Ever wondered what goes into making quality sparkling wine? The answer — aside from lots of grapes, of course — is a lot of labor. Méthode Champenoise (or méthode traditionnelle when referring to sparkling wines made outside of Champagne, France), is the traditional French method of producing sparkling wines, and while at Mumm Winery in Napa, CA, during harvest, we snapped up photos of the step-by-step process. Take a look; the involved méthode may inspire you to savor your next glass of bubbly more slowly.
Despite his interest in wine, Tyler had no prior experience with blending, so he partnered with the Mondavi family, who helped create his signature wines. The chef also used his perceptive palate to guide him: "After years of experience [working with food], I know what tastes good," he declared. This led to the creation of two wine lines: Tyler Florence Wines, a casual, everyday line, as well as TF, a limited-production line.
Tyler worked with a "less is more" philosophy when designing the wine labels, because he claims winemakers put too much on the label, and then "the essence of the wine becomes lost." For the limited-production line, everything is abbreviated; Tyler kept it bare bones to evoke a sense of nonfussy sophistication. A 1930s library card inspired his Tyler Florence wines, as a reminder that these were handcrafted, and features the chef's own handwritten wine notes. Learn more about the wines.
The 2010 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir ($46) is the latest appellation Pinot to come out of Twomey Cellars, the folks behind the renowned Silver Oak Cellars. We were lured by its intense aroma, a sweet scent of berries, black cherry, and smoke; "I just want to smell this all day and not drink it," one taster said.
But drink this we did, and without abandon. The wine, which was surprisingly light-bodied, had a nice amount of acidity and a silky-smooth finish. "Klassy with a K," another taster declared, in one of her finer moments. Classy indeed: we wish we had some dried fruit and a quality washed-rind cheese to wash down another bottle.
Photos: Anna Monette Roberts
Every so often, a wine article is so compelling that the reader simply must seek out a particular bottle, however obscure it may be. This recently happened while reading a piece by wine editor Ray Isle on a small but growing community of DIY winemakers who are challenging the traditional standards of wine production in America. I looked up from the pages of my Food & Wine magazine and vowed to run out and buy his recommendation, the 2008 Tatomer Vandenberg Riesling.Isle described the bottle as "one of the best Rieslings I'd had all year" — a bold statement for someone who tries a lot of wine. Nonetheless, that wasn't the real reason why I was sold on sampling the Tatomer. My real motivation? The wine, a California Central Coast Riesling, was the epitome of unusual. The Golden State isn't known for Riesling, especially not the warmer, sunnier Central Coast appellation. To top it off, this wine is named after the nearby Vandenberg Air Force Base — an unlikely inspiration for a wine if I've ever heard one.
By day, Graham Tatomer makes chardonnay and pinot noir as an assistant winemaker at a local winery, but he's a Riesling fiend at night — one who was fanatical enough to start making his own version. He makes only 700 cases of wine a year, and his wines, like this $24 Riesling, are incredibly priced. (To put that production number in perspective, E & J Gallo Winery makes 70 million cases annually.)
It's easy to taste the care put into each bottle. The Vandenberg is made in the style of an Alsatian: full-bodied without any sweetness. Its floral, pear-like bouquet drew me in, but what kept me drinking was the flinty minerality that bordered on savory and a creamy texture with a bracing green apple finish.
It was his 2010 Out of the Blue, a unique blend of Cinsault and Syrah, that won me over. Cinsault is rarely prominent, but Bienstock's Out of the Blue features his Cinsault vines, which are over 130 years old, in a blend with 11 percent Syrah. Although the wine had structure, its light-bodiedness was reminiscent of Cru Beaujolais — but more intensely floral and less fruity. As Bienstock put it, "It's a happy wine." I'm already kicking myself for not having bought a bottle! What are your favorite Sierra Foothill wines?