December 2017

The Gremillet family has been growing grapes in Champagne since the middle of the 18th Century, only deciding to make their own Champagne starting in 1979, a decision we should all be happy about. The Gremillet Blanc de Noirs, 100 percent pinot noir, is a blend of four or five vintages, including 20 percent reserve wines, that is, older wines held back to lend maturity and house character to a product; it aged 30 months in the bottle on the lees. The color is very pale straw-gold, animated by a fount of tiny bubbles. This one is all smoke, steel and limestone, with notes of acacia and heather, spiced pear and fresh-baked biscuits; lip-smacking acidity cleaves a texture deftly balanced among succulence, tautness and crisp vitality. Spare stone-fruit flavors that contain a bell-tone of red currant are strung on a line of dry chalk and flint minerality, while the finish rounds with a snap of bracing salinity. 12.5 percent alcohol. A charming, elegantly proportioned and thoroughly enjoyable Champagne. Excellent. About $37, representing Great Value.

Esprit du Vin, Syosset, N.Y. A sample for review.

It’s New Year’s Eve, the last day of the year, celebrated in Scotland as Hogmanay. Born on this day were French explorer Jacques Cartier (1491), Bonnie Prince Charles, pretender to the throne (1720), artist Henri Matisse (1879), songwriter and composer Jule Styne (1905), folksinger Odetta, whom I interviewed back in the early 1990s, and boy she had a voice on the telephone that would curl your toes (1930), Ben Kingsley and John Denver (1943), and Donna “Love to Love You Baby” Summer (1948).

Be careful out there tonight. Be safe. Don’t drink and drive. A different year starts tomorrow, and we’ll all be new, better people, n’est-ce pas?

Let’s think about New Year’s Eve and what kind of bubbly you might want to serve. Your choice will be dictated by the number of people crowding into your house, apartment, mobile home or tent and how much money you want to spend.

These products were samples for review.

For example, if you’re throwing an event for multitudes, including the people who got lost looking for a different party, your focus is on pleasant quaffability and low cost. In addition to which, you may be using plastic tumblers instead of actual glasses, so let’s not waste the effort and fiduciary prowess on something more expensive. You can’t go wrong with the Martini Rosé Extra Dry Sparkling Wine, yes, from the Martini & Rossi company — “Say, Yes!” — an unusual blend of riesling, chardonnay, glera (the grape of Prosecco) and nebbiolo. This is made in the Charmat process that produces the necessary effervescence in tanks rather than in the bottle. Whatever! The color is an attractive salmon-coral-pink and the overall impression is of rose petals and violets, slightly macerated raspberries permeated by pears and blood orange, and a soft but lively texture animated by crisp acidity. 11.5 percent alcohol. Drink up! Very Good. About $13.
Say, however, that your gathering will encompass some 20 to 30 people. Turn then to the McBride Sisters Collection Brut Rose, nv, from New Zealand’s Marlborough region. A blend of 90 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay, from vineyards farmed by sustainable practices, this charming sparkler, made in the traditional Champagne method, offers a pale salmon-copper hue and a steady stream of tiny bubbles; notes of raspberry and heather unfold to touches of almond blossom and orange zest, while on the palate chiseled limestone minerality bolsters chiming acidity for vitality and freshness; while the entry hints at sweetness, the finish is bone-dry and bracing. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Pacific Highway Wine and Spirits, Sonoma, Calif.
O.K, let’s shrink your New Year’s Eve occasion to a dinner party for six or eight close friends. Let’s go for the Barone Pizzini “Animante” Franciacorta Brut, from the region devoted to sparkling wine in Lombardy. It’s a blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot blanc that ages anywhere from 18 to 30 months in bottle. The color is very pale straw-gold, enlivened by a surging spiral of tiny silver bubbles; this is dry, spare and high-toned, with notes of spiced pear and roasted lemon, touches of quince, ginger and summer flowers, bound by chiming acidity and a keen edge of limestone and chalk minerality. 12 percent alcohol. A delightful sparkling wine with a slightly serious edge, suitable as aperitif and at table. Excellent. About $36.
A Leonardo Locascio Selection, The Winebow Group, New York.

On the other hand, your New Year’s Eve fete may involve only you and another person — a small dinner, music, candle-light, romance personified. This tete a tete requires a Champagne of utter delicacy and elegance, for which I nominate the Champagne Boizel Blanc de Blancs Brut, nv, made completely from Premier and Grand Cru chardonnay grapes (including 40 percent reserve wines) aged four years in bottle on the lees. The color is the palest blond, the myriad bubbles active, incisive and precisely delineated; notes of acacia and hay, lemon balm and lime peel are wreathed with toasted hazelnuts and almond skin and lightly buttered and toasted brioche; elegant and delicate, yes, but driven by the tensile strength of bright acidity and scintillating limestone minerality, all culminating in an etched and transparent finish. 12 percent alcohol. Seductive and stimulating. Excellent. About $60.
Palm Bay Imports, Boca Raton, Fla.

Here’s a first for this series: A sparkling wine from Merrie Olde England.

Digby Fine English was founded by Trevor Clough and Jason Humphries, who operate on the negociant principle of maintaining long-term contracts with trusted growers in the north and south Downs of Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, regions that overlie vast strata of limestone formations. The winery is named in commemoration of Sir Kenelm Digby, a 17th Century English philosopher, theologian, pirate and author who happened, as a sort of sideline, to invent the modern wine bottle. Our product today is the Digby Leander Pink Brut, nv, dubbed in honor of the Leander Club, “the world’s oldest open rowing club” — I don’t actually know what that means — with a portion of the sale of each bottle donated to the Leander Academy, which is, I suppose, where hardy lads learn to row boats. The Digby Leander Pink is a blend of 50 percent pinot noir, 35 percent chardonnay and 15 percent pinot meunier that aged two years in bottle on the lees. The color is very pale coral, and the essential bubbles flow upward in a rush of tiny gold glints; nothing showy here, but spare, delicate and elegant, with aromas of hay and heather, rose petals and strawberries twined with notes of pear and raspberry and a touch of fresh-baked brioche, all quite seamless and shamelessly appealing. Lip-smacking acidity courses o’er the palate, as Tennyson said, forming a vital foundation for limestone and seashell minerality and bracing salinity leading to a sleek, well-hewn finish. 12 percent alcohol. Terrifically charming; we enjoyed this one immensely. Production was 1,666 cases. Excellent. A local purchase, look for prices nationally from $55 to $60.

Vine Street Imports, Mount Laurel, N.J.

Readers who have followed this series — which started with the 2007/08 Yuletide season — know that the principle involved is never to repeat a Champagne or sparkling wine. I will use a different product from a producer, say a blanc de blancs instead of a blanc de noirs from the same house, but not the same item. It’s always a pleasure to introduce My Readers to products that are new to me (at least), and so today we look at the Champagne Leclerc Briant Brut Reserve, nv, a blend of 40 percent each pinot noir and pinot meunier and 20 percent chardonnay aged almost three years in the bottle on the lees. The estate was founded in 1872 and today owns 24.7 acres in Premier Cru vineyards, as well as holding contracts on another 19.7 acres from other growers. The property is operated on biodynamic methods, and the vineyards under contract are farmed organically. Leclerc Briant Brut Reserve offers a pale gold hue and an energetic effervescence of tiny bubbles; aromas of toasted hazelnuts, spiced pears and roasted lemons are twined with slightly toasty, yeasty notes and hints of sea salt, toffee and crystallized ginger. It’s a sleek and lithe Champagne, seemingly chiseled from limestone and flint and propelled by crisp acidity that keeps the whole enterprise fleetly light on its feet; the finish is dry, ethereal, smoky and fresh. 12 percent alcohol. A really lovely bottle of Champagne. Excellent. About $65.

Imported by Winebow Craft & Estate, New York. A sample for review.

In addition to being the Fourth Day of Christmas, today is Childermass, or the Feast of the Holy Innocents, that is, all the infants whom the suspicious King Herod had slaughtered in Bethlehem after he heard that the Messiah would be born there. Talk about a guy with a hair-trigger temper.

Born on this day were Woodrow Wilson (1856), Earl “Fatha” Hines (1903), Lew Ayres (1908), Stan Lee (1922), Dorsey Burnette (1932), Maggie Smith (1934), Alex Chilton (1950), Denzel Washington (1954) and Seth Meyers (1973).

… and no Champagne today but two examples of products from regions in France that use the “champagne method” or, as it’s usually called now, the méthode traditionelle, for sparkling wines in the Crémant mode. Both of these models, priced at $20, offer good value, especially if you’re looking for sparkling wine to serve at a dinner party or small gathering.

These wines were samples for review.

With its shimmering pale gold hue and finely-tuned froth of abundant, tiny bubbles, the Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne, nv, delivers lovely tone and presence. Made 100 percent from chardonnay grapes farmed on sustainable practices, this Crémant offers notes of pear, orange zest and lime peel with hints of almond blossom and hay; it’s quite dry, framed by limestone and a touch of salinity, yet ripe and tasty with citrus and stone-fruit and a shade of mango. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.
Imported by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York.

The Willm Brut Prestige Crémant d’Alsace, nv, is a blend of 80 percent chardonnay, 15 percent pinot blanc and 5 percent auxerrois. The color is pale gold, enlivened by a host of glinting tiny bubbles; notes of spiced pear, quince and ginger unfurl subtle touches of heather and orange blossom. Spanking fresh acidity lends crispness and appeal on the palate, where limestone and flint minerality provide structure and energy. The overall impression is of nuance and delicacy, aimed toward a chiseled finish. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $20, marking Great Value.
Imported by Monsieur Touton, New York.

Today, December 27, is the feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist, Jesus’ “Beloved Disciple.” He wrote the Book of Revelations — in the worst Greek in the entire New testament — and the Fourth Gospel. He is the patron of writers, theologians and publishers.

Jane Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s mother was born on this day in 1821. Also Louis Pasteur (1822), Sydney Greenstreet (1879), Marlene Dietrich (1901), Oscar Levant (1906) and Scotty Moore (1931).

Francois Drappier launched the Champagne house that bears the family’s surname in 1803, though the family had been in the region since the 17th Century. The estate goes back to the 12th Century, when Cistercian monks founded a monastery, planted vineyards and dug the vaulted cellars that are still a vital part of the property. The Drappiers, now in the eighth generation, continue to own and operate the estate, tending vines on their 57 hectares and having 50 hectares under contract with other owners. Champagne Drappier employs a minimal approach in many ways, particularly in the liqueurs d’expedition and in the smallest amounts of sulfur that can possibly be used. The Champagne Drappier Brut Nature Zero Dosage, nv, is 100 percent pinot noir, aged 30 months in bottle. The color is pure limpid pale gold, and the bubbles, without which any sparkling wine would not sparkle, n’est-ce pas, surge upward in a gushing froth. Notes of lime peel, pear, hay and heather open to a hint of fresh-baked brioche and the tang of preserved lemon and seashell salinity. With its incisive acidity and scintillating limestone element, this dry Champagne offers tremendous verve and energetic elan, leading to a finish that feels paradoxically delicate, elegant and finely etched. 12 percent alcohol. I could drink this one all day and night. Excellent. About $60.

December 26 is the day of St. Stephen, protomartyr, on which good King Wenceslas looked out on the snow that was deep and crisp and even. In the United Kingdom, it’s Boxing Day, not set aside for pugilistic activity but for presenting gifts or money to servants and other service people. If one was going about visiting on Boxing Day, then you also provided gifts to other peoples’ servants.

Imported by Dreyfus Ashby & Co., New York. A sample for review.

Let’s launch this edition of “The 12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” with a product from a Champagne house fairly new to the American market. Champagne Boizel was founded by Auguste and Julie Boizel in 1834 and is led today by the family’s fifth and sixth generations – Evelyne and Christophe Roques-Boizel and their sons Florent and Lionel. Even before establishing the business, the family cultivated vineyards in many of the region’s best crus, developing a knowledge of the terrain and terroir that now goes back two centuries. The Boizel Brut Rosé, nv, is a blend of 50 percent pinot noir, 30 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent chardonnay aged on the lees in bottle for three years; 20 percent of reserve wines from the previous two vintages are included in the blend. The color is pale coral-topaz, enlivened by a steady upward froth of tiny bubbles; the immediate impression is of blood orange, strawberry and raspberry, highlighted by notes of seashell and flint and a hint of fresh-baked bread; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of lime peel, heather and acacia. This is a dry, sleek, elegant Champagne, chiseled from limestone, animated by bright, clean acidity and aimed toward a slightly austere mineral-packed finish. 12 percent alcohol. A real pleasure to drink. Excellent. About $50.

I hope all my readers of whatever religious or non-religious persuasion are enjoying a day of peace and joy, or at least some well-earned quiet. Yule in many traditions is a day of celebration and revels, of wassailing and pantomimes, of gifts and feasting. Whatever the case, Merry Christmas to you all.

Imported by Palm Bay International, Boca Raton, Fla. A sample for review.

If you’re like me — and I’m certain that in many ways we are alike and in many, probably more important ways we are not — the words “Arroyo Seco” would not burst from your lips if someone asked you, “Where in the world are the best places for growing the sauvignon blanc grape?” Still, I recently tasted six examples from that AVA in Monterey County and found them mainly excellent and even, in a few cases, not only excellent but highly individual. Arroyo Seco, which receives on average 13 inches of rain annually — hence “seco” — was granted AVA status in 1983, though wine grapes have been grown there commercially since 1961. The terrain varies considerably for a smallish AVA, consisting of a bit more than 18,000 acres, about 7,000 planted to vines, with narrow ravines, benchlands, dry riverbed and valley floor and the resulting diversions of wind, fog and temperature. What these wines have in common, aside from their origin in the same AVA, is a use of the musqué clone of the sauvignon blanc grape to varying degrees. As the name implies, the musqué clone imparts a musky, almost muscat-like quality to the wines, usually apparent in a marked floral, sometimes overtly spicy element. The clone must be used carefully. I have tried sauvignon blanc influenced by musqué that were so intensely perfumed as not to even seem like wine. The six models mentioned in this post, thankfully, are better balanced.

As usual with the Weekend Wine Notes, I eschew data of a historical, geographical and personnel nature for the sake of incisive notices ripped, as it were, from the pages of my notebooks, my desire being to pique your interest in the wines.

These wines were samples for review.

Bernardus Griva Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco. 13.9% alc. With 5% semillon. Very pale straw-gold with green highlights; ripe and spicy pineapple and lemon, notes of lime peel and lemon balm and a hint of fig, fresh grass and hay in the background; a leafy and sunny sauvignon blanc, powered by bright acidity and a chiseled limestone element; bracing elements of grapefruit and tangerine peel round the finish. Excellent. About $30.

Chesebro Wines Cedar Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco. 12.4% alc. Very very pale, almost colorless; grapefruit, lime peel and lemongrass, with whiffs of greengage and ground cumin, fennel and celery seeds; very dry, delivers a huge hit of flint and limestone, as well as rousing acidity and a note of bracing grapefruit rind bitterness on the finish. Makes a definite impression. Excellent. About $18, available to winery club members only.

J. Lohr Estates Flume Crossing Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco. 13.8% alc. Very pale straw-gold hue; a pert and sassy sauvignon blanc, with notes of gooseberry, lime peel and grapefruit, fennel seed, lilac and acacia; nicely herbaceous on the palate, with a talc-like texture jazzed by vibrant acidity; a clean, bright and lively sauvignon blanc offering lots of appeal. Very Good+. About $14.

Luli Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco. 14.2% alc. 504 cases. Pale gold color; a stirring bouquet of lemongrass and lime peel, lychee and gardenia, tangerine and pear, with undertones of quince and crystallized ginger; lithe and supple on the palate, propelled by resonant acidity and scintillating limestone elements, all enfolded in a subtle haze of neutral oak; the finish blends spice and minerals, with herbaceous nuances. A joy to drink. Excellent. About $18, representing Great Value.

Mercy Wines Zabala Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco. 13.5% alc. 176 cases. Pale straw hue; quite fresh and appealing, with hay and heather notes, tangerine, roasted lemon and yellow plum, melon, acacia blossom and a tinge of celery seed; crisp and vital with chiming acidity and vivid limestone and flint elements; lovely balance and immensely drinkable. Excellent. About $24.

Muirwood Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016, Arroyo Seco.13.5% alc. Very pale straw-gold; roasted lemon and tangerine, celery seed, fennel and gooseberry; a hint of ripe peach; really lovely texture, exquisite balance between moderate talc-like lushness and dynamic crispness; racy, lively and alluring, with spicy citrus and stone-fruit flavors ending in a refreshing grapefruit finish. Excellent. About $15, marking Good Value.

Nothing highly extracted or forceful here, the Troon Vineyard Grenache 2016, Rogue Valley, Oregon, is lithe, limpid and lyrical. Fermented by native yeast, grapes trod by foot and aged only in French oak barrels of three or more years use, the wine offers a lovely, transparent medium cherry hue and pert aromas of spiced cherry compote, with notes of cherry skin and pit, and raspberry, with a touch of the rasp of raspberry leaf; a few minutes in the glass unfurl foresty and woodsy elements of flowers and herbs and a beguiling hint of candied orange peel. Whiplash acidity keeps the wine lively and appealing, while moderate and supple tannins are more in the briers and brambles range than minerally, though a line of flint opens in the finish. A delicious grenache for those who want their wines to reflect the grape’s purity and intensity. 14.8 percent alcohol. Winemaker was Steve Hall. Production was either 143 or 173 cases, depending on what medium one is looking at. Excellent. About $25.

A sample for review.

Boy, here’s a pinot noir from Chile’s cool-climate Casablanca Valley that goes down with silky suppleness and nuance. The Ritual Pinot Noir 2015 aged 10 months in French oak, 30 percent new barrels, a regimen that seems perfect for the wine. The color is intense ruby-magenta that shades to an utterly transparent rim; you’ll find it difficult to resist this bouquet that weaves talc and lavender with ripe and abundantly spicy black cherries, raspberries and plums; a few moments in the glass open to notes of cloves, cranberries, rose petals and sandalwood. The wine reveals lovely purity of character on the palate, with a sense of dark fruit and a sleek texture enlivened by bright acidity and bolstered by burgeoning elements of dusty graphite and moderate tannins that express an elegant, almost ethereal structure. 14 percent alcohol. A lovely effort, for drinking through 2020 or ’22. Excellent. About $22, representing Good Value.

Imported by Huneeus Vintners, Rutherford, Calif. A sample for review.

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