Bubbly, Babies, Christmas Trees and Cigars, Oh My!

Highclere Castle Cigar

I know, I know, we all say it every year, but the holidays REALLY flew by this time. Like, completely disappeared. Maybe it had something to do with having Baby Wine Esquire around, but I didn’t even have time to watch Love Actually. Or Elf. Or It’s A Wonderful Life[1]. I’d like to go back to Thanksgiving and have a do over. Preferably without having to go to work this time. Who’s with me?

Thankfully, I did have some time to drink some wine, change some diapers, sip on some bubbles, change more diapers, and … smoke cigars. Yes, you ready that right. Cigars. Not something I typically do, but Husband’s new venture had me hard-pressed to take a puff. In between sips of course.

Highclere Castle Cigar

Highclere Castle Cigar is a partnership between Husband, Nick Melillo, master cigar blender/ founder of Foundation Cigar Company, and George Herbert, the 8th Earl of Carnarvon, owner of Highclere Castle, also known as the Real Downton Abbey[2].

Quite the unlikely trio, but you never know where life will take you. A few years ago, it took Husband and I across the pond to Highclere to meet Lord Carnarvon and his lovely wife Fiona[3]. I fondly recall our jaunt up to Scotland where the zero-tolerance drinking and driving policy turned me into the designated driver on our tour of Scottish distilleries.

Me.

Driving.

On the wrong side of the road.

On the wrong side of the car.

Let’s just say there were some white-knuckle moments, and a few extra laps around a few wee rotaries. Since that trip, they’ve been working on all manner of projects, including Highclere Castle Gin, the botanicals for which are being grown at Highclere as we speak, and is set to be launched this year, and Highclere Castle Cigar, which was launched this past July.

Highclere Castle Downton Abbey

With Melillo’s cigar genius, they created a cigar reminiscent of those that would have been smoked at Highclere at the turn of the century. Cigars have long been part of life at Highclere, with the family importing cigars to the castle by the hundreds, while also keeping a well-stocked humidor at The Ritz in London.

It turns out cigars go very well with red wine, and even bubbly[4]. Now I’m in no way a cigar connoisseur, but I got some serious tobacco on the nose of these babies. I think I’m just about ready to start a cigar blog[5]. No but seriously, people with legit cigar blogs have been loving the way these babies smoke. And for not being a cigar smoker, or a smoker of any kind, the puffs I puffed were magically smooth and delicious.

Highclere Castle Cigar

As for the bubbles, I had a bit more luck in picking out some flavors there. So far, my favorite of the season has been Santa Julia’s Blanc de Blanc, an organic sparkling Chardonnay from Mendoza, Argentina. Bready with a hint of honey, this was the perfect start to our Christmas Eve soirée. The ultra-fine bubbles paired rather well with the delectable selection of cheeses Mother-in-Law gifted me[6]. And for bubbly under $15, this is a serious must have.

Santa Julia Blanc de Blanc

Blanc de Blanc translates to “white from whites” and is used to describe sparkling wines made purely from white grapes, most frequently Chardonnay. I’ve been enjoying Blanc de Blancs for years without knowing this. It’s really true that you learn something new every day.

As for babies and Christmas trees, I really just added that to the title so I could share this shot with you. Isn’t he precious?[7]

Baby Wine Esquire
Babies Love Christmas Trees

Until the next glass my friends, Cheers! Oh, and Happy New Year! Can’t wait to celebrate with you all, one new bottle at a time!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] The list goes on and on. But I am watching White Christmas as I write this. Better late than never.
[2] Where my Downton fans at? They sorta kinda just announced the movie, I’m so excited! #spoileralert Little Sissy is still heartbroken about Matthew and refuses to watch after Season 3.

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle
The Red Couch!

[3] And yes, I got to sit on THE red couch! AND see Mary and Matthew’s bench!

Downton Abbey Highclere Castle
Their Bench!

[4] But honestly, what DOESN’T go with bubbly?
[5] Just kidding. The cigar aficionados of the world take these sticks seriously, and they love to Instagram their smokes almost as much as us winos!
[6] Because cheese is ALWAYS the right thing to give at Christmas! Such a good idea!
[7] #SantaSuitForTheWin

What to Drink: Thanksgiving Edition

There’s a few important things coming up on the calendar:

  1. T-Minus TEN days until Turkey Day[1]
  2. T-Minus ELEVEN days until Black Friday[2]
  3. T-Minus FOURTEEN days until Cyber Monday[3]
Because Bubbly is always a good idea! (c) Vinley Market
Because Bubbly is always a good idea! (c) Vinley Market

There’s a lot to do to prepare in the coming days, arguably the most important of which is deciding which wines you’ll be pairing with your Thanksgiving Feast[4]. I’ve teamed up with Vinley Market to discuss what wines go best with turkey, Grandma’s Stuffing and Aunt Mary’s Sweet Potato Casserole. I’m thinking that Zinfandel, Rosé and Riesling should all be making appearances. And if you’re not hosting, you should probably bring a bottle of bubbly![5]

Check out my Thanksgiving Wine Pairings and let me know what you’ll be drinking this Turkey Day.

And while you’re at it, get 10% off your wine order at Vinley Market with coupon code WINEESQUIRE10.

Until the next glass, Cheers!

Lawyer Footnotes
[1] That means its T-MINUS TEN days and a few hours until 24/7 Christmas Music! YAY
[2] Also, another day off work. #score
[3] Is your Amazon Wish List ready? Mine is. #alwaysready
[4] Or Friendsgiving Feast, as the case may be.
[5] Obviously.

Place Setting Goals (c) Vinly Market
Place Setting Goals (c) Vinley Market

Open That Bottle Night – Chapoutier For The Win

File Feb 28, 8 55 07 AMIf you haven’t heard about Open That Bottle Night, you’re probably living under a rock. A brilliant pair of wine aficionados[1] invented the holiday in 1999, and every year, on the last Saturday in February, the world pops open one of “Those Bottles.” You know the ones; you’ve been saving it for something special, you just don’t know what. The annual event is an excuse to take a time out, be a bit decadent, and drink some amazing wine. What could be better?[2]

As I perused the wine cellar[3] in the basement, I realized that I need more good wine[4]. I was deciding between two of my Last Bottle Marathon selections, a 2012 Chateau Montelena[5] Cabernet and the 2007 Chapoutier Sizeranne Hermitage. I went French, because, good juju for the Millesima Blog Awards can’t hurt![6] It was not a bad decision.


To:                  Alleged Blog Readers
From:              WineEsquire
Date:               February 27, 2016
Wine:              2007 Chapoutier Monier de la Sizeranne – Hermitage


File Feb 28, 9 02 05 AMEver since I got my beautiful decanter, I tend to err on the side of decanting, especially if I know it’s a big wine or there’s a bit of age to it. The process of decanting is almost cathartic, and the Rabbit shower aerator makes the whole thing very fun.

We didn’t leave it in the decanter for long[7], but poured right into our glasses and started sipping. Husband quickly exclaimed, “Wow!” The nose at first had a bit of a Bordeaux flowery vibe. After the first sip he cried, “This is what wine should taste like!” My own reaction was a bit more subdued, I wasn’t getting quite as much as Husband, but it was certainly a smooth, delectable experience.

File Feb 28, 8 59 41 AMWhat was really fascinating was how the wine changed over an hour’s time span. My initial nose reaction was barn; musty dirt, a bit of earthiness. At first the wine appeared to me to be light with hints of fruit; first raspberry, then pronounced cherry, like the old Luden’s cough drops in the white waxy paper. On the finish I got a bit of bread, maybe almost some yeast. The wine wasn’t dry per se, but it made my mouth feel tight on the finish, perhaps just the slightest hint of tannins.

An hour later and the wine really changed. I mean, really changed. It went from the lighter end of the spectrum to a heavier, deeper juice. More body, more complex, much drier. Still delicious, but astoundingly different. The fruit notes turned into a deep, smoky burnt wood. Isn’t it crazy how wine can do that?

Instead of a meal, we paired That Bottle with a variety of stanky cheeses from the bits and bobs bin at Whole Paycheck Foods. A hunk of French cow, a 9 month aged Gouda, and a slab of perfectly salty Parmesan[8]. What a way to spend our first OTBN as we pre-gamed for a dinner party down the street.

Wine Dossier
Maison M. Chapoutier is an old winemaking estate in Tain-l’Hermitage, a small commune in the Rhone region of France. Michel Chapoutier, a seventh generation winemaker, is continuing what his ancestor Polydor Chapoutier started in 1879 when he bought the family’s first vines in the area.

File Feb 28, 8 57 16 AMBecause this is a French bottle, the label needs some deciphering. Chapoutier labels are rather unique in that, since 1996, the important details[9] are not only written, but printed in Braille as well. The idea started when current vintner Michel realized his blind friend, Gilbert Montagnin, could not read wine labels. Coincidentally, Maurice Monier de la Sizeranne, original owner of the plot of the Hermitage where this wine hails from, blinded at age nine himself, invented the first version of abbreviated Braille.

This bottle doesn’t really give you any information about what kind of wine it is[10]. Sizeranne and Hermitage both refer to the location the grapes were grown, Sizeranne being the specific vineyard plot within the Hermitage commune. Some fine print on the bottom simply says “Vin Rouge, Red Wine.” The Chapoutier website indicates the wine is made from Syrah grapes aged in oak casks for between 12 and 14 months. Other websites claim it’s a blend of Syrah and Grenache. Whatever it is, it tastes good.

During the Marathon I picked this baby up for $69; right now it’s retailing online for between $80 and $120. If you’re up for a pricy adventure, give it a whirl; it certainly won’t disappoint!

Lawyer Footnotes
File Feb 28, 9 05 14 AM[1] Who just happen to be married to each other and are the cutest ever.
[2] To be fair, I think we celebrate this holiday on a regular basis, just not always with the pricier bottles.
[3] I use the term “wine cellar” very loosely, as it’s really just a few wine racks in our basement. We’re trying to improve the humidity with a dehumidifier and some shower curtains. Highly specialized. Very official.
[4] I totally have Novinophobia, defined by the Urban Dictionary as “the fear of running out wine.” Despite my best attempts, I was unable to locate any scientific data that supports that this affliction is real.
[5] One of my cult favorites.
[6] If you voted in the Millesima Blog Awards, thank you so so much!
[7] #PatienceIsAVirtueWeDontHave
[8] Did I mention how heavenly the Parmesan is? It’s amazing.
[9] Like the producer, the vintage, the vineyard, the region and the color of the wine.
[10] I feel like this is often an issue with French bottles.

Open That Bottle Night #OTBN

File Feb 24, 11 40 38 AMBeing immersed in the wonderful world of wine is a great place to be. One of the best parts is learning about all the international wine holidays I never knew existed. You know, Wine Wednesday, National Drink Wine Day, National Wine Day, Rosé Day, etc.[1] I’m a big believer in celebrations, but I’m usually late to the party when it comes to these holidays, so that’s why I check what’s trending on Twitter.[2] Today I saw that #OTBN had been going for a few hours. I often always have to google what everyone is talking about, and it turns out that OTBN stands for Open That Bottle Night, a yearly event that occurs on the last Saturday in February.

The purpose is to open “That Bottle” you’ve been holding on to for one reason or another and celebrate with friends, just because. What better way to take a time out from the daily grind, sit back and take a sip. Dorothy J. Gaiter and John Brecher, a husband and wife wine loving duo, invented the holiday in 1999[3] and it’s been going strong ever since[4].

File Feb 24, 11 40 25 AMTonight’s task, while celebrating #WineWednesday of course, is to pick out what bottle I’ll be opening in celebration of this fabulous holiday. I’m sure I have a few to choose from lying around somewhere, and what a great excuse!

What will you be opening? Tag @WineEsquire on Instagram and Twitter to let me know!

Shameless Plug
If you haven’t voted yet, head over to Facebook and vote for Wine Esquire in the Milessima Wine Blog Awards. Winning means I’d get to head across the pond for an epic wine adventure in Bordeaux. Read more here. Or just go vote. Note that voting ends THIS FRIDAY, February 26, so get goin’! Cheers!

File Feb 24, 11 40 08 AMLawyer Footnotes
[1] As if anyone really needs an excuse…but whatever, it’s fun.
[2] Like The Donald’s latest quip, “I love the poorly educated.” #futureprez
[3] New item on the bucket list: Invent a Holiday.
[4] Alas, I’ve been missing out all these years since this is the first I’ve heard of it. #NoTimeLikeThePresent