Love at first Sip-CA Wine Country

California Wine Country is famous for proving that America could make great wine back in the 1976 Paris tasting. California shocked the world when judges decided in a blind taste test that American wine tasted better than the French contestants. Though the entire state of CA produces wine, there are two valleys that are known the world over for their wine: Napa and Sonoma.

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I (Kristen) got to visit the American wine mecca for the first time a few weeks ago and I’ve got some tips to help you with your next wine vacation.

  1. It’s not all beautiful hotels and glittering patio set ups. First the foremost, Napa and Sonoma are farm lands. If you’re providing your own transportation, it’s a lot of driving though endless fields with more cow sightings than people. Be prepared for winding roads, little to no street signs, and lots of food stalls selling fresh produce on the side of the road.My Tip: GPS is your best friend so bring a car charger and make sure you have a good phone provider if you are using your phone.

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  2. Contrary to popular belief, don’t go hard or you will go home. Most tasting flights are at least 4 wines and drinking them quickly on top of the hot weather will get you tipsy fast. So bring water and try to pick wineries that serve food that way you can get to more than one winery a day.Pro Tip: you don’t have to finish all of the wine samples. Bring friends to help you finish. Though its frowned upon, some places will let you share a tasting if you ask.

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  3. Okay so its a HUGE place, with lots to see in both valleys. Where do you start? Do some research! Look into the most popular wineries in the area and don’t forget to leave room in your schedule for when a local gives you a good recommendation. We started at 9am and finished most days at 6 – 8pm.Hotel tip: Get a hotel in the middle of one of the valleys. We got one slightly south in Sonoma valley. It takes about an hour to two hours to get to the top of the valley for exploring.

So where did I go?

Napa:

We started in Yountville for a walking tour of the town. It’s an adorable town toward the bottom of the valley. The little town looks modern with new architecture, unique shopping plazas, and outdoor art displays.

What’s the best part? It’s a culinary paradise with gourmet shops and restaurants everywhere. My favorite was the fabulous desserts from Kollar chocolates with their chocolate sushi and the rose wine macaroons from Bouchon Bakery.  Yountville also happens to be the home of Bell Wine Cellars. Click here for my article about Bell Wine Cellars.

Next we moved on to Domaine Chandon which was literally 2 driveways away for a flight of California made bubbles. The property is beautiful and great views from their picnic area that is perched on top of a hill. The valley below is breathtaking, and here you have two options: purchase a flight to taste or purchase a bottle and drink it on the hill with family and friends. Both options are fabulous and don’t forget the glittering gift shop on the way out.

Haven you ever had an Italian California BBQ? The V.Sattui winery is an Italian winery with a rather large property covering in flowers, fountains, and the smell of brick oven pizza. Wait, why pizza? Because on Saturdays they do an outdoor BBQ that would put your fourth of July party to shame. It’s got pizzas, salmon fillets, fresh mozzarella salads made to order, ribs, short ribs, steak tips, and so many varieties of vegetables to put on the side. Beware because the place will be packed with peoplem, but the food is great and worth the wait. Don’t want to wait? Check out their authentic deli, pastry shop, gift shop, and oh yea the massive wine bar.

Last but not least, if you really want to be dazzled visit the Tuscan inspired castle in Calistoga. Click here to read my review of the castle.  It’s worth the entrance fee I promise.

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Stay tuned for my review on sonoma!

 

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Cava’s Little Sister, Summer White!

Just when you think Spain can’t get anymore ingenious after inventing sangria, they share yet another one of their long standing traditions: vi d’agulla from Avinyó

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In Catalan, the name means ‘prickly wine.’ But despite it’s Spanish origins, this label reads ‘Petillant,’ which is a French wine designation meaning ‘slightly sparking.’

Avinyó’s Petillant white wine is produced in Catalonia Spain, with 80% Petit Grain Muscat and 20% Macabeu grapes. After being fermented in stainless steel tanks, the wine is given its light bubbles from the Charmat Method (tank method)  in a secondary tank.

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Why is it Catalonia’s summer drink of choice? Probably because it’s everything you need from a summer white. Crisp, lightly acidic, blooming with lychee and green apple flavors, floral, with tiny almost metallic bubbles that are a match made in heaven for summer seafood pairings – as if the tiny silver fishes on the label didn’t give it away.

If you happen to come across any petillant or vi d’agulla wines in your travels this summer PLEASE take the opportunity to taste them ice cold with all your summer food choices.

¡Salud!

Forget Red vs White – BLUE!

The Half Past team discovered a hidden gem at the liquor store a few weeks ago that we just HAD to try for you.

We are pretty frequent wine shoppers, so we always make a point to check out the latest in sparkling or bubbly wines. Imagine our surprise when we saw this waiting for us in the aisle!

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Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is a BLUE sparkling wine from the sunny state of CA. This bottle promotes itself as being the ‘first blue grape wine’ made from white grapes and a hint of blueberry juice – hence the creative name ‘Blanc de Blue.’

So it’s blue and bubbly, but what does it taste like?

To be honest, we were a bit shocked by the result. We were expecting a sweet blueberry bubbly. Instead, we encountered a French dry style sparkling wine with a slight afternote of blueberry. Looks are deceiving with this bottle, which explains the slightly higher price point of around $15 a bottle.

 

Just a brief glimpse at the company website reveals that their target audience is weddings and classic white table cloth events.  However, the Half-Past team thought that this would be better suited for a baby gender reveal party. What better way to choose Team Blue or Team Pink than with bubbly blue and pink wine?

To get more specific information about the wine making process and where to buy this wine check out the website.

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Happy Sipping!

Cheers!

 

Know your Bubbly

Like bubbly wine? SO DO WE!

However, do you get to the liquor store and freak out because you are seeing words you don’t understand like ‘Cava’, ‘demi-sec’, and ‘Frizzante’?

Don’t freak out! That’s why you have us!

Here’s the Half Past Wine O’Clock Bubbly Wine Guide!

Four Main Bubbles

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Cava
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Champange
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Prosecco (Image credit to Erlc L)
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Lambrusco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BUBBLY chart 2

Words to Live by:

 

Sweetness Levels: (Least to greatest) 

Brut Nature – 1/8 tsp of sugar per 5oz glass

Extra Brut – 1/4 tsp of sugar per 5oz glass

Brut – 1/2 tsp of sugar per 5oz glass

Extra Dry – 3/4 tsp of sugar per 5oz glass

Dry – 1 tsp of sugar per 5oz glass

Demi-Sec – 2 tsp of sugar per 5oz glass

Doux – over 2 tsp of sugar per 5oz glass

Secco – Italian version of ‘Dry’

Semi-secco- Italian version of ‘off- dry’

Dolce/Amabile – Italian version of ‘Demi-sec’ and above

Frizzante – Italian word for ‘Bubbly’ and usually only has 1-2 atmospheres per bottle

*Fun Fact* The higher the atmospheres in the bottle, the smaller the bubbles!

Any other words on the bubbly bottles that you don’t understand? Let us know! We will do the research for you!

**** Information resources for this article are:

Winefolly.com – Liquid Caviar- Sparking Red Wine article, Wine Folly: The Essential Guide to Wine book, and Rachel Ray Magazine Jan/Feb 2016 edition pg 99.

Feature Image credit – Bubbly 1- to scyrene

How to Run a Wine Tasting Party

There are plenty of reasons you may want to have a wine tasting party. Maybe you’re having a bunch of friends over, but don’t necessarily want to go out for the night. Or perhaps you need an excuse to have a wine shopping spree, and want to share your findings with your friends. Or, if you’re like us, you have an overflow of wine collecting in the basement that needs to be tasted stat!

Whatever the reason, it’s a fun, tasty way to spend an evening. Here are the steps to a perfect wine tasting, laid out by our wine expert, Kristen, and practiced by the whole Half Past Wine-O-Clock team!11943357_900467160041337_521691704_n

Start with the bubbles

Yes that’s right. If someone brought the champagne, Prosecco, the fritz, or the spritzy, the party should always start with that. Not just because it’s fun, but because the bubbles tend to make the wine lighter on the palate. We, however, did not have any bubbly at this party so we had to change our “Step One.”

Start with a traditional white wine

If you jump right in to the sweeter or heavier-bodies wines right off the bat, a white wine won’t stand a chance on your pallet! Always start off with a white wine to begin the party so you can fully appreciate the lighter tastes and aromas the wine offers.

If you have multiple white wines remember body and flavors!  Here’s the typical order to taste in with major white grapes:

  1. Riesling  2. Sauvignon Blanc   3. Chardonnay

    Have a white that isn’t listed? Drink the heaviest bodied wine last. Chardonnay is the heaviest white wine (that isn’t a dessert wine) so always drink those last anyways.

    Don’t know about the body of wine you bought? Check out the vintage year and alcohol percentage. Drink younger vintages FIRST and higher alcohol percentages LAST. Why? The older the wine the stronger flavor it develops and strong flavors will stick to your mouth even after moving on to a new wine. Secondly, high alcohol content can “burn” the palate too early so you wont taste weaker wines after.

Move on to a rosé

It can be tempting to start off with a rosé, since they are typically lighter and sometimes sweeter than a white. However, rosés offer the perfect transition between your white wine and the reds to come. There’s no better way to switch from white to red, and adding a rosé in between can smooth the transition! 
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Move on to reds, but order them correctly!

All reds are not made the same, as all wine lovers know. They aren’t all equal, either, so ordering them the wrong way can throw off a tasting. Start with any red varietals (single grapes), like we did, to transition from the lighter rosé into a heavier-bodied red that relies prominently on one grape instead of a flavorful mixture of many. This way, your pallet can easily transition from less complex, fruitier reds into the more heavily bodied reds.

The same rules apply here as with the whites. Heavier body wines go last and so do higher alc % and older vintages.

However, red wines can be harder to figure out. Here’s a list in order of body (drink first to last):

  1. Pinot Noir 2. Merlot 3. Zinfandel 4. Cabernet Sauvignon 4. Shiraz/Syrah

    Watch out! There are always exceptions with red wines. Check the label to see where the wine is produced. Warmer climate produce grapes with stronger and more pronounced flavors. Cooler climates are crisp wines. When in doubt do colder places first.

Always end with dessert wines

We ended with a sweet coconut wine from our favorite winery, but not before cleansing our pallets! It’s tough to find a placement for a sweeter wine, especially right after a fuller red. We recommend fully cleansing the pallet and perhaps waiting between the reds and sweeter wine.

Why can’t we start with a sweet wine, you ask? It’s just that after a dessert wine, the other wines will taste too harsh and heavy, so it’s easier to finish with them.

Let everyone take their favorites home

There’s no better way to end a party than by divvying up the wines based on who loved which one most! This way, everyone leaves with a small gift – the remainder of the bottle – and has a takeaway from the party. If everyone agrees on one favorite, finish it up before the night’s over – who says the party has to end with the tasting?

Cute Summer Sips: “I Love You” All Year Round

We know we generally advise against picking a wine on bottle design, but the limited-edition design of The French Wine Merchant’s Prosecco was irresistible. It helped that we’re obsessed with bubbles and knew we’d love it from not just looking at the bottle, but reading it as well.

Whole Foods calls it “I Love You” All Year Round, though it is also (wordily) referred to as Villa Jolanda Vino Spumante Extra Sec (you’re more likely to find it online using the latter). The bottle, originally designed as a Valentine’s Day special edition, features a couple in hot air balloons together and hanging by the string of balloons as they fly solo.

11791746_10207349508001845_1880817746_nThe wine was a bit lighter than champagne, but still had the sweet, bubbly taste we craved. It was a dry white, light and perfect for our humid summer weather. We didn’t pair it with anything but end-of-the-day relaxation, but we’d recommend lighter meals like fish, or with snacks/appetizers.

The wine’s main set-backs have to be its cork and its rarity. Although its cork had a cute design on it, it was nearly impossible to remove – even for our wine expert, Kristen! And while rarity is usually a good sign, it’s sad to think we may never find this sweet, adorable wine again.

A bottle of I Love You All Year Round can range from $11.99-$16.99 and is around 13% alcohol.

Kristen: 4

Briana: 4

Paula: 5

Average: 4.3

Finding Our Muse: since when does Angry Orchard make wine?

As a group that combines wine with stories, Angry Orchard’s “The Muse” sounds and tastes like the perfect addition to our site. As weird as it is that Angry Orchard now makes wines, we can attest that they are definitely worth giving a try!

Untitled-1While Paula and I have only tried “The Muse,” Kristen has taste-tested all three of AO’s new Ciderhouse Collection: Muse, Strawman, and Iceman. It started as a joke on a professor of hers who not only looks like AO’s Iceman bearded mascot, but worked with ice (modern-day Kristoff style). It turned into a hunt for the bottles, resulting in her sharing a bottle of The Muse with Paula and I.

Angry Orchard claims this trio is packed with rare and innovative apple ciders.

1) Iceman – Inspired by the Ice Ciders of Quebec, Kristen says this crisp, full, smooth, icy apple wine is worth the money.

2) Strawman – Inspiried by English and French countryside farmers, Kristen says this thicker, citrus tangy, almost beer like flavor would be surprisingly great for Game Day snacks and BBQs.

3) Muse – Inspired by the sweeter demi-sec Champagnes of France, this sweeter, bubbly, rich apple wine is the cousin to Iceman.

If you ever wondered what boozy, bubbly apple cider tastes like, you have to try “The Muse.” It’s sweet yet crisp, with thick white bubbles and a smooth finish. Sweeter than cider, this wine is the unexpected yet beautiful marriage of apples and wine. It’s not quite wine and it’s not beer or liquor, so it’s hard to pick the setting for the drink. But while it may not satisfy a pre-existing craving, it will definitely create a craving for more once you’ve had a sip.

The only issue is that it’s a challenge to find. Kristen spotted it with the rest of AO’s products at Wegman’s, hiding by the beers instead of the wines. The bottle costs around $13-15 and is 7.7% alcohol.

Check out the Official Ciderhouse Collection Website for more details!

Paula: 5

Briana: 5

Kristen: 5

Average rate of: 5

Yellow Tail Sangria: A Near-Death Experience

Yesterday, Kristen was violently attacked by a seemingly user-friendly bottle of bubbly sangria.

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User-friendly…or not?

The terms “bubbly” and “sangria” are rarely paired, but that’s what drew us to it. This summer, we’ve been obsessed with bubbles. An avid red wine fan myself, I’ve been veering toward sangria recently to get that deep taste without the warm flush I often get from heavier reds like Merlot. So I’ve adapted to the dramatic shift in New England weather and was thrilled when Kristen revealed her bubbly sangria, which embraced everything I love about wine and our summer.

Unfortunately, a late summer lunch comes with cute clothes, and cute clothes don’t mash well with a bubbly explosions. Kristen did the honors of popping our bubbly, which proceeded to explode all over her new elephant pants and white knit sweater. Thankfully, I drink enough coffee (and am clumsy enough) that I’m an expert stain-remover.

But we can’t blame it all on the bubbles from our fave Australian vineyard. On our way to Demi’s, Kristen and I were nearly hit on three separate left turns by aggressive speeders flying over hills. The poor bubbly, unprotected in the trunk thanks to Massachusetts law, got tossed around and had plenty of reason for a red-stained revenge when Kristen went to pop it open.

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Beautiful red bubbles
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Homemade pan pizzas

That said, it was a delicious glass. Though we may be a bit traumatized from the opening, within a few sips we’d (mostly) forgotten all about the messy incident. We paired our drinks with homemade pan pizzas, balancing the spicy pepperoni, onions, and peppers with the thick sweetness of the sangria.

The bottle was purchased at Wegman’s, costing $9.99 and serving four. Demi, our picky drinker, gives her stamp of approval, showing this is a selection for both avid wine drinkers and those who aren’t.

Anyway, here’s a video of retro cats getting turnt on bubbles in a vintage children’s movie:

In the Beginning, there was New Age

For the three of us, true love started with New Age. Like most of the best love stories, this began with a fated encounter. SAM_2264Pamplemousse, a local wine shop, had a bottle on sale and an anxious cashier was eager to get it off the shelf and out of sight. Why, we can’t imagine: it turned out to be our all-time favorite and began a long-term love affair between the three of us and wine…and bubbles!

Ever since Kristen and I fell in love at first sip, we’ve been on a constant scavenger hunt for another bottle of New Age. Even though Pamplemousse was ready to kick New Age to the curb, other local liquor stores did quite the opposite: employees hoarded the bottles as they came in, purchasing entire cases before customers even knew the shipment had come in.

But we wouldn’t give up on this new love of ours. Thankfully, we discovered that Wegman’s carries the wine and, sometimes, even supplies the rose version!

SAM_2265New Age, known for its iconic female figure glancing through the back of the front label (as shown to the right) is a white bubbly wine from Argentina. It’s fruity, but not too sweet, and perfect with any light meal or even by itself on a nice evening. New Age’s power is proven in its ability to bring Paula into the wine club; without it, we wouldn’t have her on this blog with us.

New Age usually prices around $8.99-12.99. If you go any higher, you’re probably not getting the best deal.