Tag Archives: burgundy

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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Postcard: Domaine Serene Vineyards in Dundee Hills, Oregon

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View from the top of the tower at Domaine Serene in Dundee Hills, Oregon

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Your Guide to Cru Beaujolais, Plus Where to Buy it and Drink it in NYC

BeaujolaisBottles

If last week’s article on Cru Beaujolais piqued your interest, here’s my guide to the Crus, plus where to buy it and drink it in NYC.

Despite burgeoning quality, the Cru Beaujolais category remains relatively unknown to the general consumer, thus prices hang terrifically low. Skip the $11 Nouveau and other entry-level stuff. At twice the price, you get five times the complexity, structure, and balance, plus all the fruit, with Gamay grown in the granite and schist soils of the Crus.

Winemaking methods significantly affect flavors, and range from the region’s hallmark carbonic maceration (fermenting whole berries in closed tanks to produce a light, fruit-forward style) to Burgundian methods for more serious, structured wines (e.g., destemming the grapes). Interest in organic and biodynamic farming is growing, with a number of fine producers tipping into the natural winemaking category. As younger generations — and energized, historic families — pay closer attention to the attributes of their land and seek quality over quantity, Cru Beau will continue to be a category to watch.

The following list of villages includes expected characteristics in flavor and structure of the wines, with inevitable generalizations. Like anywhere, producer matters. Try to remember a handful of names (producer or region) or just ask your retailer or sommelier for assistance (find our three fave shops and restaurants, below).

The Ten Crus of Beaujolais
Brouilly Wines can vary greatly; it is the largest and most southerly of the Crus. Generally, expect soft and fruity wines with mineral notes. Producers: Georges Descombes, Domaine de Vissoux (Chermette), Jean-Claude Lapalu.

Chénas A small appellation, the wines are hard to find in the U.S. Known for red fruits, earthiness, and a heavier body/tannins. Sandwiched between Juliénas and Moulin-à-Vent. Producer: Domaine Piron-Lameloise.

Chiroubles The high altitude contributes great acidity to the wines, which can be tart in cool years, or fresh, perfumed, and bright in sunnier ones. Producers: Daniel Bouland, Damien Coquelet, Cret de Ruyere.

Côte de Brouilly Small appellation in Brouilly on the slopes of Mont Brouilly. Structured wines with strong mineral character, cherries, and firm tannins that allow it to age. Producers: Chateau Thivin, Terres Dorées (Jean-Paul Brun).

Fleurie Floral (think violets), rich, and round, some can be elegant and feminine, others more masculine. Prices higher than most. Producers: Sunier, Chateau de Fleurie (Barbet), Clos de la Roilette (Coudert), Potel-Aviron.

Juliénas Full-bodied, sturdy wines; sometimes rustic; can age. Flavors lean toward raspberries, cherries, and spice. Producers: Clos du Fief (Michel Tête), Pascal Granger.

Morgon Slightly less powerful than Moulin-à-Vent; mineral-laden wines come from the slopes of the Cote du Py. Known for a group of producers called the “Gang of Four,” protégés of natural wine pioneer Jules Chauvet: Jean-Paul Thevenet, Marcel Lapierre, Jean Foillard, and Guy Breton. Chamonard deserves to make it five.

Moulin-à-Vent Most powerful, tannic (for Gamay), and structured of the Crus, with classic fruitiness. Ages well. Producers: Jean-Paul Brun, Diochon and Domaine de Vissoux (Chermette).

Régnié The newest Cru, wines often have a soft, round, and spicy profile with light tannins. Generally drunk young to enjoy the strawberry and cherry notes. Producers: Charly Thévenet, Guy Breton, Descombes, Chateau de la Pierre (Barbet).

Saint-Amour Northern tip of Beaujolais with limestone soil similarities to southern Burgundy. Intense red fruits and florals with well-integrated tannins. Producers: Domaine des Billards (Barbet), Chateau des Rontets.

SaintAmour

Where to Buy
When you’re ready to stock up on a few bottles or even a case of wine, you’ll find the investment in Cru Beau is minimal; the finest bottles fall predominantly around the low- to mid-twenties price range. Sadly, producers are hardly paid what the wines are worth (in fact many are struggling), but until (or if) the market corrects, it’s a buyer’s paradise.

Chambers Street Wines (148 Chambers Street, 212-227-1434) Owner David Lillie pointed out several selections: Roland Pignard, Tradition, Morgon, 2012 for $22: “Certified biodynamic, it’s a beautiful wine showing complex red and black fruits with saline minerality.” Chignard, “Les Moriers,” Fleurie, 2012 for $26: “from very low yields…it has gorgeous raspberry, wild-strawberry and violet aromas and a beautiful light- to medium-bodied palate with bracing acidity.”

Flatiron Wines (929 Broadway, 212-477-1315) The Cru Beau evangelists at Flatiron have a diverse array of bottles, like the elegant and earthy Michel Tete, Clos du Fief, Juliénas, 2011, showing savory beef bouillon and fruity cherry notes for $23, and Jean-Paul Brun’s bright, mineral-driven, raspberry-laced Domaine des Terres Dorées, Cote de Brouilly, 2012 for $22.

Astor Wine & Spirits (399 Lafayette Street, 212-674-7500) Cavernous and competitively priced, Astor carries a handful of options, including the dense, floral, cassis-imbued Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie, 2013 for $22, and the vibrant and taut, cherry-soaked Domaine Des Billards, Saint-Amour, 2011 for a mere $20. A no-brainer.

Where to Drink
Cru Beau is a growing darling of sommeliers citywide. Three wine directors who love the stuff weigh in on their favorites.

Partner and beverage director at Racines (94 Chambers Street, 212-227-3400), Arnaud Tronche particularly enjoys:
Chateau Thivin, Côte de Brouilly: The wine has amazing purity, minerality, plenty of fruit, and can age.
Marcel Lapierre, Morgon: Round, joyful with bright fruit; it’s a classic Morgon.
Guy Breton, Régnié: Earthy with dark fruits; dense, complex, and age-worthy. A minimal amount of sulfur is added.

Sommelier at Claudette (24 5th Avenue, 212-868-2424), Seth Liebman’s list includes at least one wine from all 10 Crus.
Chateau des Rontets, Saint-Amour, 2011: A pretty wine; very soft and beautiful with a nice center of character and structure. It is organic and “natural” in that they do not add any sulfur.
Joseph Chamonard, Le Clos de Lys, Morgon, 1997: The wines from this Chateau…are nothing short of heart-stopping. The 1997 vintage is terrific, though lean and focused with high acidity. It demands your attention.
Jean-Claude Lapalu, Croix Rameaux, Brouilly, 2012: Not to be confused with Lapierre, Lapalu makes wines with guts and strength; they are great drinking and deserve global attention.

Lelañea Fulton, wine director for the Dirty French (180 Ludlow Street, 212-254-3000)highlights:
Damien Coquelet, Vielles Vignes Chiroubles, 2012: The stepson of Georges Descombes, he makes a mean Chiroubles Vieilles Vignes.
Stephane Aviron, ‘Côte du Py, Vielles Vignes’ Morgon, 2011: An old-school vigneron, his Crus drink much like Burgundies.
Pascal Granger, ‘Grande Réserve,’ Julienas, 2009: Granger produces wines of deep dark fruit and amazing structure. They are powerhouse wines.

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