December 2013

If you’re hosting hordes of revelers tonight and wish for a tasty and inexpensive sparkling wine to lubricate the path toward “Auld Lang Syne,” you can’t go wrong with the Gran Sarao Cava Brut, a descending blend of 40 percent xarel-lo grapes, 30 percent macabeo, 20 percent parellada and 10 percent chardonnay. The color is medium gold, and the bubbles are finely threaded and active. Notes of green apple, lemon, lime peel and grapefruit are buoyed by delightful effervescence and crisp acidity, with an undertone of spiced and roasted lemon. It spends 12 to 15 months in the bottle on the lees, so it delivers a pleasing full-body for the price. Thoroughly charming. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. Look for prices from $10 to $16, and buy a case.

A Steve Miles Selection, Denver, Colo.

From an estate founded in 1824 comes the Klipfel Brut Cremant d’Alsace, a blend of chardonnay and pinot blanc grapes that offers a pale gold color and a steady, swirling array of tiny gleaming bubbles. I love this Cremant d’Alsace for its foxy muscat-like aromas of orange blossom, spiced pear, damp leaves and slightly over-ripe lychee; its — by contrast — steely backbone of scintillating limestone minerality and crisp, brisk acidity; its delectable spicy citrus flavors; and the lovely balance and integration of these elements. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Wein-Bauer, Inc., Franklin Park, Ill. A sample for review.
All right, let’s say that your New Year’s Eve gathering is more exclusive and intimate, perhaps a small dinner party. Try, in that case, one of my favorite sparkling wines — we’ve had it twice this year — the Argyle Knudsen Vineyard Julia Lee’s Block Blanc de Blancs Brut 2008, Dundee Hills, Oregon. From its shimmering pale gold color and constant confident upward flow of tiny bubbles, to its delicacy and elegance and, on the other hand, its authoritative expression of a grape — it’s 100 percent chardonnay — and a place, this sparkling wine exudes character and breeding. Meadowy aromas of jasmine and honeysuckle are entwined with notes of toasted hazelnuts, slightly roasted grapefruit, limestone and chalk; this is fresh, clean and ardently lively, but it gains body and power in the glass, adding a hint of caramel and toast, and it finishes with steely hauteur and touches of almond and grapefruit rind. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 883 cases. Drink through 2016 or ’18. Excellent. About $50.
On the other hand, what if tonight’s celebration is just for two? Some caviar, a perfect little supper, a toast at midnight. Splurge on the Domaine Chandon Étoile Téte de Cuvée 2003, a world-class sparkling wine that’s a blend of 70 percent chardonnay grapes and 30 percent pinot noir, originating in Napa County (52 percent) and Sonoma County (48 percent). The color is pale platinum blond, and the bubbles surge in a headstrong froth. This sparkling wine is fresh, clean, racy and nervy; you feel its dynamic energy in every sniff and sip. Notes of roasted lemon, quince and crystallized ginger overlay elements of biscuits, almond skin, lime peel and limestone; a lovely creamy texture is balanced by vibrant acidity and lambent minerality, while a few moments in the glass bring in touches of smoke, lilac and chalk. A splendid marriage of elegance and power and one of California’s great sparkling wines. 13 percent alcohol. Production was 1,000 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Exceptional. About $100.

A sample for review.

I love blanc de blancs Champagne, made completely from chardonnay grapes — “blanc de blancs” means “white from whites” — for its elegance and ethereal nature, its tinselly decor and tensile strength, its taut nervosity built on intense minerality. One of the best I have tried recently is the nonvintage Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut, and I offer it today as the sixth entry in the current series of “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine.” Holy cow, we’re halfway through the sequence! Time’s a-wastin’! Anyway, Champagne Delamotte was established in 1760 in the village of Mesnil-sur-Oger, what is now a prestigious area devoted solely to Grand Cru vineyards. Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier, and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Our purpose, however, is to look at the more affordable and accessible Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut. The color is palest gold with undertones of tarnished silver; a storm of tiny bubbles races swirling to the surface. This is all smoke and steel, limestone and flint, but with notes of jasmine and acacia, spiced pear, lime peel and grapefruit and a chilly errant hint of mint and juniper. A few minutes in the glass bring up touches of biscuits, lightly buttered cinnamon toast, roasted lemon; for all the richness of its detail, this blanc de blancs is ethereal, evanescent, high-toned yet based on the essential vitality of crisp acidity and slightly earthy stoniness. As it’s said of the faces of the Hepburn girls — Katharine and Audrey — this Champagne has great bones. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $40 to $68 — yes, that’s quite a range — so be happy if you pay $50 to $55.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. A sample for review.

Let’s keep it sparkling, shall we? For today’s post in the “Wine of the Week” category, let’s sashay off to Alsace, in northeastern France, where the sparkling wines termed Crémant d’Alsace, made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle, tend to be lively, tasty and fairly inexpensive. Such a one is the Clément Klur Brut, nv, Crémant d’Alsace, a blend of pinot blanc and pinot auxerrois grapes. The color is pale but radiant gold, and a steady stream of fine bubbles rises from the bottom of the glass. Notes of apples and pears are highlighted by hints of roasted lemon and lemon balm, with a touch of lime peel for emphasis; a shivery limestone element and chiming acidity lent this sparkling wine vibrancy and resonance, while a touch of chalk grounds it in the earth. Citrus flavors are permeated by ginger and quince, the wine is taut yet juicy and altogether nicely balanced and integrated. 12 percent alcohol. The Clement Klur estate has been completely organic since 1999. The strikingly graphic label is an anomaly in Alsace, where bottle art tends to be conservative and traditional. Very Good+. About $19.

Imported by A.I. Selections, New York. A sample for review.

The point of wines from Nickel & Nickel is that they are all one-variety — the cabernet sauvignons are all cabernet, the merlots all merlot and so on — and that each bottling is from a single, designated vineyard. Most of the wines are produced in quantities of 1,200 to 1,800 cases, with a few dipping as low as a few hundred. The philosophy, of course, is that the individual vineyards, even when compared to vineyards in the same region or sub-region, will bring distinctive features to the wine, taking varietal character into account. I would say that generally the theory, the process work well and deliver wines that distinguish themselves on an individual scale while retaining the similarities inherent in single-variety wines. What’s interesting is that these selections from 2010 and 2009 — and typically for all cabernets from N&N whatever the year — were treated almost identically in the winery, particularly in the point of new oak, almost always kept to under 50 percent. (By the way, N&N produced 12 single-vineyard cabernets from the 2010 vintage.) Director of winemaking for Nickel & Nickel and sister wineries Far Niente, Dolce and Enroute is Dirk Hampson. Because this post is an entry in the “Weekend Wine Notes” series, technical, geographical, geological and historical data are kept to a minimum for the sake of quick, evocative notices. These wines were samples for review. Enjoy!
Nickel & Nickel Hayne Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby-purple, almost opaque; mint, anise, violets, lavender, bitter chocolate; spiced and roasted black currants, blackberries and blueberries; very dry, tannic, austere, a real iron and granitic character; intense and concentrated through and through, tremendous weight and gravity. Try 2016 or ’17 through 2024 to ’28. Excellent potential. About $100.
Nickel & Nickel C.C. Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Rutherford, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Dark ruby-purple color; graham flour, wheatmeal; cedar, tobacco and cloves; intense and concentrated black cherry and raspberry with a touch of plum and a note of pomegranate, all evolving to dark chocolate-covered black cherries; deep core of graphite and granite-like minerality, glinting and scintillating; dry, grainy tannins, long powerful and profound finish. Try 2015 or ’16 through 2022 to ’28. Excellent. About $100.
Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Impenetrable ruby-purple color; cedar, thyme, tobacco, caraway; spiced and macerated black fruit with a note of roasted fennel; the classic iron fist in a velvet glove syndrome; very dry, dusty, earth and loam; tannins both rigorous and plush; buttresses of oak, a foundation of graphite-like minerals and surging acidity; just a freaking huge wine in every respect. Maybe from 2016 or ’17 through 2025 to ’30. Very Good+ to Excellent potential. About $100.
Nickel & Nickel John C. Sullenger Vinetard Caberney Sauvignon 2010, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. Very dark ruby-purple color; cedar, mint, tobacco, dried thyme, black olive, with intense and vibrant notes of black currants, black raspberries and plums and a graphite-lavender-licorice,bitter chocolate overlay: feels like classic Oakville District cabernet; a wide range of dried spices almost exotic; but ultimately a large-framed, deep austere wine freighted with dry leathery foresty tannins and stout oak. Needs from 2016 or ’17 through 2025 to ’30. Excellent potential. About $100.
Nickel & Nickel Martin Stelling Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2010, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.5% alc. (298 cases) Very inky purple-violet color; a monumental and broadly dimensional wine but actually a tad more approachable — as one approaches an Eastern potentate, on bended knee — than its counterpart of 2009; again that classic Oakville dusty, cedary, tobacco aspect, wafting amid really intense and concentrated (yet sweetly ripe) black currant, blackberry and raspberry fruit with a hint of plum compote; wood smoke, licorice and lavender play off against this black fruit array, as well as fronting for a vast reserve of dense, chewy tannins, resonant acidity and a stalwart granitic mineral component; the oak emerges through the earth and mineral-packed finish. Another keeper, say 2016 or ’18 through 2028 to ’32. Excellent. About $155 (a bottle).
Nickel & Nickel State Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Yountville, Napa Valley. 13.8% alc. Deep ruby-mulberry color, opaque at the center; briers, brambles, beetroot, bitter chocolate; intense and concentrated black currants, raspberries and cherries permeated by graphite, fruitcake, rhubarb and cloves; dense, grainy, almost gritty tannins; tremendous vibrant acidity; notes of cedar, roasted fennel, packed with spice and earthy minerality; finishes with walnut shell and wheatmeal. Try from 2015 through 2022 to ’24. Excellent. About $100.
Nickel & Nickel Hayne Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, St. Helena, Napa Valley. 14.3% alc. Inky ruby-purple color; smoky, fleshy, meaty, huge graphite element and leather-brier component; every element in the wine feels crushed, pulverized and indelibly sifted; bristles with ripe black fruit flavors but tannins are huge, impenetrable, and you feel the oak permeating every aspect; very earthy and loamy, with underbrush, mushrooms, moss and truffles; potpourri, bitter chocolate; finish is deep, complex and fairly austere. Try from 2015 through 2022 to ’25. Excellent. About $100.
Nickel & Nickel C.C. Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Rutherford, Napa Valley. 14.4% alc. Very dark ruby-purple; whoa, a huge, pungent, penetrating graphite element; spiced and macerated, black fruit compote, cinnamon and cloves, lavender, black licorice, violets; dense, intense and concentrated, squinching acidity and tannins (which are slightly woody and dusty); a wine with a sense of momentum and power, but some astringency on the finish. 14.4 percent alcohol. Try from 2015 or ’16 through 2024 to ’20. Excellent. About $100.
Nickel & Nickel Branding Iron Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.8% alc. Opaque inky-purple; a bit less dimensional, a little more straightforwardly typical and slightly monolithic compared to these other cabernet efforts from 2009; dry and austere, this is primarily about oak, tannin and granitic minerality; even eight hours later, having stuck the cork back in the bottle, the wine was beset by monumental tannins. 14.8 percent alcohol. Try, if you dare, from 2016 or ’17 through whatever. Very Good+. About $100.
Nickel & Nickel Martin Stelling Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Oakville, Napa Valley. 14.7% alc. Very dark inky-purple with a deep mulberry rim; tremendous acid, tannin and mineral structure, rigorous, granitic; smoke, ash, leather, fruitcake; very dense and chewy; bare hints of macerated and roasted black fruit and lavender and a wave of bitter chocolate. Needs lots of quiet time, say 2016 or ’17 through the next eon. Very Good+ to Excellent potential. About $155.

My Readers can probably tell by the Italian words in the title of this post that we’re back in Italy for the Fifth Day of Christmas, specifically in Lombardy, where we find the sparkling wine region of Franciacorta, about halfway between the cities of Bergamo to the northwest and Brescia to the southeast. These products are made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Franciacorta was accorded the official status of DOCG — Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita — in 1995. The Montenisa estate has been in the hands of the Conti Maggi family since the late 16th Century. In 1999, the Maggi family entered an agreement with Marchesi Antinori of Tuscany to share in the operation of the vineyards. Montenisa Brut is composed of chardonnay and pinot bianco grapes with a touch of pinot noir. The grapes are fermented partly in stainless steel tanks and partly in oak barriques; after second fermentation, the wine rests on the lees for 30 months. The color is pale gold, and the fountain of bubbles forms a gratifying torrent in the glass. Montenisa Brut is fresh and clean with notes of apple and spiced pear and hints of yeasty bread and roasted lemon, lime peel and grapefruit. This is a zesty, vibrant, savory and botanical sparkling wine — I mean by botanical slightly minty and floral — with a prominent background of limestone and flint minerality for a lithe and elegant structure, though it does not stint on subtle ripeness and a sense of moderately mouth-filling lushness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $35.

Imported by Ste Michelle Wine Estates. A sample for review.

I would drink Champagne every day if I could afford it — or if importers would send me samples, I mean, come on! — and the Champagnes I love best are brut rosé and blanc de blancs. For the Fourth Day of Christmas, I offer a superb brut rosé, the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004. The trend now is to favor small family growers and champagne-makers — also called artisan or farmer Champagnes — over the large established houses, and it’s true that grower Champagne can deliver a sense of individuality and terroir-driven authenticity that the large houses sometimes gloss over. It’s also true, however, that with their sometimes vast supplies of reserve wines, their long-term contracts in excellent vineyards and their decades, if not centuries of experience and tradition, the major houses can turn out enviably great and highly desirable products of depth and complexity. Such a one is the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004, a blend of 45 percent pinot noir grapes, 31 percent chardonnay and 24 percent pinot meunier. The color is radiant coral that’s almost opalescent, and it’s energized by startlingly brisk and abundant effervescence; my thought was, “How can a fragile glass how these bubbles?” This is a generous and expansive brut rosé, layered with notes of cloves and orange zest, strawberries and raspberries, biscuits and toasted hazelnuts with a hint of tangerine and a sort of dusty peach. The pinot noir and pinot meunier lend a feeling of red wine graphite, almost of a subtly tannic character, while the chardonnay delivers subversive elements of limestone and grapefruit. This is, in other words, simultaneously substantial and ethereal, earthy and elegant, with an extended finish that’s chiseled and crystalline. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $80.

Imported by Moët-Hennessey USA, New York. A sample for review.

So, on Christmas Day, we did a superior Prosecco, and yesterday assayed an excellent and genuine Champagne. Today, the Third Day of Christmas, we continue with the eclectic tendency and present an unusual vintage-dated Cava, that is to say, the well-known sparkling wine from the Penedés region of Spain, southwest of Barcelona in the province of Catalonia. The Juvé y Camps “Reserva de la Familia” Brut Nature Gran Reserve 2008 comes from an estate founded in 1796 by Joan Juvé Mir, though the working winery was not established until 1921, by Joan Juvé Baqués and his wife Teresa Camps Farré. As is the law in Cava production, these sparkling wines are made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. The Juvé y Camps “Reserva de la Familia” Brut Nature Gran Reserve 2008 consists of the traditional macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada grapes with a dollop of chardonnay. The color is mild gold, enlivened by a vibrant surge of tiny bubbles; aromas of freshly-baked bread, toasted hazelnuts, roasted lemons and green tea are heightened by notes of acacia and almond skin, and the whole package resonates with a sort of sea-breeze/salt marsh fresh and bracing character. This sparkler is very dry, savory, deeply spicy, and though it’s quite lively with acidity and sprightly with tense citrus flavors, it grows more austere as the moments pass, becoming a touch acerb on the finish. I would say drink up, but try it for the unique experience. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid $19, but prices around the country start around $15.

Imported by Winebow Inc., New York.

Today is Boxing Day, so don’t forget to take all those mounds of Christmas present boxes out to the curb for the garbage trucks or for recycling.

Back on the “7th Day of Christmas” in 2010, which happened to be New Year’s Eve, I mentioned the Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut, made by a small family-run house, founded in 1856, in the village of Vertus. This producer uses only grapes from sustainably-farmed Premier Cru vineyards. Today it’s the turn of one of that previous wine’s stablemates, the Veuve Fourny & Fils Grande Réserve Premier Cru Brut, a combination of 80 percent chardonnay grapes and 20 percent pinot noir that aged two-and-a-half years in bottle before release. Boy, this is a super attractive Champagne, both elegant and dynamic, just the way I like them. The color is shimmering pale gold, shot through by a splurge of tiny glancing bubbles. Notes of roasted lemon, grapefruit rind, toasted hazelnuts and cloves are highlighted by wood-smoke, ginger and quince and a hint of cinnamon toast. Lovely poise, tension and tone here, with the authority of brisk acidity and the dimension of chiseled limestone minerality, a dry, savory and saline Champagne that finishes with a tinge of mineral austerity. I could drink this every day. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $35 to $50; I paid in the upper reach of that scale.

Kermit Lynch Imports, Berkeley, Calif.

… and instead of a partridge in a pear tree I offer this unusual thing, a Prosecco that’s not only vintage-dated but a single-vineyard designation. “Hey,” you’re saying, “Prosecco? What’s the big deal?” I know, I know, most Prosecco is lightly effervescent, ethereal, ephemeral and forgettable. Immediately enjoyable, I mean, and then we go on to other matters. Such is not the case with the Adriano Adami “Col Credas” Rive di Farra di Soligo Brut 2011, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. “Rive” is local dialect for a steep hillside vineyard, local being the area of the Veneto north-northwest of Venice and Treviso. When Burton Anderson published The Wine Atlas of Italy in 1990 (Simon & Schuster), he said of Prosecco, “Growing popularity in Italy has left little for export.” That assessment did not account for the explosion of Prosecco’s popularity in America in the following two decades, though most of the product shipped to the United States fell into the soft, slightly sweet and quickly drinkable category. The Adami concern goes back three generations to 1920, when Abele Adami acquired the Giardino vineyard, which still produces grapes for the family. Abele’s son Adriano furthered the family’s reputation, and the estate is now operated by his sons Armando and Franco. The Adami “Col Credas” Rive di Farra di Soligo Brut 2011 was made completely from glera grapes, as the prosecco grape is now called, and produced in the method of second fermentation in tanks. The color is about as silvery as a pale pale gold sparkling wine can be, the pleasure of its hue abetted by a fountain of surging, glinting bubbles. This is all steel and snow, frost and flint and damp limestone, highlighted by hints of roasted lemon, verbena and lime peel, with notes of acacia and almond skin. Bright acidity and a touch of grapefruit keep this Prosecco snappy, juicy and bracing, but mainly it’s about fleet-footed minerality, though there’s nothing austere or forbidding. It all fits together in lovely harmony. 11 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $22, a Great Value.

A sample for review.

What began as a lark during the Yuletide season of 2007 and 2008, that is, the 12 days of Christmas from Christmas Day (December 25) to Twelfth Night (January 5), evolved into a hallowed tradition on this blog. Tomorrow, then, I start the seventh edition, for 2013 and 2014, of “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine.” Each day I will post an entry about a bottle of, obviously, Champagne, the real stuff, or a sparkling wine from another wine-producing region of the world; part of my motivation is to persuade consumers that other sorts of sparkling wines are also “the real stuff.” My constant effort is not only in the service of quality but of the interesting and occasionally the unusual. Prices will range from the affordable to the eye-popping, but that’s the nature of the product. In all these years, I have never repeated a product, though I have used (and will again) different labels from the same house or estate or winery. Over six years, 116 Champagnes and sparkling wines have appeared in this series, and while the quick and astute among My Readers will assert that 6 x 12 = 72, for the posts on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night, I typically mention three or four products in the way of providing choices and clearing up the roster. So, Happy Christmas Eve and Merry Christmas, and don’t forget to check this blog each day for the latest post along the way of this annual festive time when the days begin to get longer and one year turns into another. Cheers!

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