Sauv Blanc, hold the alcohol.

Introducing the world’s first alcohol-removed Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zeland: Geisen 0%!

The Why:

YOU GUYS! I am so excited about this for several reasons. First of all, I’m a lady who plans on growing a family and I’m also an avid wine drinker. Having gone through one pregnancy, let me tell you… alcohol removed wine is a real treat! Surprisingly, I loved taking a break from alcohol for 9 months and instead sipped on delicious mocktails and alc-removed wine; that’s not to say I didn’t think about wine from time to time. The one I missed most during my pregnancy was Sauvignon Blanc – probably because I had intense cravings for all things citrus throughout the second and third trimesters. Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough is known for being deliciously tart with flavors of lemon juice, lemongrass, lime, grapefruit, pear, and passionfruit – basically all the things this mama bear craved! Also, if you’re nursing and on the fence about whether or not to consume wine, because lets be honest there are arguments on both sides, this is a really great option! Secondly, dry January is becoming a very real trend and I actually love this concept. Greg and I decided to partake in a modified version we’re calling *damp* January. We’ve cut out alcohol Mon – Wed, allowing ourselves to open bottles Thurs – Sun. I’m not gonna lie, some days are harder than others which is why this option of alcohol-free wine excites me! For us, wine isn’t just about getting a nice little buzz. We enjoy the social aspect and how it reminds us to slow down and take time to relax. We also enjoy food and wine pairings – a great way to treat yo’ self for surviving parenting + work during a pandemic day in and day out. Giesen 0% allows us to do all of this while sticking with our goal of cutting out the buzz part-time. Lastly, the Giesen brothers have a great reputation for making fantastic wine from the top Sauvignon Blanc regions of Wairau Valley and Awatere Valley in Marlborough, New Zealand for almost four decades. Marlborough is at the top of my list for wine travel once the pandemic ends!

The How:

Giesen uses premium, full-strength Sauv Blanc in their process and combines tradition with modern technology known as an advanced spinning cone. Spin cone technology contains upside cones – half of which spin while the other half are fixed. In an environment that feels like it’s in a vacuum, cones start to spin until wine transforms into thin liquid films. A cool vapor-like element rises from the wine, carrying the yeasts and volatiles away from the liquid film. Using this advanced tech, first the aromas are removed followed by the alcohol. Aromas are collected reintroduced into the wine so you don’t miss out on the enticing nose. The final blend of Sauvy B grape juice + natural yeasts adds texture and body. This results in a dry, refreshing, aromatic, and delightful wine sans alcohol.

The Where:

More on Marlborough because if you love Sauvignon Blanc, you need to explore this region since Sauvy B makes up a majority of the plantings here. Most vineyards are planted to either Awatere Valley and Wairau Valley which is the larger of the two. In Wairau, the days are long and sunny, resulting in tropical flavors in the wine. It’s an interesting spot though… there are many sub-valleys that have different altitudes and aspects, so producers have various elements to work with. On the other side, we have Awatere Valley which is drier, cooler, and windier than it’s big sister. This makes a style of wine with pronounced herbaceous flavors and higher acidity. Giesen uses Sauvignon Blanc grapes from both regions, so you get the best of both worlds: passionfruit, pineapple, lime zest, lemongrass, grapefruit, and green bell pepper. It’s high in acidity, crisp, and light – medium bodied. I would pair this with a salad or chips and guacamole. Of all the alcohol removed wines I’ve tried, and I have tasted my fair share, this is the best!

This wine glass was specifically made for sipping Sauv Blanc – highly recommend trying this!

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes

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Jackson Estate Wine Pairing 2019 at the historic Westgate Room

Fine California Wine Meets Fine California Cuisine

A wise man once said that drinking good wine with good food in good company is one of life’s most civilized pleasures. This combination of words perfectly captures the experience we recently had while dining at The Westgate Hotel, an iconic San Diego landmark located in the heart of downtown. Visiting The Westgate is like traveling back in time – think glitz & glam of the roaring 20s meets rich & romantic French charm. Add a touch of San Diego’s laid back vibe and voila! You have the fixings for a one-of-a-kind experience. When we first arrived, I loved the ambiance but must admit that I was concerned we were about to revel in the spirit of snobbery and pretension. I have never been more wrong! The staff, company, Executive Chef Fabrice Hardel, and Sommelier were incredibly kind, down to earth, and personable. This building’s architecture is incredibly meticulous and grand – two things that will definitely make you stand out in an otherwise laid back city. Adding friendly service on top of such grandeur puts dining at The Westgate Room in a league of its own.

The Westgate is doing a fantastic job of producing high quality food & wine pairing dinners. What exactly does this mean? Basically, the Executive Chef prepares a menu and the Sommelier curates the perfect glass to accompany each course. This dinner is planned in advance, so make sure to check the event schedule and book a spot! At this event there were a total of 8 guests. Each group or couple had their own table and we were served not one, not two, but three courses.

This particular event highlighted the versatility of Kendall Jackson’s Estate Collection. If you think you know Kendall Jackson’s portfolio, think again. It’s so much more than an accessible wine sold at grocery stores for a reasonable price. There’s a whole other side to this winery – a side I’m excited to write about! We kicked off the night with Chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley. Please note that Kendall Jackson is located in Sonoma, but this particular wine is made with grapes grown in Santa Maria Valley AVA which is located in Santa Barbara County. Because of it’s close proximity to the Pacific Ocean, Santa Barbara’s cool climate Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are considered world class – and this glass was the perfect example of that. It was full of delicious notes of zesty lemon, stone fruits such as Asian pear and nectarines, minerals, and lively acidity. As we swirled, sniffed, and sipped, our very knowledgeable Somm guided us through the vineyards and cellar. If you’re a wine nerd like me, you will love this! She made wine tasting user friendly. As she guided us through our first wine, the servers brought out an Amuse Bouche – Ahi Tuna on lime supreme rice cracker. It was incredibly refreshing and paired excellently with the Chard.

We got topped off – because that wine went down way too easy – and moved onto our first course of the night. My favorite… drum roll please… Day Boat Sea Scallops with Maui pineapple, shiso, and peach vanilla gastrique. To say this was prepared to perfection is an understatement. I’ve dined at my fare share of upscale, fine cuisine restaurants and these scallops blew me away. Perhaps it was the wine pairing that elevated my dining experience. Regardless, the team knocked it out of the park with this one.

Our second course was Grim Beef Tenderloin. Now I’m no meat connoisseur, but this cut was perfectly juicy and flavorful. Accompanying the beef was smoked potato puree, roasted parsnip, and and truffle jus. All the savory and herbal goodness was perfectly curated to pair with Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley. Anderson Valley AVA is located North of Sonoma in Mendocino County. Mendocino has a reputation as being coastal, cool, elegant, and organic. Anderson Valley is producing some incredibly exciting expressions of Pinot Noir. The fruit is bright, acid is high, and alcohol is medium. Wild strawberries take the lead as well as minerals, plum, and cedar. The higher acid on this wine perfectly cut through the savoriness of the dish – so much balance and harmony here.

Cheese lovers, this third course is for you! After a savory second course, it was refreshing to enjoy Warm Goat Cheese Crottin plus herb salad with aged balsamic vinegar. We sipped Petaluma Gap Pinot with this baby. Fun fact: this is the first vintage of Jackson Estate Petaluma Gap Pinot! This AVA benefits from marine breezes, fog, and gusty winds making this a cool climate pocket. The result? Small berries with thicker skins. This Pinot was full of red and blue fruit – it was just savory enough with high acid. The savory notes and high acid went incredibly well with the saltiness and high acid in the food. Pro tip: two components in food that make wine taster softer are salt & acid. These components make wine taste less dry and bitter while highlighting fruitiness.

Think Cabernet and dessert pairings are off limits? Think again! I’ve actually done cake and wine pairings before, and let me tell you… it works. It works really well. I was pleasantly surprised to wrap up the evening with Alexander Valley Cabernet paired alongside Cocoa Crumble Vanilla Gelato. If Napa Valley Cab is king, Sonoma Cab is queen. This is why the pairing worked so well! Sonoma Cab has all the complexity, depth, and balance without the austerity that is often found in Napa Valley Cab. It feels lighter on the palate and overall very approachable. This wine was full of rich blackberry, red fruit, and finished with high acid and supple tannin. It was a treat in and of itself!

We’ve said this a few times and I’ll say it again, experience and hospitality can make or break a wine tasting. This applies to the culinary world as well. The friendly staff, knowledgeable / personable Somm, and talented Chef made this evening exceptional!

Dining at The Westgate Room is worth the time and money, but it’s not your average restaurant. This place is special which makes it the perfect destination for holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, or couples who are looking to step up their date night game! This is officially on The Social Grapes approved and must-visit list.

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes | @smashleythegrape

Girls Night In ft. Risata Wines

GNI is the new GNO!

Today is the second annual GIRLS’ NIGHT IN Day! This is an opportunity for women to come together and celebrate friendship. As my fave TV character Leslie Knope once said, “anytime a group of women get together, we embody the spirit of the holiday.” Similar to Leslie, female friendship means the world to me! As a navy wife, my husband and I spend weeks or even months away from each other because deployment life sucks! There’s no way I could get through the time apart without a supportive, fun-loving squad. I love and adore my friends – they are basically like family to me. We’re constantly in group texts, tagging each other in memes, and show up when it’s needed most. That’s why I wanted to bring something special to the table this year. Luckily, my inner circle of women love wine as much as I do! This year, we popped bottles of Risata sparkling wine because it’s a freakin’ celebration anytime a group of women get together. Risata produces wine with grapes sourced from top vineyards in Italy. Our weekend line-up included Sparkling Rosé, Prosecco DOC, and Moscato d’Asti DOCG. Lets dive deeper into each of these, shall we?

Sparkling Rosé

What’s better than a bottle of bubbly? A bottle of pink bubbly! Our wine tasting started off with Sparkling Rosé because rosé is a state of mind! The varietal composition is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. It is made in an extra dry style with only 17 g/L of residual sugar. This is exactly what you want out of a rosé and is very easy to drink! It’s incredibly crisp and refreshing with notes of strawberry, raspberry, and layers of florals plus a touch of brioche. Ever wonder how rosé gets its beautiful pink hues? I will tell ya! Grape juice is typically free of pigment, so the color comes from grape skin contact during the first fermentation when base wine is produced. Sparkling Rosé is typically a little more intense in structure and flavor because of this. This one paired incredibly with chicken salad!

Prosecco, please

Next up: Prosecco DOC. I’m a big advocate of Prosecco and think this bubbly is simply delightful. The grape in Prosecco is Glera, but it hasn’t always been that way. In the 80s, Prosecco was the name of the grape as well as the region until this wine grew in popularity and the varietal was renamed. This wine is produced using the tank method which is rather affordable, this contributes to the accessibility and reasonable price point of this wine. In the tank method, there are 2 fermentations, no oak aging or extended time on the lees. The first fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks to preserve fruity and floral flavors that could potentially get overpowered by oak nuances. The second fermentation takes place in a sealed tank that can withstand the pressure of CO2 as it’s dissolved into the wine. Risata Prosecco is classic with notes of pear, peach, crisp apple, and citrus. There’s slightly more RS in this one, but I’m here for it! Paired well with popcorn and sushi!

@stayclassywalter loves girls night in!

Moscato d’Asti for dessert

Last but most certainly not least, we popped open some Moscato d’Asti! I tasted my way through Piedmont, Italy back in May and fell in love with this wine! Every time I sip on this I’m immediately transported to cobble stone streets and vineyard covered hilltops. It was fun to share this one with the gals and chat about travel destinations. Risata Moscato d’Asti DOCG is slightly sweet and offers flavors of peach, melon, lemon citrus, and honeyed apricot. This is made with 100% Moscato Bianco di Canelli and is low in alcohol which means you can drink two bottles instead of one! This pairs perfectly with dessert – especially tiramisu!

pop, fizz, clink with @travelandchampagne

Here’s to good friends, great adventures, and making moments sparkle. I hope you are spending today and tonight with some of your besties! Be sure to pick up a couple bottles of Risata sparkling wine – available at Target! Cheers!

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

Library Magic

You never drink the same wine twice.

Groth Winery & Vineyards

Have you ever sipped the same vintage of the same varietal produced by the same winemaker and somehow it tastes like nothing you’ve had before? I’m a firm believer that there is philosophy in wine and that tasting can be subjective and influenced by experience. Recently my husband and I took a trip up to Napa Valley for business and pleasure. I was scheduled to take my Level 1 WSET exam which happened to coincide with two events at wineries where we are members. I experienced two very different tastings at each respective winery. One event was fun and educational, because that is what I was looking for going in. The other was emotional and dare I say spiritual? There was an exact moment at event #2 that summoned the philosopher in me which completely took me by surprise.

Nickel & Nickel Winery

Our first wine event was an “Open House” at Nickel & Nickel Winery which was an opportunity for members to get together to enjoy some of the greats and maybe sample some new things as well. On the morning of I was reviewing my notes in preparation for the exam later that day. Aromas and flavors in wine were dancing around in my brain along with principal grape varieties and their classic characteristics by region. I was in full-on education beast mode as we made our way to the shuttles. The event transpired in the place where all the magic happens with each station setup along the production line. We sipped chardonnay by steel tanks and savored pinot near the cork lab. We’ve come to know the staff and enjoy seeing familiar and friendly faces each time we visit. The wine is always exceptional and the combination of an amiable ambiance and unparalleled vintages continues to draw us in. As we tasted our way through current-release single-vineyard wine, I took my time and analyzed the glass. Was there spice? If so what kind: baking or pepper? Are there notes of vanilla coming from oak? Is the wine high in acidity? What about the tannins – how smooth or structured were they? Did my notes align with the experts pouring for us? In addition to looking for these components I was doing my best to pair food with wine using the WSET standardized pairing chart. When food is salty a wine will taste less dry and bitter, more balanced in acidity, and full in body and flavor. If there is umami (aka savory foods) this will increase bitterness, dryness, and acidity while making wine less sweet. The result was me hovering over the cheese table for an embarrassing length of time. In my defense, there was an array of different cheeses to pair – from creamy goat to aged gouda-ness (see what I did there) and sharp cheddar. My stomach was having the time of its life while my brain and critical thinking was put to work.

Open House 2019 at Nickel & Nickel Winery

Event number two was a Library Tasting hosted at Groth Family Vineyards. The founders of Groth Vineyards & Winery are Judy and Dennis who have been rooted in the wine industry for almost 40 years. To this day, the production is family owned and operated in the heart of Oakville. We were welcomed with a glass of their most recent Sauvignon Blanc direct from the tanks since the wine hadn’t even been bottled yet. This was followed by an opportunity to sample a new undertaking that will only be available for their wine club: a rosé of merlot with the palest of hues and the richest of flavor. Historically Groth offers three varietals: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Sauvignon. It was incredibly special to taste a brand-new release before it hits the market and provide honest feedback to the Cellar Master. While we loved the wine, of course, the experience made it even more enjoyable. I’ll just go ahead and say it, that welcoming will be tough to top! I was full of gratitude and feeling the buzz of cheer all around me. We continued to make our way from table to table tasting their Oakville and Reserve Cabernet Sauvignons from 2006, 2009, and 2011. We’ve tasted the same varietals and vintages a few times, all in different settings, and with different people. But, there was something about sipping the 2011 Reserve Cabernet in the cellar with my husband surrounded by barrels while overlooking the vineyards that elevated the wine to a new level. We were there for my WSET exam and at that moment I was reminded of how incredibly supportive my husband is. We also had so much to celebrate – the hardworking vintners, viticulturists, winemakers, and wine community filled with likeminded enthusiasts. I swirled, sniffed, sipped and repeated. I gave the wine detective in me the afternoon off and let my hair down! The wine was silky smooth with layers of green bell pepper that nearly dropped me to my knees.  This was a moment that lasted forever, but in the best way. It’s a moment I will always remember and one that elevated my wine tasting.

Groth 2009 Cab & Reserve Cab

In the end my faculty of reason and perception of wine tasting was annexed by emotion and passion. Approaching these events with two drastically different mindsets left me feeling incredibly balanced, surprisingly. Like in winemaking, balance in life is vitally important. When it came time for the exam, I was steady and ready to pour myself into this next phase of appreciating and learning about wine.

Groth Winery & Vineyards

Thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape

Navigating Napa Valley

Traveling to Napa: Just do it.

Hello everyone! It seems @smashleythegrape is a tad occupied with her studying for WSET Level 2, so you get my voice and insight for this post. Let me introduce myself. I’m Greg, the man behind the camera (aka “Instagram husband”), the one usually holding Walter’s leash, and full-time Naval Officer. Nice to meet you all! Thank you for joining us. Today we’ll be putting my military experience to good use and exploring a very important subject:  logistics! Hopefully I can share some tips that will help everyone make the most out of a visit to Napa.

Photo taken outside our patio at Wine Country Inn & Cottages

Make a Plan and Crush It!

The first time Ashley and I visited Napa, we drove up the coast from SoCal and made it to the Valley after stops in Monterrey (otters!) and San Francisco (clam chowder in bread bowls!). Driving to Napa can be great for a couple of reasons. First and foremost:  plenty of trunk space to bring home some fantastic wine. On that first trip, we joined a couple of wine clubs and were able to take home our first batch of shipments (plus a few extra bottles our hosts threw in). Second benefit:  flexibility. There’s nothing worse than getting a great recommendation for a winery from someone and not being able to take advantage of it because you have to catch a flight. Driving allows you to keep an open schedule and that’s the best way to take advantage of the hospitality of Napa and social aspect of wine-tasting.

Our second trip to Napa was our first time flying up and renting a car. We booked flights into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) from San Diego. After checking in and getting through TSA, we learned that our flight was delayed due to the weather in San Francisco. The rather well-known bay area fog was limiting the number of flights that were being routed into SFO… and this was in July when the skies are generally clear and blue! After a delay of a couple of hours on the tarmac, we were finally on our way. The last hurdles we overcame were the slowness of getting our rental car and then having to navigate through “The City” to get out to the valley. After finally getting to Napa several hours after we had expected to, we swore to ourselves:  never again.

Since that first fateful airline trip via SFO, we have probably flown in and out of Sacramento (SMF) at least half a dozen times. We. Love. That. Airport! Sacramento is much smaller and sooo easy to navigate. There are NEVER lines at TSA or the check-in kiosks/counters. It’s a quick shuttle from the terminal to the rental cars and then about an hour drive into Napa. The drive in through the Davis area always renews my appreciation for the agricultural aspect of wine-making. Plus, there’s virtually no traffic going into the valley from the east. So easy. Highly recommended by these social grapes. We’ve heard that Oakland is a comparable experience just with a little more Bay Area traffic involved, but we’ve never tried it so don’t quote me.

Hotels so nice, you’ll want to stay twice!

Let me start this section by being as up-front as possible… Napa is an expensive place to visit. There are some very pricey hotels that I can tell you very little about because I have never been to them, let alone stayed there. What I can tell you about are some of the pros and cons of staying in town or farther north in the heart of the valley.

The city of Napa has some great options for hotels, restaurants, and bars. We’ve stayed at the Westin Verasa and the Andaz. The Westin Verasa was great because it is walking distance to the Oxbow Public Market (tons of amazing food, drink, and shopping options) and also had complimentary tastings in the lobby on Friday and Saturday. We have gone back to the Andaz a few times now – they always welcome with a glass of something great and we usually get upgraded thanks to the AMEX. While we think the Andaz is a better value, we also like how close it is to some great restaurants (Ca’ Momi and Allegria come to mind) and bars (lobby at the Archer Hotel and Stone Brewing). The Andaz also has a great outdoor patio bar for when the weather is nice (any time except winter). The only downfall to staying downtown is the 20-30 minute drive to the wineries. This makes getting around between wineries and back at the end of the day somewhat challenging (see more below).

About 30 minutes north of downtown Napa is the town of St. Helena, centrally located in the heart of Napa Valley. There are several hotel options in the area including Harvest Inn and the Wine Country Inn and Cottages. Usually these spots are a bit pricier than the downtown hotels, but we love how accessible all of the wineries are. Like downtown, this area boasts some great restaurants (Cook, Farmstead, Archetype, and Gott’s Roadside) and bars (Goose and Gander, Saint). Harvest Inn gave us a half-bottle of wine in our room when we checked in and both of those hotels invite wineries to provide complimentary tastings on the weekends. Of the two, Wine Country Inn and Cottages is our favorite with a great breakfast spread in the mornings and coffee in the lobby 24/7.

Another great hotel we plan on returning to soon is Senza, which is conveniently located about halfway between downtown and St. Helena. Right around the corner from there is Don Giovanni (legendary Italian cuisine) and it’s a short uber/drive to Brix or Mustards (two great contemporary American options).

Photo of @smashleythegrape taken at SENZA Hotel

Hotel Highlight Reel:

  • Wine Country Inn & Cottages:  very nice pool area, surrounded by the vineyards of Duckhorn, super quaint/quiet, you can walk to Freemark Abbey (worth a visit), dog friendly (they even supplied Walter with a huge/fluffy dog bed and treats), rooms/cottages are spread out so you don’t feel like you’re at a hotel, complimentary wine tastings on Fridays/Saturdays.
  • Senza:  nice pool, discount for Hall Winery members, plenty of vineyard views, much like Wine Country Inn the rooms are spread out and you don’t feel like you’re at a hotel, breakfast buffet included bubbles/juice for mimosas/hibiscus, dog friendly, fireplaces in most rooms.
  • Andaz:  hospitality is great, cool vibe/atmosphere, lobby bar/coffee stand, outdoor mezzanine bar, breakfast/lunch restaurant is quite good, fireplace and freestanding bathtub in the suites.
  • Harvest Inn:  quiet/quaint setting in the midst of large trees but super close to St. Helena, two pools/jacuzzis were open late, nice lobby bar and restaurant, complimentary wine tastings on Fridays/Saturdays, spread out rooms so you don’t feel like you’re at a hotel, some rooms have vineyard views (but not all).
  • Westin Verasa:  really great lobby bar, the restaurant – La Toque – has a Michelin star, complimentary wine tastings on Fridays/Saturdays, we got upgraded for joining SPG rewards club, nice pool.

Getting Around

Let’s face it:  driving and wine-tasting do not mix. Especially if you’re fully embracing your inner “social grape” like we tend to do. Usually when we are visiting, I will drive to the first couple of wineries and after that we go into uber/lyft mode. That’s why we love staying up near St. Helena; with shorter distances to wineries, we can get to more tastings and ubers are much more affordable. When we stay downtown, we start our day with the wineries that are farthest north. After we drop the car off at the hotel, we can then usually uber to one or two more that are farther south in the valley. The great thing about downtown is the option to continue tasting wine at one of the many bars or restaurants – including Restoration Hardware Wine Vault which is beyond trendy and has incredible wine offerings (they offer wine tasting all night). While the wine is still enjoyable in a setting like that, for us nothing can compare to the experience of tasting a wine while looking out on the vineyards where the grapes are grown or next to the crush pad where they are brought during harvest or in the cellar where the recent vintages are still aging in oak barrels.

Live Your Best Wine Life!

When planning your visit, make sure you have a strategy and map out vineyards by AVA (American Viticultural Area). This will allow you to make the most of a trip to Napa and maximize your inner social grape. Hopefully some of these tips and pointers have given you a few ideas and will lead you in the right direction as you plan your own trip. Happy travels and thanks for sipping with us!

The Social Grapes

Instagram: @smashleythegrape

Sunday School

Happy Sunday, friends! Hope your weekend was full of wine and good company. This next week is a biggie for yours truly. I’m one week out from taking the WSET level 1 exam! While I cannot wait to be back in Napa Valley – especially because we have a couple events on our schedule (obvi) – I’m also incredibly anxious about this test. But hey, how cool is it that I get do this? Even better… I get to share with all of you! So, thank you for following along. I wanted to write a high-level intro on wine types for those of you who really wish to learn the fundamentals, like me! Thanks in advance for reading with me!

The Essentials

There are three types of wine: sparkling, still, and fortified. What factors determine the style of wine? To paint with a broad stroke, there are four key elements that contribute to the style of a wine – color, aroma, flavor, and structure. As many of you know, there are three classic colors within these categories of wine – white, rosé, and red. There’s an endless sea of creative and talented winemakers out there producing interesting blends with all the varietals! My tip for you is to find a varietal you love, explore the many producers and regions of that varietal, and get comfortable. Then move onto your second favorite grape, learn, explore, and ask questions. Continue to get your toes wet in this vast and ever-growing wine world. Never. Stop. Exploring.

What’s Your Type?

Let’s chat about bubbles. Sparkling wine is refreshing, crisp, and perfect for celebrations. There are sooo many sparkling wine styles out there – sparkling Pinot Noir, Blanc de Noirs, sparkling Chardonnay, sparkling Pinot Meunior, sparkling Red cuvée, etc – I could get lost in a never-ending list and that would make me happy as a clam! What makes this wine sparkle? Glad you asked! This wine type is the most labor intensive as it requires 2 fermentations. Beauty is pain, after all. Fermentation #1 is to make the wine, fermentation #2 adds the bubbles. Natural sugars in the juice of pressed grapes are converted into the boozy good stuff by yeast. BOOM… we have alcohol! Then comes the fizz aka carbon dioxide that gets trapped inside the wine during fermentation #2. There are various methods used when making sparkling wine, prosecco, cava, and champagne. The method determines what classification a bottle can claim and not all bubbles are equal. Stay tuned for a deeper dive into each method! Regardless of method, the pop sound that makes a crowd go “woo!” is the escaping of trapped gas. Next time you need an excuse to pop some bubbles, just say there’s gas trapped inside that needs to be rescued! #notallheroeswearcapes

What style of wine does @smashleythegrape drink the most of? Still Wine! I just love it so much. A majority of still wines range in the 11.5% to 14% abv – those are some good ratios. Naming conventions are important in this vino category and can work in a couple different ways. Many still wines are named after regions like Chianti in Italy or Bordeaux and Burgundy in France. In other parts of the world it’s named after the grape varietal used to produce the wine: i.e. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc, Chardonnay and so on. Have you ever noticed another title on the bottle? If so, that’s called a “fantasy name” and I just realized what my dream job is. I’d like to sit around sampling delicious wines of the world while giving them fantastic fantasy names! Who’s coming with me? Getting back on track now. One example of a fantasy name that is regularly on my mind is Turnbull Wines’ “Josephine” Sauvignon Blanc. This is my fave sauv blanc on the market rn, just FYI. It’s aged in terracotta and cement giving it an amazing minerality. I mean come on! In addition to these nuances another key element of still wine is color. Color in wine comes from grape skins and grape varietal. Did you know that a white wine can be made with a red grape? Crazy, I know. The grapes are pressed to obtain the juice and immediately removed from the skin in order to achieve this. Typically the skin remains in the grape juice during fermentation and that gives us all kinds of beautiful shades of red wine and white wine in addition to greater depth, complexity, and nuance. Ever wonder how rosé gets its pretty pink color? Just a couple hours of contact with red grape skins at the very start of fermentation is enough to provide that gorgeous hue.

I saved dessert for last! Type #3 is fortified wine which includes distilled wine, dessert wine, vermouth, etc. This type has the highest abv rating which usually ranges from 15% to 22% because extra alcohol is brought into the fix during fermentation. Late harvest grapes are ripe with extra sugar and the yeast isn’t able to ferment all of it, leaving an added level of sweetness in the wine. Another way to kick up the sweetness and abv is by adding in distilled alcohol. Adding in the hard stuff kills the yeast, stops fermentation, and increases the hangover. I’m not a big fortified wine gal, but on my first visit to Far Niente in Napa, the tasting included some Dolce which quickly converted me! I will gladly substitute chocolate lava cake for Dolce any day of the week!

There you have it! Your first intro and a brief beginners lesson on the different styles of wine. Thanks for helping me study! Hopefully this helps make wine a bit more approachable for you. But remember, the best way to learn more about wine is through hands-on enjoyment and talking about it with the people you share it with! Stay tuned for more Sunday School lessons in the not-too-distant future.

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape

Featured

Seasons of Napa

When is the best time to visit Napa Valley? For us the answer is year round! We’ve visited wine country in January, May, June, July, August, September, and December. February is pending – stay tuned! Consider a decent amount of the legwork done. Now you can sit back, pour some vino, read along, and plan your visit!

May – June

Photo taken at Round Pond Estate

Lets start with May/June. We took an extra day off work for a total of 4 days/3 nights (Fri – Mon) and visited over the long holiday weekend in honor of Memorial Day. Originally our plan was to hit BottleRock – a music festival with gourmet food & wine. I got us plane tickets and waited to book a hotel until all of the ideal spots were flashing no vacancy signs (womp womp). This weekend is probably one of the biggest for Napa Valley. We couldn’t find a reasonably priced hotel within county lines, so we decided to forgo the show, sell our festival tickets, and book a swanky hotel on a vineyard. Thankful that we did! Festivals are always a good time, but we knew the wine country FOMO would’ve kicked in. On Friday we experienced a little bit of “May Gray” and some sprinkles. It was definitely sweater weather on day 1, but that was the only day we tasted indoors. The sun was out for the rest of the weekend and skies alternated between slightly cloudy and bright. Definitely not pool party weather yet, but perfect for the “jacuzz.” If you decide to come up this weekend, be sure to make a few reservations ahead of time. I would say book 60% and leave 40% open in regards to winery visits. As for restaurants, make a resi every night!

Wondering what type of clothes to pack? I wore a slouchy sweater and leggings + booties on Friday, a long sleeve romper + mules on Saturday, and a midi length off the shoulder dress + mules on Sunday. My hubs wore a light sweater and chinos on Fri, a button up with shorts on Sat, and a button up (sleeves rolled up) with pants on Sun.

What’s happening with the vines? Spring Flowering! Buds are beginning to blossom and grow.

July

Photo taken at Far Niente Winery’s
2018 Chardonnay Celebration

Next up is July. We spent Fourth of July weekend 2017 in Napa and loved it! It’s always sunny, no chance of showers, it’s moderately crowded (aka more people to chat with) and everyone is happy. It’s also warm. Very warm. You can expect AC in every tasting room and chilled bottles which really helps with the heat! It’s a bit crowded this time of year, so our recommendation is to book 80% and leave 20% open for tastings. Also, follow suit with May/June and book your dinner reservations! Last year we re-visited Napa in mid-July for an event at Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel. Talk about a perfect weekend. Sunny skies and warm breezes call for flowy dresses and chardonnay! After a day of wine tasting, we’d return to the hotel and swim a few laps in the pool before getting ready for a night out. Highly recommend a July trip if you love tasting wine in the sun!

What’s happening with the vines? Summer Veraison! All varietals are born green. The veraison process is when color takes form – changing from green to yellow, purple, red, etc. Also growers will walk the vineyards and chop off extra bunches that don’t look promising. This leaves elbow room for the MVPs!

August – September

Photo taken at SENZA Hotel located next to Ashes & Diamonds Vineyard

Do it. No questions asked. This time of the year is magical! Fall Harvest has begun in some parts and the fruit is ripe for picking! This means green bushy vines are all around and it truly is a wine lovers paradise. If there’s ever a time to book a full vineyard tour + wine tasting, this is it. Napa gets pretty crowded in September because of harvest season, but early in the month is a great option. We visited over Labor Day weekend and caught nothing but sunny skies and warm temps. Hotels are at peak price, however if you’re planning well enough in advance we suggest looking into an Airbnb somewhere close to vineyards in Saint Helena. Plan and book 90% of your winery visits and leave 10% open for recommendations & pop-ins. This might be on the conservative side, but like I mentioned it’s a popular season and we don’t want anyone to miss out on visiting their faves due to unpreparedness! Definitely make your dinner reservations ahead of time as well.

What’s happening with the vines? Fall Harvest! Grapes are fully ripened and sugar levels rise. Growers select crème de la crème!

December – January

Photo Taken at Frog’s Leap Winery

We love Napa in the wintertime for several reasons. Hotel pricing is great, we stock up on wine for the holidays, crowds are small, we love the weather, and walk-ins are feasible. Being from sunny San Diego, we don’t experience a whole lot of cold. Napa in winter is very chilly/brisk, but can still be sunny and cozy. Be prepared to bundle up by a fire and/or under a blanket for relaxation with vino in hand. Small to no crowds provide opportunities for more conversation with your host and we love this! The folks pouring your wine are subject matter experts and vino enthusiasts – so if you get the chance make sure to converse and ask questions! Our last few visits have all extended past the allotted time because we were carried away by extra pours and great company! We recently rang in the New Year in Napa and plan to spend as many NYEs as we can here. It was perfection. Quaint, festive, and full of quality wine + champagne. Wineries are open on NYE, but close early. A vast majority will be closed on NYD as well with the exception of a few bigger guys (list of open wineries coming soon). We slept in on New Years Day, enjoyed brunch at Farmstead, and took Walter on a short hike to an off-leash dog park at Alston Park which is surrounded by rolling hills and vines (a great recommendation from the staff at Farmstead). It was perfect hiking weather! Sunny and clear skies with a cool breeze.

What’s happening with the vines? Winter pruning! This part of maintaining a vineyard is very important. Growers will determine which vines are most viable for harvesting in the upcoming year and care for them accordingly. Also there’s something to be said for seeing vines in the winter. It represents hard-working people and seasons changing, while reminding us to let go of the old and make room for new growth.

Thanks for sipping with us,

The Social Grapes

IG: @smashleythegrape