Minnie, a beloved regular of The Bennington Wine Tasting Meetup has a rule: you have to laugh every time someone pops the cork on a bottle of bubbly. Makes sense. How do you not start to feel giddy at the sound of a popped cork, that little smile of relief on the opener’s face? Sparkling wine is bottled joy, and this was pretty evident at last night’s event.
Happiness is something I hope everyone will focus on more in 2019. In the last few years, Kris and I have put a huge emphasis on happiness—going so far as to move back to our fav place and be closer to family, have more time for things we love like hiking, and diminish the stress that was trying to kill me. It doesn’t mean we ignore unhappiness, we’ve had our fair share in the last few years. We’ve learned that the sadness will find you, so you’d better enjoy the other stuff. Stress is okay, when it’s balanced with relaxation. Hustling is awesome, but you’ve gotta enjoy the fruits of your labor. It’s required that you laugh daily.. I hope it goes without saying that this wine tasting group has also significantly added to our happiness.
WineGame: Sparkling Edition
The first Tuesday of the month has become game night for our tasting group. We’ve played several rounds of WineGame and this time we decided to make it thematic by asking everybody to bring a bottle of bubbles. While most bottles were of Prosecco, there were some other sparklers present.
WineGame: Your New Favorite App
At October’s Wine Media Conference there were stickers, fact sheets and investors in WineGame, a cross-platform app that allows users to set up and host blind tasting games. First of all: go download it now. Seriously.
WineGame is a fun way to play with your wine, and that is what they encourage. They even ask that people playing post to social media using #playwithyourwine (check out the tag on Instagram).
The host takes pictures of the game’s labels, they recommend 3-4 wines a game) and the app scans its database for the information namely: name, varietal, country, region, vintage, label picture. After the game is set up, the host is given a code. Players enter this into their app (available for iOS, Android and even on the web) and then start tasting and guessing.
Each item that must be guessed is set up in multiple choice format. Three points are awared for getting the answer correct on the first try, two for the second and one for the third. If the third guess is incorrect no points are given. One of my favorite parts of the game is that the app provides hints that can be incredibly helpful when trying to learn a wine.
There is a live leader board so players can see how they’re doing and talk smack if they desire.
In addition to playing the way we do, in a meetup, I think this would be a great opportunity for restaurants and wine bars. Participating in a WineGame with patrons would definitely bring people in and give them a chance to be educated about wine in a fun way.
Sparkling Wine WineGame
One of the goals of The Bennington Wine Tasting Meetup is to teach everyone how to describe, find and pair wines they love. As we learned way back in the early days, not all Malbec is the same, and we continue to go beyond varietal. By understanding climate, winemaker choices and many other factors, our group is able to grow in their appreciation of all the nuances of wine and no one really says, “I like Pinot Noir,” anymore. Not that we don’t love Pinot. We do! But we now explain the type of Pinot. It’s been incredible to watch the evolution.
Last night’s first game was three bottles of Prosecco… and everyone agreed that they liked some better than others and that they were all different. So I may not like all Prosecco, but I do like that prosecco, and I think this Prosecco will go very well with that grilled cheese sandwich.
When it comes to sparkling wine, there’s much to be known. But here are some basics to help you better understand.
Eleven Things About Sparkling Wine
- Not all sparkling wine is Champagne, but all Champagne is sparkling wine. Long considered the sparkling wine of choice (and for good reason) only sparkling wine made in the Champagne region from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in the traditional method can be called Champagne. The traditional method is expensive, which is why Champagne is always pricier.
- If you love Champagne but want a cheaper French option, look at the label. French sparklers labeled “Cremant” are made in the traditional method but outside of Champagne. They may use other grapes. Traditional Method and Methode Champanoise mean you can expect more complexity than those made in less expensive ways, but you’ll pay less than you will for something that is made in Champagne.
- Sparkling wine can be red, white or rosé. And some white is even made using Pinot Noir, a red grape. Champagne itself uses the thin-skinned red grape. Lambrusco is an oft-sparkling red from Italy that is becoming more and more hip these days (they’re drinking it in Brooklyn… you know what that means).
- Some sparklers have less sparkles. Spumante is the most effervescent and what most of us think of when we hear sparkling, but there are also frizzante style sparkling wines that are more fizzy than bubbly.
- Champagne and Prosecco are regions. There’s a name for that thing we do where we call all bandages “bandaids” and all copy machines “xerox” but Prosecco and Champagne are actually regions and not wines. That’s why you can find still Prosecco!
- Pretty much every wine-making country makes sparkling wine. You can have Cava from Spain, Sekt from Germany and sparklers from South Africa, America, Austria and everywhere else! Why do we only call some by their place names? Laws govern wine production with rules about region, varietal, growing conditions, style, ABV and more.
- There are sweet sparkling wines. .
- Sparkling wine is best enjoyed in a white or universal wine glass. That’s right, flutes are not the best way to get to know a sparkler!
- Prosecco is made from the glera grape. Bet you didn’t know that!
- Yeast, and contact with it, makes sparkling wine complex. If you love the bready or biscuity notes and feels found in more expensive champagnes, look for sparkling wines aged en tirage. This extra time in the bottle before disgorgement imparts the yeastiness you seek.
- Bubbles pair with everything. Sure, there are definitely ways to pair sparkling wine that would impress even the snobbiest of wine snobs but here’s a hint: sparkling with is the pairing choice you will never get wrong. Everything tastes great with bubbles.
Here’s what we drank last night while playing WineGame along with tasting notes, pricing info, where to find and of course, what we ate.\
Wine 1: La Marca is King of the grocery store wine section and featured on many area wine lists. There’s a reason for this: it’s really good and super affordable.
Look for citrus, blossoms and honey on the nose. On the palate you’ll find more citrus, like lemon and grapefruit, green apples and a nice minerality. You can find this Prosecco anywhere (it might even be in your fridge right now) for under $15. They also make mini bottles that are adorable and great for camping.
Wine 2: How gorgeous is this bottle? If I made things I would make something out of it. I don’t make things, though, so I won’t.
Cavicchioli 1928 Prosecco is super dry and very floral; that’s right—they’re not just pretty decorations for the bottle. You’ll also get hints of candied fruits on the nose. This is an excellent accompaniment to charcuterie that includes lots of dried fruit and nuts.
Wine 3: The final Prosecco of round 1 was this crowd pleaser from 90+ Cellars. 90+ is an interesting concept. They find high quality wines and then sell them under their own label to sell them for a better deal for the consumer.
Who knows what label this bottle usually wears, we’ll take it’s current under $13 version. Peaches and other stone fruit abound along with floral and ginger notes. We drank this quicky after ending the game..
Wine 4: I always love a first and this was a definite first for me on a few levels. A frizzante-style rosé, from North Carolina!
Jones von Drehle makes award-winning wine in North Carolina. We had the Dulcimer, from Southern Rhône varietal, Mourvèdre. Berries, berries and more berries. All of them red. The wine uses a screw cap which is always a favorite choice of mine even if I do love the pop of a cork!
Wine 5: Another first: wine from New Mexico! This traditional method bubbly Wine Spectator’s list of 100 best wines under $20. And it’s clear why. Gruet puts great care into crafting a sparkling wine aged en tirage to give it more complexity than many American sparkling wines.
This was definitely a favorite of the night and one I cannot recommend enough.
Thanks to Sean and Jo for the delightful Prosecco chocolates. They saw these at The Chocolate Barn and knew we had to have them for the tasting, even though they couldn’t attend. The chocolates weren’t just sparkly, they also tasted of glera grapes.
There was a lot of pesto thanks to Tom and Linda bringing some with delicious homemade foccacia (no pics, sorry!) and me making a bunch from leftover basil from the wine I’m brewing. I used some of mine with feta and puff pastry to make pinwheels.
Nothing says sparkling wine like strawberries so we enjoyed some fresh strawberries with choices of chocolate sauce and balsamic reduction. Strawberries and balsamic are a fav combo of mine. Want to reduce balsamic? Bring a cup to a boil and then reduce the heat and simmer for 15 or so minutes until it’s thick. You can add two tablespoons of a sweetener (honey, maple syrup, etc) but I don’t.
I popped a round of brie in the oven and then topped it with fig preserves and roasted hazelnuts. We enjoyed it with a fresh baguette.
Speaking of nuts. Everyone went nuts for these Giner and nut biscotti!
“Somethin’ always happens whenever we’re together We get a happy feelin’ when we’re singin’ a song…”