What is Orange Wine?

The term “orange wine” is a bit of a misnomer; a better term is “skin-contact wine.” Simply put, orange wines are white wines that have been produced in a rosé or red-wine style. By allowing the fresh-pressed juice to sit in contact with the grape skins, the wine color deepens and tannic structure increases. Without skin contact, all of the juice that comes out of grapes, regardless of red or white varieties, would be clear.

Most orange wines see anywhere from a few days to a few months of skin contact. (A traditional white wine sees zero skin contact.) The longer the wine is in contact with the skin, the more intense and complex the taste profile becomes. The production of orange wine is usually “natural” in essence, with minimal intervention and little-to-no preservatives or additives used during production or bottling.

The History of Orange Wine

Skin-contact wine has a rich and unique history dating back a few thousand years. Its origin derives from a country at the intersection of Europe and Asia: Georgia. Here the grapes were crushed into large clay pots called qvevris. These clay pots would then be buried in the ground where the wine would slowly ferment over the course of several weeks or months, with very minimal intervention. Eventually, this winemaking process started to pop up in areas of northeastern Italy and throughout Slovenia. Today, this production style is practiced throughout the world, including the U.S. and Australia.

A wine label featuring a Qvevri

While skin-contact wines were originally overly oxidized, very harsh wines, today you can find great variance in orange wines. Some winemakers only allow a few days of skin contact and then finish fermentation in oak barrels or stainless steel, producing slightly richer white wines; others continue to use qvevris or other clay pots with longer periods of skin contact to produce bolder, full-flavored wines.

Taste Profile of Orange Wine

It seems that people either love or hate orange wine–the taste profile can be a bit jarring for someone unfamiliar with the style or accustomed to drinking only very crisp, light white wines. As Wine Folly so eloquently puts it, “Often they’re so intense that you might want to make sure you’re sitting down when you taste your first orange wine.”

While that might be a bit of an exaggeration, orange wines are known for their ample structure–an increase in tannins and phenolic compounds–giving the wines their characteristic robustness. The aromatics of the wines tend to lean toward more bready, honeyed, and nutty expressions. Notes of yellow stone fruits, spices, and herbs dominate these wines. The wines also tend to lean toward the dry side, with a very vigorous mouth feel, in part because these wines are often unfiltered.

How to Pair Orange Wine

Since orange wines are bigger and bolder versions of white wines, you can typically pair them well with foods that call for a dry white wine or a lighter red wine. Think of orange wines as the middleman between a white and red wine. Any meal with a lot of spice will be complemented by the dry, robust profile of an orange wine. Try them with curry dishes, Ethiopian cuisine, Japanese and Korean meals, or hearty dishes like chili.

Other appropriate dishes include fish, chicken, strong cheeses, and preparations containing nuts, yellow stone fruits, root vegetables, or fermented ingredients such as kimchi. Orange wines can even stand up to beef, although a red wine will usually be more suitable.

Next time you visit Paul Marcus Wines, please make sure to ask us about our current selection of orange wines. Whether you’re an orange-wine aficionado or a newcomer to the style, we’ll be happy to help you select the right one for your needs.

Image from Madson Wines

It’s not impossible to find California wine made with grapes grown entirely by meticulous, labor-intensive organic farming. But, being California, the additional labor of eliminating weeds and pests without recourse to the toxic stuff–of hand harvesting and all the rest of it–doesn’t come cheaply.

To have that organic fruit come in so clean that no additions (of yeasts, enzymes to boost the yeast, or acid corrections) are necessary, is certainly the ideal, yet isn’t common. Then to have the winemaking restraint not to over-extract and over-oak, but to simply trust your fruit to show beautifully–that’s less common still. (Why is restraint uncommon? Because nothing guarantees your wine will sell like a high score in certain magazines, and high scores still accrue to pumped-up wines.)

So, when we find organic, natural wines that are handmade with great care, that are clean and delicious and expressive, and (drum roll, please) do not break the bank, we get excited. Madson Wines is all that. They’re a newly established micro-sized winery from nearby Santa Cruz making single-vineyard pinot noir, syrah, and chardonnay. We’ve got both their reds, and they’re well worth your attention.

Their unfined and unfiltered pinot noir comes from Toyon Vineyard on the southwestern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains–a cool, cloudy site just three miles from the Pacific. Their syrah comes from the Ascona Vineyard, at the top of the Santa Cruz range, and undergoes whole-cluster fermentation before aging on the fine lees in neutral French oak for a year.

Both show lovely fruit for drinking now but have the structure and fine tannins to suggest they’ll take age very well. Come visit us at Paul Marcus Wines to learn more about this noteworthy up-and-coming producer.

The addition of sulfites is one of the wine world’s most confusing, controversial, and misconstrued subjects. For starters, there is no evidence they cause headaches. What’s more, they have been added to help stabilize wine for centuries. Plus, sulfites are a naturally occurring byproduct of fermentation, meaning that all wine will contain some level of sulfites, whether or not the winemaker chooses to add them during the winemaking process.

Used to stall oxidation and fight off bacteria, sulfites (referring to sulfur dioxide, or SO2) can extend the shelf life of a bottle. However, SO2 also changes (many say diminishes) the flavor profile of the wine, often preventing it from expressing the subtleties and distinctions of its terroir. It can also hinder a wine’s metamorphosis after opening, the proverbial “development in the glass.” In other words, what the final product gains in stability, it loses in vitality; what it gains in polish, it loses in personality.

While it’s true that some people have sulfite allergies, they are much less prevalent than it might seem. Though some of our customers complain of “red wine headaches,” these are likely caused by other, not-yet-determined factors–perhaps tannins or histamines. In fact, red wines have significantly fewer sulfites than white wines; that’s because the tannins in red wine help serve the role of antioxidant and protect the wine from harm, making the addition of sulfites somewhat superfluous. (For more about sulfites and natural wines, please visit our Guide to Natural Wines.)

Nonetheless, be it for health concerns or taste preferences, Paul Marcus Wines offers a wide range of low-sulfite wines for your enjoyment. Below are five noteworthy selections.

2018 Herrera Alvarado “La Zaranda” Sauvignon Blanc ($30)

Arturo Herrera and Carolina Alvarado have been making wines in Chile’s Marga Marga Valley since 2003, considered among the pioneers of Chile’s natural wine scene. Their sauvignon blanc sees no additional SO2, allowing more savory, oxidative flavors to shine through while still retaining the zip and energy expected from this varietal.

 

 

 

 

2017 Alex Foillard Brouilly ($48)

Foillard’s father, Jean, was part of Beaujolais’ “Gang of Four” along with Marcel Lapierre, Guy Breton, and Jean-Paul Thévenet–each considered trailblazers in low-intervention, sustainable, natural-leaning winemaking techniques. Although 2017 was only Alex Foillard’s second harvest, he is already making a name for himself. His Brouilly is an absolute stunner, boasting gorgeous aromatics, vibrant minerality, bright red and blue fruit, and a texture of velvet. Foillard’s wines, as befitting the family name, are unfiltered, unfined, and undergo whole-cluster fermentation, and he only uses a tiny amount of sulfur (if that) for bottling.

 

2016 COS Cerasuolo di Vittoria ($32)

This certified-organic Sicilian beauty is a blend of 60 percent nero d’avola and 40 percent frappato–the nero providing dark fruit and spice, the frappato offering floral lift. Fermented in concrete with indigenous yeast and aged in large Slovenian oak, this is a balanced, versatile wine that coaxes considerable depth and energy from its medium body. Founded by Giusto Occhipinti and his two buddies around 40 years ago, COS long ago adopted biodynamic principles–they’ve never used chemicals or synthetics in their vineyards–and Occhipinti believes in only a minimal addition of SO2 at the time of bottling.

 

2017 Breton “Nuits d’Ivresse” Bourgueil ($34)

Loire Valley legends Catherine and Pierre Breton have been certified organic for nearly 30 years. Although they make about a dozen cuvées of cabernet franc, the “Nuits d’Ivresse” (“Drunken Nights”) is the only one that is bottled without even a hint of added sulfur. Yes, you get a taste of that “barnyard funk” typical of many unsulfured wines, but it is merely one element of this generous, complex, and fresh cab franc. Made with fruit from 50-year-old vines and aged in barrel for a year, it will certainly help wash down a plate of lamb chops in fine fashion.

 

Alexander Jules Amontillado 3/10 ($33)

Alex Russan has been releasing his Alexander Jules line of barrel-selected sherry since 2012. As he himself points out, “Due to sherry’s unique aging processes, very little is actually necessary to ensure their stability.” Therefore, he never adds sulfur to any of his releases, which undergo only the most minimal filtration. The Amontillado 3/10 has an average age of 18 years, and it delivers a combination of saline tang (from its biological aging under the flor) and richer, though still gentle caramelized notes (from its oxidative aging).

For more information about low-sulfite wines, come visit us at Paul Marcus Wines. We’ll be happy to help you find a bottle to your liking.

Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts grew up in Napa and have been friends since childhood, with a shared passion for bike-riding, food, drink, and travel. While trying flat out to have as much fun as possible, they are at the same time making some of the more amazingly unique, yet broadly encompassing wines–the benchmark of how these guys operate.

Arnot-Roberts, their joint venture founded close to 20 years ago, showcases their dedication to this craft, and it’s one of the more inspiring processes I’ve witnessed. I had the privilege of being their harvest intern and assistant for three harvests (2012-2014), immersing myself in their lives for the most intense but gratifying months of the year.

The winery focuses on cool (if not very cold) microclimates for their fruit sources, as retaining acidity is one of the key elements to the freshness and lift in their wines. They are hyper focused on “nailing the pick,” as Duncan would often say, because of the importance of capturing the balance of sugars, acids, and flavors to set a proper foundation for the fermentation process. They also incorporate a number of old-world techniques, like whole-cluster fermentations for all reds (only about one-third whole cluster for their cabernet sauvignons), very little use of new wood (only some in the cabernets), and natural-yeast fermentations. Chardonnays are fermented in stainless and aged in used oak.

Duncan and Nathan have always had a knack for finding some of the smaller, more interesting vineyard sites, ones that seem to have vast, untapped potential. If you look at their vineyard portfolio, it becomes apparent that they know where to look for killer fruit.

Their true passion lies in syrah; their Clary Ranch syrah just might be my favorite wine they make. Heralding from west of Petaluma and a couple miles from the Pacific Ocean, this vineyard is arguably the coldest syrah site in the country. It could easily be slipped into a blind tasting of Saint Josephs from the Northern Rhone and hold its own.

At Paul Marcus Wines, we are fortunate to have more than a dozen of their low-production, hard-to-find offerings, including the Clary Ranch syrah, three different expressions of chardonnay, and a couple of stellar pinot noirs. We also feature two brilliant versions of their coveted cabernet: Fellom Ranch, from the esteemed Montebello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Montecillo, from high above the Sonoma Valley.

The casual demeanor of these two friends belies their calculated decision-making and vastly connected community network of likeminded winemaking peers. The importance they place on family and friends is contagious as well. They’ve been known to throw some pretty decent open house parties, and their harvest lunches don’t suck either. (Actually, the “lunch plan” was sometimes the absolute most important task of the harvest day.) They understand the value of eating well, and of taking a break with your hard-toiling co-workers–to reflect and contemplate, to share insights and humor, to uplift the soul!

Tucked into the far northwest corner of Spain, abutting the Atlantic Ocean, Galicia produces some of the country’s most intriguing and memorable wines. Coastal Rias Baixas, where albariño is king, is perhaps the most prominent of the five DOs located in Galicia, but these days, it’s Ribeiro that’s turning heads in the world of wine.

Image from rimontgo.com

Like a lot of recently “rediscovered” winemaking regions, Ribeiro has an impressive historical pedigree that, over the centuries, has been threatened by the usual trials and tribulations–war, invasion, botanical blight, mass production, etc. But winemaking in Ribeiro dates back about 2,000 years, and has also experienced various periods of prosperity and admiration. Several talented winemakers are today attempting to recapture past glory, and wine connoisseurs are taking notice.

Ribeiro benefits from its specific location within Galicia: Roughly 50 km inland, Ribeiro’s vines are both influenced by and somewhat protected from the ocean climate. Therefore, the wines of Ribeiro tend to be a bit riper and fleshier while still boasting the freshness and acidity generated by the proximity to the Atlantic.

Almost 90 percent of Ribeiro’s wine production revolves around white grapes, most notably treixadura. Balanced and bright, treixadura exemplifies Ribeiro’s unique terroir–it’s vibrant and clean, but with ample fruit, a bit of texture, and keen aromatics.

Among the leading lights of Ribeiro is Luis Anxo Rodriguez Vazquez, who has been making wines in the region for more than 30 years. Included in his lineup are two treixadura-based cuvees, both available at Paul Marcus Wines. Viña de Martin Os Pasás blends treixadura with lado, albariño, and torrontes, and it’s aged in steel on the lees for 10 to 12 months. It makes a perfect match for simply prepared fish and chicken dishes, as well as a variety of hard cheeses. A Teixa adds godello and albariño to its treixadura foundation and spends a year on the lees in large wooden vats. This cuvee partners brilliantly with all manner of shellfish (especially scallops) and full-flavored poultry creations.

 

Another producer working wonders with treixadura is Bodegas El Paraguas, whose estate white blend is mostly treixadura with some godello and albariño. With minimal oak influence (only the godello sees wood), the El Paraguas is a bit more focused than Rodriguez’s blends, and equally as satisfying.

Though mencía has a home in Ribeiro, the rising red star of the DO is brancellao; often relegated to blending status in the recent past, brancellao grapes are capable of making complex, commanding wines that belie their relatively modest body and low alcohol content. It is a grape of contradictions to be sure: elegant and lifted, yet with a brooding, smoky side; dark in color, yet almost transparent at the same time; spicy and mineral, but not without a little tannic impact; expressive and restrained all at once.

Rodriguez makes two brancellao-based cuvees (blended with other indigenous Ribeiro grapes including caiño and ferrol) that have been featured at Paul Marcus Wines: the Eidos Ermos bottling, which combines oak and steel aging, and the slightly sturdier A Torna Dos Pasás, which sees 12 months of used oak. These food-friendly blends can accompany anything from spicy pork dishes to tuna steaks.

We were also lucky enough to get our hands on a few bottles of the single-varietal Dos Canotos Brancellao made by Cume do Avia. A study in finesse, this is a lively, lightly extracted red wine that punches way above its weight and shows that brancellao, when handled with proper care, can even give red Burgundy a run for its money.

Here are two of our core Paul Marcus Wines propositions:

  • Sparkling wine is wine.
  • Wine is food.

Hence, the inescapable syllogistic conclusion:

Sparkling wine is food.

Yes, sparkling wine is a celebration and a toast and a font of joy and conviviality in this and all other holiday seasons. But it’s also a worthy addition to any meal, a paradise of food-pairing opportunities, and a subject worthy of terroir talk and aesthetic argument. Without further bubbly ado, here are seven of my current favorites available at Paul Marcus Wines.

Conceito Método Tradicional Grüner Veltliner Brut Nature $28

“Método Tradicional” is the Portuguese term for a sparkling wine made in the style of Champagne–in this case, from the unconventional (for Portugal) Austrian grape variety grüner veltliner, planted in the entirely unexpected Douro Valley (which is better known for rich, sweet Ports). “Brut Nature” means no dosage (sugar added to many Champagne-method sparkling wines to balance their acidity), so yes, it’s dry. This is an all-purpose sparkler, but one good pairing is with the crab cakes from our neighbors, Hapuku Fish Shop: The wine’s bone-dry raciness flatters the subtle flavors of crabmeat and highlights the lemony acidity, while a discrete herbal note plays well with the Old Bay seasoning.

Le Vigne di Alice 2012 Prosecco Brut ‘P.S.’ Metodo Integrale $26

This is grower Prosecco (grown and made by Cinzia Canzian and her family) and is unlike any Prosecco that you’ve had. It sees two fermentations, as Champagne does, with the secondary fermentation in the bottle to create the bubbles. But unlike Champagne, it isn’t disgorged, so the lees (spent yeast cells) remain in the wine. It’s full-on natural: There are no added yeasts, sulfites, dosage, or filtration. The wine has spent almost seven years with the lees, making it more savory and complex. It’s bone dry, umami-rich, and deliberately cloudy because of the lees. (You can clear much of the lees by performing a dégorgement à la volée, as the French call it, but then you’d be losing some of the distinctive, leesy personality.) You want to drink this wine with food, and don’t even think of making a spritz with it! A salumi or cheese antipasto mix would be great, as would stronger fish dishes and game birds. (Full disclosure: I work for the importer of this wine.)

Beaver Creek Sauvignon Blanc Pét-Nat, Horne Ranch, Lake County $23

How about a dry-farmed, certified-organic and biodynamic California Pét-Nat (short for Pétillant Naturel, a fizzy wine made with a single fermentation that finishes in the bottle) with no added sulfites? This is true farmer fizz, while still being clean and dry. Many people suggest white Burgundy or other chardonnay with crab, but I did a taste test and found that sauvignon blanc paired better. I’m going to guess that this would be a fun, natty partner to New Year’s cracked crab.

 

Forest-Marié Champagne ‘L’Absolu’ Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut $44

This all-chardonnay sparkler is an exceptional bargain in true grower Champagne (that is, Champagne grown and made by one family). There’s no dosage, so the wine is very dry, and yet not at all severe. It is creamy but focused, dry but not austere, with just a touch of spiciness, all of which creates a happy marriage with many foods, including paté and other charcuterie. I especially enjoy it with the rich, flavorful smoked trout paté from Hapuku.

 

 

André Clouet Champagne ‘No.3’ Grand Cru Brut Rosé $53

This is a pinot noir rosé in bubbly and elegant yet still hedonistic form. It is made from 90 percent pinot noir pressed immediately and made into a white sparkling wine (so-called “blanc de noirs”); 10 percent is pinot noir macerated with the skins and made into a regular, still wine. The Clouet family grows all of the grapes around the aptly named Champagne village of Bouzy. Use this as you would any light-to-medium-bodied still red wine, especially red Burgundy or domestic pinot noir. The earthiness of pinot noir is one of truffles’ best friends, but you can be just as happy with roast chicken, pork, vegetable stews, and a slew of other dishes that benefit from an earthy boost.

Huré Frères 2009 Champagne ‘Instantanée’ Brut $65

Here’s a chance to find out what aged, vintage Champagne is about without venturing into stratospheric pricing. This is the Huré brothers’ “instantanée,” or photograph, of the 2009 vintage, made from approximate thirds of the three main Champagne grapes (pinot noir, pinot meunier, and chardonnay). It’s aged almost a decade in bottle before disgorgement and has four grams per liter of residual sugar (so, technically, extra brut). It smells like an éclair perched on a rock (brioche, cream, minerals) and tastes like a slowly fermented dream. A wine this good can be a meal in itself, but you could splash it out with lobster or salty-savory caviar. Perhaps just grab some José Andrés potato chips and call it a (very good) day.

Ulysse Collin Champagne ‘Les Maillons’ Blanc de Noirs Extra Brut $108

Olivier (son of Ulysse) Collin is one of the new iconoclasts in Champagne. Since the mid-2000s, he has been growing and making single-parcel, highly vinous wines of great personality. They’re a bit lower in bubbly pressure than most Champagne, which makes them especially apt at the table. Les Maillons is all pinot noir grown in clay-rich soils, with the result being a richer wine that just so happens to have bubbles. I will cop the description from my friend and PMW colleague David Gibson: It’s weightless and yet full on the palate. It’s not distracting with sweetness or acid–simply a full, toasty caress. I’m thinking beef bourguignon; maybe duck or mushrooms.

This is just a small selection of the dozens of sparkling wines in our store this month. Stop in and ask us about some of the others, and help us help you pick out the best bottles of bubbles for your holiday celebration … and beyond.

If you’re looking for a primer on the various types of Champagne producers and styles, you’ll find it here in Mulan Chan-Randel’s articles from our October and November newsletters:

Regional Roundup: A Champagne Appreciation, Part I

Regional Roundup: A Champagne Appreciation, Part II

When it comes to an ideal Thanksgiving wine list, most people turn to Burgundy or Beaujolais–and rightly so. Pinot noir and its distant cousin, gamay noir, produce lively, approachable, adaptable red wines with relatively supple tannins and brilliant acidity, making them supreme additions to the crowded holiday table.

And white Burgundy, made from chardonnay, presents a fine option, too. While New World chardonnay is often too plump and oaky to accompany a wide range of food, Burgundian versions (particularly Chablis) tend to be sleek, minerally, and graceful, but still boasting ample fruit and texture to find its place at the feast.

Yet, if you’d like to broaden your horizons and impress your holiday companions, the folks here at Paul Marcus Wines have got you covered. There are numerous other choices that would fit comfortably on a Thanksgiving table, and below are some of our staff’s most appealing picks.

Paradox in a Bottle

I immediately thought of the 2017 Colombera & Garella Coste della Sesia, a nebbiolo blend from the north of Italy. Every year, this wine surprises me with its ability to embody paradox; it achieves a seemingly impossible balance between rich fruit and taut acidity. Each sip reveals this happy duality, and the rippling acid makes you want another glass, or three.

Whether guests are vegetarian or carnivore, this medium-bodied red has the ability to provide a great drinking experience for everyone at the table–versatility is only one of its many virtues. There is enough fruit for the dark-meat lovers, but it also has the requisite vibrancy to please the pearl-onion lovers, and it will even make Uncle Bill–who always, and oddly, wears his yellow suit–smile.

A blend of 70 percent nebbiolo, 15 percent croatina, and 15 percent vespolina, it’s inexpensive at $24, so I’d get two, or seven, depending on how many (or who) you are serving. Happy holidays, y’all.
– Chad Arnold

That Pelaverga

A light, easy-drinking party wine that is by no means dilute, the 2018 Cascina Massara Burlotto Verduno Pelaverga tastes like strawberries and pepper, which would make it a good pairing with many Thanksgiving dishes. It’s also 14.5 percent ABV (for those of us who would like a little buzz during the holiday season).

And the locals of Piemonte say it’s an aphrodisiac.
– Layla Khabiri

Jurassic Spark

The 2017 Domaine des Marnes Blanches Savagnin En Quatre Vis, from the esteemed Jura region of eastern France, unravels some of my favorite aromas and textures embodied in a deep, golden hue. It offers lime blossom and a minty freshness buoyed by saline, nutty tones, and orchard fruit.
– Jason Seely

Domestic Dalliances

There are so many different flavors on the Thanksgiving table, from bitter cruciferous to sweet cranberry, that a mash-up of grapes from a master winemaker makes perfect sense. Sean Thackrey’s new La Pleïade II California White Blend hits a delicious balance between aromatic varietals like gewürztraminer and the more textural, such as grenache blanc. It has enough weight to hold its own against gravy, but not so much to provoke fatigue.

If you’re leaning toward red wine, it should be fresh–not weighted with oak aging–and deliver sweetness of fruit sufficient to announce itself, without being syrupy. The 2017 Vinca Minor Carignan, Jason Charles’ organically grown, old-vine carignan from Mendocino, is all that and even comes with hints of cranberry.
– David Gibson

Aromatic Transmission

Light, bright, and accessible, the 2016 Metrick Mourvèdre is a juicy complement to most any Thanksgiving dish. Notes of bright red cherries, a slight tartness, and amazing aromatics make this a perfect pairing for turkey, cranberry sauce, and stuffing.
– Hayden Dawkins

Corsican Charm

Made from 100 percent sciaccarellu, the 2017 Clos Fornelli La Robe d’Ange, a concrete-aged Corsican beauty, is nuanced and nimble, offering a bit of earth, a touch of spice, a thrust of red fruit, and just enough tannic clench to hold it all together. Thanks to warm days, cool nights, and mineral-rich soil, this indigenous grape offers elegance, focus, and, most important, flexibility. Pale in color and medium in body, it will sing with poultry; its wave of acidity will perk up any side dish you can think of.
– Marc Greilsamer

Song of Sicily

A bright, vibrant red with lovely fruit, spice, and floral notes, the 2018 Valle dell’Acate Frappato is an excellent alternative to deal with all of the various savory and sweet flavors at a Thanksgiving dinner. For something with a bit darker fruit and a smoother, richer feel, try their 2014 Cerasuolo di Vittoria, a blend of 40 percent frappato with 60 percent nero d’avola.
– Joel Mullennix

Finally, Why Not Brachetto?

Our friend, Barbaresco producer Andre Sottimano, makes an attractive dry brachetto, the 2018 Sottimano Maté. Grown primarily in Piemonte, the brachetto grape produces wines that are light in color, with flavors that lean toward spicy rose and strawberry. With its impressive lift, I think this wine will surprise you in how much fun it is to drink.
– Paul Marcus

Of course, if you’d rather stick to the classics, Paul Marcus Wines does offer a wide selection of Burgundy and Beaujolais. Look for wines from Burgundy bigwigs such as Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Marchand-Tawse, and Domaine de Montille, as well as Beaujolais stars like Alex Foillard and Yann Bertrand.

Happy holidays, and see you at the shop!

As the holidays approach, our thoughts often turn to bubbly, which makes Champagne appreciation a rather important topic this time of year. Last month, in Part I of our Champagne survey, we discussed how to recognize the three major categories of Champagne producers. In Part II, we will now consider the region’s distinct styles and flavor profiles.

Rosé Champagne

What would the world be like without rosé Champagne? In fact, pink champagne was produced in limited quantities until the late 1970s. However, since the 1980s, the demand for rosé Champagne has taken off, and thankfully, it appears there is no turning back. In addition to the gorgeous pink hue that such wines display, the inherently fruitier and more forward style combined with high acidity also make for very food-friendly offerings.

Although the practice of blending red and white wine to produce a “pink” wine is strictly prohibited under regulations elsewhere in France, in Champagne this method is not only allowed, it is the most commonly used method of rosé production. More specifically, winemakers will add somewhere in the range of 8 percent to 20 percent (usually around 15 percent) of a red still wine–often pinot noir from a well-reputed village such as Bouzy.

A second and less utilized method of production is known as saignée. In this case, a Champagne producer basically does what just about every other winemaker in the world does when making a rosé wine: leave the juice on the grape skins and macerate the fruit in order to extract color. After a period of skin contact and maceration, the wine is bled off (in French, the verb saigner means to bleed) and winemaking proceeds.

The resulting rosé wine often exhibits a darker hue, along with juicier, bolder flavors. Some argue that this style of rosé Champagne ages better than those made by adding red wine, because the flavor compounds are more effectively integrated.

Blanc de Blancs

The second style of champagne, referred to as Blanc de Blancs, is composed entirely of white-skinned grapes. In the case of Champagne, this is almost always chardonnay. And while chardonnay is grown throughout the region, some of the finest examples come from the Côte des Blancs.

The Côte des Blancs lies south of the Champagne capital of Épernay and stretches southward more than 20 kilometers. Here, chardonnay reigns supreme, where it is planted to predominantly east-facing vineyard sites. Over the centuries, each grand cru village in the Côte des Blancs has established a reputation or characteristic style: Cramant for its heightened aromatics and bouquet, Avize for its focus and delicacy, Oger for its fine bouquet and raciness, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger for its superior finesse and intensity, and Vertus for its inherent fruitiness and roundness.

In its youth, a Blanc de Blancs can sometimes seem a bit austere or one-dimensional. Fresh citrus, lemon curd, and biscuit are common descriptors. However, with several years of aging, wonderfully complex nuances can develop like toasted bread, grilled hazelnuts, dried flowers, and even salty-savory notes.

Blanc de Noirs

Blanc de Noirs is a (non-rosé) sparkling wine vinified using only red-skinned grapes, which, in the case of Champagne, means pinot meunier and pinot noir. Hardy pinot meunier buds later than chardonnay and pinot noir, and for this reason is most often planted in the more frost-prone areas of the Marne Valley. Meunier-based champagnes will often exhibit more earthy, nutty flavors, along with dried orchard fruits. They pair wonderfully with heartier fare like roasted meats, mushroom-based dishes, and pungent cow’s milk cheeses.

Pinot noir is the variety most often found in Blanc de Noirs. In Champagne, pinot noir generally ripens earlier than chardonnay and pinot meunier and is most often planted in the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bar. Providing body, structure, and complexity, pinot noir-based Champagne reaches great heights in the grand cru villages of Bouzy, Ay, and Ambonnay.

A great example of a Blanc de Noirs from the villages of Bouzy and Ambonnay is André Clouet’s Brut Grande Réserve. Terrific shades of red fruits, roasted hazelnuts, and biscuits showcase the opulence and superb balance of this grand cru Champagne.

This delightful bottle (along with dozens of others, spanning every style) is available at Paul Marcus Wines. Come visit us at the shop to learn more about the wonders of Champagne.

Champagne, perhaps more than any other wine region in the world, is recognized for its high-profile luxury brands. Grande Marque (essentially “big brand”) houses like Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon, and Louis Roederer are familiar to just about anyone who has ever celebrated with a bottle of bubbly. However, if one looks more closely, Champagne is comprised of an elaborate infrastructure of grape growers, family-owned wineries, and even cooperatives.

Yet, understanding who makes what, and how, is much easier than one might think. The first step is recognizing the three major categories of producers. All you need to do is look for the fine print on the label; a set of two-letter abbreviations will let you know in which category your Champagne belongs. The three most significant abbreviations are outlined below.

NM (négociant manipulant)

These producers buy fruit from independent growers to produce their wines, although many of them maintain their own vineyard holdings in addition. Most of the larger Champagne houses, including Les Grandes Marques, fall into this category. You can identify a producer as a négociant manipulant by the letters NM written in fine print.

Examples of NM producers in Champagne: Krug, Bollinger, Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, Perrier-Jouet, Jacquesson, Fleury, Taittinger

An example is Taittinger shown below. Note the term NM in the bottom left-hand corner of the label.

RM (récoltant manipulant)

The wines in this category are commonly referred to as grower-producer Champagne. These producers may only use a maximum of 5 percent purchased grapes in the production of their wines; at least 95 percent must come from their proper vineyard holdings. These bottles will have the letters RM written in fine print.

Examples of RM producers in Champagne: Bruno Michel, Franck Pascal, Georges Laval, Pierre Moncuit, Marie-Courtin, Ulysse Collin

An example is Pierre Moncuit shown below. Note the term RM in the bottom right-hand corner of the label.

Here is another example of an RM producer, Marc Hebrart. Notice the RM designation listed in the middle of the label.

CM (coopérative de manipulation)

A Champagne with the CM abbreviation signifies that a cooperative cellar produced the wine with grapes sourced from its member growers. Perhaps the most famous CM brand is Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, which sources its grapes from more than 4,500 growers and creates a wide array of blends with fruit from across the region. Note the term CM listed on the label of the brand’s memorable prestige cuvee, Palmes d’Or.

Please keep in mind that these classifications are not qualitative ones. There are great NMs, mediocre CMs, and lackluster RMs. There are also a few other designations to recognize, although they are not often found in the United States.

SR (société de récoltants): This abbreviation refers to an association of grape growers, often family members, who share a winemaking facility, but produce wine under their own labels and are not part of a cooperative.

RC (récoltant coopérateur): An RC producer is a cooperative member who sells a wine produced by the co-op, but under its own name and label.

MA (marque auxiliaire or marque d’acheteur): Essentially, MA signifies a “brand name,” one that is not owned by the grower or producer of the wine, but rather a supermarket, hotel, or restaurant chain. MA brands are commonly referred to as BOBs, or “buyer’s own brand,” as well as “private labels.”

ND (négociant distributeur): A wine merchant who markets Champagne under its own name gets the ND abbreviation.

Now that we’ve discussed the different producer categories, stay tuned for Part II of our Champagne survey, which will consider the distinct flavor profiles offered by wines of the region. In the meantime, visit us at Paul Marcus Wines, where we feature a wide variety of grower-producer Champagne from the likes of Georges Laval, Pierre Moncuit, and Ulysse Collin, as well as offerings from the esteemed NM producer Jacquesson among many others.

If you’re a Seinfeld enthusiast, you might very well remember Kramer’s passionate description of paella: “Oh, it’s an orgiastic feast for the senses … a festival of sights, sounds, and colors…” To be sure, this fragrant, flavorful rice-based mélange remains one of Spain’s most recognizable and revered culinary treasures.

Paella Cooking Over Wood Fire

Paella a la Marinera being prepared over an open wood fire

Pairing a wine with this savory delicacy can be a bit tricky: Choose a bottle too reserved, and it will get lost in the forest of flavors; choose something too robust, and you’ll drown out the dish’s complexity and nuance.

Of course, the key to determining the proper bottle for your “orgiastic feast” is distinguishing which variation of paella you’ll be enjoying. The term paella merely refers to the expansive, short-rimmed, gently rounded pan that is used to prepare the dish, customarily warmed over a wood fire. To make paella, you’re looking for the largest pan surface available, so that most of the rice makes contact with the heat. You’ll also need a variety of rice (such as bomba) that is particularly absorbent, one that gleefully soaks up the myriad flavors and aromas.

With that in mind, let’s talk about the various paella adaptations and their corresponding wine alternatives (all available at Paul Marcus Wines).

Paella Valenciana

This classic, saffron-infused version of paella is the most traditional variant, usually including some combination of chicken, rabbit, duck, beans, peppers, and garlic. Earthy and aromatic, with savory and spicy notes, mencía, a red grape most commonly from Galicia in northwest Spain, would be a wonderful partner with this full-flavored meal. (You’ll want to avoid anything overly tannic.)

For an introduction to this grape, try the Valdesil Valederroa, an appealingly simple yet engaging wine, aged in stainless steel and offering bright red fruit and supple tannins. For something with a bit more gravitas, the Lousas cuvée by Envínate, from the slate soils of Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra region, is a juicy and lifted mencía, yet also boasts considerable depth and minerality.

Another worthy choice is the Eidos Ermos from star producer Luis Anxo Rodriguez Vazquez. A vibrant field blend of indigenous red Ribeiro grapes, it’s lower in alcohol and tannins, yet, with its dark complexion and relatively lighter body, is full of energy and finesse. You can also go with a richer white wine as well–something like the Viña Gravonia or even the Viña Tondonia from esteemed Rioja producer Lopez de Heredia. Aged in barrel and fined with egg whites, these standout wines, based on the viura grape, are two of Spain’s most sought-after whites.

Paella Marinera

Also known as seafood paella, this rendition typically offers flavors that are a bit more restrained and usually includes some blend of clams, mussels, shrimp, and squid. Anytime you’re enjoying shellfish, the white godello grape leaps to mind–clean and refreshing, but with a bit of texture and intensity. Valdesil’s Pezas Da Portela godello is one of great vitality and vigor, having seen a bit of skin contact and six months of aging on the lees in barrel.


For something a little lighter and crisper, try an albariño from Granbazán or Do Ferreiro. Boasting albariño’s customary acidity and salinity, these wines are fleshed out by a bit of lees aging. You can also look to the Basque Country and go for a racy txakolina, blanco or rosado, from Ameztoi–wines that are slightly effervescent and supremely palate-cleansing.

Canary Island whites featuring the listan blanco grape would also work well here. At its best, this grape offers a blend of power and elegance normally associated with white Burgundy–both Suertes del Marqués and Envínate proffer top-notch examples of listan blanco’s capabilities.

Looking for a recipe? Try out Market Hall Foods’s own Paella à la Marinera recipe.

Paella Mixta

Containing both meat and seafood (and often including chorizo or a similar-type sausage), paella mixta partners well with a younger (crianza) Rioja red, such as Lopez de Heredia’s Viña Cubillo. A blend of roughly two-thirds tempranillo buttressed by garnacha, mazuelo, and graciano, this Rioja sees used American oak, but magically retains a freshness and energy that makes it sing with such a heady dish.


Canary Island reds from Suertes del Marqués and Envínate, based on the listan negro grape, might also fit the bill. These wines are dark-fruited and bursting with smoke and spice, thanks to their volcanic provenance. Even a Canary Island rosado, such as La Araucaria by Dolores Cabrera Fernández, would impress with paella mixta–tart, brambly, and exotic, this wine has enough going on to match the wild flavors of the dish.

Paella Negra


This “black rice” variation, which is bathed in squid or octopus ink, offers bold, brash, and concentrated flavors. While many of the above wines would succeed here, you can also try to balance the intensity of the dish with something refreshing and purifying. Say, the Avinyó Reserva Brut Nature Cava, a dry, focused, and snappy sparkling white made from xarel-lo and macabeu. A still xarelo-lo, like the Desig from Mas Candi, can deliver both the acidity and the weight necessary for such a rich creation.

Don’t Forget Sherry

Finally, adventurous paella lovers might turn to the fortified wines of the Jeréz triangle. Drier, lighter sherries biologically aged underneath a layer of yeast offer the perfect salty tang for seafood paella–try the Lustau Fino del Puerto Gonzales Obregon or La Cigarrera Manzanilla. For paella valenciana, the amber-hued Colosia Amontillado steadies its briny tinges with nutty overtones. For the heaviest versions of paella, you can reach for an oloroso sherry like El Maestro Sierra Oloroso, which ages oxidatively for 15 years in solera and, though still dry, offers richness and complexity.

For further suggestions about paella pairing, please visit us at Paul Marcus Wines. We’ll be happy to help! Or if you’d like to see further Prickly Pairings, head over to our “Pairings” page.