Break Out the Bubbly Without Breaking the Bank: Sparkling Wine 101

Bust out the bubbles, it’s time to celebrate!

Ah, champagne… flying corks, foaming bottles, glittering crystal champagne flutes, hearty dinner toasts brimming with pomp, glamorous soirees swirling with evening gowns, tuxedos, and string quartets. These are the usual images that come to my mind when I hear the word “champagne.” For many of us, champagne seems elite, unknowable, and seldom appropriate. In our minds, it is reserved only for extremely special occasions (for whatever reason) or it seems too complex and distant to be enjoyed. I aim to change your thinking! Champagne is within your reach and you might be surprised by its potential once you start exploring it more.

For the record, champagne is not truly champagne unless it is produced and bottled in Champagne, France. Anything else is technically a sparkling wine. “Champenoise” refers to the method and style in which champagne is made. If you’d like to read more about this specific process of “methode champenoise,” read here.

I haven’t had much opportunity to try true champagnes, so if you’re reading this and you feel it upon your heart to expand this wine blogger’s horizon into the elevated world of fine French champagnes, be my guest and send me a bottle!

This time of year there is no shortage of graduations and accompanying festivities, honoring those who have completed their educations, be it victorious triumph or barely skating through (also a feat worthy of celebration!). It’s a highly-charged, emotional time, both for the graduate and the loved ones who have supported the graduate along the way, and such occasions call for fine food and drinks to make the celebrations memorable and meaningful. It’s also summer (theoretically, in Seattle) and therefore an opportune time for a chilled, fizzy alcoholic beverage like sparkling wine.

Mumm Napa Valley Cuvee is a fine sparkling wine whose price won’t cause a heart attack and whose quality won’t leave you with a raging headache. I find this wine smooth, refreshingly drinkable and with interesting flavors. It even works well in a mimosa (sparkling wine and orange juice). My husband and I got some as a housewarming gift when we purchased our first home. Nothing makes you feel more grown up than buying a house and being given “champagne” to boot!

The tasting notes are so romantic and poetic, I have the urge to put on a Jane Austen movie and throw a tea party: “Cuvée M is a modern, slightly sweet sparkling release. Light peach rose in the glass, aromas are elegant, rich and complex, showing fresh white and yellow stone fruits with subtle hints of wild strawberry. A heady touch of fresh brioche, with hints of vanilla and honey add to the wine’s complex bouquet. Flavors of peach and pear combine with a creamy caramel character, on a long, satisfying finish. Great for champagne cocktails or as an aperitif with hors d’oeuvres. Cuvee M also matches up beautifully to creamy desserts [and] spicy entrées. Enjoy.”

So far this year I have been to two graduations. One was a very moving high school graduation, for a private high school with six graduating seniors in the class, all of whom had overcome major obstacles in their education. The other was for a friend who obtained his master’s degree from a large public university, with English not being his first language. His mother traveled across the globe to be with her son on that day. I wanted to share the beautiful toast she spoke at his graduation dinner: “For the music in our souls! Let the music in our souls always sound for those we love and care for and those who love and care for us.”

I could not end on a more perfect note. Cheers!

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Taking Center Stage: Single Varietal Cabernet Franc Shines


In an orchestra, every musician is important and must play his part fully, but it is the principal of each instrumental section that garners the most attention and praise. Although Cabernet Franc may frequently play second fiddle to virtuoso Cabernet Sauvignon, it has been emerging lately and more frequently in starring solo performances such as this. It’s gaining credibility and standing on its own two feet.

Cabernet Franc is traditionally a blending grape used in Bordeaux blends (along with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec, Petit Verdot and occasionally Carmenere). Because of its tartness, tight structure, and other qualities, it is not normally featured as a “soloist” in a wine or wine blend. Cabernet Sauvignon is more commonly consumed as a single varietal than Cabernet Franc. But there are some wonderful, compelling Cabernet Francs, and this, I think, is one of them.

Corvidae The Keeper 2010 Cabernet Franc Columbia Valley is a bold and precocious soloist. This wine has an interesting aroma: tobacco, floral – rose, pepper. The flavor is so big at the very end it’s almost like you literally have to chew it. It’s tart, but with a big, explosive plush mouth feel at the finish. This wine will shine at its best when paired with the right foods. In its review, it proves itself a versatile and highly competent contender with other varietals.

From the tasting notes: “Plush and velvety, full-bodied and easy drinking. The scent and flavors knock you out – spice joins black tea, fresh tobacco, thyme, sweet cedar chips, blackberries and cassis. When Cabernet Franc is made from well ripened fruit (as this wine is), it combines plush fruit and interesting accent notes with body that stands well with rich roasted and grilled meats. This deliciously large version of Cab Franc is smoother than Cabernet Sauvignon, less earthy than Merlot, approachable like Aussie Syrah and spicy like a smooth Zinfandel. There’s few options to pair this wine incorrectly, but try these especially: green peppercorn roasted pork tenderloin, hearty lasagna, or braised chicken with wild mushroom ragout.”

This is a wine I would put in the “very interesting, worth trying” category. It is made by a very talented and acclaimed Washington winemaker, David O’Reilly, whose wineries are under the names O’Reilly’s and Owen Roe. You can read more about him here. The Keeper might not be for everybody, but I know many of you will enjoy it… or at least be surprised by what it can do!

So, give overlooked Cabernet Franc a fighting chance! Take a break from Cabernet Sauvignon and sit back and indulge in this dazzling, delightful Cabernet Franc.

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

How You Like Them Apples?

Even MIT wunderkinds endorse the virtues of spirited apple wine… in a bar in Boston, no less!

Finnriver’s Spirited Apple Wine Reveals the Magnificence of Washington Apples

We all need a change of scenery from time to time. Our palates need it, too. Man cannot live on wine alone, so when you’re tired of ink-stained teeth, saturated with sauvignon blanc and melancholy from merlot, consider this very appealing alternative for your liquor cabinet. (Yes, I will be writing about liquor periodically!)

Finnriver is one of my recent favorite discoveries. They are an organic farm located near Port Townsend, WA and they make first-rate hard ciders and liqueurs from farm-fresh fruit, using traditional artisan methods. (Brief, important tangent: try their dry-hopped pear cider for something truly refreshing and interesting!)

Their Spirited Apple Wine will shake up your taste buds. Even if you’ve tried other craft ciders and brandies, I don’t think you will have tried anything quite as deliciously different as this. Best of all, once you open it, since it’s a spirit it will keep for a long time in a cool, dark place. It’s great on its own or for mixing. Martinelli’s will soon be a bygone, a distant memory.

From the tasting notes: “The wholesome apple may surprise you with the sultry side revealed in this sumptuous spirited apple wine, handcrafted on our Olympic Peninsula family farm. After fermenting the fruit, we capture the tantalizing sweetness of the apples by fortifying with custom-distilled apple brandy. May this bottle of Finnriver Spirited Apple Wine bring you warmth and good cheer. Alcohol content 18.5%. Our Spirited Apple Wine won a Bronze Medal from the Great Lakes International Cider and Perry Competition.”

Another reason I really like Finnriver is their insistence on the inherent star quality of the apple. Currently in Washington (perhaps Oregon, too), dozens of acres of prime apple orchards are being decimated to make room for vineyards, due to the explosion of winemaking, to meet the demands of the wine craze. This is understandable, to an extent; agricultural landscapes change to accommodate consumer preferences (remember when Red Delicious was one of only three types of apples at the grocery store?) Yet it grieves me to hear this. As a native Washingtonian, I have a special place in my heart for our state’s prized fruit… as any Floridian would have for oranges. I’m also reading Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life at the moment, so I’m extra wary of drastic changes in farming and the vanishing varieties of produce on our planet. It amazes me we can let things go so easily sometimes.

Fortunately, the tides are turning just a wee bit, and others are recognizing the massive potential of cider as a great tasting alcoholic beverage. Finnriver is one of the best cheerleaders for Washington apples that I know of, and I’m proud to jump on their bandwagon. I think you will, too.

*Note from Finnriver: “One interesting note: the Spirited Apple Wine is not classified as a liquor but as a fortified wine, so it can be purchased and sold at wine shops in WA state. (Of course that is all changing now…)”

© Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Brenna Arnesen and The Rambling Vine with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.