As Chicago transitions into a warmer season and we retreat from hibernating will find ourselves gallivanting to more restaurants and bars. Sipping season will be underway and top restaurants and bars are going to be pouring domestic sparkling wines like Domaine Carneros.
I attend many wine events, but still consider myself a novice. I love every opportunity I get to delve more into the intricate fabric of the wine industry. I had the pleasure of being invited to attend a lunch and wine pairing hosted by sparkling winemaker, Zak Miller.
Zak Miller has been with Domaine Carneros for the past 11 years. About 14 years ago Zak fell into wine making after a single day trip to Napa Valley with his wife. Zak and his wife both have an extensive background in forestry science and decided to transform their skills of agriculture and forestry into grape cultivation. After learning the winemaking business at vineyards and wineries in California, Chile, and New Zealand, Zak landed at Domaine Carneros. He has mastered the art of creating beautiful, balanced sparkling and still wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
I attended a lunch with Zak at Somerset restaurant in the Gold Coast of Chicago. The wine/food pairing was excellent! Being in such a small intimate setting we were able to ask Zak as many questions as we desired. One question in particular that interest me was how sparkling wine is made.
The sparkling wine process is very involved and takes ALOT of time. First the grapes are hand picked at night when their cool. I didn’t realize that if you pick the grapes in the middle of the day when it’s hot, you’ll never get those grapes to cool down. You have to pick the grapes at night when it’s cooler outside. When you hand pick the grapes you’re also going to want to use a smaller bin. Reasoning being you don’t want to crush the grapes and the smaller size bin has less weight on the bottom of the bin. After that you bring the grapes immediately to the winery to press. At Domaine Carneros they do 3 presses. The first cut is the finest and known as the cuvee. The 2nd tier is less quality, but still really good. At Domaine Carneos they don’t use the 3rd press, but sell it off to the bulk market.
After you press the grapes and they’ve fermented you add yeast and the yeast eats the sugar and turns it into alcohol. The fermentation of the wine at Domaine Carneros is done in stainless steel tanks. Some wineries will put oak in, but Domaine Carneros does not. Main reason for that is some wineries tend to go overboard with the Oak and Domaine Carneros chooses to stay away from it entirely. It takes experience for the fermentation process because the blends are done off of the base of the wine when it’s extremely acidic. So basically you can consider the wine raw at that point (half way done) and your making your blends off of that. You’re looking for the same things you would look for in a finish wine, but it manifests itself differently. You’re looking for aromatics, a balance in the palate, and length. Again, much experience is needed to do this! The trickiest part of the process is the harvest and the blending. During the second fermentation is where the bubbles happen inside the bottle. The aging length varies, but for a sparkling wine like the Domaine Carneros 2012 Le Reve Blanc De Blancs the wine was aged for 7 years! In order to be considered a vintage (which all Domaine Carneros wines are) the standard is they have to be aged for at least 36 months.
Domaine Carneros is a small grower-producer of method tranitionelle sparkling wine with distinctive styles ranging from classic vintage-dated Brut to luxurious Le Reve Blanc de Blancs. The winery was founded by the prestigious family behind Champagne Taittigner in 1987. Doamine Carneros is 400 acres in the heart of Carneros, Napa Valley in California. Eileen Crane is the current CEO with over 30 years of experience in crafting fine sparkling wines. In 1992 Domaine Carneros added Pinot Noir to the portfolio. 95% of the wines are crafted exclusively from the fruit grown in the estate vineyard. By 2020 100% of the fruit will be from the Domaine Carneros vineyard.
I must say Zak provided us with a wealth of knowledge of the Domaine Carneros brand and sparkling wine in general. The lunch pairings were spectacular! Check out what I had below and use it as your guide for sipping sparkling wine in the sun this summer! For more information on Domaine Carneros head to www.domainecarneros.com
Lunch Pairing with Sparkling Winemaker Zak Miller of Domaine Carneros at Somerset Restaurant in the Gold Coast of Chicago
2012 Domaine Carneros Le Reve, Blanc de Blancs
(100% Estate Grown Chardonnay. Lovely notes of white flowers, Meyer lemon, poached pear, and a hint of grilled pineapple. The Palate opens up to honey suckle and crème brulee. The full mouth feel leads to a very round and long finish.
2015 Domaine Carneros Brut Vintage Cuvee
(51% Chardonnay, 47% Pinot Noir, and 2% Pinot Gris. Lovely notes of key lime, honeycomb, and lemon curd. This round wine displays a palate with hints of lime blossom, baked pear, and lemon meringue, resulting in a creamy texture and a long finish.
Food: Grilled Asparagus Flatbread with prosciutto, burrata, and mint
2016 Domaine Carneros Estate Pinot Noir
(100% Estate Grown Pinot Noir. Full range of red and darker berry flavors. Ten months of barrel age lends a sweetness that balances the supple tannin producing a full bodied Pinot Noir)
Food: Mushroom Gnocchetti with mushroom Bolognese, crispy garlic, and pecorino
Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rose NV
(59% Pinot Noir and 41% Chardonnay. The wine’s aroma, delivered on a delicate mousse, hints at raspberry, apricot, and rose petal. The palate displays peach, raspberry jam, tangerine, and orange for a soft, delicate mouthfeel and a smooth long finsh)
Dessert: Lemon Cream Tart with meyer lemon curd, whipped crème fraiche, citrus, frozen yogurt, chiffon croutons, toasted meringue
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