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The changing face of Prosecco

December 26, 2017 - 11:00am

When you think of Prosecco, most often, you probably think of the inexpensive fizz that is poured at brunch, with a bottomless mimosa, or as an everyday drink . I admit, I was no big fan of Prosecco before I experienced the journey I’m going to share with you.  Made in the bulk, or Charmat method, the bubbles tend to be large, the flavor is – to say the least- unique, and it tended to be a bit low brow.  Or so I thought.

Enter #winestudio this year, when I was exposed to the changing face of Prosecco and the new DOCG:  Prosecco Superiore.  The Prosecco Superiore DOCG has elevated the art and style of Prosecco to be not only more competitive with other sparkling wines of the world, such as American sparkling wine and Champange, but also raised the standards of quality and taste within the category.

There are three DOCGs for Prosecco, Conegliano Valdobbiandene Superiore which encompasses 15 communes, Conegliano Valdobbiandene Superiore Rive, in which wines must be made from a very specific commune or vineyard, and Valdobbiandene Superiore di Cartizze, which is about 107 hectares.  All of these DOCG areas are smaller, and technically a subset of the larger Prosecco DOC, which also includes the Prosecco DOC Treviso and Asolo Prosecco DOCG.  Confused yet?  Let’s just think of it as concentric circles, where the outer ring is Prosecco DOC, and the DOCGs are smaller, inner rings, where the DOCGs fit snuggly in the center side by side.  This handy graphic above from the Prosecco folks explains it much better:

Located a short 50 kilometers from Venice, Conegliano Valdobbiandene is a steeply hilled area of 15 small commnues that was originally recognized as a DOC in 1969.  When, as Italy does, the communues and productions area rules were refined and revised in 2009, the area was upgraded to a DOCG, recognizing the highest quality wines.

Having had the opportunity to taste through he portfolio of both Nino Franco, as well as the vast variety of several producers from Conegliano Valdobbiadene (more on that later), I am excited at the endless styles and improved quality this Italian sparkler has to offer.

These wines were provided by the winery, PR agency, and #winestudio in consideration for participation in the weekly online tastings at #winestudio.   Some participants paid a fee to receive certain wines.

Before we get in to the deails of Nino Franco, let’s review what makes Prosecco Prosecco.  By definition, is not Champagne.  While the term Champagne is often used like Coke for soda, or Kleenex for tissues, it is in fact a proprietary name based on the region and a few additional factors.  Prosecco is much the same.  The most obvious difference is that Prosecco is from Italy, but it is also produced from a particular white grape – glera.  Glera is a white grape that is thought to have originated in Slovenia.  Until 2009, Glera was referred to as Prosecco in that region of Italy, making for a somewhat confusing mish mash in the production of the wine.  Today, however, the Glera grape is used to make Prosecco wine.  Nothing has actually changed, except for the semantics for clarity’s sake.  With a neutral flavor an d a naturally high acidity, it’s a perfect choice for Prosecco.  Prosecco, by law, must be at least 85% Glera.  The additional 15% can be other varietals such as Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera lunga, Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir.

With the majority of Prsoecco being produced outside of the DOCG, in an unmemorable, somewhat boring, and forgettable style, the wines within the DOCG allow producers to elevate the wines, experiemnt with some unique tools (like methode classico, or the Champagne method) – changing the style and quality of this lovely treat.

Turning our focus to the wines of Nino Franco, they have three offerings, from the workhorse, yet deliciously budget friendly Rustico Prosecco, Brut Superiore, the luxurious Primo Franco Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG, and the Grave di Stecca Brut. – all from the Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG which is a small pocket of steep vineyards inside the Prosecco DOC designation.  Each one of these wines was unique, elegant, and purely expressive of the elevated quality of the DOCG.


The Rustico, 100% Glera, is from the steep hillside vineyards of Valdobbiadene.  Made in the bulk method, the secondary fermentation occurs in tank, but they managed to capture the white flowers, crisp pear and ginger notes.  A fun fizz, the under $15 retail makes this a great choice for brunch (and mimosas or Bellinis) and parties.

Next, the Brut Superiore is also 100% Glera from the hillside vineyards,  The low 11% ABV is refreshing, and is slightly more refined than the Rustico.  Fresh apple, bright citrus and a creamy finish make this a great choice for the start of a meal, but also richer fish dishes.  Also a great choice at under $15.

Moving on to the Primo Franco, it’s even lower in ABV than the Rustico and Brut.  A stunning 10.5%,  the Primo Franco increases in intensity but holds true to the 100% Glera.  With toasted notes of marzipan and tropical fruits, the hint at sweetness on the finish makes this a great pairing with cheeses or even fruity desserts.  More expensive than the first two offerings, the $22 bottle stands alone and would be a fun way to test your friends’ bubbly knowledge!

Finally, the special Grave di Stecca Brut comes from a special block tucked away in an area that is a small plot on the alpine foothills, in a microclimate that is perfectly suited for sparkling wine.  Also100% Glera (are you detecting a theme here in the DOCG?) the 12% ABV is well balanced with the most intense of the four wines, flowing with dried herbs, floral notes and a mineral rich finish.

These offerings from Nino Franco show you that 100% Glera can n fact be elegant, restrained, and refined, while showcasing the native grape of the Veneto in a delightful manner.  Without the blending of other varietals, the Glera is able to show off, and the microclimates of the Valdobbiadene provides an ideal growing region to produce lean, zippy ,and low alcohol bubbles that are sure to charm any one’s wallet.

Next up, we will continue our meander through Valdobbiadene and Conegliano with several more produceres of DOCG Prosecco.  Who says bubbles are just for special occasions?


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Von Winning – Winning wines from Pfalz

December 23, 2017 - 2:42pm


This sample was provided by Wines of Germany for consideration.

There is something magical in the wines of Germany.  From pinot blanc, to the hidden gems of pinot noir, there is something for everyone.  This rich white, from the Pfalz region of Germany, is from a compact yet importnat area meandering through some of the most fertile land in the area.  One of Germany’s largest and most important wine producing regions, it sits between the Rhine and the Haadt mountains in a compact 45 long by 15 miles wide.

While only 40% of the wines from this region are red, pinot noir is becoming increasingly more important here.  Generally known for it’s table wine products (Landwin and Deutscher Wein), but the increase in pinot noir has made it a very popular region.  Given it’s proximity to Alsace, the varietals planted and the culture is very similar.  Pfalz has a warmer, dry climate, which gives rise to a richer, more concentrated wine style then it’s neighbors.  Additionally, the vineyards are clusted at hte base of the

Weingut von Winning was founded in 1849 and is planted to 158 acres, focused on riesling.  They also product sevearl other varieties, and The Von Winning Weissburgunder II is a delicious oaky rendition of pinot blanc.  The pale gold color looks like it would be sprightly, but the rich peach and stone fruit shows off a touch of salinity at the finish.  Mouthwatering spice notes from the oak make me want to go back for more.  This would be a lovely wine with your holiday ham, or for those red wine drinkers who prefer a richer white. $30


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Zinfandel – America’s Heritage Grape

November 22, 2017 - 1:54pm

Zinfandel has suffered something of a bad rap recently, with people thinking immediately either “white zin” or “jammy zin”.  The truth, of course, is that there is much more to America’s Heritage Grape than those two simple interpretations.

With zinfandel grown all over California, as well as all over the world, it is one of the most diverse varieties in both grape and style.  From Primativo to Crljenak Kastelanski, the genetic make up is the same – but both terroir and winemaking style yield vastly different results.

Here in California, the areas of Sonoma, Paso Robles, Lodi, and the Sierra Foothills are well known for their Zinfandel.  Today, I am reveing 4 different zinfandels that are perfect for your thaknsgivng talbel.


2015 Robert Biale Black Chicken Napa Valley  

Bright red and red flowers on the nose.  Black cherry, baking spices leaping out of the glass.  The first sip surprises you with the acidity, and cranberry overwhelms . Rosehips and hibiscus dance around my mouth with juicy ripe strawberries on the mid palate.  It finishes with white pepper and chalk, and mouthwatering rhubarb.  There is nothing jammy about this zinfandel.  $25

2016 Trentadue La Storia Block 303

Another classic, La Storia has been making excellent zinfandel for years.  This block designate has the immediate sense of presence from warm Alexander Valley, with dried cherry, prune, and raisin on the nose.    Boysenberry jam and cherry compare on the palate are rich but not overly jammy.  There is still a hint of red current and a nice cranberry note that keeps the acid in balance . Finishes with a cloud of black pepper. Big and bold but not a bruiser.   $22


2015 Peachy Canyon Paso Robles Westside

Softer and earthier on the nose, clear aromas of blackberry and bosenberry.  Jammy at first, but the inky dark color belies the spicybackground.  Coffee, roasted meats, the slightest hint of campfire, the classic blue and black fruit of Paso Robles come out to play.  With over a dozen differnet zinfandels on Peachy Canyon’s roster, this is a classic stewed fruit and raisey Paso example.  $22


Erostasia Reserve Old Vine Lodi

Probably one of the most well known zinfandel regions, Lodi has been producing big, bold wines for over 100 years.  This classic example is perfect for a cold winter night, with stewed fruit, prune, and boysenberry jam layered in strong baking spices like nutmeg, the dark notes of smoked meat, and stewed fruit are accented by the 22 months in new oak, and you can taste the classic vanilla laying over the fruit.  This will stand up to hearty fare like chicken wings with blue cheese sauce and ore.

These four wines are very different, and all very much zinfandel.  With such diversity, make sure you have a zinfandel on your table for your holiday celebration and enjoy America’s Heritage Grape! And don’t forget about the Zinfandel Experience here in San Francisco, January 18-20.  Celebrate all things zinfandel with 3 unique events, and taste zinfandel from all over the world. Happy Thanskgiving!


Wines reviewed in this post were provided by the Zinfandel Advocates & Producers PR rep for consideration.  All options are my own.

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Fall Cognac Crawl – SF Version

September 30, 2017 - 10:09pm
When I first began my spirit studies in earnest, I knew nothing about Cognac, save for the ancient bottle of Hennessy in my stash, inherited from one friends’ move or another.

As time went on, and as I build my cocktail catalog, I learned about the diversity and deliciousness of the amber queen.

Enter the marketing genius of the Cognac people, who worked with teams in New York and San Francisco to create a pop up cocktail tour, featuring inspired drinks made with cognac.


But first, a little lesson in Cognac.  Cognac is brandy, distilled in the Cognac region of France.  The prime grape source is Ugni Blanc (Trebbiano in Italian), but a small amount of Colombard and a smattering of lesser grape may also be used.

The most important thing to understand about Cognac is the labeling system of classification as, while it does not denote quality, it gives you a clue as to how long it has been aged.

  • V.S. (Very Special) is a blend in which the youngest brandy has been stored for at least two years
  • V.S.O.P. (Very Superior Old Pale) or Reserve is also a blend, but the youngest brandy has be aged for at least four years in a cask.
  • XO (Extra Old) or Napoléon is a blend where the youngest brandy is aged for at least 6 years.  This is changing however, because in 2018, the XO needs to be aged at least 8 years.
  • Hors d’âge (Beyond Age) really is the same as XO, but it’s a great marketing ploy to showcase the highest quality product offering, and gives the appearance of rarity and luxury.

Here in San Francisco, our crawl included 5 well known craft cocktail bars, with 5 equally crafty cocktails – all different, all delicious, and all showcasing the flexibility of cognac brandy.

First up, we met at Blackbird, a hidden gem in the no man’s land between the . Mission and the Castro, on the upper reaches of Market Street.  At Blackbird, we started our journey with the Carried Away, a refreshing concoction made with Rye Bread-Infused Cognac V.S., Cocchi Torino, Bonal, a splash of Benedictine and a dash of Peychaud’s Bitters – with just a hint of Absinthe to add something interesting.



Next, we wandered down the street to Elixir, one of my favorite whiskey bars in San Francisco.  With over 500 bottles lining the walls, it’s hard to focus on the task at hand, but owner H. has plans for us.   walking out the back door, through the pass through bathroom to what seemed like a speakeasy that never went out of style, we arrived at the Elixir classroom.  Here, H., an avid Cognac fan and educator, led us on a guided tasted of three distinct cognacs.

Once we were clear on the foundation of our drink, the mixologists at Elixir treated us to the Elixir of Cognac, a frothy tropically inspired punch with XO Cognac, Crème de Cassis, pineapple gum syrup and lemon juice.  To add the creamy froth, a bit of egg white is added in and the whole thing is shaken over ice.  Yum


Our next stop was Dalva, where we snuck through the back door to another, semi secret speakeasy type bar.  Here, while it was dimly lit, it was cozy with a few small tables and a well stocked and beautiful bar. This stop gave us the most pure drink so far, somewhat of a Cognac Manhattan if you will – or a Corpse Reviver #1.

At Dalva, this was The Cure For What Ails You – and it certain did!  I could have had many of these, a straight cocktail made with Cognac, Bonal, Fernet, whiskey bitters and some amazing smoked pear bitters.



Our next to last stop, and the last stop on foot, Wildhawk, was bustling and teeming with happy hour revelers.  Here, we departed the savory land for the somewhat sweet Kind of Fancy, with Cognac, Rye, Port, Yellow Chartreuse (people still use this this stuff?), and mole bitters.  I admit, this wasn’t my favorite, but I can see how enjoyable it would be on a cool fall day, particularly if you warmed it up a bit.


Our final stop required an Uber to meander through the hills of Bernal Heights, where we ended our tour at Holy Water.  Our last cocktail of the #congaccocktails crawl was a Stinger Royale, a minty, chocolatey wonder with cognac, Cremè de Menthe, Cremè de Cacao, Absinth (you fickle fairy you) and bitters.  It was rich and certainly served as dessert.

Sadly, I couldn’t get a good picture of this one, so be creative with your imagery.

My personal favorites were the first three stops, but there is a cocktail on this tour for everyone – and you get the added bonus of discovering some of the best craft cocktail bars the city has to fofer.  The best part?  Its only $30.  Have you ever had 5 cocktails for $30 in San Francisco – outside of a shot of well rye in a dive bar in the Tenderloin?

The Cognac Crawl continue through October 15th, so be sure to get your cocktail on and join int he fun!  Visit Good Passports to book yours today.

In New York?  There is a Manhattan version as well!

Special thanks to Teuwen Communications for the media preview, and H. from Elixir for joining the fun and providing a great Cognac class.

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