12 Days of Christmas

… and of course New Year’s Eve means celebrating with Champagne or some other form of sparkling wine. I could make tons of recommendations for inexpensive sparkling wines to serve tonight, especially if you’re hosting a soiree with a cast of thousands, but since the emphasis in this sequence of “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” is on France, I’ll put my money on the Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc, a Crémant de Bourgogne from Chablis. From Chablis? Mais oui, mes amis, Chablis is nominally considered part of Burgundy, though its climate is far different and it lies some distance to the northwest of the Côte d’Or. Simonnet-Febvre has been producing Champagne method sparkling wine in Chablis since it was founded in 1840 and is the only firm in Chablis still doing so. Simonnet-Febvre also makes excellent Chablis still wines at every level and sells them for reasonable prices. The company was acquired by Louis Latour in 2003. The Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc is a blend of 60 percent chardonnay and 40 percent pinot noir. The wine is exuberantly outfitted with bubbles and conveys a racy, nervy note of effervescent combined with fleet acidity and a keen limestone edge. This is clean and fresh, almost tangy with apple and slightly roasted citrus flavors ensconced in a crisp, lively texture. 12 percent alcohol. A crowd-pleaser. Very Good+. Prices countrywide range from about $14 to $19.

But say that your plans tonight include not teeming mobs drunkenly intoning the half-forgotten words of “Auld Lang Syne” but a more intimate gathering, perhaps even only one other person for whom you require something elegant and impressive. Turn, then, to the Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, the label that defines the house style for Perrier-Jouët (the final “t” is prounounced). The company was founded in 1811 and achieved a high reputation in the 19th Century, especially for supplying Champagne to various royal courts of Europe. In 1959, Perrier-Jouët was acquired by the Mumm Group, which was later taken over by Seagram. In 1999, the latter sold Perrier-Jouët and Mumm to private investors who immediately turned around and, um, unloaded the house to Allied Domecq, which, of course, was subsumed by Pernod Ricard, the present owners. Sometimes you have to keep a score-card. Anyway, Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut, a blend of 40 percent pinot noir, 40 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent chardonnay, offers a bright golden-yellow color and a stately upward procession of tiny bubbles. I was, frankly, surprised at how robust and full-bodied this Champagne is; it’s the real deal when it comes to the toasty, bready fashion, and to match its generous dimension, the details of toffee, sea-salt, roasted lemon and hints of apples, almonds and almond blossom flesh it out considerably. This is quite dry, vibrant and resonant, almost chewy, and its chiming acidity (there are hints of grapefruit and lime peel) and elements of limestone tracery develop power — yet with finesse to match — through the finish. 12 percent alcohol. True class and breeding. Excellent. I paid $52, but realistically prices range from about $40 to $56.

Simonnet-Febvre Brut Blanc imported by Louis Latour Inc., San Rafael, Cal.; Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut imported by Pernod Ricard USA, Purchase, NY.

The bubbles keep on coming! Here’s another grower or farmer Champagne from the village of Bouzy, a blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards. The small house of Jean Vesselle — winemaker is Delphine Vesselle — turns out about 7,000 cases of Champagne a year. To make the picture a bit confusing, Bouzy is also home to the houses of Georges Vesselle and Maurice Vesselle. If with your befuddled eyes you can read the small print on the label included here, you’ll see the words Récoltant-Manipulant, indicating that Jean Vesselle grows the grapes and makes the Champagne rather than buying-in grapes from other vineyards.

The pale, pale Jean Vesselle Brut Réserve, non-vintage, is as blond and bracing as a kiss from Jean Harlow followed by a slap from her well-manicured hand. This is very high-toned, very elegant, a tense yet expansive and still whisperingly nuanced profusion of steel, roasted hazelnuts, lime zest, ginger, quince, cloves and limestone. The texture is almost cloud-like in its softness and brisk, exhilarating effervescence, yet the Champagne is also lithe and angular with the authority of crisp acidity and a crystalline mineral character that grows more intense from mid-palate back. A few minutes in the glass bring out shades of biscuits and lightly buttered cinnamon toast. Yeah, we loved this one. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. Suggested retail price is $44.75; I paid $50 here in town.

According to ancient legend, wood cut on December 30 and 31 or January 1 “shall not rot, or be full of worms, but always wax harder the longer it is kept,” so get out those axes!

North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Cal.

Remember, readers, that the focus of the 2011-2012 series of “The Twelve Days of Christmas …” is on Champagne and other French sparkling wines. Remember, also, that since this project began I have not repeated a label, so every sequence brings new recommendations. For this day, December 29 — also the Holy Day of Thomas Becket, murdered by Henry II’s knights in 1170 –our selection is the Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace, non-vintage, produced in the traditional Champagne method and a blend of one-third each chardonnay grapes, pinot blanc and pinot noir. The distinguished estate of Gustave Lorentz, founded in 1836, is still family-owned and in its seventh generation.

The color of the Gustave Lorentz Crémant d’Alsace is pale straw-gold; a dizzy fume of tiny bubbles surges upward. This sparkling wine is appealingly fresh, clean and brisk; hints of apples and pears are woven with roasted lemon and lemon balm and touches of quince and crystallized ginger. In the mouth, notably crisp acidity pairs with a scintillating mineral element; it feels as if you’re drinking liquid limestone. Naturally there’s considerable austerity through the finish, but this is primarily a completely delightful Cremant d’Alsace, high-toned and taut in structure but expansive in spicy citrus flavors. A terrific aperitif served with almonds and cashews or goat cheese and a great foil to charcuterie. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $26.

Imported by Quintessential Wines, Napa, Cal. A sample for review.

Among the hottest items in the hipster world of wine are “grower” or “farmer” Champagnes, that is, Champagnes made by a person or family who also grew the grapes rather than bought the grapes from other sources. The contrast is between that bucolic, artisan’s ideal and the large, established firms that purchase tons of grapes (as well as using their own vineyards) and blend dozens if not hundreds of samples to achieve a recognizable and consistent house style. The grower Champagnes, on the other hand, should, theoretically, reflect a sense of individuality and specific place, though the number of experts who could decipher a region, much less a village or actual vineyard in a glass of Champagne must be rather small. I adore both styles of Champagne, the grower or farmer versions and the house-style of the big firms. To me it’s equally satisfying to open a bottle of Pol Roger Réserve Brut and know that it will be just like all the other bottles I have opened and enjoyed or to pour a glass of a grower Champagne and savor its individual qualities. You can tell if a Champagne was made by a grower if the initials RM appear somewhere on the front or back label; RM stands for Recoltant-Manipulant, literally, “harvester-maker.” You can see that imprint in tiny type at the bottom of this label for the Paul Bara Brut Réserve, my selection for the Fourth Day of Christmas, which is also, incidentally, Childermas or the Day of the Holy Innocents, referring to the children of Bethlehem under the age of two slaughtered by Herod’s soldiers.

The small house of Paul Bara lies in the village of Bouzy, the favorite place-name in all of winedom. In the World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine (Wine Appreciation Guild, revised and updated edition, 2003), Tom Stevenson calls Paul Bara “one of Bouzy’s greatest Champagne growers.” I call the Paul Bara Brut Réserve “beautiful”; it’s a blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards. (Winemaker is Paul Bara’s daughter Chantale.) The color is pale straw gold; a great cloudy dither of bubbles streams forcefully to the surface. This offers real grip and power yet yields lovely generosity and delicacy of detail. Amazingly clean and fresh aromas of acacia, hay and sea-salt, cloves, roasted lemon and lime peel unfold to hints of freshly baked biscuits and almonds. Huge presence and tone, staggering acidity and limestone minerality make for a compelling, dense, chewy structure, while this tensile strength feels adorned by the shimmering tinsel of steel, lemon zest and pear nectar. Deeply savory, impeccably balanced, a seamless marriage of power and elegance. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $45 to $50 nationwide, though I paid — ahem — $66 in the Bluff City, as Memphis is jocularly termed.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal.

Remember that this series in “The Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” focuses on the diversity of bubbly products made in various regions of France, as well as Champagne. The Third Day of Christmas, by the way, is also the feast day of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, author, according to legend, of the book of Revelations, and of the Gospel and the three Letters we find under his name, all composed, we are told, in the worst Greek of the New Testament. Shoulda stayed in school, right? Anyway, our sparkling wine today originates in the Loire Valley, as did the example on Christmas Day, but instead of coming from Vouvray, this was made in Chinon, southwest of Vouvray and still in the Central Loire region. You won’t find the name “Chinon” on the label, however, because the rules of the appellation do not allow for sparkling wine; you can make a sparkler if you want, you just can’t label it or market it as being from Chinon.

Couly-Dutheil is a distinguished house in Chinon, founded in 1921 and still owned by the family, that makes a roster of wines from the red cabernet franc grape — only about two percent of the region’s wines are white — as well as a fine rosé and, it turns out, this “forbidden” sparkling wine with which I recently became acquainted. The Couly-Dutheil Brut de Franc, non-vintage, is billed as the only sparkling wine in the world made completely from cabernet franc grapes, and for all I know, this claim may be, if St. John does not mind my saying so, gospel. I certainly can’t think of another one. Do, though, track this down. The color of the Couly-Dutheil Brut de Franc is shimmering pale gold, and the bead, as the British term the stream of bubbles, is fine, energetic and frothy; the bouquet, well, the bouquet is a seductive weaving of blood oranges, peaches, red currants and sweet Asian spices, with a hint of rose petals. The wine is ripe and almost soft in the mouth yet imbued with tremendously vibrant acidity and a resonant limestone element, the combination of which lends the finish marked dryness and some high-toned austerity; it’s quite appealing and frankly delicious but with a moderately serious edge. 12.5 percent alcohol. Very Good+. About $21, though you see higher and lower prices around the country.

Imported by Frank-Lin International, San Jose, Cal. Tasted at a wholesaler’s trade event.

Here we are, Boxing Day, which features (or used to), in the United Kingdom and related countries, the post Christmas distribution of largesse to servants, customarily not one’s own but the servants of one’s friends. This is also the Feast of Saint Stephen — when the snow lay all about, deep and crisp and even — who was the first Christian martyr, stoned circa 35 AD for preaching that Christ was the Messiah and fulminating, rather impolitely, against the Jews; see Acts 7:51. December 26 is the first day of Kwanzaa, an African-American end-of-the-year festival devised in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, at the time chairman of Black Studies at California State University in Long Beach.

So, for this day, we turn to actual Champagne in the guise of the Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs, a non-vintage blend of 50 percent chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards and 50 percent pinot noir from Premier Cru vineyards. What does that mean? The vineyards of Champagne are rated village by village on a quality percentage system. Only the vineyards rated 100 percent receive Grand Cru status; vineyards rated between 90 and 99 percent are granted Premier Cru status. There are 17 Grand Cru villages and 43 Premier Cru villages. Labels on bottles of Champagne will often advertise the fact that the product is Grand Cru or Premier Cru, though realistically most Champagnes are blends of many vineyards and several vintages (which is what “non-vintage” means). A classification by individual vineyard rather than overall village would more accurately reflect true quality.

The Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs — there really is such a person, as well-known for his collection of antique automobiles as for his Champagne — offers a radiant pale medium gold color and a surging, twining fountain of tiny bubbles. This is a substantial Champagne, generously proportioned and authoritative, yet a scintillating nervy line of keen acidity runs through and energizes it. Aromas hint at pear, jasmine and toasted almonds, with touches of fresh bread, smoky toffee and sea-salt and underneath a foundation of limestone and steel. This Champagne is spicier in the mouth, with notes of slightly macerated and roasted citrus flavors, but primarily it’s a vessel for conveying intense minerality and a dense, almost chewy texture, all leading to a long, vibrant, limestone-laced finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. I tasted the Comte Audoin de Dampierre Brut Cuvée des Ambassadeurs at a trade event and was impressed enough to purchase a bottle later. We consumed it throughout Christmas Day. Excellent. Prices around the country range from about $36 to $50.

Imported by Frank-Lin International, San Jose, Cal.

On Christmas Day 2011, let’s begin this series of Champagnes and sparkling wines with a product that’s not only charming but pretty darned complex and a bargain to boot. The emphasis this time around is on the diversity of French sparkling wines, and we’ll touch on several areas outside of iconic Champagne. The wine today is the Champalou Vouvray Brut, a nonvintage sparkler made from chenin blanc grapes, or as they’re called in the region, pineau de la Loire. Chenin blanc reigns supreme in the central Loire Valley, specifically the part called Touraine, after the city of Tours. The estate was founded in 1983 by Catherine and Didier Champalou, who make only about 12,000 cases of white wine annually, all from chenin blanc grapes.

The Champalou Vouvray Brut is made in what’s called méthode traditionelle, that is the champagne method of second fermentation in the bottle; that’s the step that produces the essential bubbles. (The term méthode champenoise, by the way, was outlawed for label use by the EU in 1994.) The Champalou Vouvray Brut is fermented in stainless steel tanks and allowed to rest on the lees of spent yeast cells; then it is transferred to bottles, given a dosage of yeast and sugar (to kick-start the second fermentation) and capped; it spends 20 months in bottles before being corked and released.

The color is shimmering pale gold; effervescence is mild but persistent. Heady aromas of almond and acacia, lemongrass and quince, with a touch of something earthy and straw-like, are tempered by a cut of steel and limestone. This is surprisingly creamy and substantial, almost luscious, but balanced by bright, crisp acidity and more of that clean, slightly austere limestone minerality to bolster flavors of roasted lemons and spiced pears; hints of candle-wax and camellia come out in the long, lively satisfying finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. Excellent, and Great Value at about $19 to $26, reflecting prices around the country.

Imported by Kermit Lynch, Berkeley, Cal. A sample for review.

… and that means I’m about to launch the annual “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series. Traditionally, the twelve days of Christmas run from December 25, Christmas Day, to January 5, being Twelfth Night, the Eve of the Epiphany. Tomorrow, I will post the first sparkling, bubbly product and continue to post one each day, though I tend to include a wider selection on New Year’s Eve and Twelfth Night. This year’s series focuses on France, not only Champagne but such alternatives as Cremant de Bourgogne, Cremant de Loire and sparkling wines from other appellations. In the Champagne category, I’ll offer some choices from the established houses as well as from the smaller operations that grow the grapes and make artisan-style products, what we might call farmer Champagnes. As ever in this series, I do not repeat brands or labels from year to year; I have not written about any of the Champagnes or sparking wines included in this segment of “Twelve Days of Christmas” before. Now around the periphery, so to speak, of the “12 Days,” I’ll post about other sparkling wines and Champagnes, some of which I may have covered previously and some of which I have not; the point is, that from tomorrow through January 5, BTYH is all about bubbles.

Festive image from thebeehiveblog.net.

Why “The 12 Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine”?

For fun, of course. Because I love Champagne and sparkling wine in all their categorical imperatives. Because I adore certain kinds of old traditions, such as the sequence of 12 days that leads from the solemnity of Christmas to the revels of Twelfth Night — that’s tonight –and the Epiphany, the day, according to ancient beliefs, on which the Three Kings arrived at Bethlehem. (The Kings, or Wise Men, were my favorite Christmas characters.) Of course end of the old year/beginning of the new year festivities extend back in history to the Roman Saturnalia and other ceremonies, riotous or not, that celebrate the glimmer of longer days and the foretaste of the coming Spring.

My favorite comedy by Shakespeare is Twelfth Night; or What You Will (to give the full title), a play, written indeed as a Twelfth Night entertainment, that in its witty and touching chronicle of love and loss, mistaken identity and discovery, foolishness and wisdom, pomposity and common sense, malice and miracle exactly captures the spirit of an occasion on which, in Medieval and Renaissance England, people disguised themselves and indulged in fits of merrymaking, feasting, drinking and dancing.

Perhaps the connection of Twelfth Night and sparkling wine is tenuous, but, after all, sparkling wine and Champagne are without doubt the most festive of beverages, and in honor of that conceit, I offer a roster of sparkling wines from around the world that would be appropriate for many, perhaps all, occasions.

These wines were samples for review. Three Wise Men images from mcleananddeakin.com

Lambrusco got a bad rep in the 1960s and ’70s with the ubiquitous “Chill a Cella” television ads. This essential wine of Italy’s Emilia-Romagna region, however, is bone-dry, not sweet and sticky, and made to match the rich, hearty indigenous cuisine. As a matter of fact, as I’m writing this entry about the Albinea Canali Ottocentonero, Lambrusco dell’Emilia, I’m sipping a glass of the deep purple/magenta/beet colored stuff with my quite savory and spicy cheese toast. Marked “Sept 2010″ on the back label, the Ottocentonero is lightly sparkling, what in Italy is called frizzante (as opposed to the full-sparkling spumante), a sort of pink tickle-and-tease. A gamay-ish nose of black currants and black cherries contains hints of bubble gum and roses and surprisingly dusty shale-like minerality. There’s a lightness of being here that belies the dark intensity of the wine’s color and broad spicy component, yet it’s well-balanced by ripe black fruit flavors, titillating acidity and a touch of astringency on the finish. Charming but with an obsidian edge. The grapes are 50 percent lambrusco salamino, 40 percent lambrusco grasparossa and 10 percent lancelotta. Very Good+. About $16.

VB Imports, Old Brookville, N.Y.

The Col Vetoraz Valdobbiadene Prosecco Brut, marked 2009 on the back label, is a superior expression of the prosecco grape. The color is pale gold permeated by scads of tiny bubbles. Pop the cork, and you immediately smell apples, lemons and pears, followed by almond blossom, almond skin and a touch of orange zest. This is a very dry, crisp and steely prosecco whose exuberant effervescence makes for a lively and lovely quaff. Very Good+. About $16.

Imported by Montacastelli Selections, New York.

The package on the Segura Viudas Brut Reserve Heredad Cava is so ludicrous that’s it’s almost sweet. With its elaborate pewter emblem and carved pewter base, the bottle looks like the Great Seal of the Duchy of Flabbergastan. On the other hand, this is an interesting expression of the Cava style of Spain’s Alt Penedes region. Composed of 67 percent macabeo and 33 percent parellada, traditional grapes for Cava, the first impressions are of a beautiful medium gold color, an absolute froth of bubbles and a sense of buoyancy. This is bright, fruity and savory, with an intriguing (or slightly odd) muscat/riesling-like petrol aroma wreathed with lime, lemon curd and jasmine. In the mouth, this sparkling wine is dry and crisp, smoky and steely, with a sort of dried fruit compote element before a limestone-laced, austere finish. Very Good+. About $25.

Imported by Friexenet USA, Sonoma, Cal.

Australians have a fetish about sparkling shiraz, which I first tried in the Antipodes in 1998 and thought that it tasted like sparkling blood, not to put you off or anything. Indeed, there’s a meaty, beefy quality about sparkling shiraz that the Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2008, South Australia, embodies handily. The color is, inevitably, very dark ruby-purple with a magenta rim; that darkness pretty much conceals the effervescence, though tiny purple bubbles gather at the wine’s rim in the glass, and of course you feel that liveliness and sort of brooding dynamism on your tongue. This is deep and rich, very spicy, packed with ripe, dusty, crepuscular black cherry and blackberry flavors that feel dense and fleshy; a few minutes in the glass bring up notes of walnuts and thyme. Still, the wine is neither heavy nor obvious, even managing to evince some delicacy of tone. It is very dry. No winsome aperitif sparkling wine, this demands food as large-framed as it is. Very Good+. About — ready? — $10, a Raving Bargain.

Imported by Quinessential, Napa, Cal.

The Lucien Albrecht Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cremant d’Alsace, made from 100 percent pinot blanc grapes, is completely delightful. The color is pale straw; a flurry of tiny bubbles surges up to the surface, like a reverse snow dome. Aromas of apple and pear permeated by cloves and a hint of spiced peach are deftly circumscribed by elements of limestone and steel. Flavors of baked apple and roasted lemon circulate in the mouth, almost caressed by a supple texture that’s fleetly enlivened (and nicely balanced) by acidity of staggering crispness and cool limestone-like minerality. The entire effect is of purity, intensity, electricity and, ultimately, lovely elegance in temper and tone. Great stuff. Excellent. About $25.

Pasternak Wine Imports, Harrison, N.Y. Image from redwhiteandfood.blogspot.com


Here’s another blanc de blancs, separated from Alsace by distance, style and grape variety. The Iron Horse Blanc de Blancs 2005, Green Valley, Sonoma County, is made from 100 percent chardonnay grapes, 35 percent of which go through barrel fermentation. The color is very pale shivery blond-gold; the surging gold-flecked bubbles are hypnotic. Yes, this evokes all the green apple and pear, limestone and steel one expects from a blanc de blancs, but adds flourishes of fresh biscuits and cookie dough, almond skin and almond blossom, with traces of roasted lemon and a distant waft of mango; sort of a thrilling bouquet. In the mouth, however, this sparkling wine is very dry, very crisp, very high-toned; a hint of roasted almonds and lightly buttered cinnamon toast bring a touch of winsomeness to the hauteur. I don’t mean the last sentence in a critical spirit; I love these Alpine sparkling wines and Champagnes and their aching sense of being above it all. Production was 1,550 cases. Excellent. About $40.

I see that though I posted the “10th Day of Christmas” late last night, my clever computer posted it for today, so we have two Days of Christmas on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2011. Let’s make the real 11th Day of Christmas a shout-out for Domaine Carneros, founded in California’s Carneros region, north of San Pablo Bay, in 1987 as a partnership between Champagne Taittinger and that venerable house’s American importer Kobrand. If you drive through Carneros up to Napa Valley, you can’t miss the winery’s splendid but, for the region, somewhat incongruous chateau, modeled after the Taittinger family’s 18th Century mansion in Champagne. Eileen Crane is the producer’s only winemaker. Naturally, these sparkling wines are made in the champagne method. The style here is light and vivacious, and the words “lovely” and “elegant” will show up often in these reviews.

We’ll look at three Domaine Carneros sparking wines. These were samples for review, a disclosure required by the FCC of bloggers but not print publications.

The Domaine Carneros Brut Rosé 2006 offers a limpid medium copper-salmon color with a patina of tarnished silver; a fountain of tiny bubbles whirls upward in a rush. First, you get strawberry and red currants and a hint of spiced peach borne on a stream of cool, fresh, steely limestone. In the mouth, this Brut Rose delivers lovely presence and texture, with exquisite balance between bracing crispness and warm, almost luxurious creaminess. Subtle flavors of red raspberry and pomegranate are bolstered by limestone and shale minerality that’s like the leading edge of a cliff, though a cliff — to extend a metaphor — adorned with tiny white flowers of a spare and almost astringent reticence. A model of decorum and exhilaration. Excellent. About $36.

The limited production Domaine Carneros Blanc de Noirs Brut 2006 is available only at the winery. The last time Eileen Crane made a blanc de noirs (“white from blacks”) was in 1991, so this was a rare occasion. The wine was made from 100 percent pinot noir grapes. The color is radiant pale gold, infused with an infinity of tiny silver-flecked bubbles. Freshly baked bread and biscuits, quince and pear with a hint of ginger characterize a beguiling bouquet packed with spice and limestone. Tremendously fresh, clean and bracing, this sparkling wine feels almost cloud-like in its lovely heft and presence, though it is scintillating with crisp acidity and a monumental mineral edge. Still, it remains deft, delicate and elegant, a finely tuned construct of delightful paradoxes. The finish is long, toasty and spicy, with a salt-marsh tang. A great achievement.
Domaine Carneros Le Rêve Blanc de Blancs Brut 2004 is pretty damned dreamy, all right. Made completely from chardonnay grapes, this beauty sports a very pale gold-platinum blond color and a teeming fountain of tiny bubbles. The bouquet offers seamless aromas of yeast, freshly baked biscuits, orange zest and almond blossom and some dried floral element, like dusty acacia; it takes a few minutes for the limestone element to seep upward and twine itself with the other elements, and then follows a note of lemon curd. Yeah, it’s sort of delirious stuff yet gentle and nuanced, just as in the mouth the principle tone is suppleness, almost soft lushness, wedded to brisk, even nervous acidity; the effect is close to blithe with crystalline purity and intensity. There comes a point when one no longer says, “Ah, yes, this sparkling wine from California is a good alternative to Champagne, if you can’t get the real stuff.” No, Le Rêve 2004 is just a great sparkling wine; such comparisons are belittling. Exceptional. About $85.

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