I’ve been speaking this week at the Hispanicize 2016 conference in Miami, a gathering of nearly 3,000 Hispanic bloggers and social media activists. In cooperation with Palm Bay International, a major wine importer, I gave a series of ten tasting seminars for HipLatina.com, a lifestyle website particularly keyed in to a young and socially active Hispanic audience.
For this audience my tastings focus on five wines and I find the responses fascinating. About 80 percent of the seminar participants so far are women, a statistic that mirrors many studies that show women make more wine purchasing decisions than men. The audiences have been inquisitive and very participatory, asking lots of questions and providing a lot of feedback on the wines.
Let’s take one wine as an example. I begin the tasting with a cava, a Spanish sparkling wine made using the “Classic Method” that is used in Champagne, adding bubbles to a still wine by fermenting it a second time in a closed bottle. With the finely crafted Pere Ventura Tresor as my example (the name means “treasure,” but it is also the name of Pere Ventura’s mother), we explore how the wine gains complexity from the action of yeast on sugar within the closed bottle. The advantage of this approach (over, say, the tank carbonation method used in making Prosecco) is that the wine gains great complexity and many flavors from the slow decomposition of the yeast after it dies when all the sugar is consumed. The disadvantage is that you end up with dead yeast cells in your wine and that makes it cloudy.
Fortunately, two centuries ago, a brilliant female winemaker in Champagne came to the rescue of us sparkling wine lovers by coming up with the still-used method of removing the yeast called “remuage.” This process involves gently turning and lifting the bottle over time to nudge the two sediments – one light and easily disturbed, the other sticky and hard to move – into the neck of the bottle where it can be frozen and easily removed.
Pere Ventura Tresor is made from traditional cava varieties called xarel-lo, macabe and parellada, but the tasters aren’t concerned about that and technical specifics. They care about the taste and how this differs from Prosecco, and they are pleased and amused to find out the name of the enterprising and talented winemaker who came up with the approach – Veuve Clicquot. Veuve is French for “widow,” and the widow Clicquot’s image graces the eponymous and iconic best-selling wine of Champagne. The system she developed is now used to make great sparkling wines around the world, including the Pere Ventura Cava that so enraptures the tasters in my seminars.
I ask the participants how they could use this cava in their entertaining and everyone agrees we need to think of sparkling wine as more than an aperitif – it is first and foremost a wine and is a terrific accompaniment to food especially for otherwise hard to pair dishes like spicy food (hot spices tend to make red wine taste bitter) and complex Asian flavors. The bubbles seem to keep our palates clean and appreciative while enhancing the naturally complex flavors of Chinese, Thai and Vietnamese foods.
I have been learning quite a bit from the tasters at the seminars this week, about how much they like wine when the go out and about the confusion they sometimes feel when at a wine store or a grocery store with a huge selection – the profusion of colorful labels attracts the eye but does little to help someone relatively new to wine to find an appropriate bottle for an upcoming dinner.
My advice? Keep track of the wines you taste that you like and then find a good wine shop (lamentably, grocery stores seldom have knowledgeable sales people available) and show the owner your list of favorites. Ask for suggestions that are similar to wines you already know you like – you will get to try new wines and dramatically improve your chances of getting selections you will find pleasing. And try the same approach at a restaurant – telling a server what you already like will help them make meaningful recommendations. And of course, you can always just pick up a bottle of Pere Ventura Tresor (it retails for about $15) and automatically have a great wine on hand for your next dinner or party!