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Brix = the amount of sweetness in a given solution measured in degrees expressing the porportion of sugar to each 100 gr. of total fluid; Used in winemaking by growers to measure the amount of sugar in the grapes.

Chicks = We're girls of a certain age with a sense of adventure, a passion for wine, a vibrant curiousity to learn more and a drive to exchange ideas, share tips and find out what you have to say about how wine flavors your experience.

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26 May, 2016

Happy #ChardonnayDay - A BrixChicks Favorite: Mer Soleil

Happy Chardonnay Day!  The day you get to visit a much admired vineyard is always a great one.

So for me, getting to roam around the Mer Soleil vineyard was a dream fulfilled.   Our wonderful visit was led by Charlie Wagner himself , the Mer Soleil winemaker and viticulturist, who generously showcased some older vintages.

First, the vineyard; it's a gorgeous spot, quiet and windswept.  Really really windswept.  I felt like a spinnaker, and folks from the winery said it was mild.  Wind tempers the fruit providing a delicious cooling effect.  It sounds trite and you can read and read and read about the effect of wind,  but actually having the wind try to steal your ponytail makes the phenomenon real in a way nothing but experience can.  Charlie said this "natural refrigeration" both keeps the temperatures low and extends the growing cycle.  Extends the cycle comparatively to the family's other properties in Napa, which includes Caymus.  In Napa, bud break can be around a month later, yet Mer Soleil grapes are still harvested later.

The Wagners selected this beautiful spot specifically to grow and vinify Chardonnay as the Napa properties are tuned for Cabernet.  Coastal area wind makes Mer Soleil special. Typically the local fog will turn off right as wind starts up, so a hot day will stay about 90 degrees.  This cooling contributes to a making a quality chardonnay grape since the climate both fosters ripeness and preserves acidity.

Reserve&Silver in the glass. Wind in the hair
Mer Soleil is a 450 acre ranch which the Wagners bought in 1988.  Previously a ranch, the vineyard had been fertilized by cattle for 100 years,  Today it is dedicated to Chardonnay except for some acres where Viognier for the Conunudrum white blend is grown. Soil is consistent and rich. Strong aquifers provides consistent water as well.  Goldilocks hydration means the grapes have to struggle and amount that can be categorized as "just right".

All this, along with Mer Soleil's skill with winemaking, contributes to delicious Chardonnay, which is done in two styles:  Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay, which is oaked and Mer Soleil Silver which is unoaked.  

We were lucky enough to be able to try both as well as some older vintages of the Reserve, which let us us experience different shades of gold:

Mer Soleil Reserve, 2009  Lovely deep gold color comes with age on this 100% Chardonnay.  We were able to taste for ourselves how the honeysuckle on the nose of a current realease, with a  a few years, morphs into truffly notes. Charlie says botrytis influences the changes.  I found the notes of truffle honey delightful, especially in finish.

Mer Soleil Reserve, 2004  Five more years turned the 100% Chardonnay a dark gold.  The trufflled honey notes of the '09 deepened into a more savory true truffle character.  Notes of apples and  honey were reinforced by the silky texture.  The wine retained a lot of freshness as well.

We tasted the older wines in a magnum format, which Charlie said slows down the aging process.

Mer Soleil Reserve 2014  The current release tumbled out of a 750mL with day bright gold color.  This Chardonnay has a freshness with honey,  apples vanilla and spice in aromas. It has a silky texture with spices and  pear in mid palate.  Mer Soleil doesn't control the malolactic fermentation instead, the winemakers just inoculate and let it the wine go to find itself.

Mer Soleil Silver 2014
"Lisbon lemon!" Photo credit WineHarlots
Lovely clear pale color in the wine foreshadows a delicious Chardonnay.  Nice acidity and savory flavors including touch of  Lisbon lemon.  This 100% Chardonnay is aged  4-5 months in concrete.  This provides oxygenation without wood ,  The tanks breathe and the wine evaporates.  It also preserves more acidity which Charlie likened to a "Sauvignon Blanc on steroids"  Maybe that's why BrixChick Janesta loves Silver event though she prefers Sauvignon Blanc in general.  Look for the signature grey glass bottles, whose style echoes the  concrete tanks

Estate Grown Mer Soleil "silver" lemons

Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnay and Mer Soleil Silver Unoaked Chardonnay are two different styles that go with seasons.  Both will go well on your table!  Since they grow lemons on the estate, I was able to pick a fresh Lisbon lemon and create the most delicious lemon arugula pizza. Putting all my food and wine pairing learning to use, I was able to create home made deliciouness of "grows with...goes with" as the bright clear lemon flavor married with the lovely wine

Celebrate #chardonnayday with a wonderful offering from Mer Soleil

Read more about this amazing place, wine and team here:

Many thanks to the Wagner family for hosting me at the SLH Gala and to Balzac Communications for the invitation.

21 March, 2016

Washoku: An Armchair trip to Japan via Sake and Bento Pairing

Toshio Ueno: Sake Sommelier 
If there is one place that makes learning delicious, it is the Napa Valley Wine Academy.  I was lucky enough to be a guest last November when the WSET Sake candidates were getting a special lesson on Sake pairing  from Instructor Toshio Ueno, Master Sake Sommelier and Executive Instructor at Sake School of America. Toshio made the most wonderful ambassador of taste for Japan as his love of his subject matter really shone through in both his depth of knowledge and enthusiasm.  This special event on the culture of Japan via food and wine pairing was sponsored by Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and delivered in conjunction with Sake School of America and Morimoto Napa.  
is defined as the traditional food of Japan, but Toshio walked us through the deeper meaning showing us how seasonality, focus on nutrition and presentation combine to make it a gestalt of nurturing with respect for the environment

The four elements of Washoku are:

  • Food Ingredients: Seasonal produce and seafood
  • Dishes: Both cooking utensils and serving dishes 
  • Nutrition: low calorie high nutrition designed to use seasonal items in a way that builds family relationship as it nourishes
  • Hospitality: Motenashi or appreciation of service nature and seasonality.  Each season has a special pattern and texture to enhance sensation of that season

The food of Japan focuses on seafood and seasonal vegetables.  With lots of rain, cold winters and hot summers, Japan gets four distinct seasons.  Japan is located between 50 and 30 degrees latitude so fits into the same geography band as many great wine regions.  Flavors have the same hot (spicy), sweet, salty , bitter and sour flavors with added emphasis on umami, which is found in soy sauce as well as dashi.  Compared the Western cooking, Japan has quick, uncomplicated food preparation techniques, although many ingredients have long preparation times as they include fermenting, drying and aging to deliver their traditional tastes.  Things like miso, kombu, and the rich umami filled flavors of dashi, a carefully prepared broth, are elements that have entered the Western repertoire of cooking and are used effectively in many fusion dishes.  

Ichiro Tsuji, Morimoto, Napa
Chef Ichiro Tsuji, from Morimoto Napa was on hand as well to introduce us to Wabosho or Japanese knives. Ichiro's knives and his skill were impressive.  He explained that some are like swords , each with a purpose.  While he himself has many knives, he has some that have seen so much use that  over a period of 15 years, the handle wore down to shape of his hand.
Gorgeous precise cuts make it tastier
The knives are a special steel that sharpen to a terrifying (to me) degree.  Ichiro explains that  sharper is safer as you can cut with minimum pressure.  Equipment matters for freshness and flavor.  Sharp knives expertly wielded make quick precise cuts with less effort.  Also important to kill fish silently without struggle to avoid suffering and make it taste better.  Every year, at New Years,  Ichiro sprinkles sake on knives to show appreciation.

Toshi and Ichiro worked together to present and decode a spectacular Bento box to us as well as walk us through the sake pairings.

Creating a Bento box has a special rubric.  When designing  bento box, care is taken to delight the five senses, honor the season and the occasion. A bento should align with all three.  You should have white and red at a celebration,  black and white at funereal Top of box is starter. Middle is main course. Bottom is salad and dessert.  The diner is meant to start at top and work over and down.

We were able to dig in and appreciate the flavors, which were bursting with exotic elements of peppers, fermented tastes, fresh briny fish and savory pickled elements.  Not only were each of the compartments delicious, but they built on each other and delivered a very satisfying whole.  Some of the courses had familiar anchors, like fried chicken and cheesecake. Some were very exotic like fish tripe and yuzu pepper.

Then we had the four intriguing sakes to pair:
1) Born Junmai Daiginjo "Gold
2)Hakkaisan Honjozo
3)Kikumasamune Kimoto Junmai
4) Tengumai Yamahai Jikommi

Of the sakes, my favorites were #1 and 4.  The Tengumai Yamahai Jikommi is made in a way that

enhances its acidity and yields a more oxidative style.
However the floral plushy smoothness of the Born Junmai Daiginjo Gold was surprising especially with the salted plum.  It was almost shocking how delicious that pairing was.  My favorite pair was the blue cheese with junmai daiginjo and dried currants, although it was hard to pick a favorite.  

#4 had a slight nuttiness that paired with almost everything and enhanced the flavors, both as a contrast and as a match.  

Sake is in general not my favorite thing.  But this event really opened my eyes to different flavors and tastes and I came away wanting to learn more and try more sakes. 

Many thanks to  Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), Sake School of America, Morimoto Napa and the wonderful folks at Balzac Communications for the armchair trip to Japan!

16 November, 2015

#Franciacorta - Let the festivities begin

Franciacorta is a Denominazione di Origine Controllate e Garantita (DOCG) in Italy's Lombardy region.  Famous for delicious sparkling wine, the grapes used are primarily Chardonnay and Pinot nero, which we know better as Pinot Noir.  Some examples will also include pinot bianco  or Pinot Blanc
Franciacorta produces sparkling wine using the traditional method, which is similar to the one used in Champagne, France. The result is sparkling wine with a taste of place as well as a stylish flair.  Enotourism is a focus here.  To make your region a tourist destination, you need gorgeous landscapes, great wine and friendly people.  Franciacorta scores the trifecta here.  With the Alps in the background and delightful producers in the foreground, Franciacorta is definitely on my travel bucket list.  However, closer and easier armchair travel is almost as enjoyable with these complex and yummy wines in my ice bucket. 

As the holiday season starts in earnest, be prepared with some Franciacorta on hand.  Sparkling wine is always the best way to start a meal, fancy or homey.  What hostess wouldn't be delighted by a gift of versatile wine?  My tip is to bring it chilled already as the ultimate incentive to get your hosts to serve it right away.  I can never wait

Check out this video of dancing bubbles:Franciacorta Barone Pizzini perlage

November 16th at 4 pm Pacific, @BrixChick_Liza (me) will be participating in a Twitter tasting.   Join us on Twitter to read the notes at #Franciacorta

1) Franciacorta Brut, Barone Pizzini Animante (SRP $35)
2) Franciacorta Brut, Le Marchesine (SRP $27)
3) Franciacorta Rose, Contadi Castaldi (SRP $25)
4) Franciacorta Rose Vintage,  Villa Franciacorta Boke ($25)

These wine were provided as samples, but the unbridled enthusiasm is all mine