Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot, 2014

Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot, 2014 is definitely not your grandmother’s merlot. In fact, this gusty Napa Merlot is a reminder of just how outstanding Merlot can be. It’s worth remembering that some of the finest wines from Bordeaux are Merlot or Merlot-based. Robert Mondavi’s Napa Merlot shows a ton of rich, dark fruit (no surprise there–the fruit is sourced from appellations such as Stag’s Leap District, Yountville, and Rutherford.) Sixteen months in French oak imparts depth and more layers of flavor to this complex, beautifully balanced Merlot.

2014 Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Merlot

Alsatian Sensation

Alsace is a relatively small wine region on the eastern border of France next to modern day Germany. Both countries claim influence over the region’s wine, but the fact is that Alsatian wine is a  world unto itself. The micro-climate, grape varietals, and  wine-making traditions are uniquely their own. Long, cool days–with lots of sunshine–bring grapes to full ripeness–raising sugar content and by extension, alcohol content. While German Rieslings are almost always sweet, Alsatian Rieslings and Gewurztraminers are almost always dry (the Alsatians ferment-out more sugar–resulting in higher alcohol content.)

Bottom Line: The wines of Alsace are some of the most exotic and alluring wines in Europe. Here are some examples of Alsace at its best:

Pierre Sparr Cremant d’Alsace Reserve Brut Rose (NV) is 100% Pinot Noir, hand-harvested. This Champagne-method Cremant carries aromas of raspberry and strawberry followed by rich fruit and brisk acidity. 12.5% ABV   22.00

Domaines Schlumberger Grand Cru Saering Riesling (2012) spends eight months on the lees (solid particles precipitated from the juice)–plenty of time to absorb extra flavor. The result is intense in aroma and on the palate…almost more than the senses can process. Wow.  12.5% ABV  29.00

Zind-Humbrecht Gewurztraminer (2015) comes across intensely floral and citrusy for a wine that is essentially very clean and delicate. Bring on the Asian/Indian food. 13.5% ABV   27.00

Hugel Classic Pinot Gris (2014) clean, crisp fruit aromas, completely dry in character with subtle fruit and satisfying body–Pinot Gris like you’ve never had. 13% ABV   22.00

Trimbach Riesling (2013) dry, delicate, loaded with character developed from years of bottle aging in the cellar. Delicate bouquet and nicely balanced, Trimbach is naturally rich and lingering. 13% ABV   20.00

Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose (NV) produced in the Champagne-method, this Cremant is light pink in color, reveals rich red fruit on the palate, and ends with nicely balanced fresh acidity. 12% ABV   22.00

Wines of Alsace: Brut Roses, Rieslings, Pinot Gris, and Cremant d’Alsace




Martini & Rossi Sparklers

Say hello to Martini & Rossi sparkling wines: Martini & Rossi Prosecco and Martini & Rossi Sparkling Rose!

Long a powerhouse in the European beverage world, it’s no surprise that M&R is a big fish in the ocean of sparkling wine out there. Bubblies are big and Prosecco is one of the hottest tickets in the world of sparkling wines. Last summer in London, my wife and I never walked into a pub without seeing a glass or a bottle of Prosecco on someone’s table. Loosely translated, I think Prosecco means “fun/festive/affordable” in Italian–if it doesn’t, it should…

Martini & Rossi Prosecco is considered “Extra Dry”–which strangely enough means it is not as dry as “Brut.” A nice bit of citrus acidity balances out the delicious fruit core of this little gem from Northeast Italy. (11.5% ABV)   Ciao, Bella!   13.00

Martini & Rossi Sparkling Rose Extra Dry blushes pink through its lively bubbles. A blend of Riesling Italico, Chardonnay, Glera (used to make Prosecco) with a touch of Nebbiolo (Italy’s iconic red grape), M&R Sparkling Rose displays tangy fruit and a clean finish. Perfect with robust cheeses. (11.5% ABV)  15.00

Martini & Rossi Prosecco and M&R Sparkling Rose

Tommasi Prosecco Tenuta Filodora

Tommasi Prosecco Tenuta Filodora…that’s a lotta name but Tommasi’s take on Prosecco deserves a name of note. Tenuta Filodora is a 37 acre block of vineyards right in the heart of the Prosecco DOCG region–sort like having little condo on the beach in Maui. Layers of fruit, medium body, first-class Italian sparkler. 16.00

Tommasi Prosecco Tenuta Filodora

Dark Knight, from Castello di Gabbiano

The 2016 Dark Knight, from Castello di Gabbiano is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangeovese. The juice is given six months in oak before bottle aging for three months. The result is a sort of entry-level Super Tuscan. Loaded with aromatic spice, coffee, and chocolate notes, Dark Knight goes on deliver the corresponding flavors to the palate. Nice long finish. Molto Buono!  17.00

2016 Dark Knight from Gabbiano

3Badge Wines

MooBuzz Cabernet Sauvignon, The White Knight Prosecco

MOOBUZZ Cabernet ??

Sometimes 3Badge Wines comes up with some eccentric names for their wines but it turns out that Moobuzz Cabernet, would still be a tasty little drop–no matter what they called it. A hearty combination of Paso Robles fruit (80% Cab and 20% Petite Verdot) delivers a rich, satisfying red just made for grilled meats or pasta sauce.  22.00

Leese-Fitch Firehouse Red Wine from 3Badge brings together everything but the kitchen sink: Petite Sirah, Syrah, Zinfandel, Merlot, Mourvedre, and Tempranillo in what proves to be a complex (no surprise there, considering the range of varietals) blend with a spectrum of lush aromas/flavors. Firehouse would make a great house red.  12.00

And just to mix it up a little, 3Badge offers The White Knight, a Brut Prosecco, D.O.C. Great effervescence, nice floral aromas, and clean, delicate flavors.  15.00

Many Styles of Sparkling Wines

Defining sparkling wine is almost as hard as defining Country Music. How is a body to make sense of all those sparklers: Champagne, California Sparkling Wine, Prosecco, Spumante, Cremant, Blanquette, and Cava?

And what on earth is the difference between Vintage and Non-Vintage, Brut Natural and Brut, Extra Dry and Sec, Demi Sec and Doux?

How to navigate the ocean of bubbles out there:

The term “Champagne” gets tossed around pretty freely.

Authentic Champagne derives only from the Champagne region of Northern France. By law, it may only be made from chardonnay, pinot noir, or pinot meunier grapes, secondary fermentation must take place in the bottle, and only specially designated (outstanding) years can be labeled “Vintage.” The vast majority of Champagne is Non-Vintage (NV).

Champagne’s extended bottle-aging allows flavors to evolve and increases the formation of tiny bubbles and those tiny bubbles carry big aroma and flavor messages to our senses. Famous Champagne houses such as Pol Roger and Gosset take great pride in their unique tradition and style: Pol Roger (NV) Brut (59.00) and Gosset Brut Excellence (39.00)

California Sparkling Wines are often made using the Champagne Method (and the label will say so) but producers are not subject to Champagne’s strict regulations. Two favorites from California: Mumm Napa Brut Prestige (22.00) and Mumm Napa Brut Rose (24.00)

Prosecco and Spumante, from Northeast Italy, are fermented under pressure in glass-lined tanks. Both wines are relatively low in alcohol and have moderate fizz. Prosecco tends to have a hint of residual sugar while Spumante is unapologetically sweet: DaLuca Prosecco (14.00) and Lamberti Rose Spumante (14.00) are great examples of the two styles.

Cremant and Blanquette are French sparkling wines and pre-date Champagne. Both undergo secondary fermentation in the bottle but cost a fraction the price of their Champagne cousins. Charles Sparr Cermant Rose (19.00) brings home red fruit-tinged bubbles from the Alsace region of France.

Cavas are Spanish bubblies made in the Champagne Method using indigenous grapes. Cavas, like Segura Viudas Brut (11.00) are generally dry, crisp, and outstanding for quality and value.


European sparkling wines are labeled according to their residual sugar—from driest to sweetest: Brut Nature, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi Sec, and Doux. Residual sugar standards are a little different in the USA but we use the same terms—except Brut Nature (the driest) is sometimes labeled “Natural” or “Extra Brut” here. Brut or Extra Dry are the most popular styles. Odd as it may seem, Brut is drier than Extra Dry—confusing? Oui.

The McBride Sisters Collection

The story of the McBride sisters should be told over a glass or two of wine–preferably from  The McBride Sisters Collection.

Robin and Andrea grew up at opposite ends of the earth, each thinking they were an only child. As young adults, they met for the first time and learned that they had the same father, but different mothers. Robin was raised in LA, and Andrea grew up in New Zealand. Their mutual love of wine–and entrepreneurial nature led them to launch their wine careers by importing unique New Zealand wines. Among their many firsts, the McBride sisters are the first African American sisters to found and own a wine company.

McBride Sisters Collection

The McBride Sisters Collection is their third collection and includes a mouth-watering and aeromatic Sauvignon Blanc (17.00) from New Zealand’s famous Marlborough region, a classy Kiwi Brut Rose (20.00) (90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay) made in the traditional Champagne-method, a rich California Central Coast Chardonnay (17.00) and a hearty Red Blend (17.00), also from the Central Coast. Bottom line: the McBride Sisters Collection delivers quality and value–along with a great story.