Try fizzy, sweet and sparkling wines

One of the missing links to my knowledge of wine has always been the array of before and after dinner champagnes, sparkling wines, ports and grape-based exotic and vibrant drinks like grappa, vin sante, sherry and vermouth.
Port is a beautifully sweet, powerful wine, mostly consumed after dinner and is especially delectable with chocolate. Its genetic home is Portugal but England embraced it as its own and some of the finest brands of port still come from the “mother country.”
The best Port grapes come from the Douro Valley in Northeast Portugal where a town, Oporto, gave it the name. The steep hillsides on both sides of the Douro make the vineyards some of the most challenging in the world. Roots have been known to go some 65 feet into the ground for stability and to survive the blazing hot summer days.
In California, Pedroncelli in Sonoma makes “Four Grapes” 2005 Vintage Port in the Dry Creek area. The most popular Portugese grapes are grown on the estate and aged four years before bottling, softening and maturing the wine.
Alcohol content is 19 percent, emphasizing ripe berries, caramel and toffee aromas that lead to warm spice, raspberry and cream soda on the palate. This is the ultimate Port value at $18 for a 500-ml. bottle. Look it up at www.pedroncelli.com.
Madeira comes from the island of the same name off the coast of Africa, which is a Portugese colony. It was the wine of choice at the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence and considered the most prestigious after-dinner wine at the time. It is a fortified (small amount of brandy), mostly white wine with a similar 19 percent alcohol content.
Not all sparkling wine can be called champagne; only those from the region of Champagne France, made with chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier.  The method of production, “Methode Champenoise” can be used worldwide, but the Champagne French keep a lid on the brand. 
Other old world sparkling wines that are popular are in Italy are Prosecco and Moscato D’Asti. One of the most respected champagnes is Dom Perignon. The 2002, which is available now, is $149.99 in most retail stores. Fresh almonds and dried fruit capture the palate, along with intensely floral, perfumed jasmine that leads a tropical surge from the chardonnay base. Some of the best domestic sparkling wines come from Oregon and California. 
Argyle from the Willamette Valley is refined and elegant in its 2000 vintage. ($60). On the value side, Mumm Napa Valley is just $20 and V. Sattui Brut Napa Valley with ripe flavors of apple pie is just $22.
 Just up the road in Temecula, the veteran sparkling wine maker, medal and award winner Jon McPherson is expanding his skills in this style of wine for South Coast Winery. Long known for his expertise in the “Methode Champenoise” style, he has now released a 2010 pinot grigio for sparkling wine. McPherson has long admired the Italian style of winemaking and this time looked to the Alto Adige district of Italy for this bright citrus and delicate apple taste. McPherson recommends it, not just for celebration, but paired to a seafood or chicken dinner.
In South Coast’s Vineyard Rose Restaurant, mixed drinks are made with a grape-based Italian favorite called grappa, made from the skin of the grape. Grappa has a uniquely different quality about it and no two grappas taste quite the same. Jacobi Poli was chosen as supplier, among the oldest in use today. More than seven popular drinks are now woven with the popular grappa. Learn more at www.wine
resort.com.
 Wine Bytes
—Il Fornaio in Del Mar opens its 2011 Festa Regionale Series now to Jan. 16.  The regional cuisine is the friuli-venezie with local pastas, secondi and dolce. Wines of the regions are also featured. For reservations, call 1-888-ITALIAN.
—Meritage Wine Market presents a World Cabernet Face-off Fri. Jan. 7 from 6 to 8pm. There is a $20 fee. Call (760) 479-2500 for winery names.
— Bacchus Wine Market has its famous Blind Tasting Game, in the Gaslamp District of Downtown San Diego, from 2 to 8:30 p.m. Jan 8. Cost is $15. They brown bag eight wines and taste each. Prize for closest picks. RSVP at (619) 236-0005.
— Curds and Wine in Clairemont has a Winemaking Class from 1 to 2 p.m. Jan. 8. This is free to the public. Call (858) 384-6566 for details.
— La Costa Wine Company and the Wine Smarties present a “Blind Taste Like a Pro” Seminar from 3 to 5 p.m. Jan. 15. Cost is $40 each and five wines are tasted. RSVP at (619) 955-8884.

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