Eileen Crane Of Domaine Carneros And The Dream Come True

We don’t need to be the biggest, we just want to be the best.
— Eileen Crane, founding winemaker/CEO, Domaine Carneros, Napa Valley
  Considered one of the most beautiful wineries in America, Domaine Carneros has stunning grounds and breathtaking views. Photo courtesy of Domaine Carneros.

Considered one of the most beautiful wineries in America, Domaine Carneros has stunning grounds and breathtaking views. Photo courtesy of Domaine Carneros.

  Eileen explains her approach to sparkling winemaking. All of the wines were served in beautiful Lalique crystal stemware.

Eileen explains her approach to sparkling winemaking. All of the wines were served in beautiful Lalique crystal stemware.

When Eileen Crane, founding winemaker of California’s Domaine Carneros, was a little girl of only eight, she would help her father pick out the wine for her family’s Sunday dinner. He even let her taste it. “We only had wine on Sundays and one Sunday he pulled out a bottle of Champagne," said Eileen, "and I tasted it and I thought, 'this is it.' Dad was sorry he ever brought that bottle out because every Sunday I asked for Champagne.

Eileen’s passion for bubbles never abated. In 1978, after studying science and the culinary arts, she packed up her bags and drove across the country to work at Domaine Chandon, the first French-owned sparkling wine producer in Napa Valley. She began as a tour guide and then as a pastry chef. Determined to learn winemaking, Eileen quickly worked her way up to the position of Enologist. Six years later she was lured away by Gloria Ferrer Caves in nearby Sonoma, where, as the winemaker and vice president, she was not only responsible for developing the company’s line of sparkling wines, but also for the design and construction of a brand new facilty.

While Eileen was busy forging her winemaking path in Napa, the Taittinger family from France was searching for a suitable location to make a unique, California expression of their light and delicate Champagne. It took them nearly ten years to find the perfect spot, but in 1986, Champagne Taittinger asked Eileen to build a winery for them on a 138-acre parcel of land they had found in Carneros, Napa Valley. Closer to the ocean than the rest of Napa, the cool, windy, foggy mornings and bright afternoon sunshine of Carneros is perfect for making sparkling wine.

FRENCH ELEGANCE IN AN AMERICAN WINERY

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Champagne Taittinger is one of the most revered Champagne houses with a history tracing back to the 1700s. When Eileen was hired, Claude Taittinger said to her, “You are of Carneros and we are of Champagne. We don’t expect you to make imitation Champagne.” Through many initial tastings together, Claude and Eileen found that, stylistically, they were of the same bent, both preferring a lighter style over a heavier, more powerful one. From the beginning, the Taittingers have entrusted Eileen with creating the most appropriate blends without the help of a master blender sent over from Champagne. 

CREATING THE DREAM: LE RÈVE

One of Eileen’s greatest accomplishments at Domaine Carneros has been the creation of the prestige cuvée blanc de blancs (meaning "white of whites' and made exclusively of Chardonnay).

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Back in 1987 Claude told Eileen that, just as Champagne Taittinger has the finest blanc de blancs in France — the Comtes de Champagne —  he would like Domaine Carneros to have the finest blanc de blancs in America. He said, “We think in terms of decades, of generations, so take your time creating the best!”

Thirty one years later, it’s clear that Eileen has succeeded in turning Claude’s vision into a reality. “Over time I fine-tuned things and tasted the older wines to see how they were evolving. I handled things a bit differently with experience," she said. "Unlike the great chefs who make their best dishes 30 times a night, a winemaker only makes wine once a year, so it takes a very long time to learn the trade.”

For every wine Eileen and her team makes, they do an enormous amount of blending trials. "For Le Rève we choose the ones that will result in a wine with great body and a great finish," says Eileen. "It’s not always the same clones or varieties each year and sometimes we come down to just one percent of a particular variety and if that small amount still influences the flavor and the nose we keep it. We’re sort of crazy that way, but we feel if you can make it better with just one or two percent, then why not?"

  Stunnning Lalique perfume bottles next to a 100 Points Universal glass filled with Domaine Carneros bubbly.

Stunnning Lalique perfume bottles next to a 100 Points Universal glass filled with Domaine Carneros bubbly.

CELEBRATING 30 YEARS OF LE RÈVE

A retrospective tasting of Le Rève Blanc de Blancs, going back to 1988, with Eileen in attendance was recently held at the Lalique showroom on Fifth Avenue. Lalique is known for its breathtaking crystal pieces fashioned by the most skillful glass masters. The wines' unique characteristics were showcased beautifully in their James Suckling 100 points universal glasses.

We tasted Eileen's very first attempt of Le Rève which has never been released for sale. “The ‘88 was my prototype; my first shot at it." says Eileen. "The first time I tasted it in a social setting, I had a winemaker's epiphany and said to myself, 'I did it.'

My tasting notes on the 1988 Le Reve: “Wow! Like a fine Sherry, slightly oxidized and with a nutty finish yet still so fresh with mouthwatering acidity. Amazing!” Below are some notes of the other vintages in the tasting:

1992 - “Smells like toast!”
1998 - “Whoa! Smells like honey. Rich and dense with notes of mushrooms.”
2004 - “Golden color. Big aromas of yeast”
2005 - “Yellow color. Creamy, subtle yeasty aromas yet still has that Californis fruit shining through. A distinct minerality; saltiness. Tasted blind, I may have guessed it was a Champagne.”
2011 - “Yellow color. Great acidity with that California fruitiness. Long, enjoyable finish. Classic cool weather Carneros bubbly.”

I was impressed by how well all of the wines had aged — still so full of life and with that vibrant California fruit. 

I was also impressed with Eileen who, after the lunch, walked around the room to speak with each guest individually. She's friendly, with a self-deprecating humor, and you can tell that she really enjoys telling the stories behind her wine.

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For lunch, the le Rève wines were expertly paired with an Asian-inspired menu prepared by Olivier Cheng Catering & Events. We savored Tuna Crudo with avocado and radish, miso-glazed black cod and an iced passion fruit soufflé with a sesame tuile.  Eileen commented that “oftentimes people think sparkling wines only go with caviar and foie gras and smoked salmon, but it’s such a versatile wine and can go with an array of flavors, herbs and spices, like in today’s lunch.”

(Find a similar Tuna Crudo Recipe here).

 

VISITING DOMAINE CARNEROS

Modeled after an 18th century Château in Champagne, Domaine Carneros features formal gardens, an elegant salon, and large outdoor terraces with exquisite views of Napa Valley. 

Click here for information about tours and seated tastings. Reservations are required, so booking in advance is a must. Conveniently located in Carneros, the winery is just four miles from the town of Napa and five miles from the town of Sonoma. 

 A rendering of the site of the new winter garden.

A rendering of the site of the new winter garden.

Opening very soon (August 2018) at Domaine Carneros:  a jardin d'hiver (winter garden) overlooking one of the best areas of the property, with fabulous views and a restaurant serving asian-flavored bites paired with the sparkling wines.

 

 

FIND THE WINE

In addition to Le Rève ($100), Domaine Carneros produces many distinctive styles of sparkling wines starting with the classic vintage-dated Brut cuvee ($35). In 1992 they added a rich, complex still red wine made from Pinot Noir ($33) to their portfolio.

Find the Brut in NYC at Astor Wines and Sotheby's or visit wine-searcher.com to look for other Domaine Carneros wines. Remember to ask for them at your favorite restaurants.

Cheers!

 

Why Provence Rosé Is The Best Choice For August

Delicious rosé wine is made all over the world but on this scorching August day, my mind keeps wandering to the light, refreshing ones from Provence. This region in the south of France is the world's largest rosé-producing area and it has the ideal conditions for making crisp, yet aromatic and juicy, rosés: mineral-rich soils, warm days and cool nights, mistral winds that dry vines on dewy mornings, and red grape varieties that grow well there like Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, Carignan, and Mourvedre. The first sip of a chilled Provence rosé will instantly bring your wilted self back to life. 

These beautiful pale salmony pink wines are a great choice when you feel like something with more weight than a white wine, but not the heaviness of a red. Rosé from Provence can be paired with a dip in the lake, ocean or pool and with an entire meal! 

Below are six Wine Chef favorites you should enjoy before the dog days of summer (and your tan) are long gone. 

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  • Miraval Côtes de Provence 2017 - ($21) - Miraval covers 500 hectares of land in the heart of Provence with a magnificent Château located on the property surrounded by vineyards, olive trees and ancient woods. Throughout its history Miraval has served as both the home of the Orsini Prince of Naples and as a recording studio where tracks of Pink Floyd's "The Wall" were recorded. Today, with a partnership between legendary winemaker Famille Perrin and celebrities Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt (still involved in the wine estate despite their break-up), Miraval is making award-winning wines. This classic Provence rosé, made from Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah, and Rolle has a stony minerality with hints of spice supported by a backbone of refreshing acidity and a silky texture. Miraval rosé was named the number one wine in the world by Wine Spectator magazine.

 

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  • Domaine St. Aix "Aix Rosé" 2017 ($17) - This 130 year old winery is situated on a plateau at an altitude of 420 meters above sea level. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Carignan, this gorgeous wine is a salmony pink color. Fragrant and well-balanced with a crisp acidity, it delivers notes of flowers, ripe berries, and watermelon on the nose and on the palate. "This wine has the richness characteristic of Aix-en-Provence. Ripe red fruits, layers of intense acidity and tangy texture come together to make a wine that is packed with fruitiness as well as great freshness."(Wine Enthusiast)

 

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  • Hecht & Bannier Côtes de Provence Rosé 2017 ($19) - Founders Gregory Hecht and François Bannier select and purchase grapes and wine (that they then age in the Hecht & Bannier facilities) from cooperatives, young wine growers and well-known domaines.  This beautiful rosé, a blend of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah, and Rolle grapes, is dry, round and fruity with a distinct minerality and notes of fennel, anise and a subtle saltiness.  "Plump and medium-bodied, marked by crisp, citrusy fruit. Passionfruit and grapefruit nuances give it a zippy, refreshing finish." (Wine Advocate)

 

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  • Château de Berne Emotion 2017 - ($16.00) The estate dates back to the 12th century, though the Romans had been tending vines on this site long before. Today, Château de Berne is a winery that also offers  a five-star Relais & Châteaux hotel, a Michelin-starred restaurant, a spa, and a cooking school. The Emotion rosé, made from Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah grapes, is a light-style Provence rosé, with fragrant aromas of raspberry, candied strawberries, red cherry and white flowers. A hint of sea breeze minerality on the nose carries through to the palate, where the wine has a roundness with flavors of pink grapefruit and watermelon on the finish. Also recommended from Chateau de Berne is the fuller bodied, Grenache-dominant Inspiration Rosé 2017 ($19.99). 

 

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  • Domaine du Gros Noré 2017 ($35) - Rosés from Bandol, regarded as the Grand Cru of Provence, are typically full-bodied with noticeable structure. Gros Noré's owner Alain Pascal's vineyards are close to the Mediterranean sea and he makes his wine in a natural way, taking advantage of the abundant sunshine and maritime humidity. This beautiful and balanced rosé, made from 80% Mourvedre (with Cinsault and Grenache), has a great intensity of fruit. It also has a mouthwatering freshness that allows it to pair well with all kinds of food from light appetizers to barbecued meats. "Alain’s largely whole-cluster Mourvèdre is a dark beauty, a tapenade of black olives infused with wild southern herbs, earth, and stones, with a glorious tannin that shows no aggression." (wine importer Kermit Lynch)
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  • Urban Provence 2017 - ($22.99) Just 30 minutes from Saint-Tropez, the estate is a destination for its well-crafted wine as well as an authentic Provençal restaurant and an amphitheater for live concerts and movie screenings. Urban Provence is a dry rosé made of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Rolle. A beautiful light pink color, the wine has aromas of wild strawberry, white blossoms, raspberry and white pepper. Juicy and well-structured, this dry rosé offers tart cherry and floral notes with minerality and a hint of spice on the finish.

THURSDAY'S THRILL - Abbazia di Novacella 2016 Pinot Grigio Alto Adige

Why wait to thank God it's Friday?! Start one day early with this delicious and refreshing Italian mountain wine.

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THE WINE

Abbazia di Novacella 2016 Pinot Grigio Alto Adige

(Average Retail Price $20)

 

WHAT'S COOL ABOUT THE WINERY

 Alto Adige wine region is just south of the Austrian border. 

Alto Adige wine region is just south of the Austrian border. 

  • Abbazia di Novacella is located in Alto Adige, a 3,000 year old alpine winemaking area at Italy's northernmost point. Many diverse peoples settled and influenced the region during the course of time and there are now three official languages spoken here today: Italian, German and Ladin (the language of the Dolomites).

 

  • This mountainous region has terraced vineyards planted up to 2,200 feet above sea level against a dramatic background of snow-capped Dolomite mountains. The soil for the wines is mainly granitic schist created by ancient glaciers.

 

 Photo courtesy of  Wine And Travel Italy

Photo courtesy of Wine And Travel Italy

  • Founded and still operated by Augustianian monks, Abbazia di Novacella is one of the oldest wineries in the world with 850+ years of winemaking.

 

  • Famous for crisp, pure, and mineral-driven whites (Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Bianco, Chardonnay, Kerner, Sylvaner, and Gewürztraminer), the estate also receives acclaim for its aromatic Pinot Nero and other “formidable reds” like Lagrein and Schiava (Wine and Spirits Magazine). 

 

  • Abbazia di Novacella practices organic farming.

 

TASTING NOTES 

Color: Darker than expected for a Pinot Grigio, with a brilliant straw yellow, almost golden, color.

Aroma: One whiff and you'll be hooked! The smell of citrus fruits, peach, and honeydew melon will draw you in and lead your lips to the glass.

Palate: Medium-bodied with a round and slightly creamy texture and a mouthwatering, fresh fruitiness that ends in a pleasing, slightly bitter, long finish. Notes of green apples, peaches, pears, and herbs.

FOOD PAIRING IDEAS

Alto Adige wines are very food friendly. I had the Abbazia di Novacella with a strong Limburger cheese and it went brilliantly! You can sip on this wine as an aperitif, or pair it with any of the following:  fennel and orange salad, fondue, pasta, grilled sea bass, marinated squid salad, poultry dishes or Roast Pork Loin With Apples.

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FIND IT HERE

In NYC: Try Astor Wine, Some Good Wine and Nolita Wine Merchants. Outside of Manhattan? Go to wine-searcher.com to find the wine near you or where to order online. And don't forget to ask for Abbazia di Novacella in your favorite restaurant.

OTHER PRODUCERS TO KNOW:

There are many beautiful Alto Adige wines worth seeking out. Some of my favorites include:

Cheers!

Four Cocktails To Help Keep Your Cool This Summer

Summer is here and who doesn't want to enjoy the warm weather with refreshing cocktails and backyard soirées? Whether you're throwing a party, a barbecue or just hanging out with your loved ones, these easy-to-make cocktail recipes are sure to impress as well as refresh. 

DIRTY MARTINI CLASSIC COCKTAIL  

Ingredients for 2 cocktails:

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5 tablespoons gin or vodka

1 tablespoon dry vermouth 

1 tablespoon olive brine

Garnish: 3 large green olives  

Instructions:

Fill a cocktail shaker with ice. Add gin or vodka, vermouth and olive brine. Shake. Strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with olives.


BOURBON, & CITRUS SUNSHINE

From the Hungry Traveler blog, this recipe was inspired by the El Compadre cocktail served at the excellent Spanish restaurant Jaleo in Washington D.C.

Ingredients for 2 cocktails:

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6 tablespoons bourbon (preferably Buffalo Trace or Woodford Reserve)

2 tablespoon freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

2 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon Aperol

2 dashes citrus bitters

1/2 teaspoon maple syrup

2 slices of orange peel, for garnish

Instructions:

Stir all of the ingredients (except orange peel) together in a pint glass filled with ice. Strain the mixture into glasses with 1 large ice cube each (or whatever ice cubes you have). Garnish with the orange peel.


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MEZCAL & GRAPEFRUIT COOL DOWN

Ingredients

6 tablespoons freshly squeezed grapefruit juice

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6 tablespoons mezcal

3 tablespoons Aperol

1 & 1/2 tablespoons lime juice

 Coase salt for rims, if desired

 Grapefruit slices for garnish

Instructions:

Combine grapefruit juice, mezcal, Aperol, and lime juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake for 30 seconds or until shaker is frosty. Pour into ice-filled lowball glasses and serve with a slice of grapefruit.


STRAWBERRY MOON COCKTAIL

This cocktail is dedicated to the full, 'strawberry moon' that lights up the sky in a spectacular way at the beginning of summer each year. 
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Ingredients for 2 cocktails:

6 Strawberries (4 muddles and 2 whole)

10 thyme leaves (will work with marjoram or oregano)

5 ounces Highland Park Magnus Scotch Whisky (read more about the whisky below)

2 ounces lemon juice

1.5 ounces Simple syrup

4 ounces club soda (optional)

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients (except club soda) in a cocktail shaker and shake. Strain into ice-filled glasses and top each with 2 ounces club soda, if desired. 

Learn more about the whisky!

Highland Park Magnus Scotch Whisky is named after Magnus Eunson, the founder of Highland Park.  Magnus was a direct descendant of the Vikings who settled on Orkney hundreds of years ago. He set up an illicit still in a a small stone hut at High Park, Kirkwall, still the site of the distillery today.
And, while officially, Highland Park was founded in 1798, that’s really just the year the authorities caught up with Magnus – he was certainly making whisky before that!
The Magnus is a single malt whisky, matured in Sherry seasoned American oak casks, that delivers notes of sweet vanilla, overlaid with a distinctive aromatic smokiness.

 

 

 

 

 

Surf And Turf On The Barbie — Shrimp And Lamb Paired With McGuigan Wines

Surf And Turf On The Barbie — Shrimp And Lamb Paired With McGuigan Wines

Join me on a Wine Pairing Weekend, an Aussie Grilling Adventure! Try these two fabulous recipes — lamb chops and shrimp on the barbie — from my friends at McGuigan Wines in the land down under!

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Roast Chicken And Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir Made By The McIntyres In The Mornington Peninsula (A Wine Pairing Weekend! #WinePW)

Roast Chicken And Moorooduc Estate Pinot Noir Made By The McIntyres In The Mornington Peninsula (A Wine Pairing Weekend! #WinePW)

Join me on a Wine Pairing Weekend with three “M”s: Moorooduc Estate Winery in the Mornington Peninsula, owned by the McIntyres! Wines paired with roast chicken and potato salad. #WinePW on Saturday, May 12th at 11 a.m. EST.

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