Saturday, December 17, 2011


Sometimes people ask me: if I could only drink one kind of wine for the rest of my life, what would it be?  Oh Wineaux, that’s too easy – Champagne. 

"Why do I drink Champagne for breakfast?  Doesn't everyone?” - Noel Coward

Many people jump on the bubbly bandwagon this time of year, with good reason.  Sparkling wine is a celebratory toasting beverage, but also comes in an incredible array of styles, making it perfect for food pairing. 

"Three be the things I shall never attain: envy, content, and sufficient Champagne." - Dorothy Parker

Stylistically, Bubblies typically fall under two categories, depending on the fermentation process: traditional style (or “méthode Champenoise”) which provides warmer, rounder notes of toasted bread and yeast, and Charmat (or tank-fermented) which is used for cleaner, crisper styles like that of Prosecco.

"I only drink Champagne when I'm happy, and when I'm sad.  Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone.  When I have company, I consider it obligatory.  I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am.  Otherwise I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."
- Lily Bollinger

Champagne Terms and Facts Every Wineau Should Know:
1) NV = non-vintage.  Not meaning ‘inferior,’ NV wines are actually painstakingly blended to reflect a ‘house style’ and to have consistent quality from year to year.
2) Vintage-designated wines are from grapes harvested in a particular year.  These usually rest “sur lie” (on the lees of the dead yeast cells that were used in the fermentation process) at least three years, sometimes much longer. 
3) “Blanc de Blancs” means white from whites – a sparkler made from 100% Chardonnay, rather than the allowable Champagne blend of Chardonnay with the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. 
4) “Blanc de Noirs” means white from reds – a white sparkler made only from either or both of the above red varietals.
5) “How sweet is Extra Dry???” This can be a little confusing.  From driest to sweetest (measured by grams per litre of residual sugar) it goes: Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry (Extra Sec), Dry (Sec), Demi-Sec, and Doux. Starting with Extra Dry, you’ll be aware of the elevated sweetness, and Demi-Sec and especially Doux are noticeably very sweet.  But don’t let those on the end scare you off – there are amazingly crafted sweeter styles of sparkling wines found all over the world.

"Too much of anything is bad, but too much Champagne is just right." - Mark Twain

Finally: one bit of housekeeping.  All Wineaux should know that the term “Champagne” is ONLY used for wines from the particular region of Champagne in France.  ANYTHING else, no matter how wonderful, is called a sparkling wine.  And there are some wonderful sparklers out there, just don’t call them Champagne.

"In victory, you deserve Champagne, in defeat, you need it.” - Napoleon Bonaparte

Here is a round-up of Bubblies for all of your holiday needs, organized by price, with lists of my go-to dependables as well as some particular recent favorites.

Go-Tos: Domaine Chandon (US), Gruet (US), many Proseccos (Italy) and Cavas (Spain) – be careful with Prosecco, some value brands are not well-crafted.  Fave value Brut/Rosé Cava: NV Segura Viudas (~$10!!)

*NV Nino Franco Prosecco di Valdobiaddene Rustico, Italy ~$13
Sensuous nose of lime, florals and grass.   Lemon curd and underripe melon also on the palate.  Rich mousse and sprightly acidity give a long finish with a nice weight. (This made my “TOP 20 UNDER $20” in 2011.)

*NV Clos de la Briderie Pureté de Silex Brut, Loire  ~$16
Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Chardonnay.  Strict biodynamic production, using natural yeast, etc. Fresh citrus notes but great roundness from lees and stone fruits.  (Also a “TOP 20 UNDER $20” this year.)

*NV Banfi Rosa Regale Brachetto d’Acqui DOCG, Italy ~$18
Frothy pink sparkler, slightly sweet, bright raspberries, strawberries, some florals.  Touted as a dessert wine – on its own or it pairs very well with chocolate!  Definitely a party in a glass.

Go-Tos: Taittinger, Perrier-Jouët, Moët & Chandon, Billecart-Salmon (all Champagne), Mumm Napa DVX (US)

*2005 Sakonnet “Blanc de Blanc” Rhode Island ~$30
Don’t be afraid to try a sparkler from somewhere unusual!  100% Chardonnay, 5 yrs on lees. Very light and crisp with pleasant yeasty character.  Very nice!

*NV Piper Heidsieck Cuveé Sublime Demi-Sec Champagne ~$35
Nose of cake spice and herb stems. Sweet peaches, pineapple, bit of honey, creamy and soft. Not “too” sweet.  Hands-down the best example of Demi-Sec I’ve ever tried.

*NV Leclerc Briant “La Ravinne” Blanc de Noirs Cru Brut ~$42
Unusually 100% Pinot Menuier.  AND from a single vineyard!  Slightly peachy color with a spicy nose.  Notes of peach peel, mountain florals, plum and lime.  Slightly bitter, earthy, dry, good acidity.  May be tough to find but very much worth the effort!

Go-Tos: Most NV rosés and vintage bottlings from the above Go-To producers.  Many Champagne growers (as opposed to the big Champagne houses) also bottle in this price range – with a very small production but painstakingly handcrafted and high quality.

*2001 Argyle Brut Willamette Valley Extended Tirage, Oregon ~$55
A top American sparkler.  Fresh grapefruit, warm melon and taffy notes.  Elegant but flirtatious.  Very nice.

*2004 Ayala Blanc de Blancs Champagne ~$68
Wow nose of toasted buttered bread. Concentrated fruit, yeasty, very dry, tactile and flavorful with a finish for days. 

*2004 Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs Champagne ~$70
Unusual nose of Asian spice and violets, mandarin orange.  BIG.  Some toast, grass and lemon curd.  Good finish. YUM.

*NV Bollinger Brut Rosé Champagne ~$74
Fantastic berry and floral nose.  Those notes are lush on the palate, with a pleasing minerality and an intense mousse.

Go Tos: Krug Champagne, which is big and bold and probably my all-time favorite.  I’d drink it every day if I could afford to!  Their Multi-Vintage blend is fantastic, the vintages I’ve tried are all unique and sublime, and the single-vineyard 100% Chardonnay Clos du Mesnil is the pinnacle of the best of the best.  Also Dom Pérignon and Roederer Cristal Champagnes.

*1999 Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs Champagne ~$100
Compact mousse, nice salinity, orange blossom, ripe lemon, toasty/yeasty. Dense but smooth.

*NV Gosset Célébris Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne  ~$190
Gosset’s Tête de Cuvée (the premier Champagne produced by an individual house.)  Lavender perfume, a little caramel, yeasty notes, some age – big but focused.  Super creamy, very sexy.

*2004 Louis Roederer Brut Champagne Cristal ~$200
Rich and unctuous. Notes of brioche and white flowers, with a hint of green apple on finish.  Big wine!  A superstar.

*1999 Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil $290
From a single vineyard, and although over ten years old, this is the current release!  (There have been only 37 vintages produced since 1905.)  Soft soapy nose, huge florals, incredible mousse, tangy minerality.  My notes say “UH-MAY-ZING!”

*1975 Dom Pérignon Brut Oenothèque ~$1500
Incredibly, this was only disgorged (removed from the lees and then bottled) in 2009.  Color of light rose gold, tiny lazy bubbles and a supremely smoky nose.  Notes of honey, caramelized lemon tart crust, brioche and a bit of meatiness.  Mature and harmonious with a smooth mousse, just incredible.  A wine of a lifetime.

Whether your budget is ten dollars or fifteen hundred dollars, there is a sparkling wine out there for you, so have fun this holiday season!  Cheers, Wineaux!

“I am tasting stars!” – Dom Perignon

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