Carson Kressley Wine FAQ

Carson Kressley, courtesy Discovery Networks

Carson Kressley is best known for making over folks, first in the landmark Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and now on Carson Nation on OWN.  But this fall, he’s getting the movement makeover, if you will, as one of the celebs competing on Dancing With the Stars this fall on ABC.

Anne caught up with Mr. Kressley at a TV press event last January and got this very basic FAQ from him.

“Here’s the thing.   I love champagne,” he said.   “Well, everyone says you can’t get champagne if it’s not from Champagne [France].  But isn’t it true that there are equally good sparkling wines that don’t come from Champagne?  What are the good ones?”

Well, Mr. Kressley, it’s more that you can’t call it champagne if it doesn’t come from Champagne, since, like most European wines, it’s named by where it’s from rather than what’s in it. When you’ve got a region growing all the same grapes and making roughly the same blend, as happens in Europe, it’s kind of obvious that when you call something champagne, it’s going to be a wine made with either chardonnay or pinot noir grapes with the distinctive bubbles in it.

In other wine growing areas, say, California’s Central Coast, or Australia’s Barossa Valley, it’s not so obvious what the grapes/wines are because they grow all kinds in both regions. So the kind of wine is going to be in large type on the label, along with where it was grown/made.

And, you are absolutely right, there are wonderful sparkling wines being made all over the world – usually by the Méthode Champenoise, which is just like it sounds – how they do it in Champagne, by fermenting the wine first, then bottling it, adding just a tiny bit of sugar and yeast to the bottle, then letting it ferment again to make all those lovely little bubbles.

What are the good ones? Well, that’s a mighty long list. We ran into a perfectly lovely pink bubbly from Touraine, France, a year or so back. There are some terrific cavas (from Spain) out there. If you like a sweeter note, some of the Italian Proseccos are pretty good.

Just don’t forget California. There are some pretty good producers around the state, including one we just featured last week, from Terra Sávia. Riverbench, in the Santa Ynez Valley, also makes a really good one, too. And keep reading for a future profile on Riverbench.

The best thing to do, is just keep trying bubblies to find the ones you like. I know. It’s a tough job, Mr. Kressley, but someone has to do it.

Terra Sávia 2009 Chardonnay, Mendocino County

Courtesy Terra Sávia

Type: Dry white

What makes it special: Chardonnay without the oak or butter

Plays well with: Chicken, light sauces, cheeses, salads, light fish dishes

This 2009 chardonnay has a fresh clean nose – it basically smells like a nice crisp chardonnay is “supposed” to. Well, that’s depending on how you feel about chardonnays, in general.

The controversy over the whole chard thing is that wines made from the chardonnay grape can be fermented a couple different ways. There’s the old traditional French style, which includes inducing something called malo-lactic fermentation and then aging the wine in oak barrels for a while. You can find out more about malo-lactic on our new definitions page here. Unfortunately, that style got way over-used during the 1990s, resulting in chardonnays with way oaky flavor and almost greasy butteriness. In short, too much of a good thing.

So, nowadays, there’s fairly big trend toward fermenting and aging chardonnay in the big steel tanks other white wines are made in, resulting in a much crisper wine with slightly more acid. Which the Terra Sávia 09 chard has big time because it was made without oak.

The weight of the wine in the mouth is a medium sort with a nice texture. The apple and melon flavors show it off as the cool-region chardonnay that it is. There’s a good balance of acids, complementing the flavors and mouthfeel. Do a nice sole in parchment packets to go with this one. Or maybe some grilled chicken.

You can get this and other Terra Sávia wines at the winery website,

Terra Sávia 2007 Blanc de Blancs de Blinkety Good

From Terra Sávia

Type: Dry sparkling

What makes it special: Chardonnay

Plays well with: Almost everything

This Mendocino Count sparkling wine from the organic winery Terra Sávia is what’s known as a blanc de blancs or white of whites. That doesn’t mean it’s a white among whites or a quality designation. It just means that it’s a white wine from white wine grapes, or more specifically, chardonnay grapes.

Since all grape juice is technically white (or golden in color) no matter what color the skin is when ripe, you can make white wines from red grapes. And, in fact, in the Champagne region of France, that’s exactly what they did when they started making champagne. Much of the sparkling wine there is made from pinot noir grapes, which is then called blanc de noirs, meaning white of black grapes. We’ll just kind of stop it right there, because in this case, black means red, but it’s pinot noir, oh, never mind.

The Terra Sávia’s chardonnay grape gives this lovely little sparkling wine a nice golden color and a hint of a crisp apple in the nose. But don’t go expecting a sweet taste. This one is dry and slightly tart. The best part is that you get a hint of chalkiness in your mouth as the wine dissolves into bubbles at the top of the throat like a good sparkling wine should do.

And because this is a bubbly, it goes with everything. Seriously. We’ve yet to run across a bubbly that didn’t. So whether you’re craving a nice steak, some sauced up chicken or fish, or even a bowl of popcorn with butter and grated asiago cheese, this is a good one to uncork.

Terra Sávia – An Organic Tradition in Action

Pecos Davis and Jim Milone of Terra Sávia

It almost seems as though Jim Milone, winemaker at Terra Sávia, makes organic wines because it’s never occurred to him to do otherwise.

“We hate to shower,” he joked when asked why organic. But then he got down to business.

“Really, it’s just the way that I’ve been making wine for the past 34 years,” he said.

Terra Sávia winery, where Milone makes his wines, is a small outfit out of Hopland, California, in Mendocino County. The winery not only offers a full range of wines, it sells olive oil and honey, as well.

Milone is a firm believer in growing the best grapes and intervening as little as possible in the winemaking process. Now, he will add tiny bits of sulphur to help keep his wines stable (organic wines can go bad more easily than traditionally made wines) and he does use very specific yeast strains because he wants to know what’s going on with his wines.

“So, I’m not renegade organic,” he said. “I believe in making wine. But I believe in doing as little as possible.”

Milone has been making wine since he was 18 years old. He went to California State University, Humboldt, where he studied eco-systems and natural resources.

“When I came back from school, I just wanted to live off the land, as a naturalist and that just kind of fit my style of making wine,” he said.

But making organic wine from organic grapes poses several challenges. His crops are smaller because they can fall prey to pests and other issues that most commercial growers treat with chemicals, which means he has less wine to sell. Also, marketing organic wines isn’t as easy as you might think in these green days.

“Sometimes it’s been a hindrance,” he said about being organic in terms of the market. “Sometimes we’re penalized by the fact that we’re organic. Our wines, even though they should be more expensive because we get lower yields, and they’re not, really. And the consumer still has not quite embraced the true value of organic products.”

But interest in organic wine production has been growing of late, and Mendocino County is a major center for sustainable and organic growing and wine making. Next up – do Milone’s wines pass the taste test? Check out later this week to see.

Frosty Whites at Webster’s Fine Stationers

We had a grand time, pouring again at Webster’s Fine Stationers. Many thanks to Lori and Scott Webster for having us in, and a big shout out to Susann Edmonds, whose Jabberwocky Smooth Jerk Sauce made the pairings we did so much fun!

So, if you were there, here are the notes for the wines we drank, so that you can calibrate what you tasted with what we’re writing. Again, our tastebuds are not any better than anyone else’s. The idea here is to share the experience and so that you know that when we write raspberries and you taste cherries, you’ll know you’ll likely taste cherries when we write raspberries.

Est. 1975 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

Type: Dry white

What Makes it Special: It’s from Lake County

Plays Well With: Seafood, salads and kicking back after work

This is one of those wines that you keep chilled in the fridge to pour a small glass of while tossing together a salad for dinner. As a whole, the wine is really crisp and fresh, thanks to some well-developed acids that might, at first, put you off.

The color is really light, and you get some of the traditional sauv blanc grapefruit in the nose. Flavor-wise, the grapefruit really comes through, which is why you’ll want to keep drinking this one through dinner. In fact, if you want to do a quick fish meuniere (which is just a light fish filet dredged in flour and sautéed in butter), all those citrusy acids in this wine will balance out the butter and make it all sing like Lady Gaga.

Spanish Quarter 2009 Blend

Type: Dry white

What Makes it Special: A Spanish blend of 60% chardonnay and 40% albariño

Plays Well With: Paella, seafood

This was the hands down favorite of the tasting, not unlike the Spanish Quarter red blend we tasted last month. In fact, every time we have featured this wine, folks go crazy for it. And, by the way, the only place we have found it is at Webster’s Fine Wines and Liquors, just up the block from the stationers, at 2450 Lake Ave., in Altadena.

This tasty little white has a clean melon nose and a rich mouthfeel. You may catch a little bit of citrus in the taste from the acids in the wine. But those acids aren’t too heavy, which is why this one is great for sipping by itself. But we suggest you don’t just settle for that. Try it with a nice paella, or maybe some shrimp in garlic butter. Yum.

3 Girls 2008 Chardonnay

Type: Dry white

What Makes it Special: It’s from Lodi

Plays Well With: Cheese and cracker or fish ‘n chips

Anne thought this was one of the more approachable wines of the day and opined that there was no oak on it. Michael caught the smell of new oak and what we’re calling Lodi Funk on the nose. Just think of funk, in this case, as a good thing – something that makes the wine stand out nicely.

There is no question that food makes this wine taste better, just make sure it’s not anything terribly strong, or it will overwhelm the nice, light mouthfeel and slight melon and apple flavors. Try it with some fish and chips or a nice buttery triple cream brie on baguette.

herding cats 2010 blend

Type: Dry white blend of 78% chenin blanc and 22% chardonnay

What Makes it Special: It’s from South Africa (and the label is really cool)

Plays Well With: Food, including shellfish, fried chicken, light pork chops, salads

Talk about a wine made for food. We initially thought the wine was good, but not great. Then we ate some cheese and jerked olives with it. The wine almost blossomed in our mouths.

The nose, like the color, is pretty light – Lori Webster said she smelled chardonnay, and Michael said he didn’t smell much of anything on it, but agreed that what nose there was had to come from the chard. Why? Chenin blanc is a pretty neutral grape, generally.

The mouthfeel is pretty light, as well, but the acids are good – part of why this wine tastes so much better with food than without it. Definitely a great wine to sip with a nice tasty pasta salad, or chilled shrimp, or cold leftover fried chicken.

Pacific Rim 2006 Gewürztraminer

Type: Sweet white

What Makes it Special: Grown and made in the Yakima Valley, Washington

Plays Well With: Spicy food, like jerk pork or chicken

This one is only lightly sweet – no thick, cough syrupy sticky here. The nose is slightly spicy, with a little sandalwood. There’s just enough residual sugar (any sugar that remains after the yeast have given their all converting sugars from the grape juice into alcohol) to make it taste slightly sweet, with some nice acids in the medium-weight mouthfeel to balance it all out. You might even catch some ripe melon and peach flavors in this one.

The nice thing about it being sweet is that it will stand up to spicy foods, like BBQ sauce, Mexican salsas, Indian food and Chinese food – all usually tough foods to pair with wine because the heat and/or the sweetness in these foods will overpower even some of the brawniest reds. The sweetness and acid balance in this gewürz instead plays with the sweet in, say, some orange crispy beef from the local take-out, as well as taking the heat out of the spice for wimps like Anne.

Celebrity Wine FAQ – Sasha Alexander

Sasha Alexander as Maura Isles, courtesy TNT

Sasha Alexander’s character medical examiner Maura Isles on TNT’s Rizzoli & Isles may be quite the wine connoseur, but Alexander says she, herself, is not so much.

“Not as much as I would like to be,” she said during a recent visit to the show’s set. “But I do love good wine and I try to know as much as I can about it.”

She didn’t have a question for us in the conventional sense, but she does have a current passion.

“I will tell you my current obsession and that’s any viognier,” she said. “So I’m trying every type of viognier. And I’m really interested in the California versus the French viognier and that grape.”

We love viognier, too, mostly because it smells so good – it’s known for having a floral nose. It’s also a nice rich wine that is exceptionally food-friendly, think medium-flavored foods, such as a nice plate of creamy fettucine alfredo with some plump shrimp added. The grape has also got a bit of a rep as a challenging one to grow and make wine out of. We can attest to the challenge of making it.

But, boy, when it is made well, viognier is a glorious thing. Some labels to try include Cold Heaven Cellars and Rideau Vineyard (out of the Santa Ynez Valley), Sculpterra Winery (in Paso Robles), and Twisted Oak, in Vallecito, California. And it’s pronounced vee-oh-nyay (Alexander pronounced it correctly, just in case you were wondering).

And, as Alexander hinted above, there are definite differences between French viogniers (which are generally labeled by their place name Condrieu in France’s Rhone valley) and California viogniers. French viogniers, like most French wines, tend to be softer with more acids, while California wines tend to be bigger and richer, with more fruit flavors. This is has a lot to do with the warmer climate in California, where the grapes get riper faster, as well as American preferences.

Another interesting tidbit – you may be drinking viognier without even knowing it. Some wineries in both France and here in California (specifically our good friends at Twisted Oak) will ferment their syrah grapes with some viognier grapes thrown in – or co-fermented.

On the off chance, Alexander is interested, we hear that viognier vines are showing up in other states besides Cali, including Missouri and Virgina. Outside the U.S., there are viogniers coming out of Ontario, Canada. And never forget the Chileans and Argentinians. Those tend to be terrific wines at really good prices.

What Wine Tasting Is Really All About

When people we meet either hear about this blog or that we are into the whole wine thing, they often tell us they know nothing about wine. As if it’s impossible to enjoy wine unless you can swirl, sniff, sip and pronounce it “an insouciant little flirt with light tannins and refreshing berries.”

Sadly, there are plenty of people in the wine game who have a lot invested in keeping this attitude alive. We’re not sure if it’s just pure ego or they have something to gain (like making more money on their wine). But it’s an attitude we’d love to see dead and buried.

There is no reason to be intimidated by wine. Or by tasting it. Because here’s the real secret, one the wine snobs don’t want you to know because then they’d have to give up their artifice.

Tasting wine is simply nothing more than figuring out what you like. Period.

Sure, we love deconstructing the aromas and flavors in a glass. Sure, we love bashing white zinfandel. But we also love kicking back with a glass of cheap, but drinkable, wine and a good, fluffy murder mystery (in Anne’s case) or the latest biography (in Michael’s case).

Yes, it’s true, we’ll spend several minutes debating the merits of this wine or that while trying to figure out what we’re going to serve with dinner, but again, it’s about what we like and how that will work with whatever is on the stove that night.

Wine is a sensual experience. You use your eyes and your nose as much as you do your taste buds. So we use the language of flavors to share with you, our readers, what a wine tastes like so that you can make up your own mind. We use the more standard language so that when you go to the wine store and can’t find the bottle you saw here (which is more than likely), you can at least look at the shelf tags – those little cards some stores put on the shelves to describe a wine – or the label and have an idea of what they mean. Or describe the wine to the person employed by the wine store, who can then help you find what you like.

This isn’t about judging. This is about sharing – the best thing you can do with a wine, in our opinion. Which is why you will never see us rate a wine. We’ll give you the capsule points about it, but that’s about letting you know what’s in the bottle. We want to share a broad range of wines to encourage you, our dear readers, to enjoy expanding your boundaries and discovering new things. You never know if you’re going to like something if you don’t try it. And if you’re in a tasting room or at a wine store’s wine bar with someone pouring liberally, then it’s the perfect time to try something different.

It’s all about finding something tasty and fun and delicious. And if you do, please share it here with us. Because it is all about sharing what you like, even if it is an insouciant little flirt.

Calling All So Cal Friends/Winemakers

Copper Grapes proposed facility

Our friend, Leah Beth Canon, is pulling together a custom-crush/event facility and needs to do a market study. So check it out below, and please get back to her.

LEAH: For several years I have been trying to build a climate controlled custom crush winery
with all of the bells and whistles/garden event facility that is needed in the greater L.A.
area, called Copper Grapes. It’s been a rocky road with attaining investors, losing them,
finding a piece of land that works for this project and being told no by various city or
county planning agencies. So, I have finally found the right piece of land, I’m getting the
verbal yeses from planning officials and a new group of potential investors. The project
looks like it’s finally about to take off after four long years. I still have four months
to a year of entitlements and six months to a year of construction before the project is
completed and an additional four years before I can taste my first wine from my own
grapes. One final roadblock is standing in my way. These investors are now asking
for a market study, which has never been done in the Greater Los Angeles area. I need
every person’s involvement who, currently makes wine or has a desire to do so in the
Los Angeles area. I am not trying to compete with the Camarillo Custom Crush founder,
John Daume whom I hold in the highest regard. I will offer to share this information
with John Daume and post the results (excluding contact information) in a future issue of
the Cellarmasters Newsletter as well as on my facebook page. Please email me with the
following information with your contact information to
1. Do you currently make wine? Please state how much wine you would like to
make annually in the future.
2. Do you grow your own grapes? How many acres/plants?
3. What varieties are you growing?
4. Do you purchase grapes? How many tons/pounds? Where from?
5. Where are you producing your wine currently? Is your winemaker an
independent contractor and able to make wine at different facilities? Or do you
need a winemaker?
6. If you are producing your wine in your garage/home, what would entice you to
produce your wine at Camarillo Custom Crush or Copper Grapes Crushpad?
7. If Reverse Osmosis machines were offered in order to remove alcohol content,
would you use them?
8. If you want to make your wine at home but would want a cave for barrel storage,
would you use the caves?
9. Are your wines being distributed or presented in a tasting room for purchase
10. Do you need a Viticulturalist Consultant to come to your vineyard? Do you want
to hire someone to handle all of the vineyard management work?
11. Where are you growing grapes?
Thank you, in advance, for your help. May Bacchus and the powers that be bless our