December 31, 2009
We interrupt our regular posting schedule to bring you a timely sparkling wine primer courtesy of our Blue Jean Sommelier, Anders. If you’re still in need of a last-minute recommendation for New Year’s Eve, or simply want to know more about the types of wine you might encounter tonight, look no further. Also, keep in mind–there’s no rule that says you must limit your consumption of bubbles to NYE! Every day can be a holiday with one of these affordable bottles at the table.
If you’re new around here, be sure to check out Anders’ previous posts, too.
Wishing you all a safe, festive New Year’s Eve–check back tomorrow for a post about beginnings, endings, tradition, & shrimp creole.
Salud, L’Chaim, Cin-Cin, Prost, Sláinte, À votre santé, et. al!
Another New Year’s eve is upon us and again we find ourselves thinking about our favorite moments of the passing year and looking forward to the promise of the next. In my opinion there are many beverages that go with fond nostalgia and anticipatory excitement, but none are perhaps quite as fitting as a delicious sparkling wine. And – nothing really says PARTY quite as well as a chilled bottle of bubbly!
These days there are many choices from all over the world when it comes to selecting a festive vino frizzante, at a huge range of price points. Here is a rundown of many the options that are available to you and a little bit about what goes into each style.
Cava is Spanish sparkling wine and although it can technically be made anywhere in the country at least 95% of it comes from Catalonia – vineyards that are not far from the city of Barcelona. Cava is made using the traditional method and can be crafted from the indigenous grapes Xarello, Parellada and macabeo as well as chardonnay and pinot noir. Cava is an excellent source of value, you can read more about it here.
Still undoubtedly the king of sparkling wines but often quite spendy. One of the most important things to know is how Champagne is defined by French law. Sparkling wines from the Champagne region (90 miles NE of Paris) have to follow very specific rules to carry the name “Champagne” on their bottle (like using only Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier or Chardonnay grapes, making the wines using the “traditional method” and aging the wine for at least 15 months). French lobbyists and lawmakers have long fought to make sure that the name Champagne is applied only to wines from the Champagne region. The true quality of Champagne, however, is a result of intense care, precision and skill with which its grapes are grown. It isn’t that this can’t be reproduced elsewhere, simply that the Champenoise have been at it for much, much longer than anyone else.
CREMANT DE…BOURGOGNE, LOIRE, ALSACE, ETC.
Cremants are sparkling wines from France that are governed by French wine law (meaning they also have aging, grape, vinification and other requirements), use traditional method and are often a GREAT source of value. I have always enjoyed Cremant de Alsace (Trimbach is a good producer) which typically used the Auxerrois grape as a base and can include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer among a few others.
A sparkling wine made from the Prosecco grape. These wines are produced in the Treviso province of Northeastern Italy (north of Venice and northeast of Lake Garda). Producers typically employ the Charmat method in making Prosecco, carrying out the second fermentation in large stainless steel tanks instead of in bottle. As a result, Prosecco is typically less nuanced than traditional method sparkling wine but has bright fruit flavors and is typically best consumed in the year it is produced.
Sekt is the name for “sparkling wine” in Germany and those found in the US are typically off-dry and crafted in large stainless tanks (Charmat method). The grapes for most Sekt are also not sourced from Germany itself but from Spain, Italy and France. Deutscher Sekt is the term for Sekt made from German grapes and is typically of higher quality. The grapes can very even more than the provenance, I have found examples made from blends of any of the following; Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. Sekt is often a source of great value but may take a lot of experimentation to find a bottle you like given the amount of variance. Translate German sweetness levels this way: Herb = Extra Brut-Brut (bone dry-dry), Sehr Trocken = extra dry (very slightly sweet), Trocken = dry (slightly sweet), Halbtrocken = medium dry (sweet).
AMERICAN SPARKLING WINES
Since there are few laws governing the creation of American sparkling wine there is no standard on which method to use in creating it or which grapes to make it from. There are, however, many extremely quality focused producers who put forth great bottlings year after year, using the traditional method and classic grapes. Argyle, Schramsberg, Roederer Estate, J Wine Co, Iron Horse and Domaine Carneros are all excellent producers
Feeling quite festive this holiday season, I took upon myself the grueling task of tasting a collection of what I thought promised to be great quality for price sparklers that are widely available in stores. Here are my notes…
NV (Non-Vintage) Montaudon Champagne Brut (France) $24-$38
The Montaudon probably had the best bubbles of the group – it fizzed finely for 30 minutes. I found the aromatics initially disappointingly-dominated by sulphur dioxide (used in bottling) and overpowering yeast aromas. But after about 5 minutes the sulphur blew off and the yeast aromas integrated with really enjoyable notes of apple blossom (I think – not having sniffed an apple blossom for quite some time), ripe peach, apricot and rose. The palate on the other hand was a well balanced with awesome acidity and citrus flavors that leaned toward lime.
My Rating: Fizzle that Sizzled (Like Robert Downey Jr.- troubled at first but came back strong)
NV Henkell Trocken (Germany) $13-$17
This Sekt is a combo of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot noir and Chenin blanc. The resulting blend is incredibly creamy and left the inside of my mouth feeling like I had just downed an English muffin with my usual disproportionate amount of butter. This wine is also relatively sweet (at least 3% residual sugar) and therefore sent my mother running for another glass of brut champagne. I have to say I rather enjoyed both the creaminess and the sugar, I think I may have discovered another personal guilty-pleasure wine. Expect little acidity (not a great pairing wine) and ripe fruit flavors of guava, apricot, cider and bitter almond on the finish.
My Rating: For Sugar and Butter Lovers
NV Zardetto Prosecco Brut (Italy) $10-$15
The first thing that I noticed about the Zardetto was its gargantuan bubbles! I mean the little orbs were almost the size of Dip & Dots and streamed towards the surface like skin divers gasping for breath. Since typically the finer the effervescence the better, I would not say this is exactly a good thing. On the other hand I found this Prosecco’s aromatics alluring and complex. I got bright honeydew, something floral I couldn’t pin down, lilac and honey. The palate was simple citrus that I thought leaned toward lime and left my mouth feeling chalky.
My Rating: I Wouldn’t Dump it Down the Drain (But You Could Do Better)
NV Gruet Rose Brut (USA – New Mexico) $13-$18
Oh my god it’s pink!! Once you get over any adverse preconceptions about rose wine (I used to have plenty) and give this wine a shot I think you will be pleasantly surprised by its rich, creamy fruit and generous effervescence. Flaunts its traditional method-birth with a lot of yeasty aromatics and flavors (croissant, croissant, croissant) blended together with effuse grapefruit and raspberry. I thought it was quite spectacular for money I laid down and it’s from New Mexico!
My Rating: Class for the Coin
NV J-Vineyards Cuvee 20 (USA – California – Russian River Valley) $22-$28
What struck me most about the J Cuvee 20 was its balance and the excitement of what I like to call “the ride” – that is it kept my focused attention from the just slightly sweet attack (when the wine hits the tip of your tongue) through the mid-palate where it spoke overtly of lemon and sweet bread, had a very subtle creaminess to its mouthfeel and showed a generous acidity that could cut through any rich appetizer. It then finished strong with a wonderful minerality that meshed symbiotically with its lemon-citrus notes.
My Rating: Top Notch