12 Days of Christmas


I love blanc de blancs Champagne, made completely from chardonnay grapes — “blanc de blancs” means “white from whites” — for its elegance and ethereal nature, its tinselly decor and tensile strength, its taut nervosity built on intense minerality. One of the best I have tried recently is the nonvintage Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut, and I offer it today as the sixth entry in the current series of “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine.” Holy cow, we’re halfway through the sequence! Time’s a-wastin’! Anyway, Champagne Delamotte was established in 1760 in the village of Mesnil-sur-Oger, what is now a prestigious area devoted solely to Grand Cru vineyards. Delamotte is owned by Champagne Laurent-Perrier, and as such is a sister house to Champagne Salon, one of the greatest, rarest and most expensive of all Champagnes. Our purpose, however, is to look at the more affordable and accessible Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut. The color is palest gold with undertones of tarnished silver; a storm of tiny bubbles races swirling to the surface. This is all smoke and steel, limestone and flint, but with notes of jasmine and acacia, spiced pear, lime peel and grapefruit and a chilly errant hint of mint and juniper. A few minutes in the glass bring up touches of biscuits, lightly buttered cinnamon toast, roasted lemon; for all the richness of its detail, this blanc de blancs is ethereal, evanescent, high-toned yet based on the essential vitality of crisp acidity and slightly earthy stoniness. As it’s said of the faces of the Hepburn girls — Katharine and Audrey — this Champagne has great bones. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $40 to $68 — yes, that’s quite a range — so be happy if you pay $50 to $55.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. A sample for review.

My Readers can probably tell by the Italian words in the title of this post that we’re back in Italy for the Fifth Day of Christmas, specifically in Lombardy, where we find the sparkling wine region of Franciacorta, about halfway between the cities of Bergamo to the northwest and Brescia to the southeast. These products are made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. Franciacorta was accorded the official status of DOCG — Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita — in 1995. The Montenisa estate has been in the hands of the Conti Maggi family since the late 16th Century. In 1999, the Maggi family entered an agreement with Marchesi Antinori of Tuscany to share in the operation of the vineyards. Montenisa Brut is composed of chardonnay and pinot bianco grapes with a touch of pinot noir. The grapes are fermented partly in stainless steel tanks and partly in oak barriques; after second fermentation, the wine rests on the lees for 30 months. The color is pale gold, and the fountain of bubbles forms a gratifying torrent in the glass. Montenisa Brut is fresh and clean with notes of apple and spiced pear and hints of yeasty bread and roasted lemon, lime peel and grapefruit. This is a zesty, vibrant, savory and botanical sparkling wine — I mean by botanical slightly minty and floral — with a prominent background of limestone and flint minerality for a lithe and elegant structure, though it does not stint on subtle ripeness and a sense of moderately mouth-filling lushness. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $35.

Imported by Ste Michelle Wine Estates. A sample for review.

I would drink Champagne every day if I could afford it — or if importers would send me samples, I mean, come on! — and the Champagnes I love best are brut rosé and blanc de blancs. For the Fourth Day of Christmas, I offer a superb brut rosé, the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004. The trend now is to favor small family growers and champagne-makers — also called artisan or farmer Champagnes — over the large established houses, and it’s true that grower Champagne can deliver a sense of individuality and terroir-driven authenticity that the large houses sometimes gloss over. It’s also true, however, that with their sometimes vast supplies of reserve wines, their long-term contracts in excellent vineyards and their decades, if not centuries of experience and tradition, the major houses can turn out enviably great and highly desirable products of depth and complexity. Such a one is the Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut Rosé 2004, a blend of 45 percent pinot noir grapes, 31 percent chardonnay and 24 percent pinot meunier. The color is radiant coral that’s almost opalescent, and it’s energized by startlingly brisk and abundant effervescence; my thought was, “How can a fragile glass how these bubbles?” This is a generous and expansive brut rosé, layered with notes of cloves and orange zest, strawberries and raspberries, biscuits and toasted hazelnuts with a hint of tangerine and a sort of dusty peach. The pinot noir and pinot meunier lend a feeling of red wine graphite, almost of a subtly tannic character, while the chardonnay delivers subversive elements of limestone and grapefruit. This is, in other words, simultaneously substantial and ethereal, earthy and elegant, with an extended finish that’s chiseled and crystalline. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink through 2018 to 2020. Excellent. About $80.

Imported by Moët-Hennessey USA, New York. A sample for review.

So, on Christmas Day, we did a superior Prosecco, and yesterday assayed an excellent and genuine Champagne. Today, the Third Day of Christmas, we continue with the eclectic tendency and present an unusual vintage-dated Cava, that is to say, the well-known sparkling wine from the Penedés region of Spain, southwest of Barcelona in the province of Catalonia. The Juvé y Camps “Reserva de la Familia” Brut Nature Gran Reserve 2008 comes from an estate founded in 1796 by Joan Juvé Mir, though the working winery was not established until 1921, by Joan Juvé Baqués and his wife Teresa Camps Farré. As is the law in Cava production, these sparkling wines are made in the Champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle. The Juvé y Camps “Reserva de la Familia” Brut Nature Gran Reserve 2008 consists of the traditional macabeo, xarel-lo and parellada grapes with a dollop of chardonnay. The color is mild gold, enlivened by a vibrant surge of tiny bubbles; aromas of freshly-baked bread, toasted hazelnuts, roasted lemons and green tea are heightened by notes of acacia and almond skin, and the whole package resonates with a sort of sea-breeze/salt marsh fresh and bracing character. This sparkler is very dry, savory, deeply spicy, and though it’s quite lively with acidity and sprightly with tense citrus flavors, it grows more austere as the moments pass, becoming a touch acerb on the finish. I would say drink up, but try it for the unique experience. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. I paid $19, but prices around the country start around $15.

Imported by Winebow Inc., New York.

Today is Boxing Day, so don’t forget to take all those mounds of Christmas present boxes out to the curb for the garbage trucks or for recycling.

Back on the “7th Day of Christmas” in 2010, which happened to be New Year’s Eve, I mentioned the Champagne Rosé Premier Cru de Veuve Fourny et Fils Vertus Brut, made by a small family-run house, founded in 1856, in the village of Vertus. This producer uses only grapes from sustainably-farmed Premier Cru vineyards. Today it’s the turn of one of that previous wine’s stablemates, the Veuve Fourny & Fils Grande Réserve Premier Cru Brut, a combination of 80 percent chardonnay grapes and 20 percent pinot noir that aged two-and-a-half years in bottle before release. Boy, this is a super attractive Champagne, both elegant and dynamic, just the way I like them. The color is shimmering pale gold, shot through by a splurge of tiny glancing bubbles. Notes of roasted lemon, grapefruit rind, toasted hazelnuts and cloves are highlighted by wood-smoke, ginger and quince and a hint of cinnamon toast. Lovely poise, tension and tone here, with the authority of brisk acidity and the dimension of chiseled limestone minerality, a dry, savory and saline Champagne that finishes with a tinge of mineral austerity. I could drink this every day. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $35 to $50; I paid in the upper reach of that scale.

Kermit Lynch Imports, Berkeley, Calif.

… and instead of a partridge in a pear tree I offer this unusual thing, a Prosecco that’s not only vintage-dated but a single-vineyard designation. “Hey,” you’re saying, “Prosecco? What’s the big deal?” I know, I know, most Prosecco is lightly effervescent, ethereal, ephemeral and forgettable. Immediately enjoyable, I mean, and then we go on to other matters. Such is not the case with the Adriano Adami “Col Credas” Rive di Farra di Soligo Brut 2011, Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore. “Rive” is local dialect for a steep hillside vineyard, local being the area of the Veneto north-northwest of Venice and Treviso. When Burton Anderson published The Wine Atlas of Italy in 1990 (Simon & Schuster), he said of Prosecco, “Growing popularity in Italy has left little for export.” That assessment did not account for the explosion of Prosecco’s popularity in America in the following two decades, though most of the product shipped to the United States fell into the soft, slightly sweet and quickly drinkable category. The Adami concern goes back three generations to 1920, when Abele Adami acquired the Giardino vineyard, which still produces grapes for the family. Abele’s son Adriano furthered the family’s reputation, and the estate is now operated by his sons Armando and Franco. The Adami “Col Credas” Rive di Farra di Soligo Brut 2011 was made completely from glera grapes, as the prosecco grape is now called, and produced in the method of second fermentation in tanks. The color is about as silvery as a pale pale gold sparkling wine can be, the pleasure of its hue abetted by a fountain of surging, glinting bubbles. This is all steel and snow, frost and flint and damp limestone, highlighted by hints of roasted lemon, verbena and lime peel, with notes of acacia and almond skin. Bright acidity and a touch of grapefruit keep this Prosecco snappy, juicy and bracing, but mainly it’s about fleet-footed minerality, though there’s nothing austere or forbidding. It all fits together in lovely harmony. 11 percent alcohol. Drink through 2014 or ’15. Excellent. About $22, a Great Value.

A sample for review.

What began as a lark during the Yuletide season of 2007 and 2008, that is, the 12 days of Christmas from Christmas Day (December 25) to Twelfth Night (January 5), evolved into a hallowed tradition on this blog. Tomorrow, then, I start the seventh edition, for 2013 and 2014, of “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine.” Each day I will post an entry about a bottle of, obviously, Champagne, the real stuff, or a sparkling wine from another wine-producing region of the world; part of my motivation is to persuade consumers that other sorts of sparkling wines are also “the real stuff.” My constant effort is not only in the service of quality but of the interesting and occasionally the unusual. Prices will range from the affordable to the eye-popping, but that’s the nature of the product. In all these years, I have never repeated a product, though I have used (and will again) different labels from the same house or estate or winery. Over six years, 116 Champagnes and sparkling wines have appeared in this series, and while the quick and astute among My Readers will assert that 6 x 12 = 72, for the posts on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night, I typically mention three or four products in the way of providing choices and clearing up the roster. So, Happy Christmas Eve and Merry Christmas, and don’t forget to check this blog each day for the latest post along the way of this annual festive time when the days begin to get longer and one year turns into another. Cheers!

Image from winecellarage.com.

I don’t think anybody or at least very few people celebrate the festive event of Twelfth Night now, but in Shakespeare’s day, when he wrote the charming and thoughtful romantic comedy “Twelfth Night; or, What You Will,” this day marked the end of the fun-filled, if not riotous Yuletide season and its culmination in the solemnity of the Epiphany. It’s all a fitting way to segue into a new year, during the month of, as far as the Romans were concerned, looking forward and gazing back. Be that as it may, I always enjoy the “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparking Wine,” especially when I can inform My Readers about products that may be interesting or unusual or new to them. I hope that I achieved success in that criteria for this, the sixth segment of the series. Looking forward, as Janus was wont to do with one of his faces, we have coming up on BTYH the “50 Great Wines of 2012” and “25 Great Bargains of 2012,” though in a way, that’s looking back too. If I didn’t already do so, here on Twelfth Night I’ll wish all of you a Happy New Year and a 2013 that works to the best of your advantages and dreams.

Image from agoldoffish.wordpress.com.
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I have enjoyed tasting and writing about wines from Domaine Mittnacht Fréres several times this year, and certainly up to the standard is the Domaine Mittnacht Fréres Crémant d’Alsace, a Champagne method sparkling wine that’s a blend of 50 percent pinot auxerrois (a white clone of pinot noir) and approximately equal portions of riesling, pinot blanc, pinot gris and pinot noir. This is a crisp, lively and slightly chiseled sparkling wine that offers a pale straw color, loads of tiny bubbles and a fairly exquisite sense of delicacy married to purpose. Hints of pear, apricot and crystallized ginger are tempered by steel and flint for an overall impression that’s lean, spare and elegant but expressing lots of appeal and personality. I could drink this every day. 12 percent alcohol. Very good+. Prices range from about $19 to $24.

A Daniel Johnnes Selection for Michael Skurnik Wines, Syosset, N.Y. A sample for review.
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The Domaine Chandon Etoile Brut Rosé, North Coast (Napa and Sonoma counties), is one of the prettiest sparkling wines you’ll find, though it has a serious, even a dramatic side too. A blend of 48 percent chardonnay, 44 percent pinot noir and 8 percent pinot meunier, it displays an entrancing fiery copper-peach color and a steady pulse of infinitesimal glinting bubbles. The bouquet is characterized by strawberries and red currants enlivened by orange zest and cloves and hints of fresh-baked bread, flint and steel. There’s very agreeable tension among slashing acidity, taut and crisp-edged limestone-like minerality and an almost luxurious sense of round citrus and stone-fruit nuances and irresistible seductive power. This would be a great special occasion — i.e., romantic — sparkling wine. 13 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $50.

A sample for review.
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It’s a little daunting to encounter an estate whose motto is “Ethics. Ecology. Ethos.” and that gives its products names like “Sagesse,” “Tolérance,” “Harmonie” and “Reliance.” You wonder if you’re up to it. Taste the Champagnes from the little estate — I mean, 10 acres — of Franck and Isabelle Pascal, though, and you’ll realize that you don’t have to be Ralph Waldo Emerson to enjoy them. Franck Pascal took over his family’s property in 1994, when he was only 23, and he quickly worked to convert the vineyards to biodynamic practices. Whatever the reasons and effects of ethics, ecology and ethos, these are Champagnes of intense purity, power and elegance. Let’s bring this 2012/2013 edition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” to a close with the Champagne Franck Pascal Tolérance Brut Rosé, a blend (according to the importer’s website) of 58 percent pinot meunier, 39 percent pinot noir and 3 percent chardonnay; 94 percent of the wine came from the 2004 vintage, 6 percent from 2005. The color is very pale but radiant onion skin with a faint coppery hue; the bubbles are almost explosive in their initial upward surge. Tolérance is an incredibly dry, high-toned and refined brut rose, with depth upon depth of limestone and shale-like minerality and yet so lacy and transparent that it feels not just delicate but crystalline and frangible., though cemented ultimately by the elemental and adamantine litheness of its tremendous acidity. It allows nuances of red-tinged berry-like scents and flavors, with faint, beguiling touches of dried fruit, biscuits and toasted hazelnuts, but this is mainly about exquisiteness, fine-breeding and Alpine austerity. I love it. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $55 to $65, and Worth a Search.

Imported by LDM Wines, New York.

The well-known Champagne house of Moët & Chandon started looking for vineyard land in the Napa Valley in 1968. In 1973, in a partnership with Hennessy, the cognac producer (both owned by LVMH), the company bought acreage in Mount Veeder and Yountville, producing the first Domaine Chandon sparkling wine in 1976. Winemaker Tom Tiburzi has been at Chandon since 1989, working his way up through the winemaking staff; he is assisted by Pauline Lhote, whose family are farmers in Champagne. Chandon, long an iconic presence to the west of Hwy 29 across from the town of Yountville, makes a complete range of nonvintage sparkling wines, but today I want to feature two of its vintage series. These were samples for review.
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Neither the print material I received nor the winery’s website reveal the percentages of the blend of grapes in the Domaine Chandon Yountville Vintage Brut 2007, Yountville, Napa Valley, so all I can tell you is that it’s made from pinot noir and chardonnay from the Yountville district, north of the city of Napa. The southern area of Yountville particularly, where it’s coolest, is a prime location for chardonnay and pinot noir. The color is radiant medium gold; there’s a constant lively stream of tiny bubbles. Notes of roasted lemons and spiced pears are bolstered by toast and biscuits with hints of toffee and candied ginger and an undercurrent of smoke. The emphasis segues to crystalline acidity and scintillating limestone and flint elements that balance deftly a texture that’s substantial enough to be almost lush, though the fineness and elegance of the finish make it spare and lithe and slightly austere. 13 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 or ’17. Excellent. About $45.
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The Domaine Chandon Mount Veeder Vintage Brut 2006, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley, focuses on chardonnay; it could, I suppose, be called blanc de blancs, but the powers at Chandon opted for a straightforward “brut” indication. The point would be: what are the differences between a sparkling wine made from Yountville grapes and one made from Mount Veeder grapes, especially if the latter is one year older? The color of the Mount Veeder sparkler is much paler, much blonder and Harlow-like than the hue of the Yountville version mentioned above. While there’s a similar component of fresh bread and biscuits, the Mount Veeder adds hints of roasted hazelnuts, cinnamon toast and caramel popcorn with a touch of baked apple and slightly honeyed peach. These qualities, let me emphasize, are expressed in a tone of utmost nuance and pure suggestion, because, above all, this is a sparkling wine that combines notable presence and persistence with finesse and refinement. 12.5 percent alcohol. Drink now through 2016 to ’18. Excellent. About $45.
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… and by special I mean that what I describe today is a fine Champagne from a great vintage (if farmers and producers were careful) that’s fully mature and will continue to drink well for another decade. The product in question is the Champagne Fleury Brut Millésimé 1996, a blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay from a house that goes back to the beginning of the 20th Century and the planting of pinot noir vines by Emile Fleury. This estate was among the first to bottle its own Champagne, starting in 1927 with Robert Fleury, Emile’s son. In the 1970s, Emile’s grandson Jean-Pierre became concerned about the potential damage that the family’s vineyards could suffer under the regimen of the usual chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and he began researching organic methods, eventually finding his way to biodynamic practices, which have prevailed at Fleury since 1989. The 15-hectare estate — 37.5 acres and 90 percent pinot noir — is now operated by Emile’s great-grandson, Jean-Sébastien.

So, what do we have? The Fleury Brut Millésimé 1996 sports a medium gold color with darker gold highlights and a plethora of infinitely teeny bubbles that spiral upward in dazzling but sedate display. Buttered toast and warm brioche; cloves, ginger and a hint of white truffles; lime peel, limestone and a flicker of flint: all of these elements add up to a complete sense of balance, suavity and elegance, but with a touch of something wild, yeasty, perpetually burgeoning. This is, in short, a Champagne of tremendous presence, tone and character that delivers a profound presence of limestone and gravel minerality layered with vibrant acidity and the subtlest of stone fruit flavors touched with smoke and toffee and sea-salt; the finish — long, lacy, racy, complex — devolves to limestone, spice and some austerity. 12.5 percent alcohol. Now through 2020 to 2026. Excellent. National average price is $109, but realistically, look for $90 to $100. Worth a Search.

Imported by Domaine Select Wine Estates, New York.

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