Drinks, Sparkling Wine

Why Pét Nat is the Bubbly to Drink Right Now

April 11, 2018

If you’re one of those people who scans the sparkling wine and champagne list at every hip restaurant you visit, you’ve probably noticed a lot of biodynamic bubbly. If you’ve ordered one, you’ve probably been thrilled with the luxurious mouthfeel, exotic aromas and exuberant flavors.

What the list probably doesn’t tell you is that these wines often are made using a process called pétillant-naturel  or  pét nat for short. For me, it’s one of the most exciting, unpredictable and delicious styles of bubbly to drink right now.

melaric globules roses wine

Everyone wanted more of the Mélaric Globules Roses, a méthode ancestrale cabernet franc sparkling wine from the Loire.

A pét nat sparkling wine employs a minimal style of winemaking perfect for multi-taskers.  It’s a one-step process that creates wine and adds bubbles at the same time. While the yeast is still eating sugar in the grape juice and producing alcohol and CO2 during the primary fermentation, the whole mixture is bottled.  While fermentation happens inside the bottle, like with champagne, but the final wine is very different from the precise and controlled méthode champenoise.

That’s because with pét nat wines, the yeast, effervescence, aromas and flavors that develop stay inside the bottle until you get ready to disgorge and drink it.  Also known as méthode ancestrale, this hands-off technique produces lively wines of such character that it’s been embraced by many biodynamic winemakers today.

I’m looking forward to trying more pét nat wines like the Johan Vineyards Melon de Bourgogne from Oregon — they also make a pét nat pinot noir rosé —  at the Demeter International Biodynamic Wine Conference on May 6-7, 2018 in San Francisco. In the meantime, here are a couple of my favorites:

Mélaric Globules Rosés

One night while making our way down Mississippi Street in Portland, we stopped at Olympia Oyster Bar. The wine list was overflowing with carefully sourced biodynamic and organic treasures. I loved all three sparkling wines, but the one that spoke to me was the biodynamic Mélaric Globules Rosés from the Loire. This cabernet franc wine delivered an intense explosion of  wild strawberries, red plums, earth and toast that immediately reminded me of  Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé with a sauvage edge. The stunning thing is that the Mélaric delivers so much flavor and impact for right around $22 a bottle — a fraction of the Billecart-Salmon.

The next day, the next week, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. But when I went home, I couldn’t find it

melanie and aymeric Hillaire

Mélanie and Aymeric of Vins Mélaric

anywhere. I sent plaintive emails starting with “AIDEZ MOI” to a handful retailers in France. But in the end, I located the wine at Corkscru, an indie wine importer and retailer in Portland run by a guy named Dan Beekley. He writes wonderful emails that evoke a sense of adventure and discovery. Read one and you’ll feel like you’re with him on a bicycle bumping down a dirt road in the Loire to meet a family and try their little handcrafted wine.

Aymeric and Mélanie Hillare, the duo behind Mélaric Globules Rosés live in the south Saumur, a beautiful region that’s a hotbed of biodynamic winemaking. They met studying viticulture at Montepelier and worked together at wineries in Bandol, Sauternes and Chinon. In 2006, they moved to the new appellation Saumur Puy Notre Dame, acquired vineyards and started making wine.

The Mélaric isn’t listed on the Corkscru website, but call and they’ll be happy to send you a bottle or six.

Sarah’s Rustic Bubbles

I met Sarah and her husband Guy a few years ago at a picnic during the Anderson Valley Pinot Noir Festival.  The dinner line was moving slooowly and Sarah has a big smile, so we started talking.   I learned that her dad, Kurt Schoeneman owned the acclaimed Ferrington Vineyard, which supplies pinot noir and chardonnay grapes to Williams Selyem for a vineyard designate bottling, along with Poe and Schramsberg’s J. Davies brand, among others.

We’d been out of touch for a while when we reconnected by email, and Guy told me about their family winery called Fathers and Daughters. Their first bubbly is a chardonnay blanc de blancs made in the pet nat style.  It’s a slightly wild form of bubbly, since the yeast does its thing and stays in the bottle until you decide to carefully chill the bottle, open it and drink it.

I almost don’t have words to describe this wine. It was a multi-sensory experience, starting with my heart racing a bit as as I got ready to disgorge in the kitchen sink.  I followed the instructions to get it really cold first , so when I uncapped it over the kitchen sink, so I didn’t lose much.

Aromas ranged from fresh golden apples to peanuts to white flowers. The wine had a beautiful mousse like a fluffy meringue. At times it tasted like chardonnay, other times it was like drinking a dry cider or an aromatic wheat beer.

It felt like the wine was alive — which is part of the joy of pét nat wines.

 

 

 

Restaurants

Here’s What You’re Missing at CDP, the Sexy Bar by Commis

March 26, 2018
popcorn and sparkling wine

When I first heard about the expansion plans for the Michelin-starred restaurant Commis, my reaction was mixed. Sure, it would be cool to have a chic bar by chef James Syhabout right next door to my place in Oakland. But it also meant saying goodbye to my favorite designer second-hand store, since they lost their lease to make room.

But after just a few visits to CDP, I’m very happy with the swap.

If you haven’t made it over to Piedmont Avenue to try  CDP (short for chef de partie) yet, you’re missing out on an exquisite cocktail and dining experience where every detail has been considered carefully. considered. The first thing to catch my eye in the space designed by Gensler was a wardrobe fronted by coppery chain curtain — what an unexpected and sexy way to store coats. A gleaming Carrara marble waterfall bar is the focal point of the dimly lit room framed by potted palms starburst chandeliers and sinuous pendant lights.

oakland 09 cocktail commis bar cdp oakland

CDP’s Oakland 09 is a play on the classic French 75.

CDP specializes in brandy and bubbly — two of my favorite things. The signature cocktail is the Oakland 09, named for the year that Commis first opened. Their riff on the French 75 is all kinds of extra: it stars Pineau des Charentes and housemade demi-sec bubbly (seriously, who else does that??)  The final touch: A spritz of jasmine essence, one of the aromas Syhabout associates with his Oakland neighborhood.

Brandy lovers will want the Blood Orange Side Car, a juicy twist on the classic. It’s spiritous enough to relax you, but I like the way the blood orange juice rounds out the flavors.

But for me, the big draw at CDP is the exquisite bar food that shows Syhabout’s creativity and chops.

brussels sprouts with chervil CDP

CDP’s brussels sprouts just might be the best in the Bay Area.

I know Brussels sprouts are on every menu in town, but trust me — you won’t find any as good as these. They’re crisped in a pan, then crispy cook sprouts and raw leaves are bathed in a luxurious, tangy vinaigrette that gets a lift from the under-appreciated herb chervil. That distinct licorice flavor surfaces again in the steak tartare with chervil creme. Syhabout deftly evokes the satisfying flavors of a rib-eye steak with bearnaise, with none of the heft.

And yes, you do need to try the warm boule of bread and chicken skin butter — it’s a nearly life-changing experience and the butter, topped in delicate flower petal and herb design, is downright beautiful.

butter decorated with flowers

Tweezer food alert: CDP’s schmaltzy butter topped with flower petals and herbs.

There’s even a happy hour menu (early from 5 to 6 and late from 9:30 p.m.to close) that starts at $3 for fine nibbles like Marcona almonds dusted in pink peppercorn and rose sugar, a funky little ham sandwich sweetened with honey or my favorite — the popcorn in seaweed brown butter. Try it with a flute of the Gramona Brut Cava or — maybe the Thienot champagne. And then repeat.

The team at CDP knows the way to a bubbly girl’s heart.

 

 

 

 

Bubbly Girl Cocktail Recipes, Drinks

Make My Bittersweet Naughty Negroni

February 1, 2018

Anyone who loves classic cocktails or things Italian knows the Negroni. It’s a bracing and bittersweet cocktail that stars Campari, sweet vermouth and gin.

Lately, I’ve noticed that riffs on this traditional Florentine cocktail have been making the rounds.

count-camillo-negroni

From camillonegroni.com

Just the other day, GQ Magazine penned a love letter to the Negroni Sbagliato, a version that adds a sparkling wine, such as Prosecco, to the mix. The name “sbagliato” roughly means broken or incorrect, as if adding Prosecco is a bad thing.

The original Negroni is named for Count Camillo Negroni, an esteemed patron of Caffè Cassoni in Florence. He usually drank Americanos (Campari, sweet vermouth and club soda), but one day in 1919, he asked barman Fosco Scarselli to swap the soda for gin!

What may have started as libation to erase a bad day has become an Italian contribution to the classic cocktail pantheon.  The Count even has his own tribute site and inspired a couple books.

Judging from the drink, I bet he liked other bitter elixirs like Italian espresso. I found my first Negronis a bit too bitter and viscous for my palate. So while I was developing recipes for my book The Bubbly Bar back in 2007, I made a softer version.

My Naughty Negroni includes a splash of Moscato d’Asti. This refreshing sparkling wine from Piedmont adds freshness and lightens. But it’s still a perfectly bittersweet aperitif  and a great way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

The Naughty Negroni 

1 ounce Campari
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 ounce gin
3-4 ounces Moscato d’Asti, chilled
1 orange peel spiral, for garnish

Add the Campari, vermouth and gin to a cocktail shaker filled with ice. Shake until your hands are cold, then strain into a champagne flute. Top with Moscato and garnish with the orange peel.

Makes 1 cocktail

© By Maria C. Hunt – Author of The Bubbly Bar. All rights reserved.

Dinner Tonight, Food + Recipes

Cauliflower: My Vegetable of the Moment

August 31, 2017
true_food_kitch_mediterranean_cauliflower

When I’ve made the same vegetable for dinner twice in one week, it’s more than a matter of convenience; I’m officially obsessed.

Right now, I’m fascinated with cauliflower. Sure, this milky member of the crucifer family lacks the superfood sexiness of kale, the exoticism of eggplant or even the sweet crunch of carrots. No, this mild-mannered vegetable is a quiet superhero of the vegetable world with the ability to be anything you want it to be.

It started with a gorgeous Food 52 image of this deep chestnut brown cauliflower steak. In case you’re wondering, you get a cauliflower steak by slicing it about 3/4-inch thick. Here’s a Dan Barber recipe for cauliflower steaks that I spotted on Food 52.

And when True Food Kitchen opened in Walnut Creek, I went to visit their super chef Nathan Coulon. We shared the Mediterranean roasted cauliflower with tahini, harissa and mint, and it’s been one of my favorite dishes there ever since. I can’t find the real recipe online, but there are a few good copycat versions, like this one by Alyssa of Her Modern Kitchen.

I’ve made cauliflower mashed potatoes, and they turned out just as creamy as the ones from the actual tuber, with a fraction of the simple carbs. And buffalo chicken cauliflower, with a tangy hot pepper sauce mellowed with a hint of sweetness, is pretty tasty, too.

But I’ve drawn the line at subbing cauliflower for a pizza crust. You may even like that sort of thing, but there are some places a Chicago girl just won’t go.

Drinks, Sparkling Wine

Drink This: Richard Grant Cuvée Rosé Brut

September 20, 2016

I never know where I’ll discover a great sparkling wine that I’ve never tasted before.

This summer, it happened at the grand opening of the Axiom Hotel, a tech-enhanced 152-room boutique hotel near Union Square in San Francisco. The owners kept vintage touches like scrolled columns and exposed brick, adding tech amenities like Bluetooth enabled 42-inch flat-screen TVs in rooms, Pac-Man and Space Invaders in the upstairs lobby and fiber-optic cable Wi-Fi that’s lightening fast and free.

The hosts were showing off their signature cocktails like the Axiom, an updated sour with rye, honey, lemon and two kinds of bitters. And it was hard to ignore the dancers in the green LED-light suits.image

But I was more interested in the unfamiliar bottle of sparkling wine I spotted behind the bar: Richard Grant Pinot Noir Cuvée Rosé Brut. When I finally got a glass at the downstairs bar, I loved the deep and intense flavors of berries and pink grapefruit in this dry sparkling wine.

Who is Richard Grant?

It turns out the full name of the man behind this wine is Richard Grant Peterson. Most California wine lovers don’t know who he is, but Dick Peterson just may be the most influential person in the California wine industry you’ve never heard of.

His two daughters are quite famous though: Holly Peterson is a chef and former instructor at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in St. Helena, while Heidi Peterson Barrett of La Sirena is the original winemaker who made cult labels like Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle and Grace Family famous.

Richard Peterson is a scientist and inventor whose wine career started with E&J Gallo in the late 1950s. He’s credited with bringing dry wines and bubbly to Gallo. Next he took over Beaulieu Vineyards from the legendary André Tchelistcheff, later working for The Monterey Vineyard and Atlas Peak.

His biggest impact may be his innovations in wine making techniques and equipment, such as creating the metal wine pallet system that’s used in wineries all over the world. When I interviewed Heidi Barrett a few years ago, she remarked how her dad unselfishly gave that invention — known as the Peterson Pallet — to the wine industry, never seeking a patent or any compensation. thewinemaker cover ss

And here’s another fun fact about Peterson: he created the first wine cooler. We turn up our nose at them now, but when I was just about 21, wine coolers opened a gateway to white Zinfandel, which led to Chardonnay and then international sparkling wine — and the rest is history! You can learn more about Grant’s childhood and his fascinating life in the wine industry in his 2015 autobiography called The Winemaker.

His sparkling wine probably owes some of its distinctive flavor profile to the fact that it’s made from the rare and ancient Wrotham pinot noir clone. Get a taste of Grant’s Pinot Noir Cuvée Rosé Brut at the bar at the Axiom, or order a bottle at Cellar Collections. Grant’s wine sells for an unbelievably modest $22, but trust me — it drinks like a wine twice the price.