting role than dominating like in an unoaked SB. This is probably the most serious Sauv Blanc I’ve had outside of Sancerre/the Loire and Bordeaux. If you like rich white wines and looking for something that would be ungodly good with lobster, this is your wine.

And that makes sense. Per Senior Marketing Manager Laura Gabriel, Illumination started in 2006 so the family would have a wine for seafood and to serve at winery receptions. (That’s as good of a reason I can think for making a wine.)

The wine is a blend of 40% Sauvignon Blanc Musque, 53% Sauvignon Blanc, and 7% Semillon. The juice also spends time split among a wide variety of pre-bottle homes. You got some French oak barrels (6% in new, 66% in neutral). Toss in some acacia barrels (5% new). How about some concrete egg fermenters (11%)? Finally, some crispy stainless steel barrels (12%).

Illumination’s grapes come from Napa and Sonoma. Estate fruit from cooler patches on the property is supplemented with Sauv Blanc further south in Napa as well as Bennett Valley in Sonoma. (The 2017 is almost split evenly between fruit from the two regions.)

There’s a tendency for people to look at red wine as the “special” wine. The one you gift. The one you consider splurging on. The Illumination Sauvignon Blanc is a wine that makes the case for white wines being worthy of all that. And for a white wine lover like me, I’d rather spend my $$$ on something unique. There’s very little new oak so it’s not powerfully oaky but the texture it provides is luscious. Yes, it would be amazing with rich seafood but it’s a wine that’s fantastic to drink and contemplate on its own.

Another thing I like about this wine is it helps redefine Sauvignon Blanc. It can be cheap and good, for sure. Can Sauv Blanc be great? A lot of people (including fancy wine folks/somms) would say, “Nah.” But Illumination is, well, illuminating.

Also Sauv Blanc is a grape I enjoy with oak because it tames its aggression. And when well-made, the grape still peeks through to say “Hey, what’s up?” in a most welcome way.

My only beef with this bottle is…the bottle. Very heavy glass. Not a fan.

Otherwise, this is one of the most memorable, original Sauvignon Blancs I’ve ever had.

The post Illumination Sauvignon Blanc is Awesome appeared first on Jameson Fink.