Mon 31 Dec 2007
Barring the fact that you might be tossing buckets of bubbly at hordes of giddy revelers — try the Gruet Brut (non-vintage) from New Mexico, a fresh, fruity, biscuity style of sparkling wine (fashioned in the methode champenoise) with lots of crisp acid and limestone, about $14 to $17 — let me offer a couple of impressive products that deliver top quality without reaching for the stratospheric prices of the top-of-the-line cuvées.
A romantic dinner for two tonight would benefit greatly from the elegance and dignity of Schramsberg’s J. Schram Brut 2000, a blend of 80 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot noir. Schramsberg, the leading producer of sparkling wine in California, despite increasing (and increasingly better) competition, generally draws grapes from four North Coast counties, in this case Napa (60 percent), Mendocino (20 percent), Sonoma (12 percent) and Marin (8 percent). The result is a recognizable house style for this flagship sparkling wine of terrific substance and character. The color is pale burnished gold with a slight silver tarnish; the bouquet teems with wood smoke, dried spice, quince, roasted lemon and toasted almond skins. This is a very high-toned sparkling wine, structured with vibrant acid, elements of chalk and limestone and so much lip-smacking texture that it feels viscous, almost candied around the edges. The finish, not surprisingly, is dry, minerally, spicy and austere. The rating is Excellent, and the suggested price is about $90. Production is 1,542 cases.
To go in a different direction, and less expensive, that same romantic dinner for two, or a small dinner party, would slide smoothly on the winsome wheels of the Veuve Clicquot Reserve Rosé (non-vintage), a classic French rosé champagne that to its traditional basis of pinot noir grapes (50-55 percent), pinot meunier (15-20 percent) and chardonnay (28-33 percent) adds a balance of 12 percent red wine. The result here is a lovely pale peach-salmon color enlivened by a steady stream of tiny silver bubbles and an attractive bouquet that weaves hints of raspberry, pear and melon with limestone and hints of biscuits and toasted almond. In the mouth, this champagne offers resonant acid and limestone qualities with touches of dried red fruit, fresh bread and cookie dough. Charming and expressive with an Excellent rating. As happens with popular imported champagnes, the range of prices for the Veuve Clicquot Reserve Rosé is astonishing; coastal cities will see prices from about $52 to $62, while in heartland cities the price can go up to $70 and $75.
Or, wait — this is a brilliant idea — serve the Veuve Clicquot Reserve Rosé as aperitif and the J. Schram 2000 with dinner. Everybody will love you.
Since New Year’s Eve is the biggest champagne and sparkling wine night of the year, let me append some tips on proper serving.
1. Champagne and sparkling wine should be served chilled, straight from the refrigerator.
2. They should be consumed in tall “flute” glasses, not the shallow “coupe” glasses said to have been modeled on one of Marie Antoinette’s breasts. I wonder which one.
3. Never try to open a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine with a cork-screw. Strip off the foil capsule and untwist the wire cage that surrounds the cork. With a towel over the bottle, grasp the cork in one hand and the bottom of the bottle in the other. Extract the cork by twisting the bottle, not the cork.
4. Now matter how plastered you are or how much hilarity you anticipate, NEVER push the cork out with your thumbs, hoping for a loud POP, a gush of foam and a cork careening about the room. The pressure inside a bottle of champagne or sparkling wine is enormous, and the cork will rush out at great speed and force, enough to damage an eye.
Two myths about champagne and sparkling wine exploded:
1. Consuming large amounts of champagne does not make you smarter, funnier or sexier. Believe me, I’ve tried. It doesn’t work.
2. Despite all the hype, champagne is not great with caviar, unless it happens to be the very, very driest more exquisitely elegant champagne with the very very best caviar, and already the tab is about $300. In all other cases, super-chilled vodka, straight from the freezer, is truly the best accompaniment to caviar. The Russians knew what they were doing.