Friday, March 29, 2013

In-home dance party

Triple the action slow jamz duet edition!

It's so crazy that so many people only produce one amazing thing in their lives, and The Voice has produced like a million. One of which is this:

Which is basically the uptempo version of this:

Which borrowed heavily from the original and best ode to using your ex as an excuse to drink (duet category), which is this:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Wine + OkCupid

For anyone who's dubious of internet dating, allow me to change your mind entirely. This is a real message I got on OkCupid:
Ok, so the guy lives in New York. State. But I feel like maybe I should move there. Because, I mean, hello, free husband. Love is real, guys! Love is so f-ing real.

And while most people say you can't find answers at the bottom of a glass, I've found that tipsy online dating makes the guys more appealing but saves me from the consequences of most public instances of beer goggles. The only problem is if you're buzzed, you're far more likely to mix up "your" and "you're" which is a weird deal breaker a lot of people seem to have. Call me old fashioned, but I firmly believe that the only deal breaker should be hotness. Internet dating with a good bottle of vino is the most romantic way to drink alone. Yes, I know about writers and their drinking problems. I'm saying romantic. You're thinking romanticized.

But in some seriousness, wine is a good topic for OkCupid, and not just if you love it. On my profile, under "Things I'm good at" is "kind of knowing about wine." While I haven't yet gotten desperate enough to calculate which line in my profile gets the most responses, I will say this one has probably gotten the best responses overall. Guys who respond to the wine line tend to be quick to cut to the chase and go for the date (the most important quality in an internet suitor, because who needs another email pen pal? That's what 99% of my friends are already), often asking me to impart on them my mid-level oenophilia over a glass of the good stuff in the very first message. Really, that's what makes the responses the best: willingness to meet me in person at a neutral location and buy me a glass of wine. Also I always offer to pay and mean it. With standards this low, it's a wonder I'm single. And yet, the personality persists.

But even non-drinkers can get in on this. Lines about wine tend to be subtle but important dividers that can be used to your advantage. One guy told me he liked a specific region of Spanish wines but was also down with a bottle of Two Buck Chuck (obviously, I responded). He expressed a point of view about wine and about life in general. This point of view, that he has taste but isn't a total snob, is in line with my own. One could have just as much success with lines in their profile like "Message me if... you don't give a shit about wine and are happier with a PBR" or "I've forgotten more about wine than Wilfred Wong will ever know" or "I don't drink, but I appreciate a good donut the way ultra-charming blogger Ali Schouten appreciates any bottle of wine." Respective responses: "Let's go get a beer," "I know an ultra chic wine bar. I'd love to take you" and "Let's eat 10,000 donuts off each other's taut, naked bodies which are taut in spite of said donuts because they do not have a cushion of booze-fat surrounding them."

The best part is, lines like this weed out people you don't want anyway. I don't want a guy who can't get at least a little bit into my stumbling, aspirational food and wine pseudo-snobbery. Line A doesn't want snobbery. Line B doesn't want the snobbery to be pseudo. And Line C doesn't want someone who doesn't love donuts, aka they don't want a full-on monster.

So pour yourself a glass, crack open a box of Krispy Kremes, and put your best face forward. On the internet only. You should definitely pair this activity with sweatpants and a distinctive lack of bra. If you're wearing makeup, you're doing it wrong. Who knows? Maybe this will lead to true love:

The New Yorker: also excellent online dating fodder. And if you want more fascinating tips and tricks of dating politics in general, be sure to check out this blog.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Well this is super useful

BAM let's eat!


I'm pretty sure my last relationship ended because I have feelings and things from Target. To be fair, I have some pretty annoying feelings and I don't just shop at Target, I'm one of those idiots who brags about shopping at Target. But the guy was a snob with his shit together, and I'm... well, I'm a different kind of snob than that. It was this I reflected upon as I opened a bottle of Two Buck Chuck and, thanks to "Sideways," the most notoriously bad grape varietal of it. Ladies and gentlemen, the Charles Shaw 2011 Merlot.

Charles Shaw got its reputation for being good the year it bought some extra wine from great winemakers. Since then, it's been sold to the Franzia brothers (not to be confused with Franzia, which they have since sold off themselves). The quality has since declined but its reputation has remained surprisingly good.

I used to drink this shit all the time, back when I thought Syrah made the best sangria, a theory I'm pretty sure I came up with based on the fact that "Syrah" is the grape varietal that most sounds like "sangria." And yes, I'm aware that isn't even that close. Since taking wine classes, I hadn't been drinking Charles Shaw, and not just because of the guy I was dating at the time: Shelby Ledgerwood hates the stuff. In the cutest way, but still, she's not a fan.

But I thought it would be fun to use my new skills to try out an old favorite. I always buy Two Buck Chuck when I make charoset for Passover. Any wine is good when you mix it with honey and cinnamon and stir in a bunch of green apples and pistachios (damnit, I just gave away the whole recipe!), so why not spend as little as possible? After lamenting that the price is now 2.49 a bottle, I selected the Merlot, along with a nice Kosher wine for actual Passover drinking, and went on my merry way. That's pretty much everything that has happened to me since Thursday.

I often find cheap Merlot smells like candy corn. I've heard other people say waxy, which is halfway there. I once smelled the same aroma in class with a good Merlot and called it caramel, which Shelby Ledgerwood said was totally correct. But it's candy corn.

This little gem is no different. It tastes like if the candy corn people decided to do a wine flavor. It's high in acid and low in other aromatics, though there is a wet stone aroma you're supposed to only find in Sauvignon Blancs but I smell all the time in reds. I think Shelby calls it peet moss.

So there you have it: candy corn and peet moss. I'll be honest: this doesn't taste as good as it did before I'd tried a bunch of good wines. But I'll still totally drink it. Because even if I don't like this wine so much, I like what it represents about me. I like all the parties I've been to and late night talks I've had and scripts I've written will sipping on this so-called swill because I just didn't care. I like the memories and I like to think it's not the end of making them.

Also, I'm really poor, and there's perfectly good alcohol in here.

Pair with: ranch dressing, five beers, not being a dick.

Yeah, this glass is for white wine. What of it?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

WTF are...

Tannins. What are they? Where do they come from? Who's peach is this, can I have it? It's not labeled. But then, how do you label a peach? These are just some of the questions you might have.

Tannins are molecules that taste bitter and cause dryness in the mouth. But what seems like bad-tasting dork-science is actually a crucial part of wine, especially if it's meant to age. And what were once thought to be nutritionally neutral at best are now known to be good for our health. So bring on the dark chocolate, pair it with a nice red wine, and read on.

Tannins come into wine a couple different ways. First, grape skins have tannins. Since red wine is red because of skin contact, it generally has more tannins than white. The amount of tannins is influenced by the thickness of the skin and the time spent in contact with it. Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, for example, are thick skinned grapes, so they tend to yield tannic wines. Because the skins contain aromatics, sometimes winemakers will do a cold soak for whites. This means they allow the wine to spend some time in contact with the skins quickly, just to extract a little flavor. This will up the astringency (dry mouth factor, and how tannins are referred to in white wines). Winemakers will taste grapes for their "physiological ripeness" which is, in part, a judgement of their level of tannin (as opposed to their physical ripeness, which is just how ripe the fruit is).

Another place we get tannins is from wood. So an oak-aged Cabernet is going to be crazy tannic, and an oaked Chardonnay may have more tannins than an unoaked or lightly oaked Pinot Noir, a thin-skinned grape. Tannins help a wine age, so oak is often used for this purpose. This is also why red wines age best.

More bonuses? While tannins give headaches to some people, they improve vascular health in everyone. Antioxidants in red wine have also been shown to decrease the risk of cancer.

But sometimes tannins can be a bit much, their texture getting in the way of the wine's flavor. This is when we decant wines. If a wine is meant to be aged and we open it early, or just has too many tannins for our liking, we can speed up the aging process by pouring it out of the bottle and letting it relax for a spell. As the wine sits, the tannins link up and sink to the bottom of the vessel. Then they're not so strong. Most wines, however, do not need to be decanted, and contact with oxygen at room temperature will cause aromatics to release, making the wine blander than it ought to be. So don't decant unless the tannins are really getting on your nerves.

Fat softens tannins, which is why we serve red meats with tannic wines like Cabernet and Syrah. But tannins combined with fish oils will taste metallic, while tannins plus another bitter element like heirloom lettuces will create an overwhelmingly bitter sensation. If you like your big reds, make sure you give them a bold meal so they can be at their best.

What do you think, J, they ready?

Monday, March 18, 2013

WASP wine

They call it 2010 Cut The Fluff. I call it The Real Housewives of Trader Joe's. 

If last week's white was a cheerleader, this wine is a cheerleader who grew up, married the quarterback, divorced him, fooled around with Kelsey Grammer for a while, started a perfume line after her single dropped and thinks her botox is fooling everyone. She'll throw herself at you if you make enough money and throw herself at you if you talk back to her at her own garden party (cause how else can she throw a glass of wine in your face?).

Topping out at a hefty 14.2% ABV, this is one boozy white. With melons and florals on the nose giving way to a rich body with peach notes and surprisingly little sweetness on the palate, this sinful, slightly savory wine is a pleasure to sip, if a little showy (omg but do NOT tell it I said that). When this wine decided to "Cut the Fluff," it meant that in the way all Real Housewives mean it when they say something like, "I'm just going to be honest with you" which is to say it means things are about to get real complicated and a little punchy in here. Luckily, with wine, that's a good thing. It's a California Central Coast blend, but really, don't all WASPs have a little west coast heritage and something extra in them these days?

Serve with fried chicken, smoked salmon, or some other salty situation to make the fruit flavors sing. Pairing with Bugles and a Real Housewives marathon? Perfection. Cheddar Chex Mix and the second season of Girls you're watching via your friend's parents' HBOGo account (thanks, Stacey)? A dream. Straight from the bottle on your way to 7-11 to get this stuff because damnit, Ali Schouten, you make me crave? Right behind you.

Oh, and the cork is pretty.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

In-home dance party

Hitmaker shake your moneymaker (brain)

Sauvignon Blanc and BITCHES!!!

If the stereotypical high school cheerleader were a wine, she would be Sauvignon Blanc. Peppy, cheery, and sharp on the palate, Sauvignon Blanc is the acerbic queen bee you always wish you had to hate. Of course, real cheerleaders aren't actually that cool anymore because girls play sports now, but in our minds, cheerleaders are stone cold hotties with great lotion. Sauvignon Blanc, which tends to have core notes of wet stone and pink grapefruit coupled with high acidity and little sweetness, is just that. And most importantly, it doesn't apologize for it.

Callaway 2011 Sauvignon Blanc is no exception. From nearby Temecula and available widely, this wine is everything a sexy little Sauvignon Blanc should be. Those core notes are there, plus some tropical fruit on the palate. I'll confess, because I aspire to be an unapologetic bitch, that I made a truly remarkable white wine spritzer with it that was way better than anything you drank last week, even if it sounds like something your grandmother would order. This wine kicked ass with pesto pasta dotted with anchovies (yeah, I like those too, what of it, 1990s pizza jokes?)

This is a wine to drink with your girls while watching "Clueless" or lounging by the pool. This is a wine to drink while practicing your Mavis Gary sneer. This is a wine that knows what it is and likes itself. Even if it thinks everyone else is kind of lame and isn't afraid to say so. And that makes it damn delicious. Because after all, isn't that refreshing?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Make it a treat

In her book "The Bedwetter," Sarah Silverman reveals her wonderful mantra: "make it a treat." What Sarah means is not to eat and drink and smoke every time it's available, but to make it something special. While my habits might not seem to follow this philosophy, I always make an effort to enjoy my treats to the fullest, however often I indulge. I inhale the scent of my wine and peanut butter cups alike, and try not to focus on the aroma when I'm in my favorite hardcore workout class. If you're going to treat yourself, treat yourself right.

No wine is a better make-it-a-treat than Cocobon. Another Trader Joe's recommendation that did not disappoint, Cocobon is as rich as the name suggests. With chocolate and cherries on the nose and a crazy fantastic mocha flavor on the palate, this wine puts the lush in luscious because I cannot stop sipping it!

Pair this with dessert. It'll pop with potato chips or peanut butter pretzels. Let it linger on the palate as you have more brie than you should. This is wine to drink with Godiva from your sweetheart, a hot, silky bath or an old episode of The Millionaire Matchmaker. Guess which one I went for?

In conclusion, nobody knows how to make it a treat like Tom and Donna.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Blood mimosas

My wonderful friend Alexis hosted an amazing brunch this weekend. She provided a ridiculous spread and asked each guest to bring champagne or juice. She encouraged us to get creative, which I found threatening, because I don't like when other people try to be creative. Trying to be creative is all I have. Luckily, her encouragement was directed toward juice. That allowed for two wonderful things to happen: 1. Someone brought black cherry juice which was fucking FANTASTIC with champagne and 2. I got to be the only one to bring this bad boy:

Reggiano Lambrusco Le Grotte. Red sparkling wine? With only 8% alcohol? From Trader Joe's?! "What a unique and special breakfast treat, Ali, I will def invite you back," said everyone. But seriously, this stuff is mega delicious. It's meant to be served just a little bit cold (about 10 minutes in the fridge) and is sweet and fruity without being even close to cloying. This isn't sparkling rose. This is something else entirely. The label calls it "soft red wine." I think it would taste good from a straw.

I didn't want my experimental mimosa ingredient to be alone in the world, so I peer pressured my bestie Julia into bringing some kind of red juice. She brought cranberry, but by then we were all enamored with black cherry juice. Julia handled the situation gracefully because "trying to be creative" isn't "all she has in life." I would have cried if no one drank my stuff. And not in the bedroom, either, on top of people's coats and away from conversation. I would have cried right in the middle of the party. But did you click the link on Julia's name? She's got her shit together. She's so special to my heart.

Anyway, Bloody Marys can pretty much blow me, so I was psyched when I discovered this business actually tastes amazing:

Start with black cherry juice, then add an equal amount of this red Reggiano Lambrusco Le Grotte. Top with a splash of dry sparkling white wine and plop in a couple strawberry slices for bonus fizz. You'll have a surprisingly light, wickedly red and totally appropriate breakfast cocktail sure to get you plenty of likes on Instagram. Or whatever you get on Instagram. I'm not very good at Instagram. Please follow me on Instagram (@schoutout).

Thursday, March 7, 2013

In-home dance party

You're welcome bop bop bopbopbopbopbopbop

Wine crush

You probably think this post is about how grapes are crushed. You're wrong. I won't learn that until Vintage I with Shelby Ledgerwood, Wednesday nights starting in April.

This is about having a crush on a wine.

A wine crush is a special thing, tender and beautiful like a regular crush but better because it gets you drunk and you never have to think about text message etiquette. It's when you find a wine that you can't stop drinking and when you finally do, you can't stop dreaming about it.

I'm drinking one of mine right now.

(the background is a dress I bought for 1 dollar)

I first had the Charles Smith 2011 Boom Boom Syrah with my mom and brother. After a discussion with the waiter about how Mom and Sky don't normally like Malbec, he brought us a taste and they liked it enough for me to get a glass. The understanding that we were sharing the three different glasses of wine we ordered was undermined by the fact that I was really the only Malbec drinker. I got this. I have manners. My Mom and brother pay for everything when we go out because I am a poor, starving artist. They make a huge deal when I so much as spring for parking, as if I'm the most generous person on earth. I was obviously going to drink the Malbec.

But you know when you're obviously going to go out again with that really nice girl you met on JDate because she seems not full-on crazy and hot in a stable way, where she won't look totally different in the morning, and why not, she's nice and went to Brown and maybe her weird sense of humor will get less annoying over time, and then you meet a lady at a party and she's hammered and steals your hat but not in a cute way, she has no intention of ever giving it back, and she is T-R-O-U-B-L-E for SURE but you have to see her again, you just can't get enough of her, and old JDate just goes out the window?

Well, that's what happened to me when Sky ordered this wine.

(I rest wine atop health insurance rejection letters because I am the king of my own destiny)

I have never written down the info of a wine at a restaurant with the plan to buy it in the future. But then, I'd never felt this way about a wine before. I swiped Sky's glass again and again, not wanting to admit the hold it had on me and swapping our goblets for good. I was hooked. It stole all of my hats and I loved it.

And now, drinking it again, it's all coming back. After the first sip, I start to smile, giddy that it's as good as I remembered, happy that, on sale (!) at BevMo for 13.99 a bottle, it seemed to like me, too. At least enough to be priced reasonably.

To me, this wine is everything. Smokey with plenty of pepper like a good Syrah should be, it's also got layers of fruit and earth in there. Full, but lighter than most Syrahs, I swear, every time I give it a sniff, there's something new. A whiff of it still yields green bell pepper, blackberry, oak. Give it a swirl and there's black cherry, vanilla, smoke. It's got formidable tannins but a juicy quality. Its celebrity twin would be Beyonce: rich and complex and luscious, with so many acts in its career they just blend together elegantly, mysteriously, making you come back to see what its next talent will be. Ooh, just got some raspberry there.

And like a good crush, we don't even have to go all the way. Just sniffing for hours is a thrill, maybe tiny sips now and then. "You're bad," I giggle, as I take the slightest wisp into my mouth.

But it wouldn't be a crush if everybody felt the same. To me--ooh, did I just get leather? I think so--this wine is a straight up treasure. But to others, it's just a red. I looked this wine up to send a link to my dad, and the reviews on the first website I clicked may as well have been written by Negative Nancy and her lesser known friends Bleak Brenda and We Must Have Different Palates and Yours Sucks Janine. But that's fine--that was plum. Definitely plum--if everyone liked my crush as much as I did, I wouldn't stand a chance.

As for pairings, I'd say an open heart. Oh, and I just had it with a Reeses Peanut Butter egg and it was God damn delicious.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

WTF are...

Sulfites. The boogeyman of the wine world, in that a lot of annoying people claim to be allergic to the boogeyman, sulfites often get a bad rap. But what are they, really?

The warning on a label of wine that says it "contains sulfites" simply means it contains sulfer dioxide. And as gross and scary as that sounds, it's a naturally occurring chemical compound found in all wines to some extent, even organic ones. Additional sulfer dioxide is sometimes added as a preservative, and in these cases, there are certain rules about organic wine and how much sulfer dioxide it can contain.

The other place sulfites come into play is in the sanitization of wine and winemaking equipment. Wine is a food product, which means there are health and safety regulations. But soap or other cleaning materials can mess with the wine. Better to sanitize and preserve wine with sulfites, which are already naturally present.

This isn't to say additional sulfite use is undetectable. Overuse can create aromas of matchsticks, burning rubber or mothballs not otherwise found in the wine. A girl in my class was particularly sensitive to this (also the scent of pear. She smelled that shit in every. Single. Wine. Except for the ones that actually smelled like pear). Once Shelby Ledgerwood figured out she was smelling mothballs in wines with more sulfites used, we all stopped hating that girl so much.

It's always good to be wary of what goes into your wine. Pesticides are certainly an issue, and one the wine industry has yet to figure out. Organic wine is different from wine made with organic grapes. Kosher wines no come in a variety of delicious styles, not just Manischewitz. Figure out what's right for you and go for it. But don't be scared of sulfites.

Also don't pretend you're allergic to them. Shelby Ledgerwood says true sulfite allergies are incredibly rare. It's more likely your headache is coming from tannins. More on those soon...

"Back in sulfite-ette cit-ay!" ugh the worst

Monday, March 4, 2013

When gross equals great

Anyone who's ever had a hangover knows that what's great can turn into something gross. But when it comes to wine, what's gross can also turn into something great. That's because the process of making wine can be straight up disgusting.

(heh. this rock looked like a butt)

Let's set aside the fact that until very recently, all wines originally started out as grapes that people stepped on with their bare feet. Let's ignore the unfortunate truth that wine sits out in open vats and we call it "ageing" with an extra "e" that hopefully does not stand for "e. coli." Let's just move on from the whole issue of all the shit that's done to Chardonnay these days. There's still much to discuss.

Wine is primal and natural and timeless. It's delicate, with personality that changes over the years. It breathes. It's alive, and therefore, it's a little nasty. For everyone who talks about how brave the first guy was to eat an oyster, let's just stop for a second and think about the first guy to drink rotten, foot-grape liquid and contemplate its nose and finish. But thank goodness he did (normally I'd say he or she, but when have you ever seen anyone but a dude accept a challenge of "I'll give you a dollar if you drink that whole thing").

Occasionally, a fungus affects wine, causing it to smell mildew-y. This is known as "corked." But while corking is unfortunate, its rarer than the gross things we do to wine to actually make it taste better.

Take Botrytis Cinerea, for example. Yeah, that's not cute. But it's grapes affected with this business, known as "noble rot," that give us the finest Sauternes, a glorious dessert wine from France. In Germany, grapes are monitored for a specific kind of freezing. When this happens, usually at around 3 in the morning, the entire family is woken up to pick the partially frozen grapes to make what is known as "eiswein." Frozen grapes isn't disgusting; waking up at 3 to work in the fields is downright repulsive. But this style is so beloved that other countries try to mimic it by partially freezing their grapes.

Soil is soil which means it's dirt, so you can't really get too upset about it. Especially when you learn that the noted terroir of the Paris Basin, famous for its Kimmeridgean soil (also found at the Cliffs of Dover), is special because it contains THE FOSSILS OF SEA CREATURES FROM THE JURASSIC PERIOD AKA DINOSAUR BONES SORT OF. This includes Champagne, Alsace, and part of the Loire Valley. The good part. Have fun drinking dinosaur bones. No, really, have fun with that. I enjoy making some noises, maybe putting on a triceratops mask if I'm feeling frisky.

(but most days I'm just a snake)

And if you thought noble rot was the end of it sexy scum, you were wrong. "Flor" as it's known in Spain, is what separates "fino" sherry from the rest. That's right, a naturally forming, unplanned, mucky yellow yeast developing atop the ageing wine is what determines the good stuff. Wikipedia is shocked to note that some wine makers used to think these wines were sick, as if this were a bad thing! Yeah, cause when I see pus-colored film on my supposedly edible livelihood, I'm psyched.

Yeast has long been a part of the process, though. It's how wine gets its alcohol. Yeast plus sugar equals carbon dioxide plus alcohol. Once we've got our booze, one would hope we'd be done. Especially if the yeast is dead. But, and if you read last week's article on sparkling wines, you know this is not the case. "Lees ageing" is the process by which the wine sits on the dead yeast cells to give it a toasty, biscuity flavor.

Wine is a weird science. Maybe even the original molecular gastronomy. Jk that's probably fire. But when we drink a glass of wine, we're also drinking years of thoughtful experimentation, bold exploration, and brave taste. We're drinking history and culture and risk taking and commerce and maybe even a little residual yeast. Remember that next time you're complaining about wine costing more than 2 dollars a bottle.

But maybe try to forget it during your next hangover.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Buy champagne that doesn't suck

Champagne is the best, even on a budget. It's the drink of victory, new beginnings and rap songs. It's pretty. It's celebratory.

If you don't have anything to celebrate, you are bad at coming up with excuses to drink. Unless you're a recovering alcoholic (the cooler, more self aware half of my friends just stopped reading) or, like Angie Jordan, it gives you a headache (30 Rock, Season 1, Episode 13, this is the best citation you have ever read), you should be ready to pop some bubbly on a moment's notice. Come on, this is a drink that is totally acceptable to have at brunch that doesn't involve tomato juice. It's fantastic.

Here are some reasons I've had sparkling wine in the past year: 

A wedding (!!!)
My best friend got a job she really wanted
I didn't get a job I really wanted (actually same bottle as above. I bought it for the former, we drank it for the latter. While baking cupcakes. She's the best)
Scrabble was happening
Started a project (script, workout plan, making the bed)
Finished a project (script, bath, this sentence)
Other months

Before Shelby Ledgerwood showed me the ways of wine, I was content to think of all sparkling wine as ultra glam and super delicious and the ideal thing to mix with vodka (no, seriously. Vodka, a some ruby red grapefruit and then the rest of the solo cup champagne? If you're even a little bit under the age of 25 go make yourself five of these immediately and don't drink water because you don't get hangovers anyway and I want to be you). Now, I've got the tiniest bit of taste, and it's threatening to ruin everything.

This article isn't just a list of reasons for you to buy bubbly. It's also full of tips on how you can do that, for not too much money, and without getting a wine that is terrible.

But first, some photos that should give you reasons to celebrate:

There's a thing called The World Famous Crochet Museum in Joshua Tree and it is this tiny but so extensive and this adorable lady owns it! 

Here is some stuff that is inside it:

Crochet roller skates!

Crochet oreos! In a crochet teacup! And my thumb!

Crochet everything!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

When it comes to cheap wine, selection is key. Places like Trader Joe's and BevMo pride themselves on having a good selection of inexpensive wines, and people on hand to tell you about them. But CostCo, Sam's Club and even Rite Aid have some good buys, especially if you use an app like Wine Finder. These stores give you a choice beyond good or cheap; they offer a range of both prices and styles.

Sparkling wine is traditionally very dry. The traditional Champagne method involves two fermentations and ageing. They start with a completely dry (not sweet) still wine that has already been fermented to have some alcohol. Then they add sugar and yeast. Sugar + Yeast = Carbon Dioxide + Alcohol. Most wines are made in big, open vats, so the CO2 dissipates into the air. But on Champagne's second fermentation, it's happening in the bottle, and those bubbles got nowhere else to go. Champagne is aged, too, and this is the key factor in its typical dryness. Lees ageing is a process winemakers use to give wines a toasty, biscuity flavor. Combined with Champagne's high acid and bright, fruity flavors, this is f-ing delicious. It's also a nice way of saying "dead yeast cells." Lees is exactly that. And the only way yeast cells die and get us that lees is when there's no more sugar left. So the way sparkling wine gets its classic flavor is by sitting with yeast carcasses for like 10 months.

If you don't typically like that flavor, you can go for wines that don't use this method. For instance, if you get a sparkling wine made from an aromatic grape, it won't be lees aged so as to let the natural flavors shine. A sparkling moscato, for example. The cheapest champagnes like Andre just add carbon dioxide on the assembly line. But just because a place doesn't use second fermentation doesn't mean they resort to this. Other methods are solid, too. So even if you don't see "Methode Champenoise" (though that's a good sign), it might be good. And if you don't like that toasty flavor anyway, it will be great.

You may notice that both Champagne and champagne are chill with your spellcheck. That's because the Champagne region grows great Chardonnay grapes (perfect for sparkling wine because the high acidity helps it age) and perfected the method of second fermentation. Now, this method makes for the best champagne, so lots of people use it. While in the EU they might get mad at you for even so much putting "Champagne style" on your label, in the USA we don't give a fuck.

But you should. Good winemakers don't need to rip off someone else's name. Sure, Californians can call it champagne, but the good ones don't. They know better. They take pride in their products. So pick a wine that's secure in its identity. It'll be better.

Checking the region, grape and level of dryness and take you a long way. Basically, if there's absolutely no region, that's not too encouraging. Ditto for no grape varietal listed. And dryness should be what you like. How do you know how dry a sparkling wine is? I shall tell you!

Here's the something you need to know that will maybe blow your mind like it blew mind: if you want something extra dry, do not go for something labeled extra dry.


Um, not with that attitude, man. When you're done calling me a liar, keep reading. Wow, there all my second coolest friends go. Shit.

As I mentioned, champagnes are made from a dry base wine and then all their sugar is eaten by yeast that dies and makes it taste extra good. Today, Champagnes, if made in this traditional style, are finished with something sweet, whether it's cognac or still wine, so they're not totally dry. But it's very little. Note: This was not always the case. I did a fun audiobook from the library recently about Champagne and it turns out the old ones were super sweet. But whatever. Anyone who lived before now is stupid anyway.

My point is, there's a specific set of labeling rules for sparkling wines that are crucial to you picking a winner. While each part of the world has different meanings for how many grams of residual sugar are in each of these, the order is always the same. From dry to sweet, it goes:

Brut Zero/Brut Nature/Sans Dosage (little to no sweetness)
Extra Brut (very dry)
Brut (dry, what most sparkling wines are)
Extra Dry/Extra Sec (oh-ho! not a liar! this means "off-dry" which is a little sweeter than dry)
Sec (slightly sweet)
Demi Sec (sweet)
Doux (very sweet)

For that crisp, refreshing flavor we expect from sparkling wine in modern, not stupid times, go for Brut or above.

Finally, a few tips:
-Keep champagne very cold. An ice bucket with water in it will do the trick. Add salt if the champagne isn't starting out right from the fridge to cool it down.
-When opening, turn the bottle, don't pull the cork. See below for an instructional video. I never use a towel or anything, but I do take care to turn the bottle slowly so I open sparkling wine mess-free.
-If you're in the market for a rose, it needs to say that on the label. "Blanc de Noirs" is sparkling white wine made from red grapes (usually Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier). "Blanc de Blancs" is white from white.
-Obama drank Korbel at his inauguration, which is cheap and uses the traditional method. If it's good enough for him and you're not a dick, it should be good enough for you.

Bonus: an opening tutorial