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Grateful to Witness Diversity in Wine: The Black Wine Experience

Do you remember writing, “What I did during my summer vacation” essay? This blog invokes middle school memories trying to convey an entire summer in 500 words or less. I promise to spare you every detail and only share the highlights of my amazing and transformative experience.   The Swirl Suite, a weekly podcast I co-host with three extraordinary women, broadcasted live in New Orleans over the July 4th weekend. We attended the Black Wine Experience. The Black Wine Experience was a weekend of celebrating African-Americans in the wine industry. Winemakers, importers, wine brokers, distributors, and of course, media influencers gathered to recognize diversity in wine. During this season of gratitude, I am grateful to have witness diversity in wine.  

Swirl Suite Hosts
Swirl Suite: Tanisha Townsend, Leslie Frelow, Sarita Cheaves, and Glynis Hill

Diversity is a hot topic. The craft beverage industry has not escaped this topic. The wine industry has been called out, chastised, placed on “front street” for its lack of diversity in ownership, vineyard managers, winemakers, distribution, virtually all segments. Women and black and brown people are STILL not represented in sizeable numbers. Blogs like Julia Coney, “Your wine glass ceiling is my glass box. An open letter to Karen Macneil and the wine industry” provoked an international discussion. Her blog sheds light on the plain sight disparities.

The Black Wine Experience was a platform to celebrate notable individuals. My Swirl Suite sisters and I had the honor to interview these celebrated individuals. Brenae Royal, the first and only African-American female vineyard manager, and Isiah Thomas, hall of fame basketball icon, entrepreneur, and now Champagne producer, are among individuals we interviewed.

The entire weekend was epic, and we have the audio to prove it! We talked to so many great blacks in wine. I am excited to share with you our interviews. The podcast is a two-part series.

Episode One

The first episode features Gallo Wines vineyard manager Brenae Royal; Gallo Wines diversity and marketing professional Derek Epps and winemaker Jennifer McDonald of Jenny Dawn Cellars. Jenny Dawn Cellars brought California winemaking to the mid-west. It is a new winery in Wichita, KS.

Episode One

Episode Two

Episode two is so large that we created two segments. The first segment features Chris Wachira, Ph.D., and Chadwick Spell of Wachira Wines. Wachira Wines is a woman-owned winery and a culmination of the extraordinary vision and effort of Dr. Chris Wachira, the first Kenyan-born, Californian winemaker, distributor, importer, and exporter. Winemaker Paula Harrell of Harrell Wines is a California native who was introduced to wine while studying abroad. Isiah Thomas of Cheurlin Champagne known for his business savvy and philanthropic endeavors as much as his storied athletic career. Isiah and his wife Lynn wanted healthier, great-tasting champagne without the added sugar. He is a hands-on owner of Cheurlin Champagne.

The second segment features a wine importer and distributor Larry Boone of Lawrence Boone Selections. Lawrence Boone Selections is dedicated to finding the best biodynamic and natural wines sourced from small family owned wineries. Mohamed Morretta founding partner of LaKool Champagne. Morretta and Robert “Kool” Bell, from legendary Kool and The Gang band, are the inspiration for LaKool Champagne.

Episode Two, part 1
Episode Two, part 2

Please take a listen to the Swirl Suite shows. I think we captured the excitement and positive energy flowing through the weekend. 

If you want to hear more Swirl Suite shows, you can click here.

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Glass Matters:The Best Glass to Sip Sparkling Wine

The Best Glass to Sip Sparkling Wine


Sipping Champagne evokes thoughts of luxury, style and elegance. It is the beverage exclusively served to kings and queens at a moment in history.  It is the Maserati of the wine world. Champagne or sparkling wine has always been in a class by itself.  It is elite and legendary.  Even its glassware has a fabled history.  The vintage coupe glass, first Champagne glassware, was rumored to be inspired by French queen Marie Antoinette.  The first modern glassware was actually designed in England in the 16th century according to Wikipedia and later made popular by the French in the 1700s.  Sparkling wine glassware was to modeled to display its delicate bubbles. As sparkling wine has evolved, so has how people enjoyed sparkling wine.  The vessel which sparkling wine is poured into has changed over time.  When sipping sparkling wine does the style of glass matter?  What is the best glass to sip sparkling wine?


The allure of sparkling wine is the carbonated bubbles.  The second fermentation process creates carbonation delight.  When sparkling wine is well chilled the carbon dioxide is slowly released creating a symphony of tiny bubbles. You want the perfect glassware to prolong the gentle stream of bubbles.  Glass Matters!!! Let us examine the popular glassware.



Coupe is also known as the vintage Champagne glass. It is a saucer design wine glass with a wide bowl and shallow shape.   It was popular in the early 20th century.  During that time a sweet syrup was added to Champagne making a dessert delight.  As Champagne drinkers’ palate moved towards a drier style wine, Champagne dessert lost its fizz.  So, did the Coupe.  Bubbles quickly disappear in the Coupe glass.  The shallow bowl design permits aromas and bubbles to escape quickly due to the large surface area.  In English, this means your sparkling wine will go flat very fast.  Do not throw away your Coupe glasses if you are nostalgic. You can use these glasses for desserts or cocktails.


Flute Glass

Bubbles, bubbles and more bubbles.  If bubbles are important to you, you will love the Flute style.  The Flute slender bowl design is made to capture the carbonation at the bottom of the glass and the bubbles rapidly rise to the rim of the glass.  Fizz, fizz and fizz again.  The Flute gets an A++ for fizz, but a C- for capturing flavors and aromas.  Its small rim circumference restricts smells to collect and develop.  Flavors and aromas are lost as a result. According to wine experts, this is problematic when tasting older wines or complex wines.  Older wines need more air space to develop and its flavors to appear in the wine tasting experiences.  Isn’t this true for all of us maturing.  We need a little more space and time to express ourselves.



The Flute traditional has a long stem for drinkers to hold the glass.  Modern or trendy Flutes are stemless. Stay traditional. Sparkling wine is best when it is served well chilled.  Chilled sparkling wines are between 41 – 46 degrees Fahrenheit (6 to 7 degrees Celsius).  You want to avoid holding the glass by the bowl.  Your hand will warm the wine when you hold the glass at the bowl affecting the temperature.

If you are clutching onto your Flutes, refusing to get rid of them and ready to boycott Vino 301’s blog, wait!  Here is a compromise.  Try a Tulip glass.  Tulip glasses are similar to flutes but permits more air space.  Tulip glasses have a similar slender base but the bowl gradually increases in width giving it a wider rim.  You are able to maintain the wine fizz, while capturing aromas.  This style is preferred by more professional wine tasters.


White Wine Glass

There is a movement in the wine world to use classic white wine glasses for sparkling wine tasting.  Yes, you heard me correctly,  white wine glasses.   But what about the sophistication, the elegance, the exclusivity?  Sparkling wine is not your everyday Moscato, you say.  We hear you.  The argument is sparkling wine is more diverse, more complex than it has ever been. It should be treated more like “real” wine. Sparkling wines are extremely complex and need a larger bowl for its aromas to present themselves.  The flavors will be accentuated and can breathe in a larger glass like white wine glass.   Using a white wine glass will not diminish Champagne’s mystic or character.



Glass matters based on your needs.  Select the wine glass for what best suits your desires.  Personally, the Tulip glass is my favorite.  Do what works for you.  Cheers to you!

Champagne, Sparkling Wines are the Little Black Dress of Wines

Champagne, Sparkling Wines are the Little Black Dress of Wines

Every woman has that dress, that outfit that she can wear to any occasion. It is the little black dress. She can wear it to the office.  Dress it up and she can wear it on date night.   It is versatile and never lets her down.  Sparkling wine is equally  versatile. You can serve it at any celebration.  You can serve sparkling wine with fried chicken or simply sip it while watching your favorite movie.  A sparkling wine will never let you down.

But, why?  Why do sparkling wines complement most foods?  There is not a single reason or a scientific theory that I know of.  Consider a couple of factors.



Champagne, Cava, Prosecco, Moscato d’Asti, and other sparkling wines and made from different vintage wines.  The vintage is the year the wine is produce. Winemakers use the higher quality wines pressed from each year and combine the pressings to create cuvée sparkling wines. Each year’s wines have unique characteristics and qualities, regardless if the grape is the same.  For example, there are differences between a 2015 Chardonnay and a 2016 which makes each distinguishing.

A buffet of flavors, and characteristics are on display when you bring the best of the best together.  Mr. Chris Hallowell, a wine and spirit journalist, explains the blending process well. Hallowell said, “most bottles are blended from different vintage wines, resulting in a cuvée that’s greater than the sum of its parts; they tend to showcase minerality, a characteristic that adds depth to fruity, savory, meaty, and gamy flavors; and these wines possess an unparalleled acidity that cuts through rich, fatty dishes and surmounts even high-acid ingredients such as tomatoes or vinegars”, in an Epicurious article. Food pairing becomes simpler and less exacting when the wine possess broader traits.

little black dress

Verv Prosecco


All Rules Apply

There are a few rules that prevail when you are pairing food with wine.  These rules eliminate what kinds of wine that should not be paired with certain foods.  This makes the wine selection process easier. For example, opposite flavors with opposite flavors.  You can pair spicy Thai food with semi-sweet Riesling.  When you follow this rule, it eliminates bold, rich reds like Malbec from your selection.  Most importantly, you save your mouth from experiencing a three-alarm fire.

All food pairing rules apply to sparkling wines. Use our earlier example, opposite flavors with opposite flavors.  Pair the same spicy Thai food with a Sec or Demi-Sec sparkling wine.  A Sec or Demi-Sec are semi-dry wines. These wines have a slightly high sweet taste, lower alcohol and reduce the “heat” level impression.

You often hear red wines with red meat. They are complementary flavors. Tannin, found in red wine, will “cut” through the fat and salt in red meat, and not overwhelm the meal.  Interestingly sparkling wines are not high in tannin, although many Champagnes are made with red grapes like Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or Shiraz.  Sparkling wines have similar relationships with fatty, salty foods. Potato chips, French fries, anything wrapped in bacon, or short ribs are good combos with Brut or Extra Dry sparkling wines.  The sparkling wine acidic level brings balance. The food is less salty and fatty on the palate.

Tonight, try a sparkling wine with your meal.  Do not save the bubbles of milestone events. Every day is a celebration.  You something new!


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Pop the Cork on New Year’s Eve … Guide to Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Guide to Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Champagne, Sparkling Wine
The other day a friend and me were talking about New Year’s Eve.  She said, “Should I serve Champagne or sparkling wine”?  My immediate response was, “Champagne is a form of sparkling wine. It all depends upon what you like.”  She gave me a puzzled look, and said “oh ok.”  Thinking about my response I should have provided a better explanation.  I realized she did not know Champagne is among the sparkling wine family.  She thought Champagne is different from sparkling wine.  Champagne has become the brand name for requesting sparkling wine. It is like when you ask someone to hand you a Kleenex®.  You are really asking for a tissue and not the brand Kleenex®.  The brand name has been ingrained in everyday vernacular. 

Champagne has very distinctive characteristics, fermentation methods, and regional restrictions. Here is the Reader’s Digest® version about Champagne.  Champagne is made from Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay.  There is a double fermentation method known as Methode Champenoise.  Lastly,and most importantly to the French and legally,  only sparkling wine produced in the La Champagne region can be called Champagne (except for a few California vineyards.  That is another blog).



Now you know, what do you serve? You have a variety of sparkling wines to select. In addition to Champagne,  there are other sparkling wines styles like Cava and Prosecco. Cava is from Spain. Prosecco is from Italy. Each of these regions have unique grapes that make up the composition of these wines.   



Regardless of the country, there are common descriptions you will see on the label.  Here are the most common:

  • Blanc de Blancs: made from white grapes, like a Chardonnay.  
  • Blanc de Noirs: made from black grapes, like a Pinot Noir. The sparkling will be white in color.  
  • Rose: pink in color.  Semi-dry to sweet to the taste.
  • Doux: very sweet wine.
  • Dry: slightly sweet wine.  
  • Brut: very little sugar, dry and most popular sparkling wine



Your sparkling wine does not have to be international. When you are in your local wine store ask for Maryland sparkling wine.  It is not too late for the wine shop to order it from the vineyard.   
Crow Farm and Vineyard (Kent County, MD) has a delightful 2013 Vidal Sparkling. It is a Guide to Champagne and Sparkling Winesingle varietal wine. Vidal Blanc grape is used, very popular in Maryland.  Vidal Blanc is known for its honeysuckle favor and those with a sweeter palate enjoy this grape.  Do not let this dissuade the traditional drier palate drinkers. The Vidal Sparkling is a dry sparkling wine.  Effervescent, pale golden color, and hints of stone fruit and apple best describes this wine.  The Vidal is made in the Methode Champenoise style sparkling goes through primary fermentation in stainless steel, followed by a secondary fermentation in bottle. Aged for 13 months before being hand disgorged in small lots, then hand corked, caged and labeled.  
Hopefully, this will make your shopping experience a little easier. Cheers to you and Happy New Year!


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