In the spirit of learning about Champagne and all of its deliciousness, I thought a great place to start would be the grapes. Yes, history of the region is also a good place to start, but without the grapes, there'd be no wine! Champagne can be made from three different varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. I've already done a grape series on Pinot Noir, which you can find here, and I felt that Chardonnay was a natural next place to go. It's recognizable, accessbile, and even if you don't like or are unfamiliar with Champagne, you may be Chardonnay fan!


Key Facts for Chardonnay:

  • It is the most planted white (or green) grape in the world.  
  • Chardonnay originated in Burgundy, France.
  • The grape is more neutral in flavor which is why it tastes so incredibly different depending on where or how it is grown and/or the winemaking process (oaked vs. unoaked). 
  • Unlike Pinot Noir, Chardonnay is fairly easy to grow and is very adaptable to different growing conditions.
  • Wines you may not know are Chardonnay: Blanc de Blanc Champagne, Chablis, and White Burgundy.

As I mentioned above, Chardonnay is a grape whose flavor ranges widely. Flavor depends on the ripeness of the grape, which is linked to the region it is grown in. In colder climates where the grapes don't get as ripe, the flavors tend to be more crisp like lemon and green apple. In warmer climates, the flavors can become more tropical with notes of pineapple or peach. When researching, I came across these other, more unexpected flavors: Beeswax, smoke, saline solution, and wet rock.

What's with the buttery Chardonnays?!

Buttery and oaky Chardonnay has to be the most polarizing wine. Totally love or hate with that one. The vanilla and oak flavor is imparted from... well, oak. Oak barrels, to be specific. The buttery and creamy texture that is often paired with oak comes from malolactic fermentation (MLF). I've discussed it before in this review of Ramey's Chardonnay, but to recap, MLF is a secondary fermentation with a different kind of yeast where the tart malic acid is transformed into a "creamier" lactic acid. This produces diacetyl which is the chemical compound that causes the buttery flavor. Love buttery Chardonnays? Be on the lookout for wines that have gone through MLF... a good wine professional will be able to point you towards those, but Napa Valley Chardonnay is well known for these types. Hate it? Maybe look toward Old World Chardonnay (specifically Chablis) or Australia, as wines from that region have minimal to no oak aging. 

Chardonnay Pairings

Chardonnay is very versatile when it comes to pairing with food and is a great white if you're uncertain what to do. Keep in mind that the style of Chardonnay, mostly whether it's oaked and buttery or unoaked, will be the most important factor in deciding what to pair with your food. Oakiness can overpower lighter fish dishes, while the acid and citrus notes of an unoaked Chardonnay would work great with shellfish (ex: oysters). Oaked chardonnay would work very well with poultry (chicken, turkey, etc.), especially when roasted or more bold in flavor. But what have I always said? Drink what you want with what you want! 

Tasting Notes: Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages

A couple of weekends ago, Kevin and I did a virtual class with Elizabeth from Wine for Normal People where she walked us through how to taste wines. I have done several different classes around tasting skills, and I always pick up something new from each class. Every person has their own way of describing things, and I enjoy learning tips and tricks from all! Elizabeth is so personable and has a (for lack of a better word) no-bullshit approach when it comes to wine. Hence, Wine for Normal People. Anyway, this Beaujolais wine was the red wine selection for the class. Kevin and I were both surprised by how much we liked it, so I thought I'd share!

As a little background for those unfamiliar with the region, here are some notes on Beaujolais. There is a classification system, specifically three (or four) levels:

  • Cru Beaujolais - The highest level, and only 10 of the 96 villages are able to label their wines as such. These typically are labeled as the Cru name and the 10 villages have their own personality. To get a summary of the different personalities, check out this post from Wine Folly.
  • Beaujolais-Villages - Tier below Cru. There are 38 villages that are in this bucket, and the wines are a bit lighter than Cru and more fruit forward.
  • Beaujolais - The lowest level and most general description. I think of this as the "Kleenex" issue... all Kleenex are tissues, but not all tissues are Kleenex. Similarly, all Crus can be Beaujolais, but not all Beaujolais can be Cru. Note that wines just labeled as "Beaujolais" can vary widely in quality.
  • Beaujolais Nouveau - These wines are released the 3rd week in November. I've seen some in stores that have crazy colorful bottles. Many feel that these wines have not fully developed before they're shipped because there isn't much time between harvest and bottling. You can therefore get sort of funky notes like banana and bubble gum. 

The Facts

  • Producer: Louis Jadot
  • Region: Beaujolais, France (south of Burgundy)
  • Vintage: 2015
  • Variety: 100% Gamay
  • Where I purchased: Total Wine
  • Price: $9.97

Edit: I also found this at my local grocery chain for $15.99.

Jadot Beaujolais Villages
  • Eyes: Lighter and more of a cherry red in color, fairly transparent. This immediately gives me the impression it'll be a lighter bodied wine.
  • Nose: Very fruit forward! Smelled like ripe red berries. Some other students picked up on a more earthy smell, but the fruit is what was most apparent to me.
  • Mouth: This is one of those wines where what you smell is what you get. It is very fruity with cherry and strawberry shining through, but don't confuse fruity with sweet. It's not sweet. I also picked up on a hint of earthiness, which is common in French wine, but I didn't feel like I was eating dirt or anything. It's had a nice medium body with good acidity. Tannin was not apparent, which is characteristic of the grape. 
  • Thoughts: This red, and Gamay in general, is a great summer wine because it's light and fruit forward. It's also best when slightly chilled, so perfect for those warmer days! I think think the fruit flavors and slight earthiness would work great with pork dishes. For die-hard cab lovers, this is probably too light, but if you like Pinot Noir or other lighter grapes, give Beaujolais a shot!



Fiesta Time: What to drink this Cinco de Mayo

Fiesta time, cha-cha-cha! Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo! In the United States, I feel like this holiday is an excuse to eat your weight in chips and guacamole and cheers with a margarita. Nothing wrong with that! Being from Texas, I love Tex-Mex food and I personally think I make the best margarita around, so I'm looking forward to celebrating. And just in time for the holiday, here are two drink options for you to feel festive!

Classic Fresh Margarita

I know this is a wine blog, but I can't help it. This margarita recipe is the BEST, so it is totally worth sharing! If you like margaritas with fresh ingredients, you'll love this recipe, and it's SO simple to make for one (or multiples!). Disclaimer: I found this recipe out on the internet somewhere several years ago and have been making it ever since. I apologize to whoever published it, I want to give you credit, but I honestly can't remember where it came from since Kevin and I have it memorized.

For one serving, you will need the following:

  • 2 oz tequila - We stock Hornitos Plata in our bar, but feel free to use your favorite!
  • 1.5 oz lime juice - Usually about 1-2 limes, depending on ripeness.
  • 1 oz orange juice - Do yourself a favor, and just buy it from your grocery store. Fresh squeezed is the best, but something like Tropicana works great, too!
  • Agave nectar to taste - I usually start with 1/2 tsp and work my way up from there.

The recipe is THAT SIMPLE, y'all. Pour all of the ingredients into a shaker, shake away, and then pour over ice. Yum!

Strawberry Sparkling Sangria

For those out there who may want to change things up from a classic margarita, this is a great alternative. Berries and peaches are coming into season, so now is a great time to celebrate spring and Cinco de Mayo all in one! It's sweeter than my margarita recipe, but super tasty with spring fruit flavors! 

Strawberry Sangria 1

For about 4 servings (give or take), you will need:

For the strawberry simple syrup:

  • 1/2 cup strawberries
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

For the sangria:

  • 1 cup strawberries
  • 1 ripe peach
  • 1/2 cup blackberries
  • 1/2 cup strawberry simple syrup
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1 bottle of sparkling brut rosé

1. Make the strawberry simple syrup.

For this simple syrup, combine the sugar and water. Bring to a boil, gently stir until the sugar dissolves and then add in the strawberries. Turn down the heat and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes, or until the strawberries look like they've lost their color. Strain the simple syrup into another container and throw the strawberry bits away. Let the syrup cool fully (took about an hour in the fridge). 

Strawberry Sangria 2

2. Dice the peach and add the berries to the pitcher. Pour brandy and cooled simple syrup over the fruit. Stir well! Let this mixture marinate for a while, at least an hour.

Strawberry Sangria 3

3. I'd use a stemless wine glass or a double old-fashioned glass for this cocktail. I found that the sangria tasted best when I poured the sparkling wine directly into the glass as opposed to including it in the pitcher. Also, in my opinion, the perfect ratio of sangria mix to wine for a serving is 1/3 mix, 2/3 sparkling wine. Feel free to adjust to your taste, and be sure to put some of the fruit in the glass! 

Strawberry Sangria 4

I hope that you all enjoy yourselves (and be safe!) this Cinco de Mayo.

Weekly Tasting Box: You Say Grenache, I Say Garnacha

Last week, I got my first order of Weekly Tasting. For those who have not heard of it, Weekly Tasting is a new concept where a box of four wines with a theme is curated by one of two sommeliers, Elizabeth Schneider of Wine For Normal People and Laura Maniec, owner of Corkbuzz. The boxes are $69.99, including shipping, and each box comes with 4 wines, tasting note cards with a recipe suggestion, and a short video that has the sommelier going through a tasting of each wine.  This week's theme, if you can't tell from the title, is Grenache! Grenache, or Garnacha in Spain, is a new favorite grape of mine, so I was super excited to put in my order.

Weekly Tasting

I busted into the box like it was Christmas morning. The box was well packaged, with the nice cardboard bottle holders AND laminated note cards! I've always wanted to try one of those subscription things where you get a fun box of goodies full of things you don't need, but this is even better! Wine shipped to my door + notes so I can learn + no subscription fee = genius.


The note cards are well done, with all of the basic information you would want to know about the bottle as well as a blurb from the sommelier (in this case Elizabeth) with her thoughts. In this box, there were two from Côtes du Rhône in France and two from Spain. I wanted to try them all immediately, and luckily, with our Coravin, I could! One was a screwtop, so we opened that bottle for dinner, but for the other three, I used the Coravin to pour a small taste. I was amazed to see how different they all were from each other despite being made (at least the majority**) from Grenache. From fruit forward to smokey to earthy to hints of leather, these wines showed it all!

**Remember from my previous France post that wines from Côtes du Rhône are Grenache based with some Syrah and Mourvedre thrown in. There are other grapes that can be included, but this blend has been nicknamed "GSM" for obvious reasons. 

Grenache Wine Flight

Overall, I think Weekly Tasting is a great idea. Where else can you find a hand selected box of four wines for less than $20/bottle that have detailed notes about each one?! I know that Elizabeth and Laura have both spent a lot of time tasting through hundreds of bottles to select these groupings, and I think the hard work showed in my first box!

The box available to order this week is from the French region of Bordeaux, which is famous for being very expensive. Wines from Bordeaux are usually blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, although Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot are also allowed varities. Wines from France are typically a bit "earthier" than wines from USA (ex: Napa Valley Cab), but if you typically like Cab or Merlot, I encourage you to give Weekly Tasting a try! 


Tasting Notes: Trefethen Merlot

Spoiler alert: This has recently become one of our favorite wines. It may seem counter intuitive to go ahead and tell you the conclusion before we even begin, but Kevin and I poured this wine earlier this week and we both discussed how much we liked it. It is a bottle we've had before, so after a long day, we treated ourselves to a nice wine with dinner. Instead of my typical incessant note taking and researching, I actually sat back and just enjoyed this one!

Trefethen 2012 Merlot

The Facts

Kevin and I were supposed to visit Trefethen on our trip to Napa back in September 2014, but unfortunately, it was the only winery we intended to visit that hadn't reopened after Napa's earthquake as they had structural damage to their building. It will definitely be on our list for our next trip! Although I have not heard the history first hand, their story is the start of a great family tradition. Gene and Catherine Trefethen moved to Napa Valley after Gene's retirement in the late 1960s, where they purchased over 600 acres. At this time, Napa was still recovering from Prohibition so most vineyards were in disarray.  The Trefethens wanted to sell their grape crop, but their son, John, felt differently. He at first attempted to make wine in his parents' basement using trashcans as fermentation tanks, which didn't pan out. However, a few years later in 1973, John and his wife, Janet, made Trefethen's first batch of commercial wine. Now the winery is run by John, Janet, and their two children, with the motto being "One Family, One Estate, One Passion."

Their passion definitely shows through in this wine. In my opinion, this wine is everything a Merlot should (or what I want it to) be... juicy dark fruit like blackberries and plum, a hint of mocha and spice, full-bodied and velvety. It is so dark in the glass, but doesn't drink too heavy. If tannins aren't your friend, I think this could be a good wine for you. If you love tannins, I implore you to try it anyway because I think it's damn delicious. Kevin agrees with me. We paired this with a homemade lasagna, simple arugula side salad, and garlic knots, and it was a homerun. Actually, it was a grand slam.