Ring in the New Year with Codorniu

If you’re a fan of sparkling wine but have yet to try Cava you are missing out. Produced through the same traditional method as Champagne but costing much less, the Spanish sparkling wine is wonderful for any type of celebration.

Two delicious suggestions for ringing in the New Year: Anna de Codorníu Brut and Anna de Codorníu Brut Rosé.

Codorníu, located in the Penedès region in northeast Spain, is the world’s largest producer of Cava. Anna de Codorníu honors the last heiress to bear the family name. Following Anna’s marriage to viticulturist Miquel Raventós in 1659, the Codorníu name has been immortalized through the family’s wines.

The Brut and Brut Rosé have more in common with Champagne than just the fermentation method — they are made from the same grapes. Anna de Codorníu Brut is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Parellada (one of the three Spanish varietals used for Cava), and Anna de Codorníu Brut Rosé is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay.

Anna de Codorníu was the first Cava to incorporate Chardonnay; the variety’s unique characteristics are evident in the sparkling wine’s aromas and flavors.

In the Anna de Codorníu Brut, the Chardonnay adds delicate citrus and tropical fruit notes to the crisp and floral Parellada. Well-balanced acidity and just a touch of sweetness on the finish make for a fresh and elegant sip.

The Anna de Codorníu Brut Rosé is a must try for anyone who enjoys Rosé sparkling wines. Elegant and light, the Brut Rosé has notes of cherries and strawberries, and a hint of McIntosh apple on the finish. With fine bubbles and fresh acidity, it is pleasant and refreshing.

Both the Anna de Codorníu Brut and Brut Rosé are great as an apéritif. They also pair nicely with shellfish, sushi or cooked white fish.

The Anna de Codorníu Brut and Brut Rosé cost $15 a bottle.

11.5% alcohol by volume

Champagne Facts and Figures

Champagne and the holidays are the perfect pairing.  But how much do you know about France’s prized sparking wine?  Test yourself or expand your knowledge with these facts about Champagne:

France is the top country for sparkling wine production, producing 42 million cases each year.  It is followed by Germany (35 million cases) and Spain (17 million cases).  By comparison, the United States produces 8 million cases each year.

Sparkling wine may only be called Champagne if it is produced in the Champagne region in the northeast of France.

The three grapes used for Champagne are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

A “blanc de blancs” is a cuvée or blend made from only white grapes; a “blanc de noirs” is made only from red grapes.

Champagne is produced using the “traditional method,” during which the wine undergoes two fermentations.  The first fermentation produces a dry still wine.  Next, a measured amount of sugar and yeast is added to initiate a second fermentation in the sealed bottle, producing the pressurized gas.

The traditional method is used to produce other sparkling wines around the world including many California sparkling wines, Cava from Spain and Franciacorta from Italy.

Sparkling wine produced in other parts of France using the traditional method is called Crémant.  Examples include Crémant d’Alsace, Crémant de Bourgogne and Crémant de Loire.

Before the sparkling winemaking process was perfected in the late 1600s, secondary fermentation of wine was considered a fault (and it often broke wine bottles).

Benedictine monk Dom Pierre Pérignon is often inaccurately credited with inventing Champagne, though he did help perfect the process.

Today there are around 300 Champagne houses and thousands of independent growers.

There are six atmospheres of pressure in a bottle of Champagne.

The special bottles aren’t just for appearance – the thick glass bottles and special corks held in place by wire are needed because of the high pressure at which Champagne is bottled.

Most Champagne is “non-vintage,” a blend of wines from several vintages that has been aged on the lees in the bottle for at least a year.

Vintage Champagne is made from a single year’s harvest and produced only in the best years.  It is aged for a minimum of three years.

Finer bubbles indicate an older wine.  As the wine ages the carbon dioxide dissolves more thoroughly, resulting in a smaller bubble size.

Sparkling wines should be served at a temperature between 45 and 50 ºF.

To open a bottle of Champagne, remove the foil and the cage, keeping your thumb on top of the cork to prevent a sudden expulsion (and make sure the cork is not pointed at anyone or anything breakable). With the bottle at a 45 degree angle, hold the cork still in one hand while rotating the bottle with the other.  After a few turns the cork should slide out gently with a soft hiss.

An extra special way to open a bottle of Champagne (and one that requires a bit of skill) is to saber the bottle.  Using a sword, the cork is sent flying, along with the collar of the bottle.

Want to saber a bottle of Champagne in your own home?  First, remove the foil and cage and locate the seam that runs up the length of the bottle.  Using a heavy knife, quickly run the knife along the seam and strike the lip of the bottle.  The force and pressure will separate the collar from the neck of the bottle, expelling the cork.  Be careful when handling the knife as well as the broken glass on the neck of the uncorked bottle.

Cheers to a great 2011!

AG Pick Under $20: 2007 Kokomo Zinfandel

When you want to get away from it all — or when you want a full-bodied red wine — open a bottle of the 2007 Kokomo Sonoma County Zinfandel.

Though the name may conjure up images of a tropical island, it is totally unrelated to the Beach Boys song.  The California winery is named after Kokomo, Indiana, the hometown of owner and winemaker Erik Miller.  That’s a coastal cypress tree you see on the label, not a palm tree.  It signifies Miller’s move west, where he started the winery in 2004.

Kokomo Winery is located in the Dry Creek Valley, a place renowned for Zinfandel.  The winery’s goal is to produce ultra-premium wines from the finest vineyards in Sonoma County — something they definitely achieved with the 2007 Zinfandel.

The wine is 96% Zinfandel and 4% Petite Sirah, with the Zinfandel coming from three vineyards in Sonoma County.  The wine is aged in 30% new French and American oak.

Deep purple-magenta in color, the wine has intense aromas of black fruit, leather and smoke.  Jammy flavors of blackberry, plum, cherry cola and raspberry mingle with layers of black pepper, allspice and dark chocolate.  Lush and velvety in the mouth, the flavors culminate in a long, lingering finish that has a hint of wood smoke.  Full and earthy, this wine is one you’ll want to savor — but so good you’ll need to remind yourself to sip it slowly.

Enjoy the Zinfandel with steak, lamb, hamburgers or smoked red meats.

A bottle of the 2007 Kokomo Sonoma County Zinfandel costs $18.

14.1% alcohol by volume

Need to Open a Bottle? There’s an App for That

Checking the weather, reading a book, looking up directions, even wasting time by killing pigs with some very angry birds — there’s an app for that.  And the next time you want to open up a bottle of beer, there’s an app for that too.

Introducing the iBottle Opener, an iPhone case that has a built in bottle opener.

The case has a hard shell and a soft-touch finish, with the bottle opener on the back.  It’s made in China from plastic and metal.

The iBottle Opener comes in two sizes: one for the iPhone 3G/3GS and another for the iPhone 4G.

The iBottle Opener costs $20 and can be purchased online at UncommonGoods.com.

Your phone and a bottle opener — the two most important items for a night out.

image from Uncommon Goods

AG Pick Under $15: Pares Balta Brut

Don’t wait until a special occasion to break out the bubbly.  Make any night of the week special with Parés Baltà Brut, a great deal at $11 a bottle.

Parés Baltà Brut is a Cava, Spain’s version of sparkling wine.  Just like Champagne it is made using the traditional method, with the second fermentation taking place in the bottle.  Unlike Champagne, which is made from Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier (and comes with a much higher price tag), this Cava is made from the Spanish grapes Parellada, Macabeo and Xarel.lo.

Parés Baltà is a family owned winery in the Penedès region of northeast Spain.  Their vineyards are influenced by a mix of soils and microclimates, along with the nearby Mediterranean Sea.  The winery has been certified organic since 2004.

Click here to read about a visit to Parés Baltà

For a sparkling wine, the Brut is extremely flavorful.  Aromas of toasty citrus and apple introduce dry flavors of golden pear, yellow apples and grapefruit.  With well balanced acidity and a nicely textured mouthfeel, it’s a pleasing sip, right through the fresh, crisp finish.

Pair the Parés Baltà Brut with shellfish, seafood, salads and light pasta dishes — or enjoy a glass on its own on a weeknight!

Parés Baltà Brut is $11 a bottle.

11.5% alcohol by volume

AG Pick: Yarden Syrah 2005

If you were to taste this wine without seeing the label, you might think it was from the northern Rhône region in France.  Elegant with earthy notes and good acidity, it displays characteristics of an Old World wine.  Once the label is revealed, it would certainly be surprising that this red comes from Israel, a country that’s now producing delicious wines.

The 2005 Yarden Syrah comes from the Galilee, Israel’s most northern appellation.  Galilee includes the Golan Heights, a volcanic plateau that is the coldest region in Israel.  This Syrah is made with grapes from one vineyard in the northern Golan and two vineyards in the central Golan.

The cooler weather and the somewhat difficult growing season are evident in the wine.  As described by the winemaking team at Yarden, below average temperatures over the summer led to a “hectic, relatively short harvest.”  The resulting vintage has higher acidity and somewhat restrained flavors — quite different than the big, bold Syrahs of central California.

Purple-red in color, the 2005 Yarden Syrah has aromas of black fruit and smoke.  On the palate, layers of blackberry, plum and boysenberry mingle with tobacco, leather and black pepper.  In the mouth it’s silky without being heavy, with a lingering spicy finish.  A touch of oak from 18 months in small French barrels adds complexity.

Pair the Yarden Syrah with lamb, filet mignon or full-flavored chicken or pasta dishes.

The wine is Kosher, though its appeal extends far beyond those who observe these dietary laws.

A bottle of the 2005 Yarden Syrah costs $25.

14.5% alcohol by volume

Rocks for Your "On the Rocks" Drink

Scotch, Whisky and even soda fans take note —  the next time you want a drink “on the rocks” you can actually enjoy it on the rocks.

This set of granite drink chillers is a great gift for anyone who enjoys fine spirits.  Beyond their visual appeal, the stones are an excellent alternative to ice cubes because they will keep any beverage cool without diluting the flavor.

To enjoy a drink on the rocks: chill the stones in the freezer, then add one or two to your favorite beverage.  In just a few minutes your drink will be the right temperature.

Each set comes with six granite pieces that were hand crafted from stones collected on New England beaches.  The accompanying hardwood tray can be used for freezing and serving.

The stones are dishwasher safe which makes for easy cleanup.

The “On the Rocks” granite stone set costs $30 and is available online at UncommonGoods.com.

image from Uncommon Goods

Charming Decatur Bistro Debuts New Executive Chef

When dining out in Decatur, a likely destination is the courthouse square with its numerous bars and restaurants.  But if you venture out a little ways you’ll find that the town’s charm isn’t confined to this one spot.  It’s also captured inside Wahoo! Grill.

With train tracks across the street and an auto body shop to the side, the location may throw you off; inside is a different world.  Stepping through the door you enter a welcoming and cozy atmosphere, warmed by the heat and aromas coming from the open kitchen.

I was invited to dine at Wahoo! a couple of weeks ago for an introduction to the restaurant’s new Executive Chef.  Recently promoted to the top position, England native Christian Speigal has been honing his skills at Atlanta restaurants since 1998.

Wahoo! Grill aims to be hip yet homey, achieved by Chef Speigal’s creative approach to dishes that incorporate locally grown and sourced ingredients.  The menu is an eclectic mix of traditional Southern favorites and European bistro cuisine.

The flash fried polenta is a great introduction to Wahoo! Grill’s offerings.  It is served with goat cheese and locally grown organic mushrooms in a roasted red pepper coulis, with black truffle olive oil adding an extra layer of flavor.

Standing out as an entree is the Georgia trout, which is sautéed and topped with pesto butter and sugared pecans.  It’s a delicious mix of savory and a hint of sweet, with a nice crunch from the pecans.  The accompanying white cheddar grits and mustard greens are excellent.

I was a little disappointed with the restaurant’s namesake fish — blackened wahoo that is topped with a tomato-caper vinaigrette and served over garden herb rice.  Though I liked the spices, the fish was a bit dry for my tastes.  Wahoo is also offered as an appetizer (fish tacos with avocado-tomato salsa, napa cabbage slaw and cilantro cream), which I did not try.

For dessert you can’t go wrong with the bread pudding, warm and rich with a Kentucky bourbon glaze.  Fortunately there’s a bigger portion available if you plan to share.

To drink, Wahoo! offers a variety of cocktails and many of their wines by the glass.  I enjoyed a Petite Sirah/Cabernet Franc blend from California, a wine I had not seen at other restaurants.  Couples and single diners will want to take note of the restaurant’s bar, which provides an alternative to table dining.

As the temperatures continue to drop, seek warmth at Wahoo! Grill, a cozy and inviting neighborhood bistro.

Wahoo! Grill is located at 1042 West College Avenue in Decatur, Georgia. (404) 373-3331 

Wahoo! Grill is open for dinner nightly, with lunch on Fridays and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Appetizers average around $10.  Entrees range from $10 for sandwiches and vegetarian dishes, to just over $20 for seafood and steak.  Monday through Thursday Wahoo! offers a three-course dinner menu for $19 that has a choice of appetizer, a salad and choice of entree.

AG Pick: Galil Mountain Viognier 2008

Whether you’re celebrating Hanukkah or are looking for a new and exciting wine, look to the oldest New World winemaking country — Israel.

A great introduction is the 2008 Viognier from Galil Mountain Winery.  It is a flavorful dry white wine that will appeal to a variety of tastes, not just to those who keep Kosher.

Though winemaking there dates back to biblical times, Israel is still considered a New World wine country.  It really wasn’t until the 1990s that their wines got recognition around the world.  Today you’ll find Israeli wines at top restaurants and at your local wine shop.

Founded in 2000, Galil Mountain Winery is located in the Upper Galilee in northern Israel.  At over 3,280 feet above sea level, the vineyards are situated on one of Israel’s highest mountain ranges.

The 2008 Galil Mountain Viognier is a rich, medium-bodied white wine with added complexity from time in oak.  Forty percent of the wine was fermented in new French oak barrels and aged on yeast lees for six months.  The remaining 60% that underwent cold fermentation in stainless steel preserves the wine’s bright fruit characteristics.

Pale gold in color, the Viognier is very aromatic with notes of tart citrus and tropical fruit.  On the palate are flavors of pineapple, lemon, apricot and white peach, with a touch of vanilla from the oak.  The wine is silky in the mouth with a lingering finish that has a hint of lemon peel.  It is high in alcohol for a white wine; you may notice some warmth at the end of your first few sips.

The Galil Mountain Viognier pairs well with flavorful chicken and seafood dishes or spicy Asian cuisine.  And just in time for Hanukkah, it’s a great match for potato latkes!

A bottle of the Galil Mountain Winery Viognier 2008 costs $15.

15% alcohol by volume