12 Days of Christmas


In doing the research on the Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut — “between sky and earth” — I ran into contradictory information about its composition. Some sources said that it was 100 percent pinot meunier, others that it was 80 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent pinot noir, and still others that is was a blend of 41 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir and 24 percent pinot meunier. I contacted Jon-David Headrick, importer of Françoise Bedel, and asked “what’s up?” It turns out that all the sources were correct but for different editions of the wine. The composition of the example that I tried in New York back in February, at “The Return to Terroir” event, is indeed 80 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent pinot noir. The vast variation in the make-up of “Entre Ciel et Terre” isn’t the result of inconsistency but a conscious decision to allow the character of the year and the harvest to dictate the nature of the wine. Unlike the large Champagne firms, which maintain an identifiable house-style year by year, especially for the non-vintage products, small estates tend not to purchase grapes or keep large stores of reserve wines for blending. There’s nothing wrong with the former practice; one reason I love a Champagne like the nonvintage Pol Roger Brut Réserve is because it does provide the pleasure and security of a consistent and recognizable manner. It’s also gratifying though to mark the individuality and handcrafted qualities of smaller, primarily family-owned and operated houses like Champagne Françoise Bedel.

Françoise Bedel took over her parents’ estate in the tiny village of Crouttes sur Marne in 1979; her son Vincent joined her professionally in 2003. Bedel owns 8.4 hectares — about 20.75 acres — of vines that range from 20 to 60 years old. The emphasis is on the pinot meunier grape, which accounts for 79 percent of the vineyards, with chardonnay making up 14 percent and pinot noir 7 percent. The estate has been operated on biodynamic principles since 1998, that is, no synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or insecticides and a strict calendar-based regimen of special organic “teas” and totally natural mixtures to ensure the health and integrity of the vineyards. I’m a skeptic about the efficacy of the more radical biodynamic philosophy and techniques, but in the case of Francoise Bedel, the result is great Champagne.

You know how there are some grand edifices that are imposing without being distinguished? In terms of that comparison, Françoise Bedel Cuvee Entre Ciel et Terre Brut is both imposing and distinguished. This is indeed a Champagne of grand proportions, quite sizable, very dry, possessing dimension and detail in abundance. The color is pale straw-gold, enlivened by a tempest-like froth of bubbles. The approach is all limestone and steel, with a snap of gun-flint and undertones of cloves and ginger. It’s a mouth-filling Champagne, substantial, high-toned, even a little demanding in its sheer elegance and austerity; one understands the metaphor of earth and sky in its inextricable melding of scintillating minerality and (paradoxically) the more delicate elusive fruit and floral qualities that provide a sense of urgent elevation. This is exciting stuff, a Champagne of great character yet tremendous appeal. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $75 as a national average.

Imported by Jon-David Headrick Selections, Chapel Hill, N.C.

December 29 is the Holy Day of Thomas Becket, murdered by four knights of Henry II in 1170 and canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1172. Today’s birthdays include Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), Andrew Johnson, our luckless 17th president (1808-1875); and Mary Tyler Moore (76), Marianne Faithfull (66), Ted Danson (65), Patricia Clarkson (53) and Jude Law (40).

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 Yvonne de Meric de Bellefon. Headquarted in Epernay, the house produces about 40,000 cases annually. It is now owned by Lanson BCC, headed by Bruno Paillard.

The Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut, non-vintage — though it would be more accurate to say mixed or blended vintages — offers a beautiful moderate gold color and a robust fountain of tiny bubbles. The impression this Champagne creates is, in fact, of a robust character that manages to be fairly elegant at the same time. The blend of grapes is 45 percent pinot meunier, 35 percent chardonnay and 20 percent pinot noir. This is toasty, with lots of acacia and almond blossom, biscuits and cinnamon toast, roasted hazelnuts and lemons, hints of toffee and walnut crème; also, though, there’s a delicate structure of clean acidity, fresh apples and apple skin, cloves and allspice, a sort of lacy transparency of limestone and flint, with a finish that stretches out in a pleasing but slightly bracing and austere haze of minerals, hay, stone fruit and, ok, more crisply faceted minerals. The whole effect is somewhat lapidary. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45 to $55.

Imported by Winesellers Ltd., Niles, Ill.

Birthdays today: Our 28th President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924); jazz pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines (1903-1983); actor Lew Ayres (1908-1996); and among the living, Stan Lee (90), Maggie Smith (78), Denzel Washington (58), Noomi Rapace (33) and Sienna Miller (31).

One of my “rules” in the “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series — now in its sixth year! — is that I never repeat a wine. I may repeat a label or brand, perhaps, but not the same product. I say that now because I included two Champagnes from the house of Gosset in the first week of January segment of this series in 2007/2008 — the Grande Reserve Brut and the Brut Excellent — and today will review a different one, the Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut.

Established in 1584, the house of Gosset is the oldest wine producer in Champagne. In those days, however, the wine wasn’t the sparkling product that we know and love today; that process didn’t begin until the late 17th Century, and for 125 years or so the practice of producing a sparkling wine by a second fermentation in the bottle was an inexact and accident-prone science. In any case, the Gosset family was certainly there at the creation of the champagne wine industry.

In 1994, after 410 years of ownership by the same family, Gosset was purchased by the Remy-Cointreau company and Beatrice Cointreau was put in charge, wisely keeping to the same regime of grapes purchased primarily from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards, barrel fermentation and no malolactic, so the Gosset champagnes retain more than usual vivacity.

The Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut is a pale blond beauty, all steel and limestone and quince and with intriguing hints of ginger, hay and lemongrass, enlivened by a steady stream of tiny bubbles and fleet-footed acidity. Blanc de blancs — “white from whites” — means that this is all chardonnay and in this case all grapes from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards. Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut is cool, sleek and elegant, exactly as I like a blanc de blancs to be, yet it exudes a touch of biscuits and buttered cinnamon toast for a bit of warmth. This feels completely dry, and the limestone-like minerality and vibrant acidity build from mid-palate back through the finish, concluding in an element of chalk-like and slightly honeyed but brisk grapefruit austerity that merely adds to the Champagne’s somewhat Olympian allure. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $68.

I chose the Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut to accompany our traditional Christmas Day Southern Breakfast of fried eggs, grits, biscuits, country ham and red-eye gravy. Why, you ask, such a high-toned Champagne with such a down-home meal? Because it takes that effervescence, the bright acidity and the cleanness, the blade-like effect to cut through the richness and the fat, and because it’s, you know, just plain fun.

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

Let’s launch the sixth edition of the “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” with this winsome winner from Austria, the Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut, produced in the Neusiedlersee area of Burgenland. I will say right here that this sparkling wine, made in the Méthode Traditionelle — that is, the technique of second fermentation in the bottle, a la Champagne — fairly knocked our socks off. The composition is 100 percent grüner veltliner grapes. The color is pale gold; a stream of tiny glinting bubbles surges gracefully upward in the glass. This attractive sparkler is notably clean and fresh, with hints of roasted lemons and lime peel, lemongrass and lemon balm; it’s also quite notably savory, sporting a bracing touch of sea-salt and an undercurrent of seaside meadow — sort of rigorously herbal and floral and seashelly — all devolving to a finish layered with steel and limestone, apple peel and baking spice. 12 percent alcohol. Appropriate for any happy occasion or just standing around the kitchen cooking dinner, the Szigeti Grüner Veltliner Brut would be a terrific addition to restaurant or bar by-the-glass programs. Very Good+ and a Great Bargain at about $19.

Imported by Winebow Inc., New York.

Good old Isaac Newton was among the first people to suggest that Jesus Christ wasn’t actually born on December 25 and that the date was selected (or evolved) to coincide with other ancient solstice festivals; coincidentally, Newton was born on Christmas Day, at least under the old Julian calendar. Other Christmas babies include Clara Barton, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Buffett, Annie Lennox, Sissy Spacek, Rod Serling and Cab Calloway.

So, My Readers, it’s Christmas Eve 2012, and tomorrow, not to belabor the obvious, is Christmas Day, the occasion on which I will launch the Sixth Edition of my series “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine.” I thought it would be informative, instructive and even wildly amusing to commemorate today the previous five lists in the series (but not the actual reviews; you can find those through the handy and easy-to-use Search function). When I produced the first “Twelve Days,” during the 2007/2008 Yuletide season that runs from Christmas to Twelfth Night, I didn’t realize that it would turn into an annual event, but once I finished that initial effort, it seem logical and inevitable. While plenty of the usual suspects show up in the series, I tried to introduce My Readers to interesting Champagnes from small artisan houses as well as unusual sparkling wines from around the world. In 2008/2009, because of the burgeoning recession, I kept prices fairly low. In 2011/2012, every product was French because, well, it just worked out that way. Five years times 12 days would result in 60 wines, but I made it a practice to offer choices at different price points on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night in addition to sometimes pairing or tripling products that matched well; the result is that this series, so far, presented reviews of 96 Champagnes and sparkling wines. We’ll work backward from the most recent edition to the first segment of the series.
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2011/2012
Dec. 25, 2011. Christmas Day. Champalou Vouvray Brut. Excellent. About $19 to $26.

Dec. 26. Champagne Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs. Excellent. About $36 to $50.

Dec. 27. Couly-Dutheil Brut de Franc, Loire Valley. Very Good+. About $21.

Dec. 28. Champagne Paul Bara Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $45 to $50.

Dec. 29. Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $26.

Dec. 30. Champagne Jean Vesselle Brut Réserve. Excellent. About $44.75

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc, Crémant de Bourgogne, Very Good+. About $15-$19.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, Excellent. About $45-$55.

Jan. 1, 2012, Domaine Achard-Vincent Clairette de Die Brut. Very Good. About $25.
André and Michel Quenard Savoie Brut, Very Good+. About $19-$25.

Jan. 2. Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec. Excellent. About $42.

Jan. 3. Champagne Michel Turgy Réserve Sélection Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $52.

Jan. 4. Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience, Cremant de Limoux, Very Good+. About $20.

Jan 5, Twelfth Night. J.J. Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $23.
Champagne Taittinger Prelude Brut. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut. Excellent. About $140
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2010/2011
Dec. 25, 2012, Christmas Day. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs Brut 2007, North Coast. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 26. Lucien Albrecht Brut Rosé, Crémant d’Alsace. Very Good+. About $16-$20.

Dec. 27. Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 28. Vigne Regali Cuvée Aurora Rosé, Alta Langa, Piedmont. Excellent. About $30.

Dec. 29. Iron Horse Brut Rosé 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $50.

Dec. 30. Jaillance Brut Rosé, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good. About $17.
Chateau de Lisennes Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Very Good+. About $17.
Favory Brut, Crémant de Bordeaux. Excellent. About $16.50.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava, Spain. Very Good. About $10-$11.
Nino Franco Rustico Prosecco, Veneto, Italy, Very Good+. About $17-$20.
J Brut Rosé, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Vve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut. Excellent. About $55.

Jan. 1, 2011. Elyssian Gran Cuvée Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $18.

Jan. 2. Graham Beck Brut; Graham Beck Brut Rosé, South Africa. Very+ for each. About $15-$18.

Jan. 3. Champagne Heidsieck & Co. Monopole “Blue Top” Brut. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Jan. 4. Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2006. Excellent. About $36.
Domaine Carneros Blanc de Noirs Brut 2006. Excellent. Available only at the winery.
Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004. Exceptional. About $85.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Albinea Canali Ottocentonero, Lambrusco dell’Emilia. Very Good+. About $16.
Col Vetoraz Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut. Very Good+. About $16.
Segura Viudas Brut Reserve Heredad Cava. Very Good+. About $15.
Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2008, South Australia. Very Good+. About $10.
Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cremant d’Alsace. Excellent. About $25.
Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $40.
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2009/2010
Dec. 25, 2009, Christmas Day. Dopff & Irion Crémant d’Alsace Brut. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec. 26. Champagne Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $65.

Dec. 27. Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompadour Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $36.

Dec. 28. Hill of Content Sparkling Red. Very Good+. About $15

Dec. 29. Champagne Henriot Brut Rosé. Excellent. About $55-$65.

Dec. 30. Scharffenberger Brut, Mendocino County. Very Good+. About $18

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Louis Perdrier Brut, France. Good+. About $9.
Jean-Baptiste Adam Crémant d’Alsace Brut, Very Good+, about $20.
Champagne Lamiable Brut Grand Cru, Excellent, about $50-$60.

Jan. 1, 2010. Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 2. Bortolomiol Prior Brut Valdobbiadene Prosecco, Veneto. Excellent. About $18.
Poema Cava Brut, Spain. Very Good+. About $13.
Finca La Linda Extra Brut, Argentina. Very Good+. about $15.

Jan. 3. Domaine du Closel Château des Vaults Brut Sauvage, Savennières, Loire Valley. Excellent. About $18.

Jan. 4. Champagne Haton & Fils Grand Reserve Brut, Excellent. About $55.
Haton et Fils Grand Reserve Blanc de Blancs Brut, Very Good+. About $55.
Haton & Fils “Cuvée René Haton” Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, Excellent. About $62.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. i Stefanini Spumante Brut, Very Good+. About $16.
Mumm Napa Cuvee M. Very Good+. About $20.
Bortolomiol Filanda Rosé Brut Riserva 2007, Veneto. Very Good+. About $22.
Champagne Guy Charlemagne Brut Extra. Excellent. About $62.
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2008/2009
Dec. 25, 2008, Christmas Day. Wolfberger Crémant d’Alsace Brut Rosé. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 26. Mirabelle Brut, North Coast, California. Very Good+. About $22.

Dec. 27. Greg Norman Estates Australian Sparkling Chardonnay Pinot Noir. Very Good+. About $18.

Dec. 28. Champagne A.R Lenoble Brut Nature. Excellent. About $35-$40.

Dec. 29. Patrick Bottex “La Cueille” Vin du Bugey-Cerdon. Very Good+. About $18-$24.

Dec. 30. J Cuvée 20 Brut, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Excellent. About $25-$28.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Domaine Laurier Brut, California, Very Good. About $12.
Rotari Rosé, Trento, Italy. Very Good+. About $14.
Champagne Taittinger Brut Millésimé 2002, Excellent. About $90.

Jan. 1, 2009. Champagne Roland Champion Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut. Exceptional, about $65.

Jan. 2. Dom Bertiol Proseccco Veneto. Very Good. About $16.

Jan. 3. Charles Duret Crémant de Bourgogne. Very Good+. About $20.

Jan. 4. Champagne G.H. Mumm’s Carte Classique. Excellent. About $35.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Marcato i Prandi Durello, Lessini, Veneto. Very Good. About $16.
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2007/2008
Dec. 25, 2007. Champagne Pol Roger Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $60-$65.

Dec. 26. Champagne Laurent-Perrier Brut L-P. Excellent. About $36-$45.

Dec. 27. Maschio dei Cavalieri Prosecco di Valdobbiabene Brut, Veneto. Very Good+. About $20.

Dec, 28. Champagne Chartogne-Taillet Brut Cuvée Sainte-Anne. Excellent. About $45.

Dec. 29. Champagne Bruno Paillard Rèserve Privée Blanc de Blancs. Excellent. About $60.

Dec, 30. Taltani Brut Taché, Australia, Very Good+. About $22.
Clover Hill Brut 2003, Tasmania. Excellent. About $32.

Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Gruet Brut, New Mexico, Very Good+. About $16.
Schramsberg J. Schram Brut 2000, North Coast. Excellent. About $90.
Champagne Veuve Clicquot Reserve Rosé, Excellent. About $70-$75.

Jan. 1, 2008. Champagne A. Margaine Premier Cru Brut, Excellent. About $45-$50.

Jan. 2. Champagne José Dhondt “Mes Vieilles Vignes” Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $70.

Jan. 3. Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence. Excellent. About $46.

Jan. 4. Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Ice Wine 2005, Niagara Peninsula, Canada. Excellent. About $85 for a half-bottle.

Jan. 5, Twelfth Night. Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2004, North Coast. Excellent. About $35.
Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. Excellent. About $45-$55.
Champagne Gosset Grande Reserve Brut. Excellent. About $63.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Premiere Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $75.
Champagne Laurent-Perrier Cuvée Rosé Brut. Excellent. About $80.
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Brut. Exceptional. About $110.
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Ah, here we are, the final day of this series of “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine.” I offer three examples, one charming Crémant de Bourgogne and two splendid Champagnes, thus bringing to conclusion this foray into different styles of French sparkling wines from various regions. Twelfth Night is the Eve of the Epiphany, or, that is to say, the earthly manifestation of a deity, specifically, for Christians, marking the baptism of Christ by John in the River Jordan. That falls on January 6, tomorrow, a solemn occasion, while Twelfth Night was traditionally given over to revels and fetes, plays and masquerades and general disorder, the sort of fol-de-rol memorably captured by Shakespeare in his romantic comedy Twelfth Night, or, What You Will, written in 1601 or ’02 intentionally for presentation at the close of the Yuletide season. Tis a fitting night, in other words, for a glass or two of sparkling wine or Champagne, but then what night would not be appropriate for the world’s most festive beverage?

The illustration is a sketch by Orson Welles of the characters Malvolio and Olivia in Twelfth Night, courtesy of hollowaypages.com.
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A charming way to precede or begin a meal would be with the J.J. Vincent Crémant de Bourgogne, non-vintage, made completely from chardonnay grapes from the Côte Chalonnaise, south of Burgundy proper. The color is radiant medium straw-gold, and the mousse is persistent, pinpoint, slightly creamy. Plenty of stones and bones in this dry, crisp, lively sparkling wine, which has an aura of apples and green grapes, as well as hints of pear and peach, and a slightly earthy cast, a little sweet and foresty. Tasty and intriguing, with a lingering finish of spice and limestone. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $23.

Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, New York. A sample for review.
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Taittinger introduced musically named Prelude and Nocturne in 2005; I recently tasted both and found Prelude much to my liking. The Taittinger Prelude Brut is made from Grand Cru vineyards and is a blend of half-and-half chardonnay and pinot noir; the chardonnay is from the villages of Avize and Le Mesnil-sur-Ogre in the Côte des Blancs, while the pinot noir is from Bouzy and Ambonnay in Montagne de Reims. The pedigree, you understand, is there. The color is an entrancing pale yet brilliant blond with silver highlights animated, of course, by the millions of glinting bubbles that swirl up in energetic draft. Balance and integration of all elements are impeccable; this is a Champagne in which every aspect is completely evident and neither dominates nor diminishes the others. Notes of cinnamon toast and roasted almonds are woven with hints of camellia and jasmine, candied ginger and lime peel and immense reserves of scintillating limestone minerality. Prelude is a substantial Champagne, delivering unmistakable presence on the palate, yet it also feels deft, fleet-footed, even delicate in some of its appealing dimension; a model of the marriage of power and elegance. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $90.

Imported by Kobrand Corp., New York. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.
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Is there a Champagne, indeed any alcoholic beverage, that possesses a more alluring, festive — and better-known? — package than Perrier-Jouët’s Belle Epoque Brut? The curving bough of anemones, painted in enamel, the deliberately old-fashioned and nostalgic typeface, the way the name Perrier-Jouët is displayed so curvaceously on the capsule: all of these elements speak of a species of gaiety, pleasure and joie de vivre we assume to have existed in the era between 1890 and 1914, as if all of life consisted of dining at Maxim’s on oysters and Champagne. The emblematic flowers were designed in 1902 by Emile Gallé, the greatest of the French Art Nouveau glassmakers, but the product itself was not introduced until 1969, with the vintage of 1964. These wines benefit from a few years’ aging, so when LL and I opened the Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque Brut 2004 on New Year’s Eve, to sip with caviar, it was just seven years beyond the harvest and drinking beautifully. The Champagne opens with biscuity, toasty elements that unfold to hints of roasted lemon and pear, toasted hazelnuts and exotic spices and back-tones of quince and ginger, jasmine and limestone, all of these qualities conveyed with utmost finesse and elegance. This is about brightness, clarity and clean definition, while earthy, almost loamy, coffee-like elements provide ballast and foundation. (The blend, by the way, is 50 percent chardonnay, 45 percent pinot noir and 5 percent pinot meunier.) Great tone and resonance on the palate, crystalline acidity, a kind of fresh, wind-swept feeling, vivacious and tremendously appealing, and at the center a surprising bell-note of spiced grapefruit. 12 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $140.

Imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY. A sample for review.
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Here is a sparkling wine that for quality and price you should grasp to your bosom and purchase by the case. The Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience, non-vintage, is a blend of 60 percent chardonnay grapes, 30 percent chenin blanc and 5 percent each mauzac and pinot noir made in the Crémant de Limoux appellation in southwest France, not far from medieval walled town of Carcassonne. The wine is a collaboration between the Bourgeois family, the well-known importers headquartered in Asheville, N.C., and Domaine J. Laurens.

Limoux has an interesting history, because the first sparkling wines were apparently developed there as early as 1531, at the Abbey St.-Hilaire, and pre-dating sparkling Champagne by 150 years. These wines, traditionally made from the mauzac grape, underwent a natural process of second fermentation in the bottle in the Spring after the harvest, as the temperature warmed. The fairly rustic Blanquette de Limoux sparkling wines were supplemented in 1990 by the creation of Crémant de Limoux, designed to be more modern and to exploit the increasing acreage in the region devoted to chardonnay and chenin blanc grapes.

The Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience offers a mild straw-gold color and a plethora of teeming bubbles. The bouquet is a subtle weaving of biscuits, lemon zest and baking spices highlighted by a pointed limestone element; the impression is of pinpoint focus and vibrancy with nothing fancy or flashy. In the mouth, this is clean, bright, effervescent and very dry, a pleasing combination of a soft generous texture (and hints of macerated citrus fruit) with taut acidity and an upright, straight-arrow minerality in the limestone-flint range, much as if it were a cadet version of the hallowed Champagne itself. In fact, not wanting to make too hard a sell here, but the Cuvée Stéphi Ebullience makes a fair bid for elegance, presence and class beyond its station. Don’t neglect this in your sparkling wine plans. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $20.

So today is January 4th, meaning that tomorrow is Twelfth Night and the 12th Day of Christmas, bringing the 2011-2012 edition of this series to an end. Stop by for a couple of valedictory selections.

… a bottle of Michel Turgy. To be specific, a bottle of the Michel Turgy Réserve Sélection Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, non-vintage. This is a grower Champagne produced by a family that founded the house in 1881 and still owns the estate, farming a miniscule 6 hectares — 15.42 acres — in the Grand Cru village of Mesnil-sur-Oger, one of the best sites in all of Champagne. As a blanc de blancs — “white from whites” — this Champagne is 100 percent chardonnay. The color is pale gold; the glass foams with myriad tiny, glinting bubbles. In the nose: apples, pears and limestone, cinnamon toast and biscuits, and hints of candied ginger and quince paste; just lovely but also a signal, in its toasty and expansive nature, of how substantial the wine is. Sizable, even dense on the palate, yes, but paradoxically elegant and steely, with roasted lemon and baked pear flavors cleanly etched by vivid acidity and burgeoning limestone-like minerality, all leading to a high-toned, somewhat austere finish. There’s dignity here, perhaps even nobility, as well as fine detail and sensual appeal. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $52, though as always prices vary widely around the country.

December 3, by the way, is the Holy Day of Genevieve, patron saint of Paris; she is typically invoked as protection against drought and flood and has served, since 1962 and approved by Pope John XXIII, as patron of French security forces.

North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.

As is the case with the history of the Martini, the progress of Champagne has been from sweet to dry, which is why a Champagne termed Extra Sec (“extra dry”) is actually sweeter, technically, than Brut (“raw”). Imbibers of bubbly in the 19th Century assumed that Champagne would be sweet, but gradually tastes changed — dare one say, became more sophisticated — the amount of sugar in the dosage (remember, the dosage helps start the second fermentation in the bottle) was reduced, and Champagne became drier. Even Brut Champagne can have a quality of sweetness, though it’s usually masked by acidity and the essential element of minerality. The rarely encountered actually sweet Champagne is called Doux. A moderately sweet Champagne is called, paradoxically, Demi-Sec, “half-dry,” and is typically served as a compliment to uncomplicated desserts, like a plain apple tart.

I don’t drink or even taste many Demi-Sec Champagnes, but I was delighted by the Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec, non-vintage. “Sublime” is pure marketing, of course; I would call it Cuvée Really Damned Pretty.

Heidsieck & Co Monopole, Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck all trace their origins to Florens-Louis Heidsieck, who established the company in 1785. I won’t delve into the multi-tangled history of the three houses and how they became separated by reasons of birth and marriage and other familial and non-familial relationships. It’s sufficient to say that Charles Heidsieck and Piper-Heidsieck are owned by Remy-Cointreau, while Heidsieck & Co. Monopole is owned by Vranken Pommery.

The Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec, a blend of 55 percent pinot noir, 30 percent pinot meunier and 15 percent chardonnay, offers a radiant pale gold-straw color and a flourish of frothy blond bubbles, the sort of bubbles that make great posters and photographs; one imagines Jeanne Avril and Toulouse-Lautrec with glasses giddily held aloft, while gas-lamps flare and the orchestra stirs in overture. At first, this feels dry, elegant and high-toned, even a touch austere; the sense of sweetness (or half-sweetness) develops after a few moments as the red currant, peach and pear flavors, with a hint of marzipan, become soft and ripe and macerated, and the texture, while rightly organized around crisp acidity and limestone, turns lush and almost viscous. I don’t mean that this is some kissy-face pushover of a date; no, the Piper-Heidsieck Cuvée Sublime Demi-Sec is well-knit, meticulously balanced and precisely integrated, which is to say, that the elegance holds true from start to finish. Come on, we know that Americans, like magpies, adore bright, shiny things; what’s not to adore about this? 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $42, though as is usually the case, prices vary widely throughout the country.

Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

So, January 1st, day of beginnings and endings, looking forward and looking back, celebrated in many parts of the world with mummers’ parades and with wassailing, although after the indulgences of New Year’s Eve it’s probably best to go light on the good old wassail. Let’s celebrate this entry in “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” by looking at two unusual French sparkling products, a Savoie Brut and a Clairette de Die Brut.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal. Samples for review.
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There is some evidence that “méthode champenoise” sparkling wines were produced in Die — “dee” — long before they were made in Champagne. This tiny appellation nestles on the Drôme River, a tributary east of the Rhône, halfway between the Northern and the Southern Rhône regions. The Domaine Achard-Vincent Clairette de Die Brut, non-vintage, is made 100 percent from clairette grapes, a species that does not get a lot of love in wine and grape handbooks, though it is apparently an ancient variety in the south of France, praised by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD). Whatever the case, the example made — on biodynamic practices — by Domaine Achard-Vincent is pleasantly effervescent, fresh, clean and lively, with appealing notes of ripe pears, melon, almond blossom, cloves and ginger; there is about it something a little wild and earthy and rustic, completely, it seems, a creature of its patch of geography. A terrific aperitif, and a wine your guests probably will not have encountered. 11.5 percent alcohol. Very Good. About $24.
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Savoie is an Alpine region abutting Switzerland where the grapes are largely unfamiliar outside the area and where the wines are mostly consumed on their home ground by tourists and skiers. These wines, made on far-flung estates because of the rugged terrain, tend to be almost all white, clean and crisp, befitting their consumption in mountain valleys; a small amount of sparkling wine is produced. The André and Michel Quenard Savoie Brut, non-vintage, is made from the jacquère grape, in this case from 50-year-old vines. The first impression, after the teeming torrent of bubbles, is of green apples and steel, then hints of pear and quince and a touch of orange rind. Is it the high altitude that gives this sparkling wine such a deep foundation of limestone and shale, this slick-as-a-whistle, lace-like zestiness? It’s very dry, electric with fleet acidity, almost airy but nicely textured. Completely delightful, whether you’re lounging on a terrace overlooking a steep valley or sitting in your own living-room. 12 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $19 to $25.
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