12 Days of Christmas

We conclude the Twelve Days of Christmas quietly, with three examples of New World champagne method sparkling wine, one from the North Fork of Long Island, the other pair from Napa Valley’s Carneros region. My aim in this series, now in the final entry of its eighth edition, is to present an eclectic roster of the world’s sparkling wines, as well as a selection of Champagnes from that hallowed region in France, during the Yuletide season when most of the sparkling wine and Champagne is consumed. Had I my druthers, I would drink these products every day, but the market, consumer sensibilities and my wallet dictate otherwise. I hope that My Readers enjoyed this latest foray into the range of the festive and obligatory beverage and will anticipate a similar exploration next December. These sparkling wines were samples for review.

I was happy to receive a sample of the Lieb Cellars Blanc de Blancs 2010, North Fork of Long Island, because I seldom — I mean never — get wines from New York state. This appealing sparkling wine is composed of 100 percent pinot blanc grapes. The color is mild gold, and the bubbles stream to the surface in a gentle but persistent fountain; apples and spiced pears, jasmine, ginger and quince are married with delicate shading to a soft effusion of limestone and flint minerality that lends support but not austerity. In essence, a very pretty and tasty sparkling wine. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production was $35. Very good+. About $35.
The Frank Family Wines Blanc de Blancs 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, is a blend of 80 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot noir. The color is pale gold, and the tiny bubbles foam upward in a frothing swirl. This is a ravishingly elegant sparkling wine, all steel and limestone, orange blossom and lime peel, with back-notes of almond skin, grapefruit and (faintly) fresh biscuits with honey. Gradually, like a seeping tide, the mineral elements dominate, so the finish feels chiseled and faceted, distinguished and a little aloof. Make no mistake, though, this is an eminently compelling blanc de blancs, counting all the detail and dimension. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 381 cases. Winemaker was Todd Graff. Excellent. About $45.

The Frank Family Wines Brut Rosé 2010, Carneros, Napa Valley, a blend of 79 percent pinot noir and 21 percent chardonnay, offers a pale onion skin hue, like rose-gold, and floods and torrents of exuberant bubbles; it’s sleek and steely and slightly floral, with hints of jasmine, dried strawberries and raspberries, cloves and pomegranate and a hint of tart cranberry that matches well with a stream of potent acidity. Heaps of limestone and flint minerality form a crystalline framework for terrific tension and energy in a sparkling wine of great appeal and tenacity. It’s also downright lovely. 12 percent alcohol. Production was 379 cases. Excellent. About $45.

The 11th Day of Christmas is the penultimate day, the one before Twelfth Night, which could be called Epiphany Eve, if one were Roman Catholic or Episcopalian, which I am not, and also the next-to-last post in this “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series. It happens to be Sunday, a gloomy, dreary, cheerless day in Memphis, Tennessee, and a day to keep within the comfort of our own houses. I offer, on the 11th Day of Christmas, the Champagne Bruno Paillard Brut Assemblage 2004, a blend of 52 percent pinot noir and 48 percent chardonnay that spent altogether nine years in the bottle and received very little dosage at the end. The color is medium gold, all a-shimmer with a fountain of tiny bubbles; many dimensions of steel and limestone are on display here but etched with notes of toasted almonds, brioche, spiced pear and lightly buttered cinnamon toast, all opening to hints of crystallized ginger, jasmine and (faintly) toffee and an intriguing drop of red currant. These aspects are seamlessly balanced and integrated, while at the end of its 10th year, this Champagne is notably fresh and lively; it’s also savory, scintillating with spice and saline elements and, finally, quite dry, in fact, after a few minutes elapse, formidably dry, signaling that it still needs some time, say from 2016 or ’18 for drinking through 2024 to ’28. Alcohol content is 12 percent. This needs to accompany flavorful but not exceedingly rich appetizers and entrees, especially seafood or veal — or a bowl of popcorn sprinkled with fennel pollen. Excellent. About $80 but seen around the country as low as $65.

Imported by Fine Wines LLC, Melrose Park, Ill. A sample for review.

Audrey and Berry Sterling bought the 300-acre property in Russian River Valley that became Iron Horse Vineyards in 1976. The estate was named after a railroad stop that was sited on the property in the 1890s. Rodney Strong rediscovered it as a vineyard site in 1970, planting the original 55 acres of chardonnay and 55 acres of pinot noir. Joy Sterling, Audrey and Barry Sterling’s daughter — image at right — became CEO of the company in 2006, after 20 years of representing the family’s wines. Winemaker is David Munksgard. While Iron Horse produces still wines, it is best-known for its diverse roster of sparkling wines made in the champagne method. I reviewed two of those sparklers in the 2010/2011 edition of this series — the Brut Rosé and the Blanc de Blancs from 2005 — but recently tasted a pair of the winery’s limited edition efforts.

These wines were samples for review, as I am required to inform My Readers by ruling of the Federal Trade Commission. This is the third post to this blog of 2015.
The Iron Horse Winter’s Cuvée 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is a blend of 74 percent pinot noir and 26 percent chardonnay. An interesting aspect is that the final dosage includes a touch of Audrey Sterling’s Pinot Noir Brandy from 1987. The color is very pale straw-gold; a terrific storm of tiny glancing bubbles fills the glass. This sparkling wine opens with winsome though slightly chilly elements of acacia and jasmine, apple and pear and bare hints of guava, ginger and quince; there’s an intriguing, almost otherworldly note of pine and juniper. It’s indeed a wintry sparkling wine, deeply etched with bright acidity, glacial in its chiseled limestone minerality and displaying tremendous resonance and vibrancy. All these aspects are deftly balanced and integrated into an eminently attractive, yet delicately demanding, package. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 250 cases, available to the winery’s club members and through the tasting room, including online. Drink now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $58.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ The point of the Iron Horse Brut “X” 2010, Green Valley of Russian River Valley, is that it receives no dosage, so it’s presumably bone-dry. Of course sparkling wines and Champagnes typically exhibit such roaring acidity that even with some residual sugar they feel dry anyway. So, what do we expect from this blend of 69 percent pinot noir and 31 percent chardonnay? First, the color is very pale gold, a kind of platinum blond; as with its stablemate mentioned above, the bubbles surge in an upward torrent to the surface. This is very clean, crisp and lithe, quite elegant and fine-boned; a kind of lemony-gingery haze wraps a smoky, steely core, decorated with nuances of almond skin, lime peel, spiced pear and grapefruit rind. Almost needless to say, this is a sparkling wine of tensile power, scintillating limestone and flint minerality and exhilarating drive. It’s the quaff you knock back before tossing your glass off the snowy peak. 13.5 percent alcohol. Production was 500 cases. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50.

Every New Year’s Eve, LL and I indulge in 1.75 ounces of Royal Ossetra caviar from Petrossian and a bottle of fine Champagne. The necessity in this scheme in that the Champagne be very dry and filled with scintillating mineral character, to balance the richness and brininess of the tiny brownish-black sturgeon eggs. Two nights ago, for the occasion, I opened a bottle of Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut, a non-vintage blend of 55 percent chardonnay and 45 percent pinot noir. In Champagne, the terms “Ultra Brut” or “Brut Zero” mean that the product did not have an addition of sugar syrup — the “dosage” — after the second fermentation in the bottle, the typical practice that helps alleviate the profound effect of Champagne’s high acidity. The history of Champagne, much like the history of the Martini cocktail, is one from sweetness to increasing dryness; indeed, most of the Champagne consumed in the 19th Century was markedly sweeter than our palates now would tolerate. Laurent-Perrier, established in 1812, introduced a no-dosage Champagne in the late 1890s; the concept was re-integrated into the house line-up in 1981.

The Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut displays a medium straw-gold color and an engaging and energetic stream of glistening bubbles. The first impression is of all phases of the lemon realm: that is, lemon balm, lemon curd and lemon zest, woven with notes of baked apple and spiced pear and hints of fresh biscuits and quince, hay, sea-salt and crystallized ginger, all poised against a background of damp limestone. Yes, this is a very dry Champagne, notable for its piercing acidity and penetrating limestone qualities, yet it also offers the warmth of dried woody spices, as well as touches of almond skin and candied grapefruit rind. It’s decisive enough to stand up to caviar, to freshly-shucked oysters and perhaps a filet of salmon, grilled medium rare and simply dressed with olive oil and lime juice, salt and pepper. Cellar-master at Laurent-Perrier is Michel Fauconnet. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $75, but prices nationally veer all over the map.

Imported by Laurent-Perrier US, Sausalito, Calif. A sample for review.

… a day for quiet reflection, hangover recovery and preparing the annual dish of blackeyed peas, hog jowl and greens, which I will get to in a few minutes. First, though, the Champagne of the Day, the Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut Rosé. Champagne Besserat de Bellefon was founded in 1843 by Edmond Besserat. Then, it was simply Besserat; the name of the house was completed in 1927, when Besserat’s grandson, also named Edmond, married the nobly-dubbed Yvonne de Meric de Bellefon. Headquartered in Epernay, the house produces about 40,000 cases annually. It is now owned by Lanson-BCC group, headed by Bruno Paillard.

Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut Rosé is a multi-vintage blend of 40 percent pinot meunier grapes, 30 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay. A light copper-salmon pink color looks like the slightly tarnished old rose-gold hue of your grandmother’s wedding ring; bubbles are bountiful and exuberant. Notes of orange zest, cloves, red currants and dried raspberries are imbued with hints of almond skin, acacia, lime peel and a sort of powdered flint aura; this Champagne offers lovely weight and heft, with deftly expressed delicacy and ethereal aspects, though powered by lip-smacking acidity and incisive limestone elements. The texture is lively, lithe and supple, and the whole package exudes tremendous verve and elan. It’s exhilarating, refreshing, ineffable, but displays a serious core of crystalline minerality. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. This was a local purchase, about $63; prices around the country range from $50 to $70.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Niles Ill.

New Year’s Eve always seems momentous, if not downright portentous, as well, of course, as being cause for great festivity and celebration. We long ago resigned ourselves to not going out on New Year’s Eve and standing around at a party with a bunch of people we don’t know intoning that lugubrious song or dining at a restaurant on the worst dining-out night of the year. We prefer to stay at home, indulge in fine caviar and Champagne as twilight looms, enjoy a simple dinner and stay up until midnight for a final toast — or maybe not. Whatever the case, I offer today a Crémant d’Alsace and three non-vintage Champagnes for your enjoyment. This is my last post of 2014; tomorrow begins a new year. Be careful out there.

Domaine l’Agape “Emotion” Crémant d’Alsace is made by Vincent Sipp, who broke away from his family’s firm in 2007 to launch his own estate. This irresistible sparkler, a blend of pinot blanc and pinot noir, offers a pale gold color and a terrific fountain on tiny bubbles; this one is pert, tart and sassy, with so much verve and energy that you can get all emotional about it; delightful notes of spiced pear, lime peel and grapefruit segue into a palate that teems with scintillating limestone and flint minerality; it’s quite dry but fluent and tasty. 13 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20.
Imported by Savio Soares Selections, Manhasset, N.Y. A sample for review.
I’m a fan of the small Champagne producer Roland Champion, and I included two of his products in this series a few years ago. Today offers the opportunity to deal with a charming entry in the portfolio, the Roland Champion Cuvée Aramis Brut, a non-vintage — that is to say, multiple-vintage — blend of 70 percent pinot meunier grapes, 20 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay. The color is very pale gold, supporting myriad tiny bubbles in their upward surge; this is an elegant, winsome and fairly chiseled Champagne, driven by brisk acidity and deeply faceted limestone minerality; its fresh, saline character admits notes of quince, ginger and red currant, a hint of fresh bread, amid constant and attractive liveliness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Production is 950 cases annually. Excellent. About $50.
Imported by Kysela Pere et Fils, Winchester, Va. A sample for review.
As is the case with Roland Champion, above, and Veuve Clicquot, below, I included other products from the house of Bruno Paillard in this series in past years, but not the Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvée, a blend of 45 percent pinot noir, 33 percent chardonnay and 22 percent pinot meunier. The color is very pale gold; a stream of tiny silvery bubbles swirls effortlessly to the surface. This is a Champagne that epitomizes the marriage of power and elegance; it’s carefully etched and hewn in terms of crystalline limestone minerality and bright acidity, conveying an ineffable elevating sense of exuberance and exhilaration, even as it maintains a tensile quality of delicacy and transparency. Yes, there are notes of spiced pear, candied quince, a hint of grapefruit rind, a touch of brioche, but this is primarily about clean complexity of structure, vibrancy and tone. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.
Imported by Fine Wines LLC, Melrose Park, Ill. A sample for review.
Who does not know the house of Veuve Clicquot, founded in 1772, with its ubiquitous Yellow Label Brut and its luxury cuvee Grande Dame? (And since 1987 a thoroughbred in the stable of LVMH Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy.) I have written about the Yellow Label Brut, but never about the Veuve Clicquot Brut Rosé, which today gets a turn. The blend for this high-toned production, depending on the year, is 50 to 55 percent pinot noir, 28 to 33 percent chardonnay and 15 to 20 percent pinot meunier; the proportion of reserve wine is generally 25 to 30 percent and can be as high as 40 percent. The color here is a radiant copper-salmon hue; a slender glass barely seems to contain a frothing tempest of tiny bubbles. A bouquet of red currants and raspberries and a hint of wild cherry is permeated by notes of biscuits, cloves, orange zest and oyster shell. The whole effect is clean and crisp and fresh, with a preponderance of limestone minerality and bracing acidity, all framed in the discourse of elegance, class and breeding. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. This was a local purchase, about $80, but prices around the country start as low as $65.
Imported by LVMH USA, New York.

The Sixth Day of Christmas is always scary because it marks the halfway point in the sequence of 12 days and reminds me that I have so many Champagnes and sparkling wines to write about and so little time in which to accomplish my goal. So, here goes.

The VML of VML Wines is Virginia Marie Lambrix, who operates not only her own winery in the Russian River Valley, focusing on chardonnay and pinot noir but since 2012 has been director of winemaking for Truett-Hurst Winery in Dry Creek Valley. Lambrix has a scientific background not usually seen in the California wine industry; before returning to school at UC-Davis and earning a master’s degree, she worked for the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena, Germany. Her previous winemaking experience came at Hendry Ranch, Concha y Toro S.A., Lynman Winery and De Loach Vineyards. This sparkling wine is the only product I have tasted from VML Wines, and it’s a humdinger.

The VML Blanc de Noir 2010, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County, is a blend of 74 percent pinot noir and 26 percent chardonnay; it’s a collaboration, according to the winery website, with Iron Horse Vineyards, a well-known producer of sparkling wine. The glowing, jewel-like color is very pale onion skin; you could not ask for a more exhilarating or invigorating spiral of tiny glinting bubbles. Subtle scents of dried strawberries and red currants are wreathed with notes of orange rind, tangerine, rose petal and spiced pear, all arrayed against a backdrop of flint and limestone. Boy, this sparkler offers tremendous tone and luster, with lots of verve propelled by pinpoint acidity and a texture both lithe and lively yet attractively lacy and cloud-like; rather Alpine in effect, the finish is packed with glacial minerality and fractal elegance. 13.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $50.

This wine is one of those samples that arrives unheralded and accompanied by no information, and the winery website is pretty reticent too, so I have no idea how many cases were produced and how wide the distribution is; I’m guessing not many and not widespread. Mark this, then, Worth a Search via Internet or telephone. You won’t be sorry.

Clotilde Davenne launched her Domaine Les Temps Perdu in 2005, owning 8.5 hectares — about 22 acres — between Chablis and Saint Bris, to the southwest of Chablis. At the beginning, she still worked as winemaker for the Chablis house of Jean-Marc Brocard. Davenne produces a wide range of wines: Sauvignon blanc from Saint Bris, the only area in Chablis where sauvignon blanc is allowed; Bourgogne Aligoté and Bourgogne Blanc; Chablis and Petit Chablis; red and white Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre; from purchased grapes Chablis Premier Cru Montmains and Chablis Grand Cru Vaudésir, Les Clos and Preuses; and, for our purpose, Crémant de Bourgogne. All vinification occurs in stainless steel or enamel-lined tanks; no oak is used at this domain that is operated on organic principles.

Some of My Readers are thinking, “Wait a minute. If she’s in Chablis, how come she’s making Bourgogne?” Ah, you see, when the AOC regulations were promulgated in 1938, Chablis was made part of Burgundy, even though the distance between the city of Beaune, the heart of Burgundy, and the village of Chablis, the soul of its eponymous region, is 73 miles. The connection is the Kimmeridgian limestone that supports both areas and has such an affinity with chardonnay and pinot noir grapes; it’s true that Chablis is known for its white wines made from chardonnay, but pinot noir is very much present in the outlying vineyards.

Anyway, our sparkling wine for the Fifth Day of Christmas is the Clotilde Davenne Brut Extra Rosé Crémant de Bourgogne, made in the champagne method from pinot noir grapes. The color is a lovely pale salmon-copper hue, and the bubbles churn purposefully in an upward swirl. Brash aromas of fresh strawberries and raspberries carry tinges of cloves, lavender and dried red currants, all backed by a scintillating stony-minerally scent. This is fresh, crisp and animated, not only dense on the palate but almost chewy in texture, with remarkably lively presence and tone; in the mouth, it’s all riveting acidity and lip-smacking limestone minerality, though the finish is gently spicy and flavorful. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $32, an online purchase, though prices around the country go as low as $25.

I’ll say it right here: Buy the Loosen Bros. “Dr. L” Sparkling Riesling Sekt by the case. Produced by the well-known German estate that makes riesling wines in all categories from generic/proprietary to single-vineyard treasures, this lithe and nimble sparkling wine will inject some zest and dare I say “fun” into the rest of the Yuletide and New Year season. Made in the Charmat method that induces bubbles in a pressurized tank (rather than a second fermentation in the individual bottle as with the Champagne method), this charmer sports a very pale gold hue and a surprisingly vivid and constant stream of invigorating bubbles; this is notably clean, crisp and fresh, with touches of green apple and spiced pear and bare hints of bay leaf, thyme and lemon rind; there’s a kiss of sweetness at first, but limestone minerality and bright acidity turn it dry and savory from mid-palate through a finish etched with steel. Completely delightful. Very Good+. I paid $16 locally, but you find it around the United States of America discounted as low as $13.

Imported by Loosen Bros. USA, Salem, Oregon.

It took Pierre Brigandat 24 years, from 1961 to 1985, to acquire separately seven hectares of vines — about 17 acres — in the extreme south of Champagne’s Aube region, meaning that if you drive any further, you’re not in Champagne anymore. From a subsistence farming family, Brigandat had gone into banking locally, but his heart, apparently, lay in the vineyards, and in 1985 he resigned from his job to devote himself to viticulture and making Champagne. Pierre’s son Bertrand joined him at the domaine in 1993 and since 2001 has been completely in charge of the operation. Their estate, which is farmed organically, epitomizes the meaning of the term on the label — récoltant-manipulant, often abbreviated as RM — “harvester-maker.” Made completely from pinot noir grapes, the Pierre Brigandat et Fils Brut Rosé offers a brilliant fire opal hue and a dynamic upward thrust of tiny bubbles; a great flush of red cherry and raspberry scents and flavors is permeated by notes of cloves and orange zest, with a background of pomegranate, rose petal and lime peel. This is an almost joyfully exuberant and robust brut rosé, very crisp and clean, with rollicking acidity, a glimmering limestone element and a savory, saline quality; the whole effect is of delicious vitality and lacy transparency, the result of which is that it makes you feel happy to drink it. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $48, an online purchase. Worth a Search.

Bonhomie Wine Imports, South Orange, N.J.

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