January 2014


Let’s travel back to Franciacorta in Lombardy for a fine example of the craftsmanship that can occur there. Our model is the Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007, a blend of 90 percent chardonnay and 10 percent pinot noir grapes that spent three years en tirage, to use the French term meaning resting on the lees in bottle, and another six months in the cellar after disgorgement, the rather unpleasant word for the process of releasing the accumulated yeast from the bottle. Anyway, the color is pale straw-gold, and the bubbles form a miniature tempest of persistent effervescence. Not quite a true blanc de blancs, because of the 10 percent pinot noir, nonetheless Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007 is light, delicate and supremely elegant, a highly refined sparkling wine that still does not stint on ripeness and flavor. Notes of roasted lemon and spiced pear are highlighted by lime peel and a hint of fresh bread, while a few moments in the glass bring in elements of limestone, flint and grapefruit rind. The texture is perfectly balanced between ample expansiveness and clean, bright acidity, lending the Antica Fratta Essence Brut 2007 a welcome sense of vibrancy and tension, all resolved in a lacy spice-and-mineral-infused finish. 13 percent alcohol. A favorite in our house. Drink through 2015 to ’17. Excellent. About $32.

Imported by Masciarelli Wine Co., Weymouth, Mass. A sample for review.

Domaine Chandon marked the first incursion into California by a Champagne company, that being Moët-Hennessey, which came under the ownership of Louis Vuitton in 1987. The land in Napa Valley, across Highway 29 from Yountville, was acquired in 1973, with the impressive winery opening in 1977. The sparking line range here, originally limited to three models, has expanded enormously and includes for the nonce a nonvintage — a better term would be multi-vintage — Chandon 40th Anniversary Cuvée Rosé, a Sonoma County blend of 50 percent chardonnay grapes, 42 percent pinot noir and 8 percent pinot meunier. The wine went into second fermentation en tirage — on the lees — in May 2007 and was disgorged in January 2013, so it spend five and a half years in the bottle. The color is radiant copper-salmon, enlivened by a fine spume of tiny spiraling bubbles. This is fresh and clean, yeasty and biscuity, and it melds notes of strawberries and raspberries with rose petals, lime peel and a hint of peach. In fact, make that spiced peach, because the Chandon 40th Anniversary Cuvée Rosé is quite spicy and macerated, and while it sports plenty of crisp and vibrant acidity and the essential limestone minerality, the texture is soft and winsome, and it caresses the palate and fills the mouth like creamy silk. Yes, this is a crowd-pleaser, but with a slightly serious backbone. 13 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Tom Tiburzi. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $40, at the winery or through its website.

A sample for review.

On New Year’s Eve, to accompany Royal Ossetra caviar from Petrossian, served plain on lightly toasted baguette, I opened the Champagne André Beaufort Grand Cru Brut Nature 2005, from a house in the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay that produces a total of about 2,500 cases annually. Winemaker Jacques Beaufort is, from what I understand, eccentric and reclusive, a devotee of biodynamic practices that gradually grew from organic methods undertaken after Beaufort fell ill, purportedly from contact with chemical pesticides and herbicides. He employs only natural yeast from the vineyard, and ages the wines as long as possible on the lees in the bottle. The domaine’s vineyards consist of 80 percent pinot noir grapes and 20 percent chardonnay. The sense of dedication to an ideal, even an obsession if that is not too strong a word, permeate the Champagne under review today.

The color is medium gold, the tiny bubbles steady, gentle, somehow expressive, and, in fact, the whole package here feels the opposite of the exuberant, scintillating Champagnes one often encounters; this seems thoughtful, studied, utterly harmonious. The first impression is of citrus fruit slightly roasted and slightly honeyed, though this is very dry, even austere in the farther reaches of the finish. (“Brut Nature” means that there was no added sugar in the dosage.) There’s a paradoxical note of apple skin, an element of chalk and seashell, and hints of grapefruit rind, lime peel and hazelnuts, then quince and candied ginger and a touch of cinnamon bread. André Beaufort Grand Cru Brut Nature 2005 is both rich and delicate, savory and elegant, bracing and ethereal; a saline streak highlights brisk acidity and leads to a conclusion woven of limestone minerality, clove-like spice and almost bitter grapefruit pith, altogether mildly, charmingly effervescent. 12 percent alcohol. A highly individual Champagne and one unlike any Champagne I have experienced. Excellent. I sprang for $130 locally — gasp! — but come on, it was for New Year’s Eve.

Imported by North Berkeley Wine, Berkeley, Calif.

Here’s a festive way to celebrate the advent of 2014, with the Laetitia Brut Rose 2009, from Arroyo Grande Valley, a small American Viticultural Area in San Luis Obispo County. A blend of 32 percent pinot noir and 68 percent chardonnay grapes, this sparkling wine spent three years in the bottle, resting on the lees to develop complexity. The color is very pale but radiant copper-onion skin, and the stream of tiny bubbles is robust and engaging. In fact, the Laetitia Brut Rose 2009 is robust in structure and liveliness, a fresh and attractive amalgam of strawberry and raspberry notes wreathed with orange zest, lime peel and an undertone of melon and sour cherry; limestone minerality provides foundation and tingling acidity forms a vibrant backbone. The long and resonant finish is packed with cloves, red currants and a hint of chalk, all enveloped in vital effervescence. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was 1,571 cases. Drink through 2015 or ’16. Excellent. About $28.

Tasted at the winery on April 26, 2013; tasted subsequently as a sample for review.

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