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Sparkling wine labels can be confusing as heck. Traditional method, Charmat method, brut, extra dry, Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, BLAARGH...I just want bubbles in my glass!!! Here’s a handy guide to help you find the right bottle the next time you’re celebrating a promotion, an anniversary, or even a Tuesday.
Traditional Method - The method used for Champagne, Cremant, and other fine sparkling wines around the world. First, the grapes are picked and pressed, just like regular white wine. The juice is then fermented, usually in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels depending on the winemaker’s preference. The highly acidic still wines that are produced are called the vin clairs. These are blended with reserve wine from previous vintages (unless the producer wants to make a single vintage wine) before being bottled with a small amount of yeast and sugar. As the yeast ferments the sugar, it produces carbon dioxide. This trapped CO2 from the second fermentation stays in the bottles. Blammo, we’ve got bubbles.
As the yeasts die, they drop out of the wine and form sediment in the bottle known as lees. The amount of time a sparkling wine spends on the lees has a huge impact on its aroma and flavor, contributing notes of baking bread or roasted nuts which round out and soften the wine.
After the lees are removed through a process known as disgorgement, the wine is dry and still very tart, so a small amount of sugar is often added to balance the wine. This is the dosage, and it determines the finished sweetness of the wine. Brut is the most common level (~12g sugar), but drier styles have become more popular recently, with some producers choosing to forgo this step in favor of brut nature or zero dosage wines (more on that later).
Cava - Spanish (Catalonian) DO that produces traditional method sparkling wines, often based on Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. Often excellent quality vs price.
Prosecco - Italian DOC or DOCG in the Veneto and Friuli (northeastern Italy), often produced from the Glera grape (itself formerly known as Prosecco, recently renamed to avoid confusion). Made in the Charmat method, where a wine is refermented in tank, rather than in each bottle as with the traditional method. The lower production cost allows Prosecco to be sold at very reasonable prices.
Sweetness - The sweetness of a sparkling wine is determined by the residual (unfermented) sugar. In the traditional method, the winemaker will often add a dosage of wine and sugar after disgorgement. In the Charmat or tank method, a dosage is often added after sterile filtration.
Here are the sweetness levels for European sparkling wines:
Brut Nature - 0-3g/l. No added dosage, the driest of the dry.
Extra Brut - 0-6 g/l. Not to be confused with Extra Dry.
Brut - 0-12 g/l. The most common sweetness level. Still drinks fairly dry because of sparkling wine’s high acidity.
Extra Dry - 12-17 g/l
Demi-Sec - 32-50 g/l
Dulce - 50+ g/l
If you’d like a sparkler with more perceptible acidity, a drink to pair with a full meal from salad to main course, head for drier climes. If you prefer a softer, fruitier sparkling wine, or you need something to pair with dessert, aim for the sweeter end of the spectrum. Most importantly, taste a range of styles and learn what you prefer. After all, bubbles are about enjoying yourself!
We love the pyrotechnic wines of Mt. Etna, but it would be a shame to forget about the wines from the rest of Sicily. The shop just received a large shipment from one of our favorite Sicilian producers: COS. This is the hottest week of the summer so far, so it seems appropriate to daydream about olive trees, fried eggplant, and spicy wine.
COS was founded in 1980 when three friends purchased an old estate in Vittoria, in southeastern Sicily. At the time, they were the youngest producers in the region. Sicilian wine was just beginning to wake from its post-phylloxera, post-war slumber, and its wines were often marked by a tarry rusticity that is the hallmark of inelegantly made Nero d’Avola. COS quickly established a new paradigm with fragrant, energetic wines based on two local red varieties: Nero d’Avola and Frappato.
Nero d’Avola is the darker varietal of the two. Giusto Occhipinti (the O in COS, and Arianna Occhipinti’s uncle) likens it to Syrah. It has many of the same structural and aromatic qualities, with dark plummy fruit, black pepper, and violets, as well as the ability to retain acidity in Sicily’s warm Mediterranean climate. Frappato is lighter, with red berries (especially strawberry) and intense florality, reminiscent of Cru Beaujolais.
COS bottles several monovarietal renditions of Nero and Frappato, but the varieties really shine when they’re blended. Sicily’s only DOCG, which COS was instrumental in establishing, is Cerasuolo di Vittoria (“cherries of Vittoria”), which must be a blend of 50-70% Nero d’Avola and 30-50% Frappato. Nero d’Avola provides structure and density while Frappato brings lift and aromatic potency. This inherent balance, especially when combined with limestone soils and COS’s attentive organic viticulture, makes for a sun-kissed, unabashedly Mediterranean wine with surprising vivacity and freshness.
Their pursuit of freshness does not end in the vineyard. COS was one of the first wineries in Italy to revive the ancient practice of fermenting and aging wines in unlined terracotta amphora (that’s big clay pots to you and me). The amphoras are neutral vessels that allow the wine’s fragrance to shine without the obstruction of oak, while their porosity provides small amounts of oxygen (as opposed to an anaerobic stainless steel tank).
The wines of COS are distinctive and iconic (much like their squat, old-timey bottles), and they have helped to revive the winemaking industry in Sicily. Fry up some eggplant, boil some pasta, and enjoy a bottle or two as the summer heat shimmers.
Arianna Occhipinti - the student becomes the master. Arianna formed her domaine at 22, after helping her uncle for several harvests. Her wines share many qualities with COS’s, from organic viticulture to cutting edge winemaking. Her Frappato is frankly Burgundian.
Feudo Montoni - a new addition to the shop. Value priced, well-made wines for a Tuesday pasta.
Il Censo - Another organic producer, inspired by Umbrian legend Paolo Bea. Deep, dark, Syrah-y Nero d’Avola perfect for roasted lamb.
Colosi - a shop favorite, punches well above its price. Screams for anything with grill marks.
Planeta - wonderfully floral Frappato makes a great red wine pairing for lighter fare, including rich seafood.
Tasca d'Almerita - Salty, spicy Grillo from near Marsala. A maritime white for squid, shrimp, or even, gasp, green vegetables.
Vital is a non-profit winery founded by Ashley Trout of Brook & Bull working for better healthcare for vineyard and cellar workers. Many of the materials are donated by Washington state vineyards and wineries.
Time & Direction is a boutique, Rhone focused winery run by one-man-show, ex-sommelier, and former Thief employee Steve Wells. His Syrahs have already received high accolades from several wine publications, and he is just getting started.
Prospice Wines consists of the winemaking duo Jay Krutulis and Matt Reilly. Their first shared project was a WWCC Merlot, and now years later they continue to produce fantastic “f@#$@$% Merlot!” Take that Miles.
itä Wines is a new winery from WWCC Enology program graduate Kelsey Albro Itämeri. She crafts elegant, balanced wines from high elevation vineyards on Walla Walla’s east side.
Rotie’s Sean Boyd has been a driving force in Walla Walla’s Rhone scene for more than a decade, producing wines with power and finesse from some of the region’s finest vineyards.
Kelly and JJ of Aluvé Winery use estate-grown fruit from the vineyard adjacent to their home for this succulent, ripe Chardonnay. After 20+ years in the Air Force, harvest is a breeze.
Jason Fox sources the Pinot Noir for his rosé from Breezy Slope Vineyard, one of the highest elevation vineyards in Walla Walla. The elevation helps this notoriously finicky variety hold its acid, making it perfect for refreshing rosé.
This dry, concrete fermented Grenache rosé from Matt and Kelly Austin is a cheeky nod to the California Blush wines of the past, though it’s done in the light, refreshing house style of this new winery.
A local rosé pack is not complete without one of Fiona Mak’s delicious bottles. Her label is rosé exclusive, with releases reflecting the changing seasons. Rosé all year!
Advanced Sommelier Robert Gomez’s new label, with its striking artwork and thoughtfully crafted wines, has quickly become a shop favorite. He hit it out of the park with this rosé from Blue Mountain Vineyard.
El Corazon is a party, and Spencer Sievers is the MC/DJ/disco ball/Winemaker. This Malbec rosé will cool you down like a lake in July. Rbbbbt.
This blend of Grenache and Syrah from French Creek Vineyard is always one of our favorite rosés, and the new vintage has not disappointed. Consulting winemaker Todd Alexander has produced an aromatic, fresh pink to beat the Walla Walla heat.
"It's clear by now that Daniel Bouland is one of Beaujolais' major as well as most consistent talents." David Schildknecht, Wine Advocate
"Daniel Bouland is one of the best winemakers in Morgon. Perhaps his profile is not as high as the likes of Lapierre or Foillard, but I think his wines are on the same quality level.” Neal Martin, Vinous Media
“Daniel Bouland is one of my favorite producers in the Beaujolais, and his wines deserve to be much better known. Working with almost seven hectares of predominantly very old vines in Morgon, Chiroubles and Côte de Brouilly, Bouland vinifies with whole bunches, pumping over twice a day and gives his wines a classical maceration of two to three weeks. After pressing, élevage is in foudre and cement tank. Concentrated and succulent, Bouland's wines are beautifully differentiated by site and age gracefully: 2011s from my own cellar are still drinking beautifully. Bouland proudly informed me that he's now using higher-quality corks, so that graceful evolution should be even more regular going forward. He prefers 2018 to 2017, finding the tannins finer, though I like both vintages about equally.” William Kelley, Wine Advocate
“Bouland’s wines may not be as fashionable as the likes of Foillard, Lapierre and Dutraive, but for me they are every bit as compelling—and rather more dependably microbiologically stable. Bouland works with old vines, organically cultivated and low-yielding, in prime lieu-dits within the crus of Morgon, Fleurie and Chiroubles. Vinification and élevage is traditional, eschewing chaptalisation, not to mention more insidious cellar tricks. His hard work issues in sappy, concentrated wines, full of character and seriously cellar-worthy: the 2011s, for example, are beginning to be youthfully approachable but will cruise along for another decade or two with ease. I admire these bottlings for the clarity with which they express their respective terroirs and drink them regularly, the Cuvée Corcelette from old vines in Morgon being my favourite.” William Kelley, Wine Advocate
All of Daniel Bouland’s wines are:
There are some wines that are meant for contemplation, for decanting and incanting, for polished goblets and crystal flutes, for making new friends and for shaming your enemies - wines that scoff at crudité and salads, that demand steaming hunks of beef like a demi-god demands at a sacrifice.
These, however…these are decidedly not those wines. These are wines for a pool, or a boat, a sprinkler in the backyard, or a sprinkler in a pool on a boat. These are wines for grass and sunshine. These are wines for brunch and prolonged brunching. Brunch isn’t just a meal, it’s your own personal holiday, and you get to pick the date.
These wines are gulpable and unpretentious, the perfect base for a brunch drink, or brunch punch, if you will. Try one of these out the next time you’re tired of mimosas. Heck, try them out when you’re sick of orange juice – we won’t tell.
2 ripe white or yellow peaches
1 bottle Zardetto Private Cuvée Brut
Blanch peaches for 1 minute in boiling water. Remove to ice bath. Peel peaches, then cube, removing pit. Blitz in food processor or blender. In a flute, combine 1 part peach puree with 2 parts Zardetto. Presto!
1 part Cappelletti (can substitute Aperol or Campari)
3 parts Rosé Limé
Serve with a slice of lemon or orange. Put on a caftan and pretend you’re in Miami.
Valpolicella lovers in need of a summer beverage – this one is for you! Add a small scoop of Colville St. Patisserie rhubarb sorbet to a mug of ice-cold Raphael Bartucci Bugey Cerdon. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, make your own watermelon-orange sorbet.
½ ripe watermelon, cubed
Zest from one small orange
Warm water, as needed
Place watermelon cubes on a lined baking sheet. Freeze for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight. Place frozen watermelon chunks and orange zest in a food processor or blender, allowing 5 minutes to begin thawing. Blend until smooth, pressing down with a spatula and adding warm water in small increments to facilitate smoother texture. Santé!
The staff of the Thief likes to eat nearly as much as we like to drink wine. Spicy Spanish red wines are a no-brainer when you’re grilling, but here are a few more ideas to get you through the summer.
(Click name in red to shop)
Emily - Argentine-style steak with chimichurri sauce paired with Laurel Priorat.
Karin - Chipotle marinated flank steak and grilled tomatillo salsa with Lapostolle Carmenere.
Matt (that’s Curly to you) - Peppered ribeye with Produttori del Barbaresco Montestefano 2013, or coconut grilled shrimp with Pichot Vouvray.
Devin - Honey-cider vinegar glazed pork chops with Château d’Orschwihr Riesling.
As for me (Allan), I recently wrote about a great experience with slow-grilled pork brisket and lightly chilled Beaujolais-Villages from Foillard, but I also love harissa grilled lamb with Hervé Souhaut Syrah. I’m kind of surprised no one called for steak and Champagne!
When in the company of thieves, do as they do: take as much as you can get away with in as little time as possible. For the 4th of July, we invite you to do just that: steal from us by taking advantage of some great party drink packages that we’ve put together just for the holiday. Celebrate independently or in social distancing style with fanciful sparkling wine, Champagne, rosé, or one of our killer beer packages. Your guests and your pocketbook will thank you for your thievery!
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