12 Days of Christmas

So here we are, friends, the last post in the 11th edition of “12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine.” It’s Twelfth Night, traditionally a time of revels and misadventure, though of course I devoutly hope that no misadventure befalls you. Tomorrow is the Feast of the Epiphany, a word that means “made manifest” but which we nowadays think of as implying some sort of revelation, as in “When I was watching ‘The Big Sick’ last night I had an epiphany about the meaning of life.” Well, in any case, good luck with that. Today I offer four sparkling wines, an actual and true Champagne and examples from Bordeaux, South Africa and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. I hope, as always, that this series is entertaining and educational, and I wish you all a Happy New Year and prosperous 2018. Peace and love will triumph yet. Maybe.

These products were samples for review.

Crémant de Bordeaux must be one of the least known products of that august region. A good introduction to this genre is the Celene Brut, nv, Crémant de Bordeaux, a blend of 50 percent semillon, 30 percent muscadelle and 20 percent cabernet franc, made in the traditional method of aging in the bottle on the lees. It’s very clean, fresh and crisp, displaying a pale blonde hue and an excellent array of tiny bubbles; it’s all lemon and limestone with a trace of peach and grapefruit, quite delicate and charming in its plangent effervescence, very dry in its chalk-flinty minerality, a bit austere and high-toned on the finish. 12 percent alcohol. Perfectly appropriate for sipping while cooking dinner or watching the “News Hour” on PBS. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by Superb Wines International, Pensacola, Fla.
The Simonsig Kaapse Vonkel Brut 2015, Western Cape, South Africa, is a blend of 48 percent chardonnay, 49 percent pinot noir and 3 percent pinot meunier; information about time aging in bottle (en tirage) was not available. The color is pale gold with tarnished silver highlights enlivened by myriad tiny glinting bubbles; notes of green apples and roasted lemon unfold to spiced pear and flint; a sort of seashell brininess frames the palate with pert limestone minerality, while crisp acidity adds verve and drive, leading to a citrus and stone-fruit finish. 12.6 percent alcohol. Lots of charm. Very Good+, edging close to Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Calif. The vintage date on the label image is one year behind.

Champagne Gremillet Brut, nv, is a blend of 70 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay, derived from four or five vintages and using 20 percent reserve wines; it aged 22 months in the bottle on the lees. It’s as pale platinum blond as Jean Harlow’s hair, with effervescent both notable and refined; this is all smoke and steel, an elegant and fine-boned Champagne that unfurls hints of pear and quince, acacia and heather and a chiseled line of flint-and-chalk minerality; it’s crisp and vibrant, exhibiting high-toned nerve and presence on the palate, and a sleek, glacial finish. It’s the refreshing and bracing Champagne you take a glass of before meeting your opponent on the dueling ground at dawn. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $40.
Imported by Esprit du Vin, Syosset, N.Y.

Gran Moraine Brut Rosé, nv, Yamhill-Carlton District, comes from a Jackson Family Wines property in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It’s a blend of 53 percent chardonnay and 47 percent pinot noir, aged in bottle on the lees for two years. It displays a very pale coral-salmon hue and a dynamic array of tiny bubbles; notes of orange zest and lime peel are woven with hints of macerated raspberries and touches of red currant and almond skin. It’s dry, crisp and lively on the palate, offering the energy of acid and a scintillating limestone element, yet overall embodies elegance and delicacy. It is, in fact, delightful. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.

Pricing is power, but sometimes producers get ahead of themselves in terms of ambitious tariffs. These examples today illustrate how makers of sparkling wine in the Charmat process of second fermentation in tank, rather than in the individual bottle, as in Champagne and other regions, over-reached and did a disservice to consumers.

These wines were samples for review.
Le Grand Courtage sparkling wines are made in Nuits-Saint-Georges in Burgundy but have nothing to do with that great appellation and its 27 Premier Cru vineyards. Le Grand Courtage “Grand Cuvée” Blanc de Blancs, nv, for example, is a blend of chardonnay, ugni blanc, colombard and chenin blanc; of that quartet of grapes, only chardonnay is permitted in Burgundy, which is why the Grand Courtage wines — there’s also a brut rosé — carry the broadest possible designation: France. Nothing in the material associated with the products indicates the fashion of production, so I assume that the mode is Charmat rather than méthode traditionelle, and there’s not a thing wrong with that, depending on the quality and the price. This blanc de blancs offers a very pale straw-gold hue and a satisfying, steady tide of bubbles; there’s green apple and lime peel and hints of cinnamon toast and limestone in the nose with sprightly acidity and a slightly steely/flint element for structure, all rounded by diminishing notes of roasted lemon and pear. 11.5 percent alcohol. Innocuous and tasty and appropriate for large parties and receptions. Very Good. About $18, a price that bothers me; it would be more fairly priced at about $15 or less.
Sterling Vineyards has released what is called its first sparkling wines, though in 2016 I was sent a Sterling Vineyards Brut 2012, Carneros, that I rated Excellent (about $50); perhaps that product was so anomalous that everyone concerned forgot about it. Anyway, the samples in question here are the Sterling Sparkling Rosé 2016, California, and the Sterling Blanc de Blancs 2016, Napa Valley. The first is a blend of 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent pinot noir, the second is 100 percent chardonnay. These are made in the Charmat process of second fermentation in tanks instead of in bottle. Both are very enjoyable and engaging sparklers. The Rose offers a pretty salmon-coral color, with notes of raspberry and blood orange, apple blossom and almond skin, with a background of lime peel and grapefruit, all jazzed by bright acidity. The Blanc de Blancs is a very pale platinum blonde hue, with hints of smoke and steel, spiced pear and almond skin, quite crisp and lively and close to elegant. So, these are pleasant and attractively packaged sparkling wines that feel good to sip while preparing dinner, and I’m happy to rate them Very Good+. The problem is that the suggested retail price is $28, and if you understand anything about the world of sparkling wine, then you know that you can buy what are among the best of Crémant de Bourgogne, Crémant d’Alsace and Crémant de Loire or many of the fine sparkling wines from California for the same price or often much less, and I mean models made in the méthode champenoise. I think Sterling overpriced itself here.

Established in 1691, Domaine Valentin Zusslin is run now by the 13th generation, brother and sister Marie Zusslin and Jean Paul Zusslin. The 16-hectare estate (about 39 acres) converted to biodynamic principles in 1997 and is certified by Ecocert and Demeter. The Valentin Zusslin Brut Zero Cremant d’Alsace, nv, is a blend of 95 percent auxerrois with dollops of chardonnay and riesling made in the traditional method of aging in the bottle on the lees. It is finished without sulfur or an additional dosage. A very pale straw hue is animated by an exhilarating upward rush of tiny bubbles; this is an incredibly fresh and appealing Cremant d’Alsace, offering notes of spiced pear, lime peel, orange blossom and almond skin in a dry, lithe package powered by bright acidity, scintillating limestone minerality and a bracing saline finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Loaded with flair, integrity and a sense of authenticity. Excellent. About $25.
Imported by Avant Garde Wine and Spirits, New York. A sample for review.

We drank the Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2007 for New Year’s Eve, along with paper-thin slices of pepper-and-cognac-cured gravlox that I started on Saturday. What one wants from a vintage Champagne is a certain tone, style and sense of elevation and elegance befitting its provenance and price, and the Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2007 delivers. This is 50 percent each chardonnay and pinot noir, aged seven years in the bottle on the lees. The grapes derive totally from Grand Cru vineyards. The color is brilliant medium gold with slight rose-gold highlights; bubbles are abundant, shimmering and glinting in their upward rush. The first impression is of roasted lemons and spiced pears, woven with quince and crystallized ginger and undertones of heather and acacia, lime peel and flint; full-bodied on the palate, yet spare and lithe, this Champagne displays the verve and momentum of a thoroughbred, balancing bracing acidity and scintillating limestone minerality; a few minutes in the glass bring in hints of salted toffee, lightly buttered cinnamon toast and (almost paradoxically) a touch of mango, all elements managed with a deft and delicate hand. 12 percent alcohol. Wholly satisfying and exhilarating. Excellent. About $80.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier USA. A sample for review.

It’s New Year’s Day, of course, and the anniversary of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Born on this day were Paul Revere (1735), Betsy Ross (1752), Arthur Hugh Clough, poet and friend of Matthew Arnold (1819), the photographer Alfred Stieglitz (1864), English novelist E.M. Forster (1879), J. Edgar Hoover (1895), and J.D. Salinger (1919).

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.

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.

Well, you know that the 12th Day of Christmas was yesterday, January 5, y-clepted Twelfth Night and marking the end of the merry Yuletide season, but somehow I didn’t manage to complete this final post in the present (the 10th) series “12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” until this morning, January 6. So be it, and in any case, I offer today two examples of Spanish Cava, a very charming brut rose from Piedmont and a Champagne that seems to be new to the American market, at least in our neck o’ the woods. Enjoy!
Traditionally, the Spanish sparkling wine called Cava was made from these indigenous grape varieties: macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada. More juverecently, manufacturers began including chardonnay grapes, in an effort to “improve” the product, which, because of its make-up, has always seemed unique. It’s the same misguided principle that led producers in Tuscany to believe that Chianti Classico and Chianti Classico Riserva would be “better” wines if they contained cabernet sauvignon or merlot grapes and aged in French barriques. In fact, there has been a bit of a backlash against employing chardonnay in Cava merely for the sake of innovation and a laudable impulse toward using only the traditional grapes. In that spirit, I offer the Juve & Camps “Essential” Xarel-lo Reserva 2013, Penedes, a sparkling wine that exploits the possibility of a single-variety Cava aged at least 15 months on the lees in the bottle (required for a Reserva designation). The color is pale gold, enlivened by an animated stream of small bubbles; the woodsy, leafy aromas that waft from the glass are unlike any other sparking wine’s, and they’re infused by touches of lime peel and tangerine, lilac and iodine, with back-notes of dried thyme and celery seed. This is all quite subtle on the nose, of course, though a somewhat rustic body makes it, for me, a sort of countrified sparkling wine, really suitable for quaffing while you munch on an array of savory tapas while sitting out on the terrace of a rural bodega. It’s very dry, bright with crunchy acidity and a keen limestone edge, and it finishes with an intriguing bitter note. 12 percent alcohol. Drink up. Very Good+. About $16, representing Good Value.

Imported by Winebow Inc., New York. A sample for review.
O.K., here’s another Cava, highly suitable, in tastiness and price, for serving at your next huge party. The Segura Viudas Brut Rose nv, Penedes, is predominently trepat grapes with 10 percent garnacha, aged 12 months in the bottle on the lees. The color is pale copper-salmon — much lighter and prettier than the color in the accompanying image — and the bubbles are more a steady upward drift than a surge or froth. Notes of pure strawberry and raspberry emerge from the glass, with hints of heather and dried Mediterranean herbs and a touch of darker-hued and burnished melon. This Cava is crisp and lively, featuring lip-smacking acidity and a snap of limestone minerality for backbone. No great depth, but immensely appealing. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $10 and seen on the Internet as low as $8. A Bargain Ripe for the Picking.

Freixenet USA, Sonoma, Calif. A sample from the local distributor.
The Cuvee Aurora Brut Rose 2011, from Piedmont’s Alta Langa region, south of the beautiful city of Alba, is made completely from pinot cuvee_aurora_label-21-300x155noir grapes — with 10 percent from the previous vintage elevated in French barriques — and aged two years on the yeast in the bottle. This is an incredibly charming and elegant sparkling wine. The color is lightly tarnished copper over silver salmon scale; the foaming surge of tiny glinting bubbles is hypnotic. First one sniffs smoke, red raspberry and dried red currants; then come orange rind, a touch of lime sherbet, melon ball and a slight yeasty, bready element. The wine is crisp, dry, lively, clean and fresh, a tissue of delicacies that add up to a supple, engaging structure — close to pert yet almost creamy — buoyed by an increasingly prominent limestone minerality. The finish brings in hints of cloves and pomegranate and a smooth conjunction where limestone turns into damp shale; do I imagine a beguiling whiff of rose and lilac, pear and meadowy elements? No, it’s there. Completely delightful but not at all frivolous. 11.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $30.

Imported by Cru Artisan Wines, a division of Banfi Vintners, Old Brookville, N.Y. A sample for review.
The Marie Demets Blanc de Chardonnay from a young house — they started marketing their Champagnes in 1987 — is about as charming and elegant as reasonably priced blanc de blancs gets. The website is excessively reticent about technical factors, so I can’t tell My Readers how long the wine aged on the lees, but its freshness and crisp, clean character are notable. The color is very pale gold, and the myriad bubbles stream upward in a frothing haze; notes of green apple and pear, quince jam and crystallized ginger are delicately touched with lightly toasted brioche, hazelnuts and cloves with just a hint of toffee in the background. Layered with limestone, chalk and seashell minerality, this Champagne is beguiling and refreshing, bracing in the salinity and touch of grapefruit pith bitterness of its finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45, a local purchase.

The Graham Beck Brut Zero 2011, from the Robertson district of the Western Cape in South Africa, was made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes and spent five years in bottle on the lees; it was disgorged in April 2016. This sparkling wine displays a pale gold color and a steady upward drift of glinting bubbles; it’s deeply spicy, savory and saline, with a foundation of limestone and seashell buoying notes of roasted lemons and pears, almond skin and grapefruit pith, jasmine and just a hint of peach. Lean and lithe on the palate, it features pleasing weight and presence and dynamic acidity to keep it flowing smartly across the tongue; some moments in the glass bring out elusive touches quince and cloves. All told, though, this is a sparkling wine planted firmly in the smoky, sinewy, steely camp. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2019 to ’21. Excellent. About $25.

Imported by Maritime Wine Trading Collective, San Francisco. A sample for review.

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