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The 12 Wines of Christmas, 2013 Descendientes de Jose Palacios Petalos

Beth Ribblett

A fun way to introduce you some of our favorite wines in the store that we believe would make great gifts!

Old vine Mencia in Bierzo, Spain

Old vine Mencia in Bierzo, Spain

Our next wine of Christmas  is made by a passionate winemaker who brought a grape and a region back from near extinction...

It's always a great story when some obscure, indigenous grape variety is coaxed back from near extinction by a passionate winemaker.  It is a story that happens only in the ancient wine producing regions of the world, places where historically wine has been made for centuries.  Our story for this post is about Spain and a region in the Northwest quadrant called Bierzo.  

The first written record of wine making in the region was some 2000 years ago by Pliny the Elder and it is continually mentioned throughout history as an important area where grapes were cultivated by the Romans and later by the Christian monks who set up monasteries and hospices to help the pilgrims on their journeys to Santiago de Compostela. Then phylloxera arrived and nearly wiped out Bierzo and it was a very long, slow process to breathe life back into this obscure little region.

But in the 1990's a famous winemaker, Alvaro Palacios, visited Bierzo and saw the potential in the region with its incredibly steep hillside vineyards, distinctive terroirs, and most importantly, ancient vineyards of Mencía—a unique red grape believed brought by French pilgrims during the Middle Ages.  He got distracted by another promising region, Priorato, for a time but he never let go of his dream to make wine from old vine Mencia in Bierzo.

Alvaro and his nephew Ricardo Perez, another up and coming winemaker, came back to the region in 1998 and decided to base their operations in a  little town on Bierzo’s western border named Corullón.   Alvaro and Ricardo's vision was to make great wines from old vineyards in the region. They now make seven wines, including five single-vineyard wines from exceptional terroirs, all made with the once obscure Mencia grape

Our featured wine, the Pétalos del Bierzo, is the entry level, but it’s always a serious effort. Produced from biodynamically farmed small hillside parcels of 60-100 year old vine Mencia grown in rocky slate soil around Corrullón, the wines are bottled without fining or filtration. Petalos has been a long time favorite of the store since I tasted it with Matt Lirette more than 8 years ago and it just seems to get better and better with each year.  Beautiful nose of lavender, incense, spice box, black cherry, and cranberry, with nice weight on the palate, intensity, and layered fruit, it would make a great gift for anyone who can appreciate a well made, balanced with with a great history.

2013 Descendientes de Jose Palacios Petalos
91 pts - Wine Spectator
"Expressive black cherry, currant, licorice, mineral and smoke flavors mingle in this focused red. The texture is gentle but firm, with well-integrated tannins and racy acidity providing structure. A compact wine that shows good intensity. Drink now through 2023. 



The 12 Wines of Christmas, Ca' Del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvee Prestige

Beth Ribblett

A fun way to introduce you some of our favorite wines in the store that we believe would make great gifts!

The beautiful property of Ca' Del Bosco in Franciacorta, Italy

The beautiful property of Ca' Del Bosco in Franciacorta, Italy

Our next wine of Christmas  is a high-quality sparkling that can rival Champagne but from my favorite place in the world!

I'll admit, it took me a long time to appreciate Franciacorta.  As a women obsessed with Italian wine who is in the business, you wouldn't think it would take almost 8 years to get "it".  But in my defense, the problem with Franciacorta was that its availability in the US had been scarce and with only 11% of its production sold abroad, it was something I rarely got to taste. Then I went to northern Italy for the first time and Franciacorta was everywhere!  And affordable - and made by producers I'd never heard of - and I could drink a different one everyday to start my meal.  I became obsessed with tasting every Franciacorta I could find!  And I finally got "it".  High quality bubbles that could rival Champagne from my favorite place in the world?  What a no brainer!

So after that visit in 2014, I came back home and started asking our wholesalers about Franciacorta and excitedly they have been trickling  into the market.  Berlucchi, Ferghettina, Bellavista, Ca del Bosco, Cantadi Castaldi, Montenisa, Barone Pizzini...I'm was so excited that we bought a new shelf just to accommodate all of the Franciacorta (as well as the 50+ different bottles of sparkling from all over the world! ) I want to buy!  

Tasting at Ca' Del Bosco, April 2015

Tasting at Ca' Del Bosco, April 2015

Which brings us to my next in the lineup of 12 wines of Christmas, the Ca' Del Bosco Cuvee Prestige, the elegant wine in the elegant package that has been a staple on our shelves and at the bar since I returned from that trip. It is a great way to introduce people to the quality bubbles from the region.  We were able to visit there this year and the property is as stunning as their wine!

The Cuvee Prestige, a staple on our shelves and at the bar.

The Cuvee Prestige, a staple on our shelves and at the bar.

NV  Ca del Bosco Franciacorta Cuvee Prestige Brut
Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 91 points
The NV Franciacorta Cuvée Prestige Brut offers a sophisticated and stylish presentation with exotic fruit, baked bread, peach cobbler and Golden Delicious apple. This pretty Cuvée (made with 75% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Bianco and 15% Pinot Nero) offers a great sense of richness and creaminess that adds to the fine and silky nature of the perlage. It has the natural acidity and bright freshness to pair with raw seafood.

The 12 Wines of Christmas, Valpolicella from the Veneto

Beth Ribblett

A fun way to introduce you some of our favorite wines in the store that we believe would make great gifts!

Today's feature is about a region, so you are getting 3 wines in one post!

Packing the punch of extraction and purity of fruit that equal some of the best the New World has to offer, the wines of Valpolicella, and especially those made in the Recioto and Amarone styles, are the perfect "gateway" wines. In terms of wine gifts, one of the great things about Valpolicella is that you can experience the different aging and vinification processes across a spectrum of price points and styles. Basic Valpolicella is usually priced in the teens, Valpolicella Classico and Superior are priced in the high teens to low 20's, Ripassa style usually starts in the 20's to mid 30's, while most Amarone and Recioto (Recioto is sold usually in 375 ml bottles) wines begin in the $50 range and go from there.

It all starts with Valpolicella, an area within the Veneto region of Northeast Italy around Lake Garda. Like “Chianti”, Valpolicella is a region, not a grape and the red wines produced there are blends dominated by Corvina, with Corvinone and Rondinella usually lending support. Molinara, Negrara, Rossignola, Dindarella and a few other local varieties are also allowed, although have diminished in importance. But it is Corvina that forms the backbone of the blend with its silky tannins and deliciously fruity, smoky red cherry flavors and aromas with the deeply colored Rondinella grape adding red currant and citrus components plus color-intensity to the blend.

What can be difficult to understand about Valpolicella is that there is a hierarchy of styles. The lighter fruitier styles of Valpolicella Classico wines are what most people associate with the zone, but these are actually more recent creations. They were preceded in history by the sweet Recioto della Valpolicella and it’s dry counterpart, Amarone.

Recioto, by most accounts came into fashion during Roman times when wines were made sweet and high in alcohol to preserve them during long travel. The Romans are also said to have developed the process of “appassimento”, in which the grapes were dried in farmhouses on straw mats which transforms them into shriveled, sweet, tiny concentrated berries. To make Recioto, they press these tiny dried berries but stop fermentation early to retain the high sugar level.

Amarone is said to have come about possibly as a mistake, someone left a barrel of Recioto unattended too long, the yeasts in the barrel continued to work and the wine fermented to dryness. Now aged a minimum of 25 months in oak, they are densely concentrated and deeply colored with luscious ripe fruit balanced with a savory core of alcohol, acidity and tannins. Think leather, coffee, chocolate, stewed blackberry fruit all wrapped up in a rich, viscous and heavenly concoction that just so happens to come out of a wine bottle.

Straight Valpolicella Classico (no oak aging required) are the perfect easy drinking wines to have with pizza or pasta or sitting on the porch on warm summer evening. They are vinified in the traditional manner using fresh grapes and usually have little or no oak and present a fresh, fruit forward style with light tannins and tart acidity. The Classico Superior wines can definitely take on a more serious note with 14 months of oak aging required. You have more structure and complexity present which makes them a better match with game and roasted meats, although they are usually wonderfully pleasant on their own as well.

Valpolicella Ripassa is a different animal yet. The term Ripassa means “re-passed” and was made famous by Agricola Masi in the 1960’s. The straight Valpolicella, produced earlier in the usual red wine fashion, is passed "back over" the lees of the Amarone or Recioto after their fermentation is complete. The lees or pomace includes yeast, grape seeds, pulp, stems and skin and traces of alcohol. All of this leads to a second fermentation and the creation of Ripassa Valpolicella whose color, depth and flavors are greater than those of the original Valpolicella. Sometimes referred to as baby Amarone, it is also ready to drink much sooner than the Amarone and usually comes in at a third of the price.

Currently we are carrying a few different styles of Valpolicella, each chosen for their unique expression of the region, vinification process and quality. But as with everything else in our store, my selection changes frequently although you will always find at least one Valpolicella on our shelves.

Valpolicella Offerings at Swirl ranging from $15 to $75:

  • Zenato Valpolicella Superiore
  • Tommaso Bussola Ca' del Laito Ripasso
  • Giuliano Rosati Amarone della Valpolicella
  • Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella


The 12 Wines of Christmas, 2010 Cenyth Red Blend

Beth Ribblett

A fun way to introduce you some of our favorite wines in the store that we believe would make great gifts!

The label for Cenyth is designed by artist Julia Jackson

The label for Cenyth is designed by artist Julia Jackson

Our 4th wine of Christmas is made by a female French winemaker with a famous winemaker father.

It's not often that I fall for a California wine. Italy and France are my wine drinking countries of choice - I like acid, lots of structure and subtle fruit and I'm fine with a little oak on my wines as long as I can't taste it or smell it!  That being said it is really nice when I find US producers that make wine with an old world sensibility. 

I tasted one such wine with Beth Reinhard a few years back when she was still working for Republic.  She didn't tell me what it was and the label gave nothing away so I was left to form an unbiased opinion based on purely on my nose and palate.  Both of which told me old world, probably right bank Bordeaux due to the softer tannins and more blue and black fruit,  not young - there was definitely secondary and some tertiary flavors - but not old either.  

When Beth revealed the origins of the wine I liked it even was a Bordeaux blend made by a young female French winemaker in Sonoma; 2009 vintage and the first vintage she ever made!  But she wasn't just any young French woman as her famous father was Pierre Seillan, a revered veteran of the industry. Pierre is the current winemaker at six properties sprawled across multiple winemaking areas: Vérité and Anakota in Sonoma County, Château Lassègue and Château Vignot in Saint-Émilion, Arcanum Valadorna in Tuscany, and Bellevue Seillan in Gascony. It was at the very last property on that list – Bellevue Seillan, a family estate – that Pierre began his wine career. Pierre then did some work in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux. But Pierre’s real breakout project came some time later – and on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. In the mid-1990s, Pierre came to America, to Sonoma, and created Vérité. Vérité’s wines have garnered high praise from the critics, including seven 100 point scores from Robert Parker. 

Helene & Julia

Helene & Julia

Obviously the apple doesn't fall far from the tree as the 38-year-old Hélène Seillan began her career in the wine business seven years ago while working as assistant winemaker her father's Bordeaux property where she also received her degree in Viticulture and Oenology.  She split time between France and Sonoma where she became fast friends with artist Julia Jackson of Jackson Family Estates.  

 Cenyth represents the ‘second generations’ of two families coming together to showcase an artistic expression of the place they call home, Sonoma County. Hélène Seillan creates the art inside the bottle while Julia Jackson created the art on the label. It is two women, working together to carry on a friendship that started almost 20 years ago. 

The 2009 received a 93 point rating by Robert Parker and her second vintage, which is even more gorgeous than the first, received a 94 from Parker.  Here's his review:  

Robert Parker's Wine Advocate, 94 points:
The 2010 Cenyth is composed of 54% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Franc and 12% Cabernet Sauvignon. The alcohol is 13.4% and the fruit was sourced from the same vineyards. Very Bordeaux-like (no doubt due to the lower alcohol profile), it offers up notes of red and black currants, cedarwood, spice box, vanillin, licorice, underbrush and unsmoked cigar tobacco. The wine reveals fine-grained tannins and beautiful density and richness. Compared to the 2009, which is a Medoc-like blend, the 2010 is more of a right bank St.-Emilion-styled wine. 

So if an elegant California wine made by a talented French female winemaker sounds appealing, this beautiful wine in an equally beautiful package should fit the bill!  $52

THE 12 WINES OF CHRISTMAS, 2014 Terre Nere Cuvée delle Vigne Niche Calderara Sottana Etna Bianco

Beth Ribblett

A fun way to introduce you some of our favorite wines in the store that we believe would make great gifts!

The majestic and awe inspiring Monte Etna - Sicily Trip, October 2009

The majestic and awe inspiring Monte Etna - Sicily Trip, October 2009

Our 3rd wine of Christmas hails from one of the most exciting wine regions on the planet...

The first time I tasted a wine from the Etna, I knew that something very special was happening in the eastern part of Sicily.  We were in New York in late January of 2009 for an Italian Trade Commission wine event and we needed a bottle of wine for our friend Lisa's birthday party. I had become intrigued by the region while researching the wine producing areas of the island for our wine and culinary tour later that year, but there was nothing from the Etna in any of our wholesaler's portfolios.  In fact, like me most had never even heard of the region until I started inquiring about the wines.  

So, needing a bottle of wine to take with us to a little party, we popped into a shop in the East Village, that actually had a decent selection of Sicilian wines and there on the shelf was a wine by one of the producers I had been researching, Terre Nere.   The 2006 Etna Rosso was under $20, which was very reasonable for anything coming from the area, so I was really excited to try it.  And needless to say we were all impressed as it was lush (a prominent quality in the 2006 vintage) and easy drinking, with a purity of fruit and hints of dark cherries, tobacco and wild herbs, it had an earthiness and texture reminiscent of Burgundy but is distinctly Sicilian. Made with Nerello Mascalese, a native grape to the region, I was hooked and needed to know more about this region.

Our friends at Uncorked had access to the Terre Nere wines and got samples brought in for all of us to try - I still remember standing at our bar tasting the entire line up with Nick Selby and how impressed we were - impressed enough for Uncorked to take the risk and bring in whatever the importer could allocate for Uncorked's annual portfolio tasting.  And arriving with the wines was the producer himself Marco de Grazia, considered one of the pioneers of the region. You can imagine how excited I was when Marco agreed to host an intimate, seated tasting of his wines at the shop as well as a few others he is importing.  Soft spoken, loquacious and extremely passionate about the region, it was wonderful to hear about his approach to wine making on the Etna, to taste the wines with him and hear his stories about what makes this area so special and still one of the most exciting wine producing regions in the world today.

Marco De Grazia presenting at Swirl

Marco De Grazia presenting at Swirl

And while it is the reds from the region that first captivated me and receive the most praise from the press, the whites are truly extraordinary.  The indigenous Caricante with its crisp acidity, racy minerality and aromatic, pure, and lemon, tart apple and white peach fruit can be reminiscent of great Chablis when in the right hands.  It has excellent ageing potential, copes well with the searing summer heat and cold winters on Etna, and loves the black lava soils.  So it is the Terre Nere single vineyard white that is my 3rd wine of Christmas, but I do adore his regular Etna Bianco as well.

2014 Terre Nere Cuvée delle Vigne Niche Calderara Sottana Etna Bianco -The Calderara Sottana is a cru vineyard, producing the highest quality grapes at a high elevation. By far the rockiest cru in the appellation, in the roughest parts you can’t see the soil for the black volcanic pumice carpeting the vineyards. "Niche" is the local dialect for small plot and this particular plot is on the north side of the Etna at an elevation of 600-900 meters.   Large used French oak barrels are used for 10 months of aging and then another 3-4 months in the bottle before release.  Yellow flowers, minerals, lemon zest and a touch of smoke on the nose. Densely packed, bright and juicy, offering orchard fruit, flint and herb flavors. Finishes vibrant, complex and long. 

This is a super small production wine that would work best for a collector or anyone who loves high quality, high acid white wines from one of the most unique terroirs on the planet.  Great for a Chablis drinker or Loire Valley wine lover who wants to venture out in to new and exciting territory!  Under $35 and a steal for the level of quality here.

The amazing black volcanic soils of the Etna

The amazing black volcanic soils of the Etna

Also in the shop from Terre Nere:

  • 2014 Terre Nere Etna Bianco
  • 2014 Terre Nere Etna Rosato
  • 2013 Terre Nere Etna Rosso
  • 2013 Terre Nere 'Guardiola' Etna Rosso 

THE 12 WINES OF CHRISTMAS, 2012 Alloro Vineyards Willamette Valley Pinot Noir

Beth Ribblett

A fun way to introduce you some of our favorite wines in the store that we believe would make great gifts!

The "villa" at Alloro Vineyards was designed to reflect owner David Nemarnik's Italian heritage.

The "villa" at Alloro Vineyards was designed to reflect owner David Nemarnik's Italian heritage.

Our second wine of Christmas was destined to be on our shelves even before we tasted it...

The first time I heard the name Alloro Vineyards I was on a plane to Portland for our first trip to Oregon in 2012.  Anytime you are headed to wine country, anywhere in the world, people have opinions on where you "must go".  As this guy spouted off about Alloro to his friend, I didn't pay much attention to him, but I did file the name in the back of my brain for future reference.

 As you drive down Highway 99 from Portland into the Willamette Valley, the first AVA you hit is Chehalem Mountain with the town of Sherwood marking the entrance to wine country.  Blue and white signs along the road announce which wineries are where and your heart starts to beat a bit faster just thinking about all of the delicious wine that awaits you.  And as we came through Sherwood on that initial drive down through the valley, one of the very first blue signs I see is for Alloro Vineyards.  Including the location of the winery into that file in the back of my brain, we drove on through Newberg, then Dundee and Lafayette, stopping finally in Carlton to check into our apartment.

That evening at dinner James Moises is talking about other wineries that have approached him about distributing their wines in New Orleans.  Again the name Alloro comes up and I realize that after the third mention in a day, I need to pay attention.  So James ends up visiting the winery the day we leave the valley and is incredibly impressed with the place, the wines and the people.  

Yes, he picked up the wines and it was love at first sip for all of us.  Fast-forward to 3 years later and the wine is still one of our favorites with the 2012 holding a spot on our shelves as well as our wine list.  And I can honestly tell you that anyone who tries it at the bar, more often than not, walks out with a bottle!

The 2010 was the first vintage we tasted - we knew then how special it was!

The 2010 was the first vintage we tasted - we knew then how special it was!

2012 Alloro Pinot Noir - A terroir driven wine displaying ripe black cherries, candied cherries, and rose petal, with  subtle hints of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg.  This is a fuller bodied wine that reflects the vintage with lively acidity, and very broad and fine texture that lingers nicely from the palate.  1,600 Cases Produced.

This under $40 gem would be a great bottle to introduce your California Pinot Noir drinker to an Oregon wine.  2012 was a warmer vintage making this wine a bolder style than what is typical of the winery and the region.   And if you'd like to try it first just grab a glass of it on your next visit, I can almost bet you'll leave with a bottle or two...

Carol & Maya enjoying a glass of wine on the patio at Alloro during Swirl's Artisan Oregon Wine Tour, October 2013

Carol & Maya enjoying a glass of wine on the patio at Alloro during Swirl's Artisan Oregon Wine Tour, October 2013

The 12 Wines of Christmas, Chateau la Font du Loup Cotes du Rhone

Beth Ribblett

A fun way to introduce you some of our favorite wines in the store that we believe would make great gifts!

Chateau La Font du Loup in Chateauneuf-du-Pape has been in the Melia family since 1942

Chateau La Font du Loup in Chateauneuf-du-Pape has been in the Melia family since 1942

Our first wine of Christmas is a lovely Cotes du Rhone with a great story...

Thanks to Matt Lirette of Lirette Selections, we met Anne Charlotte Melia this past summer in New Orleans just before we left for Europe.  It was perfect timing - when she returned to France the following week we would be in the Rhone Valley and she invited us to visit at her family winery in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Chateau La Font du Loup (the fountain of the wolves), gets its name from the  ancient natural spring that flows through the estate.  Legend has it that wolves from nearby Mont Ventoux would stop to drink at the spring as they made their way to the Provençal plains. The Château was acquired by the Melia family in 1942 and today, Anne-Charlotte, the granddaughter of the founder, and her husband, Laurent, oversee the estate and the winemaking.

La Font du Loup, the fountain of the wolves is an ancient natural spring that flows through the property.

La Font du Loup, the fountain of the wolves is an ancient natural spring that flows through the property.

We visited Charlotte in June and were very impressed by the elegance of her wines that she attributes to their estate's unique terroir. Located at one of the highest points in Châteaneuf-du-Pape, Château La Font du Loup, has 20 hectares of organically farmed vineyards, including holdings in the La Crau and Font du Loup. Planted on a north facing slope with mostly sandy soil and vines that reach 100 years old, the vineyards are located in one of the coolest spots in the appellation which allows for a slow ripening of the grapes.  As for her part, Charlotte's minimalist approach in the cellar ensures that the wines are never over-extracted, are vinified at cool temperatures and that no new oak is used.  The results are wines that exhibit a purity and freshness not often found in the region.

The 2014 Chateau La Font du Loup Cotes du Rhone is made with a blend of 50 year old Grenache and Syrah that is hand harvest with a meticulous selection of grapes.  The nose gives red and black fruit aromatics along with lavender floral notes. On the palate, the wine is medium-bodied and fresh with silky smooth tannins. Black cherry liqueur, ripe black plum and black raspberry flavors linger in this wine that exhibits considerable elegance and finesse.

So if you are looking for a great gift under $20 that expresses the elegant touch of a female winemaker from one of the most famous and approachable wine regions of France, this is your wine!

Also in stock from Chateau La Font du Loup:

  • 2014  Chateau La Font du Loup Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc
  • 2014 Domaine Sarrail & Font du Loup Rosée 
  • 2013  Chateau La Font du Loup Chateauneuf-du-Pape Tradition


Visiting Domaine Fondreche, Southern Rhone at its Best!

Beth Ribblett

The Ventoux is a mecca for wine and cycling enthusiasts!

The Ventoux is a mecca for wine and cycling enthusiasts!

This past summer we deviated from our usual routine of spending our entire vacation in Italy and spent time in Southern France.  It was a magical week in a beautiful village at the base of the mighty Mont Ventoux spent cycling, immersing ourselves in the local culture and enjoying the village markets from which we cooked the most delicious meals in our little Provencal house.  We had such an amazing time that we've already booked another trip there next year and are hoping to schedule a customer tour there in the near future.

The village of Bedoin, located at the base of the Ventoux.

The village of Bedoin, located at the base of the Ventoux.

Why the Ventoux you ask?  Because it is a wine and cycling mecca!   People (including us!) come from all over the world to attempt to pedal up the "giant of France" one of the epic climbs of the Tour de France.  And it also happens that one of my favorite producers was a mere 10 miles from where we were staying.  The vineyards of Domaine Fondreche provide a breathtaking and intimidating view of the Ventoux and produce a line of highly rated Rhone blends in the hands of winemaker Sebastien Vincenti.

                 Winemaker Sebastian Vincenti talking about the unique soil type at Fondreche.

                 Winemaker Sebastian Vincenti talking about the unique soil type at Fondreche.

Domaine de Fondreche is a 38 hectare property in a unique part of the Ventoux.  The vineyards sit higher up on a plateau than any other in the appellation providing different soils and geographic positioning found nowhere else.  Sebastian also farms organically, planting the local varieties of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Mourvedre in the clay, limestone and silex soils.  The syrah at Fondereche is a special clone called Serine.  It is described as the ancient, local variety of Syrah, and it is markedly different from modern selections. Serine grapes are more oval in shape, with lots of space in the bunch and has lots of violet and perfume; very aromatic.  The Cinsault is used exclusively for his amazing Provence-style rosé, no red wine is made from it.

The Cinsault, used only for his Provence-style rosé.

The Cinsault, used only for his Provence-style rosé.

The old vine Syrah,  a special clone called Serine that is described as the ancient, local variety.

The old vine Syrah,  a special clone called Serine that is described as the ancient, local variety.

Because of our relationship with the winery and the importer, we were able to get our hands on a few cases of his reds and rosé at a reduced price.  We also carry his mineral driven Rhone-style white, a refreshing yet full bodied blend of Grenache Blanc,  Roussanne and Clairette.   These are all super wines that are beautiful expressions of the unique terroir of Domaine Fondreche and the Ventoux.  See the ratings and pricing below!

Our tasting lineup at the winery.

Our tasting lineup at the winery.

2011  Domaine de Fondreche Cotes du Ventoux Cuvee Nadal, $25.99
Rating: 93, Robert Parker
Drink 2013 - 2024
Along the same lines, quality wise, the 2011 Cotes du Ventoux Nadal, a blend of 45% Syrah, 45% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre, (Syrah and Mourvedre aged in barrel, the Grenache in concrete tank) exhibits gorgeously pure notes of creme de cassis, currants, licorice, sweet oak and chocolate that flow to a medium to full-bodied, rich and layered profile on the palate. Upfront, texture and full-flavored, with mouth filling amounts of fruit, it is a knockout effort that will deliver the goods for over a decade. 

2011  Domaine de Fondreche Cotes du Ventoux Cuvee Persia, $30.99
Rating: 92  Robert Parker
Drink 2015 - 2025
The 2011 Cotes du Ventoux Persia is a beauty! A blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre, aged in a combination of small barrels and demi-muids, it offers a stunning bouquet of cassis, vanilla, coffee and hints of flowers to go with a full-bodied, layered and beautifully textured profile on the palate. This terroir always shows beautiful purity, freshness and focus, and this vintage is no exception. Benefiting from a decant, it will ideally be given another year or so in the cellar, and enjoyed over the following decade. 

2014 Domaine de Fondrèche Ventoux Rosé, $18.50
Rating: 89 Vinous Media
Drink 2015 - 2017
Pale onion skin color. Pungent red berry and orange pith aromas are complicated by hints of dried flowers and succulent herbs. Fleshy and dry on the palate, offering spicy redcurrant and raspberry flavors and a touch of tarragon. Closes with gentle grip and good persistence, leaving a suave floral note behind.

Holiday Pumpkin Roll

Beth Ribblett

Dessert at my parent's house during the holidays presents a dilemma as we have to chose between my mother's fresh pumpkin and apple pies and my sister-in-law's homemade pumpkin rolls. But since we are all such good dessert-loving-sugar-addicts, everyone take a small piece of all three ("small" being defined very differently by each of us), topping off the pies with a little whipped cream or ice cream. I always save the roll for last, the moist pumpkin spiced cake with its silky cream filling melt in your mouth and make it the perfect end to the perfect meal! Thanks Missy for sharing your recipe!

-3 eggs
-1 cup sugar
-2/3 cup pumpkin
-3/4 cup all-purpose flour
-1 teaspoon baking powder
-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
*you will also need a clean dish towel sprinkled with powdered sugar to keep from sticking)

Cream Cheese
-1 cup powdered sugar
-1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
-2 tablespoons butter
-3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
-Powdered sugar for topping (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, mix together eggs, sugar and pumpkin.
2. In a separate bowl, mix flour, baking powder, and cinnamon.
3. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until well blended.
4. Line a 10 1/2" by 15" jelly roll or cookie sheet with wax paper that extends over the lip of the pan. Pour the batter onto the cookie sheet, spreading evenly.
5. Bake 12-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
6. Prepare a clean kitchen towel by sprinkling heavily with powdered sugar.
7. After baking, turn the cookie sheet onto the towel, the cake should slide out onto the towel. Keeping the wax paper, start at one end and roll up the cake up lengthwise into the towel. Cool 30-40 minutes.
8. While the cake is cooling, make the filling, by stirring together the cream cheese, powdered sugar, vanilla and butter. Mix well.
9. After the roll has cooled, unroll it, removed wax paper and spread the filling evenly over the cake. Roll back up without the towel. Wrap in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour, or until filling is firm.
10. Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving if desired.

Focusing on the Positive, We've Come A Long Way in 10 Years

Beth Ribblett

Ten years...  As with most landmark events in our lives, reliving those raw emotions make it feel more recent yet with all that has happened it seems a lifetime ago.  This weekend, August 29th, marks the ten year anniversary of the wrath of hurricane Katrina, the failure of our inadequate federal levee system and the near destruction of our city and our lives.

Maybe we are different than most but Kerry and I don't want to look back, we don't want to see the exhibits, the photos and footage of what happened to our city and our homes.  We don't want to reopen the wounds and relive the helplessness and hopelessness we experienced when our "super power" of a government failed to take care of its own and for days left people stranded without food or water.  It was awful, it was heartbreaking and it so frightening to realize that everything you hold dear can be washed away in a day.  

We'd rather focus on the positive, how far we've come collectively due to continuous flow of people, money and energy that pour into the city.  Our city is changed forever and the progress we've made would have taken 30 years instead of 10 in our dysfunctional slow moving southern culture.  Our lives are changed forever, the people we know, the places we visit and the work we do have taken a path that otherwise would not have happened.  Swirl, which has consumed our lives for the past 9 years, would probably not have happened, at least not in its current location.  And it would be very different place because swirl is what it is by virtue of the spirit from which it grew.

To all of you who weren't here yet, those were tough times in New Orleans.  Collectively dealing with the destruction of entire neighborhoods, losing jobs, rebuilding homes, fighting with insurance companies, friends and family leaving the city in droves - we were all struggling to find our way.  Returning and rebuilding were never even a question for Kerry and me. Our faith in our city and the resilience of its people were enough to keep us here; and as Chris Rose so appropriately stated, "the longer you live in New Orleans, the more unfit you become to live anywhere else..." 

Just returning wasn't enough, we wanted to be part of the rebuilding, investing our hearts and our pocketbooks in our beloved, broken city.  And I can tell you, it was an uphill battle and a drama filled start, but that's another story...! It was, and still is, the neighborhood support that kept us going.  Because somehow through it all, Swirl became a place where people gathered and shared their stories, a bright spot in the midst of the post-Katrina madness to clear your head, rest your feet and have some good wine while you were at it!  

Well thankfully the conversations have changed since then, but the feeling in the shop remains the same - a friendly, comfortable spot to sit and relax with friends over a nice glass of wine; a place where you can bring your dog, your kids, your date or your grandmother to and feel good about being there.  A special place, that you've helped us create filled with lots of great, positive memories over the years.  

And now, 10 years later, we have come so far.  As people, a community and a city, we have persevered,  flourished and now finally find ourselves settling in to a very good rhythm that we hope will continue for many more years....Thanks to all of you, our dearest friends, family, supportive customers, who have helped to keep us moving forward through it all.

*PS - We might put on our evacuation clothes (yes we still have them!) and go to swirl for a drink on Saturday.  Or we may just go on like it's any other day.  I'll keep you posted!

Pesto and Pigato, Perfect Pairing from the Ligurian Coast

Beth Ribblett

Who doesn't love pesto, that rich, green highly aromatic sauce known for its decisive yet delicate flavor? Fresh pesto is one of those foods that epitomizes Italian cuisine  - a blending of 6 high quality ingredients that when made fresh can make the most simple things taste divine.

Village on the Cinque Terra from the hiking path.

I can't eat pesto without thinking of its famous home in Italy, the Ligurian coast. A small and breathtakingly gorgeous region, Liguria sits on the Mediterranean Sea in Northwest Italy.  The location along the pristine coastline, its back set up against the steep hills of the Appennini Mountains, give it a unique microclimate and landscape that produces the majority of the ingredients used to make their traditional pesto—Genovese basil, Ligurian extra virgin olive oil and even pine nuts from the Stone Pines that grow in abundance. And it's bordering region, Emilia Romagna, provide the essential Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

Ligurians use only the young tender leaves for their pesto.

Ligurians are very proud of their pesto and fiercely defend their traditional recipe, Pesto alla Genovese. This is a D.O.P. protected food that has to be made in a precise way and with very specific ingredients. The primary ingredient being D.O.P. basil from Genoa, for example, because the soil and climate in that particular area gives the basil a flavor that’s impossible to replicate anywhere else in the world.  

Trofie pasta, Vernazza 2004 trip
The are also very specific about they use pesto, never randomly adding it to chicken or fish as we often do.  Pesto is used for 2 things, pasta and soup.  But again, not just any soup but specifically minestrone alla Genovese, a staple of daily life on the Ligurian coast.  In terms of pasta there's a bit more variety here as gnocchi, a local version of Lasagna and a few traditional dried and fresh pastas, are acceptable.

And of course the perfect pairing comes in a the form of a local wine made from Pigato (of the same DNA as Vermentino, Rolle and Favorita).   The Punta Crena Pigato is produced by the Ruffino family who has be farming this particular land for the past 500 years. And they tend their vineyards as they always have; terraced by hand, grapes picked by hand, nothing added, nothing taken away - let the grapes do what they will.  No pretense here, just light, fresh wine that marries beautifully with the local cuisine of fresh vegetables, fritto misto, fish and of course, pesto alla Genovese! 

Here is the official DOP Pesto alla  Genovese from the Consorzio del Pesto Genovese:

Genoese basil - 70 grams, preferably young and fresh.
Grated Cheese - 50 grams  Parmigiano Reggiano DOP (preferably aged 36 months) and 10 grams of Pecorino DOP (preferably aged 15 months)
Garlic - 3 cloves (preferably Vessalico)
Pine nuts - 1 tablespoon of nuts from the Mediterranean 
Ligurian Extra Virgin Olive Oil - 3 Tablespoons
Coarse Sea Salt - a few grains

-Wash the basil in cold water and set aside to dry on a towel.

-In the mortar, crush the cloves of garlic with a few grains of salt until the garlic has softened. Begin adding basil leaves (but don't add all at once!) The essential oils of basil are stored in the veins of the leaves. For the best taste, you must be careful not to tear or shear the leaves. Use a gentle circular motion, slowly crush the basil by moving the pestle around the edges of the mortar. The consorzio allows for a food processor, but it must be down quickly so that the heat does not oxidize the pesto.

-When you notice a bright green liquid being drawn from the leaves, it is time to add the pine nuts.
Once softened, add the cheeses, and finally the olive oil in a very thin stream.

-Preparation should take place at room temperature and the sauce should be served immediately to avoid oxidation. So pour it over the pasta, possibly linguine or strozza preti, and enjoy!

Also from Liguria: Bringing the Cinque Terre to Swirl

What can I do to help you today...Erin Rhoads

Beth Ribblett

Awhile back I did a series of posts on our amazing staff, the heart and soul of the store. We've had a change or two since then so I wanted to update you on the current, hardworking, wine loving people who help us help you.  While we can fill our space with great products, do good deeds through our community work and support  local artists and businesses, it is our friendly, helpful, professional, knowledgeable team that truly set us apart! Because without the warm, positive vibe created by those who work here, Swirl would be just another wine shop!  

Erin Rhoads has been with us for quite awhile now.  But when Matt Snyder departed for the greener grasses of Gentilly to focus on his family and true career, she decided to take on a bigger role in the shop.  And we're so happy to have her! 

What are some important, more personal, non wine related things about you?  
I grew up on a cherry farm in Northern Michigan, and after a brief post-college stint (German and Marketing major) at a wine bar in Edinburgh, Scotland, I spent 10 years in Chicago. I fell in love New Orleans before I'd even visited through the friendships I developed with Katrina-transplants who bided their time in the cold Midwest while their true homes were being rebuilt. If you have an open heart, it's easy to be woven into the fabric of the magical place, and that has definitely been the case for me. A couple of fun facts: I'm a classically trained violinist (although terribly rusty now), and a trained Pastry Chef.

What are your hobbies?
Gardening and cooking are two of my favorite ways to relax - I'm a huge homebody! I'm also a sports fan, and when I'm not rooting for the Saints, I'll be cheering on my Michigan teams. I also recently began volunteering as a Docent for school groups at The Ogden Museum of Southern Art and have been thoroughly enjoying viewing art through the eyes of children!

What are your favorite wine regions for reds, whites, rosé?
Red: I'm a huge fan of all wines from Campania, but the reds are especially dear to me. I think that the volcanic soils of that region produce perfect "food" wines. White: The Columbard/Ugni Blanc/Gros Manseng blends from the Cotes de Gascogne are perfect for our humid climate. Rose': Provence is the classic region for Rose', but I've been really enjoying the richer Rosatos from Southern Italy this season.

What is your current favorite red, white, bubbly in the store right now?
Red: The Alois Settimo from Campania in the Earthy/Zesty section is to die for. I recently had the pleasure of revisiting it, and have been kicking myself for not recommending it more! White: The El Perro Verde Verdejo in Crisp/Lively is a steal of a wine and perfect for a summer pool and patio gatherings. Bubbly: We just brought in the Pol Roger NV Brut and it's a delightful champagne: powerful and full-bodied, yet still finessed and balanced.

If you could pick any wine from the indulge section right now what would it be?
The 2009 Travaglini Gattinara from Piemonte offers a light bodied Nebbiolo that is immediately drinkable and quite enjoyable, even during summertime in New Orleans!

What was you best recent food and wine experience?
Mine is more of a Wine and Weather experience. I recently enjoyed a couple of glasses of the Broc Cellars Old Vine Carignan on the porch on a drizzly Monday evening. Sometimes rain is the best thing to pair with wine!

And finally what do you like most about working in the wine biz?
One of the most rewarding moments in this business is reaching a point where you can break down complex concepts and theory into easily digestible chunks. I love educating customers. Of course, the more I study wine, the more I realize I have to learn. It is truly humbling.

Thanks Erin!
You can find Erin in the store Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and every other Friday.  We are also working on putting her culinary skills to use for our special events and private parties - more on that later!!

Un Caffè Per Favore!

Beth Ribblett

Coffee in Italy is an art and its ritual a necessity of life.  

You won't find expensive fancy sweet coffee drinks served in giant go cups or milks from every source imaginable and more types of sweeteners than you can count.  Coffee in Italy is simple - it is your fuel in the morning and your digestivo after meals.  Because while the Italians aren't big on laws in general, food and drink are the exception and a little education on how it is done will go a long way on your next trip.  So here are some steadfast rules and observations from one who honors the long standing tradition of true Italian coffee.

Pasticceria Vannelli, our favorite in Toscana

  •  "Bars" in Italy are cafes and they are everywhere!  The are usually quite small and have only a handful of tables.  A pasticceria is a pastry shop that also serves coffee.
  • Usually you go to the register and pay first then take your receipt to the barista who will make your drink.  If you want a brioche (pastry), a typical Italian breakfast, order that while at the register as well.

Un caffè at Bar Mulino in Positano

Tre cappuccini at a "bar" in Milano

Tre cappuccini at a "bar" in Milano

  • If you order a lattè you will get a cup of milk, if you want coffee order a lattè macchiato or milk with espresso.
  • If you order "un caffè" you will be served an espresso - unless you look like a befuddled tourist then your order will be confirmed,  "Espresso?"
    A simple macchiato is espresso with a dollop of steamed milk
  • An "Americano" is not American drip coffee but the Italian way to satisfy the needs of Americans who think bigger is better by adding water to shots of espresso and serving it in a large cup.

Un cappuccino e brioche, a typical Italian breakfast!

Un cappuccino alla mia cucina!

  • And the best part?  This delicious cup of heaven costs no more than $1.25 even in a touristy area! I hope this helps makes your next cup of coffee in Italy the wonderful experience it should be!

Comments from The Somm's Pick Tasting Event

Beth Ribblett

Our Somm's Pick tasting event was a huge success and Dan Davis of Commander's Palace kicked the series off in grand style - not that we expected anything less! We can't wait to see what John Mitchell from the Windsor Court comes up with for next month! Here's what attendees are saying about the event:

"A great environment for an evening of wine discovery that was fun and informative. Will definitely be signing up for the next one!"


"Dan was great! As anyone would expect, he is extremely knowledgeable. He provided a lot of information in a very accessible way. He broke everything down to a level that non-wine experts could easily grasp. There was not one bit of snobbery or condescension in his presentation. I am very much looking forward to the upcoming Somm’s Pick events."


"We have been to many tastings at wine shops and restaurants over the years, and by far Dan's descriptions/mini-lessons combined with the Sommelier tasting sheet for the red blind were fabulous. We learned a great deal."


"The quality of the wines were perfect - not too expensive, addressed the value, yet complex and interesting."


"My knowledge of wine is incredibly limited, but with the Somm's pick, in one night I learned enough about wine to get seriously hooked. It was so enjoyable learning in a laid-back atmosphere. I can't wait for the next one."


"I have been reading about, studying, taking e-courses, etc. on wine, thinking about trying to break into the business, and one of the most intimidating aspects is the sommelier exam. Dan made it seem possible, if still rigorous. I feel excited and more eager than ever to take my passion for wine to the next level. Thank you so much for staring this program."


Visiting Vini Alois

Beth Ribblett

Frattoria Alois, Caserta, Campania

Located in the Caiatini Mountains of Campania, the beautiful property of Fattoria Alois is literally situated between 3 volcanoes.  With Roccamorfina to the North, Monte Nuovo to the west and the infamous Monte Vesuvio just south east, the town of Caserta sits amongst multiple extinct and active volcanoes.  It is here that for centuries the Alois family has been associated with the fine textile industry, their famous silks adorning the walls of the Louvre and the White House.  But more recently Michele Alois and his son Massimo have been taking advantage of their location and the volcanic soils that surround them by applying their talent and passion for quality products into Vini Alois.

But it is not just the soils that make these wines special.  Because while Campania is known for its expressive whites like Falanghina, Fiano and Greco and the dark, earthy Aglianico, the Alois wines are focused around some rediscoverd ancient varieties.  Twenty years ago the Italian government launched a project that was devoted to finding grape varieties that survived phylloxera, but were no longer being cultivated. Massimo has been a champion for those forgotten indigenous grapes and with his efforts Casavecchia, Pallagrello Bianco and Pallagrello Nero are making a comeback. See the video above as Massimo discusses the origins of the Casavecchia grape.

The Audelino vineyards surrounding the property

Thanks to our friend Matt Lirette of Lirette Selections, Kerry and I had the good fortune of staying with Massimo and his family at their estate in Caserta a few summers ago.  He spent the day with us, taking us to their different vineyard sites and cooked a fabulous dinner that we shared with his wife and children, of course accompanied by his amazing wines and great conversation.

In the Morrone della Monica vineyards with Massimo and his son Gianfranco
The next morning we  met his father Michele and oenologist Carmine Valentino in the winery for a tank tasting.  One of the things that struck us about these somewhat famous, southern Italian male winemakers was their genuine interest in what we thought about their wines.  Their humility, pride, respect for our opinions and the amount of time we spent together has left a long lasting impression about the people behind these very distinct and fascinating wines.

Oenologist Carmine Valentino and Michele Alois

Tank tasting with Carmine & Michele

We are excite to have Massimo visit us next week and you can join him at Swirl on Wednesday February 4th for a seated tasting of his wines accompanied by the cheeses of southern Italy.  Reservations are required and you can do so here:  Vini Alois

Massimo Alois

The Somm's Pick Buyers Club

Beth Ribblett

The Somm’s Pick Buyers Club 
Intriguing selections chosen by New Orleans’ sommeliers brought to you 
by Swirl Wine Bar & Market

The Program

Swirl’s tasting and education series, The Somm’s Pick, puts you in direct contact with some of New Orleans' finest sommeliers.  During their monthly presentations you'll have the opportunity to taste with them and discover wines they have chosen as some of the most intriguing in the market. Plus as a member of our Somm’s Pick Buyers Club you'll be able to purchase the wines at a discount and receive a special advanced notice for all tastings and events associated with the program.

What’s Included
  • Access to wines chosen by New Orleans’ Sommeliers as some of the most interesting wines in the market
  • Advanced invitation plus half priced admission to the Somm’s Pick Tasting held on the first Tuesday of every month
  • 10% discount on the featured selections available to you throughout the month
  • Exclusive offers and discounts on other special events associated with the program

 How it Works 

  • On the first of each month you will be billed for the featured somm’s selections of wines with a 10% discount.  The cost for the 2 wines can range in price from $40 - $80 depending up the wines chosen.  The wines will continue to be available to club members at the discounted price through the month or while supplies last should you wish to purchase more
  • Wines will be available for pickup at Swirl after the first Monday of the month
  • You will receive a special eventbrite invitation via email for advanced reservation to attend our Somm’s Pick tasting for half price ($5) The invitation will arrive 24 hours before the event is publically releaseYour membership commits you to 3 consecutive months of the program, after which you can cancel anytime via email to


  •      Email us at the or call Swirl @ 504.304.0635


Beth Ribblett

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The Somm's Pick, an Engaging New Program at Swirl

Beth Ribblett

Tasting wine @ Ken Wright's Tasting Room in Oregon
American wine consumption has been on the rise now for 20 consecutive years, in fact we've been setting records recently and the market is predicted to continue to grow.  And as Americans are getting more and more into wine, earning the title of certified sommelier has become a hot career path.  People are signing up for sommelier programs in droves and schedules fill up almost immediately when new training and certification dates are released.  Movies, national and international "top somm" competitions and the media have brought an intense, almost cult-like focus on this once somewhat stuffy and obscure wine and service career.

While there are many excellent wine education programs out there, there is no doubt that the title of "sommelier" is the most recognized by the American public.  In terms of certification organizations it is the Court of Master Sommeliers that tends draw the most attention with its multi tiered system where different levels of certification are obtained through rigorous study, exams and blind tasting evaluations. To earn the title of sommelier students must first pass an introductory level exam to then be eligible to take the Certified Sommelier exam which entails written theory, demonstration of service as defined by the Court and blind tastings.  This is just the tip of the iceberg as there are then 2 more levels in the Advanced and the coveted title of Master Sommelier.
Blind tasting is an important component of all CMS certifications
The post Katrina exploding New Orleans dining scene has brought with it a demand for wine professionals and there are probably more certified somms than ever before in the Crescent City. Helping to meet that demand, each year Commander's Palace hosts the Court of Master Sommeliers as a site for their workshops and exams, giving New Orleans service industry easy access to the program.  Dan Davis, sommelier and wine director at Commander's has been a driving force behind getting more New Orleanians educated through CMS and hopes to offer two certification dates in 2015.
At Swirl we have always tried to make it fun to learn about wine and I think our new program, The Somm's Pick, will be one of our best yet.  Through our new tasting and education series at Swirl, we will put you in direct contact with some of New Orleans' finest sommeliers.  During their monthly presentations you'll have the opportunity to taste with them and discover wines they have chosen as some of the most intriguing in the market. Plus you'll be able to purchase the wines at a discount should you decided to participate in our Somm's Pick Buyers Club.

Our guest sommeliers will include Dan Davis of Commander's Palace, Liz Dowty of Square Root,  Michelle Gueydan from Vino Solutions/Neat Wines, John Mitchell of the Windsor Court, our own Kimi Kivirana and more.  We'll meet at the shop once a month to taste their selections and pick their brains on the who, what, when and whys of the bottles they've chosen.  And if you have an interest in becoming a sommelier this will be the perfect time to learn what is involved with obtaining the title from professionals who have made it through different levels of the program.

So here's how it works.  The first Monday of the month my weekly newsletter will  introduce a featured sommelier and their picks of the month.  The next evening, the first Tuesday of the month, is The Somm's Pick Tasting.  Our featured sommelier will be in the house from 6-8pm pouring their 2 wines which can be sparkling, red, white, rose' - sometimes it may be 2 reds, sometimes mixed, who knows?  It's their call!  The wines will be priced somewhere between $19.99 and $39.99.  Plus we'll have a third selection from the shop that we'll pour blind to give you a little insight into how to evaluate an unidentified wine.  It is $10 to attend the event, that will include tasting the 3 wines plus a free Reidel crytstal wine glass that is yours to keep.  The wines will be available for sale starting that evening and will be featured in the store through the month.

Then there's the Somm's Pick Buyers Club.  If you decide to join, each month you will be billed for the 2 wines with a 10% discount for being part of the club.  You can attend the tasting for half price and receive your free wine glass.  If you choose to purchase more of the wines anytime throughout the month you will continue to receive the 10% discount.  You'll also receive exclusive offers and discounts for any other events associated with the program.  The best part is, there's no long term commitment or obligation - after the first 3 months you can cancel at any time!

Dan Davis, Commanders Palace - Photo by Sara Essex Bradley
Intrigued?  Our first tasting is on Tuesday, February 3rd at 6pm and our featured sommelier is Dan Davis of Commander's Palace.  I'll have more details in next week's email, but mark the date, this should be one exciting kick off!

Bubbles Make the World A Happier Place

Beth Ribblett

It is a well known fact that we have an affinity for bubbles.  A light, zippy style sparkling with fresh local oysters, a rich full bodied Champagne with a big juicy steak, a tasty cremant added to a cocktail, a celebratory toast - bubbles are one of the few wines we enjoy with or without food.  And our selection reflects our passion - with 45+bottles to choose from ranging in price from $10 to $200, we truly have something for everyone!

Cava, Prosecco, Cremant, Franciacorta, Champagne -how do you choose?  Here's my quick primer on what to buy depending on your purpose and your budget!  We have great bottles representing all of these and more...

Champagne - The big dog of the sparkling wine world, you can only call it Champagne if it comes from this
unique region of France located 100 miles east of Paris.  Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunire are the classic Champagne grapes with vintage, non vintage, blanc de blanc (white wine from white grapes), blanc de noir (white wine from red grapes) and rose' produced.  The production method requires that the secondary fermentation, the one that gives it the bubbles, takes place within the bottle over very defined periods of time.  It is these regulations and requirements that make Champagne expensive and delicious!  The wines can range from bright and zippy to rich and toasty depending on the house style.  Big house Champagnes like Roederer, Moet, Bollinger and Veuve Cliquot  use mainly purchased grapes from small growers to create a house style that is consistent with each bottle you open.  Estate grown and produced wines are called Grower Champagnes and are much smaller volume wines, often with more individuality, made by the growers themselves. How can you tell what's what? It is easy to spot the source of a Champagne from its label. Virtually all of them carry a numerical code prefixed by two letters - NM stands for négociant-manipulant, one of the big houses. RM stands for récoltant-manipulant, a grower.  Prices for true Champagne starts around $40 and really should not be used for mimosas or cocktails.  The addition of bitters, fruit juice, other spirits mask the unique qualities of Champagne and make it one very expensive mixer! Staff Fav's - De Sousa, 2005 Taittinger Comte de Champagne, Doquet Blanc de Blanc

Cremant - Basically French sparkling wine that is not from the Champagne region but from other designated areas.  The best known are from Alsace, Loire, Limoux and Burgundy and use the same classic method of secondary fermentation in the bottle with their local grapes but still with strict regulations on how they are made.  This is where you find some of the best values in French sparkling wine!  Starting at around $18 per bottle these are tasty, less expensive alternatives to Champagne.  Staff Fav's - Dopf & Irion Rose', Langlois, Gerard Bertrand Rose'

Franciacorta - Italy's best kept secret has been my current obsession!  From Lombardia in north central Italy, Franciacorta can rival some of the best Champagnes of France.  Using the same grapes, with the exception of a little added Pinot Bianco, and same classic method of production, this tiny region in Lombardy (north east of Milan) is where the highest quality Italian sparkling comes from.  Franciacorta is also similar to Champagne in that it produces vintage, non vintage, blanc de blanc (called Saten) and rose' with like aging requirements and styles based on amounts of residual sugar. However production here is very limited so exports are scarce with only the larger producers making their way into the US market.  Prices range from $24 to $75+ and offer a high quality alternative to Champagne for Italian wine lovers! Staff fav's:  Monterossa Rose', Ferghettina 2009 Saten, Contadi Castaldi Brut

Cava -Cava is Spain's beloved sparkling.  While made in the same method of Champagne, Cava is produced with some of Spain's most important grapes.  Macabeo adds a floraly, citrus note with a slight bitterness while Xarello is richer with more melon and pear and Paralleda gives Cava its zesty acidity.  It is usually fruity, but not sweet and doesn't have the yeasty, leesy notes of Champagne. It is also made as a rose' with Pinot Noir and while most is produced to drink young and fresh, aged and vintage Cava are also made but not something we see much of in the US.  It is usually priced between $10-$25 per bottle and offers good quality for the money. Staff fav's: Mont Charell, Florinda

Prosecco - Italy's most well known bubbly comes from a specific area of the Veneto and Friuli regions in the northeast part of the country.  The main grape used is called Glera and it is produced using the "charmat" method where the secondary fermentation takes place in a tank instead of the bottle.  This type of fermentation usually results in a softer style wine with a fruity taste that is meant to be drunk young and fresh.  The highest quality or DOCG Prosecco comes specifically from the Conegliano Valdobbiadene zone.  While the styles of Prosecco range from Brut, Extra Dry and Dry (depending on levels of residual sugar), there is a perception that all Prosecco is sweet.  Not so!  Brut Prosecco has from 0-12grams of sugar the same level as Brut Champagne.  Prosecco is my bubbly of choice for a good Mimosa! Usually priced between $13 - $27 per bottle depending on DOC or DOCG designations. Staff fav's: Furlan, Terriero,

These are not your only options as California, South America and many other regions produce great sparkling wines.  Once you get into bubbles there is a whole new world out there to explore!  Have fun, experiment with different styles and different foods like a Lambrusco or Gragnano with Pizza, a Brachetto d'Acqui with a fruit tart, a Bugey Cerdon as an aperitif, a sparkling dry Shiraz with lamb - endless possibilities!

Cheers and Happy New Year!

5 Thoughtful Gift Ideas for the Holiday Season

Beth Ribblett

Need a little help figuring out what to buy for your friends, family and favorite wine drinkers?  Stop by and check out the local art on the walls, wine related gifts, chocolates, cheeses, and the ultimate gift, a wonderful bottle or two or three of their favorite beverage, beautifully presented in our elegant gift boxes!

But we are not a grab and go store where hundreds of pre-shrink wrapped gift baskets are lined up filled with processed cheeses that don't need refrigeration and generic bottles of wine all dressed in pre-tied red and green bows.  At Swirl, we're about thoughtful gift giving, nice wine and local products that we ourselves like to eat and drink. So give us just a few minutes of your time, we will help you pick the perfect gift and wrap it in something unique; we're here to make you look good! Here are some thoughtful gift ideas to consider and feel free to call us up - we'll figure out what you need, wrap it up and have ready when you arrive!

Original Prints by Shaun Aleman
1. Artfully Local - Nothing captures the uniqueness of New Orleans like locally created and themed paintings, sculptures and works of art.  Mass produced items by an anonymous person or machine can't come close to the energy and creativity of an original piece.  Painted pieces by Shaun Aleman, paper mache sculptures by Brian Bush, glass tiles by Paulette Lizano, handmade leather masks by Julie Stefanski, and colorful "glam" okra art pieces by Jeanne Vidrine all line the walls of the store and start at just $12.

2. Gifts that Tell a Story - While we can make any bottle of wine look good in our black and gold carriers and boxes, we love putting together wines and items that have a theme and tell a story.  One of my favorites is the "Passionate Sicilian"  package that I created on Friday: highly acclaimed red & white wine from Tenuta Della Terre Nere plus a bottle of their delicious, small production extra virgin olive oil.  Or maybe my "Drink Local" pack with wines by our two favorite local producers, James Moises and Vending Machine wines paired with a New Orleans Drink Deck containing discounts at 50 of the city's best bars and hangouts.  My latest is the "Ratings Junkie" a 94 rated Washington State Red with a 95 rated Oregon Pinot, boxed and pretty for under $120... just tell us your budget and let us build you a beautiful gift!

4 pack of Truffles - Photo by imanolagirl
3. "You're So Fine" Chocolate and Wine - Our relationship with local chocolatier Cheryl Scripter of Bittersweet Confections has been a long and tasty one!  We were her very first retail account way back when and have been loyal devotees ever since, making a decision to not carry any other chocolates in the shop.  Let us pair up a bottle of Niner Cabernet, a ruby Port or maybe a Bugey Cerdon with a box of her handmade truffles. Or we can pack up nice gift with an assortment of her smaller items like chocolate dipped salted caramels, peppermint bark or coconut clusters with a wine pairing or two!

4. A Day in the Life of Faubourg St. John - Pick up gift certificates at our favorite neighborhood spots and combine them for a truly unique experience!  Start their day with tickets to an exhibit in the New Orleans Museum of Art or maybe a morning of kayaking on the bayou with Bayou Kayaks, then coffee and pastries at Pagoda Cafe or Fair Grinds.  Next hop over to Lux Salon for a spa day of massage, mani, pedi or even a new 'do!  Then to Swirl for a few glasses of wine and a cheese plate before dinner at one of our wonderful restaurants like 1000 FigsCafe Degas, Santa Fe, Lola's, The Half Shell and more.  It's a great way to treat someone to all of the wonderful things our neighborhood has to offer!

5. It's the Little Things that Count - Sometimes you just need something special and small for a colleague or friend or maybe a little stocking stuffer for a family member.  Our beautiful wood corkscrews, flour sack bar towels, vacuum pumps, wood cheese boards, Drink Decks and specialty olive oils are the perfect answer for $20 and under gifts!