Wine Enthusiast Podcast: America’s Best Pinot Noir

In this week's episode, learn about America's top Pinot Noir and the women behind famous Champagne houses.
Illustration by Mikel Casal

Wine Enthusiast contributing editors breakdown the beauty of American-made Pinot Noir, plus we talk with Blaine Ashley, Founder of NY Champagne week, about groundbreaking women who founded famous Champagne houses, and her new event dedicated to females working in fizz today.

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The Wine Enthusiast Podcast

Host: From Wine Enthusiast Magazine, this is the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. Coming up on today’s podcast, Sonoma Valley and Oregon Pinot Noir, contributing editors Virginie Boone and Paul Gregutt discuss the intricacies and history from two of America’s major Pinot regions and why Pinot Noir has been called “the holy grail of wine grapes.”

Paul Gregutt: Another great Pinot quote, and I don’t know who first said it, but it’s “the iron fist in the velvet glove.” It took me a few years and a lot of wine to understand that quote, but I think it really does kind of hit upon the fact that it’s a very subtle and elegant wine. At the same time, it can be a wine of immense power and longevity.

Host: Plus, FIZZ is Female. Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa talks to Blaine Ashley, founder of New York Champagne Week, about the fizzy elixir that Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, and countless others have extolled through the ages with a focus on groundbreaking women who founded famous Champagne houses and her event for pioneering women who work in sparkling wine today.

Blaine Ashley: I know a lot of amazing women in the industry, and I wanted to shine a spotlight on them and give them an event of their own.

Host: Plus, wine myths, wine basics and more. All coming up on the Wine Enthusiast Podcast.

Blue Apron Wine. Every wine club promises to send you tasty reds and whites, but only Blue Apron Wine partners with the world’s best winemakers to get you incredible reds and whites. We’re talking Vignobles Bulliat Morgon, 91 points from Wine Enthusiast, and Matthiasson, nominated for a 2018 James Beard Award. Get $25 off your first shipment of six wines at blueapron.com/corkscrew.

Pinot Noir is probably the most romanticized red wine on the planet, and one of the oldest grapes in the world. Contributing Editor Virginie Boone, who reviews wines from California, and Contributing Editor Paul Gregutt, who reviews wines from Oregon and Canada, discuss why Pinot Noir from California and Oregon can be great, affordable, and richer in flavor than even the Pinots from France.

Virginie Boone: Well Paul, I guess we’re here to talk about Pinot Noir. So just in kind of an easy sentence, how would you describe Pinot Noir? What is it?

Paul Gregutt: A Pinot Noir is certainly the most famous grape of Burgundy and one of the most famous grapes in the world. It’s often featured in the top wines at auctions, and it has a pretty interesting history here in the new world.

VB: I was looking at or revisiting one of my great resources for Pinot Noir, which is John Winthrop Haeger’s book called North American Pinot Noir, delving a little bit into the history. And it sounds like the first time it was actually used by name might have been in the 14th century in Burgundy. Clearly, Burgundy is its first home as far as most people know. It looked like maybe even they used the name Pinot kind of generically for just their best wines before it even became a grape variety that was talked about.

PG: When did it actually get to California, as far as we know?

VB: Well, my understanding in Sonoma specifically…well, let’s see. 1959, Joe Rochioli Senior and his son, Jr. who is still alive, came to Russian River, which is now very famous for Pinot Noir, but at the time was probably still a lot of prunes and hops and not much in the way of grapes, maybe some old field blends of Zinfandel. But he started planting Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. And within 10 years, he started planting Pinot Noir. So I think 1968 is really when you can point to it being planted at any kind of high quality level in Sonoma County. And you know, that’s pretty early.

PG: It actually kind of tracks perfectly with David Lett coming up to the Willamette Valley. And he started it in the Willamette Valley in the late ’60s, just about the same time. I know there was other Pinot in other parts of California, and they brought up a lot of those cuttings from California. But in the Willamette Valley, it goes back 50 years. In France, it goes back more than a 1,000. So we’re playing a little bit of catch up here.

But that being said, they maybe started with a hunch, an inspiration, an idea. And then as you know, vintage after vintage after vintage, you experiment, which is what’s happened in Oregon. And as you mentioned, over the decades, they really start to parse it out and find the best spots. They add, subdivide appellations, American Viticultural Areas, AVAs as they’re called. The Willamette Valley being one of the largest in Oregon, and that’s really where most of the top Pinot Noirs are grown.

But the Willamette Valley now has six subsets and several more on the way. Each time they do that, it’s because there are very specific geologic and geographic characteristics that make those wines deserving of a special designation. So when people are looking at Oregon and Willamette Valley Pinots, I think they want to start with the Willamette Valley.

That’s really where the top wines are coming from. You can get less expensive ones from southern Oregon, but the best ones seem to come from the north. And then when you really dive into it, you’re going to start to learn about the sub-appellations and how each of them impacts the flavor in the vines.

VB: Yeah. And here, I mean Russian River, I think even in 1968, is probably considered on the cooler aspects of Sonoma County, and it does have a lot of influence from the river itself, which draws fog from the coast. So it’s a fairly cool climate, but now, certainly since 1968 but particularly within the last 10 years or so, I would say we’re moving closer and closer and closer to the coast, and viticulture is becoming, especially for Pinot Noir, more and more extreme.

And people have been planting where they were long ago told no grapes would ever grow and having a lot of success with Pinot Noir. So I think we’re still learning, clearly, and it’s really interesting to see the difference between a truly coastal Pinot Noir and a more inland Russian River Pinot Noir. And I imagine that’s what you’re talking about with the sub-appellations in Oregon as well.

PG: Yeah. Oregon being farther north, it’s not so much a function of being on the coast because none of these wineries are actually on the coast. There’s a coastal mountain range that defines essentially the western border of the Willamette Valley and a cascade mountain range that defines the eastern border. The Willamette Valley runs north south from the Columbia River to the north all the way to the center of the state. And that big valley is really where the largest percentage of Oregon wines and certainly of Pinot Noir is grown.

And I think what we want to really dive into is the particulars about new world, specifically Sonoma and Willamette Valley Pinot Noir. I think when people start to ask themselves, what’s so special about Pinot Noir, one thing that we might mention is it’s a rather delicate grape. It’s lighter in color. It’s rarely blended. It’s usually featured as 100 % varietal and not blended. There are exceptions, of course, but I think that it’s the purity of the grape, the purity of its ability to express the place that it’s grown that’s one of the defining characteristics.

VB: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that gets to the climates that we’re talking about, certainly the soils, the types of clones as we had talked about a little bit, and how much viticulture happens. I would say the amount of work that goes into making a Pinot Noir is part of why it gets a reputation for being difficult and expensive to make, as well as it’s often on these sites that are marginal.

But it’s susceptible to mildew and petritis. It gets viral diseases pretty easily. It buds early compared to a lot of other grapes, so it’s at risk to frost. It doesn’t like rain too much. It doesn’t like a lot of big temperature changes. It has small berries, so the berries tend to have relatively thin skins. These are all things that contribute to it’s amazing flavor and aromatics and delicacy, but it’s also why…I think I saw a quote from André Tchelistcheff, who’s one of the big pioneers in new world wine making, and I think he said, “God made Cabernet Sauvignon, whereas the devil made Pinot Noir.”

PG: Another great Pinot quote, and I don’t know who first said it, but it’s “the iron fist in the velvet glove.” It took me a few years and a lot of wine to understand that quote, but I think it really does kind of hit upon the fact that it’s a very subtle and elegant wine. At the same time, it can be a wine of immense power and longevity. It can age, literally, for decades and it’s not a function of color. It can be very pale and still have all of that power and ageability.

VB: Right? I think most winemakers that I speak to and growers always get back to the acidity. When grown in the right place, the acidity and that both makes it sort of fresh and beautifully delicious and aromatic in the class, but it also gives it the potential to age, as you say.

PG: We are talking very specifically here about Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, not just trying to characterize all of Oregon. We’re talking about Sonoma Pinot Noir, not all of California, because of course it’s grown all the way from Santa Barbara on up to Mendocino in California. That’s a pretty broad spectrum. I think when people are starting to explore Pinot Noir, they’re likely to jump in on the inexpensive end of the equation. I’m afraid that with Pinot Noir in particular, the cheaper ones rarely give you a fair look at why it’s so special.

VB: Yeah, I would agree with that. At the same time, when you look at prices of things like Cabernet Sauvignon, especially in California, Pinot remains a pretty decent value given the amount of work that goes into making most of them and the risks associated with planting in some of these places. So I actually, you know, I know that that Pinot prices continue to go up and there is a range, but it still delivers a lot for the price.

PG: There’s a huge range. I understand exactly what you’re saying. And also, if you compare the prices of California or Oregon Pinot to Burgundy, Burgundy is completely off the charts in the relative world of pricing. You can say that the New World, the American versions, are fairly priced. It is a very difficult wine to do everything right and get it really great. But I know that I struggle a bit to find under $20 Pinot Noir from Oregon that really captures at least some of the character, some of the good fruit…at least some of the character, some of the good fruit, I don’t like it when there’s…on the cheap wines, I don’t like it when they use artificial oak treatments. David Lett used to complain endlessly about Pinot Noir that tasted like vanilla, and Coca Cola

VB: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

PG: And a lot of that comes from trying to put flavor into cheap grapes that don’t have much flavor.

VB: Well, and I think also, what happens at those price points are, certainly, there’s lots of winemakers that will tell you under their breath, how much Syrah there is in Pinot Noir oftentimes to sort of boost both color, weight. Certainly make a bigger production wine. Because Syrah is plentiful, and it’s a big berry, and Pinot, you may not have enough. So, that’s what I always worry about when I see some of the cheaper bottlings is, this isn’t gonna be real Pinot Noir. It may have a little bit of Pinot Noir in there, but it’s not gonna capture place. It’s not gonna capture what the grape is really about. And you can go to 30, 35, certainly in the 40, 45 and get some really great wines.

PG: In Oregon, the law says, you cannot label it Pinot Noir unless it’s 95% Pinot Noir. So, if there’s anything else blended in, it’s a very small percentage.

VB: Yeah. I think, there’s wine making tricks as you say, so sometimes, it’s more about the color additions, acid additions for sure. Sometimes, the oak chips, so sort of fake oak. And then, another problem is oftentimes, just adding sweetness to the wine to make it more palatable to a general population.

PG: A couple of things I know we wanted to touch on. Food matches. Of course the classic here in the Pacific Northwest is salmon. Fresh caught, Columbia River, or Copper River salmon and Pinot Noir is like, iconic. It’s like goat cheese and Sancerre. It just doesn’t get any better than that. But it’s a very versatile grape as far as food goes.

VB: Yeah. I would agree, and that’s a tough one to beat. I mean, that’s so perfectly Oregon. In Sonoma, our iconic pairing I think you would say, would be Pinot with liberty duck. And liberty duck is a Sonoma based producer. And like, a liberty duck breast in like a plumb or cherry confit or some sort of sauce with Pinot, is an amazingly go to, good go to pairing. But, we also have an event every year called, Pigs and Pinot. And chefs come from all over the U.S., and they cook something pork related to go with Pinot. And, I’ve yet to have anything pork that doesn’t work with a good Pinot Noir.

PG: Yeah. I agree. Not necessarily barbecue, ’cause it doesn’t necessarily stand up to that kind of heat. But, other kinds of pork, poultry preparations, even pasta, not tomato sauce, but olive oil and herb kinda sauce. Great with that.

There’s a couple of other trends that are happening here. I just wanna very quickly mention. One is, Pinot Noir in cans. I’m seeing more and more of that. And, at an inexpensive and the kind of wine you can take on a hike. And it’s not, you don’t have the glass to worry about. You don’t have to take a corkscrew or mess around. So, Pinot in cans is happening in Oregon.

Also, white Pinot Noir. You take Pinot Noir grapes and you press them immediately off the skins, and you essentially make a white wine out of a red grape. And the third thing that’s happening in Oregon that’s terrific are the rosés. The pure Pinot Noir are absolutely spectacular.

VB: Certainly the rosés in general has exploded, but I think the Pinot producers who are making rosé, are particularly good at it, and those are wines worth seeking. Their picking often from the same Pinot sights that they pick for the red wines. And they’re picking it specifically to make a rosé. So, these are wines of purpose and intent. And, it shows when you drink them, and yet, they remain very much affordable. Usually under 30, 20 dollars sometimes. I would say I’m seeing more rosé cans, so rosé of Pinot Noir cans. And then, maybe even some sparkling rosé cans. More so than Pinot specifically, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.

PG: It’s definitely a trend, it’s on the rise. And just to wrap things up. I wanted to just do a shout out to a couple of the more expensive, let’s say over 50 dollars, but still…a value wine can be expensive. It’s a value wine if it’s better at that price than most of what else is in that category. I just wanna call out a few names that I think are exceptional.

Patricia Green, Brittan Vineyards, Chay Vineyard, Nicolas Jay, Domaine Serene, and of course, some of the founding wineries. Adelsheim, Bethel Heights, Eyrie and Ponzi.

VB: Well, I’ll add a few from my neck of the woods. The, and I’ll do three slightly different appellations that are all within Sonoma. The first would be Donum Estate, they’re based in Carneros. Which is another appellation, the bridge ends up in Sonoma, but it’s very influenced by the San Francisco Bay, more so that the Pacific Ocean. But, a lotta the same sort of climactic conditions apply. Donum has been making some beautiful Pinot’s for a long time now. And, they’re age worthy. They are balanced. They are really interesting studies of sight from their vineyard in Carneros. They also have vineyards in Russian River. So they make some Russian River.

In Russian River itself, it’s hard to beat Rochioli, kind of the pioneer of Pinot Noir here. And they continue to make some beautiful wines from their estate. And then, for a more extreme coastal wine, very small production, but, Wayfarer is a new Pinot Noir producer. They make four or five different Pinots from their one vineyard. Because that’s how much variation there is within it. And these are extreme example of what it takes to grow Pinot on the coast. They can be really tightly wound. They’re definitely age-worthy. And I would check ’em out.

PG: Well, I tell you what, you bring the duck, I’ll bring the salmon.

VB: You got it.

PG: We’ll each toss in a bottle of something special, and that’s a party.

VB: All right. I’ll meet you wherever you want.

Host: Next. Wine Enthusiast Tasting Director, Alexander Peartree, dispels some classic wine myths.

Alex Peartree: I’m gonna debunk a very common wine myth that sweet wines are for beginners, not educated palates. This is so not true. Some of the most coveted wines in the world are sweet. Some amazing examples are Sauternes from Bordeaux. Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese from Germany and Austria. And of course, icewine from Canada and the Finger Lakes. These are typically decadently sweet, yet balanced by electric acidity and are quite age-worthy. Believe it or not, generally, the more experienced collectors seek out these beauties. And that’s it for today.

If you’ve got a wine myth that needs to be debunked, email me at, apeartree@wineenthusiast.net. Thanks for listening.

Host: Blue Apron wine, only the best vineyards and winemakers make the cut for a Blue Apron wine box. Every amazing wine is just ten dollars per bottle. Best of all, each wine comes with a back story on who made it, where and why, all so you understand why the wine tastes and smells the way it does. Want to learn more about wine? Blue Apron is the place to start. Get twenty five dollars off your first shipment at blueapron.com/corkscrew. Terms and conditions apply. All orders are handled by Blue Apron wine Napa, California.

Marina Vataj: I’m Marina Vataj, digital content director at Wine Enthusiast Magazine. And, in today’s wine basics, we’re tackling, when you should decant wine.

MV: Simply stated, decanting is the act of pouring wine into a vessel. The wine is then served from this vessel. A common reason to decant wine is because of sediment. Sediment can be very fine and has a tendency to deaden a wine’s flavor and expression. But, before you decant, you need to prepare the wine itself.

First things first, the important thing with red wine is to make sure that the sediment stays at the bottom of the bottle. So you stop decanting when the sediment arrives at the neck. If you’re pulling a wine from horizontal cellar storage, give the bottle between a few hours and a couple of days to sit vertically, so the sediment has time to shift to the bottom of the bottle. If you’re going straight from cellar to table, tilt the bottle to a vertical position slowly, so that the sediment slides to the bottom without integrating with the wine. Then carry it to the table standing up.

The second common reason to decant wine is to expose wine to oxygen and help open it up. During its initial contact with wine, oxygen can actually be beneficial. Softening the wine and enhancing its flavors. On the other hand, exposure to oxygen can help release the wine’s volatile compounds. For example, if you notice an aroma of rotten eggs, or struck match when opening your wine, it’s generally a sign of something called hydrogen sulfide. 30 minutes to an hour in a decanter can help release these compounds, allowing you to reassess the wine for its other qualities.

I’m Marina Vataj, thanks for listening. For more wine basics tips, visit winemag.com/winebasics.

Host: And, you’re listening to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast. Now you may know that twisting or riddling is crucial to the making and storing of clear, crisp Champagne or sparkling wine. But, did you know that it was a woman who invented the riddling rack? And helped crown Champagne as the king of wines. Next up, Executive Editor Susan Kostrzewa talks to New York Champagne Week founder, Blaine Ashley about her upcoming FIZZ is Female event. And why not only is sparkling wine an industry for innovative women today, but always has been.

Susan Kostrzewa: This is Susan Kostrzewa and we’re here in Manhattan’s Lincoln Center area at Bar Boulud. I’m here with Blaine Ashley, one of my favorite people in the industry. And we are here today, to talk about women in the sparkling wine industry. And, Blaine has done some amazing things in this category. We’re having a glass of Champagne together, appropriately. So, I would love for you to tell us a little bit about your own involvement in the bubbles business, including your FIZZ is Female event, which is coming up in New York in October. Tell me how that came to be and just how you got involved in all this greatness.

Blaine Ashley: So, I am the founder of New York Champagne Week, which ran for five years. And after five years of running that event, all these other weeks started popping. So, there’s Mezcal, there’s a Negroni week. There’s a week for everything now. To stay current and fresh, I chose to dissolve that and start something new. And I decided that The FIZZ is Female seemed right. I wanted to be able to expose all the talent in the industry that’s undiscovered and maybe not getting the credit they deserve. And, I also wanted to work with other bubblies, not just limited to Champagnes.

SK: And as a clarification, I think most people probably know, but Champagne, if it’s called Champagne, is make in Champagne in France.

BA: Right.

SK: Appropriately. So, sparkling wine, outside of Champagne is, sparkling wine.

BA: So through…right. And throughout the five years of running Champagne, we have beautiful other sparkling wines. Premium sparkling wines approached me to get involved.

There were sparkling wines, there were premium sparkling wines, approached me to get involved and I couldn’t work with them during that week because it was titled New York Champagne Week. So I thought it was time to do something new, and I consider myself a bit of a trailblazer in the business, and I like to be creative and stay creative and fresh, so I chose to just rebrand.

SK: And the FIZZ is Female, what’s really great about it, it’s an industry event, but it’s highlighting women who have supported, or pushed the industry forward. Tell me more about sort of the idea behind FIZZ is Female. What do you hope to achieve with the event?

BA: I know a lot of amazing women in the industry, and I wanted to shine a spotlight on them, and give them an event of their own. So the FIZZ is Female will commence with a panel event that you are moderating.

SK: Yay. And I have to throw in this little tidbit. I am actually part of the Clicquot de Champagne, I’m Madame Chevalier to Clicquot de Champagne, which basically just means that I get to drink Champagne and legitimize it whenever I want. So anyway, I’m thrilled to be on this panel.

BA: Amazing. I’m thrilled to have you. And I have different panelists that I feel like are leading ladies in the Fizz Biz, that’s what the panel is called. I have some female winemakers, female brand owners, female marketing expert Lisa Madsen, who’s one of our friends at Jordan Winery. And then we have a restaurateur who has a bubbly focused restaurant in San Francisco on this panel. And they’re just all really amazing at what they do.

The idea is to create an atmosphere for trade and media members who want to go further in what they’re doing in this industry, and show them they can. And they can hear these stories about starting with nothing, or starting with just an idea, and just going for it. We’re also doing a multi brand tasting at a female owned oyster bar/Champagne bar in the Lower East Side. And we’re doing a big party cause we should just have fun at the end of all this, and pop bottles, and minis, and play female playlists. And it’s just a big female love fest for this industry.

SK: And one of the things, as Blaine and I started talking about this event, that I was reminded of, is how women have such an amazing long history of being enmeshed in the sparkling wine industry, especially Champagne. Example of that would be Madame Clicquot of Clicquot, in 1816 she invented the riddling rack.

BA: Right.

SK: Which again, most people don’t realize how important women have been in what we would consider a traditional industry.

BA: Absolutely.

SK: So can you tell me a little bit about how that inspires you, as a modern woman in this space, given this amazing legacy?

BA: Well as a serial entrepreneur, one of the first books I ever read before I was personally enmeshed in bubbling wine, was Widow Clicquot. And I have always, personally, felt like I have a talent for overcoming adversity, and she’s a perfect example of that. She was 27 and widowed, no female had worked in Champagne at the time, she really pushed boundaries to take over her husband’s house, and she faced a lot of opposition, and I can relate to that. So when I started my own adventures in Champagne, I really wanted to have fun with the marketing approach. And at the time, in 2013, a lot of traditional Champagne, people in Champagne were kind of like, “What is she doing? What is this girl doing?” I mean I had events called ‘Let’s Get Fizzical’, and ‘Back That Glass Up’, and ‘Burgers and Bubbles,’ and all these things in 2013 people weren’t doing that. So I feel hearing the stories of trailblazers in Champagne dating back to the 1800s, gives a little bit more motivation and inspiration.

SK: In Champagne, you’d have that sort of juxtaposition of this very traditional culture. But intrinsically there was always this sort of rebellious side with women. In some cases-

BA: Absolutely.

SK: They didn’t have a chance to take…I mean they didn’t, it wasn’t their choice, they again, they were either widowed or whatever, and they had to take over these grand houses. And I’d love to talk a little more about that timeline-

BA: Right.

SK: Because I think it’s worth mentioning some of the other great women in the history of, again, specifically champagne right now. So Madame Clicquot, do you wanna talk about the House of Pommery and Louis Roederer.

BA: Right.

SK: These are all names that are so famous in Champagne.

BA: So Louise Pommery, in 1874, she created Brut Champagne. She asked her winemaker to play with the wine a little bit more, reduce the dosage, and at the time there was 100 grams of sugar per liter of Champagne in her average Champagne. So she created Brut Champagne, which I don’t think anyone really talks about these days. And then moving on to Camille Roederer in 1932, she took over her husband’s house, also widowed, all these women were widowed. And it was a declining business, Roederer, she was facing bankruptcy when she took over the business, and now we all know Cristal today, so we know where that ended up.

And then in 2009, Margareth Henriquez became president and CEO of Krug, and sold 239.9 million bottles of Champagne, and then she went on to collaborate with Anne Malassagne of AR Lenoble to launch La Transmission, a group of women in Champagne that come together to just like be each others advocates, and help each other increase their stamp in the wine business and Champagne. So all of these women I think, were some of the biggest influencers in Champagne today.

SK: To me, sparkling wine, even with all of the variation within style, within that category, they’re some of the best food wines. I mean-

BA: Absolutely.

SK: I always feel that if you are in doubt at a table and you’ve got a mix of flavors, a steak, a chicken, a fish, whatever, you bring out a bottle of bubbly and it bridges all the flavors. So it’s kind of, to me, the interest in food in the U.S. also is driving this interest in sparkling wine.

BA: Absolutely. And if you can’t afford a 300 dollar bottle of Krug, you go for maybe a French Porto, which is nice and round, and full, and very food friendly. I also think it’s lower in alcohol than a big, red, meaty, red wine.

SK: Yeah. What are some of the exciting areas of sparkling wine production in your opinion right now, that people should be paying attention to?

BA: So the natural wine movement has definitely embraced sparkling wine with pet-nat’s, pétillant naturel. So fizzy, natural wine. They have pét-nat’s in Italy and France, Georgia is coming out with a lot of pét-nat’s right now. Even our own Finger Lakes.

SK: Yup.

BA: I just don’t have a pét-nat involved in the FIZZ is Female. I’d like one, but I haven’t found one yet that’s female made or owned. But pét-nat is really huge, especially in New York, which is a trend setting city. People are drinking tons of it right now. I also think Franciacorta is super premium sparkling wine, that’s really looking to expand their presence, especially in the U.S.

SK: Northern Italian?

BA: Northern Italian sparkling wine. They have more strict laws when it comes to regulations, so they actually age a little bit longer than Champagne, for minimum aging. And again, they drink pretty round and full, so they have a warmer climate. They have some really nice wines that you can look toward if you don’t wanna spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on a bottle of Dom. And then I’m a personal fan of Cormons. They have that quality to value ratio that I look for when I’m buying bubbly and can’t necessarily afford Champagne.

SK: They make sparkling Shiraz in Australia that’s fun as well. I mean, I love that they’re getting more creative with the actual varieties that they’re using in that style of wine.

BA: I feel like Lambrusco is kind of making a turn around. It’s always been around, but I feel like it’s back on menus a little bit more than ever, bubbly Mosel’s. So we have a lot of great bubbly wine out there.

SK: Would you say that you had an-aha moment with bubbly? Like can you go back and remember some of the first experiences you had, either with Champagne or sparkling wine, and said, “Oh this is definitely my jam and I wanna stick to this and I love it.”

BA: Well I was in France, I was at Vin Expo in 2013, and at the time I was writing a column actually for a magazine called Jet Set Sip, so I was doing coverage of an expo, and I met a sommelier from Sweden who was opening a Champagne bar. And he asked if I wanted to just putz around the show with him, and I did, and I met all these growers, Champagne producers, and none of them were in New York and they all asked if I could help them get into New York. And at the time I was like, “I’m gonna start New York Champagne week.” I mean it was just an aha moment and I came back and three months later I produced my first Champagne week.

SK: Sparkling wine is appropriate for pretty much every occasion, every day of the week, Monday through Sunday. So I would love for you to tell me a little bit about how you consume sparkling wine. Give me like a Tuesday night in your house, how it goes.

BA: A Tuesday night, I will probably pick up a Crémant d’Alsace. I would definitely walk in the door, crack open a bottle of sparkling open and finish emails for the day, do a little cleaning, and start cooking dinner. And bubbly wine, like you said, goes so well with anything. I love sushi with bubbly. I’m from Hawaii so I grew up on sushi and I think that sushi and Champagne is the best possible pairing. On a colder day, I might go for like a risotto with mushroom or something.

SK: You’re making me hungry right now.

BA: Yeah, but I, you know, anything really. It really does go with everything. My first Champagne week, I did an event where we ate around the world. So we did India, Japan, France, Italy in one event. And we had small plate pairings that went with the Champagne that was working with that event. So it’s the most diverse wine that pairs with really any type of food.

SK: Yup.

BA: But I’ll mop with a glass of Champagne. I mean, I’ll clean my house. Like I’ll do pretty much anything while drinking Champagne.

SK: That’s a talent to be moping and holding a glass of Champagne in your hand. I mean now I know that you truly are a pro.

BA: Right.

SK: So you know, I love it. This is Susan Kostrzewa, executive editor of Wine Enthusiast, I’ve been talking with Blaine Ashley who is the founder of FIZZ is Female. It’s been a great conversation. Blaine thank you so much.

BA: Thank you for having me.

SK: And cheers.

BA: Cheers.

Host: That’s it for today’s Wine Enthusiast podcast. To read more about wine, visit winemag.com or pick up the current issue of Wine Enthusiast Magazine to see our annual best buys list, 100 wines under 15 dollars. You can subscribe to the Wine Enthusiast Podcast on Apple Podcast, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcast, and please write us a review, we’d love to hear what you think. We’d also love to stay in touch. Use the #WineEnthusiastMagazine and follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also send us an email at podcast@winemag.com. The Wine Enthusiast Podcast is produced by Marina Vataj and Mike Sargent. See you next time.

Published on September 12, 2018
Topics: Podcast



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