Tag Archives: bubbles

Bubbles Beyond Champagne: Ten Regions for Fine Sparkling Wine

 

The bottling line at Ferrari in Trentino, Italy.

If you missed my USA Today article, I’ve reposted it here for your convenience. 

Pop, sigh, fizz. The stats are in: Americans love bubbles, having embraced them not only for celebrations but as a year-round drink. Last year, for example, sparkling wine sales in the U.S. grew by 25 percent. Of course, no occasion proves more appropriate for sparklers than the turning over of a new year. As you reach for bottles to celebrate the close of 2017, consider sipping beyond the popular categories of Champagne and Prosecco. High-quality and good value alternatives come from every corner of the world nowadays. So, if 2018 begins with a pledge to broaden your horizons, you can start with the fizz in your glass.

  1. Burgundy, France: Domaine Francois Mikulski, Crémant de Bourgogne

If the best Champagne is made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and Burgundy produces the finest still wines from those grapes, shouldn’t Burgundy have the potential to make wonderful sparkling wine? Well, it does, and it’s called Crémant de Bourgogne. Crémant refers to the category of French bubbles made with the same technique as Champagne, but from outside the Champagne region. Mikulski, a vigneron from Meursault, has some of the finest vineyard holdings in the village, and while his still wines are hard to find, his affordable Crémant (around $24) can still be tracked down around the U.S. Made from 50% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, and 15% Aligote, the wine is aged for 18 months on the lees, and provides a perfect jumping off point for discovering the category. The wine shows purity of fruit, lovely mineral notes, and a creamy full mousse.

  1. Loire Valley, France: Chidaine, Brut Nature Methode Traditionelle 2015

Like Burgundy, Loire Valley, too, makes superb fizz. But the white grape that dominates the sparklers of this long, river-hugging region is not Chardonnay but Chenin Blanc. Within the appellation of Montlouis-Sur-Loire, across from Vouvray, works and lives François Chidaine. A biodynamic farmer who strives for transparency and authenticity in his wines, Chidaine is revered by many wine lovers and professionals. Every year in small quantities he bottles a 100 percent sparkling Chenin Blanc. He foregoes the final dollop of sweetness, known as dosage, to make a fully dry ‘Brut Nature’. The result: a crisp, mineral-driven wine with a pretty nose and palate of white flowers, pear, and citrus, on a lengthy finish.

  1. Sussex, England: Ridgeview, Bloomsbury Brut 2014

Once the new kid on the block, British fizz has fast proven itself in a competitive category, winning prestigious awards that confirm it’s here to stay. In fact, a changing – warming – climate almost guarantees a long lifespan for the relatively nascent region of Sussex, England. The local climate and limestone soils are akin to Champagne, almost 90 miles south. Cool nights and an overall cooler climate, allow the grapes to retain their bright, sharp flavors even when fully ripe, making it an ideal growing area for the classic Champagne trio: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. Ridgeview is a leading producer and one of the easier brands to find in the United States. The Bloomsbury Brut, a blend of all three grapes, has a fine mousse and great finesse, with lively green apple, white peach and lemon notes on the long finish.

  1. Franciacorta, Italy: Ca’ del Bosco, Cuvee Prestige NV

A competition has long been brewing between Italy’s leading sparkling wine regions. Producers located in Lombardy’s Franciacorta naturally declare themselves to be the finest producers of high-quality Metodo Classico, or sparkling wine made in the traditional (Champagne) method. The wines reflect the style, complexity and quality of the premier French region, but taste very much of place. The appellation of Franciacorta falls within the province of Brescia in the hills just south beyond Lake Iseo in Northern Italy. Thus, a cooler climate near a moderating lake allows for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes, plus Pinot Blanc, to thrive. Internationally respected brand Ca’ del Bosco is easily recognizable by it golden cellophane wrapping, but it’s the juice inside that earns admiration. The Cuvee Prestige is a blend of the region’s three typical grapes, the Pinot Blanc adding a touch of floral fragrance. Fine bubbles, flavors of apple, lemon, and apricot, and flashy packaging, make this a great choice for impressing dinner guests.

  1. Western Cape, South Africa: Saltare, Brut Reserve NV

If consumers were asked about their impressions of South African wine, they might offer “Chenin Blanc,” “Bordeaux-like reds,” or maybe “Pinotage” but few would likely reference Methode Cap Classique, or MCC for short. MCCs are South Africa’s answer to Champagne. They are high-quality, traditional method sparkling wines that have become so good, they deserve greater global recognition. Yet while they’re easy to find in situ, only a handful make it to the American market. Fortunately, one of the best small producers has a great importer who gets her wine to US shelves. Owner-winemaker Carla Pauw of Saltare wines, named after the Latin word for “to dance,” largely focuses on sparkling, producing a Brut Reserve from grapes sourced in the Western Cape. This bottle is one of her more mature sparklers, with a minimum of 36 months on the lees. This extended aging contributes a fuller body, complexity, and a long, toasty finish.

  1. Mosel Valley, Germany: Dr. Loosen, Sparkling Riesling Sekt

German sparkling wine goes by the name Sekt. Given Germany’s most important grape is Riesling, it’s logical that this aromatic white grape provides the base for most fizz. But sparkling Riesling can prove an unusual taste for those unfamiliar with it; hence, consider starting with an approachable example, from both a flavor and pocketbook standpoint. Enter Dr. Loosen from the Mosel Valley. The Loosen estate has been in the family for 200 years, with some of Germany’s best-rated vines within the family portfolio. The business is currently run by Ernst Loosen, who has taken quality standards to new heights while still delivering great value from his wines. Specifically, the Dr. L Riesling, an entry-level sparkler conveying the elegant, bright fruit flavors derived from the Mosel’s famous steep slate soils, sells for an attractive price. At 8.5% alcohol, and medium sweetness levels, it’s an easy quaffing wine, too.

  1. Kamptal, Austria: Bründlmayer, Brut Sekt

Americans familiar with Sekt likely associate it with Germany, but Austria makes their own version. Grapes typically include Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinots Blanc and Gris, but it’s the indigenous grape Grüner Veltliner that makes Austrian fizz distinct. Located in the famous wine region of Kamptal, Weingut Bründlmayer produces several variations on Sekt. The Brut, made in the traditional method, blend the latter four mentioned white grapes, and gives fine Champagne a run for its money. Offering trademark bottle aged notes of yeasty toastiness, flavors flow into apple, quince, and lemon zest on the creamy palate. A slight peppery note, characteristic of Grüner, reveals itself in the long, crunchy finish. This is an excellent bottle from a well-known producer that provides a good introduction to Austrian bubbles.

  1. Penedès, Spain: Raventós, i Blanc De La Finca 2014

Most consumers who know Spanish sparkling wine think of Cava. There are several prolific brands offering good, entry-level value. But one family has sought to elevate the category beyond the supermarket and into fine wine territory. That family is Raventos, a lineage boasting winemaking traditions reaching back to 1497. In fact, they are credited with producing the first Cava in 1872. However, in recent years, the family has become synonymous with controversy as their focus on organic farming, utmost quality, and terroir-driven expressions has led them to break from the Cava DO to pursue a new appellation, Conca del Riu Anoia. Fundamental to the Raventos philosophy is the use of indigenous grapes in their wines. Those varieties, Xarel-lo, Parellada, Macabeo, make up the blend in the de la Finca, an exceptional traditional method wine that sees a minimum aging period of three years.

  1. Trentino, Italy: Ferrari, Perle Nero 2009

As awareness of styles other than Prosecco grows, and wine drinkers continue to trade up – often drinking less but better – Trentino provides the obvious next stop in Italy. Tucked into the mighty Dolomites of the north, the area’s sparkling appellation TrentoDOC covers traditional method wines called metodo classico. These mountain bubbles are racy, mineral-soaked expressions delivering precision and elegance as a result of their cool-climate, higher altitude origin. The founding father of fizz in Trentino is Giulio Ferrari, who brought the technique of Champagne production to his village in 1902. Ferrari today has grown into a powerhouse producer by Trentino standards, although production’s a drop in the bucket compared to the big houses in France. Ferrari makes easy to find, standout wines in all price tiers, including the “Perle” line which is a vintage expression. “Nero” references the sole use of red grapes, like Blanc de Noir, which gives the wine a deeper, richer, berry-scented palate.

  1. Russian River Valley, California: J Vineyards & Winery, Cuvée 20 Brut NV

As America’s foremost wine state, it should come as no surprise that California produces sparkling wine from myriad regions. However, bubble lovers know the best examples come from cooler growing areas. Why? Brisk air and chilly nights preserve acidity and tension. That’s why vineyards further north in an otherwise warm state, like those in the Russian River Valley, are best suited to the style. One pioneering and widely available producer from Northern California is J Vineyards and Winery. Founded in 1986, J has earned a reputation as one of the best sparkling-focused houses in the U.S. They work with classic Champagne grapes and follow the same traditional method bottle fermentation and aging processes. Their signature sparkler, assembled from their coolest vineyards, is Cuvée 20, a delicious non-vintage brut with 24 months of aging that imbued toasted nut notes to the lively, lemon-custard evocative wine.

 

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Bollinger Discovered A Secret Room Filled With Vintage Champagne, Will Auction One Bottle In NYC

Bollinger’s inaugural auction, hosted by Sotheby’s, comes to NYC in November. (Photo provided by Bollinger Champagne)

Bollinger’s inaugural auction, hosted by Sotheby’s, comes to NYC in November. (Photo provided by Bollinger Champagne)

Do you get a little giddy after pulling a winter coat out of storage and finding a $20 bill in the pocket? Imagine, then, the thrill of discovering a hidden chamber filled with over 600 bottles and magnums of pre-WWII reserve wine for Bollinger Champagne. In the summer of 2010, that’s precisely what happened at this Champagne house in Aÿ. In fact, an intern had been sent to the subterranean tunnels of the property’s cellar to clean. During the process of removing a wall of empty bottles, another wall sealing off an abandoned chamber was discovered. Inside were the personal wine collections of past family members dating back to 1830. Bollinger was founded in 1829.

Through rigorous tasting and analysis, the wines were verified and identified. In 2012, under the guidance of Cellar Master Gilles Descôtes, a restoration project was started to save the rare bottles. All of the wines will remain in the Bollinger Wine Libraries with the exception of one. And that one bottle, comprising Lot 40, is the showpiece of Bollinger’s first ever auction, hosted by Sotheby’s in New York City on November 19, 2016.

Presented by the auction house as “A Century of Champagne Bollinger,” the event will feature a selection of rare wines that have never before left the winery’s cellars in Aÿ, France. In other words, the wines have perfect provenance. The sale is a milestone for the legacy Champagne house, known for its uniquely complex and powerful, yet sophisticated style. Since its founding, Bollinger remains one of the last independent family houses. Other notable achievements: Bollinger’s elegance seduced the Crown of England into awarding it the prestigious Royal Warrant in 1884; and for more than 40 years, Bollinger has served as the Champagne of choice of James Bond.

Bollinger CEO Jérôme Philipon commented: “For the first-ever auction of Champagne Bollinger in the U.S., we are extremely proud to have Sotheby’s as our partner. Not only will we unveil an incredible depth of vintages this November, but we will also demonstrate the unique capacity of Bollinger Champagnes to age. We are thrilled to connect directly with our American customers with these gems from our cellars.”

An intern found a hidden stock of Bollinger reserve wine in a forgotten room in the cellar. (Photo provided by Bollinger Champagne)

The auction highlight, Lot 40, will include the historical 1914 vintage, packaged as “The Bollinger 1914 Experience.” The lucky buyer won’t actually take the wine home or transfer it to a remote, high-security facility. Rather, he or she will savor it at the winery, accompanied by three new best friends. The package will be sold as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for four people to taste the 100+ year vintage as part of a private visit to Galerie 1829 at Bollinger. The lot also includes vineyard and winery visits; dinner with Bollinger Champagnes at the two-star Michelin restaurant Le Parc at Les Crayères, hosted by Philipon; and accommodation at Le Château Les Crayères in Reims.

If Lot 40 eludes you — after all, there can only be one winner — other highlights of the sale include:

  • Six lots of the exceptionally rare and hallowed Vieilles Vignes Françaises from historic vintages. The wines recall pre-phylloxera days, as they are made from a minute production of ungrafted Pinot Noir vines in two Bollinger-owned Grand Cru plots: Chaudes Terres and Clos St. Jacques in Aÿ;
  • Thirty-five lots of Bollinger R.D. library stock spanning four decades from 1973 to 2000; and
  • Bollinger’s Special Cuvée in eight different formats, from half-bottles to a Nebuchadnezzar.

Serena Sutcliffe MW, Honorary Chairman at Sotheby’s Wine, advised potential bidders: “if you plan to buy vintages to keep for important anniversaries and family milestones, remember to stock up on show-stopping ‘grands formats.’” She had the pleasure of tasting through Jeroboams down to bottles, and noted that not only did the larger formats maintain their freshness and youthfulness, but they retained more pressure and thus effervescence. And I’ll add one more comment to that: they look spectacular when served. So, when you have the choice of a Jeroboam, take it.

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