Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bubbly Report 2011

Can you believe it; the Holiday Season is coming to a close. It seems like we spend so much time working up to those festive nights, only to have them fly by at the blink of an eye. While I advocate picking up a bottle of bubbly any time of year, there are many people who only bring it out for special occasions, New Year’s Eve being one of them. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to find a good bottle of bubbly and this time of year, many retailers have specials on sparkling wines, so it’s the perfect time to stock up.

Sparkling Wine info:
Classification: Extra Brut (extra dry), Brut (very dry), Extra Dry/Extra Sec (dry), Sec(semi-sweet), Demi Sec (sweet), Doux (very sweet)
Suggested Serving Temperature: 40-45ºF (to achieve this temperature, remove from fridge 30 minutes prior to serving. Or, if chilling from room temperature, place in ice bucket for about 30 minutes)
Wine Glass: The flute — the narrower the opening at the mouth, the longer the bubbles will last.

Produced in the Veneto region of Italy, I think this was one of my favorite samples this season. Delicate floral aromas combine with crisp and clean fruit, honey and floral flavors. Deliciously dry, the wine is made to drink young which means as soon as it hits the shelves, you can begin enjoying. Per the website, the name Avissi comes from the delightful fizzy sound the bubbles make as they happily rise in the glass. That description alone makes me want to seek out another bottle. SRP - $18.99

100% Chardonnay from the Russian River Valley, the grapes are harvested at a high acidity and fermented at low temps. Aromas of honey and lime while flavors are full of floral, apricot and a hint of yeast. Nice acidity and well balanced. Who can resist the romance and opulence the Biltmore Estate represents. While I may never live like a Vanderbilt, I can enjoy the wonderful wines the estate produces. SRP - $24.99

Touted as the go-to Sparkling white, as annoying as I find those new “go-to” commercials, I must admit, for the money, yellow tail Bubbles is a good option for a go-to sparkler. Abundance of fine bubbles and hint of floral in the aroma with crisp, tropical semi-sweet flavors make this a good option for NYE celebrating. The makers of Yellow Tail realize, sometimes you have to end the party a little early or maybe you’ve partied a little to hard and it’s time to hang up your glass. If you find yourself unable to finish a bottle of Yellow Tail Bubbles, never fear! The “cork”, called a Zork, is a re-sealable enclosure that allows the wonderful sound of the popping cork, yet allows you to seal and maintain gas pressure so you don’t lose any of those wonderful bubbles. I’ve used the Zork and stored sparkling wine for up to two days in my fridge and had ample bubbles.  SRP - $8-$12

Looking to mix up your sparkler, how about a “champagne” cocktail. Below are a few recipes sent to me using yellow tail but you could substitute your favorite sparkling wine.

Blackberry Fizz (served at Madison & Vine, NYC)
2 large fresh blackberries (or 1 oz. blackberry puree)
3/4 oz. fresh lemon juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup
2 oz.  Yellow Tail sparkling wine
1 oz. Lillet Blanc
1 oz. Gin
Directions: In a mixing glass muddle the blackberries (or add the puree), along with the lemon, simple, Lillet, and Gin. Then add ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled champagne flute and top off with the sparkling wine.
Garnish: blackberry on rim of glass

Ginger-Passion Sparkler (served at Bookmarks Lounge, NYC)
1/2 oz. ginger liqueur
1 oz. passionfruit juice
4 oz. Yellow Tail Sparkling Wine
Directions: Add ingredients directly to champagne flute.
Garnish: candied ginger on rim of glass

Food Pairings:
Hard cheese, both strong and mild make a beautiful pairing. My favorites are cave aged gruyere and clothbound cheddar. Both can be found at specialty cheese shops and Whole Foods.
Pair with Brix Chocolate for Wine for a special treat. Pair with the Smooth Dark Chocolate, which is best suited for sparkling wines.

So another year comes and goes. For a change, I look forward to what the new year will bring. For me it will be continued improvements to our new home, a wine room in what is now a plain and dull partial basement, Americana chickens and their colorful eggs and the hope of meeting new people who may become lifelong friends. One change I do not look forward to is the inevitable passing of my 19 year old cat, Katundra. The time is near, I know but in the meantime, we keep her warm, comfortable, well fed and very loved.

This New Year’s raise a glass to both old friends and new friends who we may meet in the New Year and to the memories of friends and family we may have lost this year.


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2011© Kellie Stargaard.  All Rights Reserved.
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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Wine Tips for the Perfect Holiday Celebration

This Christmas my home won’t be filled with friends and family but nonetheless will be filled with lots of Christmas spirits. I’m not only referring to the happy and joyful feelings we carry around this time of year but of those fun and delightful libations. For those of you who will be doing a lot of entertaining this year, here are a few tips to help keep the drinks and party flowing.

Wine Temps
Everyone knows you serve red wine at room temperature. But what everyone doesn’t know is this refers to room temps between 54-65 degrees, not 75 degrees. White wines should be served a bit cooler at 41-50 degrees. I must add a note here, please do not store your red wines in the refrigerator unless this is a wine refrigerator. Standard kitchen fridge temps are kept just above the freezing mark. While your wine will not freeze, much of the flavor will be lost. If you do not have a wine fridge you can use chill packs that store in your freezer until you’re ready to use. Then you place over your bottle of wine. I typically keep one on for about 20 minutes, any longer and I find the wine becomes too cold. You can also do a quick chill in a bucket of water and ice. Again, just long enough to chill the wine not make it ice cold. The same method can be used for your kitchen fridge, just remember to pull the wine out after about 30-40 minutes. If you find the wine is too cold in the glass, cup your hands around the bowl to warm the wine.

Wine Order
If serving an array of wines through a dinner course, wine order is important. Serve dry wines before sweet wines and light wines before heavier. If serving both whites and reds, whites should precede the red wines. You can serve sparkling wines with either the appetizer or with the dessert, just be sure you’ve done your homework on pairing the weight and sweetness level of the wine to the dessert.
If you’re hosting an open house with appetizer and serve yourself foods, you have more leeway. Personally I say let guests drink what they want but if you want to offer some tips, start with colder wines (sparklers, rosés, whites) with the food and move to warmer wines when mingling. Maybe offer up a nightcap of Port to warm the bones before heading out in the frosty air.

Sparkling Wine
Celebrating with sparklers this season? Be sure to include a little bit of everything. Spumante for the sweet wine lovers, Prosecco (Italian) – fruity and dry, Cava (Spanish) -  light and fruity, Champagne (French but can only be called Champagne when from the region of the same name) – demi-sec (sweet) to brut (dry). I’ll cover more on these wines in my blog next week. 

Clean Up
At the end of the night if you should find your good linens with red wine stains, soak the stain in white wine, pour salt on the stain and rub gently. Use a sponge or cloth to then take up the salt and the wine. You can also purchase products made specifically to remove wine stains. I have used them in the past and they really do work.

Perhaps the most important responsibility as a host or hostess is to recognize when a guest has imbibed a bit too much. Nothing will put a bigger damper on your holiday or others than to learn of a friend or family member who has been jailed or worse because they drank too much and got in their car to drive. Have a few cab company numbers on hand. Or maybe one of your guests will volunteer to be chauffer to those who have had too much. I certainly wouldn’t want to shuttle a bunch of drunken people around but who knows, maybe someone will get a kick out of it.

Am I sad I won’t be with my family for Christmas this year, yes a little. It will be the first time I’ve been away from my family at this time of year, ever! But I have to look at it this way, it will give my husband and I a chance to start our own traditions and do things our way. We’ve already decided for Christmas Eve we’re doing it party style and each of us will be making two hors d'oeuvres to bring to our “party”. Christmas Day, we’re braising pork belly, something I know my family would not have any interest in eating.

Whether celebrating the season with many or a few, take the time to appreciate all you have and what the New Year may hold.


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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Christmas at Biltmore® Wine 2011

Many of us carry an idyllic image of the perfect Christmas. Majestic tree reaching toward the sky, beautiful, gleaming ornaments, an abundance of food on a table set for royalty, snow kissed landscape, beautifully wrapped presents under the tree, surrounded by family and friends and of course plenty of spirits (err, the drinkable kind). While I may not have the type of ceilings that allow for an enormous tree or a table that seats sixty, I can still capture some of that Christmas cheer with my latest sample, Christmas at Biltmore® 2011.

Nose is full of orange blossom, rose and honey notes. Flavors of sweet honeysuckle and apricot make way for a delicate citrus finish. The wine is a little on the sweet side but sipping fireside it was a delight and at $11.99, you don’t have to be a multi-millionaire to enjoy. We paired the wine with Brix Chocolate for Wine Milk Chocolate for a lovely decadent combo.

Varietals – Gewürztraminer, Muscat Canelli, Chenin Blanc and Riesling
Region – California
pH – 3.38
TA – 0.58
RS – 4%
Alcohol – 12.5%

One of these Christmases, I’m going to make the pilgrimage to the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC. The estate and grounds are full of magic and wonder bringing you back to a scene out of America’s Castles. George Vanderbilt opened the Biltmore home to family and friends on Christmas Eve 1895. Guests were greeted by a large Christmas tree placed in the Banquet Hall. The oversized table held a feast that could probably feed a small country and after dinner, George's mom read stories to the children. I wonder if George had maps made so no one would get lost on their way to the bathroom or there beds.

Last year I’m told it snowed on Christmas Eve here in the Georgia Mountains. Yesterday the high was sixty-five and I have to admit, I found it delightfully warm as I ran from store to store taking care of a little Christmas shopping for both myself and my husband. Never thought I would be visiting Tractor Supply for presents but they do have a little bit of everything. I suppose in the spring when we have our first round of chickens, I’ll be spending even more time and money at good ole’ Tractor Supply!

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah and while we’re at it, Happy Festivus, All Ya’ll!

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2011© Kellie Stargaard.  All Rights Reserved.

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Friday, December 9, 2011

Zonin Prosecco and Brix Chocolate for Wine

It’s that time of year again; time to pop open the holiday bubbly! As I’ve mentioned in past bubbly blogs, I don’t wait for special occasions to delight in the effervescent wine, any occasion will do like; it’s Monday, I woke up that day, the day ends in a “y”, etc. I do most of my bubbly drinking after dinner but sparklers can lend themselves to food, you just have to do your homework. I recently received a sample of Zonin Prosecco and a new edition to the Brix Chocolate for Wine collection, Smooth Dark Chocolate.

Now my friends know that I’m not a lover of sweets. For birthdays, I ask the office celebration be with cheese and crackers versus the lard like butter cream sheet cake from the local supermarket. Over the years I’ve learned, it’s not that I don’t like chocolate, I just don’t care for the cheaply made chocolate widely available. I do however enjoy chocolates that have been made with carefully selected cocoa, the kind that can be eaten on its own or paired with a bottle of wine. In this case, I paired with a bottle of Zonin Prosecco.

Prosecco is a dry sparkling wine but seems many American and Italian producers still produce overly sweet varieties.  Zonin Prosecco does not follow that train of thought. The wine is dry and tantalizing with loads of fruity flavors. Paired with the Brix Smooth Chocolate, both were divine but even on its own, the tiny little bubbles made just sitting at home on the couch a little more festive.

Casa Vinicola Zonin S.p.a., Italy’s largest privately held wine company, prides themselves on producing quality Prosecco. Their intention is to make all of life’s little moments more enjoyable with a glass or even a bottle of Zonin Prosecco. The Prosecco grape is native to the Veneto region where the Zonin family just happens to own the largest Prosecco vineyards in Italy.

So what do cocoa and wine have in common? Tannins. Brix has four flavors to accompany different wine varietals, the darkest reds, fruitier reds, lightest reds and dessert wines. The natural tannins in the cocoa prepare the palate for the tannins in the wine. Brix uses single-origin chocolate from Ghana, chosen for the bright, fruit forward flavors complement the complex flavors in wine. The Smooth  Dark Chocolate pairs best with Champagne, Prosecco, Riesling and Moscato.

So there you have it, the perfect pair, Zonin Prosecco and Brix Smooth Dark Chocolate. Raise a glass, break a piece off and enjoy!

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2011© Kellie Stargaard.  All Rights Reserved.

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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Clif Family Winery Kit’s Killer Cab Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

Tuesday I felt like a kid waiting for Santa, except I was waiting for a little snow fall. Is there any better way to get into the holiday swing than a nip in the air, tiny little snowflakes and a little something in your wine glass? I can’t think of a single thing. To help get us in the mood, I chose a wine that I hoped stood up to its name and did it ever! Clif Family Winery Kit’s Killer Cab was like an early Christmas present. My husband and I needed a little pampering after spending 30 hours with no running water. Ah, the joys of living in the country and getting water from a well. Seems one of the hoses had a quarter size hole that for two days allowed sediment to come into the pipes and mid-Sunday, allowed no water at all into the house. You never really appreciate in-door plumbing until it’s gone. Heck, I would have been happy with outdoor plumbing at that point. All is well now so back to Kit’s Killer Cab.

Seductive plum and leather aromas draw me in for the first sip. Flavors are full of cherries, cocoa and vanilla. Well structured tannins and a long spicy vanilla finish. A great holiday splurge to bring to the table or just to drink on its own.

Appellation – Napa Valley
Varietal Blend – 78% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 6% Cab Franc
Alcohol: 14.1%
Release Date: Spring 2011
Cases Produced: 250
Winemakers: Sarah Gott and Bruce Regalia
Suggested Retail Price: $38

When I first wrote about Clif Family Wines, I was two days away from moving from warm, sunny and flat Florida to sometimes warm, sometimes sunny always hilly and mountainous NE Georgia. I spoke then about how the Clif Family embraces a certain lifestyle and I longed to have a different way of living myself. In the three months we’ve lived in our home, we’ve taken to more of a living off the land and buying local lifestyle. We’ve purchase 1/8 of a cow from Loganberry Farms in Dahlonega, my husband planted a small winter garden and plotted where multiple gardens, berry patches, fruit and nut trees will be planted in the upcoming months.

As I look out our front window, I marvel at the thousands of leaves blanketing the lawn. Every day the landscape takes on more of a wintery look. Makes me wonder, will the last of the leaves still clinging to their branches be covered with a fine white snow later today? No, I guess not but I look forward to waking up to a wintery wonderland in the near future. Just hope I don’t have to drive anywhere that day! Good thing I always have plenty of wine in the house.

If you would like to send samples for my review, please contact me at

2011© Kellie Stargaard.  All Rights Reserved.

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