Tuesday, December 23, 2014

(Make Me Happy, Make Me Feel Fine!)

A New Year's Eve celebration is nothing—nothing!—without a glass (or six, I'm not driving,) of Champagne. You Wineaux probably know by now that the Minx is a sucker for nearly any vino with bubbles in it, no matter what the date. Or time of day, for that matter.

A few years ago I wrote an awesome article about the joys of bubbly. (You can read it here.) It has information on the basic styles of sparkling wines and some suggestions at different price points, but there is always so much more to uncover.

Sure, it's nice if a friend brings you a Warhol-inspired bottle of 2002 Dom Perignon (thanks, Devin!) but maybe you're saving some dough for a great ski trip in January, or you merely want to be creative and drink outside of the box this year.

To that end, here are some interesting bubbly alternatives for ringing in the New. Enjoy!

Bullet point #1: PET NAT in the house!

Lately the Minx has noticed a veritable explosion of offerings in the "Pet Nat" style, which is shorthand for "Pétillant Naturel," a type of sparkling wine made in an old, agrarian style. It involves wild yeast and natural fermentation; a spontaneous, unpredictable experience that translates into an unusual glass of lightly sparkling wine. Maybe not for everyone—however, if you like the weird and wonderful (and you all know I do!) these wines can be fascinating.

NV Salinia Twenty-five Reasons, Russian River Valley, CA. This was one of the first pet nat wines that made me sit up and go, "huh!" It's a little schitzo, as the typical Sauvignon Blanc tropical fruit on the nose gives way to a savory green olive experience in the mouth. I recognized it would possibly divide a tasting group, but it's one of those wines that intrigued me so much, I kept sniffing and sipping, sniffing and sipping, until I had to hold out my glass and say, "fill 'er up!" ~$22.

2012 Texier Rouletabulle, Rhône. Made from the Chasselas grape, more commonly found in Switzerland (...which is another way of saying it's really not common AT ALL.) Overripe tropical fruit and green plum on the nose, slightly bitter finish, but stimulates those salivary glands fo' shizzle; an excellent aperitif. Long, tart finish. ~$22.

2013 La Garagista CdF, Vermont. Yes, Vermont! From rising star winemaker Deirdre Heekin, this stunning rosé pet nat has overripe "sweet" melon and candied orange peel on the nose, with a lightness in the mouth, super dry finish of tart strawberries, very interesting and compelling, salinity on the finish. ~$35. (Alas, as of this writing, it seems the rosé has sold out, but there is still availability of the white version, which is quite tasty as well, with a lovely ginger element and also a savory finish. ~$35.)

Bullet point #2: Parlez-vous CRÈMANT?

Basically, a crèmant is a sparkling wine from France NOT from Champagne, and it is named for the region it comes from: Crèmant de Loire, Crèmant d'Alsace, etc. Given the historical quality of France's winemaking regions, this is a great place to find excellent bubbly at a fraction of the price of Champagne.

If you have read my Top 20 Under 20 of 2014 post (and if not, why haven't you?!?!) you will recognize the NV Louis Bouillot Rosé, a Crèmant de Bourgogne (Burgundy). It is light pink, with tasty strawberry and honey crisp apple notes. Dry, with a good zingy mousse, nice balance and long finish, great to pair with pork or holiday turkey. I wrote, "More, please," and did indeed end up buying a case of this! ~$16.

NV Domaine de Montbourgeau Crèmant de Jura. I love Jura wines—especially the funky whites with notes of sherry's flor—but don't worry, this is not at all funky, it's lovely. Pale gold. Lazy bubbles. Soapy nose, dense toasty yeasty fresh herbs (like toasted slices of baguette drizzled with olive oil and fresh dill and thyme!) in the mouth. Bright mousse and Meyer lemon on the long, loooooong finish. Delish. ~$25

Bullet point #3: go TOPSY-TURVY

You could also totally mess with convention and pop a sparkling RED wine. Ahhhh! Crazy.

Many Wineaux are divided on red bubbly. Some feel Australian sparkling Shiraz especially reminds them of the old sicky-sweet Cold Duck wines of yore. But you can't find a fun-time party gal of a bubbly more unusual and cheeky than a sparkling red, so try one, and decide for yourself!

For a sparkling Shiraz, try the NV The Chook, Australia. It has a rich purpley-ruby color, with a nose of blackberry jam, smoke, and spice. In the mouth, it's pleasantly effervescent, with macerated berry salad, dark chocolate, violets, a hint of tannins and just a twinge of pleasant sweetness. ~$20.

(One of my fave Aussie wineries, Mollydooker, also makes a sparkling Shiraz called Goosebumps, but it doesn't have a lot of availability in the States, and I have yet to try it. If you can find one, please invite me over! [~$50])

Other red bubblies come from Italy, like Lambrusco and Brachetto. While often vinified slightly sweet (like the very good NV Banfi Rosa Regale,) there are others made in a dry style, like the NV Balugani Grasparossa di Castelvetro Lambrusco. A violet/ruby color, light fizz, nose of blueberry, fresh blackberry, green stemminess. Lots of fruit and wild rose florals, very dry finish. Charming, a little flirty, with a bit of pepper and spice on the finish. ~$20

Going outside of the box myself, I found something a bit unusual with the NV Čotar Črna Penina Frizzante from Slovenia. Arguably, the fact it's a Slovenian red bubbly from the Teran grape is unusual enough, but it was a dark purpley-garnet, with a nose of spice, smoke, rose petals and black berries. On the palate, it's lighter than you'd think, with herbs, underripe berries, a nice, light fizz and a bit of woodiness on the finish. Different and interesting. ~$30

So whether you go for a traditional Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, a sparkling wine from California, or any one of the alternatives above, the Minx would like to wish you a New Year's Eve full of fun and friendship. It is the best time of the year to toast loved ones and to hope for a year ahead full of joy, success, and good wine. My best wishes to you all for a wonderful 2015! Cheers.