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Sparkling Wine Selections for Your Holiday Party

Conventional wine wisdom dictates you should always have a bottle of bubbly on hand, as you never know when cause for celebration will arise. That wine wisdom holds especially true at this time of the year, as we celebrate holidays, family gatherings, and of course, ringing in the New Year. Fortunately, there are a number of options available in every price range, so serving your family and friends a delicious sparkling wine is nearly foolproof. Whether a Champagne, a Cava, or a sparkling wine from Napa, pouring the perfect bubbly is simply a cork pop away.

Champagnes , and sparkling wines made in areas other than Champagne, France,  come in a number of sweetness levels. The most common levels are Brut, Extra Dry, and Sec, with Demi-Sec and Doux rounding out the five levels. Each denotes how much sugar is in the sparkling wine, with Brut being the most dry with less than 1.5% sugar and Doux being the most sweet with over 5% sugar. Today we’ll discuss Brut,  Extra Dry, and Sec options.

J Vineyards & Winery Cuvee 20 Sparkling Wine

J Vineyards & Winery Cuvee 20 Sparkling Wine

Our first selection comes from J Vineyards & Winery, the Cuvee 20 which is a Brut sparkling wine from the Russian River Valley appellation in Sonoma California. A blend of the three grapes Champagne can be made from, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this dry sparkling wine has great flavors.  Dry on the palate, there are crisp lemon citrus flavors with a typical yeasty, doughy note. There’s a light floral and nut note as well, and the sparkling wine is fresh, crisp and clean. Perfect on it’s own, the J Cuvee 20 will pair nicely with appetizers or little bites, whether smoked salmon and caviar or popcorn and french fries. This wine can be found relatively easily, and retails for about $22.

Lamberti Prosecco Extra Dry Sparkling Wine

Lamberti Prosecco Extra Dry Sparkling Wine

Our next selection is the affordable Lamberti Prosecco from Vento, Italy. For about $14, the Lamberti Extra Dry Prosecco has a fabulous crisp palate, with flavors of lemon zest and amazing bubbles. Even though it’s an Extra Dry, there’s very little sweetness, and it must be on the cusp of Brut / Extra Dry. This is definitely a great option to offer as an aperitif, a little bubbly to serve to your guests as they arrive and get comfortable at your gathering. Perhaps a little less widely available, you should be able to go into any reputable wine store and ask them to order this, as the importers Frederick Wildman are fairly well known.

Mumm Napa Cuvee M Sparkling Wine

Mumm Napa Cuvee M Sparkling Wine

Rounding out our sparkling wine selections is the Mumm Napa Cuvee M. The sweetest option offered today, the sparkling wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Meunier. You’ll taste fresh peaches and tangerines on the palate. There are also secondary notes of vanilla and honey, yet for all of it’s sweet flavors, this wine is far from cloying.  Perfect for the holidays, your guests will want to toast you again and again with this sparkling wine in their glass. Also perfect as an aperitif, the Mumm Napa Cuvee M is flexible enough to pair with spicy foods as well as creamy desserts.  This wine can be found in a broad range of stores, and retails for approximately $20.

Looking for the best sparkling wines for the holidays, whether a Champagne such as Pol Roger, or a Cava such as Rondel? While these certainly will fit the bill,  I’ll have a few additional selections available on my website in the coming days.  Cheers.

Talking about Montemaggiore 2005 Syrah

A trip through Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma affords one plenty of opportunities to stop in to various tasting rooms and sample the wines they have to offer. However, it’s only when you travel off the beaten path that you’ll come across Montemaggiore. Nestled high on the mountainside, Montemaggiore isn’t “open to the public” per se. Rather, you need to call Lise or Vince Ciolino, owners of the vineyard since 2001, and make an appointment to take a tour of their beautiful property and taste their great wines. Our second stop on our Daytime tour through Dry Creek Valley brought us up the winding mountain road to their tasting room, and I’m excited to take you there on a virtual tour and tasting.

There are a few different wines available from Montemaggiore, from their Paolo’s Vineyard Syrah I discuss in the below video, to a Cabernet Syrah Blend named Nobile and even a Syrah Rose.  Additionally, the Ciolinos offer olive oil from the olive trees on the property. So, lets enjoy a virtual wine tasting together, and find out what I thought of wine from this vineyard that’s off the beaten path.

Talking about Montemaggiore 2005 Syrah from Matthew Scott Horbund on Vimeo.

Syrah is not a very frequently grown grape in Dry Creek Valley, with approximately 306 acres of syrah vines planted. This is a stark contrast to the 2,316 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 2,251 acres of Zinfandel, and 1,500 acres of Merlot reported planted in Dry Creek Valley in 2006. However, I believe the Ciolinos have found a grape that they are able to successfully grow and turn into a delicious wine. As I mentioned in the video, it’s not very jammy like many California Syrah’s can be. Mind you, it’s not that jammy is wrong or bad, but I prefer my Syrah to be a bit more subtle fruit wise, and the spice and oak influence a bit more prominent when I drink a Syrah, and I think Montemaggiore has captured that in their wines. The Paolo’s Vineyard 2005 Syrah was rated a 92 by the International Wine review, and costs approximtely $35. It’s aged in a mixture of 84% French and 16% American oak, of which 38% is new.

Paolo Feeding Sheep at Montemaggiore

Paolo Feeding Sheep at Montemaggiore

Lise, pronounced Leezah, like the tower of Pisa, and her husband Vince care very much not only about the quality of their wines, but the impact growing them has on the land. They firmly believe in organic and biodynamic farming, and don’t use chemical products, but rather employ natural fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides. Their sustainable farming practice includes drip irrigation and natural compost, as well as several sheep that tend the grass and naturally fertilize the land. Vince will happily discuss the care they exercise in working the land they also live on during a visit. You’ll be able to hear from Vince and his farming practices at Montemaggiore during the Daytime segment.

As you can imagine, there’s a lot more to Montemaggiore than we’ve discussed here. The television segment of our visit to Montemaggiore airs on Daytime Tuesday November 17th. If Daytime isn’t on in your area, we’ll have the clip available online at shortly. I’ll update this post, perhaps put the link in the comments, and you can see Lise, Vince, and our fabulous trip to our second Dry Creek Valley winery. If you missed our first stop at Michel-Schlumberger, you will want to take a few minutes to see how wonderful that visit was!

Do you know the way to Michel-Schlumberger

While the American Viticultural Area, or AVA, of Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma is synonymous with Zinfandel, there’s a lot of great wine coming from this area that you shouldn’t miss. To raise your awareness of what wines you can enjoy from Dry Creek Valley, I took a trip to three wineries in September, filming television segments for the nationally syndicated morning show Daytime. Our first stop was Michel-Schlumberger, where we had not only the opportunity to meet with President and General Manager Judd Wallenbrock, Wine maker Michael Brunson, and Director of Retail & Direct to Consumer Operations Jim Morris, we got to tour the vineyard, meet all of the staff, and enjoy a night of music at the winery.

The short video here is just one part of the experience we had at Michel-Schlumberger. It will take you on the first of two virtual tastes and tours of this 30 year old winery. The second part is the television segment airing on Daytime Monday, November 16th, 2009. If Daytime isn’t available in your viewing area, I’ll have a comment below with a link to the segment online shortly.

Michel-Schlumberger Deux Terres Cabernet Sauvignon from Matthew Scott Horbund on Vimeo.

*Disclaimer* The wine discussed in this post and in the video were provided to me at no cost by Michel-Schlumberger.

I know that I started this post by saying Dry Creek Valley and Zinfandel were synonymous, but in 2006, Cabernet Sauvignon accounted for 2,316 acres of vines planted, topping 2nd place Zinfandel which had 2,251 acres under vine. Michel-Schlumberger produces various Bordeaux varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Pinot Blanc, Syrah and Chardonnay. The wine tasted in the video, the Deux Terres 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, is their top non-reserve offering and was an enjoyable wine. It didn’t need much time to open, perhaps 20 or 30 minutes.

Right out of the bottle the nose was dark fruits, black cherry and blackberry, with a mocha and spice component that was very inviting. The palate was dark cherry fruit with medium to firm tannins, giving that dry, almost astringent feeling on the inside of my mouth, similar to black tea. I enjoyed the finish of pepper and spice, and while it wasn’t extremely long, it was quite nice. Robin loved the wine to just sip on, though she didn’t feel it complimented her pasta and red sauce. I thought it was nice enough with my eggplant parmesan hero, but really feel it needs a rich beef, veal or lamb dish to compliment the flavors and structure.

The vineyard is farmed organically, as I mentioned in the video, with an eye towards sustainability and the environment.  Not only does the team at Michel-Schlumberger care about the land they farm to bring you delicious wines, they care about Dry Creek itself. Together with other wineries in the area, they’re working to restore Wine Creek and keep the Steelhead Trout population strong and preserve an integral part of the ecology. A visit to Michel-Schlumberger will allow you the opportunity to walk the vineyards that were established in 1979 by Jean-Jacques Michel. Jacques Schlumberger joined the team as a minority partner in 1991, and took over the estate as majority partner in 1993. When Michael Brunson joined the team as assistant wine maker in 1993, Fred Payne was the head wine maker. The Deux Terres we talked about tonight was one of Fred Payne’s wines, as Michael Brunson took over the wine making role in 2006.

You can follow the winery on twitter at @m_schlumberger and Jim is on twitter too as @sonomawineguy. Jim, and others at the winery write about all things Michel-Schlumberger on Benchland Blog. Other writeups about the Deux Terres 2004 can be found at Drink Dry Creek, and other visits to the winery on Breathe, Luscious Lushes, and  Wannabe Wino.

Hopefully you’ll visit Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma and Michel-Schlumberger soon.  When you do, call the winery before your visit, and be sure to allow enough time to not only tour the grounds but taste their wines. Oh, and tell them mmWine sent you!

Be sure to tune in to Daytime and see our tour of the vineyards and winery, as well as the tasting with Show co-host Lindsay MacDonald.

Kelley Creek 05 Zinfandel

Click to Enlarge - Kelley Creek '05 Zinfandel

Click to Enlarge - Kelley Creek '05 Zinfandel

I’ve come across many wines that didn’t suit my palate. Some were too sweet, others too dry, and still others just didn’t give me any reason to drink more of it.  However, no wine has given me such an adverse reaction as this Zinfandel from Kelley Creek did.