Festive Fizz: a Handy Guide

champagne glasses

Though we’re fans of bubbles all year long, there’s something special about ringing in the new year with a glass of something festive and fizzy.

Unfortunately, because sparkling is usually reserved for celebrations, it’s a misunderstood category – what the heck does Grand Cru mean?  Is vintage better than non-vintage?  And how do you open the stuff without putting someone’s eye out?

Firstly, true Champagne can only come from the tiny region of Champagne in Northern France, and must be made in the traditional method and meet certain quality specifications.  Everything else is sparkling wine.  But being Champagne doesn’t automatically make a wine good, and being a mere ‘sparkling wine,’ doesn’t make a wine substandard.   It’s New Years, though, so let’s concentrate on Champagne.

The first distinction to make with Champagne is between vintage and non-vintage.  Non-vintage is the most common style, and usually the least expensive and most consistent.  That ubiquitous yellow bottle is an example of a non-vintage bottling.  Usually labeled with an ‘NV,’ non-vintage Champagne is a blend of a selection of base wines (still wine that hasn’t become fizzy yet) from several vintages.  The master blender at a given Champagne house uses his judgement and palate to create a consistent style from year to year, and this blending method helps him do this.

Vintage Champagne is Champagne made from a specific years’ harvest, just like most of the still wine we’re used to.  In Champagne, it’s usually made only in exceptional years and meant to showcase differences in vintage character, as opposed to the style of the house like non-vintage bottlings.

When you see a designation like “Grand Cru” on a bottle, like you would with our delicious grower Champagnes from Eric Rodez and Pierre Paillard, that means that all of the grapes that went into the wine come from villages in Champagne with the highest quality ranking.  In Champagne, the villages are ranked, as opposed to, say, Bordeaux, where the producers are ranked, or Burgundy, where the vineyards are ranked.  Confused yet?  Good!

Many people shy away from Champagne not only because of the expense, but because of stage fright when it comes to opening the bottle.  There are a few different methods to opening sparkling wine, but the two most important things to remember are to always point the wine away from people (and anything breakable!), and to make sure the wine is nice and cold.  And remember, the object is to keep as much of the fizz in the bottle as possible, so you want a quiet hiss as opposed to a loud pop.  Here’s a video on how to properly open sparkling wine:

You don’t have to wear a suit, or use a napkin, or do it in a fancy wine cellar, but you get the gist!

And here’s a fun demo on sabering Champagne – but remember, don’t try this at home!

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Party Planning Tips for the Holidays and Beyond

This is the week for holiday parties, and if you’re hosting, between last-minute gifts and party prep, you may be feeling a bit panicked.  Never fear – we’re here to help!  Copies of these tips are available in the store if you’d like a handy copy.

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Drinks.  How much wine do you need?  Less than you think!  Here’s a formula that usually works:

  • Number of adult guests  x  .75  x  (Number of hours + 1) = Drinks to pour
  • Drinks to pour ÷ 7 = Bottles of wine or beer needed

So, for 50 people at a four-hour cocktail party you’d need about 26 bottles, but might want to buy 36 to have some extra (and reduce worry that you’ll run out!)

Increase the number of bottles if:

  • You use bigger wine glasses
  • Waiters do pouring
  • You are serving cocktail wines followed by dinner wines for a seated meal
  • You’re really sure this is a crowd of serious drinkers!

Unless there’s a reason to believe otherwise, plan on equal amounts of red, white, and sparkling wine.  More red in cooler weather, more white/fizz in warmer times.  And, if you pour everyone sparkling wine to start, many will continue to drink it all night long.

The bigger the group, the simpler you should keep things – four wines is plenty of choice during a cocktail hour and two are more than enough for a seated meal.

Be a responsible host – have the number of a cab company handy, just in case.

Nibbles.  It’s sad, but almost no one eats the vegetables.  People come to a party to eat something crunchy, fried, and/or wrapped in bacon, not something healthy!

Canapes should be easy to eat with one hand.  Avoid passed munchies that have leftover bits like toothpicks, shells, etc., that guests are left awkwardly holding.

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Add cards or signs to cheese plates so guests know what they’re sampling – it adds to the fun and sparks conversation.  (We’re happy to make these for you – just ask!)

And our final, most important tip is to always do the dishes and clean up the night of the party, no matter how late it is.  Trust us on this one.

One of Our Favorite Things (Besides wine, of course!)


DPC LRSS display

Yes, there’s more to life than wine – there’s chocolate, too!  And no one does chocolate better than Bailey Kasten and Double Premium Confections.  See for yourself – Bailey will be here Saturday to show off a huge assortment of her most popular treats, including the simply divine sea salt caramel truffle!

Though she is quiet and unassuming in person, Bailey walks on the wild side with her chocolates.  As sole chocolatier for Double Premium Confections, DPC for short, that she runs along with her husband Saif, she creates bold flavors for her bars and bon bons like Pumpkin Spice, Honey Vanilla Caramel, Rose, and Earl Grey.

By far her most popular creation is her Hawaiian Sea Salt Caramels: gooey, chewy caramel covered in dark chocolate and sprinkled with Hawaiian sea salt, they are so addictive we find ourselves wondering is there is some secret ingredient (besides lack of willpower) that makes the box disappear so quickly!

Sweet and salty, spices and flowers – this is familiar territory in the world of gourmet confections at this point, but what makes Bailey’s interpretation of these flavors so bold is the way she translates them into her chocolates.  Entirely self-trained, she doesn’t rely on pastry school techniques, tried and true recipes, or pre-fab bases or flavorings.  All of her flavors come from the real thing.  If it says pumpkin on the box, there’s real pumpkin in your chocolate, and their chocolate bars with nuts contain whole, roasted nuts instead of broken, pulverized pieces.  She also doesn’t skimp on the chocolate, using a blend of two high-quality brands as the base for her creations.

Stop by the shop this Saturday to meet Bailey and try her delicious chocolates.  They make perfect stocking stuffers – or holiday shopping stress relievers.  We promise, you’ll be hooked!

Go Big or Go Home!

mazis big and little

We say it all the time, but it really is true.  Everything tastes better from a magnum (1.5 liter) bottle.  We know they can be a little bit intimidating, but don’t be scared!  Here are a few reasons why this holiday season, you should learn to stop worrying, and love the large formats:

They’re not as expensive as you think.  We have large-format bottles that start at $99.99 – a steal for a magnum of true Champagne.  We also have an incredible, 1er Cru Burgundy for less than $200.  See, not so scary!

Relax! It’s only two bottles.  Often when we suggest a large format bottle for a customer, their eyes get wide, and they say, oh, no, we couldn’t possibly drink that much!   A magnum is only the equivalent of two bottles.  If you’ve got six people coming over for a dinner party, that’s less than two glasses per person.  We  know, it looks decadent and crazy, and ‘too much,’ but that wine will be gone by the end of the night, we promise.

They’re not just for aging.  There’s a wine industry truism that wine ages more gracefully in larger bottles, but we’ve found that wine tastes better at every point in its life from a larger bottle.  The aging and oxidation process is slower and more graceful because there is a lower air-to-wine ratio in a larger bottle.  Wine is just happier in a larger bottle.

They look great.  Seriously, does anything look as wonderful as a big bottle of a favorite wine on a table surrounded by family and friends?

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They make impressive gifts.  Nothing will make that friend or family member who ‘has everything’ go ‘wow!’ like a big  bottle.  It’s festive and says, ‘invite some friends over and have a party!’

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They’re often overlooked.  Since the psychological barrier is so high on magnums (but not for you, since you’re in the know now!), you can often find really interesting, unusual wines in  large format that get snapped up in regular sizes right away.  For instance, we have these beautiful magnums from Dom Weinbach (these are available individually as well), two of which we don’t even have in regular-sized bottles.

So, if you’re scrambling for a great gift for someone on your list, or you want to pull out something impressive at your holiday party, go for a magnum!

2010 Burgundy With Olivier Daubresse

guillon lisa bocetti + daughterOn our annual trip to Burgundy last year, we started to realize just how exciting the 2010 vintage was, but now that the wines are being released, it’s official.  The purity, focus, and grace of these wines  is unmatched in recent memory.  So, when we got the chance to show all of our favorite 2010 releases from Jean Michel Guillon with his importer Olivier Daubresse, we said, yes, please!

First up was the Marsannay Clos des Portes, which was our pick for holiday drinking.  It showed beautifully as always, and from there it just got better!

guillon bottles

The Nuits St. George was surpisingly elegant, considering the reputation of the area for muscular, powerful wines.  The Gevrey Chambertin Pere Galland, named for Jean Michel’s winemaking mentor, however, definitely showed the ‘blood and iron’ side of red Burgundy.  Powerful, dense and mineral, it will cellar beautifully.  guillon olivier + doug

Doug and Olivier were both on hand to give their perspective on Burgundy in general, and the 2010 vintage in particular.  Anyone who’s met Olivier knows how knowledgeable he is when it comes to all wines French, but traveling with him in Burgundy makes it clear that it is his happy place.  So, it was a pleasure to listen to his stories and thoughts on this region that is so close to his heart.

To top off the evening, we tasted the epic Grand Cru Mazis-Chambertin.  Tasting through the village and 1er Cru wines first allowed us to fully appreciate the step up in intensity and elegance that separates the Grand Crus from the pack.

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The Mazis-Chambertin is unfortunately sold out, but we still have good stock of the 1er Crus, including the sleeper hit of the evening, the 1er Cru Petit Chappelle.  Despite coming from a 1er Cru vineyard, in Jean Michel’s capable hands, it borders on Grand Cru quality most years, and 2010 was no exception.

Thanks to Olivier, Doug, and all of you who took time out of your busy holiday season schedules to taste with us.  Click here to check out everything you missed!  And don’t forget, there are still a few spaces left in our annual Champagne class – call or email us to snap one up!

Giving the Gift of Wine, Part 2: Friends and Family

gift 2 12.04.12Now we’re moving on to the more personal, potentially fraught gift-giving category: friends and family.  It’s one thing if your neighbor doesn’t love the Prosecco you gave her (is it humanly possible not to love fruity, fizzy wine?), but what about your best friend, or your spouse? Giving a wine gift that hits just the right notes, that is personal, yet enjoyable, can be tricky.  Here some things to think about.

old wine bottleThat One Perfect Bottle?  Often we see customers set on the idea of finding that one perfect bottle for a friend or relative.  But sometimes that one impressive bottle can seem more like a challenge than a gift.  The recipient ends up wondering, when is the ‘right time’ to open this?  What do I eat with it?  Am I doing this right?!

Instead of one perfect bottle, how about 3 or 12?  Presenting someone with an assortment of great wines they’ll love that are more ‘Saturday Night’ than ’25th Anniversary’ can take the pressure off and ensure that they’ll actually open and enjoy the bottles you picked for them.  We’re always heartbroken when we go through a customers’ collection and find bottles that are well past their prime because their owner never found the right time to open them – a tragic fate for any gift!

Consider a Theme. Related to the assortment suggestion is to consider a theme when putting together a group of wines.  Of course, one of our $99 or 90-Point Case Samplers is a great choice.  But if you want to do something a little different, tell us about the recipient.  Does he love barbecue?  Let us put together an assortment of wines that are great for spicy food.  Did your best friend Sally spend a semester in Paris when she was 21 and hasn’t stopped sighing about the chic little bistros?  We’ll help you put together a great assortment of everyday French wines that will take her back.

When you approach connecting to the recipients’  travel or experiences this way, finding a great gift is much easier.  Deciding to try and find an exact wine your friend Sally had can end up being more trouble than it’s worth, as the wines you have when you’re actually in the country aren’t always available in the US.  So, think ‘an assortment of wines from the Piedmont’ rather than ‘here, I found the exact wine you had in that restaurant, Harry!’  You’ll save yourself a potential headache, freeing time for more pressing holiday season tasks like eating cookies and drinking Champagne.  It’s important to have priorities.

Hunting for specific vintages can be similarly frustrating.  If you’re looking for a recent vintage, the world’s your oyster.  If your target vintage is longer ago than about 10 years, finding a wine of quality that’s affordable can be really, really difficult.  As with the travel example, loosening up your theme can make your life much easier.

Giving a gift that the recipient has never had before, and isn’t a well-known brand can seem like a leap, but with a little finessing, it doesn’t have to be.  Instead of presenting your friend or family member with a bottle and leaving them to figure it out, include a card with a little explanation.  It doesn’t have to be long.  It can be something like, “Hi Susan!  Congratulations on your promotion.  Here’s a bottle of Champagne from a unique winemaker who marches to the beat of his own drum, just like you!  Try this with smoked salmon or duck.  Cheers!”

If you’re shipping your gift, be sure to leave plenty of time, and check out this page if you’re interested in local delivery.  Let us take something off your plate!

It may be a cliché, but it really is the thought that counts in gift giving, not the dollars spent or points a wine has earned.  And with that, we bid you happy shopping, and a wonderful holiday season.

Annual Champagne Tasting

fizz1doug+classThere’s just something about bubbles – as soon as the fizz starts flowing, it’s a party!  It’s the reason our Annual Champagne Tasting is one of our most popular classes, and this year has been no exception.  In fact, it’s so popular that we’re having two sessions this year, so if all of these highlights look tempting, give us a call or email and we’ll sign you up for Round 2 on Dec. 27 – just in time for New Years’ Eve.

Another exciting addition this year were the delicious nibbles from Jacques Imperato of Mediterranee Restaurant.  Chef Jacques prepared salmon rillettes, risotto balls, leek and mushroom cigars, and these beautiful quail eggs in crispy toasts.  All crispy, crunchy, savory appetizers perfect for Champagne.  If you’re looking for ideas for your own fizz fest this holiday season, check out this helpful roundup of appetizer ideas that are perfect with sparkling wine.

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We tasted through most of the offerings from Pierre Paillard, one of our favorite grower producers from the Grand Cru village in Champagne famous for Pinot Noir, Bouzy.  There was also a sophisticated Blanc de Blancs from Guy Larmandier, an aromatic, Burgundy-like rosé from Jean Vesselle, and a nutty, savory Brut from Ayala.  For many, though, the wine of the night, at least until we came to the last two wines, was the Pierre Paillard Blanc de Noirs, a serious, full-bodied Champagne from the estate’s best Pinot Noir vineyard.

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The last two wines, the Krug Grand Cuvee Brut NV and Pol Roger’s 1999 Cuvee Winston Churchill, were divisive, with the class split pretty much down the middle as to who liked which of these top-quality luxury cuvees.  At least we got to see what all the fuss is about!

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Thanks to Chef Jacques, and everyone who came out to make Round 1 of our Champagne class such a sparkling (sorry, couldn’t resist!) evening.  Explore the links below to see what you missed, and call (703-356-6500) or email (wine team@chainbridgecellars.com) the shop to snap up one of the last few spots for Round 2 on Dec. 27.

Pierre Paillard Bouzy Grand Cru Brut NV

Ayala Champagne Brut Majeur NV

Pierre Paillard Champagne Blanc de Blanc “Acte 1” 2007

Guy Larmandier Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru NV

Pierre Paillard Champagne Blanc de Noirs “Acte 1” 2007

Vesselle Rose de Saignee Brut NV