Gloria Ferrer – a little history

On our recent trip to the California Coast we had the opportunity to stop for a tasting at Gloria Ferrer Caves & Vineyard.  Located in Carneros, which is the Southern end of Sonoma County Wine Region, this is a sparkling wine house.

The Ferrers

The Ferrers have a little bit of wine history.  The family has been growing wine since the 1500s.  They own La Freixendeda (which means “ash tree grove” in Catalan) outside of Barcelona Spain which is an 11th century farming estate.  From the estate name comes “Freixenet” the famous Cava from Spain.  Yep, they own that too.

Freixenet

The story of Freixenet, goes like this: Pedro Ferrer marries Dolores Sala (from another winemaking family). Phylloxera hit Spain as they got married wiping out vineyards.  The two replanted their vineyards with white wine varieties and decided to make sparkling wine.  The first bottles of Freixenet (which was Pedro’s childhood nickname) were released in 1914. You are sure to have had one of those signature black bottles at some point.

There have been lots of articles out recently about Cava and Prosecco, and the one thing that stands largest among the difference between the two (other than grapes and location) is the method in which they are made.  Cava is made in the Traditional Method (like champagne) where the secondary fermentation is done in bottle.  This produces much smaller and more persistent bubbles.

Cava is made with 3 primary types of grapes Macabeo, Xarello and Parellada.

Vineyards Gloria Ferrer Carneros Sonoma County

Vineyards over the lavender at Gloria Ferrer

Gloria Ferrer

José and Gloria Ferrer came to California in the 70’s on a road trip.  They fell in love with Sonoma and wanted to come and build a winery here.  The Ferrer Team knew that they wanted to make méthode champenoise wine in New World terroir and that to do that they would need Pinot Noir.  They acquired Pinot and Chardonnay clones from Champagne and brought them to plant in Carneros. They purchased 100 acres from three cattle ranches in Sonoma to plant the original vines in 1982 and in 1986 they opened the beautiful winery with the Vista Terrace for visitors to enjoy the wine and the view.  They now farm 335 acres of Vineyards, still primarily Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

The vines at Gloria Ferrer are hand farmed and many of the original crew that planted the grapes 30 years ago are still a part of the process.

The Winery and Vista Terrace

The Winery which opened in 1986 was designed like a Catalan Farmhouse originally, with wooden beams and old world charm. The caves were the first built in the area. The president of the Catalan Government actually came to cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony.   When they decided to update the tasting room they worked with a Catalan interior designer, Isa Rodriguez (he also designed the Freixenet’s building in Spain). The modern tasting room still includes the wooden beams, but in a much more modern aesthetic.

So while modern tasting room is stunning, the view will draw you out to the Vista Terrace.  This is a civilized tasting, you don’t stand at a bar, you are escorted to a table where you can enjoy glasses or flights.  They have expanded the Vista Terrace to have an area reserved for Wine Club Members as well as lots of additional room for other guests.

There are umbrellas for shade, but the morning that we were there it was early and the sky’s were still a little cloudy allowing us a comfortable and cool tasting right on the edge of the terrace, with expansive views out onto the front vineyard blocks as well as to the South which are part of the “Home Ranch” and just a little further south to the Circle Bar Ranch.  Well, so much for the view, our next post will tell you about the tasting.  Bubbles to Start the day – at Gloria Ferrer

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Spanish Wines via the Grocery Store

Spanish Wine guide

I have dreams of Not being a grocery store wine buyer, but….when Michael and I pick up a bottle at a winery, it’s special and I won’t open it without him. Unfortunately due to our schedules we typically can only enjoy a bottle together twice a week. If I have time off and he is working, I want to enjoy a glass anyway, hence grocery store wine buying.

Now typically we are Trader Joe’s people but sometimes we run into the local Smiths to pick up something quick and on one trip we found a huge Taste of Spain display. Intrigued, we picked up a selection of 6 of the Spanish wines they had and a pairing guide. I will applaud Smiths for this. I know that these will be larger exporter wines and might possibly be geared toward the typical American palate, but I am more than willing to give it a go. So…join me (and sometimes Michael) on a little Spanish Wine journey!

Spanish Wine guide

A Taste of Spain guide

Here are the wines we picked up:

The Spanish Wines

Bella Conshi Brut Rose

El Pensador Tempranillo

Las Rocas Garnacha

Martin Codax Albarino

Tablao Tempranillo

Val de Vid Verdejo

So… 3 reds, 2 whites and a sparkling wine.

Pairings

Within the guide it gave basic tasting notes as well as Cheese pairings. Suggesting Garrotxa and Mahon with the White & sparkling wines and Drunken Goat or Queso Iberico with the Garnacha. With the Tempranillo they recommended the Drunken Goat and a Young Manchego. You can expect that I will set out to pick some of those up this evening.

The flyer also has some recipes, including Albondigas with a Spicy Tomato Sauce meant to go with the Marque de Caceres Red or Garnacha (yes, these are not wines we picked up, I may try to remedy that when I get the cheese), Steak with Quince paste on Toast to pair with the Marques de Riscal Reserval (yep yet another), Jamon with Goat Cheese with the Val de Vid Verdejo (yep got that one!), Garlic Shrimp with the Pazo de Senorans Albarino (we might just do this with the other Albarino) and Patatas Bravas to pair with the El Pensador Verdejo (we will see if I pick up a bottle of that). Are you wondering what some of those things are? Me too, we will discover together.

And, did you think I was just going to recite what you might find in your local Smiths? Are you kidding? This is Crushed Grape Chronicles! We will explore details on the wines and regions, California wineries and their variations on these grapes, and expand our pairings immensely!

 

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Sparkling Wine, Champagne and those tiny bubbles

Champagne-splash

 

I had the opportunity to go to a Sparkling wine tasting last month.  Michael doesn’t do the sparkling wines so off I went on my own.  The tasting was seated and set up like a class and I did my research ahead of time to brush up on sparkling wines and learn a bit more.  I was prepared to travel the globe tasting Espumante from Portugal, Cava from Spain, Franciacorta, Trento and Asti from Italy, some Champagne and Cremant from France and maybe even some Sekt from Germany or Austria!  This tasting however drifted only briefly outside of France with the start being a Cava, the well known Rondel.  Not what I was expecting, but pretty spectacular none-the-less and as a result I probably tasted a great deal more champagne than my ticket price allowed for!

So…some sparkling wine basics to start with.  The bubbles were first looked at as a flaw, but the Brits got a taste and liked it!  During the 17th century the English glass production used coal ovens rather than wood like the French and were able to create a more durable bottle that could better withstand the pressure in sparkling wine.  Prior to this it was not unusual for a cellar to loose 20-90% of their bottles to instability.Champagne splash

How did it get to England and hook the Brits you ask?  Well Champagne is a cold region and sometimes the fermentation process would be prematurely halted due to the cold temperature leaving dormant yeast and some residual sugar in the bottle.  They would box up the wine and ship it to England, where it would warm up and begin a second fermentation in the bottle and thus when opened in jolly old England it would be bubbly!

There are two methods of making Champagne or sparkling wine.  The first is the Methode Traditionnelle and the second is Charmat.  Let’s hit the 2nd first because it is quick and easy to explain.  In this method the Champagne is made in large tanks and CO2 is added to add the bubbles.  This method is used for less expensive sparkling wines.  The bubbles tend to be larger and “rule of thumb”, the larger the bubbles the bigger the headache.  These bubbles tend to disperse quickly also.  Now onto the more complicated method “Methode Traditionnelle”

The Traditional method “Methode Traditionnelle” is much more complicated and time consuming and therefore much more expensive.  After harvest the grapes are put in vats for the first fermentation which can be up to a year.  Then the wines are carefully blended and may be blended with previous years wines to create the house style.  This is known as assemblage.  The idea for French champagne makers is to create a champagne that is consistent from year to year.  After assemblage the liquer de tirage is added.  This mixture of still wine, sugar and yeast is what will trigger the second fermentation.  The wines are then bottled and capped (with simple bottle caps (anyone remember those?).  Then the 2nd fermentation begins and can take 10 days to 3 months.  After the 2nd fermentation the next step is Remuage.  The bottles are transferred to “pupitres” which are rectangular boards where the bottles can rest almost upside down.  This allows the lees and sediment to collect in the neck of the bottle.  A process known as “riddling “ is applied here.  Originally “Riddlers” would slowly turn the bottles, a bit of a turn gently each day to get all the sediment to settle in the neck, now there are machines that assist with this.  After the riddling the wine will be aged again on its lees for a minimum of one year for non-vintage champagnes and at least 3 years for vintage champagnes.  This aging allows the lees to breakdown which is what gives Methode Traditionnelle sparkling wines their bouquet and flavor.  But we are not done yet…you don’t want all that lees clouding up your beautiful sparkling wine!  The next step is Degorgement where the sediment is removed.  The neck of the bottle is put into a nitrogen solution to freeze it.  Then the bottle is opened and the solid frozen plug of lees is removed.  How in the world did they figure out how to do this?  Well for this tradition thanks the Veuve Clicquot.  Veuve in French is widow and Madame Clicquot’s husband died during the bottling process.  Legend says that she could not figure out how to get the lees out of the bottles and in her frustration threw them out into the snow, where….the necks froze first allowing them to easily remove the lees.  The final stage is to add more sugar and still wine to again fill the neck where the lees was removed.  This last “dosage” as it is called, determines the wines sweetness which goes from Brut to Sec.  Strangely enough, Extra dry is not as dry as Brut.  The Brut labels were added later to indicate a dryer wine.  So there you go the quick version of making Champagne.  It is a bit of work!

ORondel Cava Brutkay on to the tasting.  We began as I mentioned with a Rondel Brut Cava.

This is a great sparkling wine from Spain made in the Methode Traditionnelle.  It is lovely on it’s own or in mimosas and is exceedingly affordable at around $7.99 per bottle.  We tasted a Brut which was lovely, but it is also available in a Demi-Sec if you lean toward sweeter wines.  I picked up a Demi-Sec to take home for Michael to mix in Mimosas.

Our next wine was a Cremant de Bourgongne.  So…a little explanation.  As of 1985 the sparkling wine regions outside of Champagne in Loir, Alsace and Burgundy agreed to no longer use the term Champagne.  This would be reserved only for the Champagne region.  Instead they would now use the term “Cremant”.  Cremant de Bourgogne can by law only be made with  Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grown in the Burgundy region and must be aged for a minimum of 9 months.  The Cremant we tasted was a Louis Bouillot Brut NV.  This was creamy yet dry with a nice finish.  At $15.99 it is a great value.

Now we stepped into Champagne.  The first we tasted was a Paul Goerg Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs.  Goerg is names after a respected 19th century Mayor of Vertus.  The chalky soils of Vertus lend a refreshing mineral quality to this wine.  3 years of aging adds to the wine’s complexity.  I loved the bubbles in this.  The bubbles were very fine and refreshing and the bit of minerality made it very refreshing.  It also had a lovely floral note to the nose.  Blanc de Blancs means white from whites in French, and as such this wine is 100% chardonnay (a white grape).  This was the wine I took home with a sensible $29.00 price tag.

Our next venture was into Grower Champagnes.  Now I have been hearing about these and was anxious to taste one!  To give a little perspective on this style of Champagne it’s good to know that there are 261 Champagne houses in Champagne.  There are 19,000 growers.  So for a grower to produce a Champagne is a rare thing.  We tasted a Georges Vesselle Grand Cru Brut.  There are 17 Grand Cru Villages with 100% ratings, 38 Premiere Cru Villages with 90-99% ratings and the remaining villages in Champagne are rated at 80-89%.  The ratings are depended on the Village and the soil type there.  This changed the system from one where price was based on the Champagne house to one based on where the grapes were grown. This wine was a bit toastier and had a nutty creamy quality to it.  This particular grower is in Bouzy and it is a small production with 42 acres planed n 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay.  It is a small family production.  This wine sells for around $40 per bottle.

The next wine was by the same grower and was a DeMargeire Grand Cru Burt Rose.  Champagne roses are like regular roses in that they can be made in two ways, you may allow the grapes to have contact with the skins early on to impart the pink color and some additional flavor or you may add pinot noir (or pinot meunier) in the final dosage.  This wine uses the former method and is a light salmon in color.  As with many roses you immediately get strawberry on the nose.  It had a lengthy finish and more than a little toast on the nose.  Roses are only about 3-5% of the Champagne Export so they are a little harder to come by.  This one retails at around $43.

From here we moved on to a Franck Bonville Grand Cru Vintage Brut. (I know there were a lot of wines to taste!).  This estate consists of 50 acres in the  Cremant, Aviz and Oger areas which are all classified as Grand Cru.  It is 100% Chardonnay and was aged for 5 years on it’s lees before release.  This was heavier on the yeast and had more light fruit.  It was medium in body.  More complex than the previous wines.  It goes for $49.99

The last of our dry Champagnes was Mailly Exception Blanche.  This wine is 100% Chardonnay.  This champagne will be great through 2022. It has flavors of tangerine and almond with a hint of minerality.  The bubbles are fine and the texture smooth.  This lovely Champagne will set you back $70.

Our final taste (well of Champagne) was a Mailly Delice Demi-Sec Grand Cru.  As a Demi-Sec it is sweeter so we finished with it.  It is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay.  It is a blend of the latest harvest with 40% being 10 years of reserve wines.  It is aged 2 yeas more on the lees than the Brut NV.  The extra aging makes this a fuller champagne.  It runs around $45 per bottle.

champagne glassesWe finished the night with some Georges Deboeuf As it was the 3rd Thursday of November and officially Beaujolais Nouveau day!  This seasons had hints of grape candy to me.  Reminded me of the tart smell of the Lik a Stik powdered candy.  Fun and fruity it is a gulping wine!  What a down to earth way to end the evening of sipping Champagnes!

So…I have a new understanding of Champagnes.  Time to make some Bellini’s and Caviar!  And Champagne and sparkling wines go with everything, so…If you don’t know what wine to take to that Thanksgiving dinner… pick up something with bubbles (smaller bubbles to make your head happier) it will go with everything and is bound to bring a smile!

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