Happy St. Patrick's Day! While this holiday is frequently celebrated with green beer, wine lovers can join the fun with these easy recipes for green Champagne and Champagne-based cocktails.
Waiters served green Champagne at the White House
for St. Patrick's Day 2009.
Pour champagne into glass. Add one drop of green food coloring. Drink! (Yes, it's just that simple.)
If you're allergic to synthetic food coloring or just prefer a "greener" lifestyle, check your local health food store for a natural green food dye, like spirulina powder (pictured). You can also boil spinach leaves, then simmer and reduce the remaining water until it's concentrated. Use sparingly to avoid changing the taste of the Champagne.
If you're not opposed to a little creative mixology, try adding a shot of green liqueur to your Champagne. Common choices are melon liqueur, creme de menthe and sour apple schnapps. If you're feeling adventurous, check your local liquor store for a bottle of Chartreuse herbal green liqueur or Agwa de Bolivi, which is made from coca leaves.
Gracefully opens up with crisp lemon peel, honeysuckle and delicate yeast aromas, followed by a mix of Fuji apple, grapefruit and a sweet hint of angel food cake. The acidity adds just enough liveliness and the citrus zest leads to a lingering, warm pear and lush finish.
Pale with golden reflections, this wine boasts the trademark fragrance of mandarin orange along with extremely fruity aromas and flavors of guava and lychee. Perfect for the wine lover who prefers a gentler fizz than is offered with Champagne, and a sweeter flavor.
Located in one of the coolest appellations of the Napa region (in more ways than one!), Heron Lake Vineyard and Winery planted its first vineyards in 1980 and began producing wines under the Olivia Brion label in 2003.
Winemaker David Malaffey sat down with us recently to discuss his role at Heron Lake as a steward of the vineyard in Wild Horse Valley.
The story of Olivia Brion: Fact or fiction? Describe how the Olivia Brion label ties in with your wines. Could you supply a few winemaker adjectives?
David: Well, if you're talking about the real Olivia Brion, the dog depicted on the wine label, then yes, she is fact. She chases turkeys in our vineyard.
The gal on the bicycle, well, she's "legend". She’s an amalgam of women who lived in history woven into one. She's a compilation of all the attributes in women I love and a composite of women she might have known or should have known. We've been historically accurate. But with her paramours with real people, we've expanded the fable here. I'm a "fabulist". That's a 19th-century word for someone like Mark Twain.
We take our winemaking seriously, but not ourselves. Once in a while, the wine business needs a poke in the ribs. Playful, sensual and adventuresome are the words I'd use to describe Olivia Brion and the wine.
Your "green story" involves a big commitment to sustainability. Can you comment on what you have underway in the vineyards?
David: As I'm working the land in my lifetime, I like to think that I'm leaving it intact. We leave wildlife corridors open, and our property is a major flightway for birds, so we end up sharing the fruit with the turkeys who get right through our netting. We use a propane cannon to scare them off, and of course, our dog.
Our guiding principle is gentle handling. We use gravity flow design to process the grapes, solar power for electricity where necessary, and no insecticides. Using native stones from the vineyard and recycled wood, we constructed an outbuilding to store bottled case goods on site instead of storing it offsite in a commercial warehouse. It is thoroughly insulated and needs no refrigeration; just a simple fan is used to create the ideal wine storage temperature.
Tell us about another of your guiding principles: "Think local."
David: We sell mainly to local restaurants and wine shops. We can because we're small, about 1,000 cases/year. I like it at this scale because I can be a generalist.
You are the co-inventor and developer of an "ozone for sanitation" system that's now used by over 700 wineries to save water and avoid harsh chemicals. Can you talk about wine and technological innovation as it relates to the environment?
David: I'm a big believer in less intervention in winemaking. However, I'm not afraid of technological advances. I just want to use them wisely.
Winegrower John Newmeyer checks the Chardonnay's fermentation.
Ozone for sanitation is a practical alternative to steam or chemical cleaning. Ozone is a form of oxygen that uses three atoms instead of two (as in O2.) An electrical current can break apart two of the atoms and briefly join three of them together. The third is held loosely, and if it has the opportunity to react, it will.
The third atom will destroy bacteria, and what you have left over is O2. It's clean and green. No chemicals needed, and it won't change the flavor of the barrel when you clean it. This use of ozone has many applications in cleaning water and other food products.
On a lighter note, what's your favorite pairing with Pinot Noir?
David: That's easy. If they were going to shoot me in the morning and I was having my last meal, it would be our '07 Olivia Brion Pinot Noir with Copper River Salmon from Alaska, grilled outdoors using the dried pruning canes as wood. The canes impart even heat and a beautiful smoked flavor.
Second choice: the same Pinot Noir with wild pig sausage. We had an invasion of wild pigs back a few years and needed the help of a trapper. We created sausage from those pigs that ate my Pinot Noir grapes!
The philosophy at J Vineyards is that wine and food enhance each other beautifully, and have always been meant to be enjoyed together. They carefully craft their wines to complement food and offer these pairings with their tasting experiences at the winery. This original recipe was created by J Vineyards' executive chef, Mark E. Caldwell.
An oak-aged California Chardonnay beautifully matches this soup's creamy-sweet flavor. Rich chicken broth creates a textural balance between the soup and the rich wine. The thick consistency of potatoes is cut by the acidity of the Chardonnay with its citrus, muscat and apple-pear qualities.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add leek, potato and onion, sweat for about 5 minutes. Add the half-and-half and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to a simmer and continue to cook until potatoes are tender enough to puree, about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and transfer in batches to a blender. Puree until smooth and pass through a fine mesh strainer into a clean saucepan. Add caraway, lemon and dill. Bring just to a simmer, then lower heat. Adjust seasonings and keep soup warm until ready to serve.
A sublime combination of Old World minimalist technique and New World fruit expression. Notes of Meyer lemon, peach, vanilla, toasted almond and honey tickle the nose and mouth. The weighty, seamless palate has a creamy texture reminiscent of crème brûlée. A long, luxurious finish exhibits hints of caramel, nutmeg and cinnamon.
To make a success of winemaking, it takes grape-growing expertise, strong management skills, sophisticated equipment and savvy selling. Then there's dealing with Mother Nature, government regulations ... the list goes on and on. And you'll need a whole lot of money up front before you see a dime of it in return (if any).
Oh, there are certainly success stories like Kathryn Kennedy, who produced award-winning wines from her own back yard, but there's no doubt that starting with cash helps. So it makes sense that celebrities would have the capital needed to start and run a winery.
According to the Nielsen Company, celebrity wine sales jumped 19% in grocery stores in 2007 alone. It basically comes down to marketing leverage, something these musicians, actors and athletes had when they jumped into the game.
Madonna and her father, Silvio "Tony" Ciccone, collaborated on a handful of wines bearing the superstar's name for Ciccone Vineyard & Winery. Each of the five labels incorporates artwork from Madonna's 2005 album Confessions on a Dance Floor.
Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac fame is drumming up sales with his Mick Fleetwood Private Cellars.
Bob Dylan has bottled an Italian wine blend of Montepulciano and Merlot from Le Terrazze complete with his signature called "Planet Waves", the name of his 1974 album.
Dave Matthews founded Blenheim Vineyards in 2000 near his home in Charlottesville, Virginia. The winery itself was designed by Matthews himself, with the intention to have minimal environmental impact.
Canadian actor Dan Aykroyd launched his Discovery Series of wines in 2007, which are inspired by his travels to wineries around the globe.
Paul Newman has extended his brand from food products like salad dressing and lemonade into wine with the help of Rebel Wine Co. As with his other products, all profits and royalties after taxes are donated to charity.
French actor Gerard Depardieu has been making wines since the 1980's and owns vineyards in France, Italy, Morocco and Algeria. His Chateau de Tigne produces reds, whites and roses bearing his face and signature.
Peggy Fleming, a gold medal skater at the 1968 Olympics owns Fleming Jenkins Winery and Vineyards of Santa Cruz with husband and winemaker, Greg.
Mike Ditka, former NFL coach, has partnered with Mendocino Wine Company to create his lineup of wines which includes a "Kick Ass Red".
Mario Andretti founded Andretti Winery in Napa Valley in 1996 with longtime friend Joe Antonini, former Chairman and CEO of KMart.
Greg Norman has gone from golf to producing red, white and sparkling wines from some of the finest growing regions in Australia and California.
Fellow golfer Ernie Els has a winery in South Africa, and Arnold Palmer is collaborating with Luna Vineyards in the Napa Valley.
We arrived at our Feb. 10 wine tasting event -- an exhibit celebrating Dink Siegel's original Playboy cartoon art -- on a high note.
Late the previous evening, three awards for our 2009 Tough Day Chardonnay arrived from the 2010 World Wine Championships Wine Packaging Competition: silver medals for Creativity and Graphic Design, and a bronze medal for Style.
Plus, it's beyond gratifying for us to see our work on signs around the neighborhood, as well as in such a prestigious host venue, the Illustration House in New York City. We were humbled just knowing that the antique easels they provided for our labels and art normally exhibit originals by Rockwell, the Leyendeckers, Cornwall, Sickles, Peak, Fuchs, Capp, Wood, McGinnis and the like.
In total fanboy mode, before set-up, we studied the 15 Dinks available, with September 1963's Mirror, Mirror (pictured at right) being my favorite.
Also good for our humility: early guest Frank Scicchitano told us how he "used to do some baseball card work". Proprietor Roger Reed pulled us aside, told us Scicchitano is a fine portrait painter and much too humble, and to be sure to get his business card. As it turns out, Scicchitano did the Ted Williams painting exhibited at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, among others! That is even more poignant for me, as I normally wear a Ted Williams cap.
Our other high point of this event was when David was asked to do a caricature of 93-year-old Walt Reed (pictured below), the legendary Illustration House founder and author of The Illustrator in America 1860-2000, the bible on the subject.
Almost no women attended, which makes sense. To my surprise, there was another person from Weymouth, MA, besides myself in attendance at this NYC event ... what are the odds?
This group was much more interested in our art and comics influences than the usual guests we attract, though the wine certainly held everyone's attention. And the attending artists made sure we knew about other shows and exhibits that they felt we should visit while in the city.
The joke of the evening was that this must be the largest collection of people in one room, outside of the original magazine staff, that really did read Playboy for the art and the articles.
We used this unique forum to preview our upcoming Strut Pinot Noir label and to get feedback on our other tie-in wine label ideas. Tallying up the guests' collective resumes, this was by far the most illustration art, graphic design and comics "working artist" crowd we've ever "performed" for – especially when you realize that some of these guests' work is seen by literally billions.
A meeting at City Winery usurped our off-the-clock time, so except for lunch at Zocalo, a search for salted caramels for my wife and fancy cupcakes for the Griffin family, this New York City trip was all work. Thankfully, there were no travel issues to report.
Next stop: Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro in Foxboro, MA.
Normally, about 30 regulars attend their Tuesday Night Tastings series. For our Feb. 22 The Silence of the Corks "homecoming" event, we pulled in about 75 guests! And, as regularly happens at these Corked events, we received a request for another booking at a different venue.
Dave and I began the evening with our "we're 19 again" supper of mac and cheese and beer. Coworker Denise Kotopoulos arrived to help us, so I got to pour and pitch, she peddled and poured when needed, while Dave drew non-stop. We looked like the Manson clan behind the table in our matching Tough Dame t-shirts.
Extra cool-o-meter points: Feb. 22 was The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme's 67th birthday.
In keeping with the Hannibal Lechter-esque theme of the event, Tastings' manager Scott Shoer requested we bring "a nice Chianti" to pour before the actual Corked the comic tie-in wines. Winetasting.com’s Benedetta 2008 Chianti was delicious with executive chef Matt Maue's chicken liver pate and mashed fava bean on toast. This set the bar for Tastings' delicious small plate pairings that made our wines shine.
I brought my own bottle of San Valencia Old Vine Tawny for the hell of it. This way, the Corked tie-ins were framed on both ends by Winetasting.com house brands that I put in the bottle, and I had extra room in one of our boxes. I should have brought more. And the Tough Day Rescue Kit was the evening's surprise most-talked-about item.
We don't know which we appreciate more: the e-mails and Facebook posts from guests, or the ones bemoaning their inability to attend. Here's a smattering of both:
"Had a great evening at the Corked wine tasting in Foxboro with Francis Sanders and David Griffin. Caught up with some TTV and G&W friends, what a wonderful evening! I miss all my wine friends!" -- Lynn Martel
"Great night and can't wait for the next event!" -- Megh
"I wanted to come so badly! I ended up working late - next time!" -- Heather
"Hi Francis! I hope your tasting went well last night. I was aiming to be there all day but obstacles kept getting in the way! Let's just say it was a day for Tough Day Chardonnay! Talk to you soon!" -- Kelly
Finally, as an appropriate "thank you" to Tastings Wine Bar & Bistro for an excellent event, Dave drew caricatures of the entire staff.
Click here for an updated Corked the comic wine tasting schedule. Next stop: the MoCCA Festival Reception, April 9, in New York City.