“Champagne Wishes and Country Fried Dreams” @faithandflower

Hooper and Hoagland

Wine Director Jared Hooper and Champagne Specialist Mike Hoagland

My passion in life is Italian wine, but a close second-place might be Champagne.  Cold, cutting acidity and lively bubbles.  Refreshing, yet serious at the same time.  Aromatically superior to any other category of sparkling wine.  Equally ready to lay down and develop for years in your cellar, or to be chilled immediately and enjoyed.

 How can you not be enthralled and seduced by Champagne?Menu-1

I had the chance to taste some real blockbusters the other night with Champagne Specialist Mike Hoagland, who presented the wines of Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, and Krug at Faith & Flower in downtown Los Angeles.  The night was all about celebrating Champagne in all its elegant finesse and bawdy playfulness.  A night of serious wines, down-home cooking, and enthusiastic revelers.


Veuve Clicquot Rosé NV, paired with creamed corn topped with corn bread which had been smothered in fresh white truffles.  Yep.  It worked.

I love food pairing with Champagne.  There is so much to work with!  These are not typically delicate wines- they have backbone and verve!  Try Champagne with a grilled steak.  Or a cheeseburger.  Or pizza.  Seriously.  As Mike Hoagland reminded us, “these are wines equally well-enjoyed in a fancy restaurant as they are from a paper cup on a beach.”  Agreed.  And don’t relegate your Champagne to brief stints as the welcoming party-opener before the “serious stuff” is opened.  These wines are serious.  And fun.  And they deserve their time in the spotlight!


Salty, spicy, herbed popcorn with Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV.

I love the idea of taking a “luxury”or “specialty” product like “Champagne” and delivering it in an unorthodox way.  Opening with a glass of Ruinart (Champagne’s oldest winery), and serving something fun and addicting like this salty popcorn really struck a chord with me.  Thank you, Jared Hooper & Chef Michael Hung, for giving me something I want to eat with this fine glass of wine.  Oh, and double thank you for making it a great pairing that truly highlights the wine.

And thank you most of all for not taking it all too seriously, and for letting me enjoy myself while I experience this excellent food & wine combination!


Veuve Clicquot Vintage 1985.  En Magnum.

What do you pair with the most impressive, Vintage Champagne in your wine dinner?

Well, (and this is why I am a little bit in love with Chef Michael Hung right now), why not a brilliant little play on the classic green bean casserole?  Bright, snappy green beans cooked to a perfect al dente, kissed by some kind of creamy-mustardy sauce and spiked with radishes and tarragon.  Topped with the requisite fried onions, this was the most platonic incarnation of that classic holiday casserole I have ever tasted.  And it was brilliant with the wine.  Just enough acidity to match the wine- more than enough toothsome umami to play nicely with the bubbles.  Perfection.


High-class green beans.

At this point in the dinner I started to really get into the wine and food pairings.  It was playful- like being on a really fancy picnic. Post-modern foodie stuff.  With great lighting and ambiance. And beautiful people. And perfectly polished stemware.Krug-1

Krug Grande Cuvée NV. Classic guilty-sommelier-pleasure.  Paired with…



Continuing in our salute to unconventional (yet brilliant) food and wine pairings, we arrived at the main course- Krug Grande Cuvée NV Champagne and Fried Chicken.  As Samantha Dugan (Champagne Specialist Extraordinaire) would say- Champagne and fried chicken is a pairing everyone should know about.  There is something special about that salty friend crunch paired with those happy, brightly-lit bubbles.  That acidity and bright fruit rolling over a grease-slicked palate.  It’s so happy.  I urge you to find the best fried chicken possible, and to enjoy it with the most awesome bottle of Champagne you can get your hand on.

You will not be disappointed.  And you’ll probably have a lot of fun.Jared HooperJared Hooper, Wine Director and General Champagne Advocate.

DemiSec-1Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec NV

paired seamlessly with a Not-Your-Mammas-Miso-Apple-Crumble.


Mike Hoagland treated us to a sweet ending, using the Veuve Clicquot Demi-Sec NV to highlight Chef Hung’s golden, flaky dream of a desert.  He decanted the Demi-Sec, explaining that this helps to loosen the bubbles a bit, rounding out the fruit in the Pinot Meunier-heavy wine.  Mike also informed us this “pays homage to the Widow Clicquot, who is the inventor of record for the riddling table, which allowed for Champagne wines to become significantly clarified during the riddling process.”  I think she’d be impressed with the food and wine pairing, as well as the dramatic fanfare.  The ritual of decanting is pretty sexy stuff.


I love that there are people like Mike Hoagland and Jared Hooper in the world of wine, urging you to have fun with whatever you’re consuming.  Drink what is delicious.  Eat what you like.  Learn a little something while you’re at it.

And please, enjoy more Champagne!

Give me Nebbiolo… Or Give me Death! @aiselections #damminebbiolo

The shirt says it all.  “Dammi Nebbiolo.  OR GIVE ME DEATH!”Amici



David Weitzenhoffer, owner of AI Selections, and his friend, Alessio Cighetti (owner of the Vinoteca Centro Storico in Serralunga).

Baldo e Maria


Teobaldo and Maria Rivella in their home (overlooking Montestefano!)



If it’s not Nebbiolo, it might be Champagne.

One of the best things about Italian wine lists in Italy is the Champagne.  Wines we would never find in the US, for prices so low it will make you shed a happy little tear.  Small-production Champagne from intriguing little producers and big name houses from classic vintages alike, all casually compiled in epic wine lists like little treasure-troves of fun.

Italians love their bollincine; bubbly toasts and frothy clinking glasses are the only way to begin an evening with friends in the piazza.

These are the wines that signify celebration.  Wines that fuel the atmosphere with life-affirming joy and self-contentment.  These are Champagnes that bolster you- that give you the courage to order that 1996 Bruno Rocca Barolo, or even the 1982 Giacomo Conterno…

Italians Love Sushi. And Champagne.

One of my favorite parts about working for an Italian wine importer is that I am able to spend time with Italian winemakers while they are visiting the US.  It’s a fantastic study in cultural differences and similarities- and really, it’s just a lot of fun.  One theme I have noticed recently is that our visiting winery representatives are always excited about one thing.  Sushi. Continue reading

New Obsession: Larmandier- Bernier Champagne

Don’t mistake me- I love Italian wines.  A lot.  However, I can’t possibly close my eyes to the other great wines of the world.  I had an experience this weekend with a wine that reminded me how truly impossible this would be.  Thank you, Larmandier Bernier, for reminding me not to shut the door to the world outside of Italy.

The impetus for my recent wine revelation began with a Champagne and Sparkling wine seminar by Master Sommelier Peter Neptune.  Can I just say that this man is completely captivating?  I have yet to find a wine educator more compelling than Peter.  His presence at the front of the room pretty much necessitates that you to listen and learn- I doubt you could tune him out if you tried.  Two words that come to mind when I think of Peter Neptune at the front of a lecture: Stage. Presence.  Awesome lecture, pertinent information, excellent visual presentation.  Just loved it!

I left the presentation convinced I absolutely HAD to learn more about Champagne.  After a little bit of research I went to Hi Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, in search of a few wines.  After all, the best way to learn about wine is to taste it, right?

The reason I selected the Larmandier- Bernier “Tradition” Champagne was that I knew (from reading dear Alice Feiring’s writing for so long) that this producer is considered “natural”, and subscribes to biodynamic practices.  Larmandier Bernier also commits to using native yeasts in their fermentation, which I personally find fascinating.  It’s hard enough the grow things, especially wine grapes, without “help” from modern pesticides and conventional practices.  Then added to that, there is the nearly insurmountable challenge of wine making without predictable “designer” yeasts and other additives that can control the outcome of the process.  I am by no means an expert on the subject of wine making (natural or otherwise), but it seems to me that when a winery commits to a methodology that increases their chances at failure in the vineyard and the winery exponentially- there is usually a good reason.  In this case the reason is quite simply that they produce spectacular wine.  That people like Pierre and Sophie Larmandier succeed is a tribute to modern ingenuity and some very ancient wine making history- both worthy of praise and notice!

Vertus Vineyards of Larmandier- Bernier

I visited the winery’s website and was really impressed with the way they describe their definition of “natural”.  Basically, like most wine makers, they believe the best wine is made from the best grapes in the best vineyards.  In their opinion, the recipe for greatness is simple, “old vines, working the soil, moderate yields; vines which thrive without having fertilizers forced into them, and mature grapes picked by hand.  The best vineyards are not treated with chemicals”.  Sounds like  real agriculture. Sounds like responsible agriculture.  Sounds perfect to me.

This wine was a bolt of lightening for me- and it would be for anyone the first time they taste it.  It is a beautiful crystal-yellow in the glass with a fine foam.  The nose is yeasty, but equally fresh and full of bright green apple.  On the palate it is clean and dense without being heavy or overwhelming.  It’s like a light switch going on, “This is champagne!”  Find this wine.  Drink it.  Be happy!

After I tasted the wine I decided what to make for dinner- and in honor of the wine makers whose commitment to great wine began with commitment in their vineyards I used tomatoes I grew in our backyard to make a simple pasta… warning: Gratuitous Glamour Food Photography to follow…

You know you live in California when these come out of your backyard.

Mise en place- is there an expression for this in Italian?

Quick-Sauteed Tomato Sauce

Perfect match- backyard tomato sauce pasta and

Larmandier- Bernier “Tradition” Champagne

Official verdict on the Larmandier- Bernier Champagne- thumbs (paws?) up!